The Antidote to Developmental Trauma is Joy

Session number 14 with Linda.

I started the session very activated and feeling stressed and not at all ready for a session. I explained that both kids had just kicked off moments before logging on because despite me preparing them that I was going to need time later for a video meeting, when the time arrived they both decided to have a meltdown about me ‘leaving them’ to go upstairs. I explained to Linda that through the lockdown we’ve spent a huge amount of concentrated time together and so now whenever I say I’m going to do something by myself they seem to get really unsettled. It’s created a sort of anxiety/dependency that was never there before and I’m going to need to work on it with them to ensure transition back to school and work is as stress free for them as possible. Also the anxiety is there for Adam as well. He’s always found it hard in the past when I’ve gone out and done things without him. He’s not controlling and possessive its more that he is very worried that he’s going to lose me. He reacts in a really pronounced way if I say I’m going out. I explained to Linda, ‘It happened just yesterday, I said I was going for a drive and he was like, ‘what, where are you going, why… what a waste of fuel…?’ and I asked him what emotional response he was feeling and he said panic… it triggers something in him like he thinks I’m never coming back, but it feels like I’m suffocating you know, I need to go out!’ Linda sort of reiterated this back to me and seemed interested in what I was saying about Adam. I told her that yesteray I ended up back at Anna’s office again. Sitting in my car crying. She made a sort of sympathetic noise. She asked me if there was anything I could do right now to help me feel calmer during the call to make the most of the session because I was still clearly so agitated and she said, ‘anything that you know works?… breathing…?’ I burst out laughing and we both said, ‘breathing’s always a good idea!’ It was a funny moment and in the end I said I just needed to talk through it.

We explored the sense of having no alone time at home. She said it must be really challenging to try to get in the right headspace for a session when that’s all going on around me. I talked about how I used to leave the house and drive to my sessions at least an hour before the start time but being at home there’s no privacy, it’s very hard to relax. Linda pointed out that I seemed really preoccupied with the energy left behind after the madness with the kids and the more I talked about it she noticed the angrier I got. I was explaining that I get very little time to myself and then it’s almost as if Adam resents the time I spend on my sessions because he doesn’t make a concerted effort to placate the kids in order for me to get the quiet I need. (Adam has told me he doesn’t feel like this and that he does his best to give me the space I need but that he finds the kids challenging).

I told Linda that about twenty minutes before the video call, Reuben had asked if they could go to the new sweet shop and just like he always does Adam immediately said no. This provoked the screaming and crying from Reuben… it’s a fairly common game that’s regularly played out. I said, ‘you know I’ve tried explaining to Adam that life is fucking hard for kids, they get to have hardly any control over anything in their lives, they just have to go along with whatever the adults say and to have this huge man looming over him saying ‘no’ to his requests must make him feel so frustrated and powerless like he doesn’t have any say in the matter… I’ve told Adam it’s really easy to let kids feel like they have more power you know, you could say yes to the sweets but only one. It’s about seeing the need for them to be little autonomous people and meeting them half way!’ Linda was nodding and smiling and agreeing. I sort of paused and said I wasn’t expecting the session to go down this rabbit hole and she suggested I trust the process… that this is where things are going today and that’s okay. She explained that sometimes whatever has just happened ‘in real time’ needs to be focused on and the childhood stuff will always be there for us to come back to. In the back of my mind I was wondering if she’d taken in what I said in the email I sent on Saturday but she didn’t bring it up until the end of the session.

I said that I felt like my perfectionism kicks in when we have these moments and I get really very annoyed with Adam for fucking up with the kids when I so desperately want him to be sensitive to their needs and attune to them. I find it hard to forgive him like I find it hard to let go of my own shortcomings. I hold us both to really high standards and just feel like we shouldn’t have even had kids if we weren’t prepared to work very hard on ourselves and purposefully break the chain and not pass this shit down. Linda said, ‘Hmm yeah you want to break the chain. Is there such a thing as a perfect parent do you think?’ I looked at her and perhaps had an expression on my face that looked unamused by the question because she then said, ‘Genuine question Lucy, is there such thing as a perfect parent? I really want to hear what you think about that.’ I said, ‘Obviously I know that no one is perfect. We are all human and we make mistakes… and I know Anna told me the key is in the repair but I just feel like you should really limit the amount of repairs you’re having to do. I think what I mean is, I have an idea of the kind of parent I want to be and it’s someone who has done the work on themselves, knows their personal triggers and doesn’t respond to them by reacting defensively or automatically with their kids, is aware of themselves and the impact they have on their kids… so when Adam or I react in the heat of the moment I really worry that we’re messing them up and they’re gonna be scarred for life.’ I can’t remember what she said here. She didn’t challenge me. I’m reflecting on this now and I get this sense that she is trying to be very careful with what she says to me. I remember this dynamic would play out with Anna too at times, especially in the early days. I like that she is being more sensitive in regard to what she says but also I don’t want her to say nothing at all! I do want some interaction and challenge around these things. But it’s like session number 14 so maybe that will come.

I said, ‘it annoys me that Adam has this knee jerk reaction to everything. He just says no to everything, whether it’s going somewhere, seeing someone, going on holiday, a weekend activity, a film, a take away… he says no initially every single time and then you have to sort of talk him round and let the idea sit with him and he’ll mull it over and then he’ll eventually come round. Afterwards he’ll say that I was right and he’s really glad we did it.’ Linda asked if I’d talked to him about it before and I said we had. She said, ‘I ask because I know what it’s like to live with an automatic no-er… personal experience with that one! Yup…’ she sort of gestured her head behind me to presumably the rest of her house and laughed and I laughed and I said, ‘yeah drives you fucking nuts doesn’t it!’ She said, ‘at least he’s consistent!’ and I agreed that I love that about him. That he is consistent, reliable and predictable. It feels so safe. I continued, ‘So anyway yeah I have talked to him but the thing is there are deep rooted reasons why he is like that you know, it’s a fear response, it’s an, ‘I don’t want to be taken out of my comfort zone,’ response or a need for control and order… so he knows he does it and he’s really open to feedback and talking about it but it’s gonna take a lot for him to change it. Years of therapy to unpick the deep reasons why he is like that and he just is not up for that, he’s come up with so many reasons why it can’t work out.’ Linda said, ‘the timing’s not right… he’s not ready to go to therapy?’ and I said, ‘yeah he blames money or that he doesn’t have the time… he’s not ready and I don’t know if he ever will be. I love him and I want him to have what I’ve experienced, you know, he deserves to get some relief from what he’s going through but well, I’ve talked to him about that a lot. Anna told me to back off she said I’ve planted many seeds and it has to come from him!’ Linda laughed.

I said, ‘the problem is, it impacts me massively. He only has me to talk to, he doesn’t have any friends, it’s been a slow and gradual narrowing down of his life so that it is just me now,’ I made a visual with my hands like a funnel going from wide at the top to narrow at the bottom. I continued, ‘It’s a big pressure resting on my shoulders. So if he is stressed or worried or needs to talk to someone – I am it, I’m the only one he has.’ Linda was reacting massively to this and saying, ‘wowww, oh wow yeah I mean that’s a huge amount of pressure for you.’ And she mirrored the visual with her hands. I told her, ‘I resent it because I go to therapy so that I don’t burden people in my life with my shit. The therapeutic relationship is a unique one and it really is necessary to have these strict boundaries around it, it’s not healthy to rely heavily on one person in your life. The thing is it’s not always been like this, he used to have loads of friends but slowly that’s all gone away and now he’s not even on speaking terms with his family so literally I’m the only person he speaks to.’ I then spent about half an hour telling her what life was like for us from when we met. That I’d never known anyone like him before. He was so lively and enthusiastic and funny and he knew so many people. He was gigging a lot and wherever we went we’d meet lots of people who knew him and who were clearly so pleased to see him. When we moved in together we were only 18/19 and the only ones out of all our friends who lived away from him so our place ended up being the place we all met up. We had loads of parties, nights drinking, movie nights, dinner parties… we had at least one friend over every day… and although I was really struggling with the aftermath of everything I’d experienced growing up, it was like an awakening… I’d never had so much fun. I mean I was actively suicidal at points and self harming frequently and cried a lot by myself and found intimacy with Adam really hard and would cry when we were intimate but it was like being given the freedom to be together and be me. I could eat what I wanted, do what I wanted, behave however I wanted.

Linda interjected and said, ‘This reminds me of something I read the other day… this is just a slight side and then you can continue… it was exploring the concept that the antidote to developmental trauma is joy. Just listening to this moment where you met Adam and your life really started to open up and it sounds like you just absolutely ran with it, you really made the most of it… SO yeah… joy… Is that something that resonates with you?’ I nodded and smiled and sort of inquisitively watched her as she explained more about the lack of joy in the child’s experience when they are living through trauma… I told her there was very little joy in my life apart from the fun my brother and I made together. In my head I was just thinking ‘YOU’RE READING ABOUT DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA!? Yay!’ I love love love that she managed to slip that into the session… she didn’t outwardly say ‘I’m reading up on this shit for you so I understand you better’ but it felt like an intentional piece of information that she wanted to give me. She wanted me to know that she’s taking this seriously and I really appreciated it. I felt a part of me relax a little when she was saying it… like ‘this feels safe’ or something. Also, I’ve been pondering this all evening… ‘the antidote to developmental trauma is joy’ and I looked it up online and there is a wealth of information about how joy and fun and playfulness soothes and heals trauma wounding. It made me feel so reassured to think about all the joy and playfulness my kids have on a daily basis… that maybe, even if things are hard and I accidentally traumatise them with my unhealed bits, the joy might help override some of that.

I talked about my parents refusing to drive me places and how suffocating it felt to be trapped where I was with no escape. I went from one memory to another giving examples of how powerless I was to my parents whims and that in an instant they could choose whether or not they’d give me what I needed. I told her of a time it completely broke me when everything came to a crescendo and I slammed the landline down while talking to my mum. Repeatedly hit it off the stand so hard that it shattered. I then broke down on my knees in front of my dad who turned and walked away from me. Rather than trying to meet my needs which he could easily have done. She said, ‘so much rage in you, understandably and then you actually collapsed and he still didn’t see you. They had all the power and control.’ I said, ‘I think that’s why I cant stand it when it seems that my kids feel powerless. I never want them to feel like that. It’s paralysing.’ During one of the anecdotes Linda paused me and asked me what was coming up for me and where I could feel it in my body. I don’t know how I’d been behaving I think maybe I’d crossed my arms and was looking out the window talking. I said I could feel something in my chest and pointed to it. I said it feels a bit like panic and it was tingling down my arms. I told her that sometimes happens when I feel like I’m oversharing and then there’s another emotion under the panic. She said she was intrigued by the feeling being in my heart. I said that’s where I feel young pain, attachment wound stuff… stuff to do with longing and an ache for childhood or grief for Anna. She was nodding and listening. We talked quite a bit more about memories from Adam and my first date, all the flats we lived in, some weird and some scary experiences we had in the dodgy places we lived and I said I didn’t know why told her half that stuff. She said it had been nice to hear more about me and nice to see me smile so much today.

I talked about how no one took our relationship seriously. My mum told me Adam would very quickly get sick of me and move on. She said, ‘the things you think you love about each other will become the things that drive you apart in the end.’ She said I didn’t know the first thing about love. And I recalled how my dad had laughed at me when I said we were engaged. Linda asked me what I thought he had found funny and I said, ‘he’d have been thinking I was a silly little girl and didn’t know what I was doing.’ They both turned their backs on me repeatedly, especially in times of need. There were nights I had nowhere to go, neither of them wanted me around. Nights we sat on the underground for hours just to have somewhere dry and warm to stay. Linda said, ‘Them turning their backs on you made you and Adam turn more towards each other. It strengthened what you had.’ I said, ‘yeah I’ve thought a lot about attachment and love and wondered about whether we’re only ever seeking to get our unmet attachment needs met… and now I’m growing and healing and changing I don’t need to be so intensely turned in to him but he is still the same, which triggers his anxiety.’

I felt like Linda was very attuned to me today. She was listening and engaging in what I was saying but I still felt like I talked a lot and at the end of the session I panicked and said, ‘aaah I’ve done it again I’ve talked and talked and we now only have 3 minutes to go!’ Linda said, ‘oh but I’ve really been so aware of this need you have to share all of this with me. There’s a very strong part of you that wants me to know these things about you. I’ve been holding awareness throughout the session of what you said in your email, that you feel like you share too much and don’t go deeply into things and then you’re left with the feelings. I really paid attention to that. But today I’m very aware of this pattern where you start talking about one thing and then you build up speed and then you want to share all this with me. I know there is the part of you that feels like you’re racing through lots of different subjects but I wonder if you can hold space for the part of you that feels she wants to share these things with me and that it’s some sort of overview you’re giving me. Sometimes that happens at the start of therapy, you’re giving me the backstory you talked about early on, so that I get to know you better. You feel like it’s important I know you… maybe it will be easier to share the deeper stuff when you feel that I know you better?’ I was actually leaning forwards watching her very carefully as she explained this and I said it really felt true actually and it will feel safer to go more deeply into things if she has a broader understanding of who I am and my life experiences. She asked if it felt okay that she’d said that and I said I was really pleased she’d clarified it with me. She actually ran over by 2 minutes explaining that to me and although 2 minutes is nothing, it felt nice that she was prioritising helping me understand how she felt about what I’m doing rather than prioritising the boundary of time. I told her that 50 minutes wasn’t long enough and she agreed. I’m going to talk about that at some point. That Anna was 60 minutes which often didn’t feel long enough and that 90 minutes was a good length of time… see what she says. Maybe if she’s reading up on attachment trauma she will have read that it’s quite challenging to do the work in tiny 50 minute blocks.

I left the session feeling really good and I’ve felt settled and regulated all day. I really like the idea of her holding awareness of the part of me that wants her to know me while also holding the part of me that feels over exposed. That feels so reassuring and like she understands me. It helped having her clarify that because I think one of the reasons I was so anxious after the information overload sessions was this fear that she would be thinking badly of me for doing it. Knowing she actually understands and thinks it’s useful is really reassuring. Like a friend described to me, it’s like I’m sketching a picture for her in pencil… making sure the whole thing is roughly filled in so she gets an idea of the whole image, then I will go back and add details and colours and shading… I’ll get to the deeper stuff but she has to have a good grasp of the bigger picture first. I like that.

13 thoughts on “The Antidote to Developmental Trauma is Joy

  1. Lucy, I think one of the reasons you also feel this way is because starting over again leaves a panic feeling in us. It is difficult to start over. I struggle with the same thing and the same feelings afterward. We want so much for them to “know” us… to feel that safety, like you said, and comfort once again. You are doing great! It just can’t seem to happen fast enough, and yet, we know it takes time! Thank you for sharing all of this! 💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh yeah that makes sense. Someone said to me (and I annoyingly can’t remember who) that maybe I’m trying to catch Linda up so we’re at the same space I was at with Anna and I think it might be partially that but it’s definitely about safety and being known. That’s very true. Thank you for being here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds great L. I was wondering, if your husband is home, is there any way of you actually carving out a new therapy routine? Like taking a ride in the car to somewhere 15 minutes before, parking up, doing your session in the car, then driving home? The days my wife is here I go out and do my session from the car either on the phone or sometimes create a data hotspot on my laptop with phone. It feels containing and protected. More than anything it feels like my personal, private space, and noone can hear or burst in. Just need to make sure location has 4g. X

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for this… I didn’t know I could use date on my phone for my laptop that’s cool! Where do you rest the laptop? So what we tend to do is he takes the kids out on a long bike ride and the house is quiet. Also we still have the stair gate in place so the kids won’t come up the stairs if they’re in. Before lockdown if I did a phone session with Anna I would drive somewhere and do it in the car. I like seeing Linda on the big laptop screen and I kinda like being able to sit in my jammies or comfy clothes 😂🙈 I’ll need to have a think about it. Thanks for the suggesting it. 💕

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Pingback: Grief is the Antidote to Trauma – Finding Lucy King

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