More boundaries 

Boundaries. Boundaries have been very much at the forefront of therapy the last few weeks. Boundaries are hard, they feel frightening to me. Bea says that dissociation is a boundary, and it’s the only boundary the little girl had, so I learned to use it very well. I learned to use dissociation to keep uncomfortable, scary things out, but I also learned to use it to keep things— like emotions, or thoughts– inside. It’s automatic for me now, to go away. And dissociation is the only boundary I truly feel safe setting. 

Three weeks ago, Wednesday:

The little girl is so present today, she is driving the ship, and she is frozen and scared. Nightmares of Kenny and my mother not being there are very present and very real right now. 

Bea tells me that she could really sense the vulnerability and need to be cared for and how easily the little girl could be confused about who is safe. She says she can feel and see how when the little girl is in this submissive state it would be so easy for her to be hurt by a bad guy. Bea says that this is a reason we need to work on boundaries, that being dissociated was a good boundary for the little girl but the grown up can have other boundaries, boundaries that can empower her and not put her into a submissive place. 

The grown up me gets what she is saying, and is fully behind it, but Little Alice? She doesn’t understand, and is suddenly very frightened that Bea wants to hurt her. I end up in a weird here but not here at all place, and Bea and I end up emailing a few times before the next session.

Two weeks ago, Monday: 

I’m scared walking into Bea’s office. I’m aware enough now of my parts to know its Little Alice who is scared, and the teen who is feeling so wary and mistrustful. I sit down and curl up on the couch immediately. Quickly I dig through my bag and almost throw my notebook to Bea. “Here,” I whisper to her in a feather soft voice. 

Bea takes my notebook carefully. “You’re really feeling a need to protect yourself today. I think I’m going to get your blanket for you and just set it next to you.” 

I shrug, and Bea sets the blanket next to me. She starts reading, and when she pauses to reply to something I’d written, I throw the blanket over my head, terrified and embarrassed. I had written out this fear that Bea wants for hurt me in some way, explaining how to the adult this notion is silly and embarrassing, but to the little girl there are so many parallels to be drawn. Kenny listened to the little girl. Kenny wanted her around. Kenny liked her. Kenny wanted to spend time with her. Kenny didn’t need her to be perfect. Every one of those things could also be said about Bea. I wrote about how I– the adult– knew Bea wouldn’t hurt me, but Little Alice heard Bea say it, and was scared. 

Bea sits up, feet on the floor, and leans forward. “In therapy, there is this idea…..hmmm, it’s abstract, in a way. Can I be a little shrinky for a minute?” 

I shrug. It takes a long while for me to answer. I know Bea wouldn’t ask if she weren’t sure it would be helpful, and I know she is finally able to understand what shrinky is and why it scares me, so I finally whisper, “Okay.” Even after agreeing, I still feel very apprehensive. 

“So, there is the idea of transference and counter transference, right? So the idea is that these things take place in what we call third space. It’s sort of like a thought bubble that is between us, where thoughts or reactions that aren’t really part of who you and I are occur. So, when I can sort of feel this feeling of how easy it is for the little girl to be hurt when she is in a submissive state, when I can feel how Kenny might have felt, those feelings aren’t part of me. They are part of third space, of the thought bubble. Does that make any sense?”

“Maybe…..a little.” I whisper. Little Alice does not like this idea of a giant thought bubble separating her from Bea, and the teen is not sure about this idea, that it is true, but she’s willing to at least think on it. 

“I know this is hard. I know it’s really scary for the little girl. That’s why it’s important to have the adult online with the little girl. You both need to be present. Little Already will feel so much safer with the adult present, too,” Bea says to me. Instantly, I am farther away. Little Alice wants Bea, she doesn’t want the grown up. She knew Bea didn’t really want her. 

Two weeks ago, Wednesday: 

The little girl wrote to Bea a lot in my notebook. She is scared of so many things. Bea reads and replies as she reads. “I don’t want to get rid of the little girl. That is not why I asked if we could have the adult on board with her. I don’t want her to go away, that’s not what I was suggesting at all. Can I talk to little Alice? Would she let me do that?” 

I shrug. I don’t know. Everything feels mixed up, and the adult me is embarrassed over my reactions, and the little girl is scared and sad and ashamed. 

“Okay. Little Alice, you can just listen if that is available to you. If not, that’s okay too. I don’t want to get rid of you. You aren’t too much. You didn’t make me feel anything bad. You are okay just as you are. I want you to feel safe, and I think if you let the adult on board with you, you will feel much safer more of the time. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to let the grown up on board the ship with you, yet. I can hold you and contain all your stuff, and I can support the grown up while she learns to be on board with you and keep you safe.” 

I don’t say anything, I just shrug again. The little girl hates this. She hates everything. She ruins everything, and she is sure this is all a trick. The trick is that Bea will get the grownup part to always be with the little girl and then Bea will leave because if the grown up is on board then Bea will be able to say “see? Healthy normal adult. You don’t need me anymore, I can leave now.” 

“It’s a trick.” I finally whisper. 

“No, no tricks,” Bea says gently. “I know Little Alice was tricked in the past, so it’s okay if she needs to wait and see, but I can promise her this is no trick.” 

The little girl is unsure she believes Bea. She just can’t trust that this isn’t a huge trick. It hurts to not trust Bea. 

Last week, Monday: 

Bea is reading my journal again, because I have no words. 

Leaving. What is the deal with my fear of being left? Bea asked me about that last week, why the little girl is so sure that Bea will leave, that hubby will leave. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve never really been physically left, except when my mother went to the hospital when I was nine. The fear of being left seems to stem more from emotionally being left. It’s more this unspoken rule of *if you aren’t ABC and don’t do XYZ, then you don’t belong, you won’t be accepted, and we will leave. We won’t be able to love you or want you.” It’s every therapist leaving (or perhaps more accurately, allowing me to leave and not fighting for me), it’s my first grade teacher not following up on the picture of monsters I’d drawn and told her that the monster comes in the nighttime and plays games and hurts you. It’s my aunt who divorced my uncle and left the family, but she didn’t stay in touch with me, even though she was more like mom to me than my own mom at times. It’s my Dad being checked out (because his personality is to not deal with emotions and to be sort of zoned out in his own head) and my mom emotionally leaving me time and time again. It’s this sense that if I need too much, if I’m not perfect, if I don’t be exactly what others need me to be, then they will leave me, they won’t love me, or want me. This obsessive fear of people leaving me could be because I have been more real, admitted mistakes, shown my imperfections, had feelings and displayed them, showed my vulnerabilities and admitted to having needs. These things are dangerous in my world, it’s breaking all the rules and it is very scary.

“All of this makes sense. It all makes perfect sense why people leaving would be such a big deal, why it would be a real fear. This is all a big deal, and when it’s all put together, it’s a pattern, in a way. And now, here, you are breaking that pattern. You are having feelings and I’m not leaving. That’s different, and scary and hard to trust. It takes time.” 

We talk about leaving a little bit more, and Bea reassures the little girl (as much as she can be reassured) that she is not leaving. Then, she asks if she might share something with me from her SP training over the weekend. “I try not to bring the trainings up, or to bring anything that might feel too *SPish* into our therapy time because I know it can be really triggering. But I think this might be helpful and relevant.” 

“Okay….” I say the word slowly, like molasses pouring from my mouth and mixing with the air around me. 

“At training this weekend, we were working with and learning about child parts. I know this is more of an internal family systems type child part, so these are very integrated parts of non-traumatized people. Your parts are more separate, I know that, but this still was helpful for me, and I think it might help you, too. The person I was working with, their child part was definitely running the ship, and it didn’t feel to me like his adult was online at all. I asked if the adult could come back online a little bit, and instantly he was fully back to adult and the child part, the child feelings, were gone. The trainer told me that sometimes, when people have to hold everything on their own as children, when they have no healthy adults around to go to, or can’t go to adults to help, if a therapist asks for the adult to come back a little bit, the child part feels this to mean the therapist doesn’t want to deal with it, that the child should just take care of it on their own like they always had to.” She lets that sink in. “I was wrong. I should have let the little girl just be, and not made her feel as if she had to deal with it all on her own. It’s no wonder she has had such big feelings about being all alone and having no one. I can handle anything the little girl needs from me, I’m here for her and I’m not leaving. I’m glad she trusted me enough to tell me she didn’t like me asking her to let the adult on board with her.” Again, Bea pauses, and I feel some relief that she isn’t going to be trying to force the little girl to let the adult on board. After a moment or two, Bea continues, “We need to work on building resources for the adult, so the little girl can feel safe with the adult one day. That is the goal at some point, because Little Alice will feel so much safer with the adult around. That is something to work towards, not something to do right away. And it will take as long as it takes, there isn’t any rush.” 

I shrug. I know I should say something, so I whisper, “Okay,” even though I’m unsure it really is okay. It sounds like she is apologizing and saying she is wrong for rushing the little girl to let the adult on board, but the ultimate goal is for the grown up to always be *online*. Once again, adult me understands and fully supports this. The little girl, however, is hurt. In her mind, Bea just wants to get rid of her. 

This week, Wednesday: 

I’m far away. Between a nightmare I can’t speak and Bea talking about boundaries and SP, I can’t be here. It’s too much.  

Bea pauses, and suggests that a pillow might be nice to hug. She picks up a giant fried egg stuffed animal type thing. “This guy is so soft. I sometimes feel like hugging him. I wonder if a pillow or stuffie would feel like a boundary, if it would feel different than the blanket or the same. Here, feel how soft he is,” she says as she tosses the fried egg stuffie in my direction. I’m instantly back in the room, or at least most of me is. I toss the egg back to Bea. She gets up to set the blanket next to me, and as she does she talks, “If you want anything else to hold, you know anything in this room is available to you. We could experiment with different things, play a game to see when you need stronger or larger boundaries, and when smaller ones will work.”

*No. No game* I think to myself, and I go far away, almost instantly. 

Bea’s talking, asking questions that are too hard to answer. “Is there something that signals you to go far away? Is there an emotion or a feeling?” I don’t respond, and so she continues. “You and I, we’ve been doing this a long time, and one thing I notice is that sometimes it is easy for you to come back, and other times it is very difficult. Like when I threw the stuffed fried egg to you, you came back pretty quick, but if I asked you to look at the flowers right now and be in the room a little more, I’m not sure you would. Maybe some of it is about control?” 

I want to tell her that it’s not like that, not exactly. I want to say that it’s more about what is being talked about, and why she is wanting me to come back. I want to say if I need to come back to get ready to leave or if she is talking about normal everyday things, then it feels safe to come back. The content of the conversation in the room is safe. But if she is asking me to come back, because she feels I need to be more present in order to process what we are talking about, then it’s a no go.  

Bea talks and I listen, and we sit in silence. “I don’t like silence. It is scary,” I say. 

“I know. It’s why I usually talk to fill these silences, and it would be very easy for me to do that. But I wonder if I’ve dome you a disservice by doing so. Maybe I am blocking things that might otherwise come up by talking.” Bea’s voice is very serious. 

I shake my head. This is uncomfortable. I hate this. Tears well up, and I angrily brush them away. I don’t like what she is saying. Some part of me, not the grown up part, maybe the teen part is really hurt by this. How can Bea feel like this? If she hadn’t talked and filled the terrifying silences, I would have left therapy. I never would have been able to write to her like I did. I would never have begun sharing anything with her. I wouldn’t be healing, I wouldn’t be where I am. So how can she say that filling the silence was a disservice? It’s like she is once again comparing how we did things in therapy before SP with after SP and only the SP way is the “right way to process trauma”. Why does it matter how it is processed? Isn’t the point to feel safe enough in the therapy relationship to be able to share the ugly stuff, all the feelings, the things that are scary to say out loud, with your therapist? Well, I felt safe enough because of how we did things. It’s like she is saying none of that stuff counts because it wasn’t the *right* way, and that she has to change everything so that we are doing things *right*. I hate it. I hate this, and I want desperately to say all of this to her, to have a conversation about it, but I can’t find any words. 

She says something about how in order to work through my nightmares we have to give my adult more resources, I have to be able to stay more present, to control this going away a bit better and that this child needs to be able to allow the adult online to help. It’s not all said at once, but for some reason, my brain lumps these words together. Little Alice wants to stomp,her feet and scream. It’s not fair! Bea won’t help with Nightmares until I do all these things. It’s like being told I’m not good enough to be helped, or being punished for needing to go far away in order to set a boundary. But it’s not fair. Why do I have to do all these things I hate, that are uncomfortable, just to work through another scary thing? It’s not fair. 

By the end of session, I’ve said nothing and I leave feeling disconnected, sad, frustrated and a little angry at Bea. 

Boundaries 


A while ago, I posted about taking photos of SP worksheets, and offered to share them here if people were interested. This is the first chapter I’m going to share. The chapter deals with boundaries. This is a theme (boundaries and control) that tends to come up again and again for me, and has definitely come up in the last few weeks. 

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.