A long time ago I did a sentence completion test provided by Tony White over at Graffiti and he analyzed it like he was writing in his clinical notes about a client. One of the sentences was The child in me is _______. I finished the sentence with lost and one of his notes was he would investigate how much that belief was part of the life script. At the time I was more interested (or scared to death) of some of his other comments but recently it popped back into my thoughts because I feel like I found her.
Yesterday during my session with M, he started by discussing the idea of doing a workbook together during my sessions. I was surprised because in the session before he told me that he thought that working through a workbook would result in some of the same issues I am currently struggling with: what to talk about? or what part of the exercise to discuss?; feeling like I am failing and ashamed about therapy or having the same feelings about the workbook exercises? He said he thought workbooks or set exercises provided a stimulus that leads to discussing what is important. I said you think right now the stimulus is me feeling ashamed and like I’m failing and he said yes all too often. I’ve been liking I’m stuck in therapy and nothing is working. I felt uncomfortable and unsettled with M changing his mind.
Then asked me if I was thinking of changing therapists and trying a new kind of therapy and I said no I didn’t think I would be ready to try a new therapist in the near future. He asked me why and I said that I felt like I needed to focus on my weight because of my health issues but the other things that have come up for me related to him are too painful to want to work on in the foreseeable future. I cried a lot and I admitted it is because it is so painful to think about quitting therapy with him even though therapy itself is painful. He asked me if I would try therapy with the consult T I have seen in the past and I said no. At that point my feeling of uncomfortableness grew into absolute dread. I was sure he was getting ready to quit therapy with me. I got so upset I couldn’t talk and when he realized that he asked me if I was afraid he was suggesting quitting therapy and I choked out a yes. He said he wasn’t suggesting that but he was addressing it because I brought it up in session last week and in the past I have asked him to help me quit. I got more and more upset. I heard what he said but it didn’t make the slightest impact on the feeling that he was giving up on me. I cried the rest of the session and when he shook my hand and suggested I look at workbooks before our session on Monday I felt my heart breaking. I didn’t want to leave the office and then I stood outside is office. I tried to tell myself he hadn’t quit yet but it didn’t matter.
I realized that I found her. I found the child in me and she was hysterical. She is the part of me that keeps asking M if he is angry or frustrated or leaving but doesn’t believe his answers. She is the part of me that wants M to sit close to her and hold her hand. She wants M to approve of her and tell her that. She wants to go to a session and just sit with M and not have to do anything but still to be okay. I have tried to ignore her. I’ve tried to control her and her feelings. I tried to tell myself she is crazy and isn’t reasonable and I can just be rational and I keep failing and she keeps bursting through. I am so sad because I feel her pain and confusion and frustration. I can feel how all the talking M and I have done about how therapy works and what type of therapy to try and workbooks isn’t reaching her at all. It just feels like we are ignoring her and yesterday I realized how much I’ve been hurting her and letting M hurt her by trying to understand what is possible and appropriate and ignoring how she feels and what she wants whether they are possible or appropriate. She and I are so sad.
(Here is the post on Tony White’s site)
I had a session with M this morning that I wasn’t expecting to have. M cancelled last night because he was sick and then emailed me this morning to say he was better and could meet if I could make it. It was unusual because I hadn’t been anxious for hours or days before the session. Also I have been thinking about my anger and frustration from Monday’s session. I felt like we spent the session arguing about whether or not I knew what to talk about deep inside. By the end I felt like we were on opposite sides so I started today talking about things that we can agree upon.
M and I agree that I struggle to talk for many reasons that are fear and judgement based. We agree that we are both working on ways to make it easier for me to talk freely. We’ve tried lots of different things like playing cards, doing a puzzle, sitting on the floor together, reading emails and we’ve discussed other ideas. I still get stuck thinking in circles and not talking. Then I feel ashamed because I’m failing at therapy. Today was a very different conversation because I had the emotional distance to discuss things with M rationally. I asked him Why I should talk about things anyway. How does it help? I think M must get tired of the same questions over and over but he answered.
By the end of my session I had admitted that therapy was so painful because I was constantly failing at it and if I could change my definition of success and failure in therapy it would make it so much easier. Of course if I could do that I probably wouldn’t need therapy.
I just finished a session with M and I’m so angry. I have been feeling depressed and hopeless about my life lately. My breathing continues to be impaired which causes me so much anxiety. I feel like I am only using the top half of my lungs and nothing I can do will let me take a deep breath. Which is pretty much what my test last week showed. After being given bronchodilator to open up the small passages in my lungs I could only blow out 2 Litres of air when the average for my age and gender is 3 Litres. Before the bronchodilator I could only blow out 1.6 Litres so I showed a substantial improvement which means I have asthma but it doesn’t respond very well to medication. I’m also worried about losing my job and having to find a new one. M knows how I’ve been feeling.
Today I went in and told M I didn’t know what to talk about which is a fairly common experience for me in therapy. I don’t know what to talk about, or I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about what I want to talk about, or I don’t know if it would help to talk about a subject. We have discussed it several times. Today M tells me that some part of me knows instinctively what to talk about because when I leave my sessions I write him an email telling him things I didn’t tell him in session. I said I sometimes know what I want to talk about in response to something he says, sometimes I think he is misunderstanding me or what he says makes me think so I have something to say. That is different then knowing what to talk about when I am not responding to him. Then he tells me that if I really felt like I had permission to talk about any subject then what was important to me would be clear and I would know what to talk about. I tell him that isn’t how it is with me. I don’t have a gut sense of what is important or what I should do. When other people talk about listening to their gut I always feel so broken because I don’t have anything to listen to. If I try to listen there is just emptiness.
M didn’t believe me he kept insisting that sometimes I did know what to talk about so while I might feel confused and overwhelmed and hopeless right now but somewhere deep inside I did know what was important to me and what to talk about. By then we had spent about 45 minutes discussing whether I did or did not know what to talk about. He asked me what I thought was the subtext behind his words and I asked him what he thought he subtext was. He said there was none he just was telling me I did know what I wanted to talk about but I was confused and anxious and hopeless so I felt like I didn’t. I told him I thought the session was a waste of time because he was stating the obvious and didn’t need to spend 45 minutes discussing the fact that I was confused and sad and hopeless and didn’t know what to talk about. I said I would have liked it if he could have helped me and he said how could he help me when I was the one who knew what was important.
Finally I lost it and said I thought he was showing me that we can’t work together effectively because if I don’t know what I want to talk about then we are stuck and we spend an entire session with me crying and feeling defective because I don’t know what to say and he believes I do so he can’t help me. I said he didn’t seem to believe my description of how I felt and maybe the only way he would believe me was if I quit coming to therapy because I didn’t know what to talk about. He said that wasn’t what he felt and I said “it seems like as long as I keep coming then you think therapy is working even if it is only a small percentage of sessions that we talk about my problems, the fact I keep telling you I need help doesn’t seem to matter”
Why does every session with M either have to be painful and confusing or repairing and reconnecting after painful and confusing sessions? Is there some way to do therapy without having to feel so stupid and worthless while discussing things? Does M feel like we aren’t working hard enough unless I leave the session feeling terrible about myself and what we are discussing? M was the first person who was willing and able to see my pain and not blame me for it. He challenged me when I tried to minimize it or take responsibility for it or ignore it. It was and still is incredibly powerful and transforming for me. Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that all M can see about me is my pain so it is all we can talk about is pain.
Today was my first session of the new year. Just before the break we were starting to talk about some difficult things about our relationship and how I felt about him (a dream etc) but it seemed difficult to just jump back in to that conversation. I’ve felt okay during the break but there are a lot of things looming in my life. I find out if I am losing my job in the next 2-3 weeks (funding decision about the entire project not just me) and a pretty big medical test (not difficult just potentially life-altering results). I was glad I could enjoy the break and not obsess about things that I couldn’t control.
I tell M I feel okay, neither good or bad for most of the break. I am not worrying about things because I’m trying not to think about them yet but I’m not really happy. I’m not looking forward to things, life is just a series of things I have to get done. M asks if I realize how said it is not to be able to look forward to anything. He asks me if that feels different than usual and I’m not sure. I’ve never been one of those people who look forward to things. I usually worry things will go wrong. M asks me if I can look forward to spending time reading a good book (I read a lot). I say I don’t look forward to it but I do it. I make time to read everyday and during the holiday break I spent a lot of time reading. I say I don’t mean that kind of day-to-day thing when I talk about not looking forward to things. I can enjoy reading a good book or seeing a movie or spending time with my children it is the longer term things that I can’t look forward to.
M says sometimes when you (meaning you like all people not specifically me) have very busy schedules, you can start to feel like everything is something on a “to do” list. He says that you forget to feel grateful for doing things you enjoy. He also said something about feeling like you are stealing time from other things to do the things you like to do. He said he things part of it is not recognizing your time is your own. I start crying and he asks me why. I say because he makes it sound hopeless. He makes it sound like I just have a negative perspective and I’m unhappy because of how I think about things. He says perspective is not fixed, it can change. I say not really or not much. He agrees you can’t change your perspective much. So I spend the rest of the session bawling and getting more and more upset. I mean what is the point if I can’t change my perspective much. If I’m unhappy because of how I see things doesn’t that mean my unhappiness is my fault and won’t change much. Isn’t that totally ignoring all the actual painful things that exist in my life? I mean I don’t know about my job or my health, I am miserably, painfully overweight and I can’t stop eating. My weight stops me from doing lots of things I would enjoy as well as making me feel terrible about myself. Is a small change of perspective really going to help much? Why work so hard for a small change in perspective? By the time I leave I’m in pieces and this was a session I was trying to stay calm and reconnect with him.