Defense and boundaries 

The rest of the week after Monday’s slightly odd session, I avoided thinking about much of anything. When I did stop for a minute and dig a little deeper, I thought about boundaries. I thought about how boundaries growing up in my family were very skewed. I never heard the word no. Seriously, my parents never said no to me. I think it was partly they sucked at setting boundaries, but also I knew what I could ask for and what wasn’t okay to ask for. I knew all the unspoken rules and nuances from a very young age. And I followed all the rules, because I didn’t want to be left. I don’t understand, how my parents could have such solid strict boundaries when it came to keeping out emotions and negative stuff and then have no boundaries in other ways. 

I realized that, for me, this idea Bea had when we had our most recent rupture, that we could disagree and still be on the same side was new to me. I hadn’t experienced that before. Where were the boundaries my parents were supposed to have to help me become myself? Where were boundaries that taught me it was okay to say no? Where were the boundaries that helped me learn where I ended and where others began? 

Therapy brought up discussion about which of the five F defenses do I default to. I didn’t know. It came up as Bea and I were discussing my behavior of running from Kay, and Bea wondered aloud which defense I used most. As we talked, she said she thought I used friendship/attachment cry the most. 

I laughed. Inside, I grimaced. “Nope. No way.”

“You don’t like to think that attachment is your defense. It is scary to think that,” Bea said.

I shook my head. “Yeah….but I don’t think that’s it.” The thing is, with Bea, it might be. But I have worked really hard to go against my instinct to run away from her. I want to heal. I want to grow and be healthier. I also know what *normal* looks like, and it’s not normal to run out of a therapy session or to run away from a new friend just because they have said or done something that was triggering. I say as much to Bea. 

“That makes sense. You can walk out here, if you need to. That is okay.” Bea says. She suggests that I might think about this defense stuff and boundaries and relationships this week. And so I do. 

I think and read a lot, and I decide that flight is my defense. The more I read about the five F’s the more I was sure flight is my primary defense. 

Flight is any means the individual uses to put space between themselves and the threat. It may involve sprinting away from the perceived danger, but is more likely exhibited as backing away or, particularly in children, as hiding. Avoidance is the go-to symptom of a flight response to uncomfortable feelings. Whether it be out of anxiety or acute stress, these are the people who are harder to connect with for many good reasons. They are the ones who try desperately to avoid any sort of intimacy or vulnerable moment with others by keeping many interactions at some surface level because that feels safest. Flight types appear as if their starter button is stuck in the “on” position. They are obsessively and compulsively driven by the unconscious belief that perfection will make them safe and loveable. As children, flight types respond to their family trauma somewhere along a hyperactive continuum that stretches between the extremes of the driven “A” student and the ADHD dropout running amok. They relentlessly flee the inner pain of their abandonment and lack of attachment with the symbolic flight of constant busyness. When the obsessive/compulsive flight type is not doing, she is worrying and planning about doing.
Going by that, even my dissociation is a type of flight. At first glance, it seems as if it is possibly a freeze response, but dissociation is my way of avoiding uncomfortable, scary situations. For me, it is all about going far away. It is about leaving and avoiding. I share this with Bea, and she finds it very interesting. She also agrees with me.  

The other interesting thing I found was a description of how these defenses work in a *normal* person. 

Walker (n.d.) outlines four basic defenses that most people use in life, but which in CPTSD become fixated and maladaptive due to ongoing trauma. These include the Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn and a number of hybrid types. 

When the Fight response is healthy an individual will have solid boundaries and the ability to be assertive when need be, whereas in CPTSD the person will become overly reactive and aggressive towards others.  

With a healthy Flight response, the individual is able to recognize when a situation or person is dangerous and withdraw or disengage whereas those with CPTSD will tend to isolate themselves socially to avoid threat. 

A healthy use of the Freeze response ensures that a person who is in a situation where further action will exacerbate things, stops and reassesses.  

And finally a Fawn response ensures that the individual listens and compromises with others, while someone with CPTSD will adopt a people pleasing approach to avoid conflict. 

I stayed pretty much on the surface, and In this more analytical mode. I think it felt safer, in some ways, just in case Bea wasn’t actually back. 

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Don’t be shrinky

Monday morning. Halloween. I didn’t sleep much last night. I get up at 5:30, get myself ready and then wake Kat. We drive to school in silence, me downing coffee and Kat chugging hot chocolate. We arrive early, and so I sit in the backseat with Kat, coloring a picture and checking my emails, my facebook, my wordpress. The transition into school is smooth and easy. Kat says goodbye without a problem, and I head back out to the car to drive to therapy.

I arrive on time, and am happy to see that Bea has brought her dog with her. I haven’t been able to bring Hagrid with me because of the new schedule, and I miss having him to cuddle during hard sessions. I stop on the stairs to pet Astrid. 

“Good morning.” Bea walks out of her office to see whats going on in the stairway. 

I look up at her, and smile. “Astrid came right to me, to say hi.” 

We walk into Bea’s office together, and Bea nods. “She remembers you.” 

I get settled into my spot on the couch, and Bea sits down in her black chair that is on the blue rug. Astrid lays down on the rug by Bea’s feet. 

We talk about Kat, and how she was the last session, and Bea says that last session was the first time she felt like she wasn’t seeing anything that needed working through. “She was calm and centered and really positive. She seemed much more contained and happy. I think this move to a different school has really made a difference.” 

I agree, and our conversation slowly shifts to talking about me. 

“I never did get to ask about your birthday on Monday, and if you did anything,” Bea says. 

“We didn’t do a lot. Hubby had the day off, so he set up my ariel yoga trapeze, and later we all went to dinner at Olive Garden. We kept it simple and low key. We were all tired from the weekend.” I smile as I’m telling her this, because it was a good day. “I practiced Yoga that afternoon, and then watched a movie, so I got a lot of me time.” 

“That sounds really nice. I’m glad you had a good birthday.” 

“My Grandma called on Monday, and we were having a really good talk until Harley interrupted. It’s like he can’t stand not being the center of attention.” I sigh. 

“It sure sounds like it. It sounds like he has a big personality and likes to be noticed and enjoys telling dirty jokes and using innuendos to get attention.” 

“She’s a different person with him. She never used to put up with anything, if she didn’t like something she just changed it. She didn’t let people walk over her. And I know, every relationship is different, her marriage to my grandpa is different than what she has with Harley, but she’s not herself. I don’t know.” I shake my head. 

“I was wondering where you learned that it is okay to change things, and that you can do some thing to make things different than they are. You’ve taught Kat that, and it’s obvious that she has really internalized that. You should be proud that you taught her to hold that power. It’s a real credit to you. I wondered who taught you that.” 

“Probably my grandma.” I smile a little, thinking of how strong she is. 

“Did she talk about your grandpa, or no because Harley was there?” Bea asks. 

“She talked about him. She told me the story of my being born. Grandpa used to tell it. He got there before my grandma, and when she got to the hospital, he was holding me and he turned to her and said, ‘Look at my birthday present.’ And he always called me a gift after that.” Bea murmurs an “awe” and I continue, “He was the first person to hold me, you know, after my mom and dad.” 

Bea smiles. “Does that idea, knowing that, does it feel safe?” She is leaned back in her chair, and she looks peaceful. “I ask because it just seems fitting that he was the third person to hold you, because of your bond. It feels right that he was there from the very beginning. He made you feel safe from the get-go.” 

I nod, slowly. “It makes me sad, too. More sad today. Some days I feel better, and can be happier with the memories, other days I am sad and I cry.” 

“Yeah, it can feel very sad.” 

I don’t remember what we discussed next, but I know I said something about not sleeping well last night. 

“Speaking of not sleeping well, that reminds me that we were going to talk about your dream……” She speaks softly, and isn’t pushing, but it is a prompt for me to talk about the dream, or to tell her I don’t want to talk about it. 

“I tried to write it……but it’s just so….I mean, it’s not real, it’s so crazy and out there and it’s just a silly stupid dream.” At this point, even though I feel a little bit like I am no longer tethered to the earth, I’m still sitting up right, still looking at Bea. 

She seems to struggle with something, some internal debate. Finally she says, “I’ve been at SP (sensorimotor processing) training for the last three days. I’m….I feel like I want to ask a question, or make a contact statement that is a little more towards the SP side of things.” 

I go very still and very quiet. I’m not gone, but I’m in that sort of frozen alert state, waiting to see if the dangerous things are going to happen and if I should go far away. 

Bea pauses, and maybe she is waiting to see if I have anything to say. When I don’t say anything, she says, “Maybe it would be helpful for you to know what an SP sessions usually looks like, what happens, how things go. It might be less scary if you know what to expect.” 

I think I shrug, maybe not. Thinking back on it now, I notice that my reaction was almost simultaneous. As soon as Bea began to describe what happens in an SP session, I thought *I don’t want to talk about this* and at the same time the thought was entering my mind, I went far away. 

Bea describes an SP session to me. 

She says that sessions begin by just talking, I think she calls it cognitive awareness. “This is usually how we begin our sessions, just you and talking about normal everyday things. Then if something comes up, I encourage you to stay with it. Like right now, I could say *going a little farther away*. It’s called a contact statement. It lets you know I’m listening and that I see you, that I’m tuned in.” 

She’s not wrong, I am going farther away, I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want Bea to change. If she changes too much, I’ll have to leave because it won’t be okay. And that hurts. I can’t take it anymore, and I pull my legs to my chest and wrap my arms around my knees. I bury my face in my knees, and let the tears fall. I hide because I don’t want to be seen like this. I don’t want her to know how upset I am, because I can not bear to talk about it with her right now. 

Bea says “I like SP because SP looks at trauma reactions as just normal behavior, for the situations. It’s very nonpathologizimg, it’s like ‘oh of course you do xyz or feel abc, because this happened.’ It’s very non-judgemental. It makes it safe to explore feelings or reactions in that way.” 

I feel like she just pulled the rug out from under me. Hasn’t she always been like this? Hasn’t she always behaved as if the cutting and the eating disordered behaviors, and the wanting to disappear and the hiding and the dissociation and all of it were normal for me? She’s the first person in my life who explained all of it as a normal reaction to trauma and made me believe I wasn’t crazy. And if she is saying that she likes SP because of all this, then maybe she wasn’t feeling as non-judgmental or non-pathologizinf as I felt she was being. Maybe her experience in her head was different than how she acted towards me. “I thought you were…..always like that anyway. Before this.” The words come out, slowly, like molasses being poured from a big jar. 

“You did?” She is surprised, maybe. Her voice sounds surprised. Maybe she didn’t know that was how I experienced her reactions. Which would make sense if what was in her head wasn’t congruent with her outward expression. “Maybe I’m talking more about my experience, as the client in this training…..I hadn’t really broken it down. But yes, I think I’m talking more about my experience as client.” 

I hear what she is saying, but her voice is sort of muffled, as if her words are coming through thick cotton. I know that means I am really far away now. “I don’t like SP.” I whisper my words, and it sounds more like the snarky teen or the angry little girl talking, than me. 

 “That’s okay. I’m glad you can tell me that. It’s good that you can say so.”

I am so far away, that I have lost track of the point, so I ask “Why are we talking about this, again?” Even to my own ears, my voice sounds young and confused. 

She says it’s because she hasn’t changed as a person, but the classes and training may change the way she practices therapy and that she wanted to bring it into the room, because she knew any subtle small changes that she makes, even if she is not aware of it, not intentionally changing anything, I will be aware of it, and that is scary for me. 

“Okay.” That’s all I say. It’s all I can say. 

I spent a lot of time during this conversation just thinking “I should quit. I should just quit. I can’t do this. Why is she bringing this up? It’s not okay. This doesn’t feel okay. I should quit now. Because I can’t do SP, and she is going to turn into an SP therapist.” The fact I was thinking like this scares me. I don’t often think about quitting, and when I do, it usually has more to do with me being angry with Bea or trying to avoid feeling hurt. This….this feels different. It feels like I signed up with one therapist, and now I’m getting an SP therapist. Two years ago, I never would have signed up with a body based therapist, because body stuff scares me. While I’m a little further along than I was with that stuff because of yoga, it still scares me, and I’m not sure but I think I would actively avoid any SP or body therapies if I were looking for a new shrink. 

The whole way she described an SP session sounded so very….clinical to me. It seemed very much this one size fits all formula, super structured. It felt like okay, now you are making a “contact statement” because this formula tells you to, NOT because you can see I am having trouble finding my words and you want to let me know you get what I’m trying to say. I do not like this whole thing at all. 

I stayed curled into myself, hiding my face, tears running down my cheeks. 

Bea says that she isn’t trying to be shrinky, that she feels very present and grounded and this SP stuff is to help her be a better therapist. That’s when I realize it is the fact that SP feels very shrinky to me and I’m terrified I’m going to lose Bea, that she will be shrinky. “Please don’t turn shrinky,” I say. 

“I won’t. I don’t want to be shrinky. Shrinky is detached, and that is something I could never be with you.” 

We sit. And I cry. “Just please don’t be shrinky, okay?” 

“Okay. I won’t.”

To be continued……………

******I’m not sure where this leaves me. While I did end up opening up some, (which I will wrote about in my next post) I sort of just pushed the SP stuff aside. As I’m writing this, I’m sorting our my feelings around all the SP stuff and Bea changing and therapy. It’s left me feeling very unsettled. I have this urge to cry, and hide in my closet. I don’t want to lose Bea, but I feel like I might. 

Anger vs Rage 

Mad, as feeling, has been discussed a lot lately. I have written about a few angry episodes in my journal, and Bea reads it and talks. It wasn’t until she suggested, via email, that anger and rage are two different things and that I’m maybe talking about rage and not anger when I say the word “mad”. She had said we would talk about it all on Monday, so I spent some time researching the difference between Anger and rage. The following is not written by me, but it is copied and pasted from various internet sites. I wants to put all this information into one place, so I could share it with Bea. 



ANGER

Anger is signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.”


“Anger is one of the most basic human emotions. It is a physical and mental response to a threat or to harm done in the past. Anger takes many different forms from irritation to blinding rage or resentment that festers over many years.”


“Anger is a feeling. It is just like any other feeling like sadness, joy, excitement etc. we are born with it.”


“Anger is a response to a perceived threat – past, present or future.”


According to its dictionary definition anger is strong feeling of displeasure
aroused by wrath or wrong done. It is a response to threat or fear or of being wronged or response to some unfair treatment.


Anger can be characterized as follows:
It is respectful of yourself and others. Anger doesn’t mean shouting and screaming – it means taking care of yourself.

Anger alerts us to the fact that something in the environment around us needs addressing.

Anger can prevent us from being exploited or manipulated – it’s a kind of self-preservation mechanism.

Anger protects our sense of self as a unique individual.


Anger is an emotional response to a real, felt or imagined grievance. It may have its roots in a past or present experience, or it may be in anticipation of a future event. Anger is invariably based on the perception of threat or a perceived threat due to a conflict, injustice
, negligence, humiliation and betrayal among others.


Anger can be an active or a passive emotion. In case of “active” emotion the angry person lashes out verbally or physically at an intended target. When anger is a passive emotion it characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behavior, and hostility.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person or event (a traffic jam, a canceled event), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories
of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.


Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.

People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. Expressing your angry feelings can be done in violent destructive ways or in an assertive, but non-aggressive, manner. Hopefully, the person who is angry has learned, or will learn, how to make clear what their needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others.


Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather
than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger.


Anger is not a dissociative experience. We usually are very aware of our anger and how it affects us. We are in contact with our thoughts and emotions by and large. We might not always act in our best interests, but we are in contact with ourselves is a good way to think of it. Anger also allows for a semblance of logic to appear where a good rational self-talk can often diffuse the anger very quickly. We can be talked down from our angry state, made to laugh and so on. Anger is far more malleable than rage. 


Anger does not necessarily involve trauma, shame, guilt etc. Anger when used constructively can be a great energizer, it also can relieve tension and gives us information about what’s important to us. However if anger is stored and not dealt with appropriately it can have many negative effects. It can affect our health, relationships and career. Consequently it is important to learn to use anger appropriately
.

RAGE 

Rage, however, is disrespectful to others. It doesn’t solve a problem but only serves to make it worse. Rage can be both hot and explosive or cold and seemingly ‘reasonable’. In both cases however it remains a highly destructive emotion.

Unlike anger, rage is an unconscious process, which cannot be tamed by pure willpower or by attempting to alter behavior. These approaches will not result in a longer-term resolution to ongoing anger and rage issues. As an individual is unable to deal with more and more life’s experiences in a healthy way, they experience more and more stress. This in turn can lead to a feeling of a whole raft of different emotions trying to get out, which then explode in an uncontrollable rage.


Rage primarily is a dissociative phenomenon in that one of its prime features is a loss of contact with self. This type of loss of contact with self is not to be confused with ego loss. Rather it is a very primal form of self which for all intents and purposes operates with barely any consciousness. It is the lack of contact with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations which are good indicators of a rage episode. Often people will remark I do not know what came over me or it was as if I was blinded
with anger when they experience a rage episode. Sometimes people will go blank and suffer from amnesia. It is common for people to be out of touch with the situation, where the situation seems to get completely out of hand.


Rage and anger differ markedly because rage is a flight/fight response in action but without any of our normal constraints. For example, I might walk past an unseen dog and the dog frightens me. I would feel this fright somewhere in my body, e.g. elevated heart rate etc. My body is preparing to either run (flight) or fight and is beginning to release chemicals in the bodily system to do that. If it was a real threat say like a lion instead of a dog, then that flight/fight response. 

In a raging episode the response differs in that the normal constraints are not intact. Someone experiencing a rage episode may well injure the dog, or its owners or even strangers. Quite literally the mechanism that would normally be in place to prevent that sort of behaviour has been lost. The person who is experiencing the rage attacks acts as if it is actually a life threatening situation, rather than recognizing that no harm was really done other than a minor scare.


In the brain of the person who is raging there has been a physiological and neurological pattern which has developed over time. Synaptic pathways and inhibitors have developed differently through over stimulation and repeated episodes of the attack. In other words what was meant to a simple flight/fight response to a real life threatening situation has been so overly stimulated that the brain now responds to many varied situations as if they are life threatening even when clearly
they are not.


The onset of a rage episode is almost instant. People will often talk about snapping or seeing red and going into a blind rage. Anger by contrast has a much slower build up. It can take anywhere between minutes to hours to days for anger to build up. This is because anger works through the parasympathetic system which by necessity require a buildup. Rage works through the adrenal glands which dispense powerful chemicals that hijack the body and mind immediately.


What is really important to understand about a rage episode is that once it is underway it cannot be stopped. There is no technique that will subside the rage and it has to run its course. This is because effectively the person is under the control of the mind chemicals that have been released into the body. They temporarily have lost the ability to effectively manage the situation and are logically incoherent. This is an extremely important point to remember because it has implications as to the best methods to utilize to help the person.


For example, asking a raging person to get in present moment awareness or to accept what is will likely exacerbate
the problem. Mindfulness techniques are close to useless in this particular scenario as are cognitive behavioral strategies or any emotion based therapy. Similarly asking people to consider the consequence of their actions just will not apply. It is because the person is in an altered state that normal methods will not succeed.
When the response to a certain situation becomes inappropriate, this may be termed as rage. Rage is actually an intense form of anger which expresses
itself in the form of an inappropriate response. Anger can be mild and positive, rage is not.

When we hear about road rage, the concept becomes clear.
Rage can make us blind to the truth and unable to accept what’s sensible and correct. When rage is the primary emotion being felt, we become less able to think and act rationally and in some cases, even our senses do not work properly because of extreme rage.

____________________________________________________________________________

I had this email conversation with Bea about anger, rage and mad.: 

Bea: Mad is just a feeling. It can be described in terms of how it manifests physically, emotionally, and in thoughts.  

Me: It’s not JUST a feeling. At least not for me. Mad is mean. Mad is out of control. Mad is scary. The same way happy is smiling and feeling warm, and sad is tears and feeling empty in your stomach/chest. 

Bea: Scary and mean and out of control are really separate from mad. I think that’s what we’re working towards–and so is Kat. Mad is just mad. Learning to say “I’m mad” and take ownership of it is what we need to be able to do. Then it feels less scary and out of control.

Me: I can’t just say “I’m mad”. The thing to do with mad is……idk, hide it away, pretend it away. I don’t believe it is okay to be mad. So maybe that’s the problem. 

Bea: There is this part that’s just bursting to be seen and heard. Mad is energizing that part.  I think it’s a good thing–

Me: Mad might be energizing that part, but it’s not…..it’s not okay. It’s not a good thing in my mind. It’s this not controllable thing. It means I make choices, say or do things in this unthought out way. It’s not okay

Bea: That speaks to what i just wrote above. We need to explore mad in its pure form!

Me: Maybe. Maybe I need to understand feelings in their pure form now. Idk. 

Bea: the question is, where will that mad ultimately take you, and will it be useful in resolving anything?

Me: I don’t get it. I don’t get it. This doesn’t make sense to me. Where is mad supposed to take me? How is it useful? How is it suppose to resolve anything? I wish I could understand it when you say this. I just don’t get it. 

Bea: Maybe I’m thinking of external action. Will it ever allow you to act externally as part of your healing? This could take a variety of forms. Advocating for Kat is one, for example.

Me: I feel like we are on different pages about mad. Or maybe even different books, in separate languages. I think the problem is, you see advocating for Kat as being driven by mad energy. Is that right? And I wouldn’t call that mad. When I plan and write and speak on Kat’s behalf, it’s carefully thought out, planned, put together, and done in a calm, firm, directed, clear manner. The energy driving that advocating action, I would call it maybe fairness, or care/love, maybe frustration that Kat isn’t being given what she needs. If this is a kind of mad, I would consider it a cold clear headed mad, a detached from the feeling kind of mad. 

Bea:  I think we need to separate anger from rage. That’s the disconnect in what we’re saying, I think. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on, but finally it hit me! (And she sent a link to an article about the difference between anger and rage). 

Me: Funny….I read this last night. I’ve read a lot online yesterday/ last night that I could find about anger and rage. It seems to boils down to “anger is a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right and when it is used constructively anger can be a great energizer. Rage seems to be a flight/fight reaction, that is explosive and sudden. It is mean and out of control (everything I say mad is). It is typically a much bigger reaction than is needed and many people experience a lack of contact with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.”

Is that right? Is that the difference between the two? If so, I think I have been calling rage anger. Is that what we are saying? When I say I was mad or that I got so mad I yelled and was out of control, I’m calling it mad but I’m talking about rage. And because I’m calling it mad, you are thinking “anger.” Is that right? If so, I don’t like that at all. The idea of rage….it makes me feel like a horrible person. It’s like my idea of mad, and all the bad feelings I have around mad, multiplied by 1000. Just the word itself paints a terrible picture. Rage seems bad, awful, even more not okay to feel than mad. It’s embarrassing or shameful or something. Like people will think I’m this really awful, no good person for feeling this way and will have this awful perception of me, like I’m the worst person in the world.
And now I’m not sure I really feel anger. Maybe in order to feel “mad” I have to have such a big out of proportion reaction/feeling such as rage. 

I don’t know. I don’t really understand mad, anger, rage. Can you help break it down, help it make sense? Why don’t I understand or feel these emotions like a normal person? I’m really lost in this, and there is a lot of shame over even discussing the idea of being mad. 

 So Bea and I talked about this a little bit Wednesday. 


Bea said that all the stuff in the news about Trump and his awful comments about women, they have triggered a lot of women to be very angry, and women have used that anger to speak out, to take a stand against the injustice in his words/beliefs/behavior. Bea said that is anger, and it’s why anger is energizing, it propels us to act. She said rage would maybe make people just blow up and scream, or like when people riot and destroy things. It’s not action that leads to change. 


The other example she gave was personal to her. She told me that when she was younger and sometimes now, that anytime she gets hurt, she used to react with rage, like even if she had hurt herself. She said once she stubbed her toe and then turned around and punched a wall because she was so full of rage that she got hurt. That is rage. There is no real purpose to it. Anger, she said, would be like if she noticed she stubbed her toe because of a crack in the floor, and that anger propelled her to fix the crack. 


I said i think i don’t feel— or maybe recognize anger– but I do feel rage because it is such a stronger, over powering feeling. Bea said that was possible, and she also pointed out that I only scream and yell when I’m in rage, I don’t harm others or destroy things, so I do have some control. She said the first thing would be for me to notice anger so it doesn’t have a chance to turn to rage. I said that I wasn’t sure I knew how, and Bea started talking about body cues, and that’s when I said I didn’t want to talk about this anymore, so we dropped the subject for the moment, with plans to maybe pick it up again Monday. 

A safe space 

Monday’s therapy session was a little different than normal. We talked about the weekend– my parents had come to visit on Sunday, and we had a very low key day together. It was nice, I was glad they had come. I didn’t go to the trouble of changing things in my home, or myself, or making elaborate plans in the way I usually do. I stuck to our normal Sunday routine, except my parents were there, too. 

I shared that I never did give hubby the letter. I’m afraid, and each time I think about it, I find a reason not to. Some reasons are good ones, but ultimately it all comes back to the fact that each time I’ve been open and vulnerable, it ends up hurting me. He’s always great in the moment, and I expect that even if he is upset by what is in the letter, he will only show care and concern for me. It’s the after that is a problem. When he goes back to acting as though we never had this deep talk, and I’m left choosing between pretending right along with him, or being vulnerable and reaching for that deeper connection again. He never reaches for me emotionally like that. Bea points out that I asking for something that is more active participation, something to work on together weekly or whatever. I know that, I know that makes this different. But my fear, I explain, is that then it will be left on me to always bring it up, and I’m just not sure, given the uncomfortable subject matter, if I can keep putting myself in that vulnerable position and always being the one to reach out, and then be closed out for a few days, only to reach out again. I’m just not sure I can handle that. Bea tells me it is good, I am thinking about this and what I can handle, what I want. She says I’ll give him the letter when I’m ready. 

And then she reminded me that in my email last week, I had suggested we could figure out what to do with the words and maybe try the safe space exercise. I had emailed her the words last week, prior to the Thursday session we cancelled because of the weather. I sent her 6 words. She emailed back that for her, the list was pretty tame, and it helped me feel less freaked out that I was going to disgust her with the list. Most of the words on the small list I sent her are triggering for me, but they are things like the correct names of body parts, and some more regular words that trigger me– like pleasure. So, we talked… Well, she talked, about the words, and things we could do to try to desensitize me to them and make them less scary. I ended up hiding my face and feeling really embarrassed and upset and just panicked at the idea of having those words in the room. 

After checking that there wasn’t anything I wanted to talk about, she suggested we work on creating a safe space. I think, at first it was like pulling teeth for her to get answers from me. I felt bad, but I was having a hard time with the whole exercise. I actually have a very good imagination; I can easily get lost in imaginative play with my daughter if I let myself, and can create whole stories for characters and situations. I can take a blank sheet of paper, imagine how I want a dress or shirt to look and sketch out a pattern, look at fabric and ribbon and buttons and see something most others don’t. I was really good at my job as a hair colorist because I could see what the finished color would look like; I colored my daughter’s hair this weekend, and her head was loaded with foils. Yet, if she wears her hair parted one way, you can barely tell there is color in her hair. And if she wears it parted the other way, there are multiple streaks of pink, purple and peach running through her entire head. It’s beautiful, and it’s exactly how I wanted it to turn out. But, I’m off topic. I have a good Imagination, but allowing myself to assess it can be difficult. I’m not really sure why, just that it can be really hard to do. 

So, I’m sitting in my usual spot, and have pulled my knees into myself. I’d had my head down, hiding my face when we were discussing what to do with those words, but I’ve managed to lift my head and look at Bea, now. She’s sitting across from me, in her regular chair, drinking tea. She’s wearing a blue sweater, and while on some level I’m aware that she usually wears color, I recognize that being more present in my life in general means I am noticing little details like this and actually remembering them. It’s a strange feeling. 

“We’ve talked about this a little bit, have you thought of where your safe space might be? It can be made up or real,” she says to me. 

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I just…I don’t know.” 

She asks questions, describes her safe space, offers suggestions. I groan and bury my face. This shouldn’t be this hard. I can’t do this. I just can’t. 

After a few minutes of going in circles, Bea tries a different approach. “Maybe we need to think more general about this first.” She tells me about a client she had once who had found her safe space to be in a garden, that had a door with a lock and a fence. The girl didn’t want a space that went on and on. She also tells me about another client who needed a space that was outdoors, and not closed off in any way. “Do you think your space is indoors, or outdoors? Maybe in nature, by the ocean, or maybe being inside feels safer, having walls and a door.” 

“Not outside,” I tell her. I know that. 

“Is your space big or small?” She questions. 

I laugh to myself, thinking she must know the answer. “Small.” 

She nods, smiling. I think she had a good idea my space wasn’t going to be big. “Maybe your closet?” She asks. 

I think about it, turn the idea over in my mimd. “Noooo….” I say slowly. “I go there to feel safe, sorta, but it’s more to hide. It’s….I’m not sure, but that doesn’t feel right.” 

“You go there after you are already very scared and anxious and feeling bad. And it’s more about hiding from the scary things, and bad feelings, than going there to feel safe and regulate yourself.” She offers her thoughts on it, and she exactly right.

“Yes, that’s it.” I feel a little sad, as I realize where my safe space would be. “I could…I could use my room at my Grandma’s.” I say the words slowly, feeling sad, missing my Grandpa. I also feel a little silly. The whole exercise feels more like something a younger version of me should be doing, like this is not something a ‘real’ grown up would need to help regulate her emotions and stay grounded. 

“Yes, that’s great.” She sounds so excited, and as if I’ve done something good, chosen a good place. “Nothing bad ever happened there. Kenny wasn’t there, right? He wasn’t ever at your grandparents?” 

“No, he wasn’t there.” I tell her. 

“So it really was a safe space. You had there what you should have had all the time, in your own home.” It’s not until she says this that I realize where the sadness I’d been feeling was from. 

Bea leads me through everything I remember about that room using the 5 senses. I tell her about the beige-pink carpeting, and the four poster bed with the white eyelet comforter and the sheer white fabric tied to the bed posts– it wasn’t a canopy bed, but it felt like a fancy princess bed. We talk about the pink painted walls, and how my grandma and grandpa’s bedroom was right next door to mine, how the whole upstairs was close together, not like in my house where the bedrooms were separated from the main part of the house with a long hall, and spaces along the hall to be fairly far apart. I tell her how I remember watching Golden Girls with my Grandma and how I could hear her other show on tv as I fell asleep. I talk about how my grandparents bickered all the time, but it was in the fun, loving, safe way. How everything my grandma touched smelled like her signature perfume, White Diamonds. I tell her how my blanky and my dolls went everywhere with me. I talk about the small dresser with the pretty mirror and the glass globe type lamp with big pink flowers painted on it, and the dollhouse in the opposite corner of the room. I share how my grandma always made sleepy time tea before bed, and put honey in it. I describe the entire house, as it was back then. The one sense I freeze on is touch. She asks how the blankets felt, or the carpet when I sat on the floor to play. I just keep shaking my head and mumbling “I don’t know.” And I really don’t. I’m not a physical person– although Bea thinks I actually am, and that is why things like swimming, yoga, dancing and running can help me feel grounded– and I think I was pretty disconnected from my body even as a child, even when I was in a safe place. What I most remember is feeling wanted and loved, and as if there were no expectations. I remember feeling warm and safe, like I could relax when I was there. 

By the time we are done talking about my safe space, it’s time for my session to be over. “I can really picture your space,” Bea tells me, “I can feel how safe you felt there. So, when you start to be too far away, or if you are getting too panicked, too into the past memories, I can ask you to go to your safe space, to see that pink room, to see the white comforter, and hear your grandparents, to remember the taste of the tea your grandma made you. We can use this, it will be helpful.” 

We wrap up, chatting about errands and normal stuff, as I pull on my shoes and coat. I tell her I’m going to the grocery store, and then going to send Kay my weekly Monday text. I left feeling grounded and mostly okay, just a small part of me feeling sad that my safe space hadn’t been a daily reality. 

I’m not a bother

It’s Tuesday, and I have just come from my trauma yoga class. I run across the street, and up the stairs to Bea’s office. She’s putting a few things away. I knock on the door frame, not wanting to interrupt. “Hi…?”

She looks up and smiles at me. “Hi, come in.”

“I’m a few minutes early, I can wait if you…”

“Nope, I was just picking up. Come in,” she says again. I let myself in through the door, throw my bag down and sit in my place on the sofa. Bea takes her seat across from me in her chair on the blue rug.

We chat a bit, and then Bea tells me about the trauma training she went to yesterday. “I got this workbook, I want to let you take it home and see if you might want to use it, but I have one other person I want to show it to first. There was a lot of information, and she presented some new ideas or ways to handle flashbacks and trouble sleeping. She does a lot of art therapy; using the right brain and the left brain is part of what can help us really integrate and process trauma.”

Oh great, she’s going to be making me paint and draw, now, I think to myself. I have some drawings I have done to help with memories, but I don’t usually share them. They feel more personal than just writing. I nod at Bea, though, to let her know I hear what she is saying.

We chat about the weekend, and she tells me a little more about what she learned. The therapist teaching the training really does seem to approach things in a similar way to Bea, so it might be okay to try some of her ideas. Eventually, though, Bea brings up the email situation. Inside, I cringe. “I really am sorry I got distracted and didn’t answer Thursday’s email. I was glad you reached out about it.”

“It was really okay,” I tell her. I so don’t want to discuss this. “I was just overthinking things the way I do.”

“So what if I had been mad, and that was why I hadn’t answered your email? What would that have meant?” Bea asks me. Normally, if someone questioned me like this, my first thought would be that they really were mad, and just hadn’t wanted to tell me. With Bea, though, I do trust her, and she asks it in such a way that it is very obvious she is only asking ‘what if‘ and there is nothing else there.

I shrug my shoulders and bury my face.

“And why do we have to talk about this, right?” Bea says, stating my obvious feeling. “Because it’s important. The feelings and thoughts in a relationship matter.”

I hate this. I do not like talking about the relationship. I don’t like feeling so vulnerable, raw and open. I don’t like all the uncomfortableness that comes with this discussion. Isn’t it enough that I told her (albeit via email) it wasn’t okay for me to be mad at her because I need her? Isn’t it enough I have now admitted several times I am afraid she is going to leave? (The first time I phrased it as I was afraid she would fire me, but what I really meant was i needed her and was afraid she would leave). I have allowed small discussions about this, and have been more vulnerable than I can believe. It’s a big step from last fall when I told her ‘she could think the relationship mattered, but we would have to agree to disagree because I don’t think it’s important, and I won’t discuss it.’ I sigh and shake my head. “I don’t know. It was just me overthinking, that’s all. It was okay.”

“It’s fine if it was okay, but it would be fine if it wasn’t okay, too,” Bea says. She waits, but I don’t say anything. “Was it mad you were worried about, or maybe something else?”

“I don’t know. Mad is just what I go to. With anyone. I mean, hubby could be an hour late home and I will assume he didn’t text me because he is mad, even if we haven’t talked all day and there is no reason for him to be mad. It just is what I think when I overthink things. It’s no big deal. I was fine for the weekend, but then yesterday I knew I was coming here today and I just…I was overthinking.” I’m rushing to explain it away, to get rid of this conversation. Deep down, I might actually think talking about it could feel better, but I’m too afraid. I don’t want to go back to that needy place. I have been fighting all week to keep grown up me in charge, and the little girl is not about to take over the show.

She ignores what I said about hubby, for the moment, and says, “It would be okay if it wasn’t fine. I just wondered if maybe it wasn’t anger you were worried about but rejection, abandonment, something like that.”

I stay crunched in my little ball on the therapy couch. I hate this discussion.

“I might be wrong, but it seemed to me that maybe it felt like I had abandoned you after you had been more trusting with me. That maybe I wasn’t there for you. And maybe you were worried and felt alone but were too afraid to email sooner. In a way, I function like your secure base, and if you don’t know how your secure base feels towards you, where you are with them emotionally, it’s like being adrift at sea, lost.”

I freeze as she is talking. She has it pretty much pegged. And I can’t admit it. Why can’t I just say that her not replying felt like she left me, and I was alone and scared and so close to hopping back into the perfect bubble because without Bea to help me contain the mess of my memories, the disaster of my past and all the confusion and anxiety in my present, I can’t be here, like this, authentic and trying to be real.

We end up sitting in silence, and I eventually look up, peeking over the tops of my knees and arms. I manage to meet her eyes, and she says, “If you are ever worried about emailing because you don’t want to bother me, please email. Bother me, because I don’t feel it is a bother at all. You aren’t a bother.” She says this with so much care, and just real genuine kindness on her face and a warm smile, I believe her.

“Okay.” I whisper it. I’ll email when I need to, and just go ahead and bother her. It’s okay.

We talk about hubby, and him feeling disconnected and far away. “You are working really hard to put yourself out there and be honest and real. You are using your voice, and in a great way. That’s what is so important and huge.” Bea says at one point. She gets that hubby feeling far away is hard, but she is really happy that I’m finally speaking up.

“He just….even when he is next to me, talking to me, he’s not there. You know.”

“Yes, I know. It’s really hard to feel that. Especially when you are working so hard to be real. Maybe can you tell him that he feels disconnected?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know. He doesn’t…it just sends us in circles. Him telling me I can’t ‘tell him how to be, how to act and now to feel’ and me just trying to tell him what I need, and then I eventually just feel beat myself up for whatever I did wrong.”

“You know, that sounds more like a little boy speaking……Transference happens in all our relationships, not just in therapy. Do you think that is something a little boy with a narcissist for a mother would want to say?” Bea speaks slowly, she is thinking out loud. I really like that she thinks out loud like this sometimes.

I nod. “I guess so…maybe.”

“Does it feel like he is really talking to you when he says that? Or does it feel like it doesn’t really fit?”

“I don’t know. I’m usually too busy picking apart what I did wrong and being mad at myself,” I tell her honestly.

“Try to step back next time and see if it feels different. If it is more transference, then we can work with that and fix it,” she tells me confidently. She tells how it feels to her when someone is speaking to her from more of a transference place. The examples she gives are with coworkers and friends, real life examples. It helps.

“How? He would not like hearing he is really talking to his mom. Especially…well, me…I don’t know.” My words get muddled, but Bea knows what I’m saying.

“Well, we would find a kind way to talk about it. It would be okay.” She laughs suddenly and says,” I’m just picturing myself screaming at my husband, ‘I am not your mother!’ That is not the method I recommend, although it will get the point across.”

I laugh, too. Bea also has a mother in law who is….challenging…and I feel very lucky she gets that my mother in law issues aren’t just normal issues.

We had been talking about Mothers Day, as that is a current issue in our home. Hubby had asked me to celebrate with his mom. I told him ‘not happening‘ and that I was really hurt he would even ask me to spend that day with someone who is rude to me, doesn’t respect me as a mom, and treats me like the dirt on the bottom of her shoe. Bea is proud of me for standing up for how I really feel.

“Do you want to go to your moms for the day?” Bea asks me.

“Yes…no. I don’t know. It’s just complicated….it’s like layers. If I stick with the layers that are okay and I don’t think about it then I’m okay. But eventually I overthink and all that..I’m just..I don’t know.” I sigh, frustrated with myself.

“It’s very complicated. And with everything coming up in therapy that is really hard. One thing that was drawn out really nicely in the training was how abuse affects attachment when the abuser is outside of the family. Often times we think of a person dissociating to keep things okay and separate the good and bad when the abuser is a family member, a caretaker. The person being abused takes on all the blame to keep the good image of the caretaker. But, when the abuser is outside the family, the same happens. You take on all the blame so that you can keep a good image of your parents in you head, because the parents become the ones who didn’t protect you. As a child you need to know, to believe your parents are good and can protect you. By taking on all the blame, you can keep that image. But now, with thinking about ‘not my choice’, it means you have to start to face that your parents didn’t protect you. And that’s going to bring up a lot of feelings.”

I am listening to Bea, but I’m feeling fuzzy, grounded but gone, panicked but numb. Tears are forming in my eyes, and I’m squeezing my knees tighter, and my whole body feels tense. I’m hot, flushed. It’s like being given a shot of adrenaline but being super-glued in place. I can’t get words to come out, and I can only think how messed up it all is.

“What’s coming up right now? What are you thinking?” Bea’s voice, gentle and calm, but still strong, breaks through my circling, racing thoughts.

I struggle to answer, but I get some words out. “She left. She had to know. She left. I blamed myself. How did she not know?” I stop and cry, then calm enough to continue. “She….it’s….I know, I know all the things that could have happened, and I know I can’t really know what was going on with her, but it’s a mom….I mean…..a mom is supposed to protect her child. Even if it hurts herself. It’s just…and then I can’t think more. Because it….” I don’t continue. I can’t. But the rest should be that I didn’t matter enough, she didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t good enough.

“Yes. All of that. And we can’t know your mom’s story, but does her story really matter to yours? She wasn’t there when you needed, she didn’t see you and didn’t keep you safe.” It’s exactly the kind of validation I have been craving, but I feel so saddened by it, and still guilty for feeling how I feel.

“Did she….I thought she was mad at me! I thought she hated me,” I cry to Bea.

Bea knows what instance I’m talking about, thankfully, and she says, “I think finding your underwear was a trigger for her. I think the anger and hatred you felt was directed to herself. It had nothing to do with you.”

I cry and talk a while longer. How could she not know, how could she be so mad at me? Why was I in trouble when she found my underwear and when I kissed him? Why didn’t she love me enough to question more? She left me. I think about, but don’t say, how I sometimes prayed that she would come home, but it never worked. I used to think it was because I wasn’t good enough, so God wouldn’t grant my wish.

Eventually Bea tells me that we need to wind things down, work on coming back and grounding. She describes a new technique she learned for help with sleeping. I’m to take the images stuck in my head and imagine painting over them with a color that feels beautiful to me. It sounds goofy, but I think I might try it. I’m willing to try anything.

“I know you don’t want to talk about this, but one thing she said really struck me. She said that when it comes to these self harming things, the body is a canvas. It tells a story we can’t say in words. Where and how we harm ourselves matters.” Bea is speaking quietly, and her voice is gentle. She knows this is hard for me to hear. I feel frozen, sick. I don’t want to talk about this. “She talked about picking,” Bea says softly. At this point I want to ask if she felt like, ‘hey, I actually have this crazy client who picks her fingers to death’ but I don’t. “She said maybe someone picks, hurts their hands, because often times the hands were made to touch or do something that felt dirty, wrong.”

“I don’t wanna talk about this!” The words rush out. I feel scared, I don’t want to put my bad behaviors into a reason that fits with….this crap. No. “I pick when I’m anxious. I always have. That’s all. It’s nothing.”

“Maybe. I think there is a deeper reason. Eating, not eating, where we cut, how we eat or don’t eat, what we choose to harm ourselves with and where we do it, tells a story. It’s just something to think about. And we can talk about it when you are ready.” Bea finishes her piece. She can be so stubborn sometimes.

We talk about grounding, and Bea says that one thing she should have made me do a long time ago was to create a safe space, kind of a place to visualize and go to when I feel afraid to help ground me. It’s a place to let go and not worry about all the ugly for while. She says I shouldn’t be going to the same place in my head that I went to as a child, because that is about hiding and can be traumatizing.

“So no more hiding in my closet, huh?” I joke. I don’t see not hiding in the closet as something that will happen anytime soon.

“Something like that.” Bea chuckles at my joke.

I leave feeling okay. Everything is still a mess in my head, yes. I feel like I have my anchor back, I’m okay. She still cares, she wants me to talk and work all of this mess out. She gets it. And I’m not a bother. That might be the most important thing from the entire session. I’m not a bother. I’m not a bother.

Detached and Dissociated

What does it mean to be detached? What does it mean to be dissociated? I personally believe that it means something a little bit different to everyone, and also, that the psych websites and technical definitions have got it a little bit, well, off. All of that considered, let’s start with the technical definitions anyway, just so we can all be on the same page, okay?

Detached:
1. A voluntary or involuntary feeling or emotion that accompanies a sense of separation from normal associations or environment.
2. Separation of a structure from its support.
3. A voluntary or involuntary feeling or emotion that accompanies a sense of separation from normal associations or environment.
4. Lack of connection to other people or the environment.
5. Separation of a structure from its support.

So, detached, then is basically a separation from support, or separation from normal associations and the environment one is in.

I have spent most of my life detached, I just wasn’t aware of it. I always had a feeling “something” was missing from my relationships, and I was right. What was missing was me, being close to the people I cared about. Being detached feels like being slightly removed from the people in your life. It’s as if they are there, and they are a part of things, and while you trust them, and value their opinion, and even believe that they care about you, it’s only to a point, and it’s more of a surface type trust. I don’t trust them with my deeper secrets, my inner self. I care about them, very deeply, but that aspect of feeling remains hidden from everyone; it’s not something I show.

Being detached is sort of like moving through a fog, or having a fog separating me and the other person. The closer I am to the person, the less fog there is. It’s like I am always alone, because the fog keeps others out; even those who are less separated are still very effectively kept out. Because I am always alone, I feel very needy when I do reach out, and I get very afraid that those I get the slightest bit close to are going to leave.

Dissociated (I have covered this term before, but I think it’s worth it to go over it again, in contrast to detached, from my point of view)
1. The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of
consciousness, as in amnesia.
2. The act of separating or state of being separated.
3. The separation into two or more fragments.
So, then, dissociation is the the mental process of “checking out”, separating our awareness from our memory.

Dissociation for me, seems to occur on different levels. There’s the fact that I am always dissociated from my body, on some level. I seem to “live” in my head, and not feel my body. As a person who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a chronic pain condition) this can be a good thing in some ways, as I don’t feel my pain unless it is really, really bad. I didn’t even feel my labor pains until it was time to push — and I had a natural, pain medication free birth (until we ended up with a c-section).

But I have gotten off track. With dissociation, I can be just a little “not there”, or a lot “not there”. A little “not there” feels normal to me, it’s what I am used to. I feel just a little bit pulled back, maybe a little bit removed, not as emotionally involved in any of the situations. I don’t believe that I have ever experienced the looking down at myself type feeling, but, watching my hands type this can feel a little surreal, like these aren’t fully my hands, even though I know they are. With this level of dissociation, when memories form, they don’t form with details. I may remember that I took Kat to the park, and that we went to lunch, but the details get lost. Being dissociated in this way is how I have lived my life since I was sexually abused. It kept me safe. It’s one reason I don’t have a lot of memories throughout my life. I’m an expert at moving through life and functioning in various levels of dissociation. Most people don’t ever realize that I’m not really “there”.

The other type, the a lot “not here”, is harder to describe, because, well, I’m not really there. I feel like everything is fuzzy and hazy, far away, but it’s not that telescope view where things look small and far away that I have heard people describe. They just seem for away, like I can not connect, or like the can not reach me. Things are hazy. Things and people feel really seperate. I don’t feel my body at all. I feel a little light headed and floaty, but at the same time, I can feel like I’m deep inside my head. Emotions can’t touch me, I don’t have to feel them. I don’t know if I can say that I feel safe, because I don’t really feel anything, I just kind of exist at that point.

Okay, readers: if you are someone who has experienced dissociation, in any form– derealization, depersonalization– or detachment, please feel free to describe your experience in the comments. I think the more personal explanations of these experiences there are, the better understanding of them we can get.