An intruder in therapy

Towards the end of my session with J today, someone walked right up her driveway and seemed to be heading toward the room she sees me in. I know this, because the room has a lot of windows. Which in the past I always liked, because I could look out at the trees and sky to calm myself.

J had her back to the door and didn’t notice. But I could see what was happening. To me it looked like this person was going to come straight through the door and into my session. I anticipated this, but said nothing and I don’t know why. I suppose some fear was triggered and I couldn’t think. I can’t even say whether this stranger was a man or a woman, because I was too anxious to look. I just wanted to disappear.

This has never happened before.

When J noticed she very quickly sent the intruder away and closed all the blinds, but it was too late. I was already spinning into panic; feeling my heart racing, and a sense of dread and humiliation and being exposed overwhelming me. All old feelings I am horribly familiar with. All feelings I didn’t think I would ever have to experience in the ‘here and now’ with J.

She tried to make it better for me. She apologised a lot. She told me she was angry that this intrusion had occurred. She assured me she would be reiterating the boundaries to her family. She said she would move the furniture again so that she could see in future if someone was coming up the drive (this was my main concern when she changed the room setup a while back). She asked me what would help me feel safe again. I couldn’t suggest anything. I was too shocked and upset.

In that moment, I wanted to run from the room, but I was too scared of being seen again. I could see that J was upset by the situation as well, and that felt really hard to manage. She was apologising to me and I didnt know what to say. I couldn’t say it was OK, because it really wasn’t. But not being able to say that was extremely uncomfortable for me. With other people, I would just lie to make them feel better – tell them it was fine. I couldn’t do that today, and not being able to added to my anxiety. My lungs felt crushed, like no air could get in. There was an intense level of distress in my body.

It’s hard not to feel worried that this is going to really destabilise therapy for me. It took me such a long time to feel safe with J. And even now, after almost three years of working with her, I get insecure and fearful. I guess that’s what chronic shame will do for you. That and having your trust broken and safety shattered as a young child. Especially by someone you loved and looked up to.

Sorry this isn’t making a lot of sense. My head is really full to bursting right now. My gut feels twisted. It’s not the whole of me, I know, but a significant part of me just feels like nowhere is safe anymore. That part is devastated that this sanctuary has been taken, this illusion of protection and safety has suddenly disappeared.

I know rationally that this stranger didn’t mean me any harm. I know also that despite being anxious and unsettled by it, I was still essentially safe when this happened. But knowing that doesn’t soothe the awful feeling of having been ‘seen’. Not seen in therapy per se, but seen in the state I am in during therapy. I didn’t expect that anyone other than J would ever witness me in that state. The only comparison I can make to illustrate my mortification is to how it might feel if a stranger saw you on the toilet. Naked. The sense of exposure and shame feels that extreme.

As well as that shame, this has triggered other feelings from my past. Emotions and a felt sense linked to the day my mum walked in on my brother abusing me. The shock, the humiliation, the feeling that something big had shifted in my world and nothing would be the same again – I am feeling it all again. To a lesser extent of course, but it’s brought it all up for me.

Of all weeks, I didn’t need this extra upset and stress right now. Tomorrow, I have my parents arriving and on Thursday we will travel to Germany for my sister’s wedding. I’ll be spending four days submerged in all the toxic emotional baggage that comes with my family. Away from my home comforts, my familiar routine, the anchor of a cuddle with my wife. I can’t afford a hotel, so I can’t get space and have a break. I’m absolutely dreading it.

And with today’s events added in, I am now really struggling to feel like I can get through the coming days at all. Sometimes it just feels like the universe is conspiring against me.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. DV says:

    It makes sense that it would link to your mother walking in on you and all of the feelings of shame and exposure that you felt then. And perhaps also the feeling that *you* had to be the one to make it all ok afterwards which seeing J upset might have brought up. I wonder if being able to make that link and talk more about how that felt at the time and what you needed back then, and having the experience of doing something now which meets that need, might be actually be helpful in the long run. Would it be helpful if you and J did something *together* to increase the sense of safety and power over what is happening – even something as simple as both of you moving the chairs around together? Like the things a parent might do when a child was afraid of a storm? Or does that just sound silly?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      I think it would definitely be useful to talk about this some more, and to experience what it would be like to have a ‘good enough’ response from J. I’m just not really sure my one session today will be enough time, and I don’t want to go into it when I’m not going to see her for 5 days. It’s crappy timing. The suggestion of moving stuff doesn’t sound silly at all. We discussed it yesterday and agreed to sit in different chairs today. Hopefully that will help until J has time to rearrange the furniture properly. Doesn’t make me feel any less anxious about my session today though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. La Quemada says:

    Oh, Laura, I’m so sorry this happened. I can see how triggering it would be; that makes perfect sense.

    It seems like two things need tending to: first, your sense of safety around your family and your sister’s wedding. What do you need to make that okay? Can you call your therapist, or text with her? I can’t recall if you have out-of-session contact with her, or if that is something you like. Do you have any soothing rituals or maybe some soothing item you can bring with you? Once I made myself little cards with supportive messages and took those with me on a family trip.

    The other thing is repairing your sense of safety in therapy, and as DV says, this is perhaps something you and J can deliberately rebuild together. Maybe you will always want to close the blinds and have some cozy interior lighting instead? Changing the position of the furniture will help, too. I can imagine, though, that you may just need some time and reassurance.

    When I’ve had ruptures with my therapist (this is not exactly a rupture, but it is a break in the feeling of trust), she has always said to me, “we are going to be okay, in fact, we are going to be stronger because of this.” It always feels a little annoying to hear that when I am still so distressed, but in the end, it turns out to be true. It turns out to be true if she makes an effort at understanding what hurt me and shows a genuine concern to fix things, AND if I make my best effort to share with her how I feel. The latter has become easier over time. I hope that after the wedding, you’ll be able to come back and spend the time it needs to build a sense of security again with J, who clearly cares about you.

    Sending you many good wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks for your feedback on this. You’re right, trying to find some safety in both of these situations is the priority at the moment. It’s hard to know what will work though. I will have contact with J while I am away and that will be reassuring I’m sure. And I will take some little items I can use to ground myself a bit too. I’m just feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to deal with right now, and also very aware that when I come back there’s only a short time before J goes on leave for two weeks. It all feels like a lot of disruption.

      Like

      1. La Quemada says:

        Ugh, yes, an upcoming therapist vacation too! Yesterday was my last session with E for several weeks, as she takes off today on her vacation. In anticipation of that, I feel I have been trying to hold back a little in therapy for the past 10 or more days, so I do know what you mean. But if you bring this back into therapy right away, I bet you can make it at least somewhat more comfortable before her vacation.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Laura says:

        Oh sorry to hear you’ve got a break too. It doesn’t get much easier does it? I do the same thing, retreating before a break. Unfortunately, today made nothing better as it actually happened again. I wish I was joking. Not good at all.

        Like

      3. La Quemada says:

        Oh, shit, I’m so, so sorry!

        Like

  3. manyofus1980 says:

    so very sorry this happened! I would have been terrified! I can see why you were! I am sending hugs to you. I hope the time spent with family wasn’t too bad. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks for the hugs – always appreciated! Laura

      Liked by 1 person

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