I read the 2 pages that covered enactments in the SP book, and I freaked out. I spent an hour googling and reading about enactment. I managed to calm myself down by reminding myself that I was the one who had seen the parallel between my mom’s behavior and Bea’s behavior during the spring rupture. I reminded myself that I brought it up, and that even though we had talked a bit about it, Bea had stayed present and connected, not shrinky. Then, I freaked out again about the whole maternal transference thing, googled that. Eventually, I realized what I wanted was to find some story about someone who felt like me. I wanted to read about transference and enactments from the client point of view. All the articles and medical papers, therapy books, those weren’t helping me. So, I came here and I asked you all. And I got great comments. I finally felt like I was okay, not crazy, and not alone. So much of my struggle with this stuff isn’t the….well, I guess the enactment in and of itself. Its the labeling, the clinical feel, the fear that labeling makes none of this real, the shame that comes with that. And you guys get it in a way no one else does. (Somebody really needs to write an educational book about this stuff from the client view point.)
I read your comments and I did a lot of thinking, and writing. It wasn’t easy, because the teen was hurting and pissed off about the whole thing, and wanting to avoid all the awful feelings coming up while at the same time wanting to make sense of it all and understand the feelings, the why of it and the reason all these defensive feelings come up.
I finally decided that I understood enactment to be this: Enactment happened because something in some part of me (or (and) Bea) got triggered by similarities between the past and the present in the relationship. Basically, I got so upset and rage-full because what hurt me in the present (spring 2018) was a similar hurt from the past (my mom).
I emailed Bea, just trying to make sense of it all, and we wrote back and forth a bit. I asked her why, even if I can understand what enactment is, can see it, then why does it hurt and upset me so much? Why am I so afraid of you calling something an enactment or transference or whatever other shrinky thing? Why is it so triggering to discuss this that I have to go far away to even think of talking about it? She offered up some ideas, and nothing really hit home.
Restless, I tried distracting myself. When that didn’t work, I got out pen and paper and wrote. I decided to just allow the teen to write whatever she was feeling or thinking. I didn’t censor anything, and I didn’t let Ms. Perfect censor the teen, either. And so much came out. It wasn’t a lot of writing, but it was so much. I knew I had to give it to Bea. I emailed Bea and told her the teen had important writing to give her, and asked her to please not let me avoid it, because I was scared but it needed to be talked about, and I would be upset if we didn’t talk about it.
Wednesday, when I get to Bea’s office, I feel sick. Bea doesn’t waste anytime, either. Once I sit down and get settled she says, “I’m really curious to read what the teen wrote. Would she still like to share it?”
Instantly, I’m gone. I’m so far away, I don’t answer, I don’t hide my face, I don’t do anything but freeze.
Eventually, I realize Bea is speaking. “Alice. Alice you are too far away. That really triggered something, didn’t it? The teen needs to know she doesn’t have to share anything she’s not ready for. We can wait. I’m not in any kind of hurry. We can wait until after the holidays. Okay?”
That’s enough to pull me back a little bit. “No. No, this can’t wait. If I wait, it will….It just can’t wait. It’s just hard. Because….I don’t want you to think I’m being awful again.”
“How about this? How about if I read it knowing that you were unfiltered and raw, and just writing how you feel?”
“Okay. Okay, because I’m not blaming you or being upset with you or anything like that. Okay? I don’t want you to…..just please, please don’t leave.” I whisper.
“I’m not leaving. I’m right here, and whatever you wrote isn’t going to send me away.” Bea sounds certain, and strong and so very here.
I hand her a folded sheet of notebook paper. The teen didn’t write in my notebook in case she didn’t want Bea to see it. As Bea takes it from me she asks, “Do you want your blanket?” I nod my head yes, and she gets it for me.
I cover my legs with the fleece blanket. I have cloud pillow on my lap, hugged to me. My hands are clenched, holding on to pieces of the blanket.
“Are you here enough?” Bea asks.
I’m not sure. I probably should tell her no, but instead I say, “Maybe.”
Bea smiles at that and shakes her head a little. It’s a gesture adult Alice makes often with Kat; that sort of knowing who Kat is and maybe being a bit exasperated by it but also just, well, loving who she is and being so glad that she is able to be authentic. It feels real, that smile and head shake and I sit in that feeling, that Bea is here and she is herself.
Bea doublechecks it’s okay to read, and when I give the go ahead, she opens the sheet of paper.
Enactment means the relationship is not real. It means that the hurt in the present is not real. It means that you didn’t do anything to hurt my feelings and I’m just crazy. It means that I screwed up. It means that I can’t trust my feelings. It means that I am bad, that I didn’t behave appropriately and it means that I really am a drama queen who overreacts and is over sensitive about everything. It means that all my feelings, worries, hurts, thoughts, all of it can be dismissed or ignored because it’s not real anyway. It means it’s all my fault and it means that you don’t have to deal with me because it’s my issue and so I’ll be stuck dealing with it all alone. It means that I’m exposed and vulnerable and all the hurt in the past is all dug up and there’s no one to help me with it and I can’t do it. It means that you don’t care, that I’m just something to be dealt with because none of it has anything to do with you anyway. It means I’m dumb for not realizing what was going on and you just get to presume to know and see everything because you did see what was going on! It means I somehow screwed up AGAIN and overreacted AGAIN. It means that you WILL leave me. Because why would you want to deal with a mean drama queen teen who is blaming you for things you never did? Why would you stay and try to help someone who won’t trust you because of something you didn’t even do?
It feels like a very, very long time before she’s done reading. It’s excruciating sitting there, feeling so vulnerable and exposed.
“This sounds so painful. It sounds horrible, and it’s no wonder enactment and all the shrinky things are so triggering. If this is what they feel like, of course it’s going to be awful for you to have me talk about this stuff.” Bea’s words offer me some sense of safety. She’s here, she’s not ignoring me, or yelling at me for overreacting. She’s not mad and she’s not gone.
I want to tell her I’m so thankful she sees it, that she is able to see why this is such a terrible topic. I don’t, though. Instead, I bury my face in cloud pillow.
“Does it feel to you like if we talk about enactment, that I am hiding behind this therapist wall? I get the sense that the shrinky stuff really feels like a wall between us to you. Maybe even like we are separated in different rooms and only I have a viewing window to observe you.”
“It is a wall.” I didn’t think I was whispering, but my voice is so quiet, so tiny. I don’t think I can speak any louder, though.
“Yeah, it really feels like a wall to you. I wonder if I can explain how I experience it?”
“That would be okay, I think.” I’m hesitant because I don’t want her to get shrinky.
“It’s not shrinky, okay? Just me,” she reassures me, almost like she read my mind. “I see it as….you and I are surrounded by the walls of enactment. We are in the center, we are in it together. I have to be able to see the when the walls are up and around us, but I’m right there with you.”
“No, not at all. It’s like this….did you ever spin in circles when you were s kid?”
“Yeah.” I nod my head.
“So while you are spinning in circles, it is very hard to watch where you are going, right? It’s my job to watch where you are going. I’m right there, standing right next to you in the middle of the room while you spin, but I can’t start spinning, too, otherwise you could bump your head, or I could even crash into you. And I don’t want either of those things to happen to you. That’s why I wouldn’t want to put a wall between us, because then I can’t block you from bumping your head. But I also can’t spin with you because then I could hurt you. Does that make sense?”
I think about what she just said. It actually does make sense. It’s weird, but it makes sense to me. “It does.” I think some more, and then I ask, “So you don’t want to get away from me?”
“No. Not at all. I know sometimes it really feels like I don’t care, but I do care. I care very, very much. You matter to me, and it matters to me that you are safe.” She sounds….serious. “I’m real, and our relationship is real. The feelings are real. I want to make sure you know that.”
“I really need you to be real.” I pull the blanket to my face as I say the words, and then I slowly peek out at her.
“I know you do. And I am,” she says softly.
We sit in silence for a moment, and then she says, “You aren’t dumb. None of us are aware of it when we are reacting to our past, until…well, until we are aware of it. I don’t know more about you than you know. I really don’t presume to know everything, not by a long shot. But I have to be able to see when the walls are up around us. It’s the same as when you can see that hubby is getting defensive or upset over something that doesn’t really have to do with you. He can’t see it, but you can. And I bet now that you have seen this mom transference and enactment so clearly, I bet that you will notice the next time you are reacting to someone as if you expect them to treat you like your mom did.”
“I still don’t like the shrinky words.” I know, I know, it’s semantics, but it just brings up so much negative feeling.
“Well, what if we said the situation was paralleling one from the past? Or we could say that the past was triggered. We could even just say that the walls are up.” Bea doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that once again, I am asking her to find different words.
“Those are all okay. A lot better, actually,” I tell her.
We laugh about how we have created this language that is all our own. Bea tells me a funny story about how she called something too shrinky in her SP consultation group. “Another therapist in the group was having trouble understanding why one of her clients would get so upset when she would sort of step back and get more logical, rational. I immediately thought, ‘it’s because you are being too shrinky’. Of course, then I had to explain about shrinky. I find myself using you as an example to help other therapists in my group understand why their people don’t like something the therapist is doing.”
“Really?” I ask, surprised.
“Yes, really. You have taught me a lot. This goes both ways, you know.”
I nod my head. “I guess so.” I don’t really think……I guess I don’t think about me mattering enough to have any impact on Bea. I like the fact that maybe I have helped her see some things she maybe wouldn’t have seen, and that she can use that to help other therapists not be shrinky.
“I know we talked before, a long time ago about all the shrinky stuff like transference, but this time it feels better.” I feel shy, telling her this, but I want her to know.
“I’m really glad. It feels better to me, too.”
“I was looking through emails last night trying to find the ones where we talked about transference. I couldn’t find them but I….I saw how…..well, the little girl emailed you a lot. Like every other day was the most time between emails…..just to ask if you were there, to make sure you weren’t leaving…..I just….” I trail off, uncertain what it is I want to say.
“Did that surprise you?”
“Well….yeah. I mean, I know she emailed you more than me (the teen) and I know the little girl is more…..she’s better at reaching……but I didn’t know she wrote that much. And you answered. Every time you answered that you were still there.”
“I did, yes. I hope you know you can email, too. It’s okay if you need to.” I swear, I can hear all the care in her voice. I do matter to her.
“I just…..I feel like I should apologize for that. I mean, it was like the first two years, everyday, emailing to see if you were still there. I’m sorry.”
“There’s no sorry. I wasn’t bothered by it, and you― the little girl― needed that reassurance to feel safe. I knew when I made the offer of emailing when you needed to that that could mean multiple emails between appointments. I was okay with that.”
I think about it. Bea might respond a little differently to the little girl than to the teen, but she’s still always Bea. The difference is that for the little girl, a short *I’m here* email was enough, even if she had written a lot. The teen finds danger in not having her words directly responded to. The little girl just wanted the reassurance that Bea had not left her or forgotten about her. The teen needs to know that she isn’t being ignored or dismissed and she frequently approaches situations with the assumption that she is being ignored, that the other person isn’t really there and the other person needs to prove they are there and that they do see her and can handle her.
“I’m glad you were…..that it was okay with you.” I hide my face again, embarrassed.
“It’s always okay with me,” she says. “Speaking of, we are going to have to stop in a few minutes, but I want to make sure all the parts have what they need, that they are okay.”
“They are. I feel okay. I’m glad we talked about shrinky things. I was afraid it could go really wrong and that would be awful right before a break, but it didn’t go bad and I feel better. I think I get it now.”
“Okay. If the any of the parts do need to reach out, they can. I plan on doing a lot of lounging and eating cookies. I can lounge and eat cookies and respond to emails.” She sounds so cheerful.
“Okay,” I tell her.
We spend a few more minutes talking about Christmas, and I share some Grandma and Grandpa stories. It feels good to talk about them, and grounding to end the last therapy session of the year like this.
We say Merry Christmas and I head out the door. Even with a two week break, I feel okay. I know Bea is still there, even if I’m not seeing her twice a week, and she will be there when the break is over. I trust that she won’t forget about me, and I can see her lounging with a good book, a mocha and cookies. And I believe her that she will be there if I need her. I’m okay.