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.

15 thoughts on “Exploring the Push Pull Dynamic… and now I’m very confused.

  1. I think she’s on to something here! I’ve never worked explicitly with my ‘inner critic’ with any of my Ts – I guess the reason that voice/response kicks in is protective and it makes sense to try and get to the feelings and parts underneath who feel unsafe while being vulnerable. K has asked me to journal on the connection between feeling unsafe/vulnerable and shame during our (what I hope is just a long) break. I think what Linda is noticing is this link and how they are paired for you and trigger shame/inner critic feelings and thoughts. Oh, I can understand how this session makes it hard to know what to do about working with L – I wonder about trying to sit in the push/pull and notice it for a while? Easier said than done but I sometimes find doing that enables the path I need to take to become clearer 💜

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    1. Thank you for this I really appreciate it. I’ve been going over and over the season today (while attempting to work). I always have this suspicion that the therapist actually *does* know what they’re seeing and they’re just waiting for you to get to the realisation yourself. Though I’m not sure this is the case here… it’s a suspicion at the moment. What is she noticing? What can she see that I’m unaware of? You know? And is it quite simply – when I start talking about personal things or childhood things it makes me feel vulnerable (Anna would say it brings out my child) and then that makes me feel shame and then the protective parts come out along with the inner critic…? I hate not knowing 😂😭

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    2. …and it’s annoying coz I really get that THIS IS THE WORK but also I’m so sick of it all being a mystery. And also I’ve been wondering if she finds all of this too intense. She has never had a client work more than once a week with her (which astonishes me) and her clients don’t read or journal between sessions… who is she working with!?? Lol.

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      1. Lol. I know – who are these people who need therapy but don’t NEED therapy?? I still personally think you need to look for someone else for the longer-term – her noticing things isn’t the same as being able to work with them and also – if she thinks this is intense… once you’re in the room and the attachment stuff steps up a gear it’s going to get a whole load more intense I would imagine 😂 I *think* what she’s saying is what you wrote on the earlier comment, and so maybe the work needs to be with the vulnerable and unsafe-feeling parts who get triggered by the need for connection; helping them learn connection is safe will ease the inner critic without explicitly working with it I think. But… helping those parts feel safe and not ashamed requires time and consistency and predictability and a deep attachment to the therapist and it seems to be this L can’t do it even really conceptualise (from what you’ve written, I could be wrong of course). When you write out your reasons for not working with her it sounds very rational and not like it’s coming from a triggered place. There are other Ts who work like Anna did because I have one of them too, so don’t give up on finding that. I’ve never doubted K was the one to do this work with (and I’ve seen a lot of Ts and counsellors and specialists and alternative therapy people over the past 25 years) and I don’t think you did with Anna, so I think it’s probably not right with L or you wouldn’t be questioning. Sorry if this isn’t helpful – I know it’s not always useful others chiming in and saying what they think you should do when you’re struggling to find your own voice and intuition so feel free to ignore!

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      2. No it’s very helpful, thank you. It’s good to get as much outside perspective as possible considering I struggle to trust my gut and it really doesn’t take much for me to fall into the ‘maybe it will be fine’ boat. I really feel my heart strings being tugged when I imagine leaving her. I guess it’s got to happen at some point. This other therapist that I’ve emailed sounds really brilliant no just need them to reply!!! Thanks again for the insights 💕

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      3. I imagine the heartstrings are being a tugged a lot because she is your remaining connection to Anna. I wonder if you could reframe continuing the deep healing you did with Anna with another T as a way of staying connected to her too? Also, I totally get the push/pull thing – I’ve had 3 relationships as an adult that I’ve ended 3 times (each one, 3 times!!) because of that push/pull thing and being able to convince myself it would be ‘fine’ to get back with them and then a week or two later being back in the same place lol.

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      4. Lol the push pull thing is absolutely insanely frustrating, isn’t it.

        Yes it’s helpful to reframe the thing with Anna. I looked at her last email to me again and was reminded that she did commit to getting in touch with me if she ever started up again, do THAT is my last remaining connection with her. Plus all the hours of time together. And also I think I could probably more freely express all my feelings about Anna, the love and the grief, if I wasn’t talking to her friend! In the long run it’ll probably work out better. It’s just hard making these decisions.

        I wrote a text out to Anna the other day, that I haven’t sent. But I might. Basically one I would send in the event of leaving Linda. Explaining that although I’m making the hard decision to commit to a new therapist and to invest in this work, I would still go back to her in a heartbeat. To let her know that although it may look like I’m moving on, I’ll always have hope that she’ll come back to me. I dunno… it sounds lame now that I’m writing it out but it felt right at the time. Maybe Linda wouldn’t even tell Anna I stopped working with her. Who knows. Maybe Anna doesn’t even think about me any more. 🤷🏽‍♀️🙈

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      5. She definitely definitely does! I think of you every time I hear about Scottish schools and we’ve never met let alone spent hours and hours together doing deep work – she 100% thinks of you often. I would contact her and let her know you’re not working with L any more, if and when that happens, and that you would still want to know if she began work again, because then you know she’s not in any doubt even if she hears from L that you’ve stopped working with her.

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      6. Aw I’m touched you’ve said that. And thanks for the encouragement. I think I will do that. I’m just scared of breaking the boundary. But I think she’d understand why I’d done it. 💔💕

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      7. slantgirl

        this is such a beautiful chat between you two and I don’t want to interrupt it, but DID want to add, that I ALSO think of you every time I see a report about Scottish schools, and I am across the Ocean and DON’T know you inner workings. Anna is keeping you in mind, as are we all! ❤

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      8. Thank you SH 😭 I’m in tears. Sometimes it’s so hard to even feel like I exist here in my own body let alone in the minds of others! I’m writing a post about that just now actually…. I really am touched by what you’ve both said. I wish I could speak to Anna 😢 I hope she knows I think of her all the time.

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  2. I think about you 10 times a day Lucy!!!! and I am not some weirdo (ok a bit 🙂 but I am carrying similar pain. I was never so close to contacting my ex T as today. I miss him and each time I miss him I think about you!

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  3. I went through this push pull for almost the full three years I was in therapy with my last therapist… it was absolute torture! Just like you, I wanted it to work. In the end, the reality was that just like Linda, she didn’t do the type of therapy I needed. Better for you Lucy to end it amicably and peacefully on your terms than through a painful and excruciating rupture. It will be painful, but you won’t have to feel betrayed as well. You are doing this all very well. I do hope this other therapist you found gets back to you very soon. Don’t hesitate to contact them again through a call or another email if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time, or even if you just want to try again to contact him. We are all cheering for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I do feel supported. You’re right, it’s definitely better that I end it the way I need to rather than it ending with a rupture. I’m hoping it will be slow and that I’ll have a gentle transition. Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t wanna appear impatient but I think I’ll try a follow up call on Friday. That’s giving him a working week to reply.

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