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.’

13 thoughts on “The Root of it All

      1. LovingSummer

        Yeah, I can see how that part is still tough for you. Not for Grace, only for you. There’s a real sense that the trauma stops with your next generation because of all the work you’re doing.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Your relationship with Linda seems to have needed that tough conversation to stay afloat. What marvelous work you’re now doing, even as it’s tough. I guess sometimes we really do have to trudge through the storm to come out feeling any sense of peace.

    I know what you mean when you describe the dissociation. Sometimes it feels like the world is slowly fading out around me, like I’m losing all sense of focus. I could see why hiding would bring that out, your mind must have been trying to hide too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I think I you’re right. We definitely needed to have that hard conversation and I’m learning that things needn’t be defined in black and white terms. She can be here now while I slowly figure out what I want to do. And maybe right now this is all I need to do.

      Thanks for telling me you understand the dissociation 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ” 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.’ ”

    As a trans person…what you said to Grace is amazing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you SH for letting me know that I got it right. I try to be so careful about what I’m saying. Kids really keep all of our words inside them. And m thoughtless words can have such a lasting damaging impact. I’ve taught a few trans kids in my time as a teacher I’ve done some reading on the subject and spoken to adults of the LGBT+ community and found that really the most important thing of all when interacting with any children is to teach them that they can trust their intuition, trust how they feel on the inside and to encourage them to embrace and love themselves. To LISTEN to children as experts of themselves. Imagine a world where we are all brought up to accept and love ourselves! It would be incredible. 🌈💕

      Liked by 1 person

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