In my previous therapy sessions, there were so many words, so much talking. The talking was purposeful and meaningful and often led to important realisations, to tentatively feeling emotions and exploring early wounds and tunnels through time to very deep, very painful parts of my childhood. It was the only way I knew how to do therapy. To plan, to research, to write and talk and theorise and read. I’m aware I’ve circling around this topic a number of times, talking about it over and over again… I think the repetition is there because I can’t quite believe the shift I’m experiencing inside. From someone who thinks and analyses and worries and spends almost all of her time numb, to someone who feels and experiences and trusts. I’ve not fully made the transition from one to the other but I can feel myself moving.
I haven’t sat in a room with a therapist since the last time I sat with Anna on Saturday 29th of February. That’s over 32 weeks of zoom therapy… with the biggest loss of my life thrown into the mix. There were times when I literally thought I would rather die than live through it. This year has been the absolute worst year of my adult life. I guess one of the ways I got through it was to throw myself into therapy without holding anything back.
My sessions with Mark move at a far slower pace and are more gentle than I’m used to. Far less content, far more connection and depth. I think the speed and aggression of my past sessions was fuelled by my desperate need to feel like I was doing something, working on my wounding, working my way out of the pit of generational trauma. I had to work hard at it every second of every day lest I fall blind to my own abusive behaviours and suddenly become my mother. Anna desperately tried to encourage me to slow down. But I was so driven by my need to not stand still. I had to keep moving. Added to that, there was something so agonisingly painful about our deep connection and my enormous fear of losing her that I could never push past the walls of resistance and truly let her know me, too scared to let her love in for fear that I would lose her. Too frightened that the waves of grief from my lost childhood would drown me. It was only when that fear was realised, when she did actually leave me, when the waves did come and the flood did drown me… that I was able to see that the defended and fearful and mistrusting shell I had been hiding behind was the thing that drowned. The grief destroyed all of that and what I was left with was the raw feelings. The feelings I had spent a lifetime numbing. They were all preserved behind the shell.
I told Mark recently how foolish it feels to have let the walls of resistance and defence down so early on in our work together when I don’t really know him. We’ve only met ten times and even then I’ve not met him face to face. I haven’t eased him in gently! Though he knows very little about my life, there’s been a charged energy between us and the work of the therapeutic relationship has been alive from day one. Mark offered a reframe, that perhaps all of the work I did with Anna has led me to this place where I no longer need layer upon layer of walls to stand between me and the other person. That perhaps it shows progress that I am able to so quickly make connections with him. And that maybe I am able to trust my judgement more now, that I can sense when someone can be trusted with my whole self. During a particularly harsh moment of self-criticism, where I told him I wouldn’t be surprised if he regretted agreeing to work with me. Mark told me that he feels very relaxed and comfortable with me. That he is enjoying getting to know me and is really glad we met. I found it really hard to take this in and we explored what it felt like in my body to hear his words. The he feels relaxed with me. The places that tighten and the nausea that grows in my belly. Later on when I explored my beliefs that he must feel bewildered by my messy, incoherent ramblings he told me that he experiences me as being very self-aware and able to speak from different parts of myself with clarity… he said I make sense.
With Paul, Anna and Linda, there was always an agenda. I can clearly see that this illusionary control was driven by anxiety, or rather my desperate need to take the heat out of the debilitating anxiety. I would arrive with a list or at least a topic, sometimes a script for how I wanted the session to go. I could be rigid and unbending in my desire to force the sessions down a particular road. With Mark, it feels like we turn up and just see where it goes. Both holding a belief that it will go wherever it needs. Sometimes we focus on just one notion, thought or feeling… maybe a sensation… and we explore the space around it and spaces inside me that it touches. Recently he said it feels like ‘the person and all of their parts unfold gradually and organically over time, at their own pace… and that’s far more meaningful and makes much more sense than taking a history or writing a timeline or reading from a script… so I’m glad and very moved actually, given what you’ve told me about all the ways you’ve worked in therapy before, that you are here now, working with me in this very organic way, allowing your body to tell the story.’
I told Mark that there is a very young part inside me who attached to him immediately, the first time we spoke in fact. We spoke about the self-shaming, self-loathing parts that humiliate those young energies for their enthusiastic longings and the way they want to leap into his arms with seeming reckless abandon. The critical voices telling them how foolish and idiotic they are for falling so quickly for Mark when really they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment and abandonment. I told Mark that I could feel a pull from the youngest energies to show him around the place we’re holidaying at the moment, to show him the beautiful view. He said that makes perfect sense and he’d be happy to see but something stopped me following through. There is a strong desire to connect and a stronger desire to hide the need.
I told him the young parts had a very powerful fear associated with him going on holiday next week for a fortnight but the protective parts had slammed the door and weren’t letting the fear be shared. Six words going over and over in my mind that I couldn’t let out my mouth. Mark said that although he really would like to hear from my young parts, he was listening very deeply to the parts of me that ‘so beautifully swoop in to protect’ by closing doors and building walls. He offered a compromise. He suggested the fears be there but remain unspoken, suspended in the space between us, ‘and maybe we could talk around them and look at how it feels to have the fears there, without being put into words.’ That felt safer and seemed to settle my pounding heart.
We explored the delicate threads of connection forming between us and Mark asked me how the young parts felt about their feelings of attachment to him. Not the inner critic or protective parts or even the adult… how do the child parts feel about the attachment? Immediately the words came to my mind and just as soon as I knew the answer, another door was slammed between us. He chuckled in an affectionate way and noted that that happens a lot with me. Eventually, imagining the child part to be sitting in the chair beside me, I was able to tell him, ‘she says it feels amazing and exciting but then also scary because of this thing she wants to say to you about your holiday but can’t.’ He told me that he feels a connection with that young part too and that it feels amazing for him as well. He said, ‘I will make space here for all of your parts to be seen and heard and felt, but your young energies… that young part, I want her to know I’m very keen to hear what she wants to say. There was a distinct lack of emotional holding and connection when you were young and I want you to know that I am here, I’m listening, I’m paying attention.’
Eventually it felt safe to say the six words out loud, ‘What if you forget about me? Two weeks is a very long time… and we have only been working together for a very short time… and what if you forget about me? Maybe you will deliberately forget about me.’ There’s something about the way Mark makes these empathic noises that reaches the very core of the pain. He made a noise and said it sounds like a very deep and painful wound, to imagine that he might deliberately forget about me. That maybe if I pop into his mind he would deliberately push me out. I told him I hadn’t even considered that I might pop into his mind. I meant more that when he returns from his holiday he would just not get back in touch for another session. I said, ‘I find it really hard to imagine that I exist in the minds of others.’
We teased this idea out and as we peeled the layers back we found a tight ball of something so hard to put into words that initially all I could do was motion it with my hands, like fists against my chest. And we held it together and we breathed into it as my heart pounded and he told me that his did too. And then came the word ‘burden’. And then the word ‘useful’. And the word ‘purposeful’. And then eventually some more words until finally I had the outline of a sense that I believe I will only be kept in someone’s life if I am of use to them. If I can’t find a purpose in their life then that must mean I will be left behind. That if I’m not providing something then I will be burdening them. I alleviate these concerns within the therapeutic setting by paying for the time and energy of the therapist… but I can’t pay to keep him with me through his holidays… and if I enter his thoughts… I’m there without balance, how can I unburden Mark of the energy and time he has spent with me in his mind, however fleeting, when I can’t pay him for it? I can’t pay him for the time he’s spent thinking about me. It was complicated and illogical. I told him it made no sense, that the rational side of my self was offline. He said, ‘the psyche has a logic of it’s own, and it’s not for us to question… our role is just to listen and to believe. For some very important historical reason, you believe yourself to be a burden, relieved only by being of service to others and if you can’t find a way to provide for them then there is a very real fear they will abandon you… perhaps one of our goals here is for you to learn to be more ornamental.’ I burst out laughing at that and so did he initially. It made me feel hugely uncomfortable though I didn’t realise it straight away. Instead I asked him what the time was. I cracked a joke. I attempted to change the subject. And he gently brought me back each time to probe in to what I felt about his use of the term ‘ornamental’. Eventually I said, ‘I don’t want to be ornamental, useless, disposable, whimsical, lazy… shallow… empty. I want to be useful and worth keeping… I want to be valued for my depth and for there to be meaning and…’ Mark interrupted and told me, ‘something can be precious and meaningful, with depth and substance… and be ornamental. There are some things we could never get rid of that serve no purpose at all. It’s an important question for us all I think, what do I need to be, in order to be worthy…?’ And of course I know what the answer should be… but that cognitive statement of innate inner worthiness doesn’t seem to be congruent to whatever this deep knotted ball of unrest is telling me from the core of myself.
Due to us being on holiday this week, my last session was broken up with patchy signal and held on my mobile phone, stacked high on various board games… Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly and Ludo… then Mark on a tiny screen, leaning against binoculars. As has become customary, he began to close the session by asking how I was left. How did I feel. I told him, ‘If I was a kid and we were in the same room, I’d want to hug you right now. But as an adult I’ll just tell you I’m so grateful that you’ve stayed present and connected with me through all of this.’ He said, ‘You’re doing really great work here Lucy, I want you to hear me as I say that… I think you know you’re doing good work but it’s important that you also hear my voice saying it too… this is really good deep work you’re doing… and the connection between us is two way, I’m glad of it too…’ and then he tightly wrapped his arms round himself, rubbing his shoulders and upper arms with his hands as he said, ‘and hugs make perfect sense when we’re feeling a deep connection, it’s nice to imagine a hug, when we’re not able to share one in person.’