I felt some relief in the very fact that she had read it and was responding and still sounding like herself. Bea replied in depth later that morning and I responded back late that night. Below is the full email conversation.
In order: the strikethrough is the email I’ve already posted, the third person explantion of the stuck thing. Next comes the underlined which is Bea’s response. Last is the italics which is my response to Bea.
Okay, here is my response. I didn’t, well, it’s not in third person, and not as detached sounding, and I don’t know, I haven’t thought and thought and edited and changed and deleted and made it pretty and perfect and so this is a bit nerve wracking too. Because it might not be written so it’s how I am supposed to say things, it isn’t careful, I didn’t monitor my thoughts and I just wrote and responded with how I felt. But there it is. I answered under your response, so there is a bit of scrolling you will have to do. But I thought having my third person explanation might still be helpful…..so it’s all color coded. So, the third person writing is in pink, your response is in black and my response is in blue. Then I put the original email that ruined everything in green. So. Here goes nothing, again.
Can 👱♀️👩🏻🚒🙈 🐢🚫🐚🕸🌪💣⛈➡️ 🗣👂🗣✍🏻✍🏻👀👂➡️✍🏻✍🏻👀👂✍🏻👂🗣🗣👀✍🏻👂🗣 ➡️🐵🐢🐚🌈⛅️……🤝? I’m trying to believe it can.
So, here it goes, I guess. 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈
The teen feels like she understands the difference between a hitting screaming child who needs to be told “I’m here and I will sit here next to you and wait for you to be calm, but you may not hit me to express yourself ” and the emotionally swamped child that is crying out for help who needs a hug and reassurance.
Using that analogy, she feels like her therapist misinterpreted a crying out for help child as a screaming hitting child. The teen is scared, though, to even try to talk about this with her therapist. She doesn’t want to make things worse, and she doesn’t want to make her therapist upset. She also doesn’t want to disagree. She doesn’t like disagreeing, and it does not feel safe or okay. The teen feels like she would rather just agree with her therapist and let it go, but for some reason she can’t. The teen knows her therapist feels very strongly that she is right, but the teen feels just as strongly that her therapist’s interpretation is not fully accurate. She feels like it won’t matter, though, that her therapist’s opinion and feelings will carry or hold more weight than the teen’s opinion and feelings.
It sounds like the painful, crying out for help part felt very obvious to the teen, but not so obvious to me, huh? I don’t feel any need to be “right,” honestly. I think what I misinterpreted was the ability for you to use your coping resources—I know now my expectations were beyond what you were able to do in the moment. That surprised me, I remember—I didn’t lower my expectations to where you were.
Ugh. This feels awful. Like I failed or something.
The teen knows she did behave in a rageful way in several of her emails. She knows she was also rageful in her notebook, although it doesn’t feel fair to her to have that judged because her notebook— by definition of what it is— is messy and raw and unedited and not pretty. It’s instanous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and comclusions and feelings. It’s the first place she goes to when things are hard and she needs to get the scary things out. She had thought that her therapist understood that although it had never been explicitly discussed, and she shared her angry notebook because she wanted so badly for her therapist to see the mess of confusion and pain and anger she was stuck in. This part of things feels worked through to the teen. She believes her therapist understands that she was in a lot of pain, and that her therapist understands why she behaved as she did, and the teen also knows she was raging and not able to have a constructive conversation, hence the boundaries. It’s important to the teen that her therapist know she understands that.
I didn’t feel any judgement about the raging journal. I just didn’t see any way to productively work with it. You’re right that the journal is your place to rage, vent, and put down all of your anguish. I believe that’s very important!
The sticking point is in that very first email. To the teen, calling that first email raging, mean, brutal, distorted, accusatory, blaming and out of line feels inaccurate. It is not how she felt, or how it was meant. She knows that she distorted what she heard, but she can’t help how she interpreted information, and she believes that how she interpreted things that Wednesday makes some sort of crazy sense, given her history. She wants to learn to not distort and twist everything people say to her, but she is terrified of people. She’s aftaid to be even a little bit close or vulnerable with them. She can understand that her email could be read as blaming and mean, but it wasn’t that way in her mind. It wasn’t even that way in the adult’s mind. (Which adds another layer to this, because the therapist keeps saying the adult can help the teen communicate appropriately, but the adult did try to help before. The adult helped by making sure all the information of where the teen was emotionally was included in that email, and she helped by telling the teen it was okay, she could trust the therapist, the therapist had made a mistake but she wasn’t gone, and that this couldn’t be fixed if the teen didn’t explain what she was feeling, what she was afraid of, if she didn’t explain why she felt like she didn’t even have the right to be there. So, the adult did try to help but she just managed to help mess things up more. Both the teen and the adult feel as if the adult must be more broken, more crazy, more screwed up than either of them or the therapist thought. The end result is the teen doesn’t trust the adult, and the adult doesn’t want to help, anyway.)
I think it’s great that you just clarified how the adult helped—that’s really awesome to acknowledge. I need to look more at that email—and can we talk about that in session tomorrow? That might be the best place to start tomorrow if it’s okay with you?
I don’t know. We can try. Maybe. You know that distance feels safer. As much as I don’t want to be alone, it feels safer to be alone when I feel hurt or upset. I’m not even sure that makes sense. But yes, we can try. I’ll hide and you can talk and I’ll try to talk.
I feel a need to set boundaries with the distortions because I don’t want to reinforce them. That would be very unhelpful!
I guess this just doesn’t ring true for me right now, for this instance. I was, in my mind at least, hoping you would correct them, hoping you would reassure that “no, those things aren’t true, I’m sorry you ‘heard’ that and felt that, but they aren’t true. I don’t think those things at all.” Or whatever. I think there must be a way to not reinforce distortions that doesn’t involve choosing to ignore the emotion piece. Ironically, it was the very ignoring of the emotion piece that made the distortions, well, bigger….to my way of thinking, if you weren’t acknowledging those things to say “this isn’t true”, then they must be true. It was the ignoring of the feelings and distortions that caused them to become this huge thing that had to be true. And yes, at that point, those distortions couldn’t have been easily, if at all, reasoned with.
When a person is in emotion mind having the distortions pointed out is only going to cause a huge rage—pouring gas on the fire, so to speak.
But what caused the rage was feeling ignored and unseen and unheard. What caused the rage was trusting you and feeling abandoned again.
I think this is a generalization about emotion mind. Really, pointing out and reassuring and helping is less likely to pour gas on the fire than ignoring the feelings. Ignoring the feelings pours gas on the fire everytime. Even saying that the feelings make sense given what was heard, but that things are being twisted and asking if I’m aware of that, would be better than ignoring the feelings. Or however you would approach it. But I genuinely believe that a real response to my first email, and responding to my feelings would have been better than the rational reflections. You still could have said that I was distorting things, or that I needed to try change my approach in what I’d written, or whatever you needed to say. Ignoring the feelings is going to trigger me and upset me eveytime. (Maybe that can be changed, but in the meantime, it will trigger me more than telling me I am wrong ever will). I will say that after the first email, anything you said was probably going to upset me and escalate me, aside from maybe going back to what I was seekinf in the first email and reasuring me. It was when you finally said “none of it is what I was trying to say, or anything close to what I thought I said. Or nowhere close to what I think……….I’m sorry that this is what you heard and felt because truly that is awful. We will have to figure out what to do with it—but please know that there is none of the actual me as I know myself in those words you wrote.” There was relief in that, that you didn’t feel those things or think those things, and that hearing what I heard was awful. Of course, the relief and the calm didn’t last long and the next email spun things up again and sent Ms. Perfect into the captain’s seat. But just that, even as out of control as I was feeling, just those sentences of you not feeling that way, and that not being you, was enough to bring a bit of relief, to feel like maybe I could find solid ground again.
In a calmer place and with some distance, however, I think we can talk about them, which I think will be helpful.
You have distance, but I am not sure I do. This is still so painful, and it still hurts so much.
The teen wrote what she emailed, almost word for word in her notebook, using an analogy her therapist had used earlier that day. As her therapist had talked, and said, “I took the boat away, I drove off in the boat and left you in the water, but I’m back with the boat now.” the teen thought, “But it’s not just that you drove the boat away and left me. It’s that I feel like you don’t think I should even be in the boat. It’s that I don’t know if you will leave me in the water again. It’s that I feel like I broke you and you had to leave me in the water and drive off because I’m too much, too crazy, so of course it will happen again because I break people. It’s that on Wednesday I felt like you thought I should be better, or more capable, or not need all this support to function.”
I will admit, I had a hard time empathizing with this. The reason is that it just felt so extreme, and as I said at the time, so uncharacteristic of anything I know about myself or my intentions. I found myself asking, “How does me expressing worries about insurance coverage lead to any of this???”
I think you are looking at this….I don’t know the right word. What you are saying doesn’t really tell the whole story, its sort of a skewed viewpoint. That’s why the other day, when you said your therapist group jumped on the insurance thing, I said it wasn’t fair to have said I got upset because you talked about insurance. That’s not really the whole truth.
Yes, you expressed worries over insurance that day. But that statement would be like me cooking a 5 course gourmet meal and saying “I cooked dinner.” Did I cook dinner? Well, yes….but calling a 5 course gourmet meal dinner is sort of, well, misleading. I think you did express worries about insurance, but it was your anxiety and a very worried part that was expressing those worries. They weren’t expressed in a grounded, calm, controlled way. That worried part used me as an example multiple times, and also spent a lot of time talking about people who deserve therapy or not, and what criteria insurance uses to judge that and how insurance would view me and my therapy. But it wasn’t made extremely clear that this worried part was talking about how insurance views things, at times it seemed like that part was judging and weighing me against the criteria. My therapist wasn’t present that day, from the moment I walked into her office, she didn’t see me. Because of what had recently been being worked on, combined with the triggered state I arrived in, combined with this worried part of my therapist seeming to judge and weigh me against insurance criteria, plus this anxious part of my therapist talking about dropping to once a week (out of the blue, completely unexpected and very jarring) and how there wasn’t really any deeper work left to do combined with this belief that I need too much and break people, and this very new, very tenative trust I (meaning the teen) was starting to have in my therapist, along with my therapist not being present and not seeing me……..all of that would need to be included in the story, and probably your view point of what you said and what made you anxious and how you just couldn’t control that worried part would need to be added to really be the whole story. It really was the perfect storm to form that bad Wednesday. If anyone of those things hadn’t been present, then maybe it never happens.
To me, none of this is even about insurance coverage. You could have been talking about trying a different way of doing therapy, and had the same circumstances and I would have probably been just as triggered. It’s never been about what you were discussing; it’s always been about how you didn’t see me (there was no checking in, no how was your weekend, nothing, just this jarring jump into this anxiety driven place about insurance) and how things were discussed. This will probably make you defensive, but I’m going to say it anyway. You ended my session in tears, telling me you were going to go to the bathroom and try to get your shit together before your next person. I ended my session so far away that I could barely function, and you didn’t see that. It has been a very, very long time since I was so out of my window. I actually texted Abby and told her I was going to be late to school because my appontment was running late. And when I got to school, I still wasn’t present. What I remember most about the rest of that day was everyone asking if I was okay, and two friends checking in on me that evening because I had seemed “off” when they saw me at school. I claimed the weather had given me a migraine and had me feeling off.
Maybe you just can’t empathize in this situatuon. Maybe it is too hurtful to you that I felt like this, and knowing yourself and our relationship, it’s just too hard to understand how I could have felt the way I did. I guess what I would say, is you are thinking about your relationship with the adult and the little girl, and even Ms. Perfect, not the teen. The teen really doesn’t have much of a relationship with you— she has some ruptures that were sort of just set aside because the little girl needed dealing with, and she has that month of working on trust and finally sharing a little with you the week before this rupture. And maybe, what I can say, is imagine this and think about how you would feel in this situation. Last week, you worked on some very hard things, and you are having a lot of worries over being too much. You are also worried that your therapist won’t be herself because it’s been a whole week since you saw her and things were rather intense that week. You spent Monday triggered and had a flashback. You have spent the last two nights having nightmares, and are just generally in this hyper aware triggery scared state. You can’t email your therapist or reach out because you are gripped by this intense fear that you are being too much, and so you are just treading water until Wednesday. You show up on Wednesday, relieved that you didn’t drown, and in desperate need of a container. Only, when you walk into your therapist office, she doesn’t see you. She doesn’t see how triggered you are. She doesn’t see that you are dissociated and struggling. She tells you she just finished reading an email from her therapist and then begins to anxiously talk to you about insurance— in this very nervous, jumpy, jarring sorf of way, like she is trying to sort out her worries. This doesn’t feel like a discussion the two of you are having, this feels like your therapist is anxiously speaking at you, even maybe just voicing all her thoughts aloud. You can’t breathe, or even think. And then your therapist is using you as an example in how insurance companies don’t like long term twice a week therapy. She doesn’t explicitly tell you that she doesn’t agree with them, and while you have always thought she thinks insurance rules are sort of bogus, she is suddenly sounding like maybe she does agree with them. She is saying how you are proof therapy works, because you function so well and she is telling you how you don’t have a lot of twice a week sessions this summer anyway, and so it makes sense to go to once a week, especially because she doesn’t think there is all that much deeper stuff to work on, really there is just this stuff that is being worked on now. She is seeming to get more anxious by the moment, and you can’t handle it. You really needed her today, and she isn’t here. She left you. So you go somewhere far, far away. When session is over, your therapist is crying, and telling you she is going to go to the bathroom to get her shit together, and sort of runs out of the room. You feel awful. You broke her. You did this. And you can’t handle it. In a fog, you leave. A little part of you knows that if your therapist had been present, she would never let you get so out of your window, let alone leave like this, but you can’t be here right now. Everything is broken.
Maybe this wouldn’t upset you, or hurt you or send you spiraling into a dark overwhelmed place. I don’t know. I just thought maybe setting out what happened that Wednesday, from my viewpoint, might be helpful. I don’t really think this is about you as a person, or about your relationship with the little girl or the adult. But what I wrote above….that is my memory, my experience of Wednesday, without adding in my thoughts and what was said or felt brought up or made me feel.
I get that it triggered all of these worries, but here’s where I was expecting some coping resources to kick in, and they didn’t. And I think I was hurt that after all this time you could think those things of me.
The adult honestly wasn’t thinking those things about you, and she did her best with what she had to work with, by encouraging the teen to reach out and share the mess in her head. The adult wouldn’t have been able to do that if she thought bad things about you.
When I reflect on that, I know I had to depersonalize it to find empathy.
So I really was expecting that there were more coping resources there based on how well you’d been functioning over the previous several months. That was why I had those expectations—not because I needed you to have them, but because I genuinely thought they were there. This just turned out to be way too much for them, and it took time for me to get that.
I think all my coping resources were already drained from what we had been working on, combined with being so triggered two days before. There was legitimately nothing there to kick in to help. Also, I think, or rather, the adult knows she can function well because she has support, because she has therapy twice a week, and emailing and can reach out if she needs help. So, no therapy that Monday, plus the trigger, plus the Wednesday mess….it was just too much. All the parts were left unsupported and alone and scared.
Sort of how you try out being firm with a kid to see if they really can handle something, but once you see that the challenge is too big you modify your expectations. For clients to grow, I try to stay on that edge, if that makes sense? I was way off the edge in this instance:(
Later, the teen wrote in her notebook.
The adult, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with all the feelings of abandonment from all the parts (including her own feelings of hurt and disappointment and anxiety over the bad Wednesday and the stress of trying to cope with the triggers and flashbacks and emotions) knew that the teen needed some reassurance and help before things got completely out of control.
So the teen copied her notebook entry into an email and sent it. She wasn’t mad. There was no anger, or rage. Was she probably in emotion mind? Yes. But the emotions were terror of abandonment, and deep. deep sadness. She was heart broken and afraid, and confused, but not mad.
The adult— while admittedly not really on board the ship at all with all the emotion and panic and overwhelm happening— believed that the teen explaining in the email how she felt too vulnerable, that all of this was too much, that she had written this in her notebook (so, messy, raw, unedited), and that this was too painful to talk about face to face (the reason, which was not included is because there was a fear— however irrational— that her therapist would say yes, that is how I feel) was enough to let her therapist know the teen was in a very bad, very frightening place, and was overwhelmed emotionally. The adult thought that the teen signing the email, instead of the email being signed from the adult, was also helpful in showing who was writing, and had thought that would help her therapist to understand where the feelings were coming from.
The teen sent the email and she did her best, in her terrified state, to explain that this was what she felt like, this is what it had sounded like to her (distorted yes, but still the message she heard). She knows that her words did not land with her therapist in the way they sounded and felt in her mind, and she doesn’t really understand why. The teen feels like this vulnerable part (maybe the vulnerable teen?) of her was crying out for reassurance and help, and that cry was misinterpreted as rage.
I want to look at this email again for sure—we need to look at it again together. I realize now that once it felt to me like things were so distorted that I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do, I had reached the point where I had to stop and reflect and wait for clarity—and that’s where the need for boundaries arose. I know we need to revisit this, and we will.
The teen has this theory (before her therapist shared about criticism and her own stuff) that something was triggered in her therapist by the teen’s feelings and words that caused her therapist to view her words as if the teen were pointing her finger and screaming at the therapist. In the teen’s reality, she was hiding in her closet, under a blanket, with her dog and her teddy bear, feeling utterly devastated, alone, and abandoned, just sobbing for her therapist to come back and help her. The teen feels like the therapist didn’t see that she was crying out for help because her therapist wasn’t “her normal self”. The teen really thinks that if her therapist had been in a different state of mind, then she would have read her email as it was meant. The teen has read all the emails from the rupture, and she feels a difference in the way her emails sound. The first email sounds and feels scared and anxious and defensive. The following emails sound angry— this amount of anger that scares the teen, if she’s honest. She doesn’t like that she has all that anger in her. The emails after the rageful ones sound numb, detached, polite, cold, appropriate—totally Ms. Perfect’s voice.
I’m sure it did touch some of my stuff—absolutely. I think I’ve sorted through that. I know by the time it got to the “boundaries” emails I felt pretty clear about things. I’m not sure that I would have read the teen’s email as the teen intended—let’s look more at that too!
Maybe between it touching some of your stuff and coming right off of this major anxiety and worry about insurance and you expecting more coping resources to be present, it made it impossible to even have a chance of reading the teen’s email and seeing where she was and how much she needed help. I don’t know. I’m not saying that I didn’t screw up, or that I couldn’t have expressed myself better, but I was so far past capacity to even be able to say, “Hey Bea, I know I twist things and get confused and right now I’m feeling X, Y, Z because of Wednesday.” I literally had nothing left in me to cope.
The teen is still so hurt. She feels like she was abandoned twice; once on the Wednesday, and then again after reassurance that her therapist was back, and that it was okay to talk to her therapist about the therapist. On the verge of spinning out, and with the adult’s insistence it would be okay because the therapist had said she was back, the teen took a risk. Sometimes the teen thinks this can’t be fixed. She’s just not sure that talking to her therapist about her therapist is ever going to be okay. Her therapist asked the teen if she felt like the therapist gets defensive, and the teen couldn’t really answer, but the word she used was “defended” when she wrote about this in her notebook. The teen wonders if she should just let this go, or if she can’t let it go if it would be easier and better all around for everyone involved if she tried to talk to Kay or Hubby about this rupture. She’s even had the thought that she needs to find a therapist to deal with her relationship with her therapist, because she doesn’t know what else to do and she wants everything to be okay again. She doesn’t want a different therapist, she just wants her therapist, but she also needs to talk about this and work through it, to process it, and it doesn’t feel safe or okay to do so with her therapist. The teen doesn’t think this is all, or even mostly because of her therapist, she’s pretty sure that most of the feeling it’s not safe is because of her past. This is scary and hard for her, and the idea that this will be okay one day feels like a fairytale. She wishes it could be true, but she can’t believe it, no matter how much she wants to.
I hope we can make some progress in the way the teen feels about things. I think going through the emails and sharing what was meant and what the reactions were/are could be really useful. I hope that feels like it would be possible face to face?
I dont know right now. I can try. I’m really, really scared. But I can try.
I put the original email below, in green. I didn’t copy anything else, though.
And that’s it. It’s pretty much the whole of the stuck thing. I am definitely, 100% sure that emailing this is a bad idea. I feel like I have no good choices left….I can box it up and pretend it away, or I can share it and blow everything up. I am once again hiding in my closet, hugging my dog and my teddy bear, hiding under a blanket. I’m scared. I am very, very scared and vulnerable feeling.
I don’t know—I think emailing this was a good idea:). And it was very brave!
The (original) email ——— (I’ll bold it)
I feel like this is a very big risk, like I’m taking a scary chance by sending an email, but I can’t do this in your office. It’s too much. It’s so….what I wrote, how I feel, I’m too vulnerable. I feel like a turtle who lost her shell. And I’m scared.
I wrote this in my notebook, but then….well, I’m not sure I can deal with this one face to face. Because it’s….painful. And I’m so afraid for so many reasons that this is going to make things worse. I don’t want to upset you, I don’t want to break things further. I don’t want you to read my words and get all shrinky. I don’t want my words to make you feel bad. I don’t want you to read them, and then be mad with me for feeling like this. I don’t want to end up in a worse place. I just don’t know.
I should have said—
On Wednesday……….You said, you sounded like, it felt like you thought I didn’t really need to be here anymore, like I wasn’t deserving of therapy, should not need to be here twice a week, like you should not have to deal with me twice a week anymore, like you believe there is nothing major left to do, like whatever is left is not enough to warrant being here twice a week, to take up that much of your time.
You didn’t just take the boat away, you made it sound, you made it feel as if I deserved to have to boat taken away.
You took the boat away and made it feel like I shouldn’t even be in the boat, and that makes all of this impossible.
It’s impossible because I can’t schedule appointments to make things twice a week when I feel like that is needing too much, when I feel like you don’t think I should need to be here at all.
It makes it impossible to talk to you. To trust that you even want to hear what I’m saying, and to trust that you won’t decide the boat got too heavy when I let all the crud out of my bag and take the boat away again.
It makes me so angry because I’m left on my own, treading water. And sure, okay, I can tread water really good for a long time, maybe even forever, but I don’t always make safe choices when I’m alone treading water. It’s not easy, I don’t go on really living and being present in my life, I don’t function well when all my energy and time and brain power are being used to tread water.
You see this all as one tiny part of the whole, but to me, it is the whole. Or maybe more like Wednesday broke the whole, and this is all that is left. And I don’t want to make it worse. What I’m saying feels like it will make things worse. It feels like Wednesday broke us because I broke you. Just call it wrecking ball Wednesday.
And then, as I got ready for bed, a thought struck me.
I had this thought, and I guess I just wanted to tell it to you. Which is sort of…not regular for me. But it hit me all of a sudden, you really do want to work through this and help me be okay again. That’s why you are doing this, the emailing and the talking and the waiting and not pushing and letting me take my time with talking about the stuck stuff. You really do want to be an anchor for me, even after all the raging. You aren’t gone, and you are making a point to work through this again, and you aren’t mad at me that we have to keep talking about this or that I’m still struggling to trust you again and just be okay. You aren’t angry that I can’t just let this go and agree with you. I don’t think you would even want me to pretend it away and and agree with you, even though that might make things easier for you. This isn’t easy for you, or comfortable for you, but you are doing it anyways because it matters to me, because I still feel hurt and pain over it and you don’t want me to keep feeling like this. Or, maybe I’m just being crazy, but I just, I don’t know, I guess the way you keep responding and being there and actually listening, like you want to hear what I have to say, even if it isn’t all rainbows and sunshines and unicorns, and I think you are listening to listen, not to appease me to make me be quiet or because you have to listen so you can prove you are right and I am wrong. You aren’t leaving because I wasn’t perfect and you don’t even prefer Ms. Perfect to me. This is new. A new thing for me. It’s not easy. It’s scary. New is scary. But it is new and different.
I guess I just wanted you to know this because I think you have been trying really hard to show me it’s okay to talk to you, that you aren’t leaving and that all my twisted thoughts are just that— dark and twisty thoughts that are not true. And I guess something sort of clicked in my crazy head and I get it, I feel it. I believe it (at least in this moment). You are here.
So, I’ll send this (and it took me almost 40 minutes to decide that yes, I should send it), but you know, two seconds after I send it I will feel vulnerable and mad at myself for telling you that you maybe matter to me and that I maybe am trusting you again. I’ll hate that I made this a thing, and I’ll hate that I told you this was new, something different and I’ll be embarrassed that I took another step closer to the halfway point of this dark cave I likeso much. The teen 👩🏻🚒👱🏻♀️