What enactment means to me and Bea

I read the 2 pages that covered enactments in the SP book, and I freaked out. I spent an hour googling and reading about enactment. I managed to calm myself down by reminding myself that I was the one who had seen the parallel between my mom’s behavior and Bea’s behavior during the spring rupture. I reminded myself that I brought it up, and that even though we had talked a bit about it, Bea had stayed present and connected, not shrinky. Then, I freaked out again about the whole maternal transference thing, googled that. Eventually, I realized what I wanted was to find some story about someone who felt like me. I wanted to read about transference and enactments from the client point of view. All the articles and medical papers, therapy books, those weren’t helping me. So, I came here and I asked you all. And I got great comments. I finally felt like I was okay, not crazy, and not alone. So much of my struggle with this stuff isn’t the….well, I guess the enactment in and of itself. Its the labeling, the clinical feel, the fear that labeling makes none of this real, the shame that comes with that. And you guys get it in a way no one else does. (Somebody really needs to write an educational book about this stuff from the client view point.)

I read your comments and I did a lot of thinking, and writing. It wasn’t easy, because the teen was hurting and pissed off about the whole thing, and wanting to avoid all the awful feelings coming up while at the same time wanting to make sense of it all and understand the feelings, the why of it and the reason all these defensive feelings come up.

I finally decided that I understood enactment to be this: Enactment happened because something in some part of me (or (and) Bea) got triggered by similarities between the past and the present in the relationship. Basically, I got so upset and rage-full because what hurt me in the present (spring 2018) was a similar hurt from the past (my mom).

I emailed Bea, just trying to make sense of it all, and we wrote back and forth a bit. I asked her why, even if I can understand what enactment is, can see it, then why does it hurt and upset me so much? Why am I so afraid of you calling something an enactment or transference or whatever other shrinky thing? Why is it so triggering to discuss this that I have to go far away to even think of talking about it? She offered up some ideas, and nothing really hit home.

Restless, I tried distracting myself. When that didn’t work, I got out pen and paper and wrote. I decided to just allow the teen to write whatever she was feeling or thinking. I didn’t censor anything, and I didn’t let Ms. Perfect censor the teen, either. And so much came out. It wasn’t a lot of writing, but it was so much. I knew I had to give it to Bea. I emailed Bea and told her the teen had important writing to give her, and asked her to please not let me avoid it, because I was scared but it needed to be talked about, and I would be upset if we didn’t talk about it.

Wednesday, when I get to Bea’s office, I feel sick. Bea doesn’t waste anytime, either. Once I sit down and get settled she says, “I’m really curious to read what the teen wrote. Would she still like to share it?”

Instantly, I’m gone. I’m so far away, I don’t answer, I don’t hide my face, I don’t do anything but freeze.

Eventually, I realize Bea is speaking. “Alice. Alice you are too far away. That really triggered something, didn’t it? The teen needs to know she doesn’t have to share anything she’s not ready for. We can wait. I’m not in any kind of hurry. We can wait until after the holidays. Okay?”

That’s enough to pull me back a little bit. “No. No, this can’t wait. If I wait, it will….It just can’t wait. It’s just hard. Because….I don’t want you to think I’m being awful again.”

“How about this? How about if I read it knowing that you were unfiltered and raw, and just writing how you feel?”

“Okay. Okay, because I’m not blaming you or being upset with you or anything like that. Okay? I don’t want you to…..just please, please don’t leave.” I whisper.

“I’m not leaving. I’m right here, and whatever you wrote isn’t going to send me away.” Bea sounds certain, and strong and so very here.

I hand her a folded sheet of notebook paper. The teen didn’t write in my notebook in case she didn’t want Bea to see it. As Bea takes it from me she asks, “Do you want your blanket?” I nod my head yes, and she gets it for me.

I cover my legs with the fleece blanket. I have cloud pillow on my lap, hugged to me. My hands are clenched, holding on to pieces of the blanket.

“Are you here enough?” Bea asks.

I’m not sure. I probably should tell her no, but instead I say, “Maybe.”

Bea smiles at that and shakes her head a little. It’s a gesture adult Alice makes often with Kat; that sort of knowing who Kat is and maybe being a bit exasperated by it but also just, well, loving who she is and being so glad that she is able to be authentic. It feels real, that smile and head shake and I sit in that feeling, that Bea is here and she is herself.

Bea doublechecks it’s okay to read, and when I give the go ahead, she opens the sheet of paper.

Enactment means the relationship is not real. It means that the hurt in the present is not real. It means that you didn’t do anything to hurt my feelings and I’m just crazy. It means that I screwed up. It means that I can’t trust my feelings. It means that I am bad, that I didn’t behave appropriately and it means that I really am a drama queen who overreacts and is over sensitive about everything. It means that all my feelings, worries, hurts, thoughts, all of it can be dismissed or ignored because it’s not real anyway. It means it’s all my fault and it means that you don’t have to deal with me because it’s my issue and so I’ll be stuck dealing with it all alone. It means that I’m exposed and vulnerable and all the hurt in the past is all dug up and there’s no one to help me with it and I can’t do it. It means that you don’t care, that I’m just something to be dealt with because none of it has anything to do with you anyway. It means I’m dumb for not realizing what was going on and you just get to presume to know and see everything because you did see what was going on! It means I somehow screwed up AGAIN and overreacted AGAIN. It means that you WILL leave me. Because why would you want to deal with a mean drama queen teen who is blaming you for things you never did? Why would you stay and try to help someone who won’t trust you because of something you didn’t even do?

It feels like a very, very long time before she’s done reading. It’s excruciating sitting there, feeling so vulnerable and exposed.

“This sounds so painful. It sounds horrible, and it’s no wonder enactment and all the shrinky things are so triggering. If this is what they feel like, of course it’s going to be awful for you to have me talk about this stuff.” Bea’s words offer me some sense of safety. She’s here, she’s not ignoring me, or yelling at me for overreacting. She’s not mad and she’s not gone.

I want to tell her I’m so thankful she sees it, that she is able to see why this is such a terrible topic. I don’t, though. Instead, I bury my face in cloud pillow.

“Does it feel to you like if we talk about enactment, that I am hiding behind this therapist wall? I get the sense that the shrinky stuff really feels like a wall between us to you. Maybe even like we are separated in different rooms and only I have a viewing window to observe you.”

“It is a wall.” I didn’t think I was whispering, but my voice is so quiet, so tiny. I don’t think I can speak any louder, though.

“Yeah, it really feels like a wall to you. I wonder if I can explain how I experience it?”

“That would be okay, I think.” I’m hesitant because I don’t want her to get shrinky.

“It’s not shrinky, okay? Just me,” she reassures me, almost like she read my mind. “I see it as….you and I are surrounded by the walls of enactment. We are in the center, we are in it together. I have to be able to see the when the walls are up and around us, but I’m right there with you.”

“Not separate?”

“No, not at all. It’s like this….did you ever spin in circles when you were s kid?”

“Yeah.” I nod my head.

“So while you are spinning in circles, it is very hard to watch where you are going, right? It’s my job to watch where you are going. I’m right there, standing right next to you in the middle of the room while you spin, but I can’t start spinning, too, otherwise you could bump your head, or I could even crash into you. And I don’t want either of those things to happen to you. That’s why I wouldn’t want to put a wall between us, because then I can’t block you from bumping your head. But I also can’t spin with you because then I could hurt you. Does that make sense?”

I think about what she just said. It actually does make sense. It’s weird, but it makes sense to me. “It does.” I think some more, and then I ask, “So you don’t want to get away from me?”

“No. Not at all. I know sometimes it really feels like I don’t care, but I do care. I care very, very much. You matter to me, and it matters to me that you are safe.” She sounds….serious. “I’m real, and our relationship is real. The feelings are real. I want to make sure you know that.”

“I really need you to be real.” I pull the blanket to my face as I say the words, and then I slowly peek out at her.

“I know you do. And I am,” she says softly.

We sit in silence for a moment, and then she says, “You aren’t dumb. None of us are aware of it when we are reacting to our past, until…well, until we are aware of it. I don’t know more about you than you know. I really don’t presume to know everything, not by a long shot. But I have to be able to see when the walls are up around us. It’s the same as when you can see that hubby is getting defensive or upset over something that doesn’t really have to do with you. He can’t see it, but you can. And I bet now that you have seen this mom transference and enactment so clearly, I bet that you will notice the next time you are reacting to someone as if you expect them to treat you like your mom did.”

“I still don’t like the shrinky words.” I know, I know, it’s semantics, but it just brings up so much negative feeling.

“Well, what if we said the situation was paralleling one from the past? Or we could say that the past was triggered. We could even just say that the walls are up.” Bea doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that once again, I am asking her to find different words.

“Those are all okay. A lot better, actually,” I tell her.

We laugh about how we have created this language that is all our own. Bea tells me a funny story about how she called something too shrinky in her SP consultation group. “Another therapist in the group was having trouble understanding why one of her clients would get so upset when she would sort of step back and get more logical, rational. I immediately thought, ‘it’s because you are being too shrinky’. Of course, then I had to explain about shrinky. I find myself using you as an example to help other therapists in my group understand why their people don’t like something the therapist is doing.”

“Really?” I ask, surprised.

“Yes, really. You have taught me a lot. This goes both ways, you know.”

I nod my head. “I guess so.” I don’t really think……I guess I don’t think about me mattering enough to have any impact on Bea. I like the fact that maybe I have helped her see some things she maybe wouldn’t have seen, and that she can use that to help other therapists not be shrinky.

“I know we talked before, a long time ago about all the shrinky stuff like transference, but this time it feels better.” I feel shy, telling her this, but I want her to know.

“I’m really glad. It feels better to me, too.”

“Bea?”

“Yeah?”

“I was looking through emails last night trying to find the ones where we talked about transference. I couldn’t find them but I….I saw how…..well, the little girl emailed you a lot. Like every other day was the most time between emails…..just to ask if you were there, to make sure you weren’t leaving…..I just….” I trail off, uncertain what it is I want to say.

“Did that surprise you?”

“Well….yeah. I mean, I know she emailed you more than me (the teen) and I know the little girl is more…..she’s better at reaching……but I didn’t know she wrote that much. And you answered. Every time you answered that you were still there.”

“I did, yes. I hope you know you can email, too. It’s okay if you need to.” I swear, I can hear all the care in her voice. I do matter to her.

“I just…..I feel like I should apologize for that. I mean, it was like the first two years, everyday, emailing to see if you were still there. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no sorry. I wasn’t bothered by it, and you― the little girl― needed that reassurance to feel safe. I knew when I made the offer of emailing when you needed to that that could mean multiple emails between appointments. I was okay with that.”

I think about it. Bea might respond a little differently to the little girl than to the teen, but she’s still always Bea. The difference is that for the little girl, a short *I’m here* email was enough, even if she had written a lot. The teen finds danger in not having her words directly responded to. The little girl just wanted the reassurance that Bea had not left her or forgotten about her. The teen needs to know that she isn’t being ignored or dismissed and she frequently approaches situations with the assumption that she is being ignored, that the other person isn’t really there and the other person needs to prove they are there and that they do see her and can handle her.

“I’m glad you were…..that it was okay with you.” I hide my face again, embarrassed.

“It’s always okay with me,” she says. “Speaking of, we are going to have to stop in a few minutes, but I want to make sure all the parts have what they need, that they are okay.”

“They are. I feel okay. I’m glad we talked about shrinky things. I was afraid it could go really wrong and that would be awful right before a break, but it didn’t go bad and I feel better. I think I get it now.”

“Okay. If the any of the parts do need to reach out, they can. I plan on doing a lot of lounging and eating cookies. I can lounge and eat cookies and respond to emails.” She sounds so cheerful.

“Okay,” I tell her.

We spend a few more minutes talking about Christmas, and I share some Grandma and Grandpa stories. It feels good to talk about them, and grounding to end the last therapy session of the year like this.

We say Merry Christmas and I head out the door. Even with a two week break, I feel okay. I know Bea is still there, even if I’m not seeing her twice a week, and she will be there when the break is over. I trust that she won’t forget about me, and I can see her lounging with a good book, a mocha and cookies. And I believe her that she will be there if I need her. I’m okay.

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All the shrinky things

All the shrinky things keeps popping up in my life. In my last post, I asked some questions about enactment, transference, how you all felt about those concepts, those words, how you deal with it, how you experience it. And I am so grateful for all the responses I received. They helped immensely when I sat down to write in my notebook, and when I talked with Bea.

I want so badly to tell you all about Wednesday’s session, but first I think that I need to back up…..

Therapy has been all about the teen lately. A lot of it has been trying to build a relationship, trust, between Bea and the teen. The teen is so suspicious of everything. A few weeks ago, as the teen and Bea talked, Bea asked if there was any part of the teen that maybe wanted to be seen, to have connection? I couldn’t answer that when she asked it. Later, though, I sorted some thoughts out, and the next session, we talked about it.

“I know we said there were two teen parts, but that’s not right,” I tell Bea cautiously. I’m always afraid that she is going to tell I’m wrong.

“Can you say more about that? About what does feel right?” She has that bright curious tone in her voice. She really does want to know.

“Well….I just….what if you think I’m wrong?” I hide behind a pillow as I ask her this.

“Well, I don’t really think anything, except that you are the only one who knows how your parts are organized. I may have guesses, but even then, I don’t have an idea of *this is how Alice’s parts are*. But I would like to know, to understand,” she says, kindly.

“Okay. Okay. Well….I think……no, I know, there is one teen part. It’s all one part. Its just like….there are, maybe pieces of her….not really enough to be a part, but also they are separate in some ways. I don’t know.” I mumble my way through this, feeling dumb.

“That makes sense. Really good sense, actually.”

“It does?” I ask, surprised.

“Yes, it does. Can you tell me about the pieces?”

I nod, still hiding behind the pillow. I have my blanket covering my legs, so I can hide under it if I need to. “There’s the vulnerable piece. That’s the piece that is afraid of you leaving. There’s the shame piece, and that’s the piece that just feels….well, shameful for even existing, and shameful for needing anything, or for being, well, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. And the angry piece. The angry piece of the teen was the one running things this spring. But they are all the teen, all one.”

“That makes a lot of sense to me,” Bea tells me.

“I do want……the teen does want….connection. I just…..before, we tried and it was just this…..it all blew up. I screwed up. I can’t….I won’t be able to….” I cannot finish my sentence. Shame washes over me, and I have no words left.

“You won’t be able to what?” Bea prompts.

“I can’t answer that right now. I just don’t want to get mad again. I don’t want to be mad and have you leave.” I yank the turquoise blanket over my head.

“I’m not worried about that,” Bea assures me.

“Why?”

“Well, because I know that mad wasn’t about me. Anytime there’s an overreaction like that, it means that one of our issues has been triggered.” Her answer is simple, and her voice is straightforward. There’s no blame, no anger, no distancing in her tone, but I shut down anyway.

Devastated. I feel devastated. I thought we had agreed it was about both of us, that it was both of us who messed up, and that it wasn’t just all about me and my past. What happened? Did she just agree with me so we could repair the rupture before her trip? Did she trick me into believing her? I can’t believe she is saying I overreacted. I can’t do this.

I stayed far away and shut down the rest of our time. Bea tried to get me to talk, but I couldn’t be present enough to get any words out. In the end, she told me to email or call if I wanted to talk before we met again.

I don’t reach out, but by the next appointment, I have lots and lots of writing for her to read. Bea reads, and responds as she reads. I hide under my blanket, and squeeze cloud pillow.

*I thought we agreed the rupture was about both of us. I thought we agreed that we both made mistakes.*

“The rupture in the spring was about both of us, we do agree about that,” she says gently.

“Then why did you say that?” The words burst out of me.

“Can you tell me what I said?” She asks.

“You said that the mad feelings weren’t about you, that was why you weren’t worried about my mad making you leave, because it had nothing to do with you! And you said I overreacted!”

“Oh…..okay.” Bea takes a deep breath. “I wasn’t speaking about you directly when I brought up overreacting. I’m sorry you heard it that way. I wasn’t trying to personalize it, not at all. I just meant that in general, when people have overreactions, it usually means something from their past has been triggered. For me, it’s usually emotional overreaction, or it means me getting very defensive. Those overreactions aren’t solely directed at the person or event that caused them. It helps me to see that, so I don’t react badly. That’s all I was saying. I wasn’t pointing a finger at any part of you.”

Shame, blame, and hurt all flood me. I don’t say anything.

After a while, Bea asks if she should keep reading and I tell her that she can.

*I thought we agreed that my reaction to the awful Monday was very big and that you experienced it as very out of proportion because you expected the adult to be on board and to help control things, to function and cope as well as she had been but that in reality there was no adult on board and hadn’t been for several days, it was just me on board and I didn’t have a really secure relationship with you, just this very new, fragile, tentative, sort of testing out trusting you thing, and with that context the big reaction and big hurt made more sense. Lashing out, being mean, none of that was acceptable and there were better ways to express myself and tell you I needed help and was really hurt and scared, but put into context it you could understand why I had all the big scared feelings on the bad Monday.*

“I agree with all of this, about the adult not being on board and that your reaction made a lot more sense to me once I knew that.” She says.

“Because I failed,” I say, tears streaming down my face now.

“What do you mean you failed?”

“I….I screwed up. I failed and I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want that to happen again.” I sob.

“How do you think you failed?” Bea asks gently.

“Because…….you…..expectations. I can’t meet them. I’m not good enough.”

Bea doesn’t respond right away, and when she does, she sound sad. “My expectations were, well, they were more about how things had been going, not about me needing you to meet certain expectations. It was an assumption I made, a wrong assumption that the adult had been doing such a great job using her coping skills, I assumed she was on board and those coping skills would kick in. I shouldn’t have made that assumption. I was wrong.”

“You said you had to lower your expectations. I failed.” I’m wailing and whining now, but I can’t stop myself. This hurts.

“Yeah,” she says sympathetically. “I hurt your feelings really badly, and I’m sorry. This is painful. What I should have said was I had to adjust my assumptions, that I had gotten used to the adult being on board and using all her tools to cope and function. I needed to adjust because it wasn’t the adult on board, was it? It was you― the teen. And you are at a different place than the adult. Does that make sense?”

“Maybe. Maybe.” I’m a little calmer, but then I think of something awful, and the wailing starts up again. “What if I can’t meet your expectations this time?”

“This time, I can honestly say that I have no expectations beyond you just continuing to keep working on this stuff. I’m still getting to know this part, and you are still getting to know and trust me. Right?”

“Okay. Okay. Maybe.” I sigh. “I’m still worried. And scared.”

“That’s all right. It’s okay to feel like that, we’ll keep talking about it and just take things slow. There’s no rush.” Her voice is sincere. She means it. I feel calmer with her words.

Later, at home, I start to think about overreactions. I think about it a lot and when I sit down to write, hundreds, thousands of words pour out of me onto the paper. When I finish, I can’t believe I’ve written this, and I am filled with fear and shame and anxiety. But I take it with me to therapy, anyway.

When I arrive, Bea greets me and tells me she has something she wants to share with me from the SP book. Inwardly, I groan. I need her to not be shrinky today. Everything I have written could turn really shrinky and and I need that not to happen.

“What is it?” I ask quietly as I sit down.

“I’d read it before, but it seems so fitting right now. There’s a whole section about enactments and overreactions. It’s nothing bad, nothing scary,” she says as I hide my face with cloud pillow.

“I think maybe you should read my notebook first. It might….well, I just….it might sort of go together,” I tell her quietly.

She suggests that maybe the SP pages might give some context, and so I agree that we can look at those first. I don’t want to, but I also can’t give her my notebook when she feels so disconnected from me.

Bea pauses for a minute. “Do you want to look at the SP thing, or do you want me to read your book first?”

I shrug. “I don’t care. Whatever seems best to you.” I sound far away, and almost robotic.

Bea notices, and just like that she is back to being Bea. “I sort of think you agreed to reading the SP pages because I wanted to read them. It feels to me like you might have some important things written down that you really want to look at today.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I can’t un-disconnect myself.

“I think we should work with your notebook first. That feels important.” She says softly.

I get my book out of my bag, but then I can’t hand it over.

“Alice, how far away are you right now?”

“Far….sort of far.”

“Okay. Okay. Maybe it felt a little scary to have me bring up SP?”

“I don’t know. I just….I don’t want you to be shrinky. Okay? Because…..it could….you could go….” I trail off.

“I’m here, and I’m not shrinky. I can see how hard this is for you. I’m sure me bringing up SP stuff right away this morning didn’t help with that. But I am here with you.” Bea’s words comfort me. It feels like she sees the problem and is here.

I flip through my book, scanning the pages I had written. “This shouldn’t be so hard.”

“It is hard. This work is hard. It’s hard to let someone in, especially when we already feel vulnerable. It’s hard.”

“Okay,” I breathe, “Okay.” And I hand my notebook over.

First, I don’t like that word. Overreaction. It feels bad. It brings up all the other words my mom like to use..,.drama queen, over sensitive. It feels the same. Overreaction makes me feel blame and shame for not being perfect, for feeling what I feel, for not being able to ignore my feelings and behave. My mother’s favorite thing to tell me, anytime I was emotional. “Don’t be a drama queen.” “Oh, Alice, she just always has to be the drama queen.” Even jokingly, said in a playful tone, “Oh! She’s our little drama queen!” Or, “Alice has always tended towards the dramatic.” That’s the first thing, it’s hard to even get past that word, the blame and shame and the feelings that word means, that I should not feel how I felt, that I am out of line.

Bea stops reading, and starts to speak. I stop her before she can form the words. “Just read all of it please. Just read it all first.”

“Okay. I can do that.” Her voice is soft, reassuring.

I would have said, even a week ago, I would have said that my reaction to that bad Monday (which actually was a Wednesday but was the first appointment that week) was not an overreaction. I would have agreed that everything later was, but not that day. I would have argued that showing up to therapy, triggered and vulnerable and needing you to be there, and you not being there was awful and that my reaction was in line with that. I would have argued that having a therapy session ―when I really needed you― and me not even needing to be there, because rationally, logically, that session was not about me. It was you, processing insurance stuff, and the email you had just read, and trying to figure out how to handle the insurance stuff, but initially, it was not about me, I didn’t need to be there.

I’m probably saying this wrong and I will probably be in trouble for being blaming, but please, just keep reading. I’m not blaming.

I would have argued that my reaction to that, my fears that I had needed too much and broken you, my hurt that you weren’t there, my fear that you were looking for a way to get rid of me, was not an overreaction. I still hate that word. But maybe it was. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and maybe I did overreact.

Maybe it’s more fair to say that I wasn’t reacting just to that day. Don’t get shrinky here, okay? Because it was about you in some ways. Even if the events that day hadn’t been extremely triggering, I still would have been hurt, and there would have been mistrust and fear. But I don’t think as much.

That whole day parallels the way my mom reacted over and over and over to me. I’d go to her, panicked or sad or mad or whatever, with all these feelings and no idea how to handle them, just drowning in them, and she would just check out. It was terrifying, to be left so alone with everything. She’d be there, right next to me, but not there, talking and talking and talking about something that had nothing to do with me, she could have been talking to anyone. And if I even dared to get upset or mad about that, she would accuse me of being a drama queen. She would blame me, “Don’t be such a drama queen. Life isn’t that hard.” If I didn’t stop my behavior, if I didn’t straighten up my act then, there would be the silent treatment until I did. Ms. Perfect would take over and fix everything. Things would go on as if nothing had ever happened.

It seems so clear now, how much that day parallels my Mom’s actions. I wouldn’t have been so upset and hurt if I hadn’t experienced that over and over and over. Me showing up distressed, and emotional, you not being present. Me getting upset and you not understanding why because all you could see was that you were just talking about insurance. Me freaking out and being angry, and you choosing to ignore my rage. Ms. Perfect finally taking over.

But what happened with you is different. Because you came back. That was hard to trust for a long time, because that was new. And you wanted to talk about what happened and hear what I really had to say. That was new, too.

I’m afraid to tell you all this, because I don’t want shrinky Bea. But I think this has to be worked through before anything else. Even little things, like when I tell you I am sure that my feeling ABC is silly, that’s my way of preempting the drama queen accusations I still expect to hear. All the uncertainty around you being able to handle my stuff and really be there, that is from this mom stuff. So. That’s it, that’s all of it. And I’m sorry for all of it.

Bea sets my book down on her lap, and lets out a deep breath. “I don’t like that word anymore, either. Overreaction is not a good word, and I am cringing that I used it. I am so sorry that you felt blame when I used it. I think a better thing to have said would be to call it disproportionate.”

“That still feels bad,” I whisper.

“Yeah. I get that. Can I say something? Remind you of something?” She asks.

“Okay.”

“I did mess up. Your feelings were, and are valid. I hurt your feelings, and you were really scared. Just because my misattunement brought up all the feelings you had every time your mom checked out and left you alone with your emotions, that doesn’t make your hurt over my actions less real. It’s an and, not an or. Does that make sense?” Bea asks.

I nod, and then realizing she can’t see me because I’m hiding under my blanket, say, “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”

“It was really scary for you to feel so alone, with me and with your mom.” Bea says quietly. “I can see how my actions mirrored hers, almost perfectly. Even my first attempt at setting a boundary, at not reinforcing the distortions……in my attempt to not reinforce those beliefs, and my worry over behaving like your mother, I did just that.”

“But we figured it out. And you won’t ignore me anymore.” I whisper.

“No, no I won’t, not as a choice. I know that wasn’t a helpful boundary for you. But I can’t promise that I won’t have days where I’m misattuned. I hope though, that if you are feeling ignored, you will be able to tell me that.”

“Maybe. I’ll try.” I can’t promise that I will, because I can so easily fall into the dark and twisty place when I feel ignored and left alone. But I can try.

“Good. That’s good.” She says.

“Bea?”

“Yeah? I’m here.”

“I’m so sorry I behaved so badly.” I’m sobbing now, as guilt and shame and grief threaten to pull me under.

“I don’t think that’s fair to say. You reacted. You were scared. I know that.”

“I was awful. I’m terrible, I’m so, so sorry. It wasn’t fair and I’m mean and bad and awful and I am so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it.” I can’t stop. I’m on a rollercoaster going downhill and I can’t stop the tears or the pain at looking at my behavior. I was terrible. I treated her terribly.

“You are not mean. You said some mean things, that does not make you mean. You are not bad, or awful, or anything else. You reacted emotionally, and yes, it was disproportionate, but it was real and I did hurt you. I can hold that, and at the same time know that all the rage and mean wasn’t about me. That’s what I was trying to explain the other day. It’s okay. We are okay, and you are okay. All right?” She’s stern now, kind but stern. She needs me to hear her.

“I’m still sorry.” I say the words through my tears.

Bea murmurs soothing things until I start to calm down. Then Bea wonders if different parts had a different relationship with my mom.

We talk about the parts and their relationships with my Mom. The little girl loves her mom, and just became who she needed to be to be loved. She just locked away all the questions she had about not being protected and not be good enough to be herself. There’s grief there, sometimes, but overall, the little girl knows it wasn’t about her, it was about her mom’s inability to cope, and she just holds all the good parts of her mom and none of the blame or shame of not being good enough. The adult is able to have this easy, on the surface friendship with her mom. She knows her mom’s flaws, and can even accept them. She doesn’t expect emotional support, or even authenticity or depth from her mom, but she likes chatting with her and hanging out.

The teen’s relationship however, is a mess. As I try to describe it, Bea says, “That’s part of where this push pull dynamic comes from. The teen’s…..probably even really once you were a preteen….all teens have big emotions, and confusing feelings and thoughts, but the Kenny stuff, the abuse added to that, and all teens start to separate from their parents, but it was maybe harder for you, because the teen didn’t really have that secure base, she didn’t have that soft place to land as she went out and explored. And teens need that. They need someone who is bigger, stronger, and wiser that can let them go, and yet still be there. Teens need to push boundaries and question things, and they need a safe person to be able to do that. They need a safe grownup to turn to and they need to be seen. You really needed to be seen, because so much of you was hidden for so long. All teens feel this sort of self conscious shame at times, but your shame was so much bigger and all encompassing, partly from the abuse, and I think, too, from not being seen. That’s how we beat shame, by being seen.” Bea is doing that thinking out loud thing again, but it’s okay, because she gets it. She gets how I feel, why the teen’s relationship with her mom is such a mess, and why that makes it so hard to just trust Bea to be safe. As she’s talking, I can see exactly why the teen part of me feels the way she does and acts out the way she does. All those “borderline traits” make sense.

When it’s time to go, I realize we hadn’t read Bea’s SP thing.

“We can always look at it next time if you want to,” she assures me. “This was much more important.”

“I could read it. I do have the book.”

“That’s right, I keep forgetting that. I’ll write down the page numbers for you, okay?” She offers.

“Okay. Thanks,” I say.

When I leave therapy, I feel pretty grounded. It’s only later when I read the SP book that everything gets all stirred up again.

Repaired: part six

On Wednesday, July 11, I walk into Bea’s office, feeling scared, but not as scared as I have been. I feel vulnerable, too, and it shows when I walk in, unable to look at Bea. Today, she notices, she sees me.

“I was really glad to get the teen’s email this morning. To know that she is able to feel some of those things. And I want her to know that she is right. I do care.”

I don’t say anything, just sit down, my face reddening. Bea already has my blanket sitting on the couch.

“You know,” she says slowly, as I grab a pillow to hide behind, “Let’s just notice for a moment we are safe. That nothing bad is happening. Maybe feel the pillow in your arms, hear the birds. Just take a moment. We aren’t in any hurry. We don’t have to rush into anything.”

I try, I really do, but it’s hard. I’m so scared that I have made a bigger mess.

“We don’t have to do anything today, we don’t have to talk about anything. Maybe we just need to focus on safety and being here this morning. That’s okay. Take a moment, think about what will help you feel safe. What do you need?”

I do think about it. At first, I don’t know, I’m uncertain. But then I relize what I do need. “I need…..I don’t….I need for…….. this to be fixed…..if….I can’t do nothing today because until we talk about it and it’s…..resolved, I’m going to stay worried and anxious.”

“Okay. We can talk about things. I think to do that though, you have to stay here, at least here enough to talk. What is the anxiety connected to?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. Something bad is going to happen.”

“Okay, good. That’s a starting place, right? What are the things you worry about happening?”

“There’s no list, not…I guess it’s like nothing, no things to write down, not something I can tell you. I’m not worried about anything…..just something bad is going to happen.” I stumble over words and explanation. This is difficult to describe.

“Is is more of a feeling, just a general sort of thing?” Bea gets it.

I nod. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“So, I think that sort of generalized worry that we cannot pinpoint is our trauma brain. It’s normal, and the feelings are real. This is again where we have to tell ourselves, feelings aren’t facts. I can’t promise you nothing bad will happen, because bad things do happen, but we also have to realize that it’s not likely. Right? I mean, what are the chances a plane is going to crash into my office?” Bea’s voice is sympathetic, but she isn’t going to let me worry about things unlikly to happen.

“No……it’s not that……..not like that……I don’t worry…..it’s not worries about accidents. More….it’s maybe more about people.” I don’t know how to say what is in my head. I don’t know that I have the words or the language to really define it. I just know that the general something bad is going to happen worries aren’t about accidents or things like that.

“Okay, Okay. That’s good. This is helpful. Is it more worries that people will let you down somehow, or is it more worries that people will hurt you?”

It’s too much, and overwhelmed, I hide under my blanket, hugging cloud pillow to me. “I don’t know, people……. leaving me, rejecting me, not wanting to deal with me.” I wish I had the words to explain the fear I have surrounding my relationships.

“So, attachment stuff then. When attachment stuff is triggered…..that fear, that worry that something bad will happen, it’s very real. Attachment trauma, there really isn’t a list of worries. It’s very young, such early stuff, it’s from this time when we were too little and too helpless to care for ourselves, and so any rupture, any sign that our people were leaving us, that would have meant…anniliahtion back then. Developmental trauma, attachment trauma, this is all to do with very early years, so young we probably have no memories of it. With you, I think the trauma of sexual abuse compounds and even confuses the issue, but…this, what you are describing, it is attachment trauma.” Bea is speaking slowly, but with certainty.

“So….not crazy then?” I ask.

“Not crazy. This is a real thing, and when it’s triggered, it is incredibly scary and incredibly painful. I’m not sure I realized how deep…..well, how deep your attachment trauma runs. I see now I wasn’t seeing that, and I’m sorry. I’m aware of it now,” she tells me, and I think how well I have hidden this from her. I know when my impulse to freak out over a relationship is not *normal* and most offen, Ms. Perfect is really good at stopping those reactions.

We sit quietly for a moment, and then Bea asks me if I am here. “Here enough,” I say.

“Are you here enough to talk?” She checks.

“Yeah….it’s just hard. But I am here.”

“Okay. Then we will talk about all this scary stuff. Slowly, and as safely as possible.” She is using the voice that she uses when she is speaking to the little girl, that gentle, soothing voice.

“Okay. I can do this.” I hug the pillow and I feal my stomach twist in fear, but I mean what I am saying.

“I want to start by saying I am sorry I didn’t recognize your cry for help. I think, well, I know my own stuff got in the way. You are right about that. I was hurt, and I reacted from that hurt place. It doesn’t make it okay, but I was really struggling with how you could think those things of me after all this time, given our relationship, and I reacted from that place. I chose to ignore it, because in my hurt, I read it as rage.”

“But I— the teen doesn’t have a relationship with you! You don’t know her anymore than she knows you. I mean…that’s unfair.” The words jump out of me, frustrated and slightly angry.

“You’re right. We were building a relationship when all this happened. But you are right, we don’t have a relationship. Not yet. I didn’t think of that. It also….well, as I said, I was expecting coping skills like reality testing, to kick in. But I don’t even know what coping skills the teen has. We need to spend some time on the relationship, working on that safety and trust, maybe building some skills.” Bea sounds….well, like she means it when she says she wants to work on a relationship with the teen.

“There were no coping skills. That’s why I emailed you! I just wanted…..” I trail off when I realize what I was about to say, horrified that I had been about to admit to wanting anything.

“Wanted what? You just wanted…..?” Bea prompts me after several seconds tick by and I don’t continue.

“I…well, I just….ugh. I told you thing get all twisted in my head. I told you I go to the dark and twisty place where everyone hates me and……I mean, I thought…I just….I wish you had just said, *Alice stop. You’re in the dark twisty place. Those things aren’t true.* Or something.”

Bea is silent, thinking. I can hear her fingers tapping on her chair. “I don’t know that I could have done that. I don’t want to presume to know what is going on in your head, or to impose my reality on you as the true reality.”

“Maybe ask me then? If I’m in that place? I don’t know. I mean, sometimes I know I’m there, sort of, but…….it’s too risky to say it or ask someone, I just…I don’t know. But you not acknowledging those feelings, that just made them true in my mind. And then I did rage. Before, if you had just been able to say, “Those things aren’t true. I know they feel bad, but they aren’t true, I don’t think those things. I think you are in the dak and twisty place, you need to come out and I’ll be here waiting. I think that would have changed this. That’s all I wanted. Not….logic and explanations.”

“You wanted me to help you stop the distortions. Which is what my boundary of not responding to them was meant to do. It felt like responding to them would reinforce them.”

“Ignoring them reinforced them.” I tell her..

“I see that now. I think….I was feeling this need to set a boundary, but I set the wrong one, and even when I was clear that a boundary was needed, I maintained a boundary that was unhelpful.”

“I get not wanting to reinforce distortions, but can’t you acknowledge them without doing that? Can’t you just reassurance they are not true?” I don’t understand.

“You know, that’s a boundary. You wanted a boundary set. I just set the wrong one. I’ve never felt a need for boundaries with the little girl. I think the teen wanted a boundary set, and I was picking up on that.”

“No….I didn’t want a boundary. Boundaries are mean, they mean go away, you are a bother, I don’t want to deal with you….. no! I don’t like boundaries. And I don’t want you to change everything.”

“I’m not changing anything. Anything that changes we will do together. I’m not going to spring a bunch of changes on you, okay? But we need to talk about boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. They don’t have to feel bad to either person. Like right now, you have set a boundary. The blanket is a physical boundary. But even with the boundary there is a connection between us, there is attunement and a feeling of us both being present. I don’t see the blanket as a go away….it is what you need to feel safe, and so I feel glad you are taking care of yourself, that you can set a boundary and feel safe. And, dare I say, that boundary making you feel safer…… perhaps it makes it possible for us to feel more connection than we would without the boundary.”

I shake my head. “I don’t like boundaries. Boundaries are scary.”

“They can be. But I think once you feel, experience healthy boundaries, well, then they aren’t so scary.” She says gently.

“They are. Well, I guess I don’t really know about boundaries. My Mom’s boundaries are…..I weird. Maybe just all over the place.”

“Like your therapist’s have been lately?” Bea sounds, disapointed in herself, or something.

I think about what she has said. “No… not like that. Hers…..either they didn’t exist, I think….like, I just….I did what she wanted, dressed how she wanted, acted like she wanted, I was…like I just was part of her…I don’t know.” I sigh, not sure how to explain this.

“There’s a shrinky word for that. Enmeshment. It means your mom viewed you as extension of herself.”

“Yeah…..and I was loved and accepted and we were close as long as I was…..well, being like her. But if I didn’t….if I diagreed….she just……I don’t know. She would be upset. Then she set these boundaries….over silly things. Like really, truly, silly things. Like one time, I didn’t like these one shoes that she liked and so I just like got a different pair and she was really not happy with me. There was a boundary set then. Well, I think anyway. Silent treatment.” I blink away tears. It still hurts now, thinking about it.

“That is a boundary. Wow. No wonder me ignoring your feelings about me expressing anxiety over insurance was painful. It felt like I was giving you the silent treatment.” Bea’s voice has that sound in it, the one that means things are falling into place and she is making sense of things.

“You know….I don’t….I mean….well, you know what, never mind.” Words tumble out of me, a mess of them, blocking what I really need to say.

“Whatever it is, you can say it. I’m listening. It’s okay,” Bea reassures me.

“I don’t like it when you say it was just about you expressing worries over insurance. That’s not the story, not at all. I wish you would get that.” I whisper the words, cringing as I say them.

“You’re right. That’s not the whole story. But I do want to say, it’s important that we discuss insurance…that the adult and I talk about those things.”

“But it wasn’t a conversation! It was you freaking out and not even aware of what was going on for me! You can’t say it was us having a conversation, because you were talking…..at me. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, it isn’t about insurance! It’s about how you were talking!” I feel like I am shouting, but really, I am speaking firmly, and louder than usual.

“You know….what you wrote, asking me to imagine the situation, and describing it from your viewpoint, I….well, I have been that client before. I have had my therapist not be as present as I needed, and I have left sessions feeling unseen and unheard and hurt.”

“Except this wasn’t even my session! Not really. You can not compare the two. We have had sessions where you weren’t as attuned as I needed, and I’ve left feeling bad. But this, no. Wednesday was something else. It wasn’t my session, because I never….this was nothing about me, it wasn’t a case of I shared where I was at and you weren’t super present. This was you talking and spinning out from the moment I sat down. It wasn’t even a session! I mean, I don’t even know why I was there.” I’m being blunt, but I can’t, I won’t sugar coat it.

“You’re right. The two things don’t compare. Which I was going to say, that I have experienced the unattuned sessions, and so I can imagine how painful this was, how scary. I am so sorry, I really am. I knew the it was bad, I wanted to stop, to erase it, to have a redo, because I knew it was bad. And I am so sorry,” Bea says, sadly.

“I know. I know you are sorry. It’s okay. It was a bad day and a bad mistake, and I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or call it something it’s not, but I’m not mad or upset or hurt anymore.” As I say the words, I realize they are true.

“If you were, that would be okay,” she reminds me. Bea worries that I forgive to make sure people don’t leave me.

“No…It’s okay. Honestly, I was more hurt and upset that I was ignored when I was hurting and scared. I just wish you had said to me, from the first email, *hey, listen, those things aren’t true. I don’t feel that way at all. You need to get out of the dark twisty place so we can talk, because I can’t help you when you are there. So come out now, I want to help you.* You know?” I say.

“Now that, that sounds like you are channeling your Grandma.” Bea sounds like she is smiling.

“Yeah….that is something she would say. She didn’t….well, she would just tell me what was and wasn’t okay. She didn’t….she made things very clear. I guess that is boundaries?”

“Yes. Your Grandma had good boundaries.” Bea agrees.

“She really did, if I think about it. She didn’t….not like mom. Grandma didn’t ignore me when I messed up or didn’t agree with her. She just, well, she just said it. Jusf plain, just like that.”

“And I’m thinking that while I was feeling it would be harsh or feel cruel to just say, hey you are twisting things, maybe that sort of bluntness feels safe to you because your Grandma set boundaries in that way. Straight forward, honest. I need to channel your Grandma, not your mom. Because in my concern of behaving like your mom and trying to avoid it, I did exactly what I was trying not to do.” Bea sighs.

“Well, you definitely don’t remind me of my mom. More of my grandma. Not age wise, but just….you feel the same, sometimes.” I shrug. It’s not something I have words for. “Like hubby feels the same as my grandpa sometimes. He reminds me of him, he always has.”

Bea laughs. “That is a very big compliment. I know how much your grandma means to you. Thank you.”

“Am I right in saying that what I was wanting from that first email was reassurance and to be told I was in the dark and twisty place….which you said was a boundary. And you felt it was me raging and so there was this feeling of needing to set a boundary……so we both really wanted the same thing?”

“Yes, yes, you are. We both did want the same thing.” Bea chuckles again.

“So….next time….maybe you can set a different boundary sooner?”

“Yes. I can do that,” Bea agrees.

I break the silence by saying what pops into my head. “Hey, you did what you said you would!”

“What do you mean?”

“When……when we talked about Kathy, and I asked you what you would have done…..and you told me? Do you remember?” I ask.

“Yes. I remember that.”

“Well….this rupture, you did what you said you would do.” I smile. Something about that feels right.

“I did? Well, thank goodness I did what I said I would!” Bea laughs, but she is sort of serious, too.

“Yeah….I’m glad you did what you said you would.”

Her tone lignt, Bea says, “You know, that brings up the whole question of enactment. Maybe you needed to see if I would do what I said I would, or maybe I needed to see if I would do what I said……it’s so interesting……”

“Don’t get shrinky,” I say, cutting her off. “And I definitely didn’t cause this mess on purpose.”

“No, enactments aren’t a concious thing. It’s all completely unconscious. But it is interesting, especially in this situation…..”

I cut her off again. “Don’t be shrinky!” I recognize this as a boundary, a need for her to not be shrinky so I can feel safe and secure knowing that Bea is Bea and not a cold analytical shrink.

“You brought it up,” she laughs.

“Just talk to your shrinky friends about this,” I tell her. It’s such a teen response, that I laugh, too.

Laughing, she agrees. “Okay. But the grown up might want to talk about this one day, and when she does want to, we can. It will be okay.” .

“Maybe. Not now.” I am stubborn.

“No, not right now. When you are in it, it’s the wrong time for shrinky. I get that. So not right now.” She is so calm, so sure, so caring again. Bea is herself again, she is really back.

“I think it’s okay. I feel okay, this is okay. Nothing bad happened and you did what you said you would.” I breathe out relief and fear and anxiety and anger as I say the words.

“Yes. Nothing bad happened. Actually, something good happened,” Bea says kindly.

“Yeah. And it’s new. Something new. And it was ok.”

“Yes. I think you grew a lot, even if it’s not something we want to happen again, I think there will be more growth and learning, more felt experience from this. I think there was a lot of new things in this for you.”

“Yes. You listened. And didn’t want me to just agree and be…whatever you wanted.” This….this means so much to me. I don’t have words for it, but there is a lightness where the fear of not being what she wanted used to be. The fear isn’t gone because it is old, old fear, but there is less of it there.

“No! Never. I want you to just be you. You are enough. Just like you are, you are enough and you deserve to be seen and heard and cared for just for being you.” Bea is adamant, and while I think she has said this before, everytime she says it, it sinks in a little more.

“Is that….is what I wrote, what you said true?” I ask quietly.

“That I care?” Her voice is neutral, maybe curious about what part of what I wrote.

“Yeah.” Shame floods me as I confirm her guess.

“Yes. Very much so. This is a real relationship. Just because it is therapy doesn’t make it not real. If it weren’t real, and I didn’t care about you, you wouldn’t have been able to hurt me. What you wrote, all of it, is true. Absolutely. I care.” She means it, I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay,” I say. It’s all I can say, because I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s….I want her to care, and I care about her, but I don’t….well, I guess I don’t want to matter. I’m afraid to matter, and there is something painful about having the whole of me accepted so openly. I blink back tears.

After a while, I ask Bea to tell me something regular, and so we talk about dogs and coffee and clothes. When I leave her office, I feel drained, but also more present and peaceful than I have felt in a while.

The wound will never be erased, the scar remains, but it’s not a bad thing. There is beauty to be found in the scars that make us who we are.

Repaired: part four

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

Okay. Let’s try this in third person. I want to put a caveat here, though to say that although I will say “the teen”, for me, writing this, saying “I” or “the teen” is the same thing. There is some adult here, but the adult is not very here, and the adult is just as twisted up and confused as the teen is.

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. 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.

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 instantaneous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and conclusions 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.

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 afraid 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.)

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.”

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.

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.

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 Kristin or Ryan 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.

And that’s it. It’s pretty much the whole of the stuck thing. The teen is definitely, 100% sure that emailing this is a bad idea. She feels like she has no good choices left….she can box it up and pretend it away, or she can share it and blow everything up. She’s once again hiding in her closet, hugging her dog and her teddy bear under a blanket. She’s scared. She is very, very scared and vulnerable feeling.

Bea responsed first thing Tuesday morning, “You did it! You sent it and nothing terrible is happening and things aren’t getting worse.  Of course I haven’t answered anything yet, but I don’t imagine having anything to say that could make things worse. I think it’s very brave to make yourself this vulnerable when you were so hurt by this.”

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.

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.

Ruptured: Unconditional

Monday morning ,I wake up earlier than I need to, with a black hole of anxiety surrounding me. Bea and I had continued emailing all weekend. I had managed to sort out that I was still confused over what she thought was mean. I understood that many of my emails after the first one were angry and lashing out, and could be described as raging or mean. I couldn’t figure out what about my firsf email was so mean; was it because I had phrased things “you made me” or because she felt it was a brutal distortion, or because of something else? I questioned this in an email, and Bea sent back a scary response.

Alice,

I actually need to get my thoughts together before I can think about what I want to say.  So what needs to be addressed at this point is the “mean” part and what I think about that, right?  I want to talk about why this is a “special kind of mean,” and I want to do that very carefully.  I’ve been this kind of mean before too, so I feel like I can explain this without pathologizing it, and I can empathize with it, but it is an actual “thing” clinically.  

So in this explanation there won’t be any blaming or any threat to abandon the teen or any of the parts. There will only be an effort to make sense of all this and try to find some common ground.  What I’m not sure about is how you’re going to feel about this being a “thing” that happens to traumatized people rather than about your personal experience. I don’t want to take away from your personal experience, but I feel like you have to understand how I see this “thing” before we can turn to your particular experience.

I wonder if it would be helpful if I talked about my experiences first? If we didn’t address any of your stuff in session, but if I talked about my experience and explained the “thing” in terms of me?  Then you can see if you want to talk about your stuff, or email about it?

Bea

Yikes. Her response made me so scared. I just knew it was going to be something bad and that she was going to turn back into shrinky Bea and I was going to end up more upset. I asked her to please just email the shrinky thing and let me read it. She said that she would try, but she wanted to do so when she had a good chunck of time to sit down and explain it, and that she wouldn’t have time until Sunday night. We emailed a bit more, me worrying about it and Bea reassuring that she had nothing bad to say, and that this didn’t change anything about her and me. In the end, she didn’t email about the shrinky thing. She emailed to let me know that she was very tired and didn’t want to explain something this sensitive when she wasn’t at her best. She said she knew that this wasn’t helping my anxiety but she felt it was more important that she be well rested and able to be fully present with me in the morning.

All of that didn’t feel as terrible to me as you mignt think. Bea stayed in contact with me, she responded to my emails, she reassured me that it was okay and she didn’t leave. I was scared and anxious Monday morning but I still walked into her office without too much difficulty.

I said hello, and Bea said hello and I sat down on the couch, curling my knees into my chest. I was shaking from all the anxiety.

“I know this wasn’t easy to walk in here today. I know that your anxiety is making it really difficult, so I want to follow your lead. You tell me what you would like to do today. Would you like to color? Would it help to just sit and talk about safe topics? Do you want to talk about stuff?”

I reach over and pick up the cloud pillow, hiding my face. I can’t be here, I can’t do this. I can’t breathe. Something very, very bad is going to happen. This is dangerous, I shouldn’t be here.

Gently, Bea says, “I’m going to grab your blanket.” I hear her get up, and then she is standing near me with the blanket. “Do you want me to cover you up or just set it next you?”

I can’t even answer her. Finally I manage to whisper, “I just want to hide.” So Bea drapes the blanket over me before going back to her own seat.

Now that I’m hiding, I feel a little safer, but not much. I’m still shaking, still having trouble slowing my breathing.

“Take a minute, okay? Can you notice that you are safe? Nothing bad is happening or is going to happen. Listen to the birds outside. You aren’t in danger. You’re here in my office and you are safe. I’m here. Nothing bad is happening.” She says slowly.

“It doesn’t feel like that,” I tell her.

“I know. And that is where we have to go back to our ‘feelings aren’t facts’. I know this feels scary and dangerous, but it isn’t. We are just sitting here, in my office, listening to the birds.”

“But something bad is going to happen. You have scary things to say.” I squeeze cloud pillow tighter.

“It really feels like that, doesn’t it? This feels very scary and dangerous.” She says.

I nod, even though she can’t see me.

“I think, maybe we should just spend today working on safety.” I can hear her sit forward in her seat, and I can picture her face because I’ve seen how kind and caring she can look when she wants to make sure I am feeling safe.

I sit in silence for a long time. It isn’t easy to figure out what I need or what will help me feel safer. Hiding? Not talking? I’m not sure at first, but then it dawns on me that as long as I am filled with anxiety that Bea is going to say I am mean and terrible and she hates me and I cannot see her anymore, I’m not going to feel safe. “I think I need to know what you want to say.” I blurt the words out in a rush, and then I sit there hugging cloud and waiting for something very, very bad to happen.

“Okay,” Bea says. “I can do that. Before I do, though, how will I know you are still here? If we are going to talk about this, you have to be here.”

I think about it. If she can’t see me, she can’t know for sure that I’m present, and if what she says upsets me, I could be silent because I am hurt and upset, or I could be silent because I am very, very far away. I sigh. “You could just ask me,” I finally suggest.

Bea lets out a little laugh that seems to say *well that was simple. Why didn’t I think of that?* “Good idea. Are you here now?”

“Yes. Mostly. Enough here, I think. Just really, really scared.”

“I know. This isn’t scary, I promise. And it doesn’t change anything about you or how I feel about you.”

I bury my face in cloud. This is going to be bad. I know it. I can feel it. Very bad things are going to happen.

“Okay, I want to be very careful about explaining this, and I want you to know I really, really get it. This is a special kind of mean. I have been this kind of mean before, and I know how hard it is to feel like this. I know that it isn’t really an intentional mean. It’s almost a hijacking of our wise mind, and this emotional mind takes over. Well, it is more than emotion mind taking over. For you, it’s a part, one that gets hijacked with intense emotion when this part feels threatened with abandonment. This part reacts with intense feelings, and rage. There is no logic when this part is feeling taken over by emotion mind. This kind of rage, this sort of lashing out, the distorted thinking that goes along with it, clinically we would call it…..and I know that this word is not one you like but I am going to use it anyway. Clinically speaking, this would be a borderline trait, this reaction would be described as borderline rage. That doesn’t mean you have borderline personality disorder, or change anything about you. It means that the teen part reacts to those feelings and fears of abandonment with borderline rage. This is something that happens to traumatized people. Alice, are you still here?” Bea has been speaking slowly and carefully to me.

“Yeah….I……here.” It’s hard to get the words out, not because I’m far away, but because I just don’t know what to think. I might have distorted what Bea had said that Wednesday, but I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been spining out with anxiety and if she had been present. If she had realized I walked into her office dissociated and triggered. And I was only telling her what I heard her saying, what conclusions I drew based on her behavior, and how that felt. Why was that mean, exactly? Why was she calling it borderline rage?

“Do you know where the term borderline comes from? It comes from this idea that people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder were on the border of psychosis. This is out dated thinking, and you already know that I don’t believe that BPD is a personality disorder, I believe it is caused by trauma. But this idea of psychosis, or what I would call an extreme distortion of reality….it’s part of this lashing out, it is what leads to the rages.” Bea pauses for a moment, and then checks in with me again. When she is satisfied that I’m still here, she continues, “I don’t want you to feel I am being shrinky, and I very much want to explain this in more human terms. I think it might make more sense, that way. But I want to make sure you are comfortable with me sharing my experience of this special kind of mean?”

“Okay.” I whisper the word.

“When I first went to therapy, way back when I first started school to become a therapist, I experienced this. My therapist had an office set up and appointments scheduled where I didn’t typically see his other patients. I had been seeing him for about a year at the point of this experience and I had never seen another one of his patients. One day I did see one of his patients leaving. It triggered something in me, and all of a sudden, in my mind, my therapist had made sure I saw his other patient because he liked her, he cared about her, and he did not care about or like me at all.” Bea pauses here and asks, “Now, does that really make sense logically?”

“No,” I tell her.

“No. It doesn’t make any kind of sense. But at that moment in time, in my mind, he hated me, he didn’t care about me, he had wanted to hurt me. I walked into his office mad. More than mad, really. In a rage. I lashed out at him and all he would say to me was that wasn’t his experience. I emailed him after my session, still in a rage. It took a long time for me to calm down and come back to my wise mind. I couldn’t see beyond my distortion of reality, and my emotion mind had taken over. My therapist refusing to engage with me just made me more angry; I wanted him to soak up my rage, to be hurt by my lashing out because in my mind he had hurt me purposefully. There wasn’t much he could do but wait for me to be calm enough that I could hear what he was saying. That’s where setting a boundary comes in; the boundary of not taking on that rage, and the boundary of waiting, standing next to the person who is raging, until they can really listen, until they are no longer completely hijacked.”

I can’t imagine Bea in a rage. I can’t imagine her lashing out at anybody.

“Does that make sense? Maybe? Sort of?” She asks me.

“I guess. I don’t know. Enough.” I want to tell her that I hadn’t wanted her to soak up any of my feelings, rage or otherwise. I want to tell her that I could see the parallel, and maybe agree with most of what she was saying, but that unlike her therapist who had done nothing wrong, she had done something wrong. I want to tell her that unlike her, I had only wanted her to understand what I had felt that day. I’m confused. This sucks.

“I’m going to stop talking now, unless you have questions or something else you want me to speak to. I’m sure you have a lot to say, and I want to make sure I give you that chance. If you want to wait and write, that’s fine, too. Whatever feels best to you.”

I sit there for a while, quiet and unable to even find my voice. Finally I tell her, “I can’t talk.”

“Because you can’t find your words? Or because you are too frozen? Or is it because you aren’t sure it’s okay to talk?”

I stick my hand out from under the blanket, holding up 3 fingers.

“Okay. I really do want to hear what the teen has to say. I want to know what she is thinking. Can I tell her it is okay to talk? I’m here, and I’m listening.” Her voice is soft and kind, warm and understanding.

“I can’t….I won’t say anything right.” I don’t exactly feel safe with Bea, or trust her right now, but I am still very afraid of making things worse. And there is so much in my head, I don’t know where to start, or how to say it without having it all blow up in my face. I want to tell her that the bad Wednesday was a big deal, even if she doesn’t think so. I want her to understand how and why I heard what I heard and came to the conclusion that I did. I want to tell her that I’m (the teen) is terrified she really does only want Ms. Perfect because it wasn’t until Ms. Perfect stepped in to smooth things out that Bea said she felt very much here, present and engaged in the conversation. I want to tell her she really hurt me when she compared me to a tantrumming toddler. I want to ask if she even remembers why that would hurt me so badly. And I can not say any of these things at all.

“Can you try to say one thing, and we can go from there?”

“No. No, because what I want to say is still just going to sound like *you made me* or some version of that and then you will just decide I am being mean again and ugh. I can’t do this.”

“Okay. Could we talk about this is third person? So instead of *I* you could say *the teen*. That would give us a little bit more distance from this.” She suggests.

“But….I might as well be saying *Alice* then,” I argue.

“Yes, but this isn’t Alice, this isn’t all of you. This is a part. I know it is a little weird to talk in third person.” Then she tells me how in Sensorimotor therapy, you always refer to a part in the third person to help keep some distance. There was more about the why that she said, but I was getting a little far away because I was feeling frustrated at the fact Bea didn’t understand what I was saying.

“No…it’s not that….I think you misunderstand what I’m trying to tell you. If I were to say *the teen* then I might as well be saying *Alice* or even *I*. It’s all the same right now.”

“Ahhh. I didn’t get it, but I get it now. Do you think that we could try using third person, for me? To help me keep keep in mind that this is a part, and that all of Alice needs me to stay emotionally here, so you can express what you need to express?”

“I don’t care if you say the teen. You always do anyways. But I always just say I.” Writing this now, I think Bea was trying to see if there was any adult onboard because the adult always says *the teen* and *the little girl* whereas if the teen or the little girl are running things, they always say *I*. I also wonder if she was trying to distract me from my anxiety and show me that she and I could still work out challenges between us.

“Okay. See, we have an ageeement and some common ground. I’ll say the teen and you will say I. Do you think you can share a little of what you are thinking now?”

“I…I feel like…..like you don’t think Wednesday was a big deal.” My voice breaks on the last word, and I start to cry.

“I do think it is a big deal. I know it is a big deal.” She takes a breath and continues, “On the surface, I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? I was talking about insurance, and I had a lack of awareness of my anxiety over that and my anxiety surrounding insurance was brought into your session. But, that isn’t really the whole story, is it? My anxiety made me not be here, and that was terrifying for you. I didn’t see that you were triggered and not present when you walked in, and it was as if I had abandoned you. Not being present, not seeing you, letting my anxiety run your session, all of that was very, very bad. It was a big deal, it is a big deal. I knew that day, this little piece of me knew that this was going to make it very, very hard for you to trust me, to feel safe with me for a long time. I do think what happened is a big deal, I know it hurt you very much, and I am so sorry for that.”

I’m surprised. She does think it is a big deal, she does understand that it was bad. “I was really, really scared. You didn’t see me. You weren’t here. I didn’t know if you were ever coming back.”

“I know. I also know that you can’t trust this right now, but I did come back. I am here.”

“I….do you….I mean, I know you didn’t say the things I heard, or sort of….assumed…..but do you see how….why I did? Because I had needed and needed and needed the weeks before with working so hard to trust you and believe you and then I got here and I needed you again and you went away. I thought, I think it is my fault, that you went away because I needed too much and then you were saying, talking about insurance and it felt like you agreed with what you were saying and that you felt that way because I was too much and you used me as an example to the insurance company and I really thought I broke you.”

“I do see how things got so distorted. Given your history, and your beliefs about yourself and needing too much, and me not being here, yes, I can see how things got so distorted. I want to make sure you hear this, okay? It’s important. You can not break me. You will not break me, you are not too much. Okay?”

“Maybe.” I whisper the word, really not sure if I can trust what she is telling me.

“Can I tell you what I meant when I said we had just the teen stuff left to deal with?” She asks.

“No. No. I can’t…..” I react immediately, and slam a wall down around her words. I don’t want to hear her tell me that I don’t need to be here for much longer. I don’t want to hear that its not much left to sort out, that it’s not a big deal.

“I know you are scared. I know. I really believe that if you will allow me to explain you will feel better about this, not worse.” Her tone says that she will follow my lead, no matter how much she would like to tell me.

“I…okay.” It’s almost a whine, and I should probably be embarrassed but I’m not. I’m too busy being scared.

“I spoke very generally, and that was not helpful to you. When I said we had just the teen stuff left, I think of your journey as climbing over mountains. The little girl stuff, all the work we have done with her memories and her feelings and her thoughts and beliefs, that was one giant mountain we climbed over. Now, we’ve climbed some smaller mountains, too. Your grief over your grandparents’ deaths. The mom stuff— that might be multiple smaller mountains. Learning to be grounded. Learning that it’s okay to say no and nothing bad will happen. Those are all things that took time, but they are smaller mountains. I see this teen stuff as the other very large mountain we have to climb. I don’t think it’s a small task, and I don’t think it’s going to be quick or easy. I expect it will take a long time. But I don’t think there are any other giant mountains for us on this journey. Lots of smaller ones left, and more will crop up, but the last big mountain to get over is all the teen’s stuff. And this is an important mountain.”

I let out a breath. That doesn’t sound bad. Not at all. “You aren’t leaving? Or makimg me leave?”

“Nope. Not at all. I know it sounds hard to believe, but there will come a time when you can take me or leave me.” Bea tells me.

“And then you will leave me?”

“No. Even then, I won’t leave. I’ll be here.”

“You really won’t leave?” I ask again.

“I really won’t.” She says with no trace of frustration in her voice.

“You said my behavior was like a toddler tantrum. That hurt my feelings. Do you know why?” It’s an abrupt change of subject, and I’m numb and far away as I ask it.

Bea follows the change of subject, although she sounds a little bit confused. “I did, yes….that…can you tell me?”

I’m even farther away as I start to tell her. “You know. I….the shrink after Kathy, he told my parents that my behavior, my—…”

Bea interupts, “Yes, I do know. He told your parents that the suicide attempts and the self harm and the eating disorder behaviors were nothing more than a toddler throwing a tantrum and should be ignored. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean you should be ignored. I meant that when we are raging like that, there isn’t really anything anyone can do, except wait it out. Much like when a toddler is tantrumming, and all a parent can do is stand next to them and wait. The raging isn’t to be ignored, but it can’t be engaged with.”

“I…it….you did leave, though. You said that you were ignoring the emotion part, you were disengaged emotionally because of me lashing out.”

“Yes….that’s true. I did disengage emotionally because I needed to set the boundary that I wouldn’t soak up that rage.”

“I didn’t ask you to soak up my rage. I never asked that of you, or even thought….that isn’t what I wanted!” My voice is louder, now, and my tone suggests that I am frustrated. I can’t believe she got it so wrong. “Just because that is what you wanted when you were raging, that doesn’t mean it’s what I wanted!”

“You know what? You’re right. That very well could be my stuff, and not yours. I’m sorry. What did you want? Will you tell me?” Her voice is earnest and authentic. She really means what she is saying.

“I wanted to know you were there, that you weren’t leaving, that I didn’t break you, that the way my crazy brain twists things wasn’t how you felt. That’s all.”

“Do you remember when I did tell you I was here, and you said it didn’t feel like I was?” She asks carefully.

“Yes. It didn’t feel like you were there because you gave me a bunch of shrink talk and then said *I’m here.* That’s…..all the shrinky stuff is like you hiding behind this wall of shrinky stuff so of course you aren’t here, there is a wall between us.”

“Okay. Okay. I get that. I think I assume writing more will give you more of a sense that I am here.”

I roll my eyes. “Not when it’s shrink talk. That only negates anything empathetic you might have said.”

“Thank you for telling me what you wanted,” she says softly.

“Will you please not call me a tantrumming toddler again?” I ask.

“Did I call you that?” She questions me.

“Okay, can you please not compare me to a tantrumming toddler again?”

“Okay. I won’t do that again. And I am sorry it hurt your feelings.”

I ask her if she knew when she had said she was emotionally present during our email back and forth. She doesn’t know. “When Ms. Perfect took over. Then, you were willing to talk to me.”

Bea tells me that I sound very accusatory and blaming.

“I’m not…that’s, I’m not trying to. But it is what happened and it feels a little like maybe you…well, maybe you do want Ms. Perfect.”

“I don’t have a problem with Ms. Perfect, she is very good at her job and she serves her purpose, but she’s not the part I really want to talk to.”

“Why not?” I counter. “She’s easy. She doesn’t ask for anything, she is entertaining, she isn’t difficult, she doesn’t have big feelings, she doesn’t need anything.”

“I know. And that’s sad.”

“Why? Why is that sad?” I don’t understand. Ms. Perfect is not sad.

“Because real people need people, they need a secure base, they have feelings, sometimes big ones, they are difficult af times and they can be entertaining and they are boring at times. Real people are multifaceted. Ms. Perfect, she came about because she is what your parents needed, and she ran the ship for a long, long time. Which means, relationships felt— and often were— very conditional. This relationship, our relationship, it’s unconditional. That means you don’t have to be anything except who you are.”

“So you don’t like Ms. Perfect best?” I ask. I’m trying not to focus on her use of the word unconditional, because…..well, because it is a big concept to wrap my head around right now.

“No. I don’t like her best. Look, I don’t not like Ms. Perfect, but I wouldn’t have a beer with her. But teen, if you were old enough, I would have a beer with you. Maybe we could go out for a root-beer.” She sounds genuine, and I’m speechless. She doesn’t hate me, and she doesn’t want Ms. Perfect.

We are both silent for a moment, and then Bea says, “My setting a boundary with the teen isn’t about me not liking or wanting her. It’s about keeping her safe and about not allowing her to behave in ways that are unhelpful to her. It’s about me caring enough to try to help her change behavior that pushes people away. That might feel like I’m being firmer than I usually am, but this isn’t because I don’t care.”

“Did I do something wrong?” My voice is teary.

“No. No, not at all,” she reassures.

“Then why are you telling me……boundaries?” I ask quietly.

“Because I wanted to make sure the teen knows that me being firmer than I offen am is not about me getting rid of her. It’s not because I don’t like her, or because I don’t like any of the parts. I care about all of you. The little girl doesn’t need to worry, she didn’t do anything wrong. No one did anything wrong.” Bea explains.

“It’s not the little who is worried.” I don’t bother explaining that the little girl is hiding from Bea, convinced that Bea is going to leave.

“What part is it?” She asks.

I think, and I try to sort through things. “A different part of teen?” It comes out as a question, but as soon as I say it, I’m positive that’s right.

“Ahh, yes. The vulnerable teen. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Boundaries….they mean go away, you are being bad, I don’t want to deal with you. Boundaries feel bad.” I tell her.

“Those sorts of boundaries do feel bad, don’t they?”

“Yeah.”

“Your mom set boundaries like that, right?” She asks.

“Yeah. She didn’t want to deal with me when I was being bad, when I was a drama queen and needed too much. It’s not okay, to be like that. So she pushed me out, she went away, she ,ade boundaries.” I’m crying, again. Ugh.

“That hurt a lot. But my boundaries aren’t like that. They aren’t to make you go away. They are to help keep you safe, and to help me be the best secure base I can be. Modeling good boundaries and keeping myself healthy so that you can learn how to have healthy boundaries is part of being a secure base. I need to be able to sit with you in the muck, but it would not be helpful for you if I got stuck in the muck or started to drown in it. Good boundaries make sure that doesn’t happen.”

We talk through that a little more and I calm down some.

At this point, Bea tells me that we need to wrap things up. “It’s 11:00,” she informs me. “I’m really sorry to let things go over so long. This felf important to get through, though.”

I’ve been here for 2 1/2 hours. I start to feel guilty, and then remember that Bea made a choice, and it’s her job to manage the time. Then I only feel grateful that we had time to sort through some of this. I don’t think I could have stopped this talk halfway through and picked it up later. I don’t think I would have felt okay stopping this halfway through. Nothing is fixed, but I have some hope now that it can be repaired. This no longer feels like it is a certainty that this is the end.

“Do you think you might be able to write about this other teen part for Wednesday?”

“Okay. I can do that,” I tell her.

It takes me a bit longer to really be ready fo leave, and when we say goodbye, I ask her one more time, “You really aren’t leaving?”

“I’m really not leaving,” she says.