The Paradox of Shame – Part II


Greetings, gentle readers, thank you for your patience in waiting for the followup. 🙂 This is the second half of a post started in The Paradox of Shame – Part I.

The level of shame and embarrassment surrounding finding out about BN’s relationship with this author was almost indescribable and I found it extremely difficult to actually GO to the appointment. I basically managed by refusing to think about it that morning. Every time I started to think about what it would be like or imagine what I would say or BN would reply, I would just shut it down in order to stop myself from being overwhelmed to a point of not being able to function. And I kept focusing on my breathing and slowing it down. It helps that I’m the best terrified driver in the world.  Being in therapy for so long, has given me plenty of opportunities to practice. 🙂

I got to his office and realized that having a 32 oz glass of ice tea with your breakfast before a therapy session about which you’re already nervous is not really a good idea. 🙂 So I ran into the ladies’ room as soon as I got there and then headed upstairs. He has a very small waiting area that he shares with two other therapists (the building is an older home converted to offices which is filled with a lot of therapists with independent practices). I didn’t expect him to open the door for at least five minutes, but before I could sit, he opened his door and called my name (the house is pretty old and the stairs are REALLY creaky, so it’s pretty easy to know someone is coming up them). So I kind of looked around the doorway and said “me?” and he nodded yes, and I headed in to sit down and told him I didn’t expect him to call me so soon. (Yeah, ’cause this was the week he picked to run early! OK, OK, I know it was kind, I was his first session that day and he was trying to maximize our session time. But when you feel like you’re facing your execution, punctuality is not high on your list of virtues. :)) I sat down in my usual seat and learned the true meaning of awkward. I actually made a gesture indicating I needed some time and sat looking anywhere BUT at him.

SIDENOTE: Cycles of Becoming explained to me that this behavior is actually about scanning the environment for dangers. Once you’ve established there are no other threats, then you can look. This made a LOT of sense to me so I wanted to pass it on, for those of you who also may look around a lot.

After a minute or so of just trying to breathe, I finally said, “I don’t think I can start today.” To which, BN gave one of his classic replies: “but that is a way of starting isn’t it?” I wanted to throw a pillow at his head. 😉 I told him that the thought of being seen, in any way, was almost physically painful. I kept starting and stopping and BN was gently encouraging me. He finally said that I had laid a lot of it out in my email and why didn’t I walk through finding the book and talk about the feelings? (He’s used this method before. When I go back and present it as a narrative, it also allows the feelings to come back. Just assume a lot of stops and starts and tears for the rest of the session.) I told him about getting the book at the library and recognizing that I had seen the book on his desk. Then I told him that I’m the kind of person who reads a book cover to cover so I read through the acknowledgements and found his name; that there was no mistaking that it was him (I told him I had always wondered if _______ was his middle name.) Then I started reading the poetry and it was incredibly powerful, with great imagery, and then I saw the  poem that was dedicated to him. Last, but not least, the book ended with an essay that talked about how her poetry was a conduit to her faith until she actually found her beliefs.

I told BN that if someone had set out to create the person who could make me feel the most threatened with him, this woman would have been the result. That I had lost track of how many times he had talked about how some truths are so difficult to express, so we turn to art and poetry to express them. That my father was standing in front of me, once again, telling me I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t good enough.

Somewhere in the middle of expressing all this, I just covered my face and told him I was going to keep my eyes closed, because it was easier to talk that way.  And yes, I knew he could still see me. 🙂 He talked about how courageous I was to come and talk about this knowing the level of shame and embarrassment I was experiencing, that I was doing the right thing to come and express the shame, as it was the only way through it. (Actually, he told me a number of times how courageous I had been. At one point I told him it was more about desperation. Yes, I have difficulty accepting compliments. 🙂 )

He really wasn’t saying too much in the beginning, just giving me space to talk about my feelings. What is so weird is that even though he’s not really saying too much, I feel safe enough to just keep talking about how I actually feel and as I do that I’m able to start understanding what is going on. I kept talking about how I was feeling and how difficult it was to express. I told him that the ironic part was that when I was this much at a loss for words, I would usually turn towards writing poetry, but there was no f—ing way I was doing that now. I shared about how stupid I felt that I was feeling this way again. (My favorite reaction chain: I’d like a serving of shame with a side order of shame for feeling that way. Oh and a shame cherry on top, thanks!)

When I finally drilled through to the center of the feelings, I ended up telling BN that the pain was really about how our relationship was such a powerful, meaningful one for me. I had never trusted anyone so much (case in point, I was sitting in his office talking about this), that it ran so deep and was so close to the center of who I am and who I was becoming. So the relationship was very special, as well as unique, for me. But as for him, he had other relationships that ran as deep and meant as much and I was not nearly as important to him. That I felt like a child on a beach who finds a beautiful object on the sand, and is so excited that they run to their parent to show them their “treasure” and it turns out to just be a piece of broken glass. That I was just a piece of broken glass and how could I have believed any different?

He talked about it being part of an old pattern that we could recognize, that I would go towards my father, hoping each time it would turn out differently, only to be hurt again, to not be enough. That he understood why these feelings had been triggered so strongly, but he wanted me to understand that I experienced a difference in my relationship with him. That when we are taught we are not enough, then we believe we have to earn it. But he wanted me to know that I was special all the time, in all places, that we are not loved for what we do, for our performance, but simply because we are.

I was so relieved that he understood and made so clear that what I believed was a lie, that I really started sobbing. Where before I had been very rigid and silent, this felt like I was small and just letting go. An old grief. I must have cried for a solid five minutes. BN kept talking to me through it. At one point I got so loud and ended up practically screaming into a pillow and I heard him tell me that it was ok to be heard. Then I heard him say, very gently and with so much compassion, “AG, I am sorry you had to experience this hurt, that you went through this.”

When I slowed down enough to talk again, I was trying to describe how it felt and was really struggling to put it into words. I finally came out with “it hurts so much to remember how it felt to feel so worthless.” And BN responded “absolutely.”Then he spoke for a while, giving me a chance to recover,  and said a lot of good stuff. He made it very clear that this wasn’t a regression. That growth is both a progression outwards and a journey deeper inwards and that sometimes you can run into things that provoke a pocket of woundedness that hasn’t been dealt with yet, but that he felt like I was very close to having none of those left. That when these feelings got evoked in the future, they would come with a sense of them having already been acknowledged and being able to move through them on my own. I told him how very close I had come to not coming, that I had really considered if I could bear just not ever contacting him again because if I didn’t see him, I would never have to talk about this. He talked about the shame being tied to recognizing my normal human dependency and attachment needs. That when you had experienced what I had, you could come to see those needs as the problem, that because things would go so badly with my dad and I would feel stupid for going back time and again trying to get my needs met, a lot of shame became associated with my needs. That a normal reaction was to try to live in detachment, but that human beings don’t do well outside of attachment. I started laughing and said “I’m not sure how well I do in an attachment relationship.” He said a lot of people can make the mistake of believing that, but because of our relationship, I had learned the truth of attachment and could carry the experience of mattering, of being understood.

Then he talked about the fact that I had not pushed, nor had he offered, any information on his relationship with the author (I noticed he was careful never to say her name, only I did. He also said this in a way which told me he appreciated my respect for the boundaries) but that we really didn’t need to. That this really wasn’t about our relationship; it was about the grief that it evoked. That in my original email I had laid out the fact that I couldn’t know about the relationship and I understood how my feelings were so intense they were blocking what I knew what was true. That I already had a good handle on the situation, I just needed to experience being understood. About this point I lost it again, because I realized that I had been SO scared to go see him because what if it was true, what if I really was worthless and even he couldn’t convince me otherwise? He talked about how our worth is intrinsic, I had mentioned my kids earlier in the session and he went back to that, how our children want to know why we love them and there really isn’t an answer. We just love them.

But he went back again to that sense of needing to earn it,  and how we can struggle with that feeling. That everyone, no matter how accomplished they looked could struggle. And had I ever considered that another of his patients might look at me and feel the same way about my talents and accomplishments as I felt about the author’s? He told me he wanted to read me a poem. (I thought this was a particularly gutsy and risky move on his part. I was not the only courageous person in that room). He said he had heard the poet on vacation, a poet laureate of the United States,  and that he was really funny. He enjoyed him so much, he had bought a book of his poetry. As he picked it up, he broke out in a huge grin and said “I do not appear anywhere in this book” and we both burst out laughing. He was flipping through the table of contents looking for it and I quietly said, “thank you so much, BN” and he said “you’re welcome, AG” and just kept looking. It was all just incredibly sweet and intimate. He found the poem, and read it. It was short, and very funny so that when he finished reading it, we burst out laughing together in a wonderful shared moment. The best thing was that it fit so well with what we were discussing and we both just GOT it.

Feedback by Billy Collins
The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there
to tell me they were still talking about it
just wrote again to tell me they had stopped.

Being open about the feelings allowed me to get to the underlying beliefs and allow the grief to move through me. And it was SO clear and obvious from being with BN, that my fears about myself being worthless and failing in comparison with someone else were just lies that I had been told a very long time ago. My relationship with my BN is just that: MY relationship with him and therefore unique. For both of us. It is very real and he really does cherish it. I had actually mentioned to him years before, long before we started doing individual work, seeing his name in the liner notes of a CD by a local band a friend of mine had lent me. I actually had asked at the time if it was him. At one point in the session, he told me that he knew I read the acknowledgement section because I had read those liner notes and talked to him about it.  I was kind of blown out of the water that he remembered that. I smiled and said that was before I really knew him and it was a man. 🙂

There were so many things he said and did that day that made clear to me in an unmistakable way (even for me!) that he KNOWS me and that he’s glad he does. The sense of worth he conveyed to me was true, not because he said I was worthwhile, but because he was able to recognize and reflect something that has always been true. I felt on solid ground again, and was filled with so much gratitude and love.

We shook hands very warmly at the end of the session and he told me to hang in there. I was still feeling very emotional when I left, mainly overwhelmed with relief and it took a lot of the day just to let it sink it and process it because it had been so powerful. I ended up getting the book of poetry Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems from the library and so enjoyed reading it since so many truths we had discussed in our work were contained within it. I ended up writing a poem, included below, for BN in response to it. Which is how I really knew my sense of shame was broken.

The Poetry of Billy Collins

I appear nowhere in this book you said
then smiled and read an answer
so subtle I didn’t hear all of it
until several days had passed
 
The poem made us both laugh
and allowed me to write this
even though I had sworn never again
 
Feeling safe, I read the book
and met you everywhere in it
though true to your word,
your name did not appear
 

Copyright 2012 All rights reserved

  1. True North
    July 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Hey AG that was a GREAT poem and I’m sure provided a chuckle, a smile and a very warm feeling to BN in regard to your great relationship with him. He is such a wonderful T. I cannot imagine how scary it was to confront him about this but I think deep inside you knew it would be okay. I just wish I could get past my struggle with having my T’s wife join his group even though she is not a T. It’s so hard to feel like I matter to him at all to begin with and when I see her name on the door with her degrees and that she is now so much more accomplished than I am I cannot imagine what he would find interesting about me. Having her there is just so threatening that there are times I cannot breathe when I wait for him in reception, terrified that she will come out of her office and I will have to see her in person. I’m sure that I will just disintegrate if that happens. I have tried to talk to him about this but we never get to a place where I can feel any sense of peace about it. I realize I have been trying to ignore her presence and make believe that she is not there. But she is. And I just do not know what to do. Thanks for writing so eloquently on this topic. TN

    Like

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks TN. The truth is that the unique boundaries of the therapeutic relationship lend themselves to ambiguity and a struggle to know the relationship is “real.” For those of us with serious trust issues it can be hellish at times. And I know his wife being in the office has been a long struggle but the only thing I can tell you is to keep going back and keep talking about it. Just as in this case, my real problem wasn’t about that book of poetry or about my relationship with BN, but about how I had felt around my father, I think your struggle with your Ts wife is about something deeper in your past. (You know that I know the feelings are real and exist and are about his wife, but I do believe the intensity of them, that feeling of being overwhelmed by the anxiety and terror are rooted in the past). You just have to keep digging until you find out the belief underneath and bring it into the light of day. Glad you liked the poem, BN thought it was a great “quantum observation.”

      Like

  2. July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I have so much to say about this (and the last) post, yet I have no words.

    This fits well into my life at the moment, and I think I need to take in the reality that this is not my own story – shame is a story that connects so many of us.

    Thank you for this.

    Like

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Amanda,
      You are SO right, shame is a story that connects so many of us. I am so grateful that you found this helpful while also being sorry you understand it. And when you find the words, come back and speak them. Nothing drives shame away like speaking about it.

      Like

  3. Izzy
    July 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks for the follow-up. Between this blog, my T, some books, etc…I think I’m finally zeroing in on the core wounds that have impacted and limited my life. Thanks for being so honest about your journey.

    Like

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      Izzy,
      Sounds like you’re doing good work, zeroing in on the core wounds is very difficult work but is also the way to heal in my experience, I’m glad if reading this has helped. Keep working it.

      Like

  4. MetaMantraMe
    July 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Ah, well done AG. I love Billy Collins. And know that your work doesn’t just help you, but all of us reading, too.

    Like

  5. yellowlabs
    July 31, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Wow. I’ve just discovered you and can’t stop reading. I’m amazed that you remember so much about your sessions. Do you take notes immediately afterwards? I’m lucky if I can walk, let alone remember where my car is after mine. I’ve often thought of recording my sessions, but that would be wrong, right? Of course I could talk about that in one of my sessions…

    Like

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Hi Yellowlabs,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. 🙂 Is your username about your dogs, ;cause I love labs! Such fun dogs. There’s a combination of stuff that helps me remember sessions. For years now, I have had a dear friend who is also in therapy and we often call each other right after our sessions to “debrief.” Often talking about it right afterwards allows me to remember it all. Also for a long time, I would journal the session that evening, getting down as much as I could remember, I often refer to my journal when writing posts on the blog. I also find that the act of writing, even without re-reading. helps me remember more clearly. And as far as recording, its not something I’ve ever done (nor would I without BN’s knowledge as I would be VERY angry if I was recorded without my knowledge) but I do know people who record their sessions with their Ts permission. If you think it might help, its worth asking about.

      Like

  6. yellowlabs
    August 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks for the hints on remembering my sessions. I have been writing notes BEFORE my sessions and I know what you mean about remembering what you wrote w/o re-reading it. Horrors, if I ever had to resort to looking at those notes during sessions! Probably won’t do the recording bit…I’d be spending all day, everyday on analyzing and over analyzing. Do enough of that anyway. And yes, my username is about my love of labs, esp. yellow labs. I’m on my third one now, Ruby. Great dogs, so lovable. One of them in particular always seemed to know when I was down. Hope this makes it to your new blog area. Will of course follow you there! 🙂 – JWD

    Like

  7. yellowlabs
    August 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    oops didn’t know my name would show up???!!!

    Like

    • August 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Yellowlabs,
      Whatever you enter in the author field appears on the comment. Since you had never posted a comment with your name before it went into moderation. I edited the post and put in your username before approving the comment so we should be all straightened out. 🙂

      AG

      Like

  8. yellowlabs
    August 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    and now my comments have disappeared??!!

    Like

  9. September 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    This is so beautiful, AG, and so precious to my heart. xo

    Like

    • October 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      KMW,
      I am glad that it resonated so deeply with you, thank you for tellng me. xo ~ AG

      Like

  10. George
    October 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Hi, AG,
    I’m the former “Me” (I’ll pick a new username before posting this). I just wanted to let you know that I keep reading over this entry because it reminds me so much of an episode I went through, involving my being confronted with the reality of a beautiful younger woman in my T’s life, that had the same effect on me, and my working through it. Unfortunately, I did not evince as much inner kindness and maturity as you did at the time. (Not that I behaved horribly, just, you know, like a regressive patient.) It was so painful. This is still an ongoing issue with me—not in relation to that specific person anymore, but the feeling of shame and never being good enough to matter in the way I wanted to, etc. But my T’s handling of it was very similar to yours. I think those feelings were looking for (and found) an object, and they continue to, so my process of handling all that is ongoing.

    There’s so much in your post to take in, and I really appreciate your exposing (in the sense of “exposition”) your experience in this detail. It helps me make more sense of my inner world and reflect on the continuing confrontation with someone more accomplished and “valuable” and “real” to me than I am to myself. I hope that doesn’t sound as desperate as it now reads back to me—it’s just an exposition, in turn, of an issue I deal with that made your lovely post resonate with me. Thanks for your writing!

    Like

  11. October 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Hi George (LOVE what you picked by the way) ,
    Please trust me that not all that much maturity and inner kindness was on display so much as “let me at her and I’ll claw her eyes at” 😀 These are such painful feelings to struggle with. In some ways, I am coming to realize that my work with BN can be divided into two phases, fear and shame. We’ve worked through the fear and now I deeply trust him and have that secure base, but now all the shame is pouring out. It is an incredibly painful emotion, and the sense of worthlessness can run very deep inside us (I plan on writing more about it as I work on it), so I find it completely understandable that we are both still works in progress in this area 🙂 I am glad that you are finding what I write helpful, it’s kind of you to take the time to say so. And to pass on something very wise that BN once said to me, don’t beat yourself up for feeling the way you do about this other patient, the real question is why is it so threatening to see your attachment figure have a close relationships with someone else, what can you learn from it? (This should make you feel better, it came up when I got jealous of my husband’s relationship with BN. Therapy has been quite humbling for me. :)) ~ AG

    Like

    • George
      October 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      OMG, you’re so funny. 🙂 But, just to be clear, it wasn’t another patient, it was a romantic partner, so . . . yeah, there’s that. He was “mine” in some secret corner of my mind and heart, and to be shown up by someone who was objectively (I think) more attractive, and shown a more realistic view of who I was in my T’s life suddenly like that–whew, what a comeuppance. Just like you, it was . . . how could I have dared to fantasize that I was someone special, etc. Claw. Her. Eyes. Out. !! 😀 You know the drill. That was a number of years ago. But, frankly, I’ve felt a rupture lately for another reason–not getting an emotional need met and, as a consequence, feeling as though I’ve left behind, or rejected, my T and his hold over me in some way. I’ll try to talk to him about it; he’ll probably think it’s a good thing, knowing him. I need to make sense of this new stage.

      Like

      • October 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm

        Oh dear George, sorry to get that mixed up. And romantic partner, even worse! (It’s coming back to me now). The boundaries of the therapeutic relationship really do evoke so much for someone struggling with disorganized attachment and I can flip back and forth between this is worthless and unreal to this is the most profound thing I have ever experienced and back in only minutes. I have found that it is important to just keep talking through the shame (so MUCH easier to say than to do) about all the feelings until you can work your way through to an acceptance of what it is and is not. I trust it now. BN is my therapist, which means he is not my husband nor my friend, there are things I will never know about him and things I will never get to do with him (abstaining from unnecesary comments here ;)) BUT I do have a very real, very deep intimate, loving relationship with him that no one else does because our relationship is between AG and BN and that relationship does not exist for anyone else. I am coming close to being at peace with that. (Close I said, close. What can I say, I’m still human. :)) ~ AG

        Like

  12. George
    October 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Hi, AG,
    Ah, the deep intimate, loving relationship. 🙂 I’m glad for you; I don’t have that. My T is more academic and not warm, though he is (usually) kind and gentle–very careful about everything he says, which isn’t a lot. That’s his way of being a BN, I guess. The lack of overt support is one thing, besides geography, that convinced me that my guy and yours were two different people. 🙂 In any case, one does in a sense get the best (because studiously least flawed) version of a person in a good therapist. Imagine that, for all we’re missing by not knowing them in daily life, we still experience a side of them that others (non-patients) don’t. What if you were a therapist and had to treat your husband like a client? Eeek. 🙂 I guess that’s similar to what you said about having a unique relationship with BN that no one else does.

    Thanks, and take care!

    Like

  13. LWH16
    February 21, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Your poem made me cry. Thanks for your brave and eloquent blog. I have an ex with attachment issues that I suspect are similar to yours, and you have helped me understand the dynamic between us so much better in retrospect, by being so candid about your feelings and so clear in describing them.

    Thank you.

    Like

    • February 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Hi LWH16,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting! I so appreciate you taking the time to tell me that reading here has helped you. It’s truly an encouragement to me, and I am very happy that you are finding it helpful. I am also glad that you found the poem moving. It was very near and dear to my heart. ~ AG

      Like

  14. happylou
    February 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Such an amazing post! You write so beautifully and your words speak so directly to my experience, it’s uncanny! I remember when I discovered how educated and successful my T’s wife was…it suddenly overshadowed all that I thought I had come to mean to him. I felt horribly inadequate. Or, there was the day I saw a beautiful young women in his waiting room–certainly she was more attractive than I was and I assumed she had less problems. I imagined my T breathing a sigh of relief as I left and she came in…such ugly, awful thoughts to contend with.

    These kind of experiences have caused me the same mental debate between never seeing my T again and being terrified to face a future without him (and with all the unresolved feelings that would plague me).

    You show such courage in the feelings you have faced with your T–thank you for your example and your willingness to share with us. You have inspired me to shirk the shame and keep having those painfully awkward, candid conversations with my T. 🙂

    I think this is a post I will have to revisit to garner some much needed courage of my own.

    Like

    • February 25, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Happylou,
      Thank you so much. I am glad that this resonated so strongly with you. What you said about such ugly, awful thoughts to content with describes it so perfectly. I appreciate you admitting you have felt the same, it helps to know I am not the only one. The truth is, these are pretty human feelings. But I will readily admit that when BN opens his door, it’s a lot easier to see an elderly couple or a single man emerging than it is to see a younger, more attractive woman. 😀 I wish you the best in continuing to be candid and if I can be of any assistance in you finding courage i would be delighted. But I suspect you already have courage to spare! ~ AG

      Like

  15. happylou
    February 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I feel the same way–so relieved to know I am not alone. My T has also been trying to convince me that all of my emotions are human and natural, but I have yet to completely internalize this.

    I must say that I love your sense of humour! You are so witty and easy to relate to. I read some of your posts to my husband last night and he asked “this is someone else, or did you write this?” I was flattered that he thought I could possibly write as well as you do. You say all the things I have been trying to explain to him for months–except I lack the ability to wrap it up so neatly and eloquently.

    I may just take you up on that finding courage thing. My T and I hit a hard spot before he left on vacation and I am left wondering how (or even if) to continue. Is courage contagious? I hope so! Would you mind if I emailed you to give a few more details (as opposed to posting all my dirty laundry on this wall)? 🙂

    Like

    • February 27, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Happylou,
      Thank you again for the kind words. Please feel free to email me at my blog address; I just want to say I am still digging out from under the correspondence that piled up during my surgery and vacation so it may be a little before I respond. I understand the need for more privacy! 🙂 ~ AG

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