Soothing the inner child and repairing ruptures

Another 90 minute session…

I spent an hour last night going over my notes and trying to figure out what I felt about the past week and how I felt about the session. I decided I would read my notes to Anna word for word. She has said in the past that it’s a good idea to write how I’m feeling in the moment and then bring it to session so that’s what I did. I was sure I wasn’t going to hug her on arrival today, I just wanted to go in and talk immediately about how I’d been feeling.

I was fairly nervous beforehand but also a bit of teen anger coming through, I felt the bravery to stick to what I wanted to talk about. I walked in and went straight to my chair, dumped my stuff and went to go to the toilet. She stopped me on the way out and said, ‘Do you want a hug?’ in a kind way but also in an I know stuff has gone on this week so you might not want a hug kind of way. I melted and went straight into her arms. Big breath out. She said, ‘it’s great to see you!’ and I said (while still hugging), ‘you might not still feel that in half an hour!’ she said ‘okay’ and I left for the toilet. When I came back in I said, ‘I don’t know why I said that, sorry…’ and smiled. She said, ‘maybe because that’s how you felt… so maybe we should start there?’ (I’m only just realising that me saying that clearly shows that a part of me feels that if I tell her I’m not happy about something she’s going to wish I hadn’t come and that she’ll want to stop working with me… broken record!) She said, ‘I do want to say sorry for having to cancel the session on Tuesday. There was a situation… I wasn’t able to work and I know it will have been really disappointing for you. I’m sorry.’

I said, ‘yeah it was hard, I was sort of okay with the cancelled session because I was so emotionally exhausted and have been sleeping a lot because I’m so tired but it was such a hard week and I was really badly triggered and I just felt very overwhelmed and alone and…’ Anna said, ‘what did you need?’ I flipped to a very stroppy teen feeling, arms folded, legs crossed at the ankle, staring at the floor I snapped, ‘a fucking phone call perhaps… like you said I could have when I need it… that might have helped!’ there was silence, heart pounding. I looked up at her eventually through my eyebrows and she looked very serious and said, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you. I was unavailable all of Thursday and then Friday I was away from home.’ I looked back at the floor.

She sort of checked that I was doing okay and then continued, ‘I know this is really hard but I think it’s important that you know, I did not want to cancel your session, it was unavoidable, I was sad about it too. My whole week was turned upside down and there was no set time that I could be certain I would be able to give you the holding space you needed.’ I said, ‘why ask if it could wait then? Why tell me you were busy and couldn’t speak and then ask if it could wait?’ she said, ‘I thought that the contact in a text might be connecting enough, then asking if you were able to wait until Saturday was an attempt to get your adult on board…’ I said, ‘well what would you have done if I’d said no, that it couldn’t wait?’ she said, ‘I would have tried hard to find a time for you but I trusted what you were saying to me, that it could wait.’ I said, ‘well you didn’t really leave me any choice… it’s really fucking hard for me to ask you know, do you know how hard it is for me to ask for what I need? (she nodded) … and I built myself up all day to ask you and then when I asked you gave me excuses about why we couldn’t speak then as an afterthought asked if it could wait… if I’d said no and you had phoned me, I’d have had to then prove to you it was that important for a phone call… of course it can fucking wait coz look, here I am, I’m alive, but it was pure agony getting to here.’ Then I switched to feeling more adult and caring and said, ‘but you know, my heart aches for you and what you may have been going through this week… this is such a fucking unusual relationship… if I knew you outside of this room I would know what was going on in your life and I would care and take an interest and I wouldn’t harp on about my shit, I wouldn’t be trying to make you feel guilty for prioritising your family over your work, of course family is at the top of the list… but also I know this is my therapy, this time is mine and that it’s not my job to care about you but I really do and I’m sorry you’ve had a challenging week and I do really care…’

Anna said, ‘Lucy, yes this is your therapy and it is your space to explore exactly how you feel about what happened this week. I really am sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you on the phone. I did wrestle with it but there wasn’t a way to make it work, I considered it very carefully and I did hold you in mind.’ I was still angry and sitting there thinking, what use is it to me that you held me in mind? But also I’m grateful that she said that and I do believe her.

Anna said, ‘This past year has not been great, lots of cancelled sessions, which is unfortunate. They have all been unavoidable and although I know your adult believes me when I tell you there are legitimate reasons for the cancelations, your frightened untrusting child part does not believe me… does that sound right?’ I said, ‘Yes… I just think you shouldn’t offer things you can’t follow through on. I know I sound like a fucking petulant child and life’s not that black and white, but we should just say no phone calls, no texts… don’t tell me I can have something and then not let me have it. It’s so disappointing and just so mortifying to ask for something and not be given it. It made me feel so much worse. It was so stupid to ask for it in the first place, I knew how risky it was, I knew there was a 50/50 chance you’d say no and you did and then I felt so much worse!’

Anna was nodding and said, ‘if that’s what you want then we can contract for no calls and no texts but I want you to know that it is still okay by me for you to text me and for you to ask for phone calls. I may not always be able to give you what you’re asking for or you may need to wait a day but I don’t have a problem with you asking. This week was unusual circumstances but if I can, I will happily give you a call… and this is so important, that we talk about this, how it feels, how you feel… well done for telling me all of this because it can’t have been easy.’ I nodded.

There was a bit of a silence and she asked, ‘how is all this feeling so far?’ I said, ‘um… can we rearrange the room a bit?… can you sit next to me?’ she smiled and got up and moved things round a bit and sat right beside me. I shuffled around and told her I hate these chairs. They’re too small, I can’t get cosy. I curled my legs round and turned to face her.

I told her that I felt like there were two conflicting feelings inside me. On the one hand I knew that she would never cancel my session for no reason and that I should give her a break but the other feeling is that I want to go on and on at her for going against what she had said and that it was really shit for me and I don’t know how to cope with both conflicting feelings. She said, ‘that’s really normal Lucy, to feel like that, it makes sense… that’s your adult and your child… you care about me and also you are hurting. You being upset about what happened doesn’t detract from you caring about me and hoping I’m okay… equally me having a valid reason for not being able to speak to you on the phone doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to be hurt and disappointed by that.’ I tried to get my head around that one. I said it felt very black and white in my mind and I was struggling to hold both ‘truths’. She said that made sense to her and that it would get easier as the parts of myself become less fragmented.

At one point we talked about trust, again. I said I couldn’t trust anyone and she asked what would happen if I trusted people. I said I would get hurt. That you’d have to be a fool to trust people, people just let you down. They never do what they say they’ll do… Anna said, ‘I understand why you would feel like that and I understand that words are really important. Especially with you because words were always so meaningless when you were growing up. People would say one thing and do another, people would ignore what you had to say, people would lie… of course you feel like shouting at me, ‘don’t offer something if you can’t follow through!’ you feel like I told you that you could ask for a call and then when you did ask I said no… but what I would say is, when we are hurt the tendency is to assume everyone will hurt us, we close ourselves off to people and don’t give them the opportunity to show us care and love and to meet our needs. It takes bravery to be open and to trust, to try again. By being brave enough to tell me how I let you down, you’ve given me the opportunity to sit with your feelings and to apologise for my actions that caused them. To explain to you a bit about why I did what I did that let you down and let you know that I didn’t want to let you down and that it made me sad too. Does that make sense?’ I told her it did and I thanked her for telling me. I was feeling quite quiet and like I was sinking inside myself.

I got my journal out of my bag and said, ‘I feel like I need to just read this to you.’ Anna asked if I can remember without reading it (she has explained before that in the past I have used reading off my notes as a way to block the emotions). I said, ‘but I feel likeif I just say it to you now I will recall it from this adult place, like filter it through a place where I feel fine and you know, it’s nice to sit with you and I just want to be nice to you and keep everything calm and close and connected but really a lot went on and I need to maybe share it from the words I came up with at the time…’ Anna agreed that was a really good idea but then I started talking about something else and annoyingly didn’t really go fully back into the journal notes.

A bit later I tried to bring things back to talking about the week. I had a look in my journal and reminded myself of the couple of things that had triggered me earlier in the week. I described the situation with my husband that had triggered me. That it had immediately thrown me back to a very vulnerable place. ‘My whole body felt filled with emotions, totally overwhelmed, like a flashback – I didn’t feel like me ‘today’ I feltlike I was right back then.’ Anna asked if things are the same nowadays and I said, ‘it’s totally different now, nothing is the same as it was back then… it’s not like that now at all.’ Anna said, ‘so this is really important, you were triggered into the part of you that can’t hold on to what things are like now. The child part who is still trapped back then. So things are different now but when you were triggered you could no longer remember how good things are now with him. The overwhelming feeling you get when you’re triggered, that child place you go to, it’s important than you find a way to soothe yourself in that moment and help that part be aware that she is not vulnerable anymore, she is strong and safe…’ she said something about remembering that those feelings are not about ‘now’ they’re about ‘then’. I think I got a bit spacey then because I can’t remember what we said.

We talked a bit more about where the sensations were in my body when I was triggered and she asked me if I kept myself safe despite having these massive overwhelming feelings. I reluctantly said I had kept myself safe and she said, ‘well done Lucy, I know how hard that must have been, I’m so pleased you looked after yourself, well done.’ I hate this whole interaction, we’ve done this dance before. It doesn’t satisfy the part of me that was desperate to hurt myself. It just feels not as holding or something. She is trying to be supportive and encouraging but I just want to tell her how desperately close I was to pushing that blade through my skin. But I started to feel weird, my legs were going tingly and I needed to move around a bit.

At one point I talked about having coffee with my friend and how she had questioned why I struggle to trust Anna and I gave her an analogy that if you were repeatedly hit over the head with a mallet by someone you lived with as a child then when you grow up, anyone holding a mallet standing next to you would make you flinch… I told my friend that Anna triggers these transferencial feelings in me, something inside me is certain she will hurt me like my mum did. Anna nodded and agreed and explained a bit further to me why she works with transference in attachment based cases. That it is so valuable to be able to work with the therapeutic relationship as it is in the room. She wondered aloud if maybe my friend hasn’t gone that deep in her own therapy and that’s perhaps why she doesn’t understand why I am experiencing things this way. I said, ‘she just isn’t as crazy as me, she doesn’t have the same mad attachment stuff with her therapist that I do.’ Anna said, ‘okay so let’s pause and I’d invite you to say that again but without the criticism and instead with feelings…’ I rolled my eyes, spent ages thinking then said I couldn’t do it.

After a bit more patient coaching I said, ‘she does the work with her therapist within that hour and then doesn’t think about it through the week whereas I do the work and I carry it with me every minute of the day and I think about you a lot…’ Anna said, ‘because’ and I said, ‘because maybe that’s the kind of relationship we have..?’ in a questioning tone. Anna said, ‘what kind of relationship do we have?’ there was a silence and then she said, ‘I want you to know that I feel a pull to answer for you but it’s really important for you to answer this yourself, in your own words… for you to hear it.’ I said, ‘hear it from you?’ and she said, ‘no hear yourself say it.’ I said, ‘but I hear myself say it over and over in my fucking head all the time…’ she said, ‘it’s important that all parts of you hear yourself say it out loud.’ I said, ‘well… it’s not the relationship is it really, it’s not you it’s all me, it’s just what I feel about you,’ she said (still ever so patiently), ‘how do you feel about me?’ I said, ‘this is fucking humiliating, are you really going to make me say this?’ she said, ‘yes, it’s important, this is where you lose me… in the shame and pain of how you feel about me… your inner critic pushes your child to a place of abandonment…’ I couldn’t bring myself to say it fully, I just said, ‘I care a lot about you, I think about you a lot, it means a lot to me, what we do here… I like you and… I don’t know…’ Anna said, ‘and it’s important, you’re doing really deep work here and it has an impact on both of us, this work, we’re both learning from each other. Not everyone is up for this kind of work… I’m wondering if it’s unhelpful for you to speak with your friend about your sessions? It’s important that you choose carefully who you share with because what we don’t want is for you to have this delicate, precious thing that’s important to you and then someone questions it and you’re left thinking is it as I remember? Maybe I imagined it. Maybe we don’t work this closely with each other. Maybe I shouldn’t feel this way… you see what I mean? We start to gaslight ourselves, because that’s what we’re used to.’ That all made total sense to me and I told her I’d planned on not going into details with this particular friend about my therapy in the future.

She then said, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about you and how painful it is for you when you are in that very young triggered place and you no longer feel any connection to me. You completely lose me. It’s as if I don’t exist to you… does that sounds right?’ I nodded, hiding most of my face behind my scarf. She continued, ‘I understand that. I’ve been thinking about how we can work together to help you feel connected to me in those times.’ She started delving into her pocket and said, ‘I know you look at my photo sometimes and that helps you feel connected to me… does that still work for you?’ I said it did and I commented that I’d noticed they changed her photo on the website and I liked it. She smiled and said, ‘I was wondering if this would help as well. I have these stones (she pulled out a black pouch), I thought perhaps you’d like to have a look at them and if you wanted to choose one you could take it away with you. When you’re feeling in that dark, vulnerable, overwhelmed state maybe you could hold the stone and it might remind you that I exist, I’m here, I care, I hold you in mind, this is real, we are connected and I will be there to support you at our next session. What do you think?’ I just looked at her face and down at the stones in their little black pouch and back again kind of in disbelief.

She poured the stones out onto the palm of her hand. About 5 heart shaped glass stones, all different colours. The inner critic chimed in immediately, ‘how many other clients has she offered one of these to? Did she get that pouch of stones from a generic ‘therapist toolbox’ course… are they personally hers or is this just some technique she does with clients like me!?’ Another part wanted to cry and hug Anna and thank her… I think I did thank her out loud for thinking of me and trying to show she cares. I said, ‘I wanted to ask you about the possibility of using a transitional object over a year ago but couldn’t pluck up the courage for the inevitable rejection… fuck sake!’ Anna smiled and said, ‘why fuck sake?’ I said, ‘it’s like the hugs… I’ve deprived myself of something I could have had, if only I’d asked!’ She said, ‘aw but you weren’t ready then, you’re ready now. We know each other better now, it has more meaning now… everything takes time, these things can’t be rushed.’ I told her I would love to take a stone and that it meant a lot to me. I explained that I love collecting crystals and that I have one I carry that reminds me of her, I keep it in my pocket.

We went on to talk about ways I care for myself in her absence. She asked how I managed to hold on to my connection with her during previous breaks and I said that I sometimes look over my journal notes to help remind myself of things she’s said to me. I then said, ‘um.. I don’t know if you’re going to think this is weird but, well you know your necklace that you have, the tree of life necklace,’ she nodded and said, ‘yeah, you have one too,’ surprised I said, ‘you know?? Have I worn it here?’ I don’t remember ever talking to her about the necklace or wearing it to session, I was too afraid she’d see it and think it was weird I was copying her. She nodded… I seriously have no recollection of ever letting on to her that I have one too. I told her that I wear the necklace when I’m missing her or if we have a missed session and it helps me remember her and feel close to her. She smiled. I’m writing all this out and I am actually staggered by the fact that she is not wanting to run a fucking mile… how this isn’t scaring the shit out of her is beyond me… this just seems like such bat shit crazy, obsessive, needy stuff! But she was sooooo happy and kept saying how it was a great idea. She had a really genuine smile on her face and told me she was glad I had found a way to help myself through the missed sessions and that I could hold the pendant in my hand and maybe think in my head, ‘what would Anna say’ if I was struggling… which I do a lot! This whole reparenting thing is amazing, how she actively encourages me to seek connection and reassurance from her. It’s blowing my mind as I’m thinking about it. She doesn’t want to push me away!??

I said, ‘while we’re talking about this… another thing I did this week which I think probably is pushing it in terms of weird stuff… well… oh fuck I don’t know how to talk about myself without criticising myself!’ I whispered, ‘why do I do that?’ and then said louder, ‘I think I criticise myself so other people don’t get in there first, but I don’t expect you to criticise me so why do it here!?’ she said, ‘your adult doesn’t – maybe your child does!’ I said, ‘hmmm yeah, she thinks you’re thinking it, you don’t say it out loud but you think it!’ Anna quickly said, ‘what does she think I’m thinking?’ I replied, ‘oh jeez she’s really lost the plot now!’ Anna was nodding and then said, ‘I’m nodding because I understand that your child believes your inner critic when she says I think you’ve lost the plot, I’m not nodding because I agree… I’m not thinking that at all. That reminds me, in your text you asked me to tell you I don’t hate you. I didn’t reply to that because I wanted to say it face to face, that’s not your adult speaking, your adult knows I don’t hate you… your inner critic distorts the things I’ve said to you and makes your child believe I hate you and that we don’t have a connection, that’s when you feel like I don’t even exist anymore.’ I was just sitting there blown away at all the connections firing off in my mind… yep that’s exactly what’s going on.

On a number of occasions through this session Anna paused me when I was being critical of myself and asked me to go back and say the sentence again but instead talk about my feelings. I couldn’t do it a lot of the time, it was slow and hard. I could just about talk factually with no emotions (good or bad)… she said that was my adult, the factual voice. She wanted me to connect to my child, so kept encouraging me to speak with the emotions. At one point I got really annoyed with her and said, ‘wow this is so hard! I am realising I’m so hard on myself, I don’t know how to not criticise myself!’ she said, ‘I know, and I am going to do this from now on, just pulling you back to try to reprogram you to focus on the feelings and be compassionate with yourself because I think this is where the sticking point is, this is why you lose connection with me and other people.’ I said, ‘okay… so another thing I did was that I listened to this longing I’ve had for a while now… well I’ve always found it quite upsetting and it triggers a lot of sad feelings… um… my kids and all their toys, their stuffed toys and well… I didn’t really have a lot of that stuff when I was little and um… recently over the past year I’ve had this idea that I might like to get myself a stuffed animal or something but I mean I know that’s a bit weird coz I’m a 36 year old woman but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘I love stuffed toys!!’ I smiled and said, ‘well I saw a Jellycat panda in a shop when I was Christmas shopping for the kids and fell in love with it but it was over £40 and I just thought I couldn’t justify spending that much on a toy for myself so put it back… then thought about it over and over and kept looking it up online… well anyway I realised my mum always used to complain about the cost of things and how it wasn’t worth it and I just thought, I can spend my money on whatever I want, I work hard and if I want a fucking stuffed toy I should get myself one! So I just bought it online last week and it arrived a couple of days ago and I seriously fucking love it, it’s the most adorable thing ever.. it’s super soft and cuddly and lovely and I thought about bringing it here today but didn’t have the courage and…’ She interrupted and said, ‘oh I was just going to say I wish you’d brought her in I’d love to see her, will you bring her next week?’ I nodded. I said, ‘I decided I wanted my child to name her but all I kept hearing inside was Pandawanda… which is a bit much haha… so that can be her inner world name but then I had a dream last night where the name Luna came to me and…’ Anna said, ‘oh lovely, you love the moon!’ and I lit up and was like, ‘yes I do! So she’s Luna! Um… and I had such a big excited feeling inside me on the first night I had her like a kid on Christmas eve, it felt like a sleepover and I just was saying in my head she’s all mine and I actually had to put her out the bed because I couldn’t fall asleep I was so excited.’ Anna was really loving all this chat about Luna. I told her that my husband seemed to really understand why I’d bought her, that it was a gift to my inner child and he was very supportive of it all which has been lovely.

She then said, ‘holding a soft toy can be so soothing. When Little Lucy is really struggling and you are losing that connection, you can hold Luna… rock her, stroke her. When you’re holding her you’re comforting that small part of yourself. You might be cuddling or rocking her but it’s like your rocking your child parts. It’s a different holding to when our partner holds us, that’s our adult being held…’ We sat with that thought for a while. I really know what she means. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever felt before, holding Luna. I keep wanting to come up stairs to visit her and when I hold her it seems to open something up in me. I will bring her to session and see what happens.

Anna went on to say that she knows my child is still hiding behind the chair but she sees her peeking further and further each day, that she believes my child will eventually learn to trust her. With about ten minutes to go Anna told me I had done really well talking openly about how I’d felt, that she’d let me down and hurt me. She said, ‘the hope is that through these times when I miss you or hurt you, that you are able to tell me honestly how you feel and that I can hear you, see you, work at understanding you and try to repair and heal what was broken within our relationship… and that through our relationship you can heal something that happened and is happening in other relationships out there… does that make sense?’ I nodded and there was some quiet time. I looked around the room and took a big breath and looked back at her and quietly said, ‘you really hurt me when you didn’t let me speak to you on the phone.’ She said, ‘I know… and I am so sorry… it hurt me too. I hope you feel I’ve been able to show you I do care.’ I nodded, so fucking close to tears. She continued, ‘I know you feel that it’s a risk to ask me for what you need but trust is a bit like faith, you sometimes just have to blindly leap in and hope that you will be okay either way…’ she went on to talk about how people will hurt me and let me down but also there will be people who care very deeply and want to mend that with me and that if I’m brave enough to be vulnerable and share when I’ve been hurt, that’s when the repair can happen, like today.

I quickly nipped to the toilet and when I came back Anna was sitting staring out of the window. I sat down and she said, ‘we have three sessions before the Christmas holiday so maybe one of those session we could talk about what you can do to help support yourself through that break where you will have no contact with me, none.’ I nodded and she started listing things like coffee with a friend, journaling, going to my husband for a hug, cuddling Luna, drawing, reading, watching tv, a bath, the gym… I was just thinking ‘NONE NONE NONE NO CONTACT NONE’… I guess we will cover that in another session!

She asked me how I felt about ending the session today and I said, ‘I feel like we’re only half way through this, I still really feel like I should have read you what I wrote in my journal, all of it…’ she said, ‘I think the pace needed to be slow today, it’s been a good pace, it’s okay that we’re only half way through, bring your journal back on Saturday and we can continue this next session.’

She then gestured towards the table and said, ‘I laid the stones on a tissue so you can see all the colours and choose one you’re drawn to.’ I looked at them and could have cried at the thought of her pulling a tissue from the box, spreading it out, carefully placing all the stones on top of it while I was in the toilet and then patiently waiting for me to come back. Why does that break my heart so much? It’s agony. I thought about asking her what her favourite colour was but in the end I didn’t because I figured she would ask me to choose mine… my favourite colour is blue and she often wears blue clothes so I chose the blue one. I thanked her and then looked in her eyes and thanked her again, ‘thank you for thinking of me and for bringing these in, it really does mean a lot to me that you’re showing me you care.’ She gently smiled and nodded.

She then told me a story of when she was on the train recently and she saw a wee boy sitting at a table seat with his mum. He was pushing a car around on the table as he sang Jingle Bells to himself. He was in his own wee world and he sang the whole song start to finish. Anna said everyone around was looking with ‘awww’ expressions and the little boy was oblivious, no self consciousness just total trust that he was safe because his mummy was there. As I’ve typed this out I think I understand why she shared this story. I didn’t get it at the time and it just made me feel a bit sad but now I think she’s saying that this is an example of how a free child should behave and when my child trusts her I might be able to have a carefree, uncensored approach to being with her… maybe not but that’s how I’ve interpreted it just now.

We talked a bit about my plans for the rest of the weekend and we hugged at the door. I thanked her again and told her I liked her perfume… seeing as this was the session for creepy oversharing and obsessiveness!! As I drove away my head was filled with everything we talked about and everything we didn’t. Now that I’m typing it out I’m struck with a very powerful sense of longing. She was so attuned to me and worked so hard to connect with me and I really did feel it, so much so that now I am alone again I crave to be with her. I want to feel that connectedness all the time. The absence of it feels like I’ve been sucked into a black hole. I’m going to find a container for my special blue heart glass stone and give Luna Pandawanda a cuddle before going to sleep… and if you got to the end of this post congratulations! I think this may be my longest so far.

The Therapy Relationship and the Rooms in My Mind

I’ve been missing Paul (my last therapist) the past few days. I started working with him over 6 years ago and we worked together for 3 years. We didn’t have a proper end to our work for a few reasons… one being that he isn’t particularly good at endings… another is that I had my second child and couldn’t afford therapy while on maternity leave. When I was ready to come back to him I discovered he’d stopped working in the city I saw him. So that was it… we had a final Skype session a couple of months into me working with Anna and I said goodbye then. Paul told me he would always be my therapist and the door was always open to me but I really needed to feel the closing. I needed to feel an end. For as long as the door was open, the grief couldn’t happen. I’m still not fully there even though it’s been three years since I last saw him. It comes up with Anna every so often… the grief I need to process.

I reverted back to an old favourite self-destructive cycle today of casually browsing through his daughter’s social media account and felt myself slip into a familiar pattern of comparisons and jealousy. I guess if I try to see things from a distance – my therapy relationship with him wasn’t always therapeutic. Sometimes it was painful and retraumatising. There’s something about me, my history, my attachment wounds that makes me desperately need very firm boundaries. I didn’t know that about myself 6 years ago and so when Paul presented me with a very relaxed model of therapy (sharing many details about his personal life with me) I dove head first into the delicious sea of self disclosures, swimming in the idea that it somehow made me special or unique because he told me these things… ignoring the pain it conjured up or worse, blaming and shaming myself for the pain. Now I have experienced a very different therapy model (Anna doesn’t share anything about her personal life, the only self disclosing she freely gifts me is her authentic emotional responses and even then I am very aware she is constantly considering whether it is beneficial to my therapy for her to disclose).

Today the pain of missing Paul got the better of me and I started reading over old therapy notes from our sessions. It makes my heart ache because there is a part of me that loves him still so much and desperately wants to go to him now. Reading it back is interesting, I would do things differently now if I started working with him today. I thought I would share some of the notes here. This one is from June 2013. Almost exactly 6 years ago. I’d been working with Paul for 4 months.

We were in a different room today; it was a brighter, smaller room with a view out onto the skyline of the city. I stood at the window for a couple of minutes looking down at all the roof tops and people below. The other room has a small roof window that you can only see sky out of so it was nice to get a sense of where we were in the world. Paul explained why he had to move, something to do with a new colleague but I was too busy dealing with feeling anxious about the change of room and worrying about which seat to sit in and what each seat decision would say about me that I missed his explanation. I overanalyse everything in my head…. wondering what he is thinking about me. It’s exhausting. Paul said that he received my emails and that the first one was quite long and he didn’t thoroughly read all of it. I cringed and apologised and he said –‘no, no don’t apologise it’s absolutely fine, I said you could email me and I know it is a great therapeutic tool for you – you can email me whenever you want and I don’t want you to feel bad. When I have the time I really enjoy reading your emails – you’re a good writer – in fact I’ve only had two other clients who were as good at writing as you and they are both writers themselves.’ I thanked him and was a bit taken aback, I said I was embarrassed about needing to write such long emails and he asked why. I said I hated being so needy and that I imagine he feels burdened and dreads seeing my name pop up in his inbox. He thought for a bit and said he didn’t feel burdened at all. That feeling burdened was a choice and that he doesn’t push himself harder than he is capable of. He said he is marking for the SQA at the moment so he has less time for emails but still checks his emails every other day. He said, ‘you are paying for this service Lucy, it’s your therapy to use as you need it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m paying for this hour a week not for you to spend your personal time looking at my emails,’ I joked about my brother teasing me about Paul telling his wife to cancel their weekend appointments because he received an email from Lucy King. He laughed and said, ‘You’re not quite that bad! I am glad my other 20 clients don’t email me though I have to say…’ I said, ‘What? Seriously? I’m the only one who emails you?’ and he said, ‘Well, yeah they email to arrange appointments and maybe run a couple of things by me but no they don’t email like you do…’ I couldn’t believe it – I was mortified but he said it was fine and that it obviously was cathartic for me to get it all out. He suggested that when I have a particularly important email I could print it off and highlight the important bits and bring it to session. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the ego but a part of me loves that I’m the only one who emails him like I do. That he sits and reads my words. That I will be forever known in his mind as the client who sent very long emails… not sure even what I mean by that… that I want to be remembered? That I want to be special? That I want to stand out in some way…? Maybe if I’m unique, interesting, special in some way then he wont want to stop working with me…?

So Paul then asked, ‘How’s things?’ and I paused for a while and looked out the window… ‘not great to be honest…’ He looked curious and I started to explain, ‘I have had a great week, really lovely catch up with friends, great weekend in the garden and a bbq with friends… lovely week… then I met up with dad yesterday and that put me back to square one! I don’t know how he still manages to do this. I thought that after bringing him to a therapy session things would change. Dad had suggested we meet up for lunch and stupidly I looked forward to it, I thought it would be nice. I arrive and all goes fine but he seems distant (I look up and Paul is nodding with a pensive look on his face, absorbed in my story), I just presumed it was because he just came from work. We make small talk and it’s a bit awkward. We talk about the weekend and talk about my daughter, we eat, he then asks about therapy. (I look up again and say, ‘you know it really annoys me that he still askes about therapy – why does he care? He doesn’t own it any more… he only paid for the first 3 sessions!’  Paul says, ‘it is none of his business and you don’t need to share any of it with him’). Dad then asked in so many words why therapy is taking so long, he says he thought it would just be ten or fifteen sessions. I told him I have a lot more to work through than I thought.’ I then went on to detail the rest of my lunch with dad, I explained that I told dad that it upsets me how mum still has the power to affect me just by being her. Dad told me there has to come a point where I get all I need from myself and stop looking to others to change how I feel. He didn’t understand so I changed the subject to asking him about work which in turn made him ask about my work.

‘I talked about how I’m not enjoying teaching at the moment. That the thought of teaching until I am nearly 70 feels like a life sentence. It is stressful and makes me more anxious, I have been looking into ways that I can do a little more learning and change career or something. But dad just said that everyone thinks their job is stressful and that very few people enjoy what they do and in fact it took him over twenty years before he enjoyed his job and that I should write a list of all the things I like about my job because I’d probably find that I wouldn’t get a better one.’ Paul then said, ‘it’s interesting that he didn’t say anything affirming there…’ I said, ‘I think he was only ever proud of me because I got a degree and became a teacher, I don’t think he would know how to feel about me if I changed career.’

I told Paul that I had explained to dad that I knew the pros and cons of my job, that it was pretty depressing to stay in a job because you get long holidays – that the plus side of your job is the times you aren’t in work. That I asked dad if he could imagine when he was 29 being told he would never earn any more money than what he earned at that point. Then he suggested going for promotion. I said the thing I love about teaching is the kids and being a head teacher I would spend no time with the kids.

I said to Paul, ‘I mean, it’s like he knows nothing about me… then dad said, ‘this was the problem with your mother, she was never happy, no matter what job she had or where we lived, nothing made her happy she always wanted something different…’ I just didn’t know what to say!’ Paul looked all kind of contemplative and screwed his face up a bit, ‘That makes me so angry!’ He said, ‘Doesn’t he realise that all his daughter needs is a hug and to be told she can do whatever she puts her mind to… you’re nothing like your mother Lucy, I could have told you in your first session that you are nothing like her, I think his comparison there is because of this issue he has where he unconsciously has merged you with your mum – he can’t see you are a separate person.’ I said, ‘well he should know me – he should know! It’s like he is trying to hurt me…’ Paul said, ‘I don’t think he has the capacity to see how other people are feeling, Lucy. If you were my daughter I would NEVER say anything like that to you… it is very easy to affirm you and validate you because it is true, you deserved better…’ I could have melted into the energy of the room… ‘if you were my daughter…’ that sentence makes my heart hurt. I looked away to stop myself from connecting fully to his compassionate eyes and losing it completely. I composed myself and finished the rest of my story about lunch with dad. ‘I told dad that I thought that if someone he respected like his wife told him she was thinking of a career change he would listen and take it seriously, he would ask what she didn’t like about the job and tell her she should follow what she enjoys but I felt that he was telling me I couldn’t get anything better than what I’ve got and I am just like my mother. Dad then said, ‘I didn’t say that… I said none of that. I wasn’t comparing you to your mother.’ I asked, ‘what was the purpose of bringing her up then?’ and he said, ‘what’s the point in me answering that?’ I said, ‘so I can understand you better,’ and he replied ‘we’re just digging ourselves deeper into this hole we’re in so we should stop talking about it.’  It makes me feel crazy, these kinds of conversations. I’m not allowed to have a response that contradicts his opinions… he literally wont let the interaction continue. So there was about 5 minutes of silence then I started getting my daughers coat on. I said, ‘with all due respect I am not going to waste 25 years of my life hating my job in the faint hope that by the time I am in my mid-fifties I might enjoy it. I am the main bread winner and want to not only enjoy and further my career opportunities but also widen the possibility that my family could have more money coming in, I do not make decisions lightly.’ Paul looked very serious and said, ‘you are nothing like your mother Lucy. You have been teaching all your adult life and have been with your husband for 12 years – you are a considered and stable person who commits to things.’ I nodded and just felt such deep sadness for the fact that this man I have only met for an hour or so a week for a few months knows me better than my own father. I told Paul that dad had said that I should count my blessings. I have a great husband and daughter. That it made me angry when people say I’ve to be grateful for the small mercy of other people enriching my life rather than being proud for the things I have worked damn hard at achieving, maintaining and improving.

I told Paul that I cried my eyes out all the way home. That I felt like such a fool. That at this present moment I want nothing to do with both mum and dad. They bring nothing positive to my life, just heartache and disappointment.

Paul said he resented dads comment about Paul encouraging me to take on more and more sessions. He said, ‘not only is he suggesting that I am unprofessional enough to lead you on like that but he is also implying you are stupid enough to be manipulated by me… I’m feeling angry and resentful about that,’ I said I was sorry that dad made him feel like that but it was good to hear because I was angry too. I said, ‘after we had the session with dad I asked him what he thought of you and dad said, ‘he’s a lot older than I thought’… I hadn’t told you about that because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings but I now realise your feelings wouldn’t be hurt because you don’t care about dad.’ Paul nodded and said, ‘he was just putting down your experience, belittling it… when the three of us were working together, I got the feeling that he was very intimidated by me and how in tune we are, that we have a connection, he probably felt threatened.’ I agreed and said, ‘I then asked dad what he thought of you as a person and dad said, ‘well he obviously cares a great deal about you!’ and I felt a mix of emotions, I felt happy because of course I want you to care about me but I felt sad because I want dad to care about me too, want him to care about me more…’ Paul said, ‘I just wonder though if your dad just doesn’t have the capacity to care about anyone other than himself, if all he is thinking is ‘how am I?’ then he won’t even consider anyone else.’ I said that made me sad and that’s what makes me wish I’d never started therapy because this feeling is so painful, knowing what it feels like to get it from Paul and knowing I will never feel that from my own dad. I said, ‘It’s just… well… it’s a shame, you know?’ and Paul said, ‘it’s a crying shame, that’s what unconditional positive regard is all about. You deserve nothing less.’ I said, ‘can you honestly say that with all the clients you’ve ever had you have always managed to have completely unconditional positive regard for them?’ and he thought for a bit and said that he was certainly aware of his judgements and prejudices so he doesn’t let it affect how he is with clients. He said, ‘I’ve been working in mental health for so long now it does come a lot easier than it used to. I remember one client when I first started doing this, I asked her at the end of what I thought was a great session if she thought it went well and she said, ‘no, I thought you were really judgemental…’ and she walked out and never came back. I learned a lot from that.’ I asked Paul if he agreed with her and he again thought for a bit like he always does, really considers his answers, then said, ‘no I didn’t agree with her but it taught me that your perceptions of things often differ from the clients.’ I said, ‘it was obviously her issue then,’ and he said, ‘yeah but o#I could have handled it differently…’ He said he has been trained to be aware of his reactions and why he feels certain ways.

I said that I was sick of constantly letting my dad hurt me, that I thought I was over all this and Paul said, ‘I thought you were too, I thought you had moved on from your dad and we were going to start talking about your mum,’ I replied, ‘well I guess this was a test about just how over it all I was. I failed big time because I still do care.’ Paul said, ‘do you think that you wish you’d never come to therapy because you think nothing has changed? You are still the same but many people believe they must change or get fixed in therapy but that’s not the case we are actually all fine we just need to learn to live with what we have,’ I said, ‘no, I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I am getting much better at expressing how I feel, better at accepting how I feel for example I am currently feeling that anxious pain that I get in my chest (he later explained again that was fight or flight) and instead of hating myself for feeling like that and believing there is something wrong with me, I now just think I have this feeling, that it’s probably quite understandable that I feel like that because of what we are talking about and I just carry on with what I’m doing.’ Paul said, ‘that’s interesting, good, that’s good…’ I explained that after dad’s lunch I felt really awful and would normally have swallowed the feeling down and just got on with my day not really knowing how I felt but yesterday after dad I just let myself feel sad. I cried and cried until I was done crying.

I said, ‘I just don’t know why I keep going back – why don’t I just refuse to have a relationship with them? I feel like such a fool.’ Paul said, ‘All humans live with hope – that’s what makes us human, but we are actually very self-destructive as a species and I don’t mean physically I mean we worry and think and can be very negative about ourselves and if our situation is more than our system can tolerate then we turn to physical ways of self-destruction like drinking or other ways… like you experienced,’ He talked about the need for balance and quiet in our minds, the effort we must put into trying to balance our thoughts. He said, ‘At work as a teacher you must see the children who are constantly ill because their bodies are trying to cope with this high level of hormones and chemicals that they’re producing to attempt to manage their anxiety?’ I said that I was always ill as a child, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I had a really bad attendance rate.

We talked a bit about how perceptions of things change over time. I said, ‘I think the biggest thing that has changed is that I used to have this stupid hope that things would get better or would have this expectation of what I thought mum and dad could be – that if only I could adapt myself enough and change who I am to fit in with what they would need and like then they would change. The difference now is that I can see that they can’t be what I want and it makes me really sad – like a grief.’ Paul said it was interesting I chose those words – that I used to be in denial and now I was grieving a relationship that never existed but that I’d always thought was possible. He explained about his own mum, that he doesn’t always get closeness from talking to people but sometimes just spending time with them, sometimes in silence, can feel intimate. That Paul and his mum speak a different language but he still feels close to her – he would just never talk about something emotional with her. He said he had always wished his relationship with his dad had been something more and that he had always had that feeling about his grandfather as well, that he wished their relationship could have been more than it was, but he didn’t think his grandfather understood what him – he said it was a sad time. I felt like Paul really connected with me and what I was going through. I love that he shares parts of himself with me.

I said I was sick of feeling like this irritating yappy dog that’s constantly leaping about and seeking love and attention, ‘love me love me love me…’ it’s humiliating… and all they’ve ever done is turn away from me. Paul said, ‘I’m really interested in your analogy about feeling like a wee yappy dog because it clearly illustrates how you feel and I think it’s about time you made the decision that you are no longer going to put your all into those relationships. You need to see that your parents are just two people, that they will not meet your very low and reasonable expectations. You have very validating relationships with Dave (husband), your friends and your Daniel (brother)… you’ve talked about him quite a bit and he sounds like a really positive influence in your life.’ I said, ‘yeah I’m so fortunate to have him in my life – if I had to go through all the crap with mum and dad just to get him in my life then I guess it was worth it.’ Paul smiled and said, ‘well that’s a really great way to look at it isn’t it, I mean if you didn’t have the parents you had you wouldn’t be you, I mean I know there are parts of yourself that you don’t like but there are plenty of things I’m sure you do like and you just wouldn’t be you, Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel, if you hadn’t had your mum and your dad… that’s a really interesting way to look at your experience isn’t it?’ I agreed and said that I can’t think of many things I like at the moment but that yes – I wouldn’t be me and Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel without our parents.

Somehow we got to talking about some of the techniques he’s taught me like the mindfulness meditation. I said that I was finding the meditation really helpful, that I feel like I’ve had a sleep after just 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. He said it’s like a brain nap – that he loves it, loves clearing his mind. He said, ‘one day a few weeks ago I did the initial mindfulness meditation with five clients – in one day – I was so relaxed!’ I laughed and so did he, he said, ‘it was a bit of a cop-out, can’t do that every day!’ I said, ‘the initial time we did it I don’t think I was capable of doing it right though, it was a bit odd,’ Paul said, ‘yeah I’ve had a few clients who won’t do it with me in the room, one client told me, ‘there’s no way I’m doing that with you, it’s weird!’ He explained it is pretty intimate and you have to be very trusting to close your eyes and experience that with someone. I said, ‘well when we did it I did peek at you a few times!’ and he laughed again, I said, ‘I think that was the main benefit of the exercise actually – it wasn’t about the meditation it was about learning that I could trust you.’

I had been watching the clock all session as I usually do but by this point we were past the hour and Paul was still nestled in his seat looking pretty comfortable so I figured I could let him be in charge of the time keeping. (Interestingly when we did get to the end of the session after an hour and a half he started to wind the conversation up by asking the usual, ‘how did you find today then?’ and I stood up as I normally do and we then continued talking with me standing and him sitting for a further ten minutes. That often happens – I think I end things by standing up first so I feel in control and not rejected – I’m sure he is probably very aware of whatever reason it is that I do it). Paul said that he was going on holiday the first week of July (same as us) and that they were visiting the Scottish Isles (also a coincidence as we are going to Orkney). I said, ‘That’s a bit different from the Caribbean then…’ and he said, ‘well yeah it’s my brother in law who owns a hotel and restaurant out there, it is great and we get everything for free but the flights are extortionate and we just don’t have the money at the moment to fly 3 kids out there. I also feel a bit indebted to him and although they’re family I would rather not owe them anything. Plus I don’t think they like how opinionated I can be – they didn’t speak to me for two days on one trip because I said something they didn’t like,’ That made me laugh a lot. I have such a hunger to be part of his life. I want to know it all. I want to be in it with him. Oh my god I don’t know why I feel like this but it feels so good and so awful all at once.

We made some more small talk. He said I must be looking forward to my long holiday, talked a bit about how being a therapist is a really rewarding job. We talked a bit about the value of siblings and how he loves to hear his wee gang of kids rallying together. He mentioned a couple of books – one by John Cleese about surviving families and another about compassion. I showed him the book I am reading about the power of validation. He talked a bit about mental health and I said that everyone in Britain seems depressed. Paul said, ‘when I lived in Sweden I saw people with serious mental health issues in the street every day because they don’t over medicate out there like they do here… all sorts of people are just accepted and welcome in society. We numb everyone down over here…’ He continued, ‘I’ve always attracted people with mental health problems, I remember being in a bar at a music festival in the 70’s when a guy walked through the whole bar pushing his way through the crowd towards me. I take a sip of my pint and then the guy gets to me and says, ‘I’m a schizophrenic’ haha – it’s like he searched the whole place for me. That has happened a lot in my life.’ I said, ‘So you just thought I might as well be getting paid for this!’ and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah that’s exactly it.’

We got organised to leave and Paul started to walk me down the stairs to the main entrance. He saw me to my car and said he’d enjoyed talking to me today. I said I did too and that I looked forward to the sessions. I said I’d try to limit the emails this week and he smiled and said he looked forward to his bit of extra light reading. I drove away and felt better than I did when I arrived but also something else sitting in the pit of my stomach and in my chest… a sadness… maybe that I want so much more than I can ever really have from him. A feeling of dread at what I’ve started by walking into his office four months ago. Maybe healing is meant to hurt this much.

So… that was fairly long! If you made it through to the end then I applaud you… thank you!

I have a lot more psychological insight now than I did back then. I understand myself on a deeper level. I know about attachment pain, ego states, transference, counter transference, boundaries, projection, holding, containment… all of the behind the scenes things that make us tick, that make therapy what it is. I definitely have more to learn but I also want to acknowledge how much has changed in me. I’ve been feeling confused about the work I did with Paul – was it too ‘shallow’, why did we avoid so many topics, why did we talk so much about him, how do I feel about the lack of time boundaries and his self disclosures. I’ve talked a lot to Daniel about my experiences with Paul and the work I’m currently doing with Anna. He said these words to me… ‘People don’t come into our lives by chance Lucy. You were meant to work with Paul and you were meant to work with Anna. Perhaps Paul came along at a time when you needed to be shown you are loveable. That you are worthy of the extra time and bending of the boundaries, that you are not and were never too much, that something extraordinary about you made Paul want to work with you in an extraordinary way… and now you are stronger and now there is a part of you who believes you’re worthy, you can let Anna teach you about tolerating the deep emotional pain you’ve pushed away all your life.’ Perhaps he’s right. I know I couldn’t have done the work I’m doing now back then. The doors to those rooms in my mind and my soul were locked and I didn’t have the keys. Now with Anna I’m slowly sorting through the very complicated entry system within myself and braving what’s inside every room. One door at a time.