Exploring the Push Pull Dynamic… and now I’m very confused.

I spent the day refreshing my inbox repeatedly in between moments of intense busyness at work. I still find that moment between sending a message out to someone and waiting for their reply very uncomfortable. I haven’t received a reply from my possible prospective future therapist and the anxiety is rising!

As my session with Linda approached I felt more and more like I didn’t need it. I felt like I’d managed to cope with the hellish aftermath of Saturday’s session and I was fully in my adult and genuinely didn’t feel like I needed to drag up everything that had happened on Saturday. Looking for another therapist and sending out the email empowered me. I considered asking Linda to go down to one session a week.

Then we clicked on and she joked about it being just two seconds since the last time we saw each other, I asked if she was getting sick of me and she gave me that look that says, ‘behave yourself’ and told me that’s not what she was saying. She asked how I was and I told her I was knackered and freezing. We have to have the windows open at work all the time and it is fully autumn here in Scotland now so I’ve been cold to the bone all day. We joked about wearing thermals in the winter but to be honest we probably will have to!

I then launched into it, ‘I was pretty fucked up after the session on Saturday and I’m not even sure where to begin but the problem is that I’m aware of this reluctance to share what happened to me because I feel like you don’t want to hear me ‘critiquing’ the sessions but I actually think that’s not how you really feel and that you’re just curious about my need to analyse the sessions but anyway… can I tell you what happened to me in response to our session?’ Linda smiled warmly and said she really wanted to hear what came up for me.

What followed was a really scattered all over the place description of what Saturday was like for me. I told her I felt really disconnected from the kids and that I had that weird feeling of being an observer in my own life. I explained that something in the session massively triggered me and that I felt really misunderstood by her. I told her that I couldn’t feel our connection and that made me feel really hopeless. I described the bleak, black depression that drowned me for the rest of the day. I told her that I hadn’t typed my session notes up and that this meant I had nothing to go back to to remind myself of what was actually said in the session so all I had was this overwhelming sense of sadness and fear triggered by the inner critic telling me that Linda hates me and wishes she wasn’t working with me. I told her I heard from her that I hadn’t progressed in 7 years because I read and intelectualise too much and that I should be further along in my healing and she told me there were no should in what she said and she reminded me she said she felt sad when she heard about all the books I’ve been reading.

Linda was focused on me the whole time. She told me it sounded really torturous to be in my head when the inner critic rages. She said going to the beach on Saturday sounds heavenly and how sad it makes her to imagine me unable to take part in it or enjoy it with my family. I told her this all made me feel really ashamed, that I should snap out of it and just get on with enjoying life. She said that was really unkind… I struggled to feel anything from her.

I told Linda that going to the beach brought back memories of when I was a child and was at the beach. I then spent about 20 minutes in this dissociated fuzz going in and out of trying to tell her a fairly innocuous memory while simultaneously telling her it was no big deal and there’s no point in talking about it. Linda said, ‘I’ve noticed this dynamic, this thing that happens with you… the connection… it’s so important that we work with the connection. I’ve noticed that you go from being very connected to completely disconnecting and then the inner critic ramps up and she is vile, spitting insults and fury, she tells you ‘fuck this shit we’re out of hear… we don’t need to listen to this bullshit’ and she tears you away from the connection… I don’t know if she comes on board first or after the disconnect but Lucy, I have been watching closely over the past few months and I’m fairly certain I can see it happen. There is this definite switch. There is the part of you that wants to connect and share and communicate and then she suddenly goes offline and somewhere in the mix is the inner critic… but theres’ something else going on too…’ I was just astounded sitting listening to her explaining this feeling both hugely seen and overwhelmingly ashamed. I said, ‘What is the something else? What is it?’ she looked curious and caring and leaned forwards and said, ‘I don’t know Lucy, but that’s what we’re working on, that’s what we’re working on finding out together…’ I told her I was sick of not knowing and I want to know, I want to have it all figured out. I told her I was sick of being so disconnected even in this session and wanted it all to make sense to me right now. She said, ‘it doesn’t really work that way, it’s happening right now and you need to give it a chance to process over the next few days, weeks, months… we’ll get there.’ Ohmygaawwwddd I felt so held and confused!

She asked me if I ever worked on this stuff in my previous therapy and I told her that Anna told me the work we did with the inner critic was my work. She encouraged me to tell her what the inner critic said all the time, to voice it outloud especially when it was saying things against Anna. Linda was nodding and smiling. She asked if I notice a feeling in myself when the change is happening, do I notice the switch. I said I wasn’t sure and she asked me if I would be able to voice it, if I sense the change could I let her know. I said, ‘Isn’t that what I do when I tell you what the inner critic says?’ she said, ‘Hmmm…. yeeeees, but I feel like there’s something else happening just before she kicks in, if we could tune in to that, it might help us understand why you are triggered to disconnect.’ I was nodding. It felt really important and like we were on the cusp of something but also I felt like where do we go from just talking about it? So the next step is me telling her I’m noticing something… then what will she do?

Linda asked me, ‘So which part of you is going to win today? The part that wants to share your childhood beach memories or the part who’s saying, ‘fuck that’ and blocking the connection? Who is gonna shout louder? Because I would really like to hear the story about your beach visits when you were a kid.’ (I would have died and gone to heaven if Anna told me she wanted to hear me tell her something… here I felt nothing.) I then became very animated and explained, ‘okay so what happens is, I have a very clear set of memories from holidays as a kid, I have this narrative and images in my head from it and I really do want to share it with you but then I start talking, start sharing and then this voice comes in that says, ‘Why the hell are you talking about this, you sound like a weak, oversensitive idiot, shes gonna think you’re such a weirdo for feeling the need to talk about this, you’re so fucking selfish making all this about you, why couldn’t you just enjoy a day at the beach with your kids without making it all about you,’ and so that voice makes me pause, frozen, while I listen to it and so you experience me as not talking or saying ‘uhhh’ while I listen to that voice and try to figure out if I agree with it or not and usually then I’ll just say to you ‘oh it doesn’t matter’ because I’m embarrassed that I’ve stopped talking, there’s a lot of silence and it’s deafening but I can’t keep talking about what I was talking about… so that’s what goes on for me… in my head… and I hate it and wish I wasn’t like that.’ Linda said, ‘yeah, okay I understand. Hmmm… that sounds very frustrating and quite frightening.’ I said, ‘hmmm and it’s difficult because we’re not in the same room… I mean, I talk a lot more in these sessions, when I was with Anna there were a lot of silences coz, well, at the very least I’m worried that if I stop talking for any length of time you’ll think the signal has frozen or something and it’ll be really awkward.’ Linda looked thoughtful and said, ‘wow that’s actually really an important observation, I think that’s really important to note, because it is very different having video calls. There is a shared energy in a room, when we sit in a room with a person.’ I said, ‘yeah you can feel their presence, the connection… it’s different on a screen… it’s embarrassing to feel myself drifting away and feel you watching it happen on a screen, like voyeuristic or something, I feel very self conscious.’ Linda said she completely understood.

Linda said, ‘so were you feeling spacey and disassociated on Saturday after your session?’ I nodded and she asked me if I’d ever talked about creating some sort of lifejacket for when that happens. I asked what she meant and she said, ‘do you have some things you can call on for when you feel like that, that help ground you?’ I said, ‘well yeah, I walked to the waters edge to try and connect myself to where I was standing, watching the waves and I text my friend and had a quick chat with them and when I got home and was still feeling very triggered and still wanted to self harm I had a bath and I typed out my session notes… Anna called it my toolbox… those were all things I never used to do before.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and said they were good things to help ground me. I told her that I want to get to the point where I don’t need to consciously reach for these tools anymore. I want to spend more of my life in the present moment.

I had my arms folded and wasn’t looking at her. Linda asked me if I was angry and I really couldn’t tell. I said I was maybe angry with myself. I told her I felt like my kids would be better off without me. I told her that on the way home from the beach I promised the kids we’d get ice cream. Grace had exclaimed that she didn’t think the day could get any better and then me saying that just made it the best day ever. They were so happy. Then the bickering started and even after numerous warnings they were still kicking each other in the back of the car so I lost my temper and told them they were too hyper for ice cream. They then cried the rest of the way home and I sat there feeling like I had failed them, ruined the day, that all they would remember from the day was all that crying. ‘that’s what I would remember!’ I exclaimed to Linda. She said, ‘you often relate to your kids by assuming they will feel the same way about things as you do, but they are not you… to be honest Lucy that car situation sounds like parenting 101… kids were hyper and not listening, actually being quite dangerous having a fight in the back so you gave them a consequence.’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe in forced consequences and punishments… I believe in gently and respectfully explaining things. I should have calmly explained to them or distracted them with something, played a game with them or whatever but I was barely functioning… just sitting there wanting to vanish…’ Linda said, ‘you are being so hard on yourself Lucy.’ I made an agreeing noise and she told me I didn’t sound convinced. I said, ‘no I just think you’re bullshitting me, I don’t believe you really mean any of these kind things you say and I actually really believe that I did fuck things up.’ Linda said, ‘Lucy, not getting an ice cream did not fuck up their day… your day was fucked up because of how you were experiencing your inner world, the kids were unaware of all of that.’

I said, ‘Grace is so carefree… I don’t think she has any awareness of the existence of judgement… she just stood in the middle of the beach and stripped down to her swimming costume and Reuben down to his trunks and they ran to the waves and all I could hear was them splashing and giggling… I was just caught in this grief. Crying behind my sunglasses. I had to go for a walk so no one would see. I could never… I don’t remember ever being carefree. If I’d got undressed in front of my mum she would have called me names, criticised my body…’ I became very disconnected here and Linda brought me back somehow – questions about what it’s like for me to witness my kids happiness and carefree attitude. I told her it’s exactly the way I want it and I would never ever comment on a child’s appearance, ever. But also there’s so much sadness there. I told Linda that the only way I could relate to mum was if I was her confidante. So I would sit and listen to her talking endlessly about her problems, her relationship issues… everything. While my brother and dad played. I gave her some other examples of memories from our shitty holidays but I was slipping in and out of my body. At one point I snapped into focus and laughed and said, ‘I’m here right now!’ pointing to a space to the left above my head. It was such a bizarre experience, I don’t even know where that came from and she just nodded and said, ‘uhhu, yeah,’ as if I was telling her that it’d started raining or something! Now I’m reflecting on this I can imagine that those ‘beach chats’ with my mother were probably strongly supported by my ability to dissociate. Which explains the inability to stay rounded while attempting to talk about it. Also there were always very frightening arguments in the car between my parents… sometimes she would climb through the middle of the car to swap places with me or my brother because she didn’t want to sit next to my dad… while he was driving on the motorway. So me being triggered by my kids fighting in the car also makes sense.

So now I feel confused. I feel like she attuned to me and was so ready to help me work through all that and I feel kinda guilty for looking for and contacting another therapist, even though we already talked about that and she even recommended other therapists. It just feels like a strange limbo to be in. But I guess if I am going to move on to another therapist I will want it to be a gentle transition with a slow and deliberate ending with Linda.

Searching for a New Therapist

I’ve been reflecting quite a lot on what happened yesterday. The session really wasn’t ‘that bad’ in the sense that Linda wasn’t unkind or mean in any way but my response was massive. I was propelled into this cloud of depression and confusion all day. It interfered with my ability to connect with my family and myself. It suddenly dawned on me this morning… though this is probably fairly obvious… she triggered me! And when I put it like that, there’s no more shame or self-questioning. It just makes so much sense. I was triggered.

Linda said a few things that triggered me. She questioned my process. She insinuated I had been in therapy a long time because i was holding myself back and she put herself and her clients in one team and me in another… now all of these things could be interpreted in much less aggressive ways but I was triggered so it all felt huge.

My protective parts kicked in and I experienced shut down. I became very dissociative (I listened back to some voicenotes I sent my friend and it’s actually embarrassing listening back to them… I was not coherent at all!). I felt incredibly depressed and out of place. I felt disconnected from my husband and kids. I felt like I wanted to die. It was a very exaggerated response but one that makes total sense.

I have a session tomorrow afternoon because next week is the first week of us moving to a Monday, Friday pattern. I will attempt to bring these issues to her but I’m unsure she will give me anything therapeutic in return. She isn’t interested in reflecting and analysing the relationship so it may be pointless. However, she has in the past shown a keen ability to take what I saw on board… perhaps not changing herself as a result of my reflections but she will listen I’m sure. The fact that she triggered me isn’t a problem. I actually like a lot of the way she works but there are core issues with the clash between what I need and what she offers. I keep getting these big warning signs that this is not the road I’m meant to be on.

I’ve felt far more grounded today. Less tearful, less detached. I spent a few hours reading over therapists profiles online which always feels fairly depressing. I know this is going to sound completely egotistical but I often read the profiles of these ‘counsselors’ and feel more qualified than them! I really need someone who has clearly done a shit load of their own work. Not someone who looks like they’re in their early 20’s and hasn’t lived life.

So many of these profiles sound contrived and as if they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They list 78 ‘issues’ that they are willing to work on and it leaves you wondering if they really have experience with all these things. A lot of them read as super chirpy and light hearted, maybe they describe ‘needing someone to talk to’ which just feels so surface level and not as deep as I need. I’m immediately turned off by their photo if it’s a selfie or if they look self-conscious in any way. Then there’s the fact that they rarely mention any of the core things I am keen to explore… attachment work, developmental trauma, working with the therapeutic relationship.

I sat and did a little meditation this afternoon and really tuned in to my intuition. I told myself, ‘the right person is out there, you will find them… they will stand out to you when you find them, you’ll just know’ and then I went online again. I immediately stumbled across this therapist’s profile that I’ve never seen before and to be honest they tick allllll the boxes! Only problem is that it’s a man. I worked with a man before and was certain I needed a woman to help me heal my motherwound (especially because I was so certain I could never trust a woman, it became like a challenge to learn to be comfortable in the company of a woman). But I have suddenly realised it definitely doesn’t need to be a woman… I learned how to trust a woman! I learned how to sit with Anna. What I need now is someone who is willing to work on the deep stuff… which this therapist seems to be up for.

So I’ve sent an email and we’ll see where this takes me!

Out of My Body

What a day! The session was at 9am which in hindsight might have been a bad idea. I got up at quarter to 8 and felt okay but basically by the time I’d showered and grabbed a coffee it was time to set up for the session to start so I didn’t see the kids all morning, which always makes me feel guilty. Then when the session finished I felt obliged to leap into doing stuff as a family (as it’s the first and possibly last sunny weekend for a long time).

I told Linda that I was reflecting on what she’d said about me critiquing the sessions. I said that I was curious about the link between her sense of me scrutinising our work together and the way I scrutinise myself and Adam especially when it comes to parenting… and then I noticed a connection with the way my mother has always been with me. The way I have always felt scrutinised and critiqued by her. I told Linda that I remembered reading that sometimes clients can unconsciously replay a cycle that has bothered them in their lives, in order to show the therapist in real time what it feels like to be them and also to get an example from the therapist of how to respond to the situation. I then sort of rolled my eyes and told her I was aware that I am intellectualising but the link was interesting to me. She asked me what it would be like for me to let go of the control, she said I am not the therapist, I’m the client and asked me how it would feel to stop analysing. I told her that brought up a lot of anxiety and then I lost connection with how I was feeling. Looking back I really feel like it’s unfair of her to press this in the way she was. She wasn’t looking to understand why I do what I do, just interested in getting me to stop.

We then talked about me reading therapy books. She said, ‘When you told me you had a book collection that would rival any therapist, that really stayed with me. When you told me initially I was impressed, but I was also sad… and I think the sadness has stayed. I felt sad that all the books and reading… it takes up so much of your time and energy and I’m not sure it’s giving you what you need. Could you imagine living your life without the reading and journaling?’ I said no immediately and told her that I was aware of a defensive part coming in between me and her. She explained that it’s about trusting the process and I told her I actually really don’t know what that means. She said it’s about just being, just letting it be. I have reflected on this tonight and ‘trust the process’ sounds way too much like ‘trust me’ for my comfort… and ‘trust me’ is not the sort of thing you should be saying as a trauma informed therapist to a person who could NOT trust her caregivers as a child… I don’t even know if I can trust myself. If she really understood defenses she would know that my intellectualising and cognitising is all there for a reason. She would not try to take it from me and force me to trust her… it feels really uncomfortable to me that she would assume she knows better than me with regard to what I need.

I tried to explore with her why I do what I do and struggled to explain it because I was feeling defensive. The reason for the reading and researching has only really become clear to me this evening which I’ll get into in a minute. Linda made a comment about the writing. She said it is clearly part of my process but the interesting part for her is that I hit send (when I email her my notes… which happened twice). I personally don’t think that’s the interesting part… I write my journal every day. I post once or twice a week. I have emailed her twice in three months of work… that’s not entirely significant in my opinion. The interesting part for me is that I get the sense that she is threatened or intimidated by my need to reflect and bring attention to the work we’re doing. She mentioned that I talk about the relationships I’ve had with my therapists a lot and she talked about not being able to work in the same way Anna did with regards to analysing how we are working together. I find that really strange because don’t we all, as professionals, constantly reflect and analyse how effective our practice is? Isn’t it important for her to constantly check in with me that what she is doing actually works? For her to assume she knows what I need and to tell me to drop my defense mechanisms and trust *her* process to me sounds like someone who is letting her ego get in the way of the work… MY therapy.

Later this evening I was thinking trying to remember when the reading and researching started. I imagined that would have been the direction Anna would have taken things… she’d have tuned me in to my inner child. It started when I was a young teenager. I would rent books from the library, buy magazines, later when the internet became accessible in school I would look things up online and print them off… all about inherited trauma, personality disorders, bi-polar, BPD, depression… all to help my mother. I would make her mood boards and write her letters. I gave her leaflets and print outs to take to the doctor… I tried everything I could to qualify myself practically to therapist standards so that I could help her… help her become the mother I needed. And that’s the part of me that’s activated now… I’ve bought about 8 new books in the past 3 months. Been consuming a crazy amount of information. In all honesty I may as well be studying for a degree in psychology. Why? Because I’m trying to make Linda what I need her to be… retraumatising. This dynamic is not helping those parts of me. She is great on certain levels but she can’t help the attachment trauma… Anna could, Linda can’t. I think on some unconscious level she knows that, that’s why she comes across as being reluctant to let me reflect on our work or explain what I need. Anna knew that her work was not in beating my intelligence, her work was helping me tune in to myself and to teach me how to mother myself by mothering me. Linda can’t do that… maybe she knows she can’t take me further than Anna took me.

I explained to Linda that one of the reasons I like to type the sessions up is because it’s the only way I can remember them. I spend so much of the sessions spacey or dissociated that I just struggle so much to hold on to them. But immediately after the session I can get into this very focused zone where I am able to type the session up start to finish. If I don’t do that then I forget. Linda was explaining that the details aren’t always the most important bits and that ‘without wanting to sound too hippy dippy, something magic happens in therapy when you trust the process and you just suddenly notice that you have responded in a different way or something just doesn’t bother you as much’… I told her I have experienced that magic but also there’s a reluctance to just turning my back on a session and not looking at it again until the next session. She said she wasn’t expecting me to turn my back and that in her experience none of her clients turn their backs on their sessions just because they don’t read and research. I don’t like it when she says things like that, it makes me feel like she and her group of clients are all in it together and I’m this weirdo newcomer who is trying to do things differently. I told her a few times that I felt out of my body. She said she understood… but it didn’t feel like it was worked on.

She tried to get me to tune in to my feelings a few times and I really struggled. I started to recall a memory from when I was five and had just moved schools for the first time, half way through primary 1. I was told off by the teacher for daydreaming and sent to the head teachers office. When I got there I sat in his office and I remember him gesturing to the enormous window and the rolling hills outside and he basically said along the lines of ‘why wouldn’t you daydream, it’s beautiful out there,’ Linda said it was nice to hear that and I continued telling her that although that was my first memory of me losing time and space (and it was a happy-ish memory), my childhood (and whole life) has been saturated by moments lost. Exams failed. Whole conversations forgotten. My tendency to zone out, coupled with my mother being a gaslighting narcissist, meant that I was constantly questioning my reality. And so writing things down feels safe. It feels less slippery, less easy to twist my memories and my reality if I have it written down… and anyway, if I hadn’t written all my sessions down I would have nothing left of Anna. I told Linda it feels like trying to hold water, it’s dripping through my fingers. Writing it down is like turning the water to ice.

There was a lot more that happened in the session but the main take home was that if only I could stop intellectualising, stop reading and researching, stop writing and overthinking… then I’d be healed. I told her that’s what I was hearing and Linda said that was very unkind… she told me that she’s dipped in and out of therapy for 20 years. I felt really conflicted over the messages she was giving me. I thought she said it was taking me so long because of me staying in my head…? She asked me how I felt at the end of the session and I struggled to answer. I said I felt sad and angry and a whole load of other things. I told her that when Anna suggested I stop reading all my therapy books it triggered a massive relapse. i self harmed, i texted her a lot saying I couldn’t cope and that she’d taken away my crutch. I told her we worked a lot on mending that when I came back. I said I wasn’t in that place anymore (because I didn’t feel like that in the session but I have been feeling it A LOT all evening)… she thanked me for telling her. I don’t remember if she said anything else. She then confirmed we were changing to the Monday and Friday sessions from next week.

I came off the call and went downstairs and we decided to go to the beach straight away. I slipped into a thick and sticky depression. I couldn’t connect to the kids, I felt separate from them for the whole day. They played and had fun while I sat there stuck in my head. I was remembering painful days of my childhood. I was feeling like a failure. I was wishing I wasn’t there. We stayed at the beach for one and a half hours then came home. I lost my patience with the kids in the car and made them cry. I wanted to just stop existing. When we got home I went to bed and slept for a couple of hours. I have felt so stuck and so confused.

I decided to type this up tonight after feeling like I shouldn’t all day. Typing is part of my process and it has soothed that panic inside me as I’ve written it out. I’m angry that I have lost the memory of so much of my session because I didn’t type it straight away. I’m angry that Linda made me doubt myself. I want her to understand me… maybe she does and it’s me who doesn’t understand. I am so exhausted. Why doesn’t she get that of course the relationships are important to me? Why doesn’t she understand that I can’t just switch off my defenses? She implied that I’ve been in therapy for 7 years because I know too much about therapy. I told her there was actually a two year gap between Paul and Anna. And I told her that I was making a lot of progress with Anna before it was interrupted by her leaving me.

I want to know how Linda sits in therapy with her therapist, as a client, when she knows stuff about therapy… does she never bring her knowledge to her sessions? I just don’t get it. Sometimes it feels like she can support me on my journey and then we touch on something deeper and I get this sense that she can’t help me with the attachment stuff or any of the deeper things.

The core issues this is touching on is my need to feel seen and understood. My protective parts. My intellectualising. My difficulties with staying present and my constant struggle with dissociation and numbing/spacing out. My trust issues. My desire to connect but my fear of connection. My need to please and my need to express myself. And now I have no idea where to go with this because if I take these reflections to Linda is she going to feel critiqued? Will she be disappointed that I’m still intellectualising? I’m fucking exhausted and confused and feel pretty hopeless actually. I am so sick of getting in the way of myself. I want change, I want to stop osculating between extreme hypervigilance and numb dissociation. I want to exist somewhere in the mid section where I can be present and mindful and aware and… content! I just don’t know how to get there!

A Short Look at My Life in Therapy

I’ve written at length about how completely devastating it was to lose Anna. In those early days after she left I really believed I would kill myself. Dark, hopeless, empty and full of endless pain. It is still an active, aching grief and I am letting it exist alongside daily life. I imagine it will remain in some form for many years. However now I understand, this loss is the end of a profoundly impactful relationship, it is not the end of my journey.

Through my time writing publicly about this loss I’ve received so many messages from people who have experienced similar losses and are struggling to see a way forward. Also I’ve had messages from people who say that reading about my experience has ignited their abandonment fears and that watching me ‘keeping on going’ has inspired them. They’ve seen that despite the worst happening, there is hope, there is resilience. It may not always feel possible but life does in fact go on.

In Lori Gottlieb’s book (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) she explains that as a client we work on our woundedness across our lifespan. A therapist supports one piece of this life’s work. Growth does not belong to the therapist, it belongs to the client – the human being who is doing the work, who has enlisted the help. We likely won’t do a life’s work within just one therapeutic relationship. Numerous therapeutic relationships can actually bring a greater depth and breadth of healing. Even those of us who are deep in the trenches of the all consuming attachment work of development trauma survivors… those of us who’s progress greatly relies on the healing impact of an intimate, long term, trusting relationship… even those of us who momentarily become swallowed up by the therapeutic attachment… we too can benefit from the coming and going of these attachments. One person will not come into our lives to ‘save’ us… we are doing the work of saving ourselves by enlisting the help of others. And that help may come in the form of a long lasting relationship, or indeed it may look like one single unforgettable encounter.

The past week I’ve had this image in my mind. A diagram of my life’s timeline to date, accompanied by my therapeutic relationships.

The first was a single impactful session. I was 17. I was referred from my school. It was a three hour interview involving a child psychologist, my mother and myself. He was a gentle, compassionate man. He taught me that my mother invalidated all of my words, my experiences, my existence. He made her feel deeply uncomfortable and he let me know what ‘safe’ feels like for three glorious hours. I learned that me harming myself WAS ‘that bad’ and that I deserved better. She never took me back.

The second, also a single session – early twenties. I met a beige man in a tiny office at the back of my local surgery after 12 months on the waiting list. From him I learned that the NHS could not provide what I needed, just like my mother. I also learned that ‘she’s the one with the problem’.

My third was Paul. He was my first long term therapist. I practically crawled into his office dragging the heavy shackles of post natal depression behind me from my ankles. He released me from the debilitating chains of OCD. He helped me organise my thoughts and create a timeline of my life. He taught me mindfulness and broadened my awareness of therapeutic practices. He packed my toolbox full of techniques and encouraged my love of reading and writing. He brought the beautiful concept of unconditional positive regard into my awareness and he woke me up. He pulled me back onto my feet and showed me I was strong enough to face another pregnancy.

The forth and most impactful therapeutic relationship – my therapy mum… Anna. She patiently and delicately loved me back to life. She gave me my voice and introduced me to my inner child. She saw me and she gently taught me how to tolerate being seen. Through her I experienced true love and I learned how to be authentic, vulnerable and courageous. She encouraged me to draw again… to bring that creative little girl out from hiding and let her have the freedom to begin expressing herself. And through leaving me prematurely, she unlocked my grief. In her absence she is teaching me to have faith, to trust.. to believe that connections last, memories last, love lasts long after relationships end.

Now Linda, my fifth therapeutic ally. She is gifting me the space to grieve. She is opening doors enabling me to meet more hidden parts. She’s giving me permission to explore myself uncensored. She is encouraging me to brave connection with stark honesty and openness. She is opening my eyes and giving me the freedom to explore life and to find which direction I need to go in next.

Despite losing sight of the path ahead many times, despite believing there was no through road… my healing journey continues. I don’t know what lies ahead but I know where I am right now and really, that’s all we ever know.

My life has been touched by therapeutic magic in many more ways than those listed above. Amazing books, caring and protective teachers, lifelong friends and those who came for only a short period but still touched my life in a profound way, this blog and my Instagram page… so many healing connections. I am grateful for every single one.

Erotic Transference and Exploring it’s Meaning

*again some very sensitive bits have been taken out, I hope it still makes sense.

Before the session I imagined Linda telling me, ‘it’s important to focus on what’s coming up for you RIGHT NOW.’ Which is always quite difficult when you’re feeling fragmented. Because you could spend the whole week strongly feeling one thing and then the millisecond the screen flicks to her face the feeling could switch to something else or nothing at all…

What was coming up for me was that I was shattered. Really really fucking exhausted. I had my session at 4.30pm after a long hard day at work and basically it just feels like it’s been a long hard few months. I feel fatigued and broken in my bones. My whole body hurts and when I blink I feel like I could just keep my eyes closed and fall asleep!

Linda seemed warm and friendly when she logged on. She asked me how I’ve been coping with ‘all this rain’ and I had a moan about the kids being stuck in work ALL day because it was too wet to play outside. She then asked me what I wanted to focus on today and I told her that a huge amount of grief came up for me after our last session. I told her I was sick of hearing myself say it but also it needed to be said. I explained, again, that I spent my whole life not crying and so it’s really quite remarkable the amount of crying I’m doing these days.

‘I had a bath last night, I knew Adam and the kids were out and I just cried and cried. I cried so much that my head and eyes hurt this morning.’ She had a sad, sympathetic expression and I continued, ‘I don’t know if it’s masochistic or good that I’m doing all this thinking and crying. Last night I had this imaginary conversation in my head with Anna and it made me cry so much.’ Linda asked me if I’d like to share with her the conversation or did it need to stay private between me and Anna (which I thought was adorable because really it’s just all in my head!) I told her I was happy to tell her. I explained that I fantasised that I was meeting with her one last time somewhere in the future. One final session. In my mind I told Anna what the past few months have been like for me. I told her about the hollow, empty loneliness I’ve been experiencing and how it feels like I must have walked around with that particular aloneness my whole childhood. I said, ‘You know, it’s not about lack of support. I have you and friends and my family… it’s a specific pain… you can be in a room full of people and still be in pain with this all encompassing loneliness…’ Linda said, ‘yes, absolutely and it’s linked to the emotional neglect, that particular loneliness.’ I nodded, ‘it really is… and I told Anna that, in my mind, that her leaving has brought all of that out of me and that I’m beginning to understand, I think I spent most of my life imagining that hole wasn’t there, or imagining I could go back and fix it… now it really is sinking in, that it’s irreversible damage – just like Anna was irreplaceable. All I can do is grieve.’

I told Linda that I felt like I was being really self-obsessed and she asked in what way. I told her it was weird that I decided to have a bath, have a self-indulgent fake conversation in my head, cry my eyes out and then tell her all about it.’ Linda said, ‘I’m really not in the ‘self-obsessed’ gang… I’m more in the self-compassion gang… firstly, I asked you about it and I’m really glad you shared with me… and what I hear is that you have spent your whole life building this reservoir, pouring every single drop of your emotions into that reservoir. And you made a really strong dam and you held on to all of that pain. The reservoir held up all these years. And it sounds like very recently, all of a sudden, the dam burst and every so often, when you have the time and space, you’re letting yourself feel and let go of all that you’ve been holding onto for your whole life.’ I said, ‘that’s the exact analogy I I have always used for how I feel about my emotions. I remember telling Paul that I felt like I was struggling to support the dam and that it was threatening to burst. I felt like I was going to lose my mind, lose control and my whole life would be destroyed by all of my pain, if I was to let go of the control. All those years ago. But yeah, it was October/November sort of time that I really felt the emotions coming to the surface and I’m sure it was around then that I cried with Anna for the first time. But it was slow at first, really slow.’ Linda remarked on how recent that is and told me she really can see how important this work is. I told her I was sad that I hadn’t managed to do this work with Anna and she said she understood. I told her that losing Anna cracked my heart open and then ALL of the pain flooded out. She said, ‘I can absolutely understand the sadness about not being able to do this work with Anna, all of the work you’d done together to get to that point and then the thing that breaks open the grief is losing her, I really do get that. I just want to say now that I really admire how you’re doing this work, you aren’t letting the longing and grief around losing Anna ‘get in the way of’ your therapy and the fact that I’m not Anna, stop you from doing the work, you’re doing it… you know?’ I said, ‘I really feel like she would be proud of me.’ Linda smiled and nodded. I said, ‘so you really don’t think I’m being self-indulgent?’ Linda said, ‘no, not at all, I think you are trusting the process and allowing yourself the space and time to grieve, which is such powerful work.’

There was a lull in the chat and I said, ‘I just want to say that you really helped me reframe two things in the last session that have been around for me since… the first one is the idea that I can hold both being there for Grace and support her emotionally while also feeling the grief of my longing. That was really helpful to see it that way, that both can coexist. And the other thing that’s stayed with me is the sense of seeing things through the lens of my emotional neglect, rather than turning my focus towards trying to understand my mum and dad, I’m now trying to understand myself.’ Linda smiled and nodded and we talked those things through a bit.

There was a really funny moment when Linda took a drink of what looked like wine and I laughed outloud and asked if she was drinking on the job. She laughed and told me it was irn bru which made me laugh even more… the idea of her drinking irn bru out of a wine glass during my therapy session… it was just so stereo-typically Scottish.

Then I said I had something very important to talk about that I’ve never talked about before and I really wasn’t sure if I’d be able to talk about it. I started about ten different sentences and shifted about and felt very uncomfortable. After what felt like hours but was probably about two minutes I said, ‘oh my god I feel like I’m going to be sick, my hearts racing and my tummy feels nervous.’ Linda said, ‘I can see this is really difficult for you and also sense that it is important to you, that you are both reluctant and eager to talk about this.’ I said, ‘I know that rationally this is the purpose for therapy – something important is dragging at your heels, keeps coming up in your daily life… therapy is there to really dig into that and help you find meaning, yes?’ Linda nodded, I continued, ‘but it’s incredibly embarrassing and I can’t imagine even saying the words… it’s so fucking weird and cringy. I don’t even know where to start… I mean I kind of knew I’d try to talk about this especially after the weekend, but I don’t know… I don’t have a script or anything I’ve no idea where to start.’ Linda said it sounded like I had taken myself by surprise by bringing this up and I told her that’s exactly how it feels because I’ve been at work and busy for the past few days so haven’t had to overthink or prepare.

There was a hell of a lot of uming and ahing. I started to lose grip on the connection between us and Linda said, ‘would it help for you to orient, to ground yourself?’ I nodded but really had no sense of how I could do that. I just sat there and she said, ‘how would you feel about taking some intentional breaths. Whatever feels right for you?’ I nodded again. Still unable to do anything. Then Linda spontaneously started a mindful breathing exercise with me (we’d talked before about what helps me ground and I told her that breathing with Anna had really helped). ‘Lets breathe together Lucy, you can stop any time but it might help you to get some oxygen in your system. So follow me and focus on letting the air fill your body, fill your belly and in…..’ then she breathed in audibly and then she breathed out audibly, slowly, while I followed her. I watched her on the screen as I copied her breathing pattern and I started to feel connected to her. It began to feel very intimate and I told her that. She smiled and continued breathing while I breathed. She closed her eyes at one point and I can’t even put into words how beautiful it felt. I’ve never sat in a room with this woman but I felt as if I was in the room with her. It was so lovely. I said, ‘I just suddenly realised you are a human being sitting in your house listening to and talking to me right now in this very moment.’ She said she knew that it meant a lot to me. She asked if it would help me if we did this every so often in the sessions when I’m struggling with feeling the connection or when I’m feeling spacey. She said, ‘We could spend some time breathing together? It only takes a minute but can be quite grounding, what do you think?’ I said I’d really like that.

Linda asked me if I was scared to talk about this thing because it would be hard to put into words or because I was worried how she would react. I said, ‘No I totally think you’ll be fine! You’ll be totally okay with this… I’m just mortified. I mean, judging by the stuff that’s on your website I definitely know you will be able to handle this!’ she laughed and I said, ‘I am trying to give it a title and I can’t even do that.’ Linda asked what the subtitle would be and after a while I said, ‘my fear of intimacy seeps into every single area of my life.’ She repeated that back to me and said, ‘I was going to suggest an alternative subtitle… ‘this is about sex.’ I burst out laughing, not looking at her and nodded theatrically. She said, ‘okay… so lets talk about sex… take your time and try not to censor yourself.’

I told her that it’s always been hard for me to be present when I’ve been intimate with Adam. That it’s much easier for me to be some place else in my head with someone else and I am always someone else in my fantasies as well. I said, ‘How can you avoid intimacy while having sex with someone? Don’t engage mentally with what’s happening to your body!’ she was really connecting to what I was saying and asked me if I had ever talked to Anna about this. I said that I hadn’t talked about this because it’s mortifying and it’s about her and then I nervously burst out laughing again. I quickly moved on and gave a sort of background.

I explained, ‘so yeah sex was always quite triggering for me and then when we started trying for a baby it changed things, it became a really beautiful, bonding, exciting thing and I really loved it… then things became difficult again when I had post natal depression but then Paul came along and well… so basically I had pretty standard erotic transference with him and I HavE nEVeR SaID thAt OUtLoUd BefORe!’ I freaked out and Linda calmly said, ‘Lucy, when people come to therapy, especially when they go as deeply as you are going in therapy, it changes every area of their lives. It changes their sex lives. How could it not? Therapy is about connection and intamcy. Sex is about connection and intimacy. The two are connected and almost everyone who goes to therapy experiences this change in their sex lives even if they don’t ever talk about sex in therapy. Does that resonate with what you’re saying?’ I nodded and told her that sex became very exciting once I had Paul to fantasise about. There was some very deep therapy stuff playing out in my transference. I found him really sexy and my fantasies were always very graphic and often involved strong desire and force.

I took a deep breath and cringed outwardly exclaiming that I couldn’t believe I was gonna tell her this, especially as she knows Anna! I said, ‘the thing is, the transference wasn’t as overtly sexual with Anna, I didn’t want to have sex with her, it wasn’t sexy and exciting, the fantasies… it was different.’ Linda was making a lot of very deliberate agreeing noises as if she knew what I was saying and so I continued, all the while feeling very very embarrassed, my cheeks were flushed red and I said a couple of times that I wished she couldn’t see me. I said, ‘when I had really connecting sessions with Anna, I had the best sex ever. Like, powerful amazing sex. And through the last couple of years working with her I could happily have had sex every day, usually I did actually… I fucking loved it! Then she left and I was so depressed and on the diazepam which killed my libido but also I just felt destroyed, I didn’t want to do anything with my body, I wanted nothing to do with him and couldn’t face being intimate at all. We’ve had sex a handful of times since she left and really they were more like duty sex sessions,’ Linda made a noise when I said this and I continued, ‘I just don’t want my relationship to be damaged because of my weird quirks with sex like what am I gonna say… sorry darling husband I can’t have sex with you coz I’ve lost my therapeutic aphrodisiac!? Hmmm… but also… ohmygod I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this. I’m a complete fucking weirdo but… well… I mean, it happened by chance, we were having sex and then I imagined Anna writing my name at the top of the therapy notes and it made me, you know… and I mean I was not sexually attracted to her, I absolutely wanted her to be my mummy, not my lover – but something about her seeing me or connecting to me, it did something to me, and so I would fantasise about sessions where she’d really understood me while I had sex. It made sex so incredibly powerful. Basically this weekend I read over session notes from the first very connecting session I’d had with her back in November 2018, not in some weird therapy porn way, I just was curious to recall this particular session and anyway, we had the best sex we’ve had in like three months that night. And I feel like a depraved freak! So there it is.’

Linda said, ‘Well, none of that sounds depraved and I don’t think you’re a freak, AT ALL! In fact, it all makes perfect sense to me. Anna saw parts of you that had laid dormant your whole life – she led you back to parts of yourself who had been in hiding. She connected you to yourself and that helped you connect to your pleasure. When she stopped working with you, you felt as though you’d lost that part of yourself. When you lost her, you also lost you. Reading over the notes reminded you of that connection with yourself. It all makes so much sense to me. Does that sound right to you?’ I was really stunned and said it made so much sense and was an amazing way of looking at it. I told her that Anna really did see me like noone else had and I really missed being seen like that by someone.

Linda said, ‘Sex is all about energy and connection, so is therapy… we are really confronted with ourselves when we have sex… and in therapy!’ I said, ‘yeah and I think the more therapy I have, the less I’m able to betray my body by abandoning it…’ Linda said, ‘yes absolutely and you said yourself its impossible to want to be physically intimate with someone you’re angry with and you have been angry with Adam quite a lot recently.’ I said, ‘well yeah, and the thing is it’s easy to have sex with anyone when you stay in your head, you don’t need to think about who you’re with or what you’re doing, you just do it and get whatever you need to get out of it… but the more I worked on myself the less appealing that is. I want to heal that part of me… I’ve known for a while that this is not healthy. I want to connect to my body, I want to have those feelings of intimacy and connection with myself and with Adam without needing it from therapy! For fuck sake I want to be able to have sex with my husband while thinking about my husband!’

Linda said, ‘when was the last time you were able to do that? Think of him and be present while having sex.’ I quietly said, ‘I don’t think I ever have.’ Linda’s voice changed and she softened. She said, ‘okay, hmmm… thank you for telling me that. That sounds very personal and important… I was really moved by what you said about sex changing when you were planning for a baby, as if having sex to make a baby, having that purpose changed the sex.’ I said, ‘yeah it definitely did… and my perfection kicked in and I made damn sure we made that baby… I made sure we had sex every day and we got pregnant the first month. I lost that baby, then we got pregnant the next month and that was Grace…’ Linda said, ‘I’m really sorry to hear you lost your first baby, I’m sorry I didn’t know that.’ I nodded and felt awkward and uncomfortable that she’d focused on that. I said, ‘well there it is… all that’s out there now!’

Linda said, ‘All of this is so important. The connecting to yourself and staying in your body while having sex. That’s something we can go back to, that’s very important. Working on connecting with your body, staying in your body. And your baby and the pregnancies… all of that, it’s all been so important. Thank you for sharing all of that with me Lucy.’ I nodded.

We planned the next session at an earlier time of 9am. We joked about how early it was and I said it was great neither of us had to commute very far (she works from her home office and I have my sessions in my bedroom). I then laughed and said, ‘In fact I’ll already be in bed, I just need to sit up and turn the laptop on for 9am!’ we laughed about that which felt really nice after such an intense session. Linda asked me how I was feeling and I said I actually felt liberated. That I survived talking about this thing that I’d felt a lot of shame about for a very long time and I didn’t implode… She thanked me again for being so open and so willing to ‘do the work’ and I thanked her and that was the end of the session.

And honestly… I feel amazing. There was obviously more to the session than this but even what I’ve included here was a huge breakthrough. To be able to share this and not have her reject or shame me. It feels very important and I am hopeful we will do some good work around all of this. This is core wound stuff right here… learning to inhabit my body! Allowing myself to connect to my feelings.

07.09.18 The first time I talked about hugs with Anna

It’s weird going to a session in the evening. I felt bad that I was going to a session on Adam’s birthday. But we’d talked a lot about it and he said it was okay. It was better than another missed session. I missed Anna so much last weekend and had so much I wanted to try to talk about to do with processing all the shame stuff we’d uncovered from the last session. I walked from the car, caught my breath, rang the buzzer and waited. I was pleased to see Anna coming down the stairs and she smiled through the glass at me. It’s a bit frightening to feel myself growing this fondness for her. I’d been so successful at holding it back for so long. It’s been a little over a year since I sent her the first email and I’m only just sensing this strong desire to be close to her. I feel like I’ve held it back as much as I can but it’s stronger than me now and part of me wants to submit and just let it happen. The part that’s holding me back feels less intense these days.

We were in the front room. I sat down and asked Anna if she’d had a nice break. She smiled a genuine smile and said yes she had, I said that was good. Anna then asked me how I was. I noticed we weren’t recording, she’d forgotten the tape. There were a few lights on in the room and the sun was going down. It felt cosier than the morning sessions. I said, ‘I’m okay right now.’ Anna looked at me and said, ‘how were you last weekend?’ I had a bit of a think, took a slow breath and committed to talking about everything I’d intended to say. I started with, ‘It’s been a hard fortnight. Work has been stressful… it’s been quite pressured since coming back from the summer.’ Anna asked if it was to do with my new job and I said it was. I love it when she remembers things I’ve told her. I explained how my boss is piling lots of other responsibilities on me. I then talked about the suspension going in the car and having to pay for that and the laptop dying. Anna asked if I was ill and I said I had been but was feeling better, it was just the remnants of a cold. She said, ‘you I can hear it in your voice.’ I felt really seen by her. I forgot to mention how the staff meeting about Adverse Childhood Experiences had triggered me on Wednesday. It’s like I blanked that whole day and evening out. How it triggered an intense urge to hurt myself… the part in the presentation with images of cuts on teenage skin… I’d wanted to tell her how I resisted and looked after myself. Maybe it’s just as important that I noticed it in myself.

She then asked what I wanted to talk about today. I said I wanted to continue from the last session. I reminded her about the photos I’d seen on facebook of my mum and cousins and the shame I’d felt when my brother said I should get over it and stop caring what she does and that she clearly doesn’t care about me. The last session was the first time I mentioned the word shame, even noticed that it IS shame that I was feeling and Anna had been so proud of me. She said again that she was proud I was able to verbalise the feeling.

I started talking about how it seemed to push a button in me and this week I’ve been flooded by memories and realisations of times I’ve felt shame. It’s been so hard. Anna said, ‘what did you do? To help yourself get through all that… what did you do?’ I said that I’d reached out to a few different people and made connections. I said there were a couple of women at work who were in their 50s who I’d talked to a bit. Norma in particular. I said, ‘we’ve talked a wee bit about different things. Like she’s talked about her grown up daughters and their kids… I told her that I’d said to Norma her daughters were lucky to have her… that I don’t really have a relationship with my mum.’ Anna congratulated me for being open with Norma, asked if it’s the first time I’ve been honest about it with someone outside my close friends. I nodded. She said – ‘You didn’t just randomly decide to tell anyone, you used your intuition. You opened up to her and she responded with compassion. How did you feel when you told her?’ I said I felt vulnerable and a bit like, ‘what if she realises how unlovable I am…’ and Anna said, ‘I’m proud of you for being honest with her. If you think about your growth, you would never have done that 6 months ago…’ I fought against that a bit saying, ‘It’s not really intuition though is it, it’s you. You encouraged me to put down what I’d written and just say it to you. It’s not intuition it’s practicing it here with you.’ She said, ‘I suggested you put it down but you could have said no. It was you who said oh okay and gave it a go.’ I said, ‘okay I’ll give you that!’ And she said, ‘good!’ And we smiled. I feel like it’s slowly becoming easier to take praise from Anna. Before it would feel like I would burn with shame that she was noticing something in me but now it makes me feel kind of good to have her say nice things to me.

Anna asked what I was frightened of. I started to feel a bit angry like I was pre-empting hurt and said, ‘If I open up and form an attachment and let myself feel something for you like I did Paul then I’d feel like an idiot coz it’s not real. Like I’m being fooled into being vulnerable just to get hurt. Like, I’ll start to soften, open up more, feel closer to you, get attached, be vulnerable then get hurt.’ Anna said, ‘I feel quite emotional about that (I could see it in her eyes) you want it so much but you’re so frightened of being hurt that you don’t let it happen. You feel that if you are vulnerable with me you’ll get hurt but I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t know how I’m going to react to you if you open up. And I know you’re scared of crying with me’. I thought about that for a while then I said, ‘I’m not as resistant to crying as I used to be. Recently when I’ve been upset I’ve tried to imagine you being there with me, like to desensitise myself or something… I know that sounds really silly but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘Lucy, it’s not silly. It’s a great idea.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘it’s a bit weird though…’ she said, ‘Lucy it’s very creative. It’s a really good idea I’m glad you’ve started doing that.’ She said, ‘what do you imagine me doing when you cry?’ I said, ‘you just stay sitting there.’ She asked if it feels okay having me there and I said yes but then said, ‘actually sometimes I feel like I would want to leave.’ I liked exploring that fantasy with her, I liked the questions she was asking. On reflection I am realising how sad it is that even in the private and endless possibilities of my imagination I could not fathom her doing anything other than sitting there looking at me while I cry by myself. On my own. Am I afraid of disappointment, is that what stops me imagining her comforting me?

Anna said, ‘yes you’ll be vulnerable but I’m not going to hurt you. It might hurt but I am not going to hurt you’. I feel like she might have even said it a third time. It really felt like she was speaking to something very deep inside me that really needed to hear it. I’m not going to hurt you. I could do with her saying that to me every session. I am not going to hurt you and I am not going to intentionally leave you. Those two statements feel like they unlock something inside or maybe they feed some part of me that’s been starving for most of my life. She said, ‘of course you feel like that. That’s been your experience. Why would you trust me, you hardly know me.’ I said, ‘it’s so hard though coz I want it so much. Wanted it so much from you both. You and Paul. But it also feels like the worst idea in the world!’ She laughed and said, ‘maybe that’s because you don’t really want it from me. You want it from your mum. You want your mum to do these things for you and it’s really shit that she’s not.’ We talked about that for a bit. With her really prodding the idea of how completely shit it is that mum couldn’t do what I needed her to do. I know that all of that is true but some small part of me is still not connecting the logic with the feelings. It used to feel like the emotions were trapped beneath a lead weight pinned to the corners of the pain inside me, keeping it down. It now feels like a clear film of tissue paper holding down the emotions, tearing at the edges and threatening to give… I’m nearly there but not quite. The mother in me says that with patience it will come. The inner critic says I don’t need it to. The smallest part of me has had to carry the heaviest weight and is desperate to be allowed to let it go.

I said, ‘this is totally random but I had a similar thing happen with the woman who does my nails. I’ve been going to her fortnightly for ages… well as long as I’ve been coming here probably…’ I told Anna that she has always been really complimentary of me and then when I saw her on Friday she was saying she looked forward to me coming, that she likes the hour she gets to chat to me. That it doesn’t feel like she has to put on her beautician role for me, that I’m more real than a lot of her clients. I said how I always felt like I was weird and different coz I like talking about deeper things and don’t really like small talk but recently I’ve been trying to be more loyal to what I am like and the right kind of people are noticing. It feels like I’m attracting people who fit better with me. They’re saying lovely things to me. I told Anna that Fee (my nail tech) hugged me before I left my appointment, after I’d had my nails done. Anna said, ‘she sounds lovely. What was it like for her to hug you?’ I said it was lovely and she smiled and said, ‘have you ever thought about hugging me?’ I felt this massive feeling wash over my body like a shock feeling, maybe it’s shame again. Panic. Heat. Like embarrassment that she caught me out or something. I couldn’t look at her. In an instant things went from easy and open to unbearable. I said, ‘yes, but I’d never ask you for it coz I know you’d say no and that rejection would be too painful.’ I checked what she looked like and she looked gentle and calm and sort of vulnerable and said, ‘you don’t know if you don’t ask.’ I thought how it would be really horrible if this was a way to teach me about rejection in a safe place by getting me to ask just so she can say no…’ I said, ‘well would you… hug..?’ And she smiled and said,’ uhu‘. I think all I managed was ‘oh’ then after a while said, ‘but you are so boundaried with everything else I just 100% thought it would be an absolute no.’ She talked about how hugs are just a part of relationships, they’re a normal part of greetings… she said some other things but I was still spinning thinking about the fact that we could hug. She said, ‘we can hug today if you want.’ I put my hands to my head and cringed and said, ‘oh my god that makes me feel like I could burst into tears. Maybe we need to leave the hug for the start of the session in case I cry my eyes out.’ She said, ‘we could always hug at the door when you come in if you wanted.’ All of the emotions felt like they were in my throat, strangling and clawing their way up and out. All I could think was it was too late in the session. It felt almost like I would destroy myself if I let go. As illogical as that sounds.

Anna said, ‘Did you ever hug Paul?’ and I told her about how he didn’t hug but we always shook hands. I thought about the session I’d had with my dad, the only session with Paul that I cried at. How dad had sat in his chair, Paul in his and me in mine. Crying on my own. That as I followed dad out of Paul’s office, Paul had put his hand on my back. How good that had felt. I wish I had been brave enough to ask him for a hug. Part of me wants to go all the way through to the city he’s in now and pay £80 just so I can get a goodbye hug from him. I’ll have to stick to imagining it. 

Anna said, ‘I hope I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable bringing up the hug thing, I thought it seemed important that you’d brought it up about fee and wanted to check. We don’t have to hug now or ever but you can ask for a hug whenever you want. Saying no now doesn’t mean it’s never going to be there for you, all you need to do is ask.’ That made me feel like I could cry my eyes out. The idea that I could have a hug from her when I need it. That she was explicit in explaining to me that just because it is a no now doesn’t mean I can never have one. I needed to hear that. I said, ‘maybe that’s something that’s been stopping me from crying, that when I’ve imagined it I’ve still been alone coz you don’t do anything (she nodded and smiled in agreement) it would be weird for you to just suddenly leap over and hug me if I was crying but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘there are ways of doing things differently, furniture can be moved…’ I’m not sure what that would look like, or feel like.

At some point we talked about how I felt when I worked with Paul that I should be over the mum stuff. I wasn’t ready. I idealised him so much I just wanted to impress him. I wanted to present this finished, perfect person to him to make him like me or make him feel good about how great he is or something. Anna asked what would have happened if he’d known I wasn’t finished… I felt that he’d have been disappointed. I said I feel like an idiot for not being able to do this by myself. That I feel like I should be intelligent enough to fix this by myself and not need to keep going over and over this same shit, I should just be over it. Anna talked about how it doesn’t work like that. She explained how the healing is in the relationship. If I consider that question now – what would have happened if he’d known… it would have opened more very painful stuff? He might have wanted to refer me on to someone else? Maybe he secretly knew he was going to stop working in my city so didn’t want to press me too much into new avenues.

I was very thoughtful for a while towards the end. Just sitting quietly while Anna wrote. The room had become darker. It occurred to me that I had been present for the whole session and hadn’t felt that weird spacey/fuzzy way at all. For the first time ever! I still felt connected to her and felt this overwhelming realisation that it was just her and me in the room. We were alone together in that big building. I hadn’t really been conscious of that feeling before. Maybe I was feeling safe enough to notice how vulnerable that is, to trust her alone in that building. Then she gently asked, ‘What are you thinking?’ with a sort of patient inquisitive expression. I made an effort to tell her the thought that felt important. I told her that when I started working with her, I made up these stories in my head about her… I think it was like a defence mechanism, like when you know absolutely nothing about a person, there’s a need to fill that void. And I used the stories as a way of keeping her far away from me… I could tell she was listening carefully. I started to get a little panicky and my breathing went weird and I sort of nervously laughed and she gently reminded me to take my time. I went on, ‘I want to preface this by saying that a) I know you won’t answer any of these things or tell me anything about your family and b) I don’t want to know any of it at all… (she had an expression of acceptance on her face that made me feel like she was on my side, not judging me) so one of the stories I’d made up in my head was that if you have kids then you maybe have just one son or two sons. That you don’t have a daughter. I think it helped me keep you at a distance. That maybe if you don’t have a daughter you can’t understand me or wont connect to me, which is total rubbish obviously, but when Paul would talk about his daughter it just totally broke me. And I saw photos of his family. I was so jealous of them. I just couldn’t bear the idea that I would feel that with you so I shut out the possibility. But then something about the last session, something made me feel closer to you, something made me feel something for you, then I suddenly realised you could have a daughter and it devastated me. The idea of you having that kind of bond. It’s been heartbreaking.’ Anna talked about how it’s totally normal and very common for clients to feel jealous of their therapists family. I said, ‘Paul was okay with me talking about it once or twice but then it’s like he just never wanted to talk about it again, said we needed to talk about what brought me in to see him and that it’s ‘just transference’…’ Anna said, ‘Not being able to talk about how you felt with Paul probably added to the shame.’ I said, ‘hmmm… yeah, but I have a theory on it because he did say that he felt fatherly feelings towards me. Maybe me bringing it up made him feel uncomfortable or something. I just wish he could have figured that out so he could have helped me.’ She said, ‘Yeah, that’s what supervision is for.’ It felt good to speak honestly about that. I felt understood.

She talked about when it’s time to end I will be so ready to stop therapy I’ll be sick of her. I said it made me have a pang of rejection feeling when she said that. Like, ‘don’t talk about finishing 5 mins before the end of a session!’ Anna said it was great I was able to pinpoint and verbalise that feeling, she said, ‘I’m not leaving you. I don’t want you to take away from the session that we talked about ending.’ Later on she said again something about how when it is time to end, it will feel right and we will have a number of sessions to process the ending. I said, ‘argh your bringing it up again!’ She said, ‘yes because it’s important… but I’m not going anywhere, unless something out of my control happens or you finish with me, I’m not going to leave you.’ I smiled thinking. I really felt good about that interaction, although painful, I felt awake and able to notice my feelings and articulate them. I don’t always feel like that. Sometimes it feels like it’s all muffled with cotton wool – tonight it all felt crisp and easy.

I said I had got quite close to crying in the last session, ‘well it was the closest I’ve ever been to crying with you, I thought it might happen but you moved me on. I don’t know if you were aware of it happening, or maybe you were trying to contain it because you knew we had a break the next week… you’re usually pretty good at all that,’ she said, ‘yeah, it’s important that we break this up into small chunks. I will be pushing you deeper to feel things but it can’t be too prolonged.’ She then said we had gone off at a tangent last session and that that’s okay too. That we can’t plan these things and she can’t come in with an agenda, it needs to be about what happens in the room.

As Anna wrote out the receipt I told her how significant they are to me – they’re like a transitional object, they remind me of her and our work, help me stay connected to her… all these wee quarter folded squares in little piles around my bedroom, comforting me when I feel alone. Anna suggested we continue to talk about all this next week. That felt right.

If my therapy journey is like a computer game, I’ve somehow managed to unlock another level that I’ve never accessed before. By doing that, I’ve experienced things deeper than ever before and experienced a deeper level of care from Anna. I was acutely aware of her and me in the room. A deeply felt emotional intimacy. I could feel her care, it was powerful. I don’t know if it was because we weren’t recording, or because I was less self-conscious about how I was coming across, or because I had meditated on being completely open with her, or was it the way she was with me? She was so attuned to me today. Whatever it was I hope all the sessions are like this from now on.  

The Root of it All

Today’s session was really intense and I’ve had to take some very sensitive bits out so hopefully it doesn’t jump around too much.

As soon as we clicked on I told Linda that I wasn’t in any rush to stop working with her and that I had a strong sense within myself that I need to slow down, to really feel into this place I’m in right now and to not rush on to another therapist. I noted that we had been very honest with each other in the last session which made me feel more connected to her and on reflection I felt like I need to just feel my feet and settle for a bit. She thanked me for explaining this and said that was more than fine and it’s entirely up to me what happens in my therapy. I do feel safe with her and I like her a lot. I feel comfortable telling her when she doesn’t ‘get it right’ and she is always open to hearing that kind of feedback (even if she did say she doesn’t know how she feels about the constant critiquing of the sessions). At the moment that honesty feels healing because it’s a level of openness I never ever had with anyone when I was a child.

I told Linda that I felt flooded with sadness just seconds before the session started and I knew I wanted to work with those feelings today. I explained to Linda that I watched The Secret Garden with the kids on Thursday and it triggered some overwhelming emotional flashbacks that stayed with me for the next few days. The film was really special to me growing up and I remember watching it repeatedly but couldn’t remember why it was so important to me until we watched it the other night. Then it became glaringly obvious that I really related to the girl in the film. As the film progressed I felt more and more under the spotlight as if everyone could see that the film was about me (everyone being my husband and kids – the self-consciousness was completely irrational and in itself a flashback to how I felt as a child). We explored the themes in the film that resonated with me. The emotional neglect that the privileged kids experienced. The fact that Mary’s parents never had any time for her. That Mary said of herself that she never cried, didn’t know how to cry. I explained that although we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, both my parents clung onto their ‘middle class’ roots and I was always brought up believing we were somehow better than everyone else… and simultaneously I felt completely invisible. My parents were emotionally immature and completely preoccupied with themselves and wrapped up in their relationships. As Linda framed it, ‘they never validated your existence.’ I felt as if I didn’t exist. The lasting impact of that neglect is that I now often feel like I’m on the outside looking in. There are times when I feel like I’m not really in this family. That I play the role but often feel like I’m just robotically going through the motions. That when I do connect emotionally to my kids, it triggers this profound grief and longing that makes it almost unbearable to tolerate the connection.

Linda asked me to explain about the emotional flashbacks. I said that it feels like an overwhelm of emotions that don’t really relate to whatever is going on right now. She asked if it feels like it takes me back to a time in my childhood and I nodded. I told her that the film reminded me of these enormous feelings of aloneness that would engulf me as a child, ‘actually maybe I never fully felt them when I was a kid, maybe I’m feeling them for the first time now,’ Linda asked if I was feeling it from an adults perspective looking back and I said it felt like the ten year old was still inside me and I could feel her pain. ‘But I’m so ashamed of it, I am really embarrassed to even talk about it now because I should just be over it… it was twenty seven years ago for god sake I really wish I could just live my life now and not be so self-obsessed!’ Linda said, ‘Lucy, can I ask where you are feeling this in your body. Is it in your tummy? Your throat? Do you know where it is?’ I said, ‘I feel it in my throat but I also feels sort of spacey.’ Sometimes dissociation almost feels like being high… almost enjoyable… that’s what I started to feel at this moment. Like the edges of myself are slowly being rubbed out by the eraser on the end of a pencil… fuzzy and blurred… just under my skin is gently buzzing and my head feels like it’s inside a pillow. I was aware of this sense of watching myself sitting there like an idiot staring at the wall with Linda looking at the side of my face. Eventually she said, ‘You can feel it in your throat and you feel a bit spacey. Is that a familiar feeling to you, Lucy? Can you remember a time in your childhood when you felt like that?’ I said, ‘Yes, all the times I was hiding. I did a lot of hiding. Hid under my bed, in the wardrobe… hid at the bottom of the garden by the river. Hid in books.’ Linda said, ‘it sounds like you hid anywhere you could,’ I said, ‘and I could hide in plain sight… in my mind.’

I suddenly felt very exposed and said, ‘Talking about this is bringing up a lot of stuff and there’s a lot going on in my head, I’m struggling to focus on it all. There’s a part of me saying I’m wasting time, that this is a waste of time. That I’m making a big thing out of nothing, that I’m preoccupied with myself and doing the same thing to my kids that was done to me. It feels like I am really selfish and should never have had kids. There’s a part of me saying I should stop talking about this. There’s a fear that I’m going to get too close to you but there’s a part of me that wants to connect with you. But it’s dangerous to get close to you.’ Linda was making listening noises and saying things like, ‘okay, I see…’ then she said, ‘rather than seeing this as a waste of time, I feel that this is actually very very important. This all feels incredible important Lucy.’ I said in a quiet voice, ‘everyone leaves.’ She let there be some space before speaking and then said, ‘I don’t want to get all existential on you but yes, unfortunately the only given in life is that everyone leaves, we have no control over that.’ I looked at the screen and she said, ‘but we can control how we behave when people are here, we can work on connecting with people while they’re here.’ I said, ‘even if my mum and dad were in the room with me I never felt connected to them.’ Linda said, ‘and that is the root of it all.’

I said, ‘My parents never asked me how I felt about anything. I don’t remember them ever asking me how I was. In the film towards the end, Mary’s uncle comes back and connects with his son (Mary’s cousin) and it’s really moving, a beautiful moment, and Mary is heartbroken and runs away crying. Grace asked me why Mary couldn’t be happy for Colin, her cousin and I asked Grace what she thought Mary might be feeling. She said she thought Mary was sad for herself because her parents were dead and I said to her that she was right, that Mary could be happy for her cousin and uncle but also sad for herself. Linda came back to this connection later in the session.

I said, ‘There was so much disruption and change in my life and I don’t remember them ever coming to talk to me about it. Like we moved house so much and they never once asked what it was like to have to leave my friends and be the new kid over and over. They never explained why we were moving or asked what I needed or how I felt. I just didn’t even know I was allowed to have opinions and feelings about these things. Life happened around me and I was pushed around by these things but I never really felt in control of any of it…’ Linda repeated some of that back to me and told me she felt it must have been really hard to always feel like I wasn’t seen. I said, ‘but I was always so aware of my parents’ lives. Nothing ever happened in my life but stuff was always going on in their lives, it was chaos. There was always some friend turning up on the run from a boyfriend or an aunty staying with us hiding from her drunk ex or whatever… it was chaos. I think one of the reasons why I always feel like I have to make the most of the weekends and make them all about the kids is because of all this wasted time in my childhood. We never did anything for me. I hate this feeling of being stuck here. At school on a Monday we would write our news in class and I always hated it. I had nothing to write. Other people would write about all the fun things they did at the weekend, clubs they went to, places they visited. I never did any of that. So, I’d write about my parents… ‘my mum went to a party last night’ or ‘we had to be really quiet in the morning because mummy was still sleeping’… you know?’

Eventually I started to tell Linda what happened last night. I explained that sometimes the desire to get out of the house I so powerful it feels like I could rip my skin off. And I don’t want to just stay in the village either. Often when I suggest we go out somewhere Adam will just say we could go for a walk but there’s this itch sometimes where the only thing to satisfy it is for us (or me) to go for a drive somewhere. Last night I needed to get out and I suggested it to Adam but he didn’t want to go anywhere. It was about 5pm and I wanted to drive to the beach. I was talking to him about it but he wasn’t paying attention to me so I told him I’d just go out myself and I’d be back in an hour. I said goodbye to the kids and as I was leaving he said, ‘why do you never want to spend any times with us? Why do you always want to go out without us?’ I was furious because I did want them to come but no one else wanted to come. I didn’t even answer him I just left. When I got there it was a warm and beautiful evening so I sent him a photo saying that it would have been nice if they’d all come. I said to Linda, ‘but maybe he’s right… I shouldn’t have had kids if I didn’t want to spend time with them. Why do I always need to get away like that?’

Linda said, ‘How did it feel to be by the water?’ I said, ‘ohh I love it so much, I love the water, it felt so grounding and I stood right at the edge and really paid attention to the lapping of the waves over the stones.’ She said, ‘good, I’m so glad you had that time by the water, well done.’ I looked at her and she said, ‘well done for taking the time you needed.’ I said, ‘but this is exactly what hurt me as a kid… I’m being this self-obsessed, self-preoccupied ‘parent’ who isn’t spending time with her kids.’ Linda said, ‘What I’m hearing there is that you really knew that you needed some grounding. You were happy to go with Adam and the kids but they didn’t come so you went yourself. You got in the car and you drove to the beach because you knew that the sea would ground you. You love water. You stood at the side of the water and you intentionally let the lapping of the waves ground you.’ I said that I really liked that reframe and I welled up. I told her it was such a relief to hear her say that she felt it was okay for me to go by myself because the voice in my head was screaming, ‘you’re such a freak, what a weirdo, people connect, people need connection and all you do is isolate yourself!’ Linda said, ‘You weren’t isolating yourself, you did ask Adam to come with you but him being dismissive was all it took for you to feel rejected and leave without him. It’s such a cruel, unkind voice. What could you say to that voice that’s telling you that you are a weirdo?’ I said, ‘that it was never safe to connect so it makes sense I might need time on my own to regroup and calm down and get grounded?’ Linda said, ‘Yes and people need time by themselves too. Nowhere is it written that to be a mother you have to spend every single second with your kids or you’re going to fuck them up… quite the opposite actually!’ I laughed. Linda said, ‘you are there for your kids when they need you. You don’t shy away from emotionally connecting when they ask for help!’

I then remembered a time when I had done just that and explained to Linda a situation with Grace the night before going back to school. She was worrying because she felt like her shoes looked like boys shoes. ‘The school has decided to change to mainly outdoor learning in an attempt to limit covid19 spreading and so the uniform has been modified to include clothes suitable for spending a lot of time outside. I bought her black leather converse and she suddenly had this panic that everyone was going to say she looked like a boy. As we talked more about it I discovered that she liked my trainers (that are exactly the same) because they had a gold toggle on the laces. I took the toggles off my shoes and put them on hers which cheered her up. I said to her, ‘if someone said to me, ‘I don’t like your blond hair it makes you look ugly,’ should I believe them?’ Grace laughed and said, ‘No because you don’t have blonde hair!’ I said to her, ‘no exactly, because I know the truth of who I am, I know I have brown hair and that I’m beautiful no matter what anyone says about me… and the same for you… do you feel like a boy on the inside?’ she told me no, she feels like a girl and I explained, ‘nobody knows you like you know you, you are the best judge of yourself and I know that you love yourself very much… it doesn’t matter what nonsense anyone says to you because you can know in your heart that you are a girl and that you love your trainers and that’s all that matters.’ She seemed reassured and we got her ready for school and she’s been happy about the uniform since then.’ I then explained to Linda, ‘but there’s this ache here in my chest, this pain that sometimes brings me to my knees sobbing on the bathroom floor, moments after that kind of interaction when I suddenly bring it all round to being about me just like my mum always used to do… coz I never had anyone interacting with me like that and it hurts so much, the pain of knowing that there was a total absence of that kind of connection.’

Linda was smiling and nodding and said, ‘I would like to offer you a reframe though, Lucy because I see it very differently. What I see is a mother who really heard her daughter and emotionally supported her, you really nailed it with Grace and then also along with that you were able to notice that ache and longing. You could be there for Grace and you could feel the pain of not having that for yourself… and I think maybe it’s just about noticing. It’s about noticing that powerful duality of being there for your daughter while also witnessing your own loss. And for it to not be a thing that overwhelms or makes you feel guilty or like our mother, but to see it as a thing that is powerful and painful and very real and something that you are surviving, that you are strong enough to tolerate… does that sit with you?’

I said that it did, it made a lot of sense. ‘But also there’s this disappointment or longing for it to be different. I don’t want every single precious interaction I have with my kids to be tainted with this shit. It’s like when someone is sexually assaulted then they can’t enjoy being physically intimate with their partner without memories of that assault ruining their present day experiences…’ Linda said, ‘yes, I understand that.’ I continued, ‘I want to be able to be present in my life now and I want to be with my kids without this hollow empty grief lingering all the time. Tainting everything I do with them.’ Linda said that she feels that will happen in time and that I am working on it in therapy which is the important thing. She said, ‘There were a lot of ‘shoulds’ in what you were saying earlier, a lot of inner critic stuff. When you tell yourself, ‘I should never have had kids,’ what is the purpose of that kind of statement? How does it make you feel?’ I said, ‘it makes me feel like shit!’ she said, ‘Exactly! Your inner critic wants you to feel like shit… what could you say in response to that voice that keeps telling you that you should never have had kids, that you’re just like your mother?’ I was struggling to feel focused and kept drifting in and out of the conversation but eventually said, ‘That I’m trying my best, that my mum never went to therapy but I am. That she voiced the thoughts when I just think them and then bring them here… that she never had connecting conversations with me…’ I started to cry and through the tears I said, ‘maybe it’s not that I wish I’d never become a mum, maybe it’s that I wish my mum had never become a mum, I wish I had never been born.’ There was a quiet moment when I was just silently crying and then Linda said, ‘I know that was a very powerful feeling you had when you were a child, You remember feeling it strongly around the time you watched The Secret Garden as a kid. You are holding Ten’s pain right now. She’s allowing you to feel it, she wishes she’d never been born because life felt so empty and hollow and full of pain and she was invisible, she had to hide herself and even if she couldn’t hide she was never seen. Lucy… YOU ARE NOT YOUR MOTHER.’ These words have been repeated to me by various people over and over in my life. I am not my mother. I am not my mother. I am not my mother… it slowly feels like it’s sinking in. I told Linda that I’ve been reading a book about adult children of emotionally immature parents and that it’s really helping me understand that my parents were probably not deliberately emotionally abusive, they were just severely limited and preoccupied with their own issues. Linda said, ‘I’d really encourage you to read these books with the focus being on your own childhood emotional neglect. Rather than focusing on your mum and dad and the reasons they were as they were, instead look at the impact this had on you, what you lacked, how you suffered and how it is continuing to impact your current life.’ We talked about that for a bit.

Linda said, ‘I just want to say again because I’m actually quite moved about this, it’s really quite powerful. I want you to notice that you had this moment with Grace where you were able to listen to her, really see her and offer her support and comfort and you also were aware of this aching, this pain you described in your chest… you held them both… full stop! Because I think the full stop is really important for you!’ I said, ‘hmmm so I don’t stick a ‘but’ on the end?’ and she nodded. I said, ‘Anna was always very moved by any stories I told her of times I’d been there for Grace.’ Linda said, ‘I just think, can you see how amazingly powerful it is? That you can be there for her and also notice that you didn’t have that loving attention as a child? Like Mary, in the film. She could be happy for her uncle and cousin and also be sad for herself, as you described it to Grace… that’s a really profound parallel.’ She asked me how I felt about it and I said, ‘I wish someone had been there for me. I wish I hadn’t been so alone.’

Releasing the Elephant in the Room

Written 18.08.20

Today was hard going. Work has been very busy and stressful and every time I thought of the situation with my therapy I felt incredibly nervous and wanted to just not turn up to the zoom call. I got it into my head that Linda was going to be really angered by my email and tell me that she doesn’t want emails to happen anymore and that I need to just accept that this is the way she works and to stop over analysing her and comparing her to Anna. Despite the temptation to avoid the session, that’s not in my nature. I would never just not turn up to something without warning. So, I clicked on and there she was. And immediately I saw her smile and remembered that she’s actually a reasonable person and that everything’s probably going to be okay. One thing I have noticed about Linda is that she starts every session with this fresh, unconditional acceptance. As if every single session is new and there is nothing lingering from the previous session for her which is refreshing and quite the opposite to what I’m like! She asked me how I was doing and then said, ‘Just so you know, I didn’t have time to read the email. So, if it still feels relevant then you’re welcome to read it to me. Would you like to bring it here now?’

I told Linda that it was definitely still important and I did want to talk about it. I said, ‘I can barely remember why I was so worked up, I mean, I was soooo upset after the last session I cried so much. But today I’ve just been thinking ‘what was I getting so worked up about?’ you know!’ Linda was nodding and said, ‘do you have a sense of why you were so upset after the session and what brought the tears?’ I said, ‘yeah I didn’t feel a connection with you at all and felt like you didn’t understand me.’ Linda said, ‘have you ever felt that before? The disconnect?’ and I laughed and said that I absolutely had but that this was very important because the disconnect seemed to happen at specific times and hit on a sore point that I’ve been avoiding. I said, ‘I guess I found it really hard to articulate myself on Saturday and didn’t feel like you were understanding me at all.’ And Linda said, ‘it’s interesting because that was my experience too. I’m wondering if there’s a bit of a parallel process going on here actually because I felt that I was struggling to make myself understood in the session and I was going deeper and deeper into trying to explain things and couldn’t even remember where we started and everything got very complicated.’ I said, ‘welcome to my world!’ and we laughed.

I said, ‘Can you explain more about what you mean by parallel process?’ Linda said, ‘well it’s something that can play out between client and therapist where a part of the clients experience is felt and played out in the therapists experience. Almost as if there’s a mirror there, the experience is mirrored.’ In a mock lecturing voice I said, ‘sounds to me like a dose of counter transference there Linda,’ and she said, ‘well thank you very much for that analysis Lucy!’ in a similar voice. She said something about us both missing each other in the session and that it’s fairly natural to ebb and flow in relationships, to be aligned and then to miss and then come back to each other. I thought about that for a bit and said, ‘The thing is though, if you find it hard to get your message across to me in a session or if you don’t feel understood it’s no big deal. You can just get back to your life and get on with things, it’s not really going to impact you at all. But if I don’t get my message across or don’t feel seen or heard then it stays with me, it’s MY therapy… it has a massive impact on me. I go over and over it, I think about it every day and analyse it to death trying to figure it out.’

Linda was quiet for a bit and looked like she was thinking carefully. She then said, ‘Yes I completely agree with you and can see that. Can you pinpoint the times where you felt it most?’ I said, ‘the thing that really felt uncomfortable for me was that you suggested a break in therapy… that really threw me. And I was thinking about it on my way to work this morning and it just felt so ludicrous that it caused me so much upset because I can clearly see now that it’s a perfectly reasonable question but at the time it felt massive.’ Linda asked what had come up for me, she asked if it offended me. I said, ‘I don’t think I was offended, I felt rejected. And I felt like you really didn’t know me. Which brought up grief because Anna did know me and I don’t have her anymore… sorry but that’s what came up.’ She said, ‘you don’t need to apologise this sounds very important.’ I said, ‘it’s just that if you really knew me you’d know that the therapy is so important to me… and this is what’s been going round in my head for a while but magnified the past few days… this bigger picture of what therapy between us looks like… I’m just not sure what the bigger picture is.’ Linda asked what I meant by the bigger picture and I said, ‘I don’t even really know how to put this into words and I’m scared to get into it and to speak totally uncensored because I don’t want to unintentionally offend you!’ Linda said, ‘UNINTENTIONALLY offend me?’ in a curious tone and I said, ‘well yeah none of this is meant as a criticism but I’m worried it will come across like that.’ Linda encouraged me on so I said, ‘okay… in our first or second session together you made an observation that Anna and I were doing ‘deep attachment work’ do you remember that?’ and she smiled and nodded. I said, ‘okay so… that was very accurate. We were doing very deep attachment work and I was right in the middle of that deep work when I was wrenched out of it prematurely. I was nowhere near finishing that work with her.’ She was listening carefully and nodding. I said, ‘I imagined at least another year of very deep attachment work with her and you know I couldn’t even tell you how she did it most of the time it was like fucking magic! I didn’t even really know that deep attachment work was what I was needing but she teased it out of me, it was all her Linda. And yeah I have this capable adult part of me but whatever this part of me is in here (I held my fists to my chest)… this part of me is longing for that deep attachment work, I still need it… (I took a deep breath and said) and I’m not sure I can get that from you.’

There was a bit of quiet and my heart was pounding but I felt okay, I felt like I was speaking my truth. I had been so afraid to say this in case Linda took it the wrong way but as I sat there saying the words I realised that we can’t really get anywhere in therapy if we don’t speak our truth! I mean, that’s exactly why we’re there… so it felt scary and it felt right. Eventually Linda said, ‘okay, this is such brave, honest work Lucy… keep going,’ in a really encouraging and open tone. I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s something in me that’s resisting the deeper attachment work with you or if it’s something in you that doesn’t want to do that type of work or if it’s because we’ve only worked with video sessions and not in person or if it’s because all this grief for Anna has been in the way of it all or what it is…’ I took a breath. Linda said, ‘I really hear what you’re saying and this is so important. I would like to make an observation,’ I nodded her on, ‘Well, I’m just thinking about what the past few months have been like for you and I’m not really sure there’s been any space for that part of you in the sessions. You know… think about it, you’ve had the grief over losing Anna, you’ve had the pandemic, work, the kids, Adam… there hasn’t been any space for that part of you… although also I want to add that you can’t do any of that other work without also doing attachment work. Whichever area of your life you bring to the sessions, you are in the centre of it all and you bring your attachment work with you.’ Linda asked me if that felt like it made sense. I said, ‘it really does feel very validating… there wasn’t any space for those parts in the sessions or in life actually, they’ve been completely neglected. Except for a couple of times where something has come up for me, something young feeling, and they’ve not been held in the way they need to be… whatever that part of me is, the part of me that was around on Saturday who doesn’t know how to express how they’re feeling… that part really doesn’t get seen in session.’ Linda said she understood. I said, ‘I really like the adult to adult stuff we do. I get a lot out of those sessions. But there’s this aching part of me that’s just not seen and I guess the email was about me trying to articulate that while it still felt alive inside me because even three days on it’s like there’s a wall between me and that part of me and I just don’t feel it anymore.’

Linda said, ‘So yeah, the email… how have you found talking about it here without me reading it?’ I said it was fine and that it helped to write it but it was useful to talk like this. Linda said, ‘I’m aware that it’s very much part of your process, the typing and emailing, but I guess the thing that’s quite unusual for me is this constant critiquing of the sessions. It’s just come to me just now but there’s something that I’m not sure of about it, not quite comfortable with it but I can’t put my finger on it.’ As she spoke I had such a powerful ‘I knew it’ feeling inside. I knew she felt something close to defensiveness about my observations of her, though she worded it differently, I knew there was something there. I said, ‘hmm… I suppose for me, the reason I do this is… well, it’s about the fact that this is my therapy and I really need it to work for me, which means reflecting on what’s happening. I am sorry that it has come across as a critiquing, it’s never meant in a critical way but more of a ‘let’s look at this and see how it has worked or not worked’ type of way.’ Linda said, ‘yeah and I’m not sure how I feel about that, it’s maybe something I’m going to need to take to supervision to try to iron out myself.’ I said, ‘Can you just hold on to that for a minute while I share an example of what this is reminding me of? (she nodded) When I was in P3 I had two teachers. They were vastly different and as kids we had to learn to adapt from one teacher to the next. The first half of the week we knew that this teacher valued neat handwriting, perfect work, silence and complete obedience. The second half of the week we knew we were expected to be creative, to expect the routines to change, that she didn’t care about neat handwriting and was much more relaxed. We had to literally change ourselves in the middle of the Wednesday if we were to get on well with both teachers… so bringing this back to us… Anna worked for months and months getting me to open up. I can’t even express tis enough Linda, when I started working with Anna I fucking barely spoke in the sessions! It was excruciating. I was just so filled with shame, couldn’t look at her. I could talk about work or very adult things but I could not be vulnerable and it threw me into what she would call ‘deep child states’ where I would be silent and hiding for long periods.’ Linda looked intrigued and surprised. I said, ‘Anna slowly coaxed it out of me one word at a time by saying things like, ‘What did you find worked in the last session? What helped you feel seen? What could I have done to make you feel more heard? Do you have anything you need to ask me? What do you need from me right now?’ it was constant. She encouraged this reflection and I mean I could tell just by the way she worked and spoke that she was all about reflection and analysing our work together WAS the work. It’s what the main focus was of every session.’ Linda was wide eyed and saying things like, ‘Wow! I had no idea that was how she worked… this is all making so much sense! Okay, wow it is all so much clearer to me now… I mean I guess I never thought about it before but that’s the ‘analysis’ part then, eh!’ I said, ‘yeah Transactional Analysis is so much more than just child, parent, adult ego states… so much more! In fact I can count on one hand the amount of times Anna even referred to the ego states… but it was AAALLLL about how we interacted with each other and analysing that – literally analysing our transactions.’ Linda agreed and said it was really blowing her mind hearing all this. I continued, ‘So, that’s how Anna worked with me and it was exactly what I needed because it brought all of my relational trauma to the room in real time, and then I was pulled out of that work unwillingly… it was like being on a fast moving train heading in the direction you want and I was ripped out of that train and thrown into the adjacent train…’ Linda said, ‘wow that sounds painful,’ and I said, ‘I mean, it was painful but the second train is moving and if it hadn’t been there I would have been thrown onto the tracks. So, this second train is moving but it’s taking a different course and it’s hard to just forget the course I was on before.’

Linda said, ‘So that’s the way Anna worked and I guess the question is… that way of working that you had with Anna, do you need that for the therapy to work?’ With a sombre tone I said, ‘I really think I do.’ And she nodded. She said, ‘I respect that was her way of working and it’s clearly worked for you but I have to be really honest here, it is just not a way that I can work. And that’s not about holding my hand up and saying NO at you, it’s about saying – it’s just not part of who I am to work like that, it really isn’t in me to work like that.’ I said, ‘I respect you for being upfront about that.’

It felt like we had just talked about the big elephant in the room! I felt a lot of relief and sadness. But also disbelief… I said, ‘So you never look back and go over stuff? You never talk about previous sessions?’ and she thought about it and said, ‘very very occasionally… hardly ever in fact… and it’s something that I’m honestly not drawn to doing… I’m not sure what it brings up for me so I’ll definitely be bringing this to supervision.’ I said, ‘I think this is what I meant in the last session when I said we were very different. I look back and reflect and evaluate in every area of my life and I could tell Anna was like that too. If you’re not then that’s a fundamental part of the make-up of me that you’re just probably never going to get that we are going to butt heads on every time it comes up.’ She said, ‘I can see that, I understand.’

I said, ‘okay so then I’m left with this dilemma, a really hard one…’ Linda asked me to lay out the dilemma and so I started, ‘It’s the dilemma of do I stay or do I move on. I really enjoy so many aspects of working with you, I get on well with you and I have benefited so much from so many of our sessions. You massively helped me process the early shock and grief I experienced when Anna left. As the grief slowly subsided and I was able to work on more day to day stuff, you really helped me work through some big things happening in my life. So these are all reasons that make me want to stay with you. Also, lets face it, you’re here, now! That makes it easy… that’s not the best reason to stay with a therapist but it is one all the same. Also, you are my last link to Anna. It hurts so much to imagine leaving all of that behind, I leave you and I have no part of her at all. As long as I stay with you, and you know her, I have some connection with her. But then the other side is that I really need attachment work, I need to work with someone who really has a passion for reflecting and analysing the relationship and the attachment, I need someone who is willing to let me love them. I need touch in the therapy room, at least hugs. And although you said you’d take it to supervision, your initial response was that you don’t do hugs… it’s not something I’d be comfortable forcing. It needs to be willingly given.’ She was nodding. I said, ‘It pains me to say this because I’ve started building a relationship with you and I actually really like you… but you’ve been telling me over and over that you’re not Anna and that you can never be Anna and that you are different from her and can only ever be yourself… and I really felt like I understood that and obviously it makes complete sense to me but then in the last session it was crystal clear to me that you are absolutely not Anna and there are some things that I really think I need in order for the therapy to work on a deep level.’

Linda said, ‘thank you so much for this honestly Lucy, this is what it’s all about you knoe – this is therapy in action! This is very very important. It certainly is a dilemma.’ She thought for a bit then said, ‘It sounds like maybe you need a psychodynamic therapist, they’d definitely cover some of what you’ve talked about. Obviously there’s the option of another TA therapist.’ I said, ‘but part of the dilemma is that I’m already working with you. It’s so fucking hard to find a good therapist and the websites are just ridiculous, you never really know what it’s going to be like working with the person until you’re six months in! It’s not just getting some random counselling, this is deep attachment work you know? It’s fucking hard to know how to find someone that’s the right fit I actually feel like I want to make an advert all about me and have someone come find me!’ Linda laughed and said, ‘like a seeking therapist ad?’ I laughed and said, ‘yeah, I know what I need but it’s bloody hard to find it. I mean, I really relate to parts work, I talk about different parts all the time but I don’t relate entirely to the DID descriptors. There are young, vulnerable, wounded feelings inside me that really need to be nurtured. Anna used to see those parts and she would turn on this incredibly gentle, nurturing tone and she’d soothe and bring these parts out and in turn she’d teach me how to care for those parts, by doing it, you know? She would teach me how to parent myself by parenting me…’ Linda was smiling fondly. I said, ‘I mean it’s so hard in Scotland, different types of therapists are thin on the ground. I definitely don’t want CBT therapy,’ Linda said, ‘no you definitely don’t, CBT is not the type of therapy that would suit your needs.’ I said, ‘I’m really intrigued by Internal Family Systems therapy to be honest because they talk about parts in that.’ Linda smiled broadly and said, ‘I know a shit hot IFS therapist, Lucy! Honestly, I used to work with her she is absolutely brilliant I can give you her details. IFS would be great for you!’ This felt really cool and also a little strange. I was excited but also I had that attachment pain in my chest. I told her that and she said, ‘perhaps because this is really important to you.’ I nodded and said it was also because it’s really hard to think about ending the work with her. I told her I’ve never actively ended any relationship and it’s like the universe has plonked this perfect little opportunity to practice initiating an amicable, adult and mutually respectful ending of a relationship but that terrifies me.

I said, ‘the thing is though, I feel weird that you’re advising different therapists but also it’s not like I’m betraying you, all of this is above board… it’s not even a personal or emotionally heavy thing, even on paper… your description online wouldn’t draw me to you, you specialise in issues that I’ve never experienced whereas all of Anna’s description on her website fit me completely.’ Linda agreed and said that we didn’t need to rush any of this. We actually planned another 4 weeks of session times and I laughed at the irony. I said, ‘I don’t ever do things rashly though, I want to really talk this out and I need help and guidance on knowing which direction to turn and how to move forwards. I need some sort of mentoring with finding someone who fits me!’ she said she was up for that.

I said, ‘Fucking hell, Linda I have felt so fucking connected to you today this is ridiculous. Thank you so much for listening so carefully to me today, for taking this in and for sharing your thoughts on it all. I really am so grateful I wanna reach through the screen and hug you… and you don’t even do fucking hugs!’ she burst out laughing and said, ‘oh I’m goany steal that one… ‘hi I’m Linda and I don’t do fucking hugs’ hahah.’ I said, ‘aye well you said exactly that to me… minus the sweary word! But yeah, I fucking miss hugs at the end of a session. I don’t know if you ever hugged Anna, probably not as you’re not a huggy person, but her hugs were fucking amazing!’ Linda said, ‘I’ll have you know I have actually hugged Anna!’ and I said, ‘well you’ll know how brilliant they are then… if you ever wanna break a boundary for me you can let her know that I fucking miss her hugs so much!’ we both smiled at each other.

I said, ‘When I think about stopping working with you, I feel this panic run through me. I feel like you acted as a buffer for some of the grief. When I think about not having you there’s this total void. Like, what would no therapy be like? When I lost Anna, I had you. And I mean what am I gonna do, search through every therapist in Scotland to try to find her replacement? There’s not going to be any other Anna, ever. I can’t search for her forever.’ Linda had this beautiful expression of peaceful alignment on her face. She said, ‘I know. It was a huge loss. There won’t ever be another Anna.’

I said, ‘You have taught me a lot about the value of looking at the present moment and where I am at today. The person you met 5 months ago was unrecognisable to the person Anna met two and a half years ago. And when I think about stopping therapy, you know there is a part of me that thinks maybe a break might be a good idea, but then this other part of me panics and thinks ‘what if it’s like it was before I started working with Anna? What if I completely break down? What if I don’t care if I live or die and my whole life falls apart again?’ Linda looked sympathetic and concerned and I said, ‘but I don’t think that would happen because I’ve been on this track for two and a half years and I’m totally different to who I was back then. I’m not going to suddenly lose everything that I learned and everything I’ve healed.’ Linda said, ‘Absolutely, you’re not where you used to me. There’s been so much growth.’

Time was all of a sudden up. Linda said, ‘I’m actually so glad I didn’t read the email because it opened the opportunity for us to have this really important conversation!’ I agreed and thanked her again for such an authentic and honest conversation. I told her that it feels amazing to be able to talk all this through with her and that I no longer feel on my own with it all, I feel like she’s on my side.

The Dilemma

Tomorrow I will speak to Linda about my thoughts on our last session, the recent email and my therapy in general. I’ve been reflecting, journaling, reading comments and discussing the situation with my friends in this lovely community. Here are some of my thoughts…

I really like Linda. I like her ‘adult to adult’. I enjoy talking to her and I find her straight forward attitude refreshing and liberating. I think she’s helped me massively in holding space for my ever fluctuating pain as I processed the immediate shock and subsequent grief of the loss of Anna. However… I mustn’t forget that I’m not just ‘coping, capable, adult Lucy’. Repeatedly I’ve experienced a disconnect whenever my child parts are more present in a session and I’ve noticed the protective parts pushing forwards and then my intellectualising ramps up. I reckon I’ve bought about 8 psychotherapy related books in the past 5 months. I stopped intellectualising and ‘over-reading/researching’ when I was working with Anna because she encouraged me to dig deep in my body and not stay in my head. Why am I buying all these books? What am I hoping to find within these pages? Validation! To be seen in black and white, because I’m not fully seen in my sessions. My Instagram browsing has increased too. Scrolling on my therapist heavy news feed in an attempt to find something that helps me make sense of myself. Anna knew. She was the first person to ever see Little Lucy. I don’t know if Linda even believes in ‘all that inner child stuff’. I shouldn’t have to question whether my therapist sees all the parts of me. But I’m not angry about it I actually feel quite neutral. Like I’m looking at a situation with clear vision. At the end of the day it’s my job to meet the needs of my inner child parts… therefore it’s vitally important I don’t ignore this any longer. I need to have an honest conversation with Linda and then I need to plan my next step. Not every therapist will have an approach that meets the needs of every client. Therapists are as varied and different as the clients they work with. And I didn’t source Linda, I fell into working with her. Going by her website I wouldn’t choose her… on paper (and in real life) she’s nothing like Anna… she doesn’t meet my criteria.

Unsurprisingly I have an analogy for this dilemma I find myself in with Linda. Say I have been going to the gym for a couple of years with the main focus being to tone my abs. This trainer I’ve been seeing is great and she specialises in crunches that do exactly what I want and it’s been working, I couldn’t see it at first but now it’s glaringly obvious that I was getting exactly what I needed. Unfortunately this PT becomes ill and can’t work with me anymore. So her colleague takes over and she seems like a pretty good personal trainer but she repeatedly tells me she’s not the same as my last one. I tell her I want to focus on my abs and she says, ‘well I guess we could do a few sit ups… I tend to just focus on squats though. Your abs might get some work as a by product and I’m happy to work with you.’ I’ve built a relationship with this new one and already feel invested, I definitely see overall improvements and it’s hard to know if my abs are getting any work at all because the overall workout feels so intensive but on closer inspection I’m really not getting the specific work I was looking for. Somethings missing.

So… leave? Well, here’s the kicker and the reason why I am finding it so hard to cancel my gym membership and find a new personal trainer… Linda is my last thread of a connection to Anna. She knows Anna. She’s sat in her company. Linda has heard Anna laugh, she has quite probably seen her tear up as well (knowing Anna). Linda has walked the halls I’ve walked on my way to Anna’s office. And Linda still gets to talk to Anna. She is my last shred of hope that I may ever hear how Anna is getting on. I’m not sure I can turn my back on that yet.

In addition to this, I’ve never ended a relationship of this magnitude before. I’ve never broken up with someone, I’ve barely even ended friendships voluntarily… there’s something about endings that are so damn hard. And because I wasn’t able to have an ending with my first therapist Paul, Anna was determined to help me through one when the time came. That opportunity was sadly taken from us… now I’m left wondering – is Linda my chance at an ending? Will she be the one I get to work on a goodbye with?

Anna was a transactional analyst – she focused heavily on attachment and inner child work. She also had a very flexible way of working which meant she would willingly listen to my feedback and adapt and mould herself to my needs. She only had about 5 years experience in private practice and the up-side to that was that she hadn’t become fixed in her ways or jaded. She was excited by her work. She loved it. I could tell that she thought deeply about the work we we’re doing. I could also tell she was personally invested. She had a history and had done her own deep work. She knew how it felt to sit in the clients chair. I know Linda is in therapy too but she clearly finds it exhausting and a means to an end. Whereas Anna found it fascinating… a never ending quest towards self awareness and enlightenment. Where Linda might see unnecessary digging, Anna sees a gold mine.

Another analogy… imagine the client is a plot of land with plans to build a house. One developer sees the land, their evaluation dictates that the land is stable, solid and predictable up to 2 metres below the surface. That developer decided so stick steel rods 2 metres into the ground, build the foundations and build the house.

Another developer sees the land and notices tiny inconsistencies that only an expert with personal experience would notice. They decided to dig down further than 2 metres and find 5 metres of unstable, unprocessed land underneath. They decide to excavate the whole site. It takes five times as long and is far more expensive, labour intensive and messy. The ground is then steadied, foundations built and the house erected. Both houses from the outside (from a distance) look the same.

Providing there are no heavy storms, landslides or tremors, the first house stays standing. However tiny hairline cracks appear from time to time. Again, only an expert eye would notice this. The first developer thinks the second one made unnecessary work for themselves. Digging deeper than needed, ‘making work for themselves… looking for trouble.’ The second developer knows, ‘there’s gold deep down inside… you just need the patience, stamina and endurance to find it.’ And only when you reach that depth, can you be sure there are no hidden surprises. Nothing is going to unsteady the ground beneath you.

I may be doing Linda a disservice by comparing her to the first housing developer… but my gut is telling me that she is looking at my house and she’s not noticing the cracks. She thinks it looks strong enough and that there’s no need to do any extra digging around. Anna understood that the work down on the deeper level would have longer lasting, greater impacts far beyond any of our awareness.

My only problem with all of this is that it appears to be fairly impossible to find anyone willing to do the work of the second developer! Someone who has done their own work and is invested in their clients long term messy, involved work on a relational/attachment level. And you have to work for a considerable length of time before you discover what kind of therapist you’re working with!

So… as Anna advised me… one step at a time, take it slow… ‘how do you eat an elephant, Lucy?’ One bite at a time.

Another Glorious Rupture… A Break From Therapy?

I am so exhausted and I have no idea how I feel about any of this… frustrated maybe? Confused? Angry? I don’t even know if I’m being completely unreasonable or not. Anyway… here’s today’s session.

I immediately felt very nervous and anxious at the start of the session and I had no idea why. I’ve had a great week, a lot of good things happened. Getting back to work went way better than I thought it would and my kids have started school again and seem really happy and confident… so all is good there! But this morning I felt some sadness deep inside me and wasn’t really sure what it was about. By the time I logged in to the session with Linda I was feeling very fuzzy and confused. I gave her a quick overview of my week and even showed her a photo of my kids skipping in to school happily on Friday. Then she asked what I wanted to focus on today and I told her my head was full of stuff and I didn’t really know what to focus on. I said, ‘this is where I start to panic because I really want this to be a perfect session and I’m already rambling and feel directionless.’ Linda said, ‘hmm perfect session – is that not an oxymoron!? Does that even exist?’ I said, ‘yeah well useful then, purposeful…’ Linda nodded.

I told her I was feeling weird and she said, ‘good weird or bad weird?’ and I told her I was feeling spacey and muddled and like there was too much going on in my head. On reflection, I wish she’d noticed how dissociated I was here and helped me ground myself or co-regulate. She wasn’t attuned to me and that led to a downward spiral… I said, ‘I feel very muddled and there is a lot of noise in my head,’ and she said, ‘is there something in the centre of all of that, something that we could focus on?’ I said, ‘I think there’s just been so much going on lately and I’m exhausted with it all.’ She then said, ‘I’m going to suggest something that’s maybe a bit out there but hear me out and if it doesn’t sound right then we can move on from it… do you need a break?’ I honestly didn’t even really know what she meant at first and I just stared at the screen for a bit then she said, ‘…from therapy.’ The white noise became louder in my head and then all I could hear was, ‘you’re too much for her, she is sick of you, she wants to stop working with you!’ I said, ‘NO! Nope… I don’t think that would help. Why did you ask that?’ Linda then said, ‘it is a lot, maybe you would like to go down to one session a week? You are the only one, I don’t have any other clients who do two sessions a week it is a huge amount of work for you, it IS exhausting, I couldn’t do it.’ I said, ‘I’m really aware of how defensive I’m feeling right now and the inner critic is screaming at me that I should be ashamed of myself, I’m too needy, you’re sick of me. God I’m so ashamed I can’t even look at you I just want to close the laptop and go away, this is horrible…’ Linda was wide eyed and said, ‘I’m not saying this to shame you, it’s just an observation that two sessions a week is a lot.’

After some awkward back and forth misunderstandings where we completely missed each other, eventually I said, ‘but therapy isn’t the thing that’s exhausting me!’ and she said, ‘oh… OH I totally misunderstood you because I thought you meant you were exhausted by the therapy.’ I said, ‘my life feels a lot… my life feels too much and I really struggle to process it all when I don’t have sessions,’ Linda said, ‘When we started working together, it was the start of the lockdown and you were on a break from Anna and you felt the need for two sessions a week. It is important to recognise where you are now though. You’re back to work, you have more going on, you’re out the other side of the crisis. Yes?’ I nodded. She continued, ‘and it’s important that when I feel something in the room, if I have a question, it’s important that I say it or ask it, it would be wrong for me to hold back for fear of how you might interpret it.’ This really annoyed me, in retrospect, because surely this space is for my therapeutic healing, Anna would think so carefully about what she said and it really helped. Surely Linda needs to be going slow and carefully thinking about what I need in the session not just saying the things that pop into her mind? But on the other hand maybe Anna was overprotective and maybe I need to toughen up, and not be so sensitive? Anyway, I said to Linda, ‘the thing is, I’ve had a lot of very adult sessions with you, more adult sessions than I probably ever had with Anna because she brought the younger stuff out in me… but there are a lot of younger feelings going on and so there are parts of me that still miss Anna so much every fucking day and it hurts so much, some weeks I feel fine and other weeks I feel like I could do with a session every day. Some weeks it feels like a lifetime between the sessions. When the attachment stuff is triggered it’s really hard to go even three days between sessions.’

Linda said, ‘Yeah you mentioned the attachment/transference stuff in your email last week. I was wondering if it feels different to you because I’m so much younger that Paul and Anna… well I know I’m not that young anymore… as you well know!’ she laughed and I smiled because she was referring to her profile picture that is of her holding a cake with a ‘50’ candle on it. She said something about the age thing being ‘her shit’ that she’s happy to own and I said to her that I’ve noticed she’s brought it up a few times. I don’t know what the big deal is with the age thing – Anna is 55 and Linda is 50, it’s really not that much of a difference to me… but she obviously feels way younger than Anna. And Paul was in his late 50’s when I started working with him. To me they’re all the generation above me and all about the same age but she talks about it as if she feels like she is in the same generation as me. Maybe her partner is in her early 40’s and so it makes Linda feel closer to my age than to Anna’s age. I said to her, ‘the age thing never really comes up for me but you’ve mentioned it a few times… I guess the dad stuff really kicked in big time with Paul.’ There was a long gap and I muttered something about it being very painful. I said, ‘With Anna I felt very young and a lot of maternal transference happened in that relationship but I’m not sure it’s to do with age… she’d have been very young to have been my mother. But I did tell her once that I felt really uncomfortable with the power imbalance in the relationship and I remember her saying to me, ‘what power imbalance? You are a professional too., you’re a teacher.’ And I said to her, ‘not in this room I’m not! Most of the time I feel like a child in this room with you.’ And Anna spent a lot of time connecting to that child and apologising for missing her… well with you I feel like there are some parts of me that are very young. So, you are really old compared to those parts… just like I am really old compared to those parts… well my body age is.’ She was sort of laughing but I get the feeling the age thing is a personal sore point for her. I might revisit this at some point.

This is where things start to feel really disheartening because it’s like she really doesn’t understand transference. I remember Paul saying that I was experiencing maternal transference with him… it doesn’t matter the gender, age or sexuality of the therapist – we project what we need to project… whatever is unhealed. Linda seems to be a very lateral thinker and doesn’t seem to understand that it wouldn’t matter if she was the same age as me. The transference is going to play out regardless. Linda said, ‘I guess I have mentioned it a few times and I was the first to mention the age thing in regards to the parts of you when I asked you how old you felt…’ (I was amazed she remembered this – it was way back in like the 3rd or 4th session when I was still working with Anna… this made me feel a bit reassured that she is paying attention). I said, ‘this attachment shit doesn’t get triggered in any other relationship, it’s just in therapy! In my other relationships, if anything I’m more stand off-ish. I interpret Adams attention and love as him being needy. If friends come on too strong I tend to question their motives. I don’t trust easily. I keep people at a distance. But with you and Paul and Anna I am totally preoccupied and want more and more.’ Linda asked if I had a sense of why there was a difference and I said, ‘because parts of me feel they NEED you to survive and I feel inadequate, it’s not equal. Whereas I tend to feel quite strong and capable in other relationships. Not all of the time but most of the time.’ We talked quite a bit about this and looked at specific relationships and friendships.

I was starting to get quite agitated and angry. I said, ‘it’s this fucking attachment shit! I just feel so fucked up. I wish I was the kind of person who can accept the love and care and kindness that is offered to me. But when people are nice and loving to me it pushes me away, I can’t take it in. I don’t trust it. Anna would be sitting right beside me with her hand on my arm asking me if I could feel the connection and I couldn’t fucking feel it. Because it was too terrifying… and because every tiny little crumb of a rupture or misstatement that you hand me will be turned into a huge boulder that I will add to this wall between us. When I was working with Anna it would take me weeks to come back to her with these issues… I’d write it in an email and because she wouldn’t let me email her I’d have to read it out in session and it was excruciating and she’d try to mend and repair the rupture. So, I guess there’s progress there because now I’m able to do it as it’s happening.’ Linda acknowledged the progress and I continued, ‘but I just hate the way my brain works, it believes that you will hurt me and can’t be trusted so any tiny little thing will be taken as strong evidence to support this fact and I will never be able to let it go. I will always remember the tiny little ways you hurt me and it will drive me mad. I hate it.’ Linda was quiet and just had a sympathetic expression which annoyed me because what I wanted was insights and in-depth curious exploration.

I started to feel emotional in an angry way and in a sort of sarcastic tone I said, ‘D’you know when I realised how connected I felt to Anna? When she fucking left me! It wasn’t until she’d left me that I could feel the love and care. How fucked up is that. It’s like a fucking kick in the teeth. She would hand it all to me on a plate, session after session and I could barely look at her. It wasn’t until she was gone that I was able to tell her in an email that I loved her. And I know that if I’d said it to her in a session she would have been so kind and caring and sweet about it and not shamed me or anything, in fact she’d have been so proud of me… but I couldn’t do it. When people are right there in front of me it’s too much, the minute I lose them I can’t bear to live without them.’ Linda had that smile on her face as if she’s thinking fondly of Anna and I just sat there thinking how much I miss her.

As I’m writing this I feel increasingly frustrated with how little I get back from Linda. Anna would have so much to say here and she’d help lead me deeper inside myself. I know in my heart that Linda can not help me like Anna could. I’m thinking either her style of therapy just isn’t made for that kind of introspection or perhaps she hasn’t gone that deep before so doesn’t see it is possible. I said to her, ‘I feel like you and I are so different. I imagine… and I’m making assumptions here… that you are not a procrastinator. I don’t get that vibe from you. Maybe you were at one point or maybe not but I feel like you come across as someone who lives for the moment and you don’t overthink or over analyse… whereas I do over analyse and I overthink things and I have tonnes of therapy books… you should see my bookshelves – my collection would rival most therapists.’ She interrupted and said, ‘I don’t doubt it, I can only imagine!’ she then said, ‘But why is all that important? We don’t need to be the same to be able to work together, in fact it’s probably better if we’re not. Why does it matter if I’m a different person to you? I mean, of course we’re different.’ I didn’t really know how to respond. I was felt completely depleted and couldn’t explain myself anymore.  I said, ‘I feel so ashamed.’

I couldn’t get over the feeling of disconnect and tried to explain that I still felt uneasy about her leaping to assumptions that I should take a therapy break or go down to one session a week. I said, ‘I feel it’s important to say here that I will let you know if I want to take a break or go down to one session a week. With Anna, before the lockdown, we were doing the Tuesdays fortnightly and then every Saturday we had our weekly sessions. But then stuff just felt so unmanageable in the lockdown that it made sense to go to twice a week. Anna and I would always have twice a week sessions in the holidays. I feel really defensive and like I need to justify… like… do you think it’s weird that I want to have two sessions a week?’ she said she didn’t think it was weird and that’s not why she’d asked and that it had been important to ask because she thought I meant I was exhausted by the sessions. I said, ‘God this is excruciating I don’t know why I’m finding this so hard, it’s just horrible I can hardly stand it… there are so many thoughts and feelings and parts of me wanting to close this conversation down, parts of me feeling really exposed, a part of me saying who gives a fuck what anyone thinks I’m paying for the sessions and it’s prearranged and I can have it if I want… but that’s a very quiet voice right now.’ Linda agreed with that quite voice and I said, ‘maybe it’s coz it’s actually really hard to advocate for myself and figure out what I need and then get that need met and I’ve tried to do that and you’re telling me I should have a break from therapy which is the very last thing I want.’ Linda said, ‘I hear you. I hear that’s how you feel. Do you hear me when I say that I was asking because the question popped up in my mind and I’m not trying to get you to stop working with me, can you hear that? Can you move past the critical, defensive filter and hear me?’ I said, ‘mmm’ and nodded once and she looked questioning and said, ‘that didn’t sound very convincing.’ I said, ‘well I feel like you have a defensive tone now.’ Linda said, ‘it’s just really so important. And I know this is uncomfortable but I’m really glad we’re talking about this because it’s helping me get to know you. And I want to know you. I want to understand you. I really want to get to know you Lucy so I’m glad we are looking at this.’ I said, ‘I just have a really sensitive radar for possible rejection and you suggesting I have a break from therapy when that’s not previously been on my mind at all, that’s something that will be hard for me to look past. My brain really easily builds these walls.’

At some point I said, ‘I feel panicky like don’t take these sessions away from me, please don’t take this away from me you know, this panic is really powerful.’ and she said in a firm voice, ‘no one is taking anything away from you Lucy.’ I got a frustrated, impatient tone from her. I can imagine how Anna would deal with this. She would have soothed me, she’d adjust her tone as if she was speaking to a child and it would have felt connecting and supportive. I feel like Linda just doesn’t get that she’s not talking to just adult Lucy.

We went on to talk about my husband and other relationships. At the end of the session Linda asked me how I was feeling and I said I felt a million different things and that there wasn’t enough time to go over it all. We ran over by a couple of minutes as we put in some date changes and then ended the session. And I fell apart.

I’ve typed up this email that I might send tomorrow… I don’t even know if I’m making sense any more!

Hi Linda,

I’m guessing you’ll be half expecting an email from me after yesterday’s session… I’ve been in two minds about sending this because I know we’ll talk about it on Tuesday but I’ve slept on it and it still feels very important to get this out there.

Yesterday’s session was really hard, I felt a big divide between us and that we were struggling to understand each other. Sometimes I feel like we’re a team and you are on my side but I didn’t feel that yesterday. As soon as I closed the laptop I burst into tears. (After years of not being able to cry, it still feels very strange to me that I’m able to cry at all, let alone have the emotions so close to the surface like they’ve been for the past 5 months.) I found it really hard to articulate what was going on for me yesterday and that led to a lot of misunderstandings which feels really frustrating and scary actually because it felt like you weren’t really seeing me. I wasn’t ready for the session to end. I could have done with another twenty minutes to resolve things. That’s a perfect example of when a longer session would be useful for me because it felt rushed and unfinished.

I was really struggling at the start of the session. I think I said I was muddled or spacey or didn’t know what I was feeling or that there was a lot going on. On reflection I can see that I was quite dissociative – not firmly in an adult head space. When I feel like that, I don’t have the words to describe how I’m feeling and I really need help with grounding, I just don’t have the ability to articulate it at the time. When the protective parts showed up by turning everything you said into a criticism, that’s when I need some co-regulation before I can feel safe enough to move past the filter and see and hear you again. I think it was our very first session when I told you that I sometimes struggle with dissociation and you asked me what I find useful/helpful and what you could do in those moments. When you experience me as struggling to articulate what’s going on in my head or explain how I’m feeling, when I say I feel numb or weird or spacey could you please check in with me. That might be a sign that I’m feeling disconnected or it might be that there are other parts of me around. It’s helpful if you ask if I am aware of any other parts being around or what age I feel. Those kinds of questions make me feel seen and less likely to feel ashamed or defensive. You have done all that before. I don’t know if I did or said something yesterday to make you not want to help me go deeper but on reflection I feel that you were different with me than you’ve been in other sessions. I think because we’ve had a run of very adult sessions, my behaviour yesterday came across as me being difficult or something. Remember the session when you said it felt like there were three people in my session; you, me and my inner critic and I said my child was there too. You said, ‘your child is always welcome here with me.’ But sometimes when I feel the presence of younger parts, I feel they are not actually welcome. Because they come out as sensitive to perceived rejection/criticism, hypervigilant, untrusting, reading into things, feeling confused and muddled, not having the words for how they’re feeling, needing a lot of reassurance. I really need you to be patient and gentle with me when this all comes up, otherwise the protective parts kick in and build a wall between us. I feel like I’m rambling, I hope this all makes sense Linda. Basically if you notice the presence of the inner critic you can be sure younger parts are around.

I want to try to further explain what came up for me when I said that I felt exhausted and you suggested I might want to have a break from therapy. I know I told you that it felt really rejecting but I think the underlying thing that triggered me is that it feels like you don’t really know me. When I clumsily tried to explain to you that I think we are very different people you misunderstood me and assumed I meant we would have to be the same in order for the therapy to work but that’s not what I meant at all. What I meant was, when you made the assumption that my exhaustion came from therapy it sounded to me like we view and experience therapy in a very different way and you were assuming it felt the same to me as it does to you. You said none of my other clients have two sessions a week and neither do I (which felt shaming). I’ve tried to think about why someone might find therapy exhausting and it makes me wonder if therapy is this isolated 50 minute slot in their/your week where you think deeply and look closely at things in a healthy, balanced way and for the rest of your week you are present in your life and not preoccupied or overthinking about stuff. However, for me, therapy is the one or two 50 minute slots in my week where for once someone else helps me carry the burden of all of the deep thoughts and worries that I’ve been struggling with every minute of every day of the week by myself. So for you and all your clients who don’t need as many sessions as me, perhaps therapy feels exhausting and hard work because it is that one concentrated time in the week when they confront these difficult things… but for me therapy is that one tiny moment in my week where I get to lighten this load I’m carrying by myself all day every day. The regular sessions I have with you feel restorative, supportive – like the water stops every few miles on the exhausting marathon of my life.

A similar thing happened with Anna once. I was freaking out imagining Anna wanted to stop working with me. She was trying to illustrate that I was the one with the power. She said, ‘you could decide to just not turn up one session and never come back, or you could fire me. It’s up to you how long or how frequently we work together.’ That caused a rupture that we had to work on in the next couple of sessions. I explained to her it felt like she didn’t know me. If she knew me she’d know that I was in it for the long haul, that I am committed to the therapy, that I am reliable and wouldn’t just not show up, that the ending was really important to me because I didn’t get an ending with Paul so I wouldn’t ‘fire’ her before having the ending sessions I so desperately wanted to be able to have. Plus I wouldn’t fire her anyway because she meant so much more to me than that. I could never have just left her. I was angry that she’d made assumptions about me that were so different to who I really am. This situation feels really similar to that.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this. I’ve read it over so many times and it’s not making any sense to me anymore. For some reason this is all very very important to me and I don’t really know why. I think it’s much deeper than all of this. I’m hoping we can explore it on Tuesday.

Thanks for reading this,  

Lucy