Ruptured: part three

Monday, July 9, I walk into therapy nervous and sick to my stomach. Bea sets my blanket next to me as she says hello.

“Where did you want to start today?” She asks gently.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s take a minute, just sit here and feel this moment, feel safe. Notice that nothing bad is happening.”

“But…it will.” Stubborn as always, I am insistent that something bad is going to happen. I feel it.

“I think this is where it is useful to use our feelings aren’t facts saying.”

I groan. “Ugh. Maybe.”

“Well….what about this? What happens if it does blow everything up?” She’s asking in that curious way she has.

“I don’t know. We end up back where we were, or worse.”

“What’s the worst case scenario?” She asks.

“You….you quit dealing with me.” I mumble the words.

“That I can guarantee won’t happen. And if we end up where we were, or another bad place, then we start from there. That’s how I see it. Right now, we have to start where we are at. If that path leads us somewhere else, then I think we have to start in that new place.”

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Let’s start with my response. I brought it.” I dig out my ipad and pull up my response. She takes it, and I hide, burying myself under the blanket and my face in a pillow.

You don’t sound shrinky. This just sounds like you, trying to understand something I don’t really understand. Both are “not here”, is just a different kind of not here. Remember when we made a list of different far aways? I think it’s like that. The here not here isn’t “me the adult grounding functioning Alice” but it’s not far away out of the window can’t talk and can’t think, frozen and hyper aware scared….it’s just that Alice not being here. It’s like some part is “here” but grounded Alice “is not here”. And the effect of things being a bit foggy and the emotions and feelings being blunted and even numbed, things not feeling quite real, feeling safer because of the detachment, is the same. Ms. Perfect definitely gives the here not here feeling, but I think because she ran the ship for so long, that feeling is more detached, functioning on auto pilot, and numb, but not so foggy. I don’t know. It’s complicated. Does that help at all?

“Mmmhhmmmm…yes…..okay….” Bea talks as she reads. I hate that she does this. I mean, I know whatever I have written is making sense to her, but I also hate it because I always wonder what part she is *Mmmhhmming*.

“Well, I am glad that wasn’t shrinky! And this does make sense. It is different kinds of not being here, although I still think that having a part running things so completely that you, the adult you, can’t….well, I guess remember the experience is still what I would consider being out of your window. I don’t know, for sure. I guess we will have to think about that. Maybe as parts feel safer, then the adult won’t have to be so far away.”

“Okay,” I whisper, mostly because I want her to know I am listening.

I’m not saying that is how things are, or that this is how you would handle things. I’m not accusing you of anything, just writing what this feels like to me (teen) and I am so afraid to say anything at all because I probably won’t say it in the right way for you and I am just going to mess everything up again. It feels like you get all the say so in this. Like, if you feel strongly that Z is what happened, then even if I am sure X happened, my viewpoint/feeling/worry is a distortion. And how can I even argue with that? Because clearly, I am distorting things and can’t even trust what my heart and mind are telling me. It’s like when I say you did not contain anything for me because my feelings felt ignored and you tell me you did contain things, it feels like the “final word” and the “reality” or “true version” is that you contained things. In that instance I think it might be more correct to say “Bea felt very confident she was containing things and feels that keeping things contained was never an issue, but Alice (teen) did not feel that containment on any level, so for her things were not contained.” I don’t know if this is even making sense. I don’t know how to explain it. But to me, it feels very much like the final say about what is reality lies with you.

“You’re right,” Bea says.

Wait…what? She is agreeing with me? I’m surprised.

“This is a perfect example, and as you said before, who decides that things were contained— the person who needs to feel contained or the one who is holding the container? I’d have to say it is the person needing the container. If that person doesn’t feel contained, then the container isn’t really doing their job.” Bea pauses, but when I don’t speak, she continues. “I don’t think the final word is mine, I can be wrong. I know there is a power dynamic, a power differential that can really make it seem like I have all the power. But I don’t care about being right, or about my reality being the true one. I’m not sure there is a true reality, I think what we need to do is find a common reality. And that is exactly what the example is that you gave. I did feel like I was containing things, but you didn’t feel contained, and I would add that ultimately, that means the container wasn’t working as it should.”

“I…okay….I didn’t expect you to agree….I mean, I really am not saying that is how it is, it is just how it feels. But I didn’t think….okay. Okay. This is okay.” My words are messy and scattered, but Bea gets what I am saying.

“I know. But it makes sense for it to feel that way. And I want to make sure you know I don’t care about being right. I care about finding a common reality.”

This is a hard part for me to respond to. (Bea’s explanation of negative feelings) Right away, reading this, I just feel sick and anxious and like I should just give up on working through this stuck thing— that the best that can be done is to agree to disagree and move on. And yet, I don’t think I can do that. But I also can not say what I am really thinking or feeling. I’m too scared to express what is in my head. You didn’t even say anything that is all that scary or upsetting, really. It’s just…… a mess. This whole thing is just one big mess that keeps getting messier. I don’t know if I want to share the writing below. We should talk about that first. It’s written in orange.

“Okay, I’m not going to read farther unless you give me the go ahead,” Bea says.

“Okay,” I say. I’m unsure what else to say.

“Is there something specific you want to talk about, before I read anymore?” She asks.

I shrug. I just don’t know. Finally, I tell her, “It’s…..weird…to talk to you about you. I mean, I would not talk to hubby about hubby, or to Kay about Kay. If I was upset or hurt by hubby, I would talk to you. I wouldn’t try to work through all the mess and feelings and fears and distortions and hurt and pain that he is involved in by talking to him. So it’s just….I don’t like this.”

“It is different, isn’t it?” She agrees.

“Yes. And I don’t know how to talk to you about you. Maybe I…maybe if would be better if I didn’t….I mean if I talked to someone else about this. I feel like maybe I need a therapist to deal with my relationship with my therapist.”

“Do you feel like I get defensive?” Bea asks me.

“I don’t know.” The words are automatic, because I can’t tell her yes. But I think it is yes. “Maybe?” My voice shakes. She is not going to like this.

“I might. I need to think about that. I don’t always handle what I feel is criticism well. My parents were very critical of me, so having my mistakes pointed out can make me defensive. It’s one of my triggers.” She is speaking very softly, very carefully.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“No, you don’t be sorry. Being upset with me, or having criticism to give, you are allowed to do that. The….responsibility is on me to recognize if I am triggered and becoming defensive. I need to be aware of it, and I wasn’t aware of it this time. I’m sorry because that is on me, not you. Thinking about it, I was hurt by your words, and I did react emotionally, and become very defended. It took me time to sort things out, and clearly, there was still more to sort out.”

I’m not sure what is happening, but it seems like she is really back, really Bea again. She’s here, really, fully, authentically here. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say.

“I know that, but I am responsible for my feelings. This isn’t on you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you think you would be willing to try sharing the stuck thing with me? Giving me a chance to work through this with you? I still believe this can be repaired.” Her voice is soft, steady.

“I….I don’t want to upset you,” I say honestly.

“Well, first, it is on me to manage my feelings. Second, now that I am aware of my defensiveness, I will watch for it. So much of these things are just about being aware of what we are doing. Therapists are supposed to be aware, so we can sort out what is our stuff, and not react to that. Sometimes we mess that up. And I am very sorry I messed that up.” She really is sorry. I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay. Maybe….I think maybe I will rewrite it….I think I’m going to write in third person, using the teen and her therapist. That seems….better.”

“I think you should write it however you want to. Don’t change to third person because of me, okay?”

“No…it’s not that. It’s…less weird talking to you about you in third person. And its……better. Easier.” I sigh and pick at my fingers.

“Third person it is then,” she says.

“Can….can I email it?”

“Yes. I think that is a great idea. You email it, and we will work through it.”

When session ends, I’m still struggling to feel grounded, but the wound has been cleaned and is beginning to be stitched shut.

And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.

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Repaired: part two

Between Thursday and Monday, we emailed about the stuck thing. First it was me worrying and seeking more reassurance that this wasn’t a terrible idea, and then I finally wrote out a part of it. (Mine is in italics, Bea is underlined)

So, Monday, you should read what I wrote about the stuck thing. I guess it’s just a matter of feeling like it’s okay to tell you about the stuck thing. I was feeling like maybe it was okay, maybe you got that this was this stuck thing and I can’t let it go but I’m really not sure if I’m over reacting and being silly and I am so afraid that you will put up a wall and leave, or not be there emotionally or be upset that I’m not over this or that I am making a thing out of if or that I am bringing it up again. I know that this rupture feels like it’s in the past for you, but I feel like it’s just right there, right behind us and could easily swallow us both up again. I feel like me being upset or confused or hurt or not over things that happened during that rupture is sort of keeping it alive and I need to let it go. It’s disconcerting to have something be so stuck and be so upset and scared and worried because of it, and to feel like more than anything, all I want it to not have to deal with the stuck thing, for it to just not exist. 

Yeah, it definitely seems that we need to address the stuck thing. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to move on without doing so.

I think you are right, this is a new thing for me, this idea of bringing something up again after it is done and over with, and….question another person’s feelings about something. I mean, really, the way to deal with a situation like this stuck thing is to just, well, forget about it. Shove it to the side, bury it, let it go. Pretending like that does work because eventually you sort of forget about it and the feelings just go mostly numb around the thing you buried, and before you know it, it really is no big deal. And questioning someone’s feelings? Disagreeing with them? No, no, no. That is not how these things are dealt with. The thing to do is to agree with the other person’s feelings. Then nothing bad happens. I know that is not how you do things, and so it probably seems crazy but it is how I have done them almost my entire life. I hope that by writing about small bits of it, it won’t feel so bad to give you the few pages of writing describing the stuck thing. Or, just this little bit could blow everything up and then I guess…..well, I don’t know. I think there was a plan for if that happened.

Well, we’ve all developed our various strategies for coping with things and getting our needs met. They work until they don’t, right?! That’s why we usually get to a point where we’re ready to give them up, scary as that can be.

What can I write or say that will tell you a little about the stuck thing without ruining everything? I don’t know. Everything feels like a risk. Maybe we talked about this already, but I don’t think so. Maybe I should have you give me a summary of what we did talk about (joking…sort of).  I mean, some things I know we talked about…..really, all of our sessions since (and probably including) the bad Wednesday, it’s all bits and pieces because I was having a lot of trouble being present enough to really remember. I know one session you said something about the teen being very present and here and not far away, and I wanted to laugh because I was in that weird here but not here space that I’m so good at seeming very grounded and present in, and sort of going between far away and that weird space. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to show up at all. I don’t even want to tell you that because I know you have this thing about me being present and in the window, and I get that, but I am so scared and so anxious, I just cant be super present right now. Well, Ms. Perfect can. Her sessions I remember pretty much in full. And like today, the grown up can be present as long as it’s all just surface stuff. Which is pretty much using Ms. Perfect’s coping skills. But anyway. Please just let this be. The teen can’t be all that present right now, and well, I need to be able to be far away to even show up. Maybe, if being more far away starts to feel safer, then I can be less far away. I’d say I have been less far-away than I was. So there’s that.

I’m beginning to think there’s a real physiological difference between the not here when you’re out of the window and the “here but not here” when you can talk and really be engaged, but be “not here” in a detached way.  What I mean is, it looks completely different from the outside. I don’t want to describe the physical ways they differ because I don’t want that to be a trigger.  The day I thanked the teen for being present I could see it was not the adult, but whoever it was had the language thing online and expressed herself without difficulty. She had a bit of an angry, defiant vibe, and spoke her mind in a defended sort of way. I guess I wouldn’t have said you seemed grounded and present as you, adult Alice, but it sure felt like this part was functioning well. You know how cut off parts can feel like “not me?”  I wonder if that could be part of “here but not here?” I’d sure like to talk more about this so I can understand it better. (Sorry if shrinky—just trying to sort this out)

There’s so much worry.  Worry you will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Worry you will be upset with me for bringing this up again. Worry you will decide I am acting out, or being a drama queen. Worry that you will decide the stuck thing is just me distorting things yet again and displaying borderline behavior. 

If it’s a worry it needs to be brought out.  If it’s a distortion we’ll talk about why that is happening. We’ll work through it.

So, maybe first I should let you know that even though I have access to some reasoning right now, it’s a very thin grasp. This is emotional for me, it is painful and terrifying and all of the abandonment fears and attachment nonsense feel really triggered because of how extremely scary and vulnerable making even writing this much feels. I can say without too much worry that the stuck thing is about our rupture. I can say without too much worry that it is about me not understanding your feelings about something. You already read those things and didn’t get upset, so there’s not a lot of worry about saying those things again. There is some worry though. And I guess that the worry goes along with the stuck thing. Well, it is part of it….I mean, I guess the stuck thing is a lot of worries or fears combined with me not understanding something you feel and maybe disagreeing with you about something all sort of mushed together. So is this worry the stuck thing in real time? Ugh. I don’t know.  But maybe I could explain the worry, and we could start there.

The worry is that you told me you had no negative reaction to anything I said, but then later, you said you did have a negative reaction and it was very clear that you did. That makes it so hard to talk. In this current instance, maybe on Thursday you had no problem with me not understanding why you feel a certain way about something  but today you might have a negative reaction to it. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing, or of saying it the wrong way, all my words are trapped. It’s like I can’t express anything without having an anxiety attack. Just the thought of sending this makes it hard to breathe and makes me light headed and I feel like I need to go hide right now. 

Negative reactions—where to start?!  I think there are several things I want to say, some of which I already explained. There are a lot of things I have to factor in when I have emotional responses to things that come up in therapy—and realistically, I’m always going to have emotional responses on some level, whether I’m aware of them or not. When things are complicated I have to take the time to figure out if I am having an emotional response.  First and foremost is always, why am I having this response? Is it my stuff? It’s probably in some part my stuff, so what stuff is it?  I can’t respond until that is figured out.  Usually these responses aren’t giant, so when I say I can contain your stuff, or I’m not having negative emotions I guess it’s more accurate to say that they aren’t “emotion mind” level responses. Then—and here’s where the wall and boundary thing comes in—if I’ve sorted through the “my stuff” part of the reaction and there’s still feelings there, I have to look at what was sent my way. This last time, as I’ve said, it took me a while to know what to do with that, and my negative reaction became part of the wise mind understanding that boundaries were needed.  So it wasn’t until after I had sorted through the “my stuff” piece that I could choose to use some of my real, post-reflection reaction to let you know what the negative impact was.  Does that make sense? I wasn’t trying to be dishonest about the negative reaction at first—I was trying—in my mind—to do my professional job of offering containment and doing self-reflection on “my stuff.”

Does that make sense at all? I guess the truth is, I always have some sort of reaction to most things, which is normal.   It’s okay if I have a negative reaction to something you say—it’s not really different than a neutral or positive reaction in my mind. It gives us information. I admittedly—like most people—have less negative reactions when I’m trying to work with a struggling part that’s not being mean—I don’t feel any mean from you (teen) right now. Even if I have a negative reaction I will take ownership of it, and I’ll still like you and won’t leave.

I write Bea back, but then I can’t send it. Instead, I write her to let her know I am working on a response but it is taking me longer to process this than I expected. She writes back that that is okay, that thinking and taking time is good.

Repaired: part one

Repaired. Things are fully, and truly repaired. Not erased, not magically all better, but repaired. The wound isn’t just covered with a band aid, it has been stitched together and healed. It is still tender and sore, and there is a scar. The scar is okay, though. It’s evidence that Bea stayed, and I stayed, even when it was hard. Its evidence that she didn’t leave, that she truly listened, that she wanted to see me and help me. It is evidence that she cared enough to help me stitch the wound.

The last two weeks have been about painstakingly stitching together the wound. They have been rough. I’ve been in this constant state of feeling like something very, very bad is going to happen. I’m okay, though. I got through it.

Early Sunday morning, on July 1, the teen had a bad nightmare. She woke up, and couldn’t calm herself down. She was overwhelmed and alone, and badly needed an anchor. So, she sent Bea an email, with only emojis.

😴🧟‍♂️🐍😈☠️🌪⛈😱😢🙈🙈🙈🐢🐢🐢. 🤝? ⚓️?

Bea responded:

🤝⚓️🏄🏼‍♀️🏝🌞🌈

And that paved the way for Monday, July 2. It was enough of a tentative connection that I reached out and wrote to Bea in my notebook. Bea read everything I wrote, and we talked. I told Bea there was this stuck thing and I was struggling, but afraid to even try fo talk about it. Bea suggested to the teen that the adult could help her when things feel intense, and that would help the teen not rage at people, and not push people away. The session is foggy, because I went so far away at that point. The problem was that the adult had tried to help before, and it only messed everything up. After therapy, I went for a walk, and I wrote a lot. I wrote about the adult doing the best she could to help teen, and how it still messed everything up. I wrote about feeling like Bea’s stuff was all mixed up in this rupture and how I wasn’t sure she was seeing clearly.

Between Monday and Thursday, we emailed and talked a little bit about the belief everything would be ruined, if I talked about the stuck thing. It was tentative and careful, and lots of emojis were used, but it helped some.

I didn’t see Bea until July 5 because Wednesday was a holiday— the fourth of July. I had a lot of writing, but had simply pared it down to 1/2 a page, describing the stuck thing. It takes over half of my session to hand Bea the writing. I’m anxious and scared that this is a bad idea.

I’m trapped. I can’t really talk to you because of X, but to be able to talk, we need to deal with X. There are no good choices. I could tell you the stuck thing has to do with our rupture. I could tell you that it’s partly something I don’t understand about your feelings. I don’t even like saying that much. It’s too vulnerable making, too scary. If I tell you about the stuck thing, it’s going to blow everything up. I can’t do it.

“It has to feel awful to be stuck in that place.” Bea is gentle and present and she sounds so kind. I’m hiding under the blanket, shaking, because I am so afraid something bad will happen.

“You know,” she says slowly, “If there are things I have said or done that you don’t understand, I’m happy to explain them to you. If this is stuck, we need to deal with it, it is stuck for a reason. That’s okay. We can deal with it, together.”

But she won’t want to deal with it if I tell her. She will go away again, and having a sort of here secure base is better than no secure base at all. “I just can’t. Everything will blow up. You won’t like it.” My voice is teary and quiet, but my words are sure and certain.

“I don’t know what it is, so I can’t promise it will be okay, but I can tell you that I am here, and I feel very centered and present. Whatever it is, I don’t think I will react emotionally. Actually, that is a promise I can make you. I won’t react emotionally to the stuck thing. I will listen, and I will do my best to explain and help you understand.”

“But I don’t want you to not be here, to be shrinky. That won’t help.” I’m almost whining. The idea of Bea going back to the detached shrinky place, it’s distressing.

“It is important to you that I am here and attuned. I feel very here, very attuned, very aware that this is the teen’s experience. Maybe I should explain that this rupture, it feels in the past to me. The recent past, but the past, and so I don’t think I will react emotionally because I have some distance around it.”

“But I don’t,” I tell her.

“I know that, too. And that is okay,” she reassures.

“I just can’t. I hate that this isn’t okay.”

Bea is quiet for a minute, and then she asks, “Is this a new experience for the teen? Maybe a new feeling or experience for the teen to not pretend everything is okay?”

I shrug. I don’t want to say yes, or no. Maybe it is, but if I tell her that then she is just going to make this all about my past.

Bea continues offering all the reassurance she can give me, and just as I am feeling like maybe it is okay to give her the written explanation of the stuck thing, our time is almost up. Bea says she will read it before I leave, or I could email it (which prompts a loud “NO!” from me) or we could wait until Monday. I can’t decide, and Bea tells me it is okay to wait. Before I leave, she says if I want to email small pieces or even clues of a sort, or even if I just want to email to check in, that is okay. Basically, whatever I need is okay.

Ruptured: Ms. Perfect

Wednesday. I get to Bea’s office right on time, despite not sleeping well the night before and waking up late. I feel steadier than I have in weeks. Things don’t feel repaired, and I’m still unsure of Bea, but I don’t feel like the ground is falling away under my feet anymore.

When I walk in, we chat a little, just normal stuff, nothing serious or deep. This feels normal, familar. It’s me and Bea talking about regular, boring life stuff, and it feels like an oasis from the storm we have been in for weeks. I start to realx, and feel like Bea is really here and herself.

Before long, though, we are discussing teen stuff, in a weird random way. It starts with a conversation about clothing, which seems beign and random. We’d been discussing small town life and ideals as compared to the larger area Bea I live in now.

“I never worried about having the *right* clothes growing up. My mom always just knew the popular brands and that’s what she bought.” I shrug. It’s not strange to me, it’s just how things were.

“Did you ever want to wear something different?” She’s curious.

I think. Did I? I’m really not sure. “I don’t think so. I was so….I mean, Ms. Perfect was just so in charge back then, and that’s what I was. Blonde. Cheerleader. I looked and dressed like everyone else who was……I don’t know. Popular.” I could say well off, or in the in crowd, or something else. But it boils down to popularity. All of our parents were friends. We all went to the same church, were members of the same country club, had vacation houses in the same small touristy towns on small lakes, we all participated in the same activities, we had known each other since we were in diapers. It was also very clear what was expected of me, and I performed perfectly. There wasn’t really a wants or needs about it. I was who and what I was expected to be.

“No part of you wanted something different?” She asks again. This time, I’m sure that she is going somewhere with this, or looking for some sort of information. It’s the slight change in her voice, maybe.

“Well, no. I don’t think so. I’m not sure there was another option, anyway. Once, my brother tried to shop….what is that store, the more edgy punk store….”

“Hot topic?” Bea asks.

“Yes! He wanted to shop there. My mom threw out his clothes he had bought and replaced them with her choices from the gap, banana republic, j crew, the buckle. He was not going to look anything but perfect.”

“That seems extreme to me, to control your teen’s wardrobe like that.”

“Really?” I’m surprised. “It’s just how it was. Part of the presentation of how we looked. You know, that sort of thing matters to her. I don’t know.”

“Yes, I can see it mattered. I guess I just didn’t realize that your mom’s need to control things and present a pretty picture extended that much.” Bea says slowly.

“Once I had light pink streaks put in my hair,” I tell her.

“How did that go over?” She asks. She is back to being curious again.

“Not well. But it was acceptable. I was still mostly blonde and the streaks were little and baby pink, so it was a girly choice, so it was tolerated.”

“Why did you put streaks in hair?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. Now, as I write this, I think I wanted something that was just mine, not something my mother chose for me. But wheh Bea asked, it was just a thing I did.

“Teens usually havs reasons for doing what they do. Especially with hair.” She pushes a bit, maybe trying to see if I am willing to dig underneath.

“I really don’t know. It was just something I did.” Thinking about it now, my mom wasn’t at the salon with me that day, so when I went for my usual highlights, it wasn’t a big deal to add pink.

“And your mom was okay with it in the end?”

“Well, it washed out quick enough. So then, it was fine. I mean, she just liked things to be how she liked them.” I feel sort of odd. Not far away, just sort of, going through the motions of this conversation.

“Like what?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. How we behaved, what we did, what we wore. She just wanted things to be normal, I guess. She doesn’t deal with things outside of that box of normal very well.”

“No, she really doesn’t.” It’s an agreement, but maybe something more, a question or a prompt to keep talking.

“She would just….ugh…I don’t know, ignore me if I didn’t behave how she liked. Everything from not picking up my room to I don’t know what.” I sigh. I’m in a weird mood. “You know that she would just ignore me if I was talking too much, just literally walk away. She didn’t like feelings either. Some feelings weren’t allowed. Well, it wasn’t really a rule, not something spelled out, but I knew…..she made it clear. I suppose now I would say she dissociated.”

“Really?” Bea sounds surprised and, in my mind that surprise means she doesn’t agree with me, so I backtrack quickly.

“Well, maybe not, maybe that is the wrong word. I was just thinking like, if I was crying, so upset, she would just sort of check out until I stopped. She just wasn’t there. It was so obvious that certain things wouldn’t be tolerated. Sad, tears, mad, hurt, anxiety, she would just zone out.”

“Not be there, not really interact with you? Just be sort of robotic, spaced out?” Bea asks.

“Yeah.” I nod.

“I would call that dissociated,” she says. “So you knew when she was not there, and that was a signal you were being too much?”

“Yeah. Or she would just tell me, you know, I’m a drama queen, I’m overly sensitive. I don’t know. She would send me to my room until I could behave appropriately.” I blink back tears. Even now, this stings.

“It’s such a shame that being sensitive it seen so negatively, instead of helping kids understand they are sensitive, and that is okay.” Bea says.

“But it was okay, mostly, because I knew what was and wasn’t allowed and so things were okay. I didn’t get sent away very much. I knew how to behave right.”

“That makes me sad for the girl who had to hide her feelings to be able to fit what her mom needed her to be.”

“Buf then she didn’t go away or send me away, and it wasn’t so bad. I mean, it just….ugh. I don’t know.”

“So the teen never got to express herself for fear of being unacceptable.” Bea’s voice is sad.

“I guess. But I knew how to be what I was supposed to be. So it was okay, my mom didn’t….” my voice trails off. I was about to sound so melodramatic, I can’t believe it.

“Didn’t what?” Bea prompts.

“Didn’t have to get away from me.” Now I am really blinking back tears as I hide my face. “Can I have the blanket please?”

Bea covers me up, and I cry.

“Can I say something that might be a little shrinky?” She asks.

“I guess.” I’m wary. This tentative okay-ness between us feels like the smallest thing could shatter it.

“When we talk about attachment, and being securely attached, I always had this….well, it doesn’t matter. The more you are telling me about your mom and how she interacted with you, her expectations and her reactions when they weren’t met, I’m wondering if Ms. Perfect was around before Kenny. If maybe she was what some mignt refer to as a false self.”

“I wrote about parts like you asked. I wrote about Ms. Perfect…maybe you should just read it.” I get out my notebook and hand it to her.

When I wrote about Ms. Perfect, I wrote that she was maybe a little girl at first, a little girl when I was a little girl, and she just grew up with me, excpet I still think she is an older teen. I’d written that Ms. Perfect was the one my mom always liked, even loved.

“So, what I am thinking is a bit like what you wrote. I’m thinking that Ms. Perfect was…. created to be this part that your mom could accept. Ms. Perfect was the part that was able to be securely attached because she was what your mom could accept.” Bea is speaking very cautiously, very carefully.

Writing this now, I think Bea is right, my mom couldn’t accept any part except Ms. Perfect, and it’s Ms. Perfect that is securely attached. I wonder if Ms. Perfect has controlled things at times when I would have acted out with Bea, because, well, she didn’t want to have Bea go away or send me away. I need to think on this more. My thoughts are muddled right now.

“Okay….that makes sense,” I agree.

“And that leaves the rest of the parts…well, with more of an insecure attachment. Which is why we have this teen part with the borderline rage acting out when it feels like you were too much and I am leaving.”

“Because the rest of me didn’t get secure attachment because the real me wasn’t acceptable to my mom? So then I had to be Ms. Perfect so that she would….accept me?”

“Well….in a nutshell, yes. Having Ms. Perfect run the show meant that you could get your needs met. The real you, or even the parts couldn’t get attachment needs met because your mom had very specific things she could handle and stay emotionally present for.” Bea says gently.

I don’t say anything. I’m struggling to wrap my head around this. There must be some secure attachment for the real me because of my grandparents. I don’t know.

“This is all separate from the kenny piece. This is all developmental trauma stuff. Of course, already being capable of separating things and having this false self to run the show and be accepted would have made it even easier for him to take advantage. But this development attachment trauma stuff, talking about this now, I can see so many parallels between my behavior that bad Wednesday and your mom.”

“That’s what you mean by it being about the past?”

“In part, yes. We react to things that may be happening in the present, but it triggers old hurts, old beliefs, and we react like those old things are true, even if they are true of the present situation.”

“What parallels?” I ask.

“Well, your mom went away when your feelings were too intense for her to cope with, or accept. You came here that bad Wednesday feeling pretty triggered, and I wasn’t really here. And then in our email when I told you that I was making a choice to avoid the emotional piece, that mirrored your mom, too.” (I think there were other parallels she drew, but I can’t remember now.)

I don’t think I said more, and can’t remember what else Bea said. I was busy thinking what it means if parts of me are insecurely attached, and Ms. Perfect is securely attached. Where does that leave the whole of me? I have no idea.

We wrap up the session by looking at our calendars and scheduling an extra session for Thursday. Wednesday is July 4, so next week would have been a one session week otherwise. Bea’s schedule is tricky, she doesn’t have mornings open on Thurdays or Fridays, but I decide to take an afternoon appointments and ask a friend to watch Kat. When I text my friend, she tells me that she would be happy to take Kat that day and that she is glad I finally took her up on her offer to help.

Ruptured: A tentative anchor?

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for the out pouring of support and empathy that you have shown me. I have read all the comments and I will respond to individual comments at some point, but for now please accept my thanks and gratitude. You have all helped me to feel not so alone and lost in this rupture. This story is far from over, but maybe, maybe there is something healing happening. I’m not sure yet, and I have a lot of fear and apprehension. Thank you guys for all the support 🧡

This is a long post, mostly made up of emails. My emails are in italics, and Bea’s are regular font and underlined. I am working on writing my thoughts anout this all but it is a muddled mess in my head. I’m honestly unsure what I am feeling.

On Wednesday, Ms. Perfect showed up to therapy, and she and Bea sat and colored together. It was a nice, calm session, and it felt like Bea was just being Bea, and as if she might really be there. Of course, it is easy to be there with Ms. Perfect, she doesn’t ask for anything, and she is not difficult.

At the end of the session, as Ms. Perfect was leaving, standing across from Bea in the doorway, Bea looked at me, and it was as if she were looking for the real me. She asked me to check in via email again, and then, looking right at me, she added she would really like to hear from the parts, and not just from Ms. Perfect. The teen peeked out then, and looked at Bea. She looked right into Bea’s eyes, and there was only sadness and compassion there, this look that said she really did want to know how the parts were doing. It was only a moment, and then Ms. Perfect was back, saying, “If that’s what you want, I’ll try.”

That connection was enough for the teen to write an email, and even though Ms. Perfect didn’t like it, the email was sent. That was enough to start a real conversation with Bea and several back and forth emails led to this:

(I am so uncertain about even sending this, so unsure that it is a good idea, so worried that if I start this conversation you won’t allow Ms. Perfect to show up to therapy on Monday. Please remember that Ms. Perfect is tough and nothing much rattles her or even hurts her, but I am not tough. Not right now. I still haven’t found my shell.)

Yes, I— the grown up— am aware that Ms. Perfect is running things. There are cracks in her facade this time, I’m stronger than I used to be, and that makes it much harder for Ms. Perfect to box me up and run things. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m allowing it at this point because it’s easier. I’m not sure. I feel numb, empty. I don’t want to think or feel right now. It’s too overwhelming and painful when I do. It’s much easier to just let Ms. Perfect run things, because then I don’t have to think about anything. And yet, I’m not entirely comfortable with letting Ms. Perfect captain the ship, either.

I feel very hurt. I feel like I can’t talk to you about anything right now, but there is also this sense that I need more than Ms. Perfect showing up to therapy while meanwhile I’m writing emails and notebook entries I don’t share. Yet, that’s all I can really handle. There is this feeling that Ms. Perfect can’t go anywhere until I can cope with all the feelings and function in my life again, and that won’t happen until I deal with everything and can feel that I have a secure base again. But I can’t work through any of the stuff because then you and I will end up right back where we were before Ms. Perfect stepped in.

Ms. Perfect says that the adult and the teen are too twisted together right now— really anytime teen stuff comes up— to separate the adult and the teen which presents a challenge. The challenge here is that you are waiting to deal with the teen and her feelings until there is enough of the grown up present to be rational, but the grown up can not be rational when the teen stuff is front and center. The grown up and the teen are too intertwined, and the thoughts and feelings can’t be separated. If you think back to the beginning, when you were working with the little girl, for a long time the adult couldn’t be separated from the little girl; their feelings, thoughts and beliefs were one and the same. It took a lot of hard work to even begin to separate the adult from the little girl.

I don’t know where this leaves us, I truly don’t. I only know that when the cracks in Ms. Perfect’s container start to widen— usually late at night— I feel very despairing. I feel lost and alone and sad. So very, very sad.

And Bea wrote back, asking if the teen could speak about the hurt a little bit more.

The hurt. I feel hurt. And just I don’t know how to talk to you about it anymore.

I know that from your perspective I am welcome to talk about things. But from my perspective, it doesn’t feel like a good idea. It feels like a very risky, very dangerous idea. It didn’t work out so well the last time. It went very, very badly. So badly that Ms. Perfect had to step in. That’s never a good sign.

Part of the hurt is that it doesn’t feel safe to talk to you anymore. Part of the hurt is because going the last 3 weeks feeling like I have no secure base has shown me exactly what a secure base provides. It’s like I can really see exactly what I missed growing up, and I know what I’ve lost now. And that hurts. It hurts to see you because you were my secure base and now……it doesn’t feel like you are.

I feel hurt because I write and I write and I write, and for the first time in a long time I can’t give it to you, I can’t share what is going on behind Ms. Perfect’s facade.

I feel hurt because I feel like you think everything that has happened between us is my fault, because of my stuff and my behavior.

I feel hurt because you aren’t here. I know that you not being here is my fault at the moment because I’m hiding  behind Ms. Perfect. But it hasn’t felt like you are really here since that Wednesday. I’m hurt because I’m afraid to even mention Wednesday to you, and it has been a very long time since I was this afraid to say anything to you.

I feel hurt because I feel like I have to weigh and measure every word I write, like I have to be so, so careful in communicating with you.

I just feel hurt and sad and scared and worried.

I’m trying to figure out what part I hear in your email so I can best respond.  It feels like a very vulnerable part, far away from Ms. Perfect.  I feel like it’s the teen, but you didn’t say that, so I don’t know.

I’m sorry it feels so unsafe to talk to me, and I know that feeling you’ve lost your secure base is a terrible thing.  I definitely don’t blame you for any of what happened—I started to write that I blame myself, but then I stopped because really there’s no need for there to be blame anywhere.  I think we both have owned our contributions.

I want to clarify something—it was a choice for me not to give empathy to the raging, blaming teen, not something that I couldn’t do.  The decision was reached after my feelings led me to realize that the teen needed a clear boundary set about this in order to learn the appropriate way to communicate her feelings.  I know she didn’t know anything differently, but this is now a chance for her to learn those missing skills.  Modeling “taking it” by empathizing when she was out of control in emotion mind would have sent the wrong message to all the parts.  In large part we learn how we ourselves should be treated by experiencing the good boundaries others set.  So this was not about me being unable to contain, but about a choice to contain in a boundaried way. I expect the teen to be unhappy about that—and unsure of how to proceed as she feels her way along this new path—but I want to make sure she understands that she can freely express her feelings, and maybe the Kimochi “you can be mad, but it’s not okay to be mean” is really the best guidance for her.  I know she has some important things to say!

Everything I write back feels wrong. Everything I have to say feels not okay to say. Everything I want to say, I just can’t do it. I tried. I really tried to at least start to work on this. But I just can’t. I’m in tears again over the fact that I can’t talk to you, that I can’t just write and say what I need to say, that I can’t tell you about it and have you be there to help me sort it out.

And then I’m wondering what the point of saying anything is when it’s just going to put us back to this (which is something I keep writing at the end of every unsent email):

Now, you are going write back something very general, maybe some logical explanation or a reflection and then go on to say that this is a conversation better had in person and that you don’t feel comfortable tackling it via email, that we both know from experience that things can easily be miscommunicated. And then I’ll be upset and hurt and feel unseen and unheard and I’ll write back to say that I’m not talking about this in session because it doesn’t feel anywhere safe enough to do so and I just can’t do it. So what is the point of even sending this email? Of even trying to talk about this? We will just end up right back where we started with me unable to talk to you face to face and struggling to show up to your office and you unwilling to discuss and tackle this via email.

See? Everything is screwed up and there is nothing that can even be done about it. I have pages and pages of things to say. But I can’t say any of it. This is why it’s better to just let Ms. Perfect run things. Things don’t hurt when she’s in charge.

I think starting with one chunk that doesn’t feel okay to send might be a good start?  I feel like email is absolutely okay for this.  I really do want to help you sort through this and repair the mess.

This feels like a bad idea. Like very bad things are going to happen. Please please please keep in mind that I am confused and scared and vulnerable that it is even harder for me now to sort out my thoughts and feelings than it was a few weeks ago, and that it is even harder now to contain my feelings— it’s either out of control feelings or Ms. Perfect with no feelings. I don’t know what to do. It feels like a much safer plan to just let Ms. Perfect continue to show up to therapy and to ignore the rest of this. Maybe I shouldn’t even send this. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. 

I’m sorry it feels so unsafe to talk to me, and I know that feeling you’ve lost your secure base is a terrible thing.

Everything…I don’t know. It’s so much harder to deal with everything knowing there isn’t someone to help catch me when I fall. Ruptures….I don’t think you even know how bad they are. You’re gone, and then there’s all the feelings about that and there is whatever gets triggered when we rupture and always always nightmares and flashbacks hit me full force like they know I’m already down and are just attacking me and I get triggered over every stupid little thing and I can not contain any of it. It’s awful. Nothing is okay. 

I want to clarify something—it was a choice for me not to give empathy to the raging, blaming teen, not something that I couldn’t do.  The decision was reached after my feelings led me to realize that the teen needed a clear boundary set about this in order to learn the appropriate way to communicate her feelings.

I wish you had just realized that in my very first email,  I was doing my very best to write out a mess of feelings, of fear and sad and scared that were incredibly intense, that I was trying to tell you how the things you said and did impacted me and exactly why it felt like I couldn’t talk to you and shouldn’t be in therapy. It feels so nit-picky to me to criticize the precise wording I used. I know that how I wrote things was very upset and sad and hurt and scared and that it could have been worded or clarified better than it was. I know that you felt it was mad and mean and ragefull. That very first email I sent? I wasn’t even so much mad as I was feeling rejected and terrified and confused and hurt.  I also made a point to write that I was writing what I had written in my notebook— which you know are in the moment, messy things and not carefully thought out writings— because I knew that what was written wasn’t fully formed, or perfect. I couldn’t, I can’t, try to sort through all those feelings and thoughts and beliefs and fears and make them clear and concise and exactly how something “should” be written. I need help to do that. I feel like if you were really in your window and really back and not emotional over what had happened on Wednesday it would have been clear to you that I meant “when you did x, I felt y” rather than blaming you for “making” me feel a certain way. You have always been able to see beneath the surface of the messy words and thoughts and grasp the meaning and the feelings before. The worst part is, you didn’t try to help me sort it out. It’s not fair to decide someone is being mean and then not even talk to them about it. I don’t know, I can’t express everything around this in writing, and this is certainly not clarified or perfect enough to send you. It’s probably just going to blow up in my face again. 

Your choice to ignore the anger was also a choice to ignore the very real, very scared and vulnerable and undeserving feelings. I feel that your response was mean. It left me completely alone, and even more panicked and terrified because you ignored my feelings. It would have been better if you had told me then that you were choosing to ignore my feelings because you felt I was being angry and mean. That would have been honest at least. Instead you just ignored them, gave me explanations and logic, and wrote that you had felt no negative reaction (which clearly wasn’t the entire story). And when I became more upset you told me that you felt you had responded with your most present and attuned self. But that wasn’t really the case, because you had made a choice to withdraw emotionally. 

So this was not about me being unable to contain, but about a choice to contain in a boundaried way.

Stop telling me you were able to still contain everything. You didn’t contain anything. Not for me. Ms. Perfect stepped in eventually and did that. You just disappeared behind the logical rational therapy robot wall. You told me I could be angry. You told me I could be honest. You told me that I didn’t have to be perfect. You told me that messy was okay, that we could make sense of messy together. So, I shared messy, angry, honest, and  imperfect feelings with you. And you left. I understand that you made a choice. I understood that the first time you said it. I understand that you believe you made a choice not to empathize or support me emotionally, but that it is okay because you were still able to contain everything. But who gets to decide that you were still able to contain things? You, or the person who needs the container?  My experience of this is that nothing feels contained to me, is that the container broke and you disappeared behind the therapy robot wall and that’s theories and reflections and explanations. If I had felt contained, Ms. Perfect wouldn’t be here right now with her rigid control of everything. 

This is a big chunk for me to try to tackle, so bear with me if I miss something—just bring it up in the next email—I’m not trying to ignore anything.

I apologize for needing time to decide how to handle what was going on in the moment with this. It was my own struggle with boundaries that laid the foundation for this—I am getting better, but I still tend to take on more of other people’s “stuff” than I should.  In the past I haven’t set good boundaries with your parts in these circumstances.  That did make this harder for you than if I’d established good boundaries from the start.  Moving forward, however, I think I’ve got this under control so that it’s healthier for both of us and will allow you to grow as you need to.  The fact is, it’s not okay for any teens—parts or actual teens—to rage at others like that.  No matter how hurt, scared, whatever it’s just not okay. It took me time to sort this out and find the boundary, and I really, really do apologize for that.  

I know that boundaries can feel mean. I know you may be mad about this for a long time, but my heart tells me I did the right thing.  It wasn’t support I stopped giving, it was the enabling of a pattern of response on your part that isn’t helping you. I don’t expect you to see this right now, and if we need to disagree about this I’m okay with that. I have much empathy about that!

I get that you feel I didn’t contain this emotionally for you, and that I left.  And that you’re really mad about that.  I get that the lashing out is because of those feelings.  I hope that even though I do understand that, you can respect that I’m no longer going to soak up that rage. I’m here, though, and I’m listening, offering support and willing to engage. It won’t be until your wise self can rein things in a bit more that we’ll really be able to repair this. I trust the process.

I’m not mad about that. I just don’t understand why you couldn’t have helped me figure out how to say what I was (am) feeling without being mean. Because I still don’t know what you want from me. I don’t know how you think I should be saying something. I don’t know what you think is and is not okay. I don’t understand why its not acceptable that something a person said or did impacted me and led to me feeling a certain way. Why is that not okay? I understand that I wasn’t…didn’t…use the right words, that I was mean and mad when I wrote them, but why couldn’t you see that what happened on Wednesday brought up every old fear and caused so much pain and that I needed help talking about it in an acceptable manner? Why couldn’t you help me figure out how to do that? I can’t learn the lesson you want me to learn if you just shut me out because I’m being mean. I’m not even mad. Not really. I’m hurt. So hurt that I don’t have words to explain it. 

I’m not lashing out right now. At least I don’t feel like I am. I know that every email after I felt ignored was me lashing out. I was mad and I wanted you to listen to me. Actually, I wasn’t just mad. I was scared because you had left and I didn’t know if you were coming back. And the more I yelled and screamed to be seen and heard, the farther away you were. And the more scared, and angry I got. But I’m not screaming now. If anything I’m just crying. 

Please please listen and please please please please try to see the feeling and meaning of my words because I know I’m screwing this up and I’m not trying to and I don’t want to upset you or make you go really far away again and I know that me feeling cut off from you is on me right now but at least you are more here than you were before and please please just don’t go away again.  I don’t want to fight anymore. 

I’m not asking you to soak up my rage. I don’t think I ever was. Maybe it came off as mad and mean. Maybe it felt like that is what I wanted. And I’m sorry my mad feelings made you feel like you had to soak up my rage. I’m really really sorry. Maybe being mad and mean was easier than being vulnerable and feeling like a turtle without a shell. I think all I wanted was to know— to be reassured — was that you don’t feel those things….I was so scared, so, so scared on that Wednesday that this was the beginning of the end, that you were really starting to feel like I shouldn’t need therapy so often or so much support. I was so afraid that you were going to be writing up a treatment plan to be all done with me sooner rather than later. I was so scared that I had needed too much and caused the entire mess on Wednesday. That because of all my neediness the last two weeks (prior to Wednesday) that I had just pushed you to a breaking point and that was what everything you were saying about insurance was really about— that all the things you were saying about insurance company thinking were what you were thinking and feeling because of me being too much. I wanted, I needed to know that I wasn’t too much, that I hadn’t broken you, that this wasn’t because of me. I was terrified it was because of me and that you were never going to bring the container back, never going to fix it. I don’t know how to even put words to those desperate, awful, terrified, abandoned feelings. I wanted you to understand how I felt, I wanted you to reassure me again and again until I could hold on to that, I wanted you to not be gone. I tried to explain how bad I felt, to ask for what I needed and I did a terrible job of it. I was mad and I was blaming. But I wasn’t really blaming you in my head….I was blaming me. This is all so complicated. I still can’t sort it out. The feelings are still there, and I still don’t know how to ask for what I need and explain them without messing everything up again.

But that isn’t fair..I don’t think it can be reined in until I feel like I have a secure base again. But I can’t feel like i have a secure base without repairing this. I’m afraid that you won’t believe there is a wise self back on board until I agree with what you say, with what you think. And I just don’t know. I’m scared. I’m very, very scared. I don’t feel okay. Not okay at all. And that makes me afraid. I don’t want to have everything messed up forever and ever. 

Maybe…I know you don’t like to email so much, that it is all a lot to deal with via email. I want to say maybe I could talk on the phone. Or at least listen. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid you will say no phone call. But I’m afraid if we do try to talk on the phone about this, then you will expect me to talk on Monday face to face about it. And I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t want to waste your time, I really really don’t. I just..it’s hard. It’s really really hard. And I’m afraid you might agree to a phone call and then I won’t be able to talk anyway and that will just make you not happy with me. 😭🙈🐢⛈🌪😭😭🐢🐢🐢🙈

I found myself wanting to find a way to give you hope about the fixable nature of this. The fact that I feel more “here” to you is a good sign, I think. I think we have to try to find the “helpful thoughts,” right?  I know it’s going to be hard to find my writing too, so why don’t I just answer each highlighted paragraph here in a separate paragraph, one after another? Hopefully that will work!

This is just going to take time. I have to be consistent and trustworthy. That’s the bottom line. I know that, and I will do everything I can to be that person. That actual bad Wednesday came from lack of awareness, and felt out of the blue like these things always do. And I realized it right away, as you know, but there were no take backs:(

I do wish I could be an anchor again, even if a tentative anchor right now.  I feel helpless about this….

I know you don’t see what I’m talking about with the rages, and I can definitely speak to this and help that. The sheer volume of writing that would be makes me think it has to be in person—and you don’t have to talk at all, I would just explain it and you could write more about it for me to answer if you want. Does that sound reasonable? I definitely don’t want to shut you out of this— it’s just too much to try to write.

Okay, now I’m already running out of time, so I’m going to have to consolidate the rest into this paragraph—and much of the rest can go into my verbal explanation if you agree that would be okay.  I know the bottom line of all this was your terror of abandonment. And it’s so easy for me to say, “Of course I would never kick you out of therapy and abandon you!!!!” but that doesn’t stop the terror that you feel in every fiber of your being.  I know that, and I want you to really, really know that I will not do that! I would never put anyone through that—a literal abandonment.

I have to go. I know I didn’t begin to get through all of this. Let me know if I can explain things on Monday. You can write as much as you want and I’ll happily sort through it. I can do a little this weekend. And phone would also be okay if you would find it helpful.  

Maybe. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t want to trick myself into believing something that isn’t true and ending up more hurt. I’m trying. Even helpful thoughts feel dangerous right now. I can make a list of things but I don’t know if I can really believe them. I’m afraid to believe them. 

Helpful thoughts (are these true?)

Fact: Bea wants to repair this, she said so

Fact: Bea came back, she feels more here now 

Fact: Bea does believe I should be in therapy and that I need support therapy gives me, she has tried to schedule more sessions this summer so I’m not dealing with a lot of once a week times but I haven’t been able to look at our calendars

Fact: Bea doesn’t think I am too much, she told me so 

Fact: Bea is not leaving me or getting rid of me, she told me that would never ever happen 

I don’t understand. Lack of awareness of what? Of me needing too much? Of you just not being you that day? Maybe you’ve told me this already. I don’t know. Until Ms. Perfect showed up, I was so dissociated every time I showed up to therapy that I really don’t even know what we did or didn’t talk about. Or rather, what you said or didn’t say because I am pretty sure I wasn’t talking. I don’t talk much when I’m that far away that I can’t really remember things. But I wasn’t trying not to listen or not to remember or not to pay attention. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t be there. It’s too much. It was too hard. It hurt too much. 

I know what you are asking is reasonable. I know that, I do. You aren’t asking anything of me, not really. But it is terrifying for me to be told “we’ll talk about this later.” It’s like being called to the principal’s office or something. You aren’t being unreasonable but I’m afraid to let you talk. I’m afraid you are going to end up being shrinky and logical and not here at all emotionally and I just can’t cope  with. I’m afraid whatever you have to say is just going to hurt my feelings and it’s so much easier to read an email and then to melt down and cry when I can hide at home under my blanket with no one to see. Even letting you talk about things and me not having to talk feels so vulnerable and scary. But now I feel like I put us on this path because I emailed and wrote real feelings and now I’m stuck and just 😭😭😭. I’m afraid you are just going to tell me I was mean, that you don’t like me because I was mean and that you can’t work with me anymore because I’m not a nice person. I don’t want to be mean. I really really really don’t. I wasn’t trying to be mean or hurtful or anything like that. 🙈😭 And I don’t want you to hate me for being mean. 

Yes, these helpful thoughts are all true. Very much true.

The lack of awareness was that I was full of anxiety and needed to deal with it outside of our session. It had nothing to do with you. I don’t intend to have shrinky or therapy-kicking-out things to say whether in email or in person. Whatever you need—give it some time and see if it comes clear.

The teen’s questions

The teen showed up today. She handed Bea the notebook, saying, “I talked to you in here.” And so Bea read, and responded, while I hid under my blanket.

I wonder, what would you have done with me? What would you do if teen me walked into your office today?

You would have known the diagnosis of bulimia, cutting, and anxiety. You probably would have been told I was resistant to treatment. You would have known I was from a good family. That I got good grades, was well liked, participated in school activities like cheerleading and newspaper and that I was active in my church.

“Well, I would think that what was going on underneath– the cutting, the bulimia, the suicide attempts– didn’t match the picture I was being presented. I would be curious about that, about what that meant.”

You would have met a quiet polite girl. I would have willingly discussed school, church, friends, cheerleading. Anything else you brought up would be likely to make me ignore you, to go quiet and zone out.

What would you have done?

“So, that is lots of teens. I would try to get you to play a board game or to do some art with me. I would make sure that you knew I was aware there was more going on than you were saying. I wouldn’t push you to tell me, just make sure that you knew I knew there was something that was triggering the cutting, the bulimia.”

Kathy talked about normal things, and then would try to get me to talk about food, or maybe my feelings. She would try, and I would tune her out. But then, a few months after I had been seeing her, I went to that party and my whole world fell in on itself. Everything was was just one big mess and I couldn’t make sense of it, I thought I was going crazy.

Things got worse. I was cutting more, throwing up more.

I got caught cutting, and my mom called Kathy. I ended up seeing her that night. Mom wanted Kathy to “talk some sense into me” but that’s not what she did.

She asked if she could see what I had done, and I showed her. She was kind and understanding. Sitting on the floor, side by side, she looked at the cuts, new cuts, old cuts healing, scars. She said, “You must have been hurting really bad for a really long time.”

I said, “No, I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

She said, “Your words say you are okay, but your cutting tells me something else. It tells me you are hurting.”

I denied it, and she told me it was okay to not be okay, that in her office, I didn’t have to be okay. She talked about people cutting themselves to feel pain physically because they couldn’t feel it emotionally.

I told her that wasn’t right, that I had cut to make it stop.

She wanted to know, “To make what stop?”

But I didn’t tell her. Not then. Not that day. But that was the day I started to trust her. She was so understanding, and not mad, and she didn’t need me to be okay, and she acted like she really cared about me.

We had sat on the floor that day, side by side, and she didn’t try to fix me. She just sat next to me and tried to understand.

“She did see you, didn’t she? It sounds like she was very attunted. That she realized the cutting was because of something. It makes sense that you would trust her.”

And things went like this. Talking, slowly about feelings, about numb, about cutting, about throwing up. And she was always Kathy, always caring, always okay with what I said or did.

So, months later, I told her about the party. She had been my therapist for close to a year then. So, I told her. She didn’t believe me. I’d trusted her, I’d thought she was on my side, and she did not beleive me.

Nothing was okay. Nothing at all. I was crazy. And so I tried to die. And my mother fired Kathy and I never saw her again.

“This is painful. It is painful to read.” Bea’s voice has tears in it.

“I’m sorry.” I don’t want my words to cause her pain.

“You don’t need to be sorry, I just want you to know I feel how painful this is. A year of building trust, to have it end like that. It’s so hurtful. She really did so much damage. It’s really to bad there wasn’t the opportunity for a repair.”

So, I wonder. What would you have seen? What would you have said or done— in the beginning when I wouldn’t talk, and the night my mother wanted my therapist to talk sense into me, and the day I told you about the party? How would you have responded?

She diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. I was 13, 14. What would you have said, done, believed back then? What would you say, do, believe if you met me now, in present day?

“Well, first of all, you shouldn’t have been daignosed with anything like that, not at your age. Secondly, BPD is just trauma. If someone comes to me with that diagnosis, I see trauma. That’s all. I do think that in the 90’s, anytime cutting was a symptom, BPD was considered. It was….well, that was how things were viewed then. Be it the knowledge we had, or cultue, or what, cutting was often viewed as manipulation.” She tells me about when she was doing internships, how therapists, psychologists, doctors would talk about BPD patients, and how it made her cringe. She tells me how not everyone agreed with the old school viewpoint, even at that time.

Did Kathy just pretend? Was it all an act to make me trust her? Was it just her doing her job? If it wasn’t, then what happened when I told her about the party? Why did she change, why was she so not caring? Why wasn’t she the therapist I knew and trusted that day?

“I don’t think she was pretending. You are too sensitive to changes in people around you, to people being fake, that you wouldn’t have trusted her if she weren’t being real. She clearly wasn’t very attuned that day. Was she asking questions kindly, like, just trying to understand?”

I shake my head. “No. No, it was….like she was interrogating me, like she…..she thought I had done something wrong or was lying….it…she just wouldn’t stop questioning me. She wasn’t Kathy.”

“Maybe she was triggered, maybe something about your story brought something up for her. Maybe she was having a very off day. Therapists make mistakes. We screw up. And we forget how important we are, that we matter.”

“The first thing….the first response I have is to say, she wasn’t important, she doesn’t matter. But she did matter.” I start to cry again.

“Yeah, she did matter. She was important. This was a loss, and painful. So much pain.”

“I needed her. I was going crazy, and I….she was the only person I had to talk to, and I talked to her and she didn’t beleive me. And then there was nothing, and I had no one, and I couldn’t handle it anymore, I just needed it to stop and it wouldn’t and I couldn’t even trust my own mind, I wasn’t sure what was true anymore, and it was all just too much. So I…I tried to end it.”

“You really did feel all alone. Abandoned and let down. Of course it hurt. I wish you had gotten to go back, to see her again, to maybe repair the relationship and not be alone with all of this.”

“I wouldn’t have talked to her anyway,” I say, angrily.

“Maybe not. But she could have talked.” Bea counters.

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

“True. That doesn’t mean Kathy didn’t want to see you again.”

I guess I can’t know if she wanted to see me again, or what my mother even told her.” I say.

“No, you can’t know.”

“My mom was mad. Kathy wasn’t doing her job of fixing me because I was still trying to kill myself. She might have told her just that.”

Bea sighs. “If that were me, I would have done everything I could to get your mom to let you come back to me. I woild have talked to her about repair, and relationship, I would have asked her to come in so we could talk.”

“You would have?”

“Yes. I would have wanted to repair things,” she assures me.

“I guess there is no way of knowing.” I shrug.

I think for a while. “What would you have done if that was you, and I came back?”

“Well, I would probably cry. I would feel really terrible that I had missed the mark so horribly, and caused you more pain. I’d tell you that and say that I want to find a way to repair the damage I had done.”

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

“Would you be able to tell me that you were mad, or would that have felt too threatening to risk having me be on an opposite side?” When Bea asks this, I feel touched that she remembers how hard it was for me to be mad at her because I didn’t want us to be on opposite sides. That was before I learned, and experienced, that people can be mad at each other and still care and work together on the same side to repair the rupture.

“No, I would tell you because it wouldn’t matter to me. You would already be gone, not on my side.”

“Then I would start with the mad; I’m glad you came back, even if you are mad at me. I’m glad you can tell me you are mad. I understand something really upset you last time. Can you tell me what that was?”

“No. I’m not talking to you about this. Not ever again.” My tone says that this is final, that I am angry and hurt.

“We were talking about the party, and I clearly missed something. I hurt you, because I missed something. I’m sorry.” Bea says softly.

“I don’t care,” I say in my coldest, angriest voice.

“And then I would just stay with that,” Bea tells me. “I would wait and carefully bring up the party and my clear misattunement, and wait until you were ready to respond.”

“Just like that? You would wait? How long?” I ask. I don’t beleive she would wait until I were ready to talk.

“As long as you needed. I would do art, and plah games, take walks with you, and make sure you knew that I knew there was a lot going on that you weren’t saying, and that I was just waiting for you to be ready to work on repair.”

“Will you wait for the teen to be ready to talk? To trust you?” I ask.

“Yep. I’ll wait. And I think the teen is doing a great job talking in her own time. And I will just keep waiting, trusting that she will know when it is time to talk more.”

“You are good at waiting,” I tell her. “You waited four years for the filter to be removed.”

“I did. That had to happen in your time, not mine.”

Somehow we get to discussing Kathy, and if she had kids, or was married, how old she was. I have no answers. I only know she was mom-age, but older than my mom, more like the age of my friend’s moms. “She didn’t tell me stuff about herself,” I say.

“She had some firm boundaries, not like your self disclosing therapist.” Bea laughs.

“I wouldn’t have been able trust you if you didn’t tell me about you, if you weren’t real.”

“I know. And really, I shouldn’t say that. The old school of thought was that therapy should be single person; meaning the therapist is a blank slate. But there is also 1 1/2 person therapy, where the therapist gives some feedback, maybe shows emotions, that sort of thing, but leaves out anything personal about herself. Then there is 2 person therapy, meaning the therpaist shares more of herself, shows her feelings, discusses her reactions to things, and the relationship is more collaborative and that of working side by side. Sharing things about myself is only being a bad therapist if I were sharing things that were me wanting you to take care of me. Or if you didn’t want to know about me. I have people who don’t want to know anything about me, and so they don’t know anything. You need to know about me, to know that I’m real, that I am not pretending to be something I’m not. You need that to feel safe, to know that I’m just me. Honestly, you probably know more of me than anyone else I see, because you need that.”

I laugh. “I never thought you were doing anything wrong. Different than therapists in my past, yes. But not wrong. And it helped me. You being real means I can talk about things, that it is safe. I mean, with the teen present, there is no way I would have been able to trust you, not after…..well, the story abour Kathy became that she pretended to care, she acted one way to make me trust her, and then she got what she wanted, and she hurt me.”

“Now, what does that parallel?” Bea asks.

I think for a minute. Feeling shame, guilt, apprehension, I say, “What the teen thinks about you?”

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. It does.” I’m surprised. Does this mean something? I don’t know.

We talk a little more, mainly about trust, and the teen, and how it makes perfect sense to Bea that the teen would struggle with not wanting to be alone, but being so afraid to trust Bea.

As my sessions is ending, Bea says, “Everything we have talked about today reminds me, I have a conference for new therapists, and interns I’m to attend, to do a presentation about therapy relationships and not rushing the process when working with trauma, with sexual abuse. What I keep hearing from more experienced therapists is that the newer therapists and interns are rushing things, pushing to rush things.” She pauses, and then says, “I was going to use the story of a person I saw long ago, but your story fits the topic better. You reminded me how we did just follow the process and really let things unfold.” She says the next part slowly, carefully, “Would you let me use your story— our therapy story– to talk about these things?”

Surprising myself, I say, “You could do that.” And then I add, “You should tell them about Kathy.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“They need to know how much hurt they can cause, how much power they have,” I say softly.

“They do need to know that. And you could write about your therapy experience then, and your therapy experience now. If you wanted to, that is.”

“I would like to do that,” I tell her. “Maybe…..if I can, I mean, it’s not good that this happened to me, but maybe if my story can help therapists help someone like me, then that is a good thing. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a good thing. A very good thing.” She pauses after she says this, and adds, “You know you don’t have to let me share your story, or talk about our relationship, or write anything to share. You can tell me no.”

I pull the blanket off my head. “I know. But I wanted to say yes.”

“Okay. Then we will decide what to share, together. Okay?”

“Okay.”

She Believes Me

Monday, I tell Bea about camp, and my experience with my co-leader. I’m proud (aside from one snarky thing I said) of how I behaved. I’m proud that I was able to speak up, because that is not something I am often able to do, especially with men, especially with no one else there to back me up. I’m proud that I was able to speak up in an appropriate way, and that I was able to keep my cool for as long as I did. I’m proud that I did not allow his accusations to make me question myself, that I have a strong enough sense of self now to know who I am and how I have behaved. Bea is proud of me, too. We spend most of my session time on this, because it is big— it is proof of how far I have come.

Towards the end of session, Bea checks in with the teen. The teen has written a few pages, and so Bea reads those while I hide under my blanket.

I know what I will test things with. My therapist. Kathy. She was the third? fourth? therapist they sent me to. I didn’t trust her. Not at first. But then, somehow, she was different. And I liked her. I trusted her. And then I went to that party, and everything was a mess, and I was so confused, and all these Kenny memories were just coming up, getting mixed in with the waking nightmares (what I know now is a flashback) of the party, and everything was so confusing, I felt crazy and not even Ms. Perfect could hold it together. So, I told Kathy. And she didn’t believe me. She just…..she didn’t believe me. She kept pointing out how all my friends were right there; why didn’t I get up, or say something? She said it didn’t make sense that I did not have any answers for her questions, but parts of that night are just not in my memory. I didn’t have the answrs, but she thought I was lying about something. She didn’t believe me.

Bea is mad about this, mad at Kathy. “She really hurt you. She did real damage. It’s no wonder you (the teen) don’t trust me. It would be very hard to trust anyone after that.”

The teen’s best defense is to dissociate, and that’s exactly what I did. Somehow, I am telling Bea about the party, and the teen is running the ship.

“I was at my friend’s birthday sleepover, her cousin was in town, on break from school.”

“School?” Bea asks.

“College. Her parents had gone out, so he was in charge. Which was way cooler anyway. And he was…..cute. Everyone, we all had been…..flirting, laughing. I don’t know.” I shake my head, full of shame.

“So, you were doing what girls your age are supposed to be doing, developmentally appropriate.” She murmurs. She wants me to realize I hadn’t done anything bad, or wrong, or abnormal.

“Well. We had a movie on, at bedtime. We were all just spread out on the floor, curled up with blankets, sleeping bags. And….he asked to share my blanket.” I feel a sense of wonder, that rush of *he picked me* and then shame and disgust and self hate rush in. “They were all……jealous.” The last word is hard to get out.

“Ahhh, yes. Of course they were.” Bea says.

“And….then he…..well, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She agrees.

“And….Kathy, she womderd why I didn’t get up, say something. I don’t know. I swear to you, I really don’t know why.”

“Well, Kenny stuff aside, and I’m sure that played a big role, this wouldn’t have been an easy situation. I mean, even if your friends were there, you had a status thing from him choosing you, and they all liked him, and you couldn’t know how they would react, and it was probably very confusing. Add Kenny, another college boy in your life, who has groomed you to be quiet and go along with what he wanted, and the trauma he had caused, you probbaly froze and dissociated.” She theorizes.

“She didn’t believe me. She just kept asking me things. Things I couldn’t tell her, like the movie we watched or his name. I don’t even know his name.” I’m crying now.

“You dissociated, clearly that is what happened. It’s why you don’t remember everything. It’s okay.”

“And she just kept asking, and asking things, she did not believe me. She thought I lied.”

“It wasn’t her job to believe you or not believe you. It was her job to stay with your experience. And clearly, your experience was awful. Really, truly awful.” Bea tells me.

I mostly remember crying, and Bea just being there with me.

And then it’s time to wrap things up, and Bea says we should talk about this more, but that for now she wants to know if the teen needs anything to feel okay before we end.

“I just…I have a question.”

“Okay. You can ask it.”

“Do you….I mean, I know it’s not your job to believe me but….” and then I can’t say the words, because the idea of her answer is too frightening.

“Do I believe you?” She gently finishes the question for me.

“Yeah.” I mumble the word, shame heating my face.

“I do. I believe you. I believe the teen, and the little girl, and all of you. I do believe you,” She says confidently.

I’m able to leave feeling warm and safe. She believes me.