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.

Teens and shrinky cupcakes

So, we talked about the shrinky cupcake. I had been okay all week. Emailing had given me my connection to Bea back, and up until Wednesday morning, I was okay. As I walked into her office, though, the teen’s anxiety, embarrassment and hurt took center stage in my head. I did what I always do in those moments; I shoved the teen aside and let Ms. Perfect run the show.

Bea isn’t fooled by Ms. Perfect any longer, but she will let Ms. Perfect have her bubble of perfection for a bit before Bea pops that bubble. We talked about Halloween and school activities I had organized, and I showed Bea pictures from the Halloween festival in our town square. (Side note, I would love to live in Stars Hollow because the town seems so great with all their wacky festivals, but in all actuality, the town that hubby and I live in is very much like stars hollow― complete with the town square and a gazebo, a diner with great coffee and many, many festivals for weird and wacky things)

Eventually Bea said, “I think Ms. Perfect is here today. I can tell because of the here-not-here feeling and the upbeat chatter. I’m wondering if there are other parts that would like to talk but are feeling scared or upset?” Bea really doesn’t pull any punches anymore when Ms. Perfect is around. I hate it sometimes, but it is a good thing because if you aren’t straight forward like that, Ms. Perfect is very good at avoiding things and changing the subject.

As soon as Bea outed Ms. Perfect, all the teen’s feelings rushed back in. I looked at my hands, picked my fingers, and didn’t answer.

“We need to talk about the cupcake.” Her tone was gentle and calm, but firm. She wasn’t going to budge on this.

I grabbed blue cloud pillow off the couch and hid my face. “Maybe you do, but I don’t need to talk about it.” The teen’s words shot out from my mouth before I could gain control of the situation.

“I know. You really don’t want to talk about this. I just think that I upset you, and you have every right to be mad at me. But we do need to talk about this.”

“Why? Why do we have to talk about something that wasn’t even a thing until you turned it into a shrinky thing?” I snapped.

“I guess, well, because I did turn it into a thing and we need to talk about that. Otherwise, it is like how you grew up, and that can feel lonely and awful. I think its better, even if it feels hard and uncomfortable, to air things out. I don’t want things festering and sitting between us, and I know you don’t like it when things feel like that. It makes the relationship feel unsafe.” Bea answers slowly, like she is trying to find the words to explain to me why she thinks it’s important we talk this out.

“But I wasn’t upset! I was fine. It was all fine until you turned it into a shrinky thing. I wasn’t upset until you did that.”

“It really upsets you when I make things feel shrinky. I wasn’t trying to do that. I know did, and I’m sorry. I was worried, and I wanted to make sure you weren’t stuck with bad feelings, like worrying that I was expecting something of you because I gave you a gift, or feeling like I crossed a boundary that you had set by telling me earlier in the week that you were ignoring your birthday. I didn’t want you stuck with that all week.”

“But I wasn’t! I was fine! I didn’t feel any of those things! I wasn’t stuck with any bad feelings until you made everythung go shrinky right before you were leaving and then I was stuck with those feelings for a week!” My face is buried in cloud pillow, and I feel like I am yelling because there is anger in my voice, but while the words come out short and snappy, they are said barely above a whisper.

“Okay. I thought you looked uncomfortable when I gave you the cupcake. Maybe that is my stuff, and not yours. Can you tell me what you felt when I gave it to you?”

I sigh. “That it was nice of you.”

“What about below the surface?” Bea pushes, just a bit. The way she says it, it’s like a gentle nudge.

I stare at the floor, at my hands, at the bin of stuffed toys sitting on the floor near me. After what feels like forever, I ask, “Can I have the blanket?” Sometimes I say *my* and other times I say *the*. It seems to be the little girl and the grown up who will ask for *my blanket*, and the teen who refuses to call it hers, even though Bea calls it mine.

“Sure.” I hear her get up, and then she covers me with the blanket.

I sit there, hiding and not wanting to talk, trying to find the words. Realizing that my parts all felt differently, I decide I can safely and easily talk about the little girl and maybe the grown up’s reactions. “The little girl……for her, it really was simple. She was happy to get cake.” I shrug.

“It makes sense that different parts felt different,” Bea says. “I’m glad the little girl was happy.”

“The…..the grown up……that was…..well, she thought it was nice of you, but it also made her….sad…..sort of nostalgic for…..I guess for birthdays in years past, for the time when she would have danced in here singing about her birthday and expecting a cupcake because, well, I guess because Grandpa believed she was a gift and should be celebrated and she believed it because he did. And thats not……it doesn’t feel like that anymore. The last time my birthday felt like that was six years ago, before Grandpa was sick. I don’t……its sad because things won’t feel like that again. So maybe that is what you saw. It didn’t have anything to do with you. Just sadness and nostalgia for the way things used to be.” My voice cracks as I mention Grandpa, tears streaming down my cheeks as I speak.

“He loved you so much. He really did. And you do deserve to celebrate and to sing and dance on your birthday if you feel like it again. You lost a lot, and it is understandable that you would be sad about it. If that is what I was picking up on, I am truly sorry for making it a thing and upsetting you. And I apologize for not fully picking up on that sad feeling.” Her voice is warm and caring as she talks to me.

“It’s okay. None of the parts are really upset or mad anymore.”

Bea waits, to see if there is more, and when I don’t she asks, “And what about the teen? How did she feel?”

I groan. The teen doesn’t want to discuss this. “That it’s fine. She’s not mad anymore.”

“If she was, that would be okay. And I understand why she was mad with me,” Bea says simply.

“I’m not mad.”

“Okay.”

We sit quietly, Bea waiting patiently, and me trying to find the words, to figure out how to put them together to make sense. “I don’t…..the teen doesn’t….(I was having a lot of trouble keeping the grown up in charge, so while I did try, the teen was definitely running the show.) ……like talking about relationships with the person……you know?”

“I know. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for her.”

“Why is this so hard for me? It’s impossible,” I grumble, frusterated with myself.

“It definitely feels that way, doesn’t it? Why do you think it’s hard?”

Frustrated, and feeling like Bea literally just did the shrink thing of turning a question back around, I snap, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking!”

Bea chuckles softly. She enjoys the teen’s snark. “Very true. I think it’s because for so long the teen had no voice, no one but Ms. Perfect had a voice, and so some of it is learning that it’s okay. I think some of it is when the teen did use her voice, it wasn’t very well received. I want to know what she has to say, and I promise to listen and to try to understand.”

I sigh. Take a deep breath. “I……..I thought….” my voice wobbles. “I thought it was………………. nice. I liked that you thought……………. about me not just here (in Bea’s office). It….it was like……it made me feel like you cared. It……….felt……..good.” I feel vulnerable, exposed. This feels dangerous. I do not like to tell people when they make me feel cared about, or that I like feeling cared about.

“I do care,” Bea tells me, in her serious voice. “I know this feels vulnerable, and uncomfortable, but these are all good things to feel. And it is safe to feel them.”

“No. No no. This isn’t……not good. It’s not okay.”

“Because it feels like too much?” Bea asks.

“No. Yes. No.” Frustrated, I snap at Bea again, “I don’t know! Okay? I just don’t know how to explain this.”

“That’s okay. Just take your time. There’s no rush.”

“When……..as soon as……if I feel cared about then…….I think what you felt, what you noticed was…..I felt like you cared, and that felt good but right away, then I feel bad and I can’t…….it’s just…..so then it just has to go away, all the feelings I just have to shut them down.” I shake my head. I’m not making sense.

“Why do the bad feelings come up?” Bea’s voice is the soothing one she uses for the most hurt parts of me.

“Because……..” I don’t want to answer this. The teen doesn’t want to answer this. I feel tears falling again, shame heats my face and every muscle in my body is tense and shaking. I only want to run away. This feels too painful to say.

“Because…..?” Bea prompts.

“I…..it’s like……..I don’t get to……I mean, because I don’t have the right…………………. to want ………..people ……….to care…………..about me……………I’m not good. I can’t……I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I can’t.” Huge, wracking sobs come pouring out of me. I can’t stop shaking.

“You don’t feel like you deserve to be cared about. That is painful. And it is not true. You do deserve to be cared about.” Bea has tears in her voice. I’ve made her sad.

I want to tell her it’s more than that. I want to tell her that bad things happen when you feel those good feelings of being cared about. I want to tell her that I desperately want someone to care about me, just me, even with all the bad and messy and complicated pieces that make up who I am, that I want that, crave that, but it’s not okay. It’s not okay because I don’t deserve that, and when I think I have it, very bad things happen. So I can’t. I can’t feel the warmth of being cared about without all the icky feelings creeping in. I want to have a way to explain this without sounding like a crazy person. But I’m unable to weave the words together in a way that makes sense.

Bea doesn’t ask for more explanation, and she doesn’t tell me to stop crying. She just sits with me, letting me cry until my sobs slow and I can breathe again. She murmurs things about the teen really not liking herself, and how that is painful, and how the teen got so many negative messages about herself, and how she really does enjoy the quirky, snarky teen. Bea reminds the teen that if the teen were 21, she is someone Bea would have a beer with (this was something Bea told the teen a long time ago when the teen accused Bea of liking Ms. Perfect and only wanting the teen to be like Ms. Perfect.)

As awful and painful and uncomfortable as it was to talk about, and as unfinished as the conversation felt to the teen who still feels a need to explain better, strangely, I feel lighter. Nothing bad happened, Bea is still here, she didn’t call me crazy or seem confused by the complicated mess of my feelings around being cared about. And, the teen wants to write some in her notebook to share with Bea. She want to sort it out. She doesn’t want to feel bad anymore.

Shrinky 10-24

A week ago, I had a birthday. Well, almost a week ago. It was hard. I tend to cope by avoiding my birthday. This year, I really wanted to avoid it. I miss my Grandparents so much, it still hurts. Bea, however, had other plans.

Wednesday, October 24……..

I walk into Bea’s office, acting like it is any other day. I have stuff to deal with, namely this collision of attachment stuff and my mom and my Grandparents and my uncle dying unexpectedly and Kat’s challenges, and all of this, and the time of year have collided to trigger the teen like nothing else. Of course, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to deal with any of this. It’s painful.

Bea greets me like normal, and when I am settled on the couch, she hands me a small bag. “I don’t usually do this, but I was thinking about you yesterday, and so I did.”

I take it and open the bag to find a carrot cake cupcake. My heart feels warm. “Thank you,” I tell her.

“You’re welcome,” she says, and then I start talking about Kat, and regular things. Bea tries to interject a few times, to switch the subject, but I don’t let her. At one point she makes the observation that while I had been really, really far away on Monday (I had just come back from a three day trip with my mother), today I am far away, but it is more of that here-not here variety, where I seem very present but am really still far away and talking nonstop seems to be a way of controlling what is happening around me. I ignore her observation, though it isn’t wrong. Before I know it, she is telling me we have about 15 minutes or so left, and she wants to make sure we haven’t missed anything because she will be out of town Monday.

I sigh. Pick my fingers. Look at the floor. Whisper, “I did write.”

“Do you want me to read it?” Bea asks.

“I dunno. I don’t, there isn’t time to talk about it now.” Suddenly, I just want the hour (yeah, we only got an hour today which is unusual) to be over.

“Well, we could take this opportunity to do some work in the present moment. We talk about reach, and grab or push, and attach in SP. I gave you a cupcake for your birthday, and that is a type reaching.” Bea is speaking slowly, and I don’t like it. I don’t like what she is saying, and I want to tell her to shut up. But I don’t. I don’t say anything at all. So she continues, “What did it feel like when I gave you the cupcake?”

I shrug. I don’t say anything. It’s a cupcake. It was a nice thought. The little girl and the teen liked that she thinks about me even when I’m not right there. That meant something to them.

“Well, I want you to know that you don’t have to take the cupcake, you could tell me no. And I guess I should tell you, it was from my heart, I wanted to do something for you, but also, I guess I was thinking that it is sad you don’t want to acknowledge your birthday, and I wanted the little girl and the teen to know it’s not forgotten and your day still matters.” She says the last part gently, carefully, as if she knows it could set the teen off.

And it does set the teen off. “Stop it. Stop being shrinky! I hate it when you get all stupid and shrinky! Why are you making a thing out of something that wasn’t even a thing? You always do this. Just stop talking. I have to go.” I start to sit up, to put my new perfect fall boots on.

“Will you wait? For a minute? Please. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be shrinky. I really wasn’t. It was shrinky though. I just wanted you to know you didn’t have to take something from me, that whatever reaction you had was okay, and that there weren’t expectations around it.” Bea says. She is calm, grounded and so very much here and present and the teen hates her for it.

“Ugh. You didn’t……you always ruin everything! Just when I was feeling like you are here and safe and it is okay, you do this! And you do it just before you are leaving so now I get to feel like you are gone (out of town) and that you aren’t even here (emotionally). I hate this. I can’t do this right now. And it’s time to go anyway.” I stand to leave. The teen wants to throw the cupcake at Bea, but instead I leave it on the couch. I don’t want it anymore.

I walk out, and Bea doesn’t try to stop me. That feels bad, too, even though I am the one leaving. If she had tried to stop me, I would have been really mad. As I leave, she gently but firmly says, “I am here. I’m not leaving you.”

The rest of the day passes by quickly, and Thursday does, too. It’s Friday before I email her, and then only to request a schedule change for Kat. Bea doesn’t respond and I am hurt, until I realize she wouldn’t just ignore an email. I email again to see if she got my first email. Bea texts me in response, and she is just so very Bea. Something has gone wonky with her email and so her emails are not being sent. But she had gotten them both. We text a bit, and she gives me a different email address to use if I want to email more this week.

We end up touching base a few more times, and while we don’t go much below the surface, I feel more connected again. Now it’s Tuesday night, and I will see Bea in the morning. The teen’s anger has dissipated, and all that is left is embarrassment. I feel anxious about seeing Bea tomorrow. The teen is afraid Bea is mad at her for acting like a brat. She’s also afraid that Bea will bring it up, and she would rather forget it. But she wrote about it, so if Bea reads her notebook, she will see that the teen was really upset. The teen knows that it will probably be talked about, and deep down she knows it will probably be okay― uncomfortable, but okay.

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 five

I felt some relief in the very fact that she had read it and was responding and still sounding like herself. Bea replied in depth later that morning and I responded back late that night. Below is the full email conversation.

In order: the strikethrough is the email I’ve already posted, the third person explantion of the stuck thing. Next comes the underlined which is Bea’s response. Last is the italics which is my response to Bea.

Hi Bea,

Okay, here is my response. I didn’t, well, it’s not in third person, and not as detached sounding, and I don’t know, I haven’t thought and thought and edited and changed and deleted and made it pretty and perfect and so this is a bit nerve wracking too. Because it might not be written so it’s how I am supposed to say things, it isn’t careful, I didn’t monitor my thoughts and I just wrote and responded with how I felt. But there it is. I answered under your response, so there is a bit of scrolling you will have to do. But I thought having my third person explanation might still be helpful…..so it’s all color coded. So, the third person writing is in pink, your response is in black and my response is in blue. Then I put the original email that ruined everything in green. So. Here goes nothing, again.

Can  👱‍♀️👩🏻‍🚒🙈 🐢🚫🐚🕸🌪💣⛈➡️ 🗣👂🗣✍🏻✍🏻👀👂➡️✍🏻✍🏻👀👂✍🏻👂🗣🗣👀✍🏻👂🗣 ➡️🐵🐢🐚🌈⛅️……🤝? I’m trying to believe it can.

So, here it goes, I guess. 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈

The teen feels like she understands the difference between a hitting screaming child who needs to be told “I’m here and I will sit here next to you and wait for you to be calm, but you may not hit me to express yourself ” and the emotionally swamped child that is crying out for help who needs a hug and reassurance.

Using that analogy, she feels like her therapist misinterpreted a crying out for help child as a screaming hitting child. The teen is scared, though, to even try to talk about this with her therapist. She doesn’t want to make things worse, and she doesn’t want to make her therapist upset. She also doesn’t want to disagree. She doesn’t like disagreeing, and it does not feel safe or okay. The teen feels like she would rather just agree with her therapist and let it go, but for some reason she can’t. The teen knows her therapist feels very strongly that she is right, but the teen feels just as strongly that her therapist’s interpretation is not fully accurate. She feels like it won’t matter, though, that her therapist’s opinion and feelings will carry or hold more weight than the teen’s opinion and feelings.

It sounds like the painful, crying out for help part felt very obvious to the teen, but not so obvious to me, huh?  I don’t feel any need to be “right,” honestly.  I think what I misinterpreted was the ability for you to use your coping resources—I know now my expectations were beyond what you were able to do in the moment. That surprised me, I remember—I didn’t lower my expectations to where you were.

Ugh. This feels awful. Like I failed or something.

The teen knows she did behave in a rageful way in several of her emails. She knows she was also rageful in her notebook, although it doesn’t feel fair to her to have that judged because her notebook— by definition of what it is— is messy and raw and unedited and not pretty. It’s instanous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and comclusions and feelings. It’s the first place she goes to when things are hard and she needs to get the scary things out. She had thought that her therapist understood that although it had never been explicitly discussed, and she shared her angry notebook because she wanted so badly for her therapist to see the mess of confusion and pain and anger she was stuck in. This part of things feels worked through to the teen. She believes her therapist understands that she was in a lot of pain, and that her therapist understands why she behaved as she did, and the teen also knows she was raging and not able to have a constructive conversation, hence the boundaries. It’s important to the teen that her therapist know she understands that.

I didn’t feel any judgement about the raging journal. I just didn’t see any way to productively work with it.  You’re right that the journal is your place to rage, vent, and put down all of your anguish. I believe that’s very important!

The sticking point is in that very first email. To the teen, calling that first email raging, mean, brutal, distorted, accusatory, blaming and out of line feels inaccurate. It is not how she felt, or how it was meant.  She knows that she distorted what she heard, but she can’t help how she interpreted information, and she believes that how she interpreted things that Wednesday makes some sort of crazy sense, given her history. She wants to learn to not distort and twist everything people say to her, but she is terrified of people. She’s aftaid to be even a little bit close or vulnerable with them. She can understand that her email could be read as blaming and mean, but it wasn’t that way in her mind. It wasn’t even that way in the adult’s mind. (Which adds another layer to this, because the therapist keeps saying the adult can help the teen communicate appropriately, but the adult did try to help before. The adult helped by making sure all the information of where the teen was emotionally was included in that email, and she helped by telling the teen it was okay, she could trust the therapist, the therapist had made a mistake but she wasn’t gone, and that this couldn’t be fixed if the teen didn’t explain what she was feeling, what she was afraid of, if she didn’t explain why she felt like she didn’t even have the right to be there. So, the adult did try to help but she just managed to help mess things up more. Both the teen and the adult feel as if the adult must be more broken, more crazy, more screwed up than either of them or the therapist thought. The end result is the teen doesn’t trust the adult, and the adult doesn’t want to help, anyway.)

I think it’s great that you just clarified how the adult helped—that’s really awesome to acknowledge.  I need to look more at that email—and can we talk about that in session tomorrow? That might be the best place to start tomorrow if it’s okay with you?

I don’t know. We can try. Maybe. You know that distance feels safer. As much as I don’t want to be alone, it feels safer to be alone when I feel hurt or upset. I’m not even sure that makes sense. But yes, we can try. I’ll hide and you can talk and I’ll try to talk.

I feel a need to set boundaries with the distortions because I don’t want to reinforce them. That would be very unhelpful!

I guess this just doesn’t ring true for me right now, for this instance. I was, in my mind at least, hoping you would correct them, hoping you would reassure that “no, those things aren’t true, I’m sorry you ‘heard’ that and felt that, but they aren’t true. I don’t think those things at all.” Or whatever. I think there must be a way to not reinforce distortions that doesn’t involve choosing to ignore the emotion piece. Ironically, it was the very ignoring of the emotion piece that made the distortions, well, bigger….to my way of thinking, if you weren’t acknowledging those things to say “this isn’t true”, then they must be true. It was the ignoring of the feelings and distortions that caused them to become this huge thing that had to be true. And yes, at that point, those distortions couldn’t have been easily, if at all, reasoned with.

When a person is in emotion mind having the distortions pointed out is only going to cause a huge rage—pouring gas on the fire, so to speak.

But what caused the rage was feeling ignored and unseen and unheard. What caused the rage was trusting you and feeling abandoned again.

I think this is a generalization about emotion mind. Really, pointing out and reassuring and helping is less likely to pour gas on the fire than ignoring the feelings. Ignoring the feelings pours gas on the fire everytime. Even saying that the feelings make sense given what was heard, but that things are being twisted and asking if I’m aware of that, would be better than ignoring the feelings. Or however you would approach it. But I genuinely believe that a real response to my first email, and responding to my feelings would have been better than the rational reflections. You still could have said that I was distorting things, or that I needed to try change my approach in what I’d written, or whatever you needed to say. Ignoring the feelings is going to trigger me and upset me eveytime. (Maybe that can be changed, but in the meantime, it will trigger me more than telling me I am wrong ever will). I will say that after the first email, anything you said was probably going to upset me and escalate me, aside from maybe going back to what I was seekinf in the first email and reasuring me. It was when you finally said “none of it is what I was trying to say, or anything close to what I thought I said. Or nowhere close to what I think……….I’m sorry that this is what you heard and felt because truly that is awful. We will have to figure out what to do with it—but please know that there is none of the actual me as I know myself in those words you wrote.” There was relief in that, that you didn’t feel those things or think those things, and that hearing what I heard was awful. Of course, the relief and the calm didn’t last long and the next email spun things up again and sent Ms. Perfect into the captain’s seat. But just that, even as out of control as I was feeling, just those sentences of you not feeling that way, and that not being you, was enough to bring a bit of relief, to feel like maybe I could find solid ground again.

In a calmer place and with some distance, however, I think we can talk about them, which I think will be helpful.

You have distance, but I am not sure I do. This is still so painful, and it still hurts so much.

The teen wrote what she emailed, almost word for word in her notebook, using an analogy her therapist had used earlier that day. As her therapist had talked, and said, “I took the boat away, I drove off in the boat and left you in the water, but I’m back with the boat now.” the teen thought, “But it’s not just that you drove the boat away and left me. It’s that I feel like you don’t think I should even be in the boat. It’s that I don’t know if you will leave me in the water again. It’s that I feel like I broke you and you had to leave me in the water and drive off because I’m too much, too crazy, so of course it will happen again because I break people. It’s that on Wednesday I felt like you thought I should be better, or more capable, or not need all this support to function.”

I will admit, I had a hard time empathizing with this. The reason is that it just felt so extreme, and as I said at the time, so uncharacteristic of anything I know about myself or my intentions. I  found myself asking, “How does me expressing worries about insurance coverage lead to any of this???”

I think you are looking at this….I don’t know the right word. What you are saying doesn’t really tell the whole story, its sort of a skewed viewpoint. That’s why the other day, when you said your therapist group jumped on the insurance thing, I said it wasn’t fair to have said I got upset because you talked about insurance. That’s not really the whole truth.

Yes, you expressed worries over insurance that day. But that statement would be like me cooking a 5 course gourmet meal and saying “I cooked dinner.” Did I cook dinner? Well, yes….but calling a 5 course gourmet meal dinner is sort of, well, misleading. I think you did express worries about insurance, but it was your anxiety and a very worried part that was expressing those worries. They weren’t expressed in a grounded, calm, controlled way. That worried part used me as an example multiple times, and also spent a lot of time talking about people who deserve therapy or not, and what criteria insurance uses to judge that and how insurance would view me and my therapy. But it wasn’t made extremely clear that this worried part was talking about how insurance views things, at times it seemed like that part was judging and weighing me against the criteria. My therapist wasn’t present that day, from the moment I walked into her office, she didn’t see me. Because of what had recently been being worked on, combined with the triggered state I arrived in, combined with this worried part of my therapist seeming to judge and weigh me against insurance criteria, plus this anxious part of my therapist talking about dropping to once a week (out of the blue, completely unexpected and very jarring) and how there wasn’t really any deeper work left to do combined with this belief that I need too much and break people, and this very new, very tenative trust I (meaning the teen) was starting to have in my therapist, along with my therapist not being present and not seeing me……..all of that would need to be included in the story, and probably your view point of what you said and what made you anxious and how you just couldn’t control that worried part would need to be added to really be the whole story. It really was the perfect storm to form that bad Wednesday. If anyone of those things hadn’t been present, then maybe it never happens.

To me, none of this is even about insurance coverage. You could have been talking about trying a different way of doing therapy, and had the same circumstances and I would have probably been just as triggered. It’s never been about what you were discussing; it’s always been about how you didn’t see me (there was no checking in, no how was your weekend, nothing, just this jarring jump into this anxiety driven place about insurance) and how things were discussed. This will probably make you defensive, but I’m going to say it anyway. You ended my session in tears, telling me you were going to go to the bathroom and try to get your shit together before your next person. I ended my session so far away that I could barely function, and you didn’t see that. It has been a very, very long time since I was so out of my window. I actually texted Abby and told her I was going to be late to school because my appontment was running late. And when I got to school, I still wasn’t present. What I remember most about the rest of that day was everyone asking if I was okay, and two friends checking in on me that evening because I had seemed “off” when they saw me at school. I claimed the weather had given me a migraine and had me feeling off.

Maybe you just can’t empathize in this situatuon. Maybe it is too hurtful to you that I felt like this, and knowing yourself and our relationship, it’s just too hard to understand how I could have felt the way I did. I guess what I would say, is you are thinking about your relationship with the adult and the little girl, and even Ms. Perfect, not the teen. The teen really doesn’t have much of a relationship with you— she has some ruptures that were sort of just set aside because the little girl needed dealing with, and she has that month of working on trust and finally sharing a little with you the week before this rupture. And maybe, what I can say, is imagine this and think about how you would feel in this situation. Last week, you worked on some very hard things, and you are having a lot of worries over being too much. You are also worried that your therapist won’t be herself because it’s been a whole week since you saw her and things were rather intense that week. You spent Monday triggered and had a flashback. You have spent the last two nights having nightmares, and are just generally in this hyper aware triggery scared state. You can’t email your therapist or reach out because you are gripped by this intense fear that you are being too much, and so you are just treading water until Wednesday. You show up on Wednesday, relieved that you didn’t drown, and in desperate need of a container. Only, when you walk into your therapist office, she doesn’t see you. She doesn’t see how triggered you are. She doesn’t see that you are dissociated and struggling. She tells you she just finished reading an email from her therapist and then begins to anxiously talk to you about insurance— in this very nervous, jumpy, jarring sorf of way, like she is trying to sort out her worries. This doesn’t feel like a discussion the two of you are having, this feels like your therapist is anxiously speaking at you, even maybe just voicing all her thoughts aloud. You can’t breathe, or even think. And then your therapist is using you as an example in how insurance companies don’t like long term twice a week therapy. She doesn’t explicitly tell you that she doesn’t agree with them, and while you have always thought she thinks insurance rules are sort of bogus, she is suddenly sounding like maybe she does agree with them. She is saying how you are proof therapy works, because you function so well and she is telling you how you don’t have a lot of twice a week sessions this summer anyway, and so it makes sense to go to once a week, especially because she doesn’t think there is all that much deeper stuff to work on, really there is just this stuff that is being worked on now. She is seeming to get more anxious by the moment, and you can’t handle it. You really needed her today, and she isn’t here. She left you. So you go somewhere far, far away. When session is over, your therapist is crying, and telling you she is going to go to the bathroom to get her shit together, and sort of runs out of the room. You feel awful. You broke her. You did this. And you can’t handle it. In a fog, you leave. A little part of you knows that if your therapist had been present, she would never let you get so out of your window, let alone leave like this, but you can’t be here right now. Everything is broken.

Maybe this wouldn’t upset you, or hurt you or send you spiraling into a dark overwhelmed place. I don’t know. I just thought maybe setting out what happened that Wednesday, from my viewpoint, might be helpful. I don’t really think this is about you as a person, or about your relationship with the little girl or the adult. But what I wrote above….that is my memory, my experience of Wednesday, without adding in my thoughts and what was said or felt brought up or made me feel.

I get that it triggered all of these worries, but here’s where I was expecting some coping resources to kick in, and they didn’t. And I think I was hurt that after all this time you could think those things of me.

The adult honestly wasn’t thinking those things about you, and she did her best with what she had to work with, by encouraging the teen to reach out and share the mess in her head. The adult wouldn’t have been able to do that if she thought bad things about you.

When I reflect on that, I know I had to depersonalize it to find empathy.

So I really was expecting that there were more coping resources there based on how well you’d been functioning over the previous several months. That was why I had those expectations—not because I needed you to have them, but because I genuinely thought they were there. This just turned out to be way too much for them, and it took time for me to get that.

I think all my coping resources were already drained from what we had been working on, combined with being so triggered two days before. There was legitimately nothing there to kick in to help. Also, I think, or rather, the adult knows she can function well because she has support, because she has therapy twice a week, and emailing and can reach out if she needs help. So, no therapy that Monday, plus the trigger, plus the Wednesday mess….it was just too much. All the parts were left unsupported and alone and scared.

Sort of how you try out being firm with a kid to see if they really can handle something, but once you see that the challenge is too big you modify your expectations.  For clients to grow, I try to stay on that edge, if that makes sense?  I was way off the edge in this instance:(

Later, the teen wrote in her notebook. The adult, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with all the feelings of abandonment from all the parts (including her own feelings of hurt and disappointment and anxiety over the bad Wednesday and the stress of trying to cope with the triggers and flashbacks and emotions) knew that the teen needed some reassurance and help before things got completely out of control.

So the teen copied her notebook entry into an email and sent it. She wasn’t mad. There was no anger, or rage. Was she probably in emotion mind? Yes. But the emotions were terror of abandonment, and deep. deep sadness. She was heart broken and afraid, and confused, but not mad.

The adult— while admittedly not really on board the ship at all with all the emotion and panic and overwhelm happening— believed that the teen explaining in the email how she felt too vulnerable, that all of this was too much, that she had written this in her notebook (so, messy, raw, unedited), and that this was too painful to talk about face to face (the reason, which was not included is because there was a fear— however irrational— that her therapist would say yes, that is how I feel) was enough to let her therapist know the teen was in a very bad, very frightening place, and was overwhelmed emotionally. The adult thought that the teen signing the email, instead of the email being signed from the adult, was also helpful in showing who was writing, and had thought that would help her therapist to understand where the feelings were coming from.

The teen sent the email and she did her best, in her terrified state, to explain that this was what she felt like, this is what it had sounded like to her (distorted yes, but still the message she heard). She knows that her words did not land with her therapist in the way they sounded and felt in her mind, and she doesn’t really understand why. The teen feels like this vulnerable part (maybe the vulnerable teen?) of her was crying out for reassurance and help, and that cry was misinterpreted as rage.

I want to look at this email again for sure—we need to look at it again together.  I realize now that once it felt to me like things were so distorted that I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do, I had reached the point where I had to stop and reflect and wait for clarity—and that’s where the need for boundaries arose.  I know we need to revisit this, and we will.

The teen has this theory (before her therapist shared about criticism and her own stuff) that something was triggered in her therapist by the teen’s feelings and words that caused her therapist to view her words as if the teen were pointing her finger and screaming at the therapist.  In the teen’s reality, she was hiding in her closet, under a blanket, with her dog and her teddy bear, feeling utterly devastated, alone, and abandoned, just sobbing for her therapist to come back and help her. The teen feels like the therapist didn’t see that she was crying out for help because her therapist wasn’t “her normal self”. The teen really thinks that if her therapist had been in a different state of mind, then she would have read her email as it was meant. The teen has read all the emails from the rupture, and she feels a difference in the way her emails sound. The first email sounds and feels scared and anxious and defensive. The following emails sound angry— this amount of anger that scares the teen, if she’s honest. She doesn’t like that she has all that anger in her. The emails after the rageful ones sound numb, detached, polite, cold, appropriate—totally Ms. Perfect’s  voice.

I’m sure it did touch some of my stuff—absolutely.  I think I’ve sorted through that. I know by the time it got to the “boundaries” emails I felt pretty clear about things. I’m not sure that I would have read the teen’s email as the teen intended—let’s look more at that too!

Maybe between it touching some of your stuff and coming right off of this major anxiety and worry about insurance and you expecting more coping resources to be present, it made it impossible to even have a chance of reading the teen’s email and seeing where she was and how much she needed help. I don’t know. I’m not saying that I didn’t screw up, or that I couldn’t have expressed myself better, but I was so far past capacity to even be able to say, “Hey Bea, I know I twist things and get confused and right now I’m feeling X, Y, Z because of Wednesday.” I literally had nothing left in me to cope.

The teen is still so hurt. She feels like she was abandoned twice; once on the Wednesday, and then again after reassurance that her therapist was back, and that it was okay to talk to her therapist about the therapist. On the verge of spinning out, and with the adult’s insistence it would be okay because the therapist had said she was back, the teen took a risk. Sometimes the teen thinks this can’t be fixed. She’s just not sure that talking to her therapist about her therapist is ever going to be okay. Her therapist asked the teen if she felt like the therapist gets defensive, and the teen couldn’t really answer, but the word she used was “defended” when she wrote about this in her notebook. The teen wonders if she should just let this go, or if she can’t let it go if it would be easier and better all around for everyone involved if she tried to talk to Kay or Hubby about this rupture. She’s even had the thought that she needs to find a therapist to deal with her relationship with her therapist, because she doesn’t know what else to do and she wants everything to be okay again. She doesn’t want a different therapist, she just wants her therapist, but she also needs to talk about this and work through it, to process it, and it doesn’t feel safe or okay to do so with her therapist. The teen doesn’t think this is all, or even mostly because of her therapist, she’s pretty sure that most of the feeling it’s not safe is because of her past. This is scary and hard for her, and the idea that this will be okay one day feels like a fairytale. She wishes it could be true, but she can’t believe it, no matter how much she wants to.

I hope we can make some progress in the way the teen feels about things. I think going through the emails and sharing what was meant and what the reactions were/are could be really useful. I hope that feels like it would be possible face to face?

I dont know right now. I can try. I’m really, really scared. But I can try.

I put the original email below, in green. I didn’t copy anything else, though.

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

I don’t know—I think emailing this was a good idea:). And it was very brave!

~the teen👱🏼‍♀️👩🏻‍🚒

The (original) email ——— (I’ll bold it)

I feel like this is a very big risk, like I’m taking a scary chance by sending an email, but I can’t do this in your office. It’s too much. It’s so….what I wrote, how I feel, I’m too vulnerable. I feel like a turtle who lost her shell. And I’m scared.

I wrote this in my notebook, but then….well, I’m not sure I can deal with this one face to face. Because it’s….painful. And I’m so afraid for so many reasons that this is going to make things worse. I don’t want to upset you, I don’t want to break things further. I don’t want you to read my words and get all shrinky. I don’t want my words to make you feel bad. I don’t want you to read them, and then be mad with me for feeling like this. I don’t want to end up in a worse place. I just don’t know.

I should have said—

On Wednesday……….You said, you sounded like, it felt like you thought I didn’t really need to be here anymore, like I wasn’t deserving of therapy, should not need to be here twice a week, like you should not have to deal with me twice a week anymore, like you believe there is nothing major left to do, like whatever is left is not enough to warrant being here twice a week, to take up that much of your time.

You didn’t just take the boat away, you made it sound, you made it feel as if I deserved to have to boat taken away.

You took the boat away and made it feel like I shouldn’t even be in the boat, and that makes all of this impossible.

It’s impossible because I can’t schedule appointments to make things twice a week when I feel like that is needing too much, when I feel like you don’t think I should need to be here at all.

It makes it impossible to talk to you. To trust that you even want to hear what I’m saying, and to trust that you won’t decide the boat got too heavy when I let all the crud out of my bag and take the boat away again.

It makes me so angry because I’m left on my own, treading water. And sure, okay, I can tread water really good for a long time, maybe even forever, but I don’t always make safe choices when I’m alone treading water. It’s not easy, I don’t go on really living and being present in my life, I don’t function well when all my energy and time and brain power are being used to tread water.

You see this all as one tiny part of the whole, but to me, it is the whole. Or maybe more like Wednesday broke the whole, and this is all that is left. And I don’t want to make it worse. What I’m saying feels like it will make things worse. It feels like Wednesday broke us because I broke you. Just call it wrecking ball Wednesday.

—The teen

And then, as I got ready for bed, a thought struck me.

Hi Bea,

I had this thought, and I guess I just wanted to tell it to you. Which is sort of…not regular for me. But it hit me all of a sudden, you really do want to work through this and help me be okay again. That’s why you are doing this, the emailing and the talking and the waiting and not pushing and letting me take my time with talking about the stuck stuff. You really do want to be an anchor for me, even after all the raging. You aren’t gone, and you are making a point to work through this again, and you aren’t mad at me that we have to keep talking about this or that I’m still struggling to trust you again and just be okay. You aren’t angry that I can’t just let this go and agree with you. I don’t think you would even want me to pretend it away and and agree with you, even though that might make things easier for you. This isn’t easy for you, or comfortable for you, but you are doing it anyways because it matters to me, because I still feel hurt and pain over it and you don’t want me to keep feeling like this. Or, maybe I’m just being crazy, but I just, I don’t know, I guess the way you keep responding and being there and actually listening, like you want to hear what I have to say, even if it isn’t all rainbows and sunshines and unicorns, and I think you are listening to listen, not to appease me to make me be quiet or because you have to listen so you can prove you are right and I am wrong. You aren’t leaving because I wasn’t perfect and you don’t even prefer Ms. Perfect to me. This is new. A new thing for me. It’s not easy. It’s scary. New is scary. But it is new and different. 

I guess I just wanted you to know this because I think you have been trying really hard to show me it’s okay to talk to you, that you aren’t leaving and that all my twisted thoughts are just that— dark and twisty thoughts that are not true. And I guess something sort of clicked in my crazy head and I get it, I feel it. I believe it (at least in this moment). You are here. 

So, I’ll send this (and it took me almost 40 minutes to decide that yes, I should send it), but you know, two seconds after I send it I will feel vulnerable and mad at myself for telling you that you maybe matter to me and that I maybe am trusting you again. I’ll hate that I made this a thing, and I’ll hate that I told you this was new, something different and I’ll be embarrassed that I took another step closer to the halfway point of this dark cave I likeso much. The teen 👩🏻‍🚒👱🏻‍♀️

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.”