*Apologies for a ridiculously long blog post.*
Sienna and I arrange to speak on Saturday morning. I wasn’t sure what I wanted from the call and I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to say. Sometimes there’s so many thoughts and feelings all tumbling around my head that it’s hard to organise them into cohesive sentences. It’s like experiencing them all simultaneously and it’s hard to hear anything from the cacophony of voices and feelings.
Sienna started to speak about the week I’ve had and that she presumed I was feeling the way I was because of the break. She checked in with me if that was correct or not?
It was my first inkling that she really didn’t understand what’s happened. I told her
“Some of the upset is to do with the upcoming break and some of it is …. Well what’s your understanding of what’s happened?” Before I told her why, I wanted to know exactly what she thought the issue was because I sensed that she’d totally missed it.
She talked about how this time had followed a pattern of other times when breaks were coming up and she thought this was a similar thing. She asked how I feel about what caused the upset.
I felt flabbergasted that she was so wide of the mark. That she genuinely seemed to have no idea that my shut-down on Monday was to do with what she said to me!
I said to her “ Well, all the upset came about because of what happened on Monday, not really to do with the break.”
Sienna sounded like she was taking that in “ oh, right, okay…”
I said stunned “ How can you not know that? It was terrible on Monday.”
Sienna actually sounds a tiny bit defensive but I could be wrong “ Well, I know it was terrible on Monday but I was presuming in was terrible on Monday because you were struggling… I can’t assume, I’ve got to ask you. I was trying to get you to engage in some artwork because I thought it was something you could have taken away to keep while I’m away (as a transitional object) You didn’t want to engage. What did you feel?”
I started to explain to her “ I felt totally shut down because for the first 12 minutes of the session you used the words “negative” “bleak” and “doom and gloom” and that that’s the things that I’ve been bringing to the sessions.”
I could hear her thinking.
She spoke “ Right…. Okay….I do remember when you say that that I started the session like that because I’d had an awareness about… or a reflection during the week about checking in with you about anything good that happens in your life or finding anything that’s okay rather than focussing on the negative all the time. And that was coming from my place I suppose, am I focussing too much on the negative stuff? And you were right when you said on Monday that that’s the stuff you would be bringing to therapy but it doesn’t have to be the only stuff.”
I still bristled at her calling my life, my issues, negative. I mean I know it’s not happy stuff a lot and I can’t even think of a better word for it, but calling it negative feels judgemental and depressing. Whereas I happen to feel that there’s a great amount of hope in the work we are doing. And while my life as it is could be a lot better, and I do struggle a lot… I still don’t like the word negative, because it’s my life and I’m protective of that. It feels demeaning to call my difficulties negative. I don’t know why I feel that way.
“ You are calling that stuff “negative” that’s my life I’m bringing, it’s not negative, it’s how it is.”
Sienna conceded “ Yeah okay, I really apologise for that, that was wrong terminology to use. I wasn’t trying to sound like that was a wrong thing to do. I was actually checking in with you because I’d been thinking about our work I was checking in with you because I felt that my process was maybe focussing too much on the hard stuff and not checking in with you if you’ve had periods of feeling well and feeling happy and feeling good. It wasn’t meant as a pointer but I can hear how it triggered you so I’m sorry.”
I hate when she apologises. This is a new realisation. There is something in me that feels like when she apologises, it’s the end of the conversation. It’s not her making me feel that way, not at all. But it almost feels like there’s an internal voice saying “ Well, this person has apologised so stop going on about it.” Yet I was only getting started, I had a lot to say, and I wasn’t ready to be closed down with an apology.
And another feeling that comes up when she apologises is that I don’t deserve this apology, I’ve made her apologise and somehow demean her and I instantly feel sorry for her and guilty for making her have to apologise. I think this is something to ponder… where does this reaction to an apology come from?
But in this conversation. it felt like when she was apologising, it felt… perfunctory rather than heart-felt. It felt like the same sorry you get from a call-centre customer service advisor when you complain about waiting times or something.. you know? I don’t know… I don’t think she was feeling it that way, I imagine she did feel sorry, yet why couldn’t I feel it to be genuine?
I felt irritated when she said sorry. As well as guilty and as if the apology should bring the issue to a close.
I told Sienna “ I just feel really hurt. Because the things I bring to you and tell you, nobody else on this entire planet knows about. And now it’s been judged as negative. And I do have positives in my life, I spend my whole life outside of here being positive, I always see the positive things, I find things in each day to be positive about and grateful for but I’m not coming to you to talk about the things that are working and the things that are happy.
But what is going on for me inside lately, isn’t sunshine and rainbows.”
Sienna responded “ I appreciated that and I’ve completely…. Well I feel I’ve completely messed up for you on Monday and I apologise. And I get that it’s up to you what you bring to therapy and if that’s the side that you bring then yeah you’re entitled to do that, you don’t need to tell me the other side of your life. I suppose I’m just curious about the positive things in your life because it helps me calibrate where a client is in terms of – is it always negative?”
I interjected “ but what if it is always negative? What does it matter?”
Sienna said “ Well, it matters because it might flag up depression or having a particular difficult time… But I’m hearing from you that you do balance that when you’re at home and you do focus on the positive and you do have good strategies in place. And that’s really reassuring for me. Maybe it’s a bit of my anxiety, about going away as well…. Because I care about my clients, you’re not just a number that appears at the door. I really care that while I’m away there’s enough…. I can’t do anything if clients are really distressed when I’m away… and part of checking in I suppose was me looking for those strategies you might have to help you while I’m away. So it wasn’t about inferring that…. It was very flippant of me to call it “doom and gloom” it wasn’t appropriate so I do apologise.”
There it is again… another apology. Something about this conversation felt off. It felt like there was no real connection between us. She felt distant somehow. There but not there. I felt like she was being this “professional” and not “ Sienna, my lovely warm therapist.”
And also, what’s with the “my clients….” “ I care about my clients….”? Clients, clients, Clients…. Blah blah blah!!! She was saying she cared about us but not that she cared about ME, I wasn’t Sirena but “my client”. It’s like I was being demoted. Like we don’t even have a personal and unique relationship.
It’s like she was using this professional language as a barrier.
I said to her “ You have to realise in context that when I come to you, I only have one or two hours a week to process things that are going on for me. So I don’t have time or motivation to be positive or be find good things to talk about. There are good things in my life that I’m doing…. But I don’t get to know about what’s happening in your life either, so I don’t feel like sharing that part of my life with you.”
I suddenly realised just how true that was. I have been withholding positive news from her lately. Partly because there’s been so much else been going on that needed attended to but also because I have started not wanting to let her in, to not sharing absolutely everything. I’ve kept happy things or just general life things to myself. And part of it has been because I know so little about her life, I don’t get to be part of her personal life, so I’m not going to let her be part of mine either.
There’s almost a tit for tat element to withholding from her. A sense of control that comes from not giving her everything of me. But as I make this realisation, I feel an anger rise up. I feel a belligerence and an impulse to obstruct just how much access she gets to me. And I think it comes from that hurt that I don’t know about her or her life or what she does when she’s not with me or WHO she is when she’s not being Sienna the therapist.
If she isn’t going to let me in, then I’m not going to let her in. Very mature, right?
I feel anger even now thinking about this. What is this protectiveness about?
To prove that my life isn’t fully negative, I reeled off some of the good things I’ve been doing lately that I’ve never mentioned to her.
Sienna said that she felt like it was important for her to know all the good things I do in my life because it helps her see me as a whole, to see how I’m doing overall. That she knows that that’s the “host” doing the coping with life day to day and it’s the parts who are coming to therapy.
And I see her point, it probably is good for her to see the whole picture so that she can gauge how things are for me. Yet, I don’t want to give her that whole picture. I just don’t.
And it surprises me, because there was a time when I first started this therapy journey that I ached to be known fully. I always wanted my therapists to know me inside out. I longed to be able to share all the silly little things about me, all the things, the quirks, that make me, me.
But right now, I don’t want Sienna to have all of me.
Sienna conceded that I don’t have to tell her all the things going on in my life, but that is would be useful to get an overall picture of how things are for me as a whole.
I told Sienna “ There’s this huge split in me, this is where the fragmentation is so apparent and I feel the cracks so much because they’re so obvious. You know that I can be having the worst day ever, I can be broken and vulnerable and crying my eyes out, but if someone comes into my space, then I can split that off immediately and become this functioning adult. I will look happy, I will be confident and laughing and capable and independent. Being a functioning adult has never been a problem for me. I am strong and capable. But I don’t need to do that in therapy too. I don’t want to come to my therapy and not tell the truth about how I’m really feeling, how the parts are really feeling, what’s really there.”
I was rather clumsily trying to explain how deep that split goes for me. That I hold both the positive and negative stuff simultaneously and even though things might look bad or that I’m having a hugely tough time, I still retain the ability most of the time to function like a normal adult when I have to. I can be both, splitting apart with heartache and in the same minute, be laughing with a friend or neighbour. I wanted to remind her that I do that everyday in life and when I come to therapy I want to take that mask of and be how I’m really feeling, I don’t want to have to show her positive things when I have parts that are noisily demanding attention.
I continued “ I thought the whole point of coming to therapy was not to do that, to not hide and put a positive slant on things but to be honest about what’s really there inside. And on Monday it felt like you were using judgement labels, the labels you were using were horrible and it just shut me down because I felt like; what am I here for then? I don’t want to sit and pretend things fine and good.”
Sienna said “ Okay, fair comment.”
I carried on speaking “ in that session I could kind of hold within me that you wouldn’t mean me harm, I knew that but it still immediately shut me down, it didn’t feel safe to talk about anything because it felt like you didn’t want to hear it. You were sitting talking about… it was almost like you were asking if I/we were wallowing in self-pity? Are we wallowing in the bad stuff? And it just blew me away because I really needed Monday to be good… to find some sort of connection because the weekend had been hard for me because I was anxious about the upcoming break. And that’s why I didn’t want to make the stars, I didn’t want a lighter session because that would have taken me away from what I needed and I didn’t get it anyway, it was terrible.!
I started feeling like I was going to cry.
I said to Sienna “ I constantly feel like I’m the one who has to reach out, constantly reaching out, constantly vulnerable, it’s always me that has to….”
Sienna said “ I get that you feel that, that that’s your process, that you think you are always having to make the effort for other people and no one makes the effort for you. But that’s just your perspective or that parts perspective ask anybody else and they’ll give another one. And I get that I needed to be beside you on Monday and I completely missed that and I wasn’t beside you in any shape or form. And I’m sorry that’s happened but I suppose that parallels life too, we therapists are not perfect, we’re not meant to be perfect and we get things wrong or throw things up, but the bit that’s really good for me here is that you can articulate this to me. It’s really important and I want to reassure you that I’m hearing that. I’m really hearing it.”
I felt like she was misunderstanding me, I wasn’t saying I am making all the effort and she’s making none.
I said “ I am not saying I make all the effort and you don’t make any. That’s not what I mean. I just mean that I’ve had a really terrible week and I would have thought you’d have known how much that session impacted me and yet it’s me that still needed to reach out.”
Sienna replied “ Well, we are not mind readers you know, and I knew you would be… after the session I appreciated that because the breaks coming up you are extremely sensitive and at that point I didn’t really know what I’d done. And in the previous weeks check in you had been very light and asking to make the stars and me assuming on the Monday that that would still be the case, that’s probably where this misattunement was. And in part of my process as I think of it now, I was thinking after the check-in that you were in a much better place about the break because you’d wanted to make the stars. But my mistake is making that assumption and coming into the session at that level ; thinking you wanted to make stars as a transitional object/art project as a way of finding acceptance for the break, instead of waiting to see where you’re at.”
To be honest, I was still in shock that Sienna until today didn’t know what she’d done wrong in the session. What the actual fuck? How could she not know? I closed down the minute she said it. And her thinking I’d found acceptance for the break and my texts suggesting we make stars we not light, they were amid a point where I was really terribly upset. Which she knew at the time.
It’s like she sometimes rewrites history to make the story fit her agenda. She can’t be, she isn’t that mis-attuned so I have to wonder if she does that when she feels anxious to make something better for me. Like, the break is happening regardless so it would be better if I accepted it and was okay with it because then she wouldn’t have to feel guilt or anxiety. So then she picks any small thing I say and converts it into this narrative that I’m doing okay. This is something I’ve noticed before and it seems to happen before breaks or when she’s really busy and not there for me as much.
Sienna spoke about how she feels about the breaks, very generally, and how she wants to be able to go on her break and know that she’s done her best to support her clients and she said that paradoxically what she’s done has been a “ a complete balls-up.” She said she was hearing that what she did wasn’t good and that she hadn’t been attentive, that she hadn’t met me at where I was at and she was glad that I could articulate that to her.
She said “ Because it’s the worst feeling in the world for your therapist to not meet you where you’re at on any given day.”
I said to her “ It is, but this is a pattern that occurs with us before a break, where you attempt to keep things lighter so that you’re not leaving anything open and then disappearing, it’s like you want to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s before you go away.”
Sienna said “ Yes and some of that is part of the process of therapy so I wouldn’t say that’s wrong to do.”
I felt irked. “ but it isn’t working. It’s causing ruptures every time. That isn’t working.”
Sienna thought on that and prevaricated “ Welll… hmmmm…. (as if she wasn’t really agreeing with what I was saying and that just annoyed me more. She isn’t the authority on what works and doesn’t work for me, not matter how many degrees she’s got.)
I interrupted her umming and said forcefully “ I’m telling you! You don’t have to think about it – I’m telling you, it isn’t working!!”
Sienna stayed silent.
I continued “ When you do that, you move away from me.”
Sienna said “ okay.”
I said “ and moving away from me is the worst thing (you can do).”
I spoke very clearly and with power to ensure she was really hearing me…
“ I will regulate myself. If I think “this is the last session, I don’t want to get into anything big or really heavy”- which I wouldn’t want to in the last session if you’re not going to be here for the aftermath. Then I won’t bring up new or heavy things.
I am not completely retarded I’m not going to make it harder on myself than it needs to be. But you pull back at least a couple of sessions before the breaks and refuse to allow me to bring what I need or go where I need to. It’s like you pull me in this other direction that I don’t want to go. It’s like you pull back and are like “ no we’re not going there. We are not going there, we are going to have a light session, I don’t want to talk about this because I’m going on holiday and it happens every-time.”
Sienna said “ hmm that’s good feedback. That’s really good to know. Really good.”
Ugh how come when she says that it sounds like “ thank you for your feedback, but fuck you.” ? How can therapists truly take criticism and then thank you for it?
Part of me feels now like I really laid into her in this call. How must that have been to be told how shitty a job you did? And have each shitty thing listed? And how can she not feel defensive? And how does she manage not to respond negatively?
I continued “ I am not looking for you to be sorry about Monday, I’m not looking for that… what you said, once I started to calm down during the week I could see that you hadn’t said it to be hurtful, I can accept that it was just a poor choice of words and nothing more than that. But it escalated for me the rest of the week because you know how bad that feels for me to have walked out of a session and not have communication and to be completely shut down to the point that I’m saying “ nope, I’m not doing this (therapy) anymore, that’s it I’m not coming back.” I tried my best to communicate to you throughout the session. I wasn’t being deliberately annoying, I tried to communicate the best I could. But I couldn’t do it.”
Sienna replied to say that that’s why she just let me sit in silence eventually. She felt that there was no point in badgering me to speak. She said that she’d tried asking me questions and I wasn’t responding and that’s why she let me be.
I said to her. “ you weren’t asking me questions though.”
Sienna said “ I was. And I wasn’t getting anywhere with you so I decided to let you be how you needed to be”
Umm calling bullshit on that one.
I said to her “ No, what you were doing was trying to cajole me out of my mood. You were talking about random things that didn’t matter. You knew I was triggered and instead of sating with that, you tried to bring me out my mood and talk about other things. And I was thinking to myself “ well I don’t care about those things right now and you’ve really hurt me and this isn’t a safe environment right now for me.”
Sienna said “ Well I obviously didn’t know you were triggered in that moment, because there’s been other nights you’ve sat and not been able to say anything and just shrugging your shoulders and I’ve been at a loss, when I try to meet your psychologically I can’t get anywhere with you and I have to just sit and wait on you, and I probably do too much of leading as it is – not that that’s a bad thing, it is what it is… but I am hearing you though that you’ve had a really bad experience. But I have to say I didn’t… I haven’t had a minute to think about anything in between because I’ve got a lot of clients I am trying to see before I do go away so although I knew it was a bad session…. I actually was left a bit confused. I knew that when you left you looked like you had been triggered, there’d been a big thing, but I also thought to myself that I need to leave you now because I don’t want to make matters worse. I need to let you come to me, and that’s what you did eventually. I wasn’t going to rock the boat, I wasn’t quite sure what had happened at that point. But you’ve been very articulate today so that’s great. But it’s also about letting you come when you’re ready so that I don’t make matters worse. And it might have been if I’d been in contact it would have made things worse. It maybe wouldn’t have mattered what I’d done, so it was important to let you come to me.”
There was so many things in what she just said that were inaccurate and annoying.
Firstly, she did know that I’d been triggered by something she’d said because she said that in Monday’s session, and I have that recording as proof. Secondly, I can’t remember the last time I sat stonewalling her and just shrugging my shoulders and even if she does have to lead at times it’s because I am very dissociated or she’s speaking to a part who won’t speak or doesn’t have answers. It’s not fair to judge that as some sort of behavioural issue or unhealthy communication or manipulation on my part. To judge me on that is like judging a person in a coma for not making polite conversation.
Thirdly – She does too much leading? WHAT? How??? I am going to ask her about this tomorrow. Genuinely confused and annoyed with this one.
Fourthly- I don’t care about all your other clients that you need to fit in before your break. I couldn’t give two fucks. It’s not my fault that you have so many clients or that you chose to go on holiday so soon after your last break and during an extremely busy time in the school calendar where you have lots of worried children leaving for secondary school or simply worried about the summer holidays.
Fifthly- Sometimes not rocking the boat is the worst thing you can do. And using the old saying that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t isn’t a good enough excuse to do nothing when I’ve expressly told you how that feels to me. And don’t use that for a legitimate excuse for why you weren’t in contact, when the real reason is that you’d never ever reach out first anyway and didn’t want to and it didn’t even occur to you.
Sixthly – It’s not my fault that you’ve not had a minute to yourself and I hate hearing that you don’t have time for me. I really hate it.
I said to her “ It just pisses me off that I have to come to you. I am exhausted, Sienna. I am absolutely exhausted with having to push through all the time. I appreciate it’s my therapy and therapy is my responsibility, I get that, I do. But I feel that I do work really hard and I do take responsibility and I do push though. And if there’s been a rupture or I’ve said I’m terminating, then I’ll wait until I’m calmed down and I will come back and say that I don’t want to terminate and I will do the repair work with you. But when something as big as this happens before a break it would be really nice to know that it even registered on your radar. I mean, I’ve been sitting here all week feeling absolutely in the gutter about all of it and not wanting to come back and feeling devastated about that and it just doesn’t even… register to you. And I’m the one… it’s still… I didn’t feel like I could reach out, it took my 5 days to be able to and 5 days to you is nothing, it goes in the blink of an eye but to me every minute of those 5 days were excruciating, it may as well have been 5 weeks of feeling like that because that’s how long it felt to me. And even though I don’t feel right now that I want to come back, I know that I don’t or won’t want to terminate at some point. But it was still me that had to reach out (and through the stuck-ness and the pain).”
Sienna conceded that maybe it’s a sign that she does need her break, that she’s missing so much of what’s been going on for me and that she missed me in the session. But she also said that if I say I’m terminating and am really angry then she’s not inclined to run after me, that it’s much better for her to let me calm down and wait for me to come back to her.
Once again this was a predictably over-simplistic typical “therapist” response. And it really pisses me off no end that she’s failing to see the nuances on this particular situation.
I said to her “ I am not asking you to run after me. I am not asking that you rescue me. I am not somebody who sits on her arse and waits to be rescued all the time and that’s not fair for you to assume that’s what I’m doing, that that’s what I want.”
Sienna said “ I’m not assuming….”
I interjected “ What I am saying is that sometimes I can’t reach out, I’m in too much difficulty and I could really do with some help.”
This isn’t some borderline “save me over and over again” tactic. This isn’t a behavioural issue where I am deliberately engineering rescue so that I don’t have to do the work or take responsibility for my storming off.
I didn’t terminate in the moment to communicate my annoyance in the hope that she came after me saying “ Please don’t leave, please don’t terminate. I really want you to come back.”
I think I can admit with some shame but a hefty dose of reality that I used to do that in the early years like, in my late teens and also very subtly with my first therapist about 5 years ago. I wanted rescue. I used the threat of abandonment in relationship to get my needs met and I know that when I did that there was a manipulative feeling quality to it, even if I couldn’t have explained that or known consciously what I was doing. But I do remember that “ gamey” feeling.
But this now, isn’t that. It has a different feeling to it, a different quality. Me terminating in session, was me feeling overwhelmed, unsafe, exhausted and beaten down. I was tired and sick of feeling so fearful of the breaks, having to endure the anxiety and ruptures before the breaks, then having to muddle through the break with incessant pining for Sienna, fears about if things will change when she gets back for some reason, and then when she finally does get back there’s some kick-back and anger that she left in the first place and anger at myself for letting someone have that much influence in my life.
Me terminating in this session was me saying “ I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired. I’m sad and I’m hurt. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I give up.”
It was possibly and indirect “ fuck you” too.
And yes, when I left the session, I really hoped/wished Sienna would reach out. Even though I’d just terminated. Because I wanted not to feel so awful and I suppose I did want to fix it deep down. And I really wanted her to want to fix it too. But I was almost 100% sure she wouldn’t. I suppose it was that I wanted to terminate therapy, to get away from it, but I didn’t want to terminate my relationship with Sienna, not really. But unfortunately, if I want Sienna then I need to have the therapy.
But as the days wore on, her silence allowed for more space to open up between us and I felt angry and I felt like she was a stranger to me and I didn’t really know what to do with my anger or what it meant, but it felt like Sienna wasn’t the safe person I thought she was. And I felt grief too for the relationship not being fully what I needed it to be. I was grieving for the limitations of therapy, for Sienna’s limitations in terms of time to spend with me, I was grieving for all the things this relationship isn’t and cannot be.
I didn’t know how to fix it. I felt like Sienna would know why I’d been so angry, she would know her words had triggered me and she would know how much bad sessions really hurt me and that with all that knowledge she was still refusing to reach out and it felt unfair and cruel.
I didn’t want Sienna to reach out and beg me to come back or molly-coddle me or make things easy for me. I just wanted an acknowledgement that she saw that things had taken a nose-dive.
Sienna told me that she had been aware of how little time she had in her week and so didn’t want to get into texts or emails if she couldn’t answer them or attend to them. Which makes sense of course. Yet the child parts of me hate that she wouldn’t or couldn’t make time. (They are very ego-centric!)
Sienna also said that she felt it was part of my development to encourage me to reach out. That she knew it was hard for me sometimes to do it and that I was so used to retreating when I was upset and not letting people see that, and it was really good for me to reach out.
But I already do 100% of the reaching out. Sienna has never in my memory reached out to me first. And I’ve always accepted that because I recognise I need to learn to do that. But there are times when I just can’t, and if I don’t do it then I can’t get the peace I need and I spend days languishing in emotional pain and disconnection until I get enough adult ego state to finally make the call or email.
And how nice and relieving would it be just to get a message of encouragement from Sienna in those times?
Anyway this is hugely long so I’m going to wrap it up.
But basically there was a tiny bit of repair but it doesn’t feel resolved fully for me. I have a session tomorrow and a bonus session on Wednesday. Sienna had reserved me a session a few weeks ago apparently but I don’t remember this.
I hope we find some repair and a good place to end on before the break commences.