Last night I tried out a new therapy group. It wasn’t good for me. I didn’t feel safe with the therapist, I didn’t like his approach and generally didn’t trust him. After participating in group therapy for 3 months last year, I know there are certain prerequisites when running a group.
This guy didn’t meet them. He spoke about his clients, which I found completely inappropriate, and he spent a lot of time sharing his opinions and telling us about himself. It seemed more like a platform for him than a forum for us. I ended up being rather argumentative, as it irritated me how everything he said was received with awe and reverence by the group. So I just kept arguing against all of his opinions, regardless of whether I actually agreed with him or not. That part was quite fun.
The positive I have taken from this experience is that I created my own boundaries. I kept myself safe, by not sharing very much and keeping my contributions quite superficial. In the past I would have spoken more because I felt that was my role. But I knew I didn’t feel secure there, so I held back. I’m proud of myself for that, and for taking the risk of going there in the first place.
I knew, however, during the session that I didn’t want to go back. I felt uncomfortable, I had a bad gut feeling and I wasn’t sure why. I thought I had managed the situation really well, but when I arrived home I had a panic attack. My chest tightened and my heart raced and the more I tried to calm myself the worse it got. So I ended up necking a load of pills to knock myself out.
That meant I’ve been feeling hung over today. I’m tired and I’ve got this dull, nagging headache. When I arrived for my session with J she could tell I wasn’t feeling very well. I still had a fair amount of anxiety in my system and that increased when I told her about my experience last night. I realised I’d re-experienced some difficult feelings from the counselling I was forced to attend as a child. No wonder it stressed me out so much.
For weeks I have carried this photo album to J’s place and back and for some reason I didn’t feel brave enough to share it with her. Today I decided I would. It’s a scrap book my sister made for me out of old family photos on my 21st birthday. I love and hate those photos.
The pictures provided a great stimulus for our session today. As I talked J through the various snapshot moments, I remembered things about each one. Some good, some not so great. Memories came back to me that I know have been important in shaping how I am today; for instance being physically assaulted by bullies at school. That was a traumatic ordeal and I’ve not really thought about it much.
Talking to J about the school bullies also highlighted my abandonment problems. I have recurring nightmares in which something terrible is happening to me, there are people around but none of them will help me. They just ignore me. It’s the same in every dream.
That’s what happened when those kids attacked me walking home from school. There were plenty of adults around, but they all ignored it. It happened again when I was punched in the face at school, my friends didn’t intervene. Nobody defended me and I didn’t defend myself. When I was in hospital, I was abandoned by a nurse when I desperately needed her. I was left alone, sobbing, despairing.
These incidents are all reinforcements of the loneliness I felt in childhood. My brother, who sexually abused me, was allowed to remain in our home. My parents didn’t know how to help me, I get that, but I felt defenceless in what should have been a safe place – because they kept him there, living with us. And he has been in our lives, part of our family, ever since. Nobody ever talked about the abuse. There were no consequences for him. I was alone in my suffering and fear and I felt completely helpless.
That helplessness is what comes up in therapy often. When I talk to J about my family, my adult part vanishes and I just feel like that small, hopeless child. It generates so much anxiety that I often dissociate, which I did a bit today. The problem is that I get scared when I feel defenceless, and that’s the emotion that comes up when I’m talking about my childhood. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I know, for sure, that I am safe with J. I have never felt intimidated by her, or threatened. She is only ever encouraging and warm.
But in that place I feel so exposed that I have to hide. I want to crawl down behind one of her chairs and wrap myself in a blanket. I can’t do that, so I retreat into myself. Sometimes I dive so far beneath that I can hear her speaking but I can’t respond. It’s horrible, isolating myself when what I need most is comfort. I need to be with someone, but I am just too scared.