The Whole Story of the No

In my post I HATE hearing no, I talked about BN saying no to something I asked for but didn’t go into too many details. Some of it was lack of time, but I suspect, gentle readers, that some of it was embarrassment. So now I’m going to tell the whole story, mainly because I am working very hard to understand what is going on within me and where I want to go from here. I see BN on Friday and I am struggling to discern if I am just trying to avoid loss or if this is something I can have in the here and now. I strongly suspect from the intensity of my feelings that BN gave me the right answer, but I’m not sure whether I am ready to give up the fight yet. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I have a favorite Christmas book, Santa Calls by William Joyce, that is a children’s picture book that I read to my children when they were small. It is a whimsical tale with everything you could wish for in a story: Santa, Mrs. Claus, the dark elves, licorice, the Canine Brigade, good triumphing over evil and reconciliation. The heart of the story is the wish of Esther to be friends with her brother, which is why I suspect I remembered the story this Christmas. While doing some Christmas shopping at Amazon, I ran across the author and on sudden impulse, decided to buy BN a copy as a Christmas gift. I normally really think through the gifts I give BN and try to be introspective about why I am giving that particular thing but not in this case. I felt a strong pull that I wanted to share the book with him and I didn’t really stop to think about it.

After the book arrived and I started thinking about what to say when I gave it to BN, it dawned on me that it was a slightly strange gift. It had seemed so very RIGHT when I decided to order it, but when I really contemplated giving a storybook to a grown man, the oddness of it struck me (hey, my denial mechanisms are as robust as the next gal’s :D). My first rationalization was that he could read it to his grandchildren. He has three and usually sees some, if not all, of them during the holidays. But as I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t just want him to have the book, I wanted to share it with him. But the thought of asking him to read it with me felt wrong, that it was such a regressive request and would be inappropriate to our relationship. I felt embarrassed and childish for even wanting this, so actually asking for it felt scary and just too over the top.

I wrapped the book and took it with me to my session to give to him, but still really had not decided if I would bring up wanting to read it. This ended up being the session during which we discussed my reactions to my medical tests and ended up discussing a lot of my body issues (Is a body REALLY necessary?) which evoked a tremendous amount of shame. So the next thing I realize, I am wrung out and almost out of time. So at the tail end of the session, I ended up handing the gift to BN. While he opened it, I mumbled through an explanation, telling him it was my favorite Christmas story and I wanted him to have it and that his grandkids might enjoy it. Not my most articulate or graceful presentation of a gift. BN was very gracious about it (and managed not to say or even wear an expression which said “WTF?”). He even thanked me again when we shook hands at the end of the session, which is how we always say goodbye.

It all felt very flat and disappointing. I was discussing what happened with a friend of mine and realized that I had chickened out. We both agreed that it was funny and pretty ironic that I was afraid to ask considering some of the topics I have discussed with BN. In thinking about the situation, I realized that I really missed BN every Christmas. In many ways, he is the closest thing I have to a good parent. I am very clear that he’s my therapist and not my father, but have also acknowledged how deep the longing for that can run. But he is my secure base, and in many ways our relationship feels very strongly like “home.” And who doesn’t want to go home for Christmas? But I would never intrude on his holiday, despite his generous contact policy. I feel like I need to be with my family and that he deserves to not have his time with his family interrupted. So reading the story with him during a session felt like a way to have some part of Christmas spent with him, but within the frame of therapy and on my time. So I made the decision, despite the fear and embarrassment, that I was going to ask him to read the book with me (I was fine with doing the reading or having him read). So, I sent him an email, asking if he could have the book available as I needed to talk more about it and that depending on how things went, we might need it. He didn’t respond to the email, but I hadn’t asked him for a response and I usually don’t hear back if I don’t ask.

I started our session off by talking to him about the realizations I had made after our last session by blogging about it and the responses I got; that I had broken through to the fact that it wasn’t about not liking the body I have, it was about not wanting a body at all. I was feeling very open and relaxed, especially since a lot of the shame has dissipated. When I finished what I needed to say on that topic, I took a deep breath and said “ok, the book.” And froze solid. Completely shut down, including forgetting to breathe.

BN said what he always does: “take your time.” I finally managed to tell BN that I was feeling very embarrassed, and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate, but the intensity of my reactions made it feel like it was important to discuss and that what I really wanted was to read the book together.

BN asked me to say more about that, what did I mean? And I told him I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to read it to him or have him read it to me, but I somehow wanted to share the book; that I wanted some part of Christmas with him. My affect was pretty intense by this point. BN said to me, very gently, that he had heard my request and knew he had not yet given me an answer, but that he needed to understand more before giving me one. But he wanted to be clear with me that there was nothing wrong with asking, that he respected my courage in taking the risk, that it was a very good thing that I had asked.

He talked about how important it was that I was free to express any of my desires in therapy. That he knew with my background, that expressing even the smallest part of what I wanted could feel so dangerous. He pointed out how badly I shut down when I started to speak about it. That it wasn’t just important that I asked him, but that I asked what he symbolized. At some point, he quoted the author Robert Fulgham, talking about who of us does not long at Christmas to be carried as a child and tucked safely into bed.

That broke me. I ended up in that state of mingled relief and grief. The relief is about being met with acceptance and gentleness when I expect scorn and condemnation. Relief that what I am feeling and wanting is not freakish, but a reasonable human desire. The knowledge that I am safe in my risked vulnerability. But along with the relief is the grief of knowing that I want it so badly because it was missing and that realization of my loss. So I cried for a while with BN listening and bearing witness.

I had calmed down and we were running out of time. BN told me that while he was open to thinking about it (adding an old joke we share to soften the blow) that he didn’t think it was a good idea to read. Gentle readers, those of you who have waded through a lot of my writing know that a big theme with me is struggling to face that which we can no longer get and grieving instead. So I fought to hang on to my sense that this answer was a loving one, that I could trust BN and knew his decision was based on what he thought would be best for my well-being. But inside me was this terrible wailing and hurt about hearing no. That what was the point of taking the risk, only to have my worst fear be confirmed, that I was denied what I wanted and was hurt. Again.

But the stronger part of how I was feeling was gratitude for how accepting BN was of the desire and asking for it, for his normalizing how I was feeling. Knowing me so very well, BN mentioned that I might be angry about being told no. I actually replied “How about this time we skip being angry at you and go straight to my father?” So we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas and I left.

BN has always told me I am better at knowing how I feel when I’m alone because when I am with someone else I tend to focus on their needs and that sometimes takes the form of reacting in a way that will make them more comfortable. It’s not conscious, I am literally not aware of feeling another way. So as the day passed, I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself I understood and was ok with the no. But it started wearing really thin and I realized I was angry and hurt. And fed up with acting otherwise. This was helped along by the fact that two friends, whose judgement I trust, thought BN had made the wrong call.

As hard a time as I had hearing a no about getting a hug or being held, I recognized how important it was that the boundary existed. I had faced all the pain and grief. And I even understood that I might be reaching for something that wasn’t there in the past (I am open to the fact that BN made the right call) but I was not so clear what harm could come from reading the book. I know SO many other people whose therapists have read to them. I know some who have recordings of their therapists reading. Why do I have the therapist who says no? I have worked really hard in therapy and faced a lot of hard truths. Would the universe really stop spinning if this time we went for comfort?

And if I am honest, it just hurt to be told no. And I’m tired of being mature and trying to understand, of working to accept with good grace that which I cannot have. I even realized that I sometimes hate BN for showing me what I didn’t have. It IS possible to get your needs met, to have a loving, attentive other. He has vividly shown me that (for which I can also be very grateful). So while I know he is not in any way responsible for the loss, he acts as the catalyst which brings my understanding of my loss. Because you know the loss wasn’t affecting me before I was conscious of it, right? I know the feeling is irrational, but it is how I feel at times.

So this is one of the times (very rare) that I am going to push back on one of BN’s decisions. I am very glad that I KNOW he can hold his own and that the answer will not change unless I convince him to change his mind. He is capable of saying no to me when it is necessary, which has the paradoxical effect of making it safe to push. The scary part is knowing that one possible outcome will be the realization that I am trying to avoid a loss and push past the boundaries. But I’ve lived through worse and I trust we can work through this.

If anyone is so inclined and has the time, I would really appreciate feedback. What do you think is the right answer? Am I asking for something that would be ok to get? Or am I asking for something that will hold out a promise BN cannot keep? I am sincerely interested in hearing opinions either way. Thanks, as always, for reading. I’m planning on posting an update after I see BN on Friday.

ADDENDUM: Forgot to say that I had emailed BN to tell him how I felt and that I wanted to discuss it further. He took it with his usual good grace and told me that he was glad to discuss it further, that it was important. He makes it very difficult to stay angry with him. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. January 2, 2013 at 2:15 am

    AG, that sounds so hard. I honestly don’t know whether it is asking for the wrong thing or not. I hope, whatever the outcome, you are able to process the feelings it brings up. It seems to me that BN has a way of cutting directly to the heart of the situation.


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks Grace, one thing I know is that I am safe processing this and talking it through with BN. And you’re right. he does have a way of cutting directly to the heart of the matter, I don’t anticipate him handling this any differently. ~ AG


  2. Jane
    January 2, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Excuse the cliche, but I feel your pain. From reading about your story for a while now, I think BN is pretty good but I don’t think he’s perfect and I don’t think he gets it right every time. He refused you a hug or to read you a story on the grounds that you needed to grieve your losses rather than hold onto to forlorn hope that you might receive what was denied you as a child. This is sound, clinical thinking and I have been ‘thwarted’ in therapy in similar ways and it has certainly brought about a painful connection to deep pain and yes there has been value in that. But somehow the insistence of our therapists that we keep feeling that pain in the long-term seems unnecessary…they seem overly focused on our misery! Why do they persist in scraping at our open wounds at every opportunity?! We all know it already hurts! I think sometimes some of them get too caught up in their own rigid plan for us and I feel their ‘no pain, no gain’ policy too often gets dressed up as wisdom when maybe it is THEIR needs to know within themselves (like a form of tunnel vision?) that they are doing their job properly. For some reason our wailing and gnashing of teeth to them indicates progress, so much so that they travel this path to rigid excess and sometimes it is just dehumanizing. But we trust them, so we accept it as a necessary part of healing. But IS it?

    Sure, a hug or his gentle voice reading you a much loved story might kick-start distracting longings that might lead you away from the work you need to be doing, but he should be able to talk this through with you, even use it as further fodder. Such actions from a therapist need not be a promise of anything further, they need not set a precedent…they need not distract the process if the therapist has everything under control. On the other hand, planned precious moments might soothe and nurture the hurting little girl within just enough to help her take one more step toward adulthood. They might offer something precious to look back on, some sense of having experienced love and care. No, NOT an entire childhood’s worth, and no, NOT enough to heal those deep wounds, but moments of respite, places of loveliness in which to rest. The journey is tough enough and there is enough to drag us down into those horrible places of pain. More love please…and not just the ‘tough love’ of things done ‘for our own good’.


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Jane,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I appreciate your obviously heartfelt input. It’s funny, I may be angry with BN but felt myself bristle when you described him as “pretty good.” ๐Ÿ™‚ I am grateful for what you said, because it reminded me that BN has never left me in pain if there was something he could do that would not hurt me in the long run. My experience of him has also been that he has been incredibly nurturing. Seeing him as dragging me through this only to meet his own agenda does not fit with what I know of him, though I am aware that there are therapists who can be very rigid, even to the point of harming their clients. Thank you for taking the time to write all this, I think it very much helped me to clarify my thinking. ~ AG


      • Jane
        January 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm

        You’re welcome AG though sorry I didn’t mean to make you bristle! If more therapists had some of the qualities yours possesses, the world of therapy would be far less perilous. but still, do remember he is not infallible! But clearly it’s helpful for you to experience a good bristle right now, so glad to help provoke it! I do want to say though that I didn’t mean to imply BN is consciously seeking to meet his own needs! He is clearly not one of ‘those’ therapists. I meant more that it happens without them realizing and only because they are human and not without fault and in the trying so earnestly to help and in adhering so rigidly to the boundaries they feel are important, they inadvertently hurt where it is maybe not necessary. A hug is maybe an understandable thing to avoid and many do and it sure hurts to miss out, but refusing to read a story seems unduly rigid. I’ll be interested to read his justification for that decision. I follow your blog (and others) with interest as it helps me in my therapy journey.


        • January 2, 2013 at 6:52 pm

          Jane no need to apologize. ๐Ÿ™‚ I just found my reaction kind of funny (as in haha not weird) that I could be questioning him but still be so protective of him. I do realize that BN is not perfect, but I know I can still idealize him. And you’re quite correct that there are two people in the room and I’m not the only one with blind spots. The really good thing about talking this through is that I do believe BN consciously acts in a self-introspective manner. He knows he is a wounded healer and examines himself. And there have been times in the past where he has acknowledged that he has messed up and apologized. We’ll arrive at the truth together. And I agree with you, I am interested to hear his reasons. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m very glad that reading here is a help in your journey, it was kind of you to say so. Thanks again and I promise to post a followup. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. January 2, 2013 at 3:57 am

    I can remember Christmas time during my own therapy. I always felt such an extreme longing to share Christmas with my therapist.
    There were many tears but he never knew. I guess in many respects I desired a Christmas miracle of sorts. If I could share Christmas with him, I was sure that I would truly be the happiest woman in the world. I thought that the miracle of sharing this blessed holiday with him would take all my pain away and my life would be complete. We all know intellectually that there is no one that will ever complete us ,but our hearts tell us otherwise. We look for something that will fix our grief and deep loss of what may have never been or has been lost because of life circumstances.
    I am so very sorry and I may not say anything that will soothe you during this time of difficulty. I know how painful things can be. Things are somehow intensified in therapy and can leave us at our wits end.
    I do feel that the BN is doing the most loving thing he can do for you. I know what happens when one becomes gratified and suddenly the deprivation brings only more desire. I do think there is more than just having the story read to you or by you. I was wondering if you could see the loss through and come up with something that came from the point of understanding and a way to find meaning For myself everything came on it’s own time. I could not rush it. I do feel that therapy is grief work and is in no way for the faint of heart.
    I also wanted to say that you are a gifted storyteller and I can see why you desired to share that story with BN Perhaps that story represented a part of you that you needed to share with him. It was important for a reason.
    That story is telling you something. Yes it is hard to hear no. That no comes from love and respect and BN ‘s desire for your happiness. I can tell that the two of you work on a true soul level. There is no relationship that is closer. You are each other’s gift. You will carry that with you always. It is sustainable. I wish you good work on Friday


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Thank you for your comment, I appreciate you taking the time. This especially resonated with me:

      We all know intellectually that there is no one that will ever complete us ,but our hearts tell us otherwise. We look for something that will fix our grief and deep loss of what may have never been or has been lost because of life circumstances.

      I know how true this is, and have worked very hard to accept it, but its an insidious hope that has to be dealt with again and again it seems. It’s what I meant when I said I might be trying to push past the boundaries. I think that I can take the very immature stance at times of “OK, I’ve faced this pain many times and respected the boundaries and accepted that I cannot have some things, now that I’ve done that, can we please drop the boundaries and give me what I want? Even if it’s bad for me!” I can feel like a child, demanding a hot fudge sundae for breakfast. ๐Ÿ™‚ But the impossible is the impossible, and no amount of desire, or anger directed at BN will change that.

      Thank you also for your description of our relationship, it was very comforting. And as painful as this has been (and as badly as I am behaving), I have not doubted for an instant that we would work through it. BN has always told me that all of my feelings are welcome in his office and I know he means it, even when they’re not pretty or a good reflection of reality. Just because I’m angry doesn’t mean he’s done anything wrong and I am grateful for his ability to remain non-defensive in the face of my so often undeserved anger. ~AG


  4. liz
    January 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Sorry, AG, it’s gonna be long and brutally honest ๐Ÿ™‚
    While I was reading this post (and especially the comments), I felt as I was listening to children throwing a tantrum because they were denied something they really thought they wanted. Which is something I can understand, ’cause I’ve been there myself at the beginning of my therapy.
    Instead of wondering whether your request was appropriate or not, I think you should ask yourself WHY you made that request in the first place. And I also think you already answered when you wrote: “I feel like I need to be with my family and that he deserves to not have his time with his family interrupted. So reading the story with him during a session felt like a way to have some part of Christmas spent with him”.
    Everytime I’ve asked my therapist to read something with me, or to me, it’s always been because I thought a particular book could express some of my feelings way better than I could ever do with my own words (I have some trouble talking about myself, you can imagine therapy has been terrifying for me!), so it was connected to the work we were doing together. For what I’ve understood, your book has not much to do with the topic you’re currently discussing with BN, and is more linked to your need for comfort (I could be wrong, obviously. This is just my interpretation).

    That said, I don’t believe in boundaries for the sake of boundaries. I think anything – and I mean almost really ANYTHING ๐Ÿ™‚ – can be done in therapy, as long as it helps the patient. There’s nothing wrong in reading a story together, or giving a hug, or a gift, or eating 1kg of chocolate ice cream (yes, we did that :-)) or anything else, it’s the intention behind these actions that changes their meaning.
    If one is not happy with the way their therapist behave, or if one feels confined in a set of rules and prohibitions that he doesn’t approve of, one should just leave and find a better match.
    Since I don’t think this is your case, you should consider all this “I hate hearing no” issue from the most rational and detached point of view possible (easier said than done, I know), and talk about it again with BN and explore the feelings of rejection and shame that this evokes, and see how it goes. You shouldn’t talk to him about this with the intention of making him change his mind, though ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also wanted to say something to those who commented before me: guys, your therapists are your therapists. Despite all their love, and affection, and how much they’re willing to push past their boundaries to meet your needs, they. are. your. therapists.
    It’s not their job to cuddle you or give you all the comfort you didn’t get from your parents when you were kids. Their job is to help you understand you’re worthy of that love, and make you realize you are able to live a full life despite your wounds.
    And if you could actually spend christmas holidays with your therapists, you’d find out they can be annoying and mean and childish and dumb just like every other human being. What you really want is to spend your christmas holidays in a two weeks long therapy session, which is something completely different.

    My therapist once told me he loves the part of me he gets to see, a thing I found incredibly touching and more honest than the usual “I love you” we all long to hear from our therapists. They don’t get to see all of us, we get to see even less of them, and that’s alright, that’s what happens in every relationship. Constantly waiting for the perfect person who will give you all that you need and didn’t get without asking anything in return, who will understand you in all your contradictions, who will always say yes to anything you ask will always let you disappointed, because that person simply does not exist. Neither in therapy, nor anywhere else.


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to respond and I appreciate your honesty, as I really was seeking input. I know I may not be seeing the situation clearly. I agree with everything you said about the relationship and I understand on a very deep level, that BN is human, that I get the best part of him in session and that no one is that saintly all the time. That said :”brutally honest” was a good description and I am trying very hard not to react defensively, especially as it is clear that you are motivated by a desire to help (which I very much appreciate). Your comment felt a bit like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. I know everything you said about the therapeutic relationship is true, I’ve written what you wrote and rather extensively. I agree with it also. I strongly suspect I AM throwing a tantrum and in some ways, am glad that I am giving myself permission to do so. If there is one thing I am very clear about, its that tantrums will get me exactly nowhere with BN. I am not planning on going into the session and engaging in a death match over this issue. He told me that he was open to thinking more about this and when I emailed him to let him know how I was feeling, I said I wanted to discuss it more because I wanted to understand why he said no. I am going in with the intention of examining how I feel and what it means. I’m not expecting the answer to change. I am certainly not going looking for another therapist over this.

      But I suspect part of the reason your answer stung was that I know I am out of line. Maybe I just need to allow myself not to behave real well right now. There is a lot of anger over my family going on right now and I am more than likely displacing at least some of it on to BN. Thanks again though, I appreciate the risk you took in being honest with what you thought and hope I haven’t offended you with my answer. ~ AG


      • liz
        January 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        I didn’t mean to sound pretentious (it’s hard to control how I “sound” when writing in another language, I guess), I wrote all that because I’ve been through the “Ok, I’ve been good, can I have a cookie now?” phase myself. And I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I’m always amazed by how well you react to being told no in session, I used to go completely nuts ๐Ÿ™‚ But once I realized what I was doing and why, (apart from feeling like the biggest idiot on the planet, because what would I do with my life without the occasional overflowing wave of shame? :-)) and once I talked about it and felt all the pain that needed to be felt, it got so much better. I also started getting what someone here called the occasional gratification of a desire, and most of the time without even needing to ask for it.
        I hope it will be the same for you ๐Ÿ™‚


        • January 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

          WOW! First may I compliment your impressive command of the English language. Honestly, your English is so good, I just assumed that you were a native English speaker living abroad. And I didn’t think you were being pretentious. I was just aware that my emotional reaction was to get somewhat defensive and I wanted to own that in my response. Just because I got defensive, it doesn’t follow that you did anything wrong. You were making important points and obviously these are difficult truths to come to grips with or I wouldn’t still be dealing with this. My experience very closely parallels yours (including feeling like the biggest idiot on the planet :)). I know working through all the pain and being open about my feelings will lead to healing and that immediate gratification can short circuit that process. I also know that I usually get the most from BN when I am looking for it the least. (Do they teach a class on that or something? Surprise Gratification 101). And I know that I am simply here again and need to work through this. I just think in this instance part of what I am working through is my resentment at having to go through this process yet again. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I meant what I said about appreciating your comment. In my better moments, I would rather be wounded by the truth, then comforted by a lie. It was very kind and caring of you to take the time to write what you did. I hope to continue to hear from you. (Aside from valuing your insight, I can go on marveling at your language skills!)


  5. January 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    So, unless I’m missing something, did BN ever explain why he didn’t think it was a good idea? I have a few speculations as to why he said no, but I really do not know. For one, the way it strikes me is that perhaps he thought reading it to you would take away from your own empowerment, in a sense. Anyway, I think it’s wonderful that there’s so much safety and trust in your relationship that you can push back and ask more about his decision. I would be devastated to hear ‘no’ because then I would automatically think I’d done something horribly wrong, so I like how he was sure to validate your asking the question before giving an answer.

    Big hugs to you – I hope Friday can go as well as possible!


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Thank you. He didn’t really have a chance to explicitly explain the decision as we ran out of time; although the implication was certainly that I was seeking gratification and this was really about my needing to understand the desire and not have it fulfilled. When I emailed him about how I was feeling, I told him I wanted to discuss it further, because I needed to understand. And you’re right, its no small gift having enough trust and safety in which to be so open and honest about how I am feeling, even when it feels wrong to be feeling that way. It feels wrong to be angry when he was so accepting and compassionate in his reaction, but the feelings are there. BN has always told me that the feelings that get me into trouble are the ones I am not aware of, that its better to acknowledge what they are. I am less prone to act them out that way. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the well wishes for Friday, I am trusting it will go well because I’m in good hands. ~AG


  6. Jenny
    January 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    AG, I had tears welling up as I read this. I have some of the same issues about asking for what I need or want, to the point of not really knowing which is which. My T is much like yours, but I’ve not been able to request many of my wants from him (and by not many, I mean none). I think asking was a very brave thing you did.

    I have no idea whether his response was right or wrong. There’s something to be said for not gratifying our desire for comfort in that “teach a woman to fish” kind of way, but I also think the occasional gratification of a desire from a therapist is not a bad thing.

    But I do think exploring your response to his is important. I’m glad you’re going to push back. And remember, it takes only 20 seconds of courage to get the words out.


    • January 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Jenny,
      Thank you for your compassion. It has taken me so long to learn to ask for what I want because on such a deep, atavistic level I am so terrified of the no, that I won’t survive it. I always find it highly ironic that while so many of my needs as a child were denied, that the end result was I never learned how to accept hearing no (a necessary skill in life as we don’t always get what we ask for, nor should we.) because my way of coping with the denial was to never ask. BN has been patiently trying to teach me this skill; I suspect this is the next lesson. And thanks for the reminder about the 20 seconds. I can do 20 seconds. ๐Ÿ™‚ ~ AG


  7. George
    January 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Dear AG,

    I’m going to refrain from directly answering your questions about your request and BN’s response, not because I don’t care but because I do. I think that the therapeutic relationship is a delicate and personal thing, and everything that we go through in it is, to use the old cliche, “grist for the mill.” :-\ I do want to say that I sympathize sincerely with your feelings and support your right to feel them. I will say that this quotation from you stood out to me:

    “Why do I have the therapist who says no? I have worked really hard in therapy and faced a lot of hard truths. Would the universe really stop spinning if this time we went for comfort?”

    GAH! Do I ever hear you there! How many times have I said that to myself? “I’ve dealt with so much already, like a grownup, so why can’t he just let me have this?” And yet in the end, I think I’m stronger for having worked through it. Sometimes I’ve done that (worked through) by myself. Sometimes I’ve decided privately, for myself, that, yes, he’s let me down and has in fact been wrong or clumsy in what he did or didn’t do. In one respect, that’s a way of individuating and declaring a bit of independence. You don’t have to accommodate yourself to BN’s way of thinking, and by the same token, he can hold his boundaries in whatever way he sees fit. And if you’re hurt, then you are hurt. Wait, I don’t mean that in a cold way, like, “too bad, just take it!” I mean to affirm your feelings: yes, you are hurt, and you have a right to be, and I feel for you as a fellow patient with BN-like therapist.

    I know you will work through this. All the best to you.


    • January 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you George, I certainly agree that everything is grist for the mill. I also agree that the relationship is a unique one between you and your therapist and will never be quite what it is for another dyad, even one that your therapist has with another patient. I appreciate the affirmation that you find how I am finding understandable, it really does help to know I am not alone in these feelings. BTW, I read “if you’re hurt, then your hurt” the way you meant it. ๐Ÿ™‚ One thing is really standing out for me in all of this discussion (for which I am very grateful, btw thank you all!) is that talking about this more is a good idea.


  8. January 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    AG: Any chance that it was about the theme
    of the story and BN is giving time to think
    about? Just a thought AG. I also wanted to
    let you know that your behavior is never bad
    in the room. I know when I feel that little girl
    come out in me I often become angry at myself. All sorts of messages come to mind
    You asking him to read the story was you
    reaching out to him. In my own therapy it was
    difficult to reach out to my therapist and as
    a result he was unable to reach me. The child
    In us is what usually gets the best work done
    It is also the most creative. She is never bad
    She just needs to be heard. I always felt that
    It was my therapist love I desired but in the
    end it was the respect that I desired. I guess
    all that childhood abuse had me very confused what love truly was to me. I have always applauded you and your courage. Your words have always been meaningful to me. When you stated that your behavior was
    bad I just had to let you know dear AG NO NO
    No way is it bad. It is meaningful.


    • January 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      You are a kind soul and I appreciate the correction of my semantics. You are correct, I am not behaving badly, I am doing what I am supposed to, which is to be honest about how I feel and bring it into the room. BN is more than capable of handling anything I throw at him. I also agree that respect is important. While I can find the withholding very frustrating at times, it does send a very clear message to me that BN believes I am strong enough that he does not need to shield me from the truth or the work. I should perhaps said “acting in a manner inappropriate to a normal adult relationship” instead of “bad.” ๐Ÿ˜€ The therapeutic relationship is very real, but often unique in its qualities, one of them being that we can allow the less developed parts of ourself expression without fear of condemnation or abandonment.


  9. Christine
    January 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Hello Attachment Girl, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months but this is the first time I’ve commented. First off, thank you for sharing so honestly and candidly your experience in therapy with BN. It’s incredible writing and I’m always excited when you’ve posted something new. Your story is a story of therapy that so many of us can relate to.

    I don’t know how reasonable your request was or BN’s reasons for not obliging you, but I will say that you’re incredibly courageous for making the request, risking a possible refusal, and then facing the challenge of discussing the implications of the request and the refusal in session. When I’ve made requests in therapy and been refused, my immediate reaction was to never speak of it again and make sure never to make such a request in the future. The rejection felt so painful and terrible that I would do anything to make sure I never had to feel it again. A previous therapist unfortunately played into this pattern with me and we never discussed her refusals or the underlying needs beneath my requests. Eventually I just stopped making requests that I was sure were not likely to be met–and eventually I stopped seeing her because I realized that our views on therapeutic boundaries were too different for us to work effectively together. Whatever the outcome of all of this, the fact that you’re facing this situation with such candor and sensitivity is really encouraging and inspiring. You’re certain to learn valuable and important lessons and I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes.


    • January 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Christine,
      Welcome to my blog, I am really glad you decided to comment. As for speaking up and asking, its been a major thread in my work with BN. Not too far in, we both realized that I would never explicitly ask to have my needs met, unless I was certain to get what I asked for. A “no” was too painful, so I would not risk asking. This surfaced when I would email BN instead of calling (which was a much more reliable method of contact) because if I called, I had to ask his service to have him call back whereas with emails, I could just wait and see if I got a reply. If I didn’t it was ok (well not really but you know what I mean) because I hadn’t asked for anything and if I did, awesome, I got my need met without having to ask. At one point, I practically yelled at BN that he knew I wanted an answer, but he wasn’t buying any of it. So we set up a rule, that he does not respond to my emails unless I specifically ask for a response. Painful but a good learning experience. Asking and getting my needs met is a good learning experience for me. And although there have been a few major “nos” in our relationship, BN has said yes to a lot of requests (I borrowed a blanket from his office when he was on vacation, then eventually gave him a new blanket so I could keep his, he left a message on my cell voicemail at my request so I had his voice handy, I am able to call him at anytime and he answers within an hour, when I took a break from therapy I asked for a hand written note and he gave me one, etc.) So I’ve been able to experience that its good to ask because many times your request is met and the no’s are good for me to learn that it won’t kill me and someone cannot provide what I ask for and still care for me and be committed to our relationship. And either way we can discuss it completely. So although I do not want to strip myself of all credit (it can be very scary to ask because of my past), BN has consistently provided a safe environment in which to ask. I’m sorry about your former T, a refusal should always be followed up by a willingness to discuss it. I think you were wise to seek someone else to work with, but I’m sorry for the pain you went through. ~ AG


  10. January 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I was wondering what that no was! Ah ha. And I was pondering what I think, with the result that I’m not sure. I think you’re both doing well. I like how you are going to raise this again, not just accept BN’s decision, because you need to talk about it more. I think it’s also fine for him to set that boundary. In general, IMO therapists are human and don’t always make the right call. The thing you want is for them to be able to think about things, be able to take in the client’s feelings also, not just stick blindly to what they said last time.

    Hmm…receiving nurturing missed in childhood vs. grieving our losses. It seems like it would be optimal to have / do both.

    Good luck with it.


    • January 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Yeah, Ellen, I was a bit of a tease, wasn’t I? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I just didn’t have the heart to go into detail when I wrote that first post (and as I said, I think I felt a twee bit embarrassed as well). And I agree that we should both receive nurturing and grieve our losses. As I said in the comment above, I have, and continue to, receive a lot of nurture and care from BN. Anything that he is capable of providing for me that I truly need to heal (he won’t do anything for me that I can do for myself), he supplies without hesitation. Somehow I just manage to notice the times he says no a lot more. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sometimes, I think being a therapist is possibly the most unfair profession in the world. We forget sometimes I think that just as the boundaries are there to protect both the client and the therapist, they can also be difficult for both. Thanks for weighing in and for the well wishes. ~ AG


  11. Ms. Sharkey
    January 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Hi AG,

    I just started reading your blog and have quickly become hooked on it for several reasons. You’re a good writer, and as a writer myself, I appreciate the flow, humour and just overall readability of your blog. Also, I’m dealing with very similar attachment and emotional abuse issues with my father, and finally, your therapist sounds very similar to mine.

    Like you, I have a very hard time asking for what I want or need. The very thought terrifies me, and on top of that, I have a very hard time articulating why. Your post resonated with me for all those reasons and more. If I’m understanding correctly, your hurt and anger is not just about hearing “no”, but also because you’re unclear as to why BN said no. If that is the case, then I think you have every right to push back so that, if nothing else, you get a clear answer as to why he thinks it would be a bad idea. I think you deserve that.

    To the poster above who said that it’s not our therapist’s job to cuddle us, I think that could have been phrased in a more politic fashion. We all know that and we don’t need to have our noses rubbed in it. One thing I always tell people who are thinking of starting therapy is that it’s a relationship between two people, and like every other relationship in your life, there are going to be misunderstandings and disagreements. Your therapist will not always be right. Your therapist will misread you, let you down and disappoint you, and working through all of that will be very hard and very valuable. The first time I told my therapist that he’d brushed off something that I felt was important, I was scared to death. Who was I to tell him how to do his job? Instead, he agreed that he was not as attentive as he should have been and he apologized. That was a big corrective experience for me.


    • January 3, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Hi Ms. Sharkey
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. And complimenting, thank you for the lovely words about my writing. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am certain that we will discuss his reasons more. In the past, when BN has said no, we have discussed it and returned to it as much as necessary, sometimes through multiple sessions and long periods. The truth is, that as much as I am protesting this right now, most of my really good work has involved running up against the boundaries and examining the feelings that evokes. And I honestly think there is not a less defensive person on the planet than BN.

      And as for the recognition that our therapist’s are only our therapists, the truth is that not everyone does know it and even those of us who do, can sometimes struggle to remember it. The comments were made out of a desire to help other people’s understanding and healing.

      You are very correct about there being disappointments and misunderstandings. One of the most important things I have learned about from BN is that disruptions occur in all relationships but they can be repaired in relationships where both people are committed. Safety does not lie in finding a person who never hurts you (which is good since its not possible) but in knowing that you can work through whatever happened with another person. Disruptions used to feel like something that would destroy me but now I know I can tolerate the feelings and work to repair the relationship. BN’s ability to be non-defensive was absolutely key in this area as he has always been very open to discussing anything while remaining warm and accepting. This is one of the things I have learned in therapy that has had a huge impact on my relationships outside therapy. It’s really good that you have not only experienced that but were able to understand how important it was.



      • Ms. Sharkey
        January 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

        Attachment Girl :
        And as for the recognition that our therapistโ€™s are only our therapists, the truth is that not everyone does know it and even those of us who do, can sometimes struggle to remember it. The comments were made out of a desire to help other peopleโ€™s understanding and healing.

        Maybe so, but I am still going to gently disagree that the wording was appropriate. I work in corporate communications, and I know how vital a good delivery is to the success of a message.

        Attachment Girl :You are very correct about there being disappointments and misunderstandings. One of the most important things I have learned about from BN is that disruptions occur in all relationships but they can be repaired in relationships where both people are committed. Safety does not lie in finding a person who never hurts you (which is good since its not possible) but in knowing that you can work through whatever happened with another person. Disruptions used to feel like something that would destroy me but now I know I can tolerate the feelings and work to repair the relationship.

        Boy, do I ever know how that feels. My therapist and I had a disagreement earlier this year that I was certain heralded the end of our work together. Imagine my surprise and relief when, at our next session, he owned his role in it and said he knew it would take a while to build our level of trust back up. I had been ready to shoulder the entire burden of blame.

        Attachment Girl : BNโ€™s ability to be non-defensive was absolutely key in this area as he has always been very open to discussing anything while remaining warm and accepting. This is one of the things I have learned in therapy that has had a huge impact on my relationships outside therapy. Itโ€™s really good that you have not only experienced that but were able to understand how important it was.

        It’s quite revelatory, isn’t it? I’m starting to realize how much I project onto people whom I view as authority figures. I fear them and idealize them simultaneously. It goes without saying that I view my therapist as an authority figure, a fact that he is well aware of.


        • January 7, 2013 at 12:06 am

          Hi Ms. Sharkey,
          I agree that good delivery is important, but wanted to point out that in this case, the person commenting was not speaking in her native tongue, and that her goodwill was evident even though her language may not have always conveyed it. ๐Ÿ™‚

          I love what you said aboout the experience with your therapist, he sounds like a very good one. And I totally agree with how healing it is to experience that. I really appreciate that when BN feels he has done something wrong, he apologizes, but also allows me time to deal with how I am feeling. Being able to learn how to repair is crucial to healthy relationshiips and our ability to tolerate intimacy, it sounds like you are doing really good work with your therapist. ~AG


      • Ms. Sharkey
        January 5, 2013 at 6:37 pm

        Ack, I was trying to quote in my reply above and it doesn’t seem to have worked. Hope you can make sense out of it!


        • January 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm

          Hi Ms. Sharkey,
          I did follow it but I edited your comment and corrected the HTML. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll actually provide a substantive reply later, as I’m working on my update post and hate to keep people in suspense. ๐Ÿ™‚ ~ AG


  12. Liese
    January 2, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Hi AG,

    It’s been a while since we chatted but I was struck by this blogpost and wanted to comment or, em, actually ask a lot of questions.

    This has happened to me, that just because my T said no to one of my requests didn’t mean that the need went away or my anger and hurt in being denied got resolved all nice and neat. I think it’s great that you are planning to follow up with him about this because it’s important to you.

    Isn’t a part of all this learning to recognize when we aren’t getting our needs met (as in BN not reading to you) and you feeling hurt and angry and being assertive about it? As BN himself noted, you are very good at taking care of the other person. Isn’t learning to take care of yourself just as important – if not more – than grieving the things we couldn’t have?

    IMO, there is nothing toddlerish about this at all. Aren’t we trying to learn to negotiate like this in all relationships? Shouldn’t the people closest to us be willing to at least try to be sensitive to our needs- or at least hear us out – when something is important to us? And vice versa? We are all going to have needs and boundaries and they aren’t always going to mesh with the important people in our lives but we can try to get them met at least in some form or fashion.

    I know that BN is wonderful but he seemed to come to his conclusion really fast. Was that because he really thought it through and decided it wasn’t in your best interest? Or could it be that it’s something he himself is uncomfortable doing and the decision was based on his feelings – although he might not be aware of it?

    There’s a part of me that says, who cares why you want him to read you the story? What a lovely thing to share together – of course, unless he is the one who is uncomfortable with it and it’s his issue, not yours. What a lovely way to “spend” Christmas together in the way that the two of you can. Maybe this time for you it’s more about the present than the past?

    Hope it goes well. As you can tell, I’m not really big into grieving my losses when I don’t have to.


    • January 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Liese
      It’s good to hear from you thanks for commenting. I agree, and I believe that BN would also, with what you’re saying about assertiveness and getting our needs met. BN was very clear with me how important it was, and how courageous, that I spoke up about this. When I emailed him after the session to ask if we could discuss it further, his response was that not only was he glad to discuss it but that it was important. He also said he was open to thinking about more because I think he WAS aware that it was a decision that he made on the fly. (OTOH I have learned a deep respect for his “gut” reactions over the years.) So I do want to be clear that although he said no, he was in no way insensitive or callous to how I was feeling. And that is the question, is this more about the present that the past. If its about the past, then talking about it is more important than being able to act it out. I’m not sure if either of us is completely clear about that. Part of the reason I want to discuss it further is to understand what it is I’m trying to do. I wasn’t even clear in my request if I wanted to read to him or have him read to me. And when we discussed it, some pretty intense emotions, along with a deep desire to be taken care of came out. But I don’t want to ignore the fact that I did feel very hurt and angry and I think its also important to understand where that is coming from.

      You asked who cares why I want to read to him? I’m afraid it is his job to understand my unconscious and deeper motivations around my request. I know I have asked for other things that he has immediately provided without hesitation. So even though I may not be enjoying how I feel right now, I do get why its important to understand this before we can know if its beneficial to do or not. But I appreciate you sticking up for me Liese. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you. ~ AG


      • Liese
        January 3, 2013 at 5:47 pm

        “I know this might sound escapist, but I think youโ€™ve mourned more than enough over what you didnโ€™t get in your past. Yes, we have to let go of looking for that person outside of us that will love us perfectly and make everything instantly wonderful, and that can hurt, but itโ€™s not very instructive to stay in that kind of pain indefinitely. Itโ€™s more interesting to find out what you CAN get NOW, and how creative you can be in getting it.”

        I think I agree with BLT here. You have done a lot of mourning.

        As for my question about “who cares?” my T isn’t analytical and so he doesn’t often make those connections to the past. He deals with my feeling in the present. That doesn’t mean I don’t make connections to the past because I do and I’ve also done a lot of mourning. (He doesn’t talk about the mourning stuff either.)

        I think the mourning frees me to experience the world in different and new ways. I like to think of it not only as mourning but making distinctions. Like, “okay, I’m crying because T is saying no to me and that reminds me of when X did Y but T is not X and T is offering Z which is a far better thing anyway.” Does that make sense?

        I don’t know about anyone else but I experience everything closely related to the visual. I have an emotion and then I see what I need to do about that or I see my side of the story.

        Sometimes it seems as if I had 5 lens that I looked through – although only one at a time, depending upon what was being triggered. As I work through my stuff, each lens get sorted and separated – almost like a tree growing from a single branch into two. And the more emotional experiences I let myself have and distinguish from the past, the more branches that will grow from the original branch and the more individuated I become.

        So, a long winded way of saying that well yes it sounds like a great idea to talk about this more with BN (I think you know that) and make those distinctions between past and present and find out if there is a present need that can be met and by whom.


  13. January 2, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I didn’t read through all the comments because there’s a lot! But I have a favorite book from when I was a kid that I’ve wanted my therapist to read to me for a long time, but haven’t asked her yet. I think she would. ?? Not sure though. Maybe someone has already said this, but maybe you could read it in therapy with BN. And then talk about why the story is important and stop throughout to share what you’re feeling even reading it *with* him, instead of him to you. I think maybe you’ll still get a little bit of what you want. Kind of like imagining what you wanted, him being with you on Christmas, with him, but still doing it in a way that is working through some of the feelings. You’ll have to do the heavy lifting, because you’ll be reading it yourself, initiating it yourself, which unfortunately is part of therapy, for *us* to do for ourselves, even though we so want someone else to take care of us. Good luck with it though. I think it’s important to keep talking about it, since it clearly means a lot to you, and maybe it means something more than you’ve realized just yet, and in working with him you can figure it out.


    • January 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Meghan,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting! Can’t blame you for not reading all the comments, I think this post has gotten more comments than the rest of my posts put together. ๐Ÿ™‚ My reading it may be a solution we come up, BN is big on not doing things for me, I can do for myself. We will definitely be spending our session tomorrow discussing this. ~ AG


  14. Izzy
    January 2, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I think there’s a big difference between him reading the book to you and you reading the book to yourself in front of him. The former obviously creates a parental dynamic; from everything you’ve said (and obviously I can’t know this because I can’t ask him directly!), it seems that BN has tried hard to avoid that role…ie becoming a surrogate father. His ‘no’s’ seem to consistently be around issues that would placate your inner child momentarily. In doing that, he has triggered grief, protest, and more grief. And you have moved through those successfully over and over. In doing so, you learned the importance of boundaries, the depth of your pain, why you respond to the world the way you do, how to express your needs, how to recognize them, etc. All good therapy, right? Well, good therapy and a secure relationship. It would make sense (and be caring) for him to stick with what has worked (ie not step directly into a traditionally parental role).

    What I do question though – and would with him – is why you can’t take a similarly monumental (and necessary) step in his presence, which is to learn to care for your own inner child and to learn how to trust that you will always be able to do so. Reading the book to yourself is self-care. I have to believe that you wouldn’t be requesting this if the child within you didn’t want it; it also seems likely that you wouldn’t be pushing him if the child within you didn’t REALLY want it. He can never fill the hole(s) created by the absence of loving parents, but you can. You can take care of that little kid and that little kid can become secure that you always will. Reading her a story would be a great way to build some security – you acknowledge the need and respond to it lovingly. That’s what she always needed; your parents didn’t do it, your therapist can’t (and won’t always be there to do so), but you can (and will be there). If that’s your intention, why would he have a problem with bearing witness to your efforts?

    So I guess the question is – what is your intention? When you talk to him, do you want to be read to or do you want a witness of a moment when your adult self took care of your inner kid? If it’s the latter, I guess I would want a really solid explanation of why that moment couldn’t or shouldn’t come into the therapy room, especially considering that it could be very emotional/reparative if/when your inner child really does feel the love emanating from your adult self.


    • January 3, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Hi Izzy,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your characterization of our work together was a very accurate, concise description of what we’ve been through and actually was very affirming and comforting to hear. I agree that BN is trying to maintain that consistency. He’s very big on the consistency. So am I, its a big part of why I feel safe with him. I agree that he has walked that fine line of being clear that he cannot be a surrogate father for me (while be very accepting and compassionate about how I can long for that) while still clearly shouldering the responsibility of being my secure base. Not an easy thing to do, especially as I know he is compassionate about the pain I am in and understands it intimately.

      As for your questions, they are good ones, i think part of my struggle right now is that I am not sure I know the answer to them, part of the reason I want to discuss this further. ~ AG


  15. GreenEyes
    January 2, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    AG I think BN made the right call from the information you’ve shared.

    Given the storyline of a girl wanting to be friends with her brother and your recent loss of your own brother, it would suggest that maybe you bringing the book to BN is a way of telling him there is more grief to process over his passing. And its his job to help you heal and grow and perhaps he thinks that would be accomplished more deeply and comprehensively through discussing the meaning of the book.

    Perhaps your difficulty in accepting his decision has something to do with feeling ashamed of not having been “carried to bed and tucked in safely” as a child and that shame is entangled with your legitimate grief over what you missed out on when you were little.

    As for other therapists reading to their patients, the relationship you have with BN is unique and it sounds like he knows you very well. The other therapists you refer to possibly have a different way of conducting psychotherapy and the individuals you know who have been read to may not be nearly as further along as you are in your healing and development. But your frustration makes sense especially when taken in context of having a tendency to meet the needs of others and accept what you’ve missed with ongoing grace and maturity.

    Similar to you my own BN is the closest thing I’ve ever had to an adult figure who has really cared about me and it feels so strange (as well as hurtful and unfair) that I can’t share Christmas with him.

    I hope this is helpful. I wanted to ask you though, how did on earth have you gotten through the struggle of accepting there’s so much we can’t get that we want? And how have you gotten through how painful the therapy boundaries are? I’m on a summer break at the moment but I know when I start back again these issues are going to be an immediate focus and just thinking about how much hurt, grief and pain will be involved, I don’t know how I can work with it. Yes they’re just “feelings” but its the whole feeling torn in half and heartbroken that I’m fearful of.


    • January 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Greeneyes, you are not alone in your opinion about the contents of the book. A close friend of mine also thinks it may be connected to recent events. What rings the most true about that was when she pointed out the plot and I had TOTALLY missed it. Once we work through this, I’m probably going to need to delve into that part.

      My difficulty in handling his reply has everything to do with how much I wanted this and how much it hurt to hear no. I was not exaggerating when I said this feels like a tantrum. Right now my “ongoing grace and maturity” (thank you for that) is no where in evidence. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Do you mind if I save your last questions about facing the grief and accepting the losses? Its a long answer and I think would be better in a future post (but you have my permission to nag me about writing it!) Thanks.

      ~ AG


      • GreenEyes
        January 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

        AG I’d love to read a whole blog post devoted to my question. Hope you don’t regret giving me the green light to nag you about it ๐Ÿ™‚
        Let us all know how your Friday session goes with BN. And yes from your other replies it does sound like the storyliine in the book reflects some current personal struggles that are worthy of attention. Hugs and strength to you


        • January 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm

          I did think it through before giving permission to nag. ๐Ÿ˜€ I just know I need that sometimes. I have posted the update (and am very grateful for everyone’s willingness to read it). I’ll get to work answering your question. But remember patience is a virtue. ๐Ÿ™‚ ~ AG


  16. Liese
    January 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Hi again, AG,

    I’m finding the comments all so very interesting and wanted to add that in addition to feeling rejection and shame when we hear the word no, doesn’t it also bring up (at least for me) intense feelings of powerlessness? Is it possible that the intensity of your reaction is related to feeling powerless? When my therapist has says no to me, the feelings of powerlessness are incredibly intense. I’ve often wanted to stomp off and find another therapist who would give me what I wanted and was dismayed by my ultimate reliance on him. Whether or not they were archaic needs or present needs didn’t really matter. I knew, though, that another therapist would simply have different boundaries that I would have to deal with. I was railing against those feelings more than the fact I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted or needed.

    Another thought I had as I’m writing this out is, is it possible that there is an enactment going on here? You and BN have discussed possibly everything someone could discuss with their therapist, yet you still had misgivings about asking him to read the book. He IS the boundary ninja afterall and has said no before. And right there, in that very fact, when he says no to you – that creates an imbalance of power and renders you powerless and perhaps throws you and he right back into an enactment, you as the powerless child and he as the powerful parent who can deny you what you want. (That said, I’ve discussed an awful lot of intimate things with my therapist as well and find that it IS difficult to bring up topics that involve my relationship with him so I get that.) I am probably way off there but felt it was worth throwing out anyway.

    I guess that is really all related to the first paragraph though the fact that hearing a “no” from him can cause the intensity that you described seems to me to indicate that he has the power to hurt you. Does that make sense?



  17. Liese
    January 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm


    I’m obviously distracting myself from something I don’t want to do. I just reread the part where you wrote that the book seemed like an odd gift after you thought about it. I find children’s books sometimes have profound meanings. I’ve received them as gifts as an adult and given them as gifts. Personally, I find them especially poignant because they provoke that sense of childish wonder and faith and joy – which, as adults, we so often lose. Maybe that’s what you wanted to share with BN? Maybe we actually have to have a bit of childish wonder and faith in the whole psychotherapy process to begin with?

    I haven’t read this particular book that you are talking about but was able to read a couple of pages on amazon. With that limited knowledge, I’m guessing that Santa and Esther worked together to achieve a goal and isn’t that what you and BN are doing together? Perhaps that’s why you thought of him when you came across the book?

    Have you noticed, though, that oftentimes your requests are valid but that you invalidate yourself? That happens to me all the time and the conclusion that I’ve come to is that there was a touch of archaic shame there for having a need in the first place (hence your hesitation and embarrassment) AND valid present needs as well and that’s what needs to be untangled?

    Last thought. I promise. (Do you see how fertile this topic is and how many different interpretations there are?)

    This goes back to the powerlessness theme. What if you decided ahead of time that YOU were going to read the book to BN. End of story. You took control, you walked in and announced that this is what you were going to do. It’s your therapy afterall. You are the boss, for the most part. Would he have stopped you? I have a feeling that he wouldn’t have stopped you. In the event that he didn’t think it was in your best interests to share the book together, that would have put you in the more powerful position because you did not consult with him about reading the book to him. You just did it.

    I guess I’m struggling with what could have been so wrong with him acquiescing to your request and discussing afterwards what the book meant to you. It would have provided for a more positive experience. Is it really necessary to feel all the rejection, shame and powerlessness again and again? IDK – maybe it is. Maybe all of this has helped you to examine your needs and validate them yoursef, go back in and stand up for yourself or at least ask for an explanation. But who knows if that’s what his intention was in denying your request? Okay, I’m just rambling now.


    • January 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Hi again Liese ๐Ÿ™‚
      I’m glad this has provoked so much thought (I’m actually a little flabbergasted about the response to this post to be honest. :)) Powerlessness has certainly been a theme in our work and I am sure somewhat plays into this, but not in a significant way. Powerlessness is my MOST hated emotion and I loathe feeling it, we’ve done a lot of work around it. And although the power differential in therapy never quite levels out, I have for a long time now very much had a sense of my own efficacy and power in the relationship. In some ways, I realize I hold more power than BN does because its my therapy. The imbalance lies in the fact that he is more important to me than I am to him. But that doesn’t render me insignificant or powerless. It just is. But I can certainly understand why you went there.

      The intense fear was about how deeply I longed for this and how vulnerable that longing made me. Asking for things I desired as a child didn’t work out well, so the vulnerability around actually asking for something will always be a factor for me. But it looms larger when the feelings surrounding what I am asking for are so intense. We both recognized how important was to me and in therapy, that typically indicates that things are occurring on a symbolic level as well as a literal one. My guess is that what caused him to pause and not immediately act on what I asked was BECAUSE of the intensity of feeling he was seeing in me.

      And I have walked into his office and just told him I was going to read something to him (a passage in a book or a poem I wanted to share) but I do not think I was capable of doing that with this, again because of the intense fear. This is starting to really feel not so good, because the more responses I write to these comments, the more I gain a sense of this being about more than reading a book. I appreciate you looking at this from so many angles, its exactly why I asked for input.


      • Liese
        January 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

        “Powerlessness is my MOST hated emotion and I loathe feeling it, weโ€™ve done a lot of work. ”

        Me too! I suppose that’s why I focused on it so much. All the perspectives were interesting to read and reinforced for me that we all see things through our own lenses but only you know what resonates. Good luck and feel better.


  18. January 2, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Hi, AG. I’m not sure that there is much left to be said that hasn’t been said. ๐Ÿ˜‰ However, it does seem that exploring what is going on and what it means to you is going to be very important. You might want to be clear in your mind about whether you want to make sure that you gain an understanding of his reasoning or if you just want to talk about how you are reacting and what it means to you. I say this because I know that in your shoes I would want to understand the reasoning, but that would feel very, very frightening to “confront” my T over, despite all of the work that we have done on addressing things in our relationship.

    In regards to Ellen’s comment about a balance of comfort and being pushed to experience the grief… I have had times when my T has simply sat with me and been witness to and in support of my grief (and there has been a lot- right now she says that she is a “grief magnet for me.” I have also had a few times when she has held my hand as I cried and processed. The support of physical touch reaches parts of me when nothing else does, and so it can help to gather more of me into the corrective experience. In my experience, it hasn’t made me reliant upon her holding my hand at all, but rather it has been strengthening by helping to reach parts of me that otherwise would have been much more difficult to reach. The knowledge that I really am no longer alone and I do not have to experience this in isolation is slowly trickling down into the deepest part of me. As a result, I have grown stronger and much more able to tolerate the grief and pain over the last months.

    The comfort of her being right there for me is nice, but what is most important for me is that it is allowing me to break through that deeply based belief that I will always be alone with the abuse. So is what is going on in regards to the book really about comfort, or is it about something else? If not, what does comfort signify to you?

    Whatever you do, I send you thoughts of strength and confidence…


    • January 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Hi Cat, I don’t think there is much to reply that I haven’t already said. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I agree about this feeling scary, I am actually pleased with how honest I am being with BN about how I am feeling and how clear I am that its ok to question what he did. Whether or not he changes his mind, I have taken an important step in allowing myself to question him. I’m sure he’s thrilled, you know that strange way therapists have about getting very excited about you getting angry with them? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Your description of having your therapist sit with you resonated very deeply with me. While BN and I do not have a physical connection during those times, he is a deep, palpable presence. What is so healing is knowing I am no longer alone. The attunement during those times is so strong that I can actually feel physically held. There is a great deal of comfort…BN uses his voice very effectively during those times to provide containment if I need it. And you’re correct, I have not become dependent on it, I have just learned from it. Thanks for your well wishes.


  19. Alec
    January 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

    This whole experience sounds like such a wonderful instance of exactly what’s supposed to happen in therapy. I thought Liese’s question about enactment was really wise, but what it actually reminds me of is experiences in my own therapy where I found myself interpreting and reacting to things in therapy, or even setting up emotional scenarios for myself, in ways that mirrored patterns from the rest of my life, especially from my relationships with my family growing up. And the richest and most helpful moments are never the ones when I actually play the scenario out, but instead the ones when I get start to notice the patterns in what I’m feeling and how I experience the situation. And obviously point of this self-awareness is not to judge what I’m feeling as, like, unreal or irrational or inappropriate or whatever. Some of it is just to start understanding what my feelings actually are, in a way that then informs and changes how I deal with it when similar situations arise in my life outside therapy. I think these moments when my transference relationship with my shrink becomes the center of the therapy are always terrifying and painful and humiliating — first to admit what I’m feeling, then to analyze it together with my therapist, and finally to accept that I still feel a lot of the same stuff, even though I understand it better. But I feel like they’re the best, most important parts.

    I think I’ve got a better handle on what’s going on in these experiences through reading a lot of psychoanalytic theory, since transference work is pretty much the centerpiece of a lot of modern relational psychoanalysis. But there’s a fair amount of debate about whether to say or no to requests like yours. Michael Balint, for example, who was sort of associated with Winnicott, was more of a fan of participating in these sorts of emotional interchanges and being more emotionally forthcoming. But most analysts seem to advocate something closer to old-school, Freudian neutrality or reserve. In fact, they often call it just “analytic neutrality.” I have no idea where I stand on this, but one of the main arguments is that it sets the scene for exactly the sort of introspection and awareness — the, like, feelings work — that you’re doing in response to this “no.” So, in that sense, one way to look at this is as an example of therapy at its best, with both you making the right choices and you doing incredibly hard emotional work in response.

    I am curious, though, also, about the content of the book. Most of your post and responses in the comments were about reading the book together as an emotional experience, so I assume that’s what’s really important. But how does what’s actually in the book play into the whole situation?


    • January 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Alec,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I agree with everything you said about transference. I have also done extensive reading in psychoanalytic and humanistic theory and its not that any of this doesn’t make sense to me. BN and I have done extensive work using the transference in our relationship. I actually said to him at one point that “just once, I wish these feelings would really turn out to be about you and not my parents.” ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the real difference I am experiencing this time, is in allowing myself to recognize and express the anger and hurt I am feeling about the no and the incredible fact that I am questioning his decision. This is all an indication to me that I have reached a level of trust in this relationship I wouldn’t have thought possible a few years back. BN while holding very clear boundaries (hence the nickname :)) is also not a blank screen type.

      Frankly, I think I have been avoiding the content of the book (but have a faithful friend who is really nagging me about that; quite lovingly I might add. :)) and that it is more involved then I wish to be aware of. SPOILER ALERT: The heart of the story, which is not revealed until the very end, is about a girl who writes to Santa to say that what she really wants for Christmas is to be friends with her brother. They are orphaned and living with an aunt and uncle, so her brother is her closest family. And the last line in the book is that “on this day everything was right with the world.” END SPOILER My brother, with whom I was estranged, both because he was one of my abusers and because he was unhealthy (because he too was a victim of my family, no one got out intact) recently died. So the fact that when I saw and remembered the book, and in very uncharacteristic fashion, impulsively decided to give the book to BN without really thinking about it, my guess is that the contents are important. But recognizing those connections are probably painful enough that I have been avoiding looking at them. It may also be part of the problem that I presented this to BN as wanting to share a part of Christmas with him (which is certainly also a real desire) when maybe it was also a desire to look at the content. Its part of what I intend to discuss with him today. Good question. ๐Ÿ™‚



  20. BLT
    January 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Well, I am going to be curious to find out what BN’s reasoning was for not doing this with you. I admit that I was a little amused in reading this because I’ve experienced the opposite scenario in therapy…my T offered to read to me and I said no! I’m not sure why I didn’t want to, though I guess it would be interesting to explore.

    I think I agree with what Izzy wrote. To me the most healing thing for me has been learning to care for and advocate for my own inner child/children. That means seeing their needs as legitimate, and working to get them met in whatever way is possible…by others, by myself, or through imagination. In the process of doing this, I’ve come to understand that letting T meet needs for my inner children that I won’t meet for them myself or can’t get met elsewhere usually leaves me in a place of painful longing which I prefer to avoid. On the other hand, it’s been fine to let her support me in meeting needs which I already was doing my best to address in other ways. As I’ve gotten more proficient in owning and caring for my younger parts, it’s even been fine for me to accept hugs in therapy without having painful aftereffects, which wasn’t true in the past.

    So my suggestion would be to figure out what the need is here and find a way to meet it that seems right to you, whether that includes BN or not. Maybe BN would be willing to sit and support you while you read the book to your own inner child, like TN recently wrote about doing. Or maybe you could get your H or a close friend to read the book to you (I would certainly read to my own H if he asked me to!). Or you could read it to yourself, or some combination of the above. One of the great revelations for me has been that love and care are not scarce resources in the world. There are are many ways to feel loved, connected, and cared for by many different people, and ourselves as well, and through building your life with those around you, you are taking part in forumating your own unique recipe for nourishing your soul.

    I know this might sound escapist, but I think you’ve mourned more than enough over what you didn’t get in your past. Yes, we have to let go of looking for that person outside of us that will love us perfectly and make everything instantly wonderful, and that can hurt, but it’s not very instructive to stay in that kind of pain indefinitely. It’s more interesting to find out what you CAN get NOW, and how creative you can be in getting it.


    • January 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Hi BLT,
      Nice to hear from you also and thanks for commenting. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have no argument with what you’ve said, and my experience with BN has certainly included learning how to get what I need outside of therapy, and learning that I am truly loved and valued outside of therapy. Everything I have learned with him has served to make significant improvements in my life. Most dramatically, in learning to move closer to BN. I have learned to move closer to other people, resulting in the fact that my marriage is the best it has ever been (also helped by the fact that DH and myself also did couples’ work). I tend to see therapy as a helix, you continue to go around and around, revisiting a lot of the same issues, but you drill down deeper each time. So, for myself, splitting it into two stages of grief and getting what I need now would feel very artificial. I have done a lot of grief work with BN, I’ve had a lot to grieve. I have also done a lot of work learning to get my needs met and am living a much fuller life than when I started working with him. The two tasks are interwoven, rather than occurring in serial manner. And while my grieving is most definitely connected to the past, this current bout is anchored in present events. I recently found out that my aunt had concealed from my mother that my father had been found possibly molesting a child before he married my mother and had children. When my mother heard this, she did talk to my sister about it, and opened it by saying “you know I never believed AG when she said she was abused.” Yet, she has not contacted me since. I did not even call on Thanksgiving or Christmas because I had no idea what to say to her and I am really angry. So much so that this may be the final blow which pushes me into completely severing the relationship with her. And as I mentioned above, my estranged brother died a few months ago. So the loss I am experiencing right now in my life is, I think, why I am re-visiting the underlying losses yet again. Oddly enough, when I told BN about my brother dying, he told me that he didn’t realize I had a brother. I ended up having to spend some time filling him in on background, something I haven’t done in a long time.

      So I very much appreciate the point you are making. You should not grieve or be in pain, for pain’s sake but only to serve to heal the past so that you can let go of it and learn to live fully in the present. And I have had my share of frustration, and protest, about the amount of grieving I have had to do, and questioned whether I am stuck, so this was reasonable to ask. But in this case, it doesn’t feel like I am seeking to stay in place and not move on.



  21. Liese
    January 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for being so welcoming. And I mean that.


    • January 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      I am very glad to know you feel welcome Liese. I really do appreciate the time and effort to comment, come by anytime. ๐Ÿ™‚


  22. Gel
    January 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Hi AG,
    Fantastic writing and thread of thoughtfulness. I can’t think of anything to add that hasn’t been written here. But I appreciate you sharing your process and I’m impressed with the level of intelligent comments.

    I am working on early childhood abuse and neglect through movement therapy (neurological repatterning and developmental movement patterns)….as well as EMDR and Re-Evaluation Co-counseling. The big insights for me are that the lack of early healthy bonding and patterning are far more damaging than the abuses (sexual, and emotional). Though those are damn awful.

    What I can do now as a 53 year old is grieve the painful past….with support from trusted others.

    AND ~ even tho I can never fill the bonding, security and love needs that I missed as a baby, I can create the foundational neurological patterns that would have been built and engaged by doing the developmental movements that I missed as a baby….I can do those NOW, while I give myself the nurturance and love I need. The movement patterns, bring ‘on-line’ the capacity to give and receive love and passion, competance, etc.

    My movement therapist Bette Lamont, says there is a new Diagnostic being considered for the type of trauma that happens when babies and young children don’t get the bonding and movement patterns that lay the neurological patterns. She called it something like: Developmental Trauma Disorder.

    I cant’ write more due to a cut on my dominant index finger…difficult to type.


    • January 6, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Hi Gel,
      Good to hear from you again, and must have to say I agree with you about the intelligent comments, the feedback I recieved was both insightful and helpful. I very much agree with everything you said about healing. I have long thought that the worst damage was the lack of secure attachment rather than the actual abuse. The abuse heightened my need for loving attunement and exacerbated the damage. And I have long been grateful for the ongoing plasticity of our brains. Learning about attachment theory was what gave me hope for healing. And I don’t know if you’v read it, but The General Theory of Love is a great book with a wonderful explanation of neural networks and how healing rewires our brain. I gained an incredible amount of insight in how to heal from reading it. I recommended it to BN and he also found it very valuable, we used it alot in our early work together. ~AG


  23. January 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I am glad you are going to discuss it further with him, and look forward to hearing how it goes. I personally think can really relate to your words about someone healthy being a catalyst for understanding one’s own losses…


    • January 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Hi KMW,
      Thank you. I am really glad you understood my saying that someone healthy can be the lens through which you see your loss. It’s a bit counter-intuitive to say that finally getting what you need can cause so much pain. I feel better knowing I am not alone in that thought. And I’ve put up my post about how it went, the cause for my delay in responding. ๐Ÿ™‚ ~AG


  24. Ms. Sharkey
    January 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Attachment Girl :
    Hi Ms. Sharkey
    I agree that good delivery is important, but wanted to point out that in this case, the person commenting was not speaking in her native tongue, and that her goodwill was evident even though her language may not have always conveyed it.
    I love what you said aboout the experience with your therapist, he sounds like a very good one. And I totally agree with how healing it is to experience that. I really appreciate that when BN feels he has done something wrong, he apologizes, but also allows me time to deal with how I am feeling. Being able to learn how to repair is crucial to healthy relationshiips and our ability to tolerate intimacy, it sounds like you are doing really good work with your therapist. ~AG

    We are! I just wish it didn’t feel like having a second full-time job sometimes. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Odd as this may sound, it’s taken me a long time to believe that we are doing good work. Rather, that *I’m* doing good work. I often think that I must be the most difficult, hard-to-reach, frustrating client ever. Just a few weeks ago, I told my therapist that I’m sorry I’m so much work. He asked on whose behalf I was sorry and I said his. He looked at me and said “But I’m here to work. It’s good work and I’m glad to be doing it.” He made it sound so simple.


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