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.

7 thoughts on “Releasing the Elephant in the Room

  1. Lucy, I feel as though you just jumped off of a cliff. You are so brave and what an excellent job you did. You handled all of this beautifully. I have done IFS therapy with my last therapist. Unfortunately, she wasn’t into attachment therapy… well, only in theory. If you find the right therapist who is sensitive and connected and in tuned with you, it might work great for you. I watched a video of Dick Schwartz, the founder of IFS therapy, and he thinks he found the perfect type of therapy in IFS that he said he believes the therapeutic relationship is not even important. The concept behind IFS is to get you to connect with yourself, or should I say reconnect with yourself, without a deep connection with the therapist. I was angry and devastated when I heard him say this. For one thing he wouldn’t even be able to do the work he is doing without someone first connecting to him and nurturing him. He wants us to, and thinks we can learn to connect with ourselves without first connecting with another human being (such as our therapist). Nothing about this felt right to me. I am not saying that all IFS therapists take this stance, but it certainly made me skeptical of it. It certainly makes it all easier for the therapist, with less investment on their part. It isn’t what I wanted or was looking for. I have found a much better fit with an analyst who is very much aware of internal parts, such as the inner child etc. But also embraces attachment theory and works with that. I thought I would at least share this with you so you can go into all of this with your eyes wide open. IFS works with parts, but not always attachment to the therapist.

    I searched for a new therapist for about nine months. I wasn’t looking for an analyst during all of this time, which held things up a lot for me. You do have enough awareness now Lucy to eliminate therapists fairly quickly, especially with how open and honest you can be upfront. We just have to be able to discern the difference between what therapists say (or wish they were) and what they actually can do. Your instincts will help you there.

    I think the book you are reading now came at such a perfect time for you, and will help you going forward. You should be so proud of yourself, I know Anna certainly would be!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this, I think Anna would be proud too!

      Yeah I’ve read and seen that about ifs. I definitely would be very specific about what I’m looking for and clearly articulate it. It makes me curious that Linda has recommended this person… I’d be asking her more about her.

      D’you know… a funny thing has happened… I’m actually feeling MORE attached and hopeful about Linda now!! She handled the session so beautifully! I really feel like we might actually be able to make things work.

      Time will tell! And yes the book is gonna be amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s so much strength here. You had the big bad conversation that none of us want to have and I hope that it brought you some peace. Whatever you decide to do next, take comfort in knowing that you’re resilient enough to handle it because you’ve already been through so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🥰 I do feel aware of my resilience at the moment, knowing that I got through the worst therapy situation I could have imagined. It’s one of those things where I’d rather not have found the resilience, I’d rather just have Anna. But this is where I am right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that a good therapist knows when to admit that something is outside their remit or experience. Some therapists will take money off a client even if they’re not helping them so Linda is definitely looking out for you. My therapist is open to constructive criticism so I can understand why you were surprised by that, but Linda listens and is seems like she will have learnt a lot from you.
    I do think that you are making the right decision to find a therapist who can help you to continue the trauma work. I don’t think that working with Linda long term, unless she could do the trauma work, will enable you to have any closure. I don’t mean that you should get over Anna, but the therapy has the potential to become more about Anna and Linda’s relationship than your healing. That’s not a criticism either. 😬Your ability to advocate for yourself and say what you need is key. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really interesting point and I’m going to think about that. Thanks! I feel like all I needed was for her to ‘admit’ that she couldn’t live up to Anna… and in some sort of way she’s done that. I’m going to continue the conversation but it’s really powerful to be so honest and have her be so open with me. Thanks for your support.

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  4. Pingback: The Root of it All – Finding Lucy King

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