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.