This session was just so awful I don’t even know if I want to go over my notes.
I left feeling so freaked out by the intense emotions I had experienced that I asked Psychologist J how he perceived the session.
Hi Jane (I am addressing you because you sent me the last email).
I want to make an account, at least in my mind, of my thinking about today.
I started the session, noticing that whilst you had not said anything, you appeared both cautious and a little flattened. This alerted me to the presence of anxiety and possible dissociation. I also wanted to hold open a space for any part to feel welcomed, which is why I mentioned that I was open to talking with whatever part was present. As the session progressed, it looked to me that you were struggling more profoundly, you struggled to form words and whispered things I could not hear. I heard you say that there was shame present, but apart from that I was not certain about anything except for what it looked like which was that you may have deteriorated since last session. I also had in my mind that the MRi had happened, that (redacted) and that you had mentioned last session that the doctor had mentioned surgery regarding the MRi. I imagined in my mind that you were super stressed and that it had made anxiety and dissociation worse.
I wanted to reach out to you to wonder if a visit to Dr M was worth a thought given it seemed to me that you were really struggling and that perhaps you were in need of assistance above and beyond what I could offer through our session. Maybe I was also in touch with anxiety which is possibly why I steered toward the neutral territory of Dr M and away from the struggle we seemed to be having. I realise that this must have felt like a withdrawal from me, as though I was not offering help myself which is what you were hoping to receive.
I don’t know if I’d say we had a ‘good session’ Faith – it seemed a really frustrating and potentially terrifying one for you and I could see that my attempts at engaging were further moments of shame and disconnection. I would say that you helped me to see the sequences of feelings (hope and good feeling which is then followed by shame and mistrust and then fear and rage and despair) and you were able to map this sequence onto the traumatic experiences you had with your father. It accounted for why having a good or hopeful feeling or risking feelings with male figures was so frightening for you. I was heartened that whilst you struggled to speak in the presence of memories associated with perpetration, you were able to use your words and assert your frustration with me – in the here and now – something you were unable to do with your father. How strong is that.
That’s my perspective – I hope you can take it to help you (all) piece together a sense of today.
I found it interesting to see how his neat summary compares to mine.
When I arrive and sit in my spot I am overcome with toxic shame to the point that I am frozen stiff.
“I think we should start these sessions by acknowledging each other because I can see already that you seem to be struggling a bit. Should we try that?” he leans forward expecting me to look at him. I shake my head no. No one wants to be seen when they’re soaking in shame.
“Do you want to be here today?” he asks. I don’t know what I answer if at all.
“Has someone pushed you out to the front?” Again, I don’t know if I answer.
At some point I manage to say I am feeling shame but instead of him helping me with the flashback he mentions that perhaps I should visit my psychiatrist Dr M.
“Do you know when the last time was you saw him?” he asks.
What he didn’t know until after this session is that most of my parts haven’t met Dr M. I’m always the same normal me around him and so the part present wasn’t able to answer his question about the last appointment. The critic interprets this conversation as a rejection which intensifies the shame spiral. At this point the critic (or Faith I suppose) is well into a memory, the memory of being trapped with two abusive parents with no one to turn to for help. Faith also has the memories of all the times she (I?) have tried to get help for trauma and not received it (such as a previous psychiatrist who insisted that my parents did the best they could) as well as the two times I have seen Dr K and been right at a good point in therapy when she’s vanished to have a child. So I was well entrenched in the memory of wanting help but no help being available.
Here again my notes of the session are patchy because it was such an intense flashback. I recall extreme suicidal feelings. I remember scrunching up some paper with the list of goals in my hand and throwing it across the room. He reminded me that he wasn’t going to hurt me. Soon after I got so upset I was trying to hurt my hands to drown out the painful emotions.
“Ok good, you’re scrunching up your fist. Can you feel it? Do you want to try that idea I had with a towel?”
I suddenly burst out with “Stop doing this! Stop hurting me!” which was both about the present and my father. “I wanted you to help me!
“It’s good you found your voice,” he says. “You’re angry at me.”
“No, I’m not! I’m angry at myself for having trusted you.”
Then I start to really lose the plot. I start saying repeatedly that I want to die.
“Please just kill me. Please. Kill me now!”
“No I won’t kill you.”
I recall feelings really really insane like I was losing my mind. I suppose this must have been similar to how I felt as a child. Actually it was. I do recall my parents diving me to this extreme place of mental torment although never did I beg them to kill me. Only God.
“I just want to go away!”
“What would happen to the rest of you?” he asks. Dammit, I feel myself realising that I have no choice but to exist.
“They wouldn’t be fully alive. Like they are now. They won’t be alive until they know what I know.”
He says something along the lines of how it might feel like I’m experiencing the trauma for the first time as I remember it and to be gentle with the parts that don’t know about the trauma. Each flashback always feels so familiar and true but at the same time so new and raw and shocking. Eventually J says he’s mishandled me and he apologises.
Eventually we end up having a semi-normal conversation where he asks me why I felt shame and why I felt I had made a mistake and not him. I tell him it has to do with the memory I had recently recalled – a different thing my father did to me.
“Because recently I remembered how I thought I was special to my dad. I thought I was of some value. And then I learnt that what he was doing was the opposite of special. I was of no value.” I tell him I’m really struggling with the shame that comes with the memory of some of the abuse having made me feel loved or special, some of his grooming tactics.
“Children all want to feel special by their parents and he perverted that.” He pauses and then looks over at me pointedly, “I haven’t forgotten your mother in all this. How she gave you nothing so you had to go to your dad for scraps of love.”
He tells me he already knows about this memory because I had mentioned it in the past.
“I did? But it’s new to me. I’m so confused.”
“Trauma is confusing.”
He mentions that the first part of the session was a re-enactment and that he can see that good feelings are when things feel the most dangerous. I tell him that with Dr K being away, it adds to the re-enactment because she is the unavailable mother figure.
“Did you know you told me to stop hurting you?” he says implying that he could see I was confusing him with my father in a memory from the past. I mention how sometimes I’m so filled with rage I can’t tell who is what.
“I won’t let anything bad happen here and it’s ok to talk about anything like feelings of wanting to kill or break stuff. This is the place for it.”
“I had this stupid idea last week, this way to think of you to make you feel safe in my mind because I don’t really know what a psychologist is,” I say as Faith who is so often living in childhood memory. “Can I tell you?”
“Have you ever watched the show Buffy?”
“Well I decided I could kind of think of you as a Watcher, like Giles.”
“Because Giles has his own relationship with a partner-“
“As I do,” he says referring to his wife.
“So he has his own life but his relationship with Buffy is still important. He’s kind of like a father figure and yet he isn’t her father, and their relationship is never sexual.”
“Yes,” he nods.
“and he’s knowledgeable like he knows all about vampires and stuff but it’s up to Buffy to go out and get stuff done. It just felt kind of safe and like it made sense to think of you as like my Watcher.”
“Yes and you as Buffy.”
“Well no, I don’t relate to her at all. I relate more to Faith.” (A different vampire slayer) “and she does have some dealings with Giles.”
“Yes, Eliza Dushku,” he nods. I’m surprised he knows the show so well since I always thought of it as a show for girls mostly. “She’s more bad ass.”
“She has more problems,” I add hoping he doesn’t think I see myself as bass ass like her.
“She’s more human.”
There’s a pause and then he says,”have you seen Kung Fu Panda?”
“There’s a watcher type character in that too that’s a red panda,” he says referring to his favourite animal and a safe image for me. I put the picture of the red panda out for you like you asked. Can you see it over there?”
I nod and add,”I might have to watch that movie.”
Though the session ends well, most of it is forgotten except the flashback. Faith spends the next few days going deeper into the memories of being stuck with a secret she can’t tell anyone about and a hellish existence where one parent uses her and the other abandons her. She feels like her entire life is like this. Therapists seeming to want to help only to use her or abandoned her. It’s a difficult weekend that follows.