This is gonna be a huge long read for anyone who can be bothered. And there’s a part two of equal length. I need to document all of my session in order to try and work out in my mind why it turned into such a head-fuck. It’s really okay if you can’t be arsed reading it.
In Monday’s session, I had it set in my mind that I was going to discuss what happened on Friday and how Sienna’s lack of emotional availability due to being ill, felt to me. I really want to get to the bottom of why it triggers me so much when I reach out and she can’t meet my needs, why do I escalate in those moments? Obviously it’s to do with attachment stuff and my history of emotional neglect. But I need more than that, I need to find words for the specific feeling it induces in me, because I have a hard time explaining what the experience is for me when she can’t help me if she’s busy or ill. It’s a very somatic experience, all in the body and it happen instantly, there’s no pictures or words that go with it – just a body emotion of some sort and feelings but no feeling words I can come up with seem to fit totally.
It really isn’t a pleasant experience and I want it to stop. And the first step to stopping it is understanding it.
When I sat down in Sienna’s office, She asked how I’d been. Last week had been pretty crappy in terms of feeling like the parts were waking up. And then of course she couldn’t help me too much on the Friday. Sienna apologised for the weekend and again explained that she’d just had so little energy and was floored with this cold/virus she has.
I told her it was okay. And it was okay, thanks to some really helpful comments from my readers here – Lauren in particular, my heart and anger softened as she helped me to understand from a parent/child perspective about needing to take time for yourself.
So I was quite surprised when Sienna suggested we go to daily check ins for the next two week until she goes on holiday. Why was she offering that? I wasn’t in crisis and I wasn’t even that distressed.
She asked if I wanted to do that? I shrugged and said “ I don’t know.” But I was thinking “ Not really”. I didn’t feel like I needed input every day but also – daily contact with her… who’s going to pass that up? Part of me would like to have that access every day just in case but at the same time, since I don’t feel in crisis, it feels like every day check ins would be quite intense.
Sienna left it with me and said I could let her know once I’d thought about it.
There was a brief pause from both of us and I immediately launched into what I’ve been holding all weekend and what I wanted to say about it.
“ I find it really really hard knowing logically that sometimes people have to take care of themselves first, that HAS to happen, and I know why. And it’s the healthy thing to do. But there’s something (cue voice breaking and tears….) that really triggers me about it.”
Woah, that was fast. That emotion just shot up.
I kept speaking “ – and I wish I could understand it, because if I could understand it, I could fix it.”
Sienna spoke about understanding that the young part can’t trust that when she can’t help me whether because she’s busy or ill or whatever that normal services will be resumed and she’ll be there on Monday at 6pm.
And then she ruined it.
“ And of course that’s the risk…. If you can call it that, of being in private practice, that I’m only one person.”
She was inferring again (which she knows triggers me) that to get the type of service where support is guaranteed, I would need to be held in a service, like a community mental health team or something.) It makes me so angry and scared when she says that. Especially when in this instance I wasn’t saying that she’d been wrong to take the weekend for herself to recover.
I said with a wavering voice “ I hate when you say that, why do you keep saying it.”
Sienna said “ It’s not a way of saying you should be somewhere else, it’s just that that’s the compromise isn’t it? That occasionally this might happen.”
I sat in huffy silence. Kind of feeling let down that she would even bring that up. This wasn’t how I’d wanted this conversation to go.
Sienna asked how my weekend had been. I told her that it had been fine.
She then jumped back to the trigger. And asked what it was that bothered me most about it? Again I reiterated about wanting to understand it so I can fix it.
Sienna said “ So, what if in the short- medium term it can’t be fixed? Maybe it just needs to be held. What do you do to hold it? Because I think you hold it much better than a year ago.”
Umm what? I looked up at her “ What makes you think that?”
Sienna said “ Well, did you self-harm this weekend?”
I said “ no.”
Sienna said that that was a big step. Ummm not really, since I didn’t always self-harm during every rupture, self-harming is fairly rare for me, it seems to go in cycles.
I let it slide, I couldn’t be bothered arguing.
Sienna asked if it made sense to me that the trigger was about attachment and the trauma of rejection and the fear of not knowing if someone is coming back. I told her that I do know that’s part of it.
She said “ You know it cognitively don’t you? But you still feel it somatically.”
Sienna said right now it was just about knowing it’s attachment/trauma based cognitively and just hold it with that knowledge and know that the feeling will pass.
I said to her “ But it’s the problems is causes..”
Sienna asked “ What’s the main problem is causes?”
Me: “ It causes anger. It causes me to detach, to disconnect and it causes me to just go further inside myself.”
I don’t know who was talking.. probably Sofia because actually that process doesn’t seem all that familiar to me. Usually when I’m triggered by Sienna not being able to attend to me, yes there’s anger, resentment, rage even but there’s usually a clinging neediness and desperation to get that sense of containment and soothing.
But in the moment I was talking, I believed what I was saying was true. Because it was what I/she was experiencing. Lately Sofia has been very quiet and we’ve both mistaken that quietness as her being settled. But for a while now I’ve been vaguely aware of Sofia’s growing distance from therapy, from Sienna. I’ve heard and felt her alienation every now and then and I’ve notice an increased shutting down inside of me, a reticence to share things about my life with Sienna, I’ve stopped communicating in my journal, stopped drawing for a long time. I think Sofia’s been feeling unnoticed and unwanted and she feels exiled… she’s drifting further away and no one has noticed. And theres very much a feeling of defeat for Sofia, that there’s no point trying anymore because no one see her and no one looks for her.
And the younger parts have all simmered down hugely. And I’ve noticed that I’ve been referring to them less. Not wanting to talk about them, not wanting to talk for them, not wanting admit there’s parts there, it feels too vulnerable or something. But I also haven’t really felt them too strongly lately anyway.
So anyway Sofia was saying to Sienna that this trigger just makes her detach even more, it makes her drift further away from the therapeutic relationship, and the further she floats away, the less she wants to connect, the less she wants to stay in the relationship, she doesn’t have anything to tether her, to make her stay.
Sienna responded “ And when we are back here tonight, what feelings are left around that? Is it anger?
Sienna said “ Tell me about the anger?”
I said “ I don’t know how to express the anger.”
Sienna asked what it felt like in my body. I explained how I feel it in my chest rising up at first but then a lot of it goes away and just sits under the surface where I barely notice it. But there’s anger and so much distrust, and that the voices say things… I didn’t elaborate.
Sienna asked what they were saying. I shook my head and said no. I didn’t want to repeat what they said, not because it was too awful but just because they say things about Sienna not really caring about me, that the whole relationship is fake blah blah.
Sienna added “ because chances are, whatever they’re saying, they’re projecting. So what are they saying?”
Fuck. I wasn’t getting out of this.
So I told her “ Not safe… erm… “
Sienna said “ Who am I for them, when I’m not available?”
I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure what she was meaning and I didn’t really know who she was for me.
I said “ Somebody dangerous.”
Sienna said “ It’s quite a big word isn’t it? It’s quite a big feeling attached to dangerous.”
I told her more of the thoughts, that the relationship isn’t real, it’s fake etc.
Sienna asked me what I think the parts mean by that, that the relationship is fake.
I told her “ That the emotions aren’t real, that the care you give me isn’t real.”
Sienna asked if they were younger and I nodded and said “ Teenage.”
Sienna said that there was the potential then that she was mother figure or something and even a mother figure wouldn’t be there 24/7. That they just have this demanding need of 24/7.
This irked me and I felt shame rising. I’ve never asked or expected her to be there 24/7. Yet I can’t deny the very little ones want her when they want her. And even though that isn’t 24/7 in reality, when they pop up and have a need, they want it met ASAP.
I tried to explain this trigger to her even though I don’t fully understand it myself.
“ I had a thought today that in my other relationships, if I don’t ask for what I need, but there’s a need there and a person doesn’t meet it cos they don’t know of course… then I don’t get triggered. Not getting a need met it okay. I don’t need people in the same way in outside. But in here with you, to ask or show I have a need and then for that not to be met for whatever reason brings anger and fear.”
Again Sienna related it back to my history, the attachment stuff. And spoke about strengthening my adult to be able to hold a need that arises when someone is unable to attend to that need. And to see it as a postponement of getting the need met and not an outright rejection or abandonment. I listened to her, tears streaming down my face.
And then she dropped the next fucking clanger.
“ And of course the younger parts don’t get that this is a therapeutic relationship and that doesn’t mean to say I don’t care, but it does mean that outside of our contracted times I’m not necessarily available. And they don’t understand that, that that hurt, needy…. Desperately needing young part does not know that.”
I felt like I’d just been slapped across the face. I sat with my head down, in floods of tears. What the actual fuck was I hearing? Is she honestly taking this moment to put the barriers up and remind me that she’s my therapist, not my mother and as such, has no obligation to me outside our designated times???? What is she actually playing at??
What I heard was “ Stop treating me like I’m your mother. I am not and never will be that to you. I am ONLY your therapist and you are only a client to me. I mean I CARE… but only in the same way I care about chocolate, or in a distant kind of “ sorry your auntie’s dog died” kind of way.
It felt so cold and so dispassionate and like MY Sienna wasn’t even there. There was no sense of the relationship I know we’ve had. No sense of the warm compassionate therapist who shows her warmth and care for me, and hugs me and brings me back snow globes from her holidays or who tell me affectionately “There’ll never be another Sirena.” Nope, tonight she was JUST my therapist and this was just a business relationship.
Fuck you Sienna.
It felt like she’s just drawn a line in the sand. I felt ashamed for somehow loving her too much, for having too much maternal transference, for wanting her so much. But I also felt blind-sighted by her declaration. Insulted by the fact she felt she needed to do it in the first place. And hugely confused about why she was saying this, when what I was bringing up…. The trigger was about me and my process and why that trigger exists and what I can do about it. It wasn’t in anyway an opportunity for her to remind me of what this relationship is or isn’t.
There really was no need for that comment. I sat there struggling not to just fucking walk. To not just sit in silence and block her out. But I knew I needed to push through. I needed to let her know how she’d just made me feel.
Sienna spoke before I could.
“ When you say you it feels unsafe, do you mean it’s our relationship that’s unsafe or does it feel that it makes you feel unsafe, personally?”
I had to think about that.
I said to her “ Both.”
She spoke about getting my adult to hold that hurt scared younger part… I interrupted her feeling exasperated “ I don’t know HOW to hold….” I never finished my sentence. The tears were too much, the hurt and the anger at her were too much.
I was sobbing. Sienna continued talking, reassuring me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong that this was just a process of development etc etc My mind was still reeling from her comments and I felt completely lost. Completely confused.. It felt like she was saying that this relationship had to be conducted here, in this room and that I should always know that I am just a client and she is just my therapist and I was thinking to myself that I can’t do it. I can’t have that level of space between us, that line, that boundary, those traditional rules of therapy AND stay connected to the deepest level I need in order to keep me in therapy. The amount of space that traditional boundaries opens up, is way too much for me to handle and I will leave. I will absolutely lose interest in trusting a therapist like that. I will lose interest in pushing through the discomfort of therapy, I will not share my inner most secret processes. The whole thing will stall and I will get the fuck out of there.
I need the level of contact Sienna provides. I need that proximity and regular input. There has to be that level of bonding to hold me safely. There has to be that level of consistency and support and yes, mothering. Anything less and everything goes to shit. I will dissociate and shut down.
Sienna knows this and has agreed to it. And has spoken many times of the mother/daughter dynamic being part of the work and what is needed to heal my soul. I need it. I need it like I need air. Anything less is pointless. And yes, Sienna does a lot of mothering. She has taken that role. But that doesn’t mean we are not both perfectly clear that the therapeutic boundaries still stand. That she’s not my real mother, or my adopted one. She is my therapist taking a parenting role to “grow me up” so to speak. There are still contracted boundaries and everything is all above board.
So if she’s asking me to exist solely within the space of that office and solely within the narrow band of “ therapeutic relationship”… then I literally have no idea how to do the work that I need to do. How do I do attachment work with a cold working relationship?
I exploded, sobbing “ I don’t know how to do this level of work and not have… I don’t know how to hold “ this is a therapeutic relationship” and the level of need (being in a close relationship) brings up, and that this is a therapeutic relationship and actually, I have NO entitlement to any of your time outside of the scheduled time. Like, I have no entitlement to anything, so…. I don’t know… I mean, my way to deal with that (fact) is to keep it… if we’re to keep it as this “therapeutic relationship only” that only happens in here- then I have to back off but then I don’t know how to do the work back here, I can’t do it from back here so I’m left… I don’t know how to do it.!!!”
I don’t think I was explaining myself very well. Basically I don’t know how to attach from afar. How do I manage my attachment trauma and subsequent mistrust and my maternal longings which are all so overwhelming with someone who want it to be “ just a therapist and client.”?
The only reason I’ve managed to establish a certain level of trust with Sienna and withstand being attached to her and withstand all the ruptures without running a mile, is because she’s remained in very close proximity. She’s pretty much met every need I’ve had and she’s been at the end of a phone or email 90% of the time.
Sienna said that maybe this was the risk of outside contact, that sometimes she won’t be available for me and she knows how intensely painful that can be for me. But she said that maybe that’s the work, that I have to go through this pain in order to work it through.
She reassured me that I’d done a really good job last weekend of holding it. And that was a real achievement.
I said angrily “ That wasn’t out of talent, that was out of dissociation.”
Sienna said that all of us use a form of dissociation or a “holding” mechanism when we can’t get the help we need. And that’s how we hold things until we can get our key person.
Then clanger number 3 came (yes, seriously.)
“ And maybe there’s part of you that doesn’t want to do well because there might be a pull in the younger hurt part that says “no I want that key person, that key person should be doing it.” I don’t know, what do you think?”
Oh.. really? FFFFFFuck you Sienna. I literally can’t believe the shit leaving her mouth. Is she really suggesting that despite the obvious amount of blood, sweat and tears I put into my own development that I’m sitting there refusing to help myself?
I said sullenly “ Whatever you want to think.” I was furious. But I was also bereft and feeling bombarded with insults and I just retreated. I couldn’t be bothered to fight her.
Sienna countered “ no it’s not up to me what to think. There’s every chance you’ve got a lot of conflicting edges to it.”
I said nothing. Just Fuck OFF Sienna.
I just cried silent tears, they blinded me and wouldn’t stop.
Then she said “ I’d come and give you a hug, but I don’t want to give you this bug.”
I was completely incredulous. A hug? She would seriously come over and hold me after everything she’s just said to me about this just being a therapeutic relationship. Therapist and client, nothing else. It seems breaking the traditional boundaries is okay if she’s the one doing it. Fuck off with your hug.
When I think of all the non-strictly things she’s said and done in our time together, it’s perfectly clear that our relationship is much more than just therapist and client. And she’s assured me it will extend after therapy if that’s what I want. She has transgressed far more boundaries than I ever have. She have. She has never ever had to tell me I’ve gone against a boundary. Yet all the contact we’ve had outside of sessions, the holding me while I cry, the offer of therapeutic based walks and days to the beach… none of that is within the traditional construct of just therapist and client. She has led the way with all of it and I went along with it. And I am okay with that because It’s all stuff I’ve liked and wanted or needed and it’s all been done above board, with her supervisor’s awareness and it’s all had clinical significance in my treatment. But don’t lead me down this path and then blame me for being there! WTF? Don’t take me down that path and then admonish me for treating the relationship like it’s more than therapist/client. Don’t take me down that non-traditional path and then turn around and make me responsible for your decisions. I didn’t make you do anything. It’s all been driven by you Sienna. And yes, I benefitted, but it you want to pull boundaries back for someone, then pull them back for yourself. So fuck your hug.
I felt so frustrated and just cried my eyes out.
She then totally changed tack and asked me about my auto-immune disease. She said she’d been reading an article about how Lupus can cross the blood/brain barrier and cause psychological disruption (usually shows as depression or anxiety for the record). And she wondered if that could be having any impact on me and that sometime later on she’d like to look more closely at the impact of Lupus for me and the parts, if it was maybe fuelling things or something.
She babbled on and I irately said “ So what are you asking me?”
I was pissed off mightily. How is this relevant right now? Also, we’ve talked this subject to death. She’s asked me this a million time before. I am sick of talking about it. I’ve told a million times that yes it can influence my mental health to an extent, but there’s no way to tell if my illness is flaring or if I’m genuinely in psychological distress. And really it’s chicken and egg; what came first?
It feels like a huge discount of the fact that I am suffering from trauma, my symptoms are trauma based and were there long before I had Lupus.
Sienna said “ I just thought you might know a bit about it.”
I said abruptly “ Does it matter? Does it really matter though what’s causing it. There’s no way to tell.”
Sienna said “ No, but it just gives us more understanding.”
I was furious and thought to myself, well go read it in your own time if you’re that interested, but I’m not talking about my illness anymore.
After some silence I said “ My Lupus isn’t that active right now, so it’s not even much of an issue.”
She stayed silent. And I dared her in my mind to continue down this route, I was going to go postal if she did.
After a big silence I said to her “ Do you want to draw up some new boundaries?” If she wanted to pull things back to a more traditional looking “therapeutic relationship” then we may as well start now.
She asked “ What were you thinking of?
I said snappily “ I’m asking you.”
She thought for a second and I dropped my head waiting for the death knell to drop. I fully expected her to take this opportunity to reign everything right back.
She said “ I can’t think of anything at the moment other than implementing the morning check ins until I go away, if it would help you? It’s helped before.”
Umm… wasn’t expecting that.
To Be Continued…..