Sorting the Past

In the comments after my last post, It’s still no, but still helpful, a number of questions were asked that I felt needed a longer answer than I would want to put in a comment and since they were all related, I decided to address them in a new post. They appear below:

Greeneyes: … 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?

MetaMantraMe: How can we tell if we really are being denied something in the current time that we should be receiving? Or if it is, indeed, a projection of the unmet, and old, need from before onto today?

Liese: … when will we know that we’ve grieved all the losses from the past and that what is happening to us in the present is from the present? In other words, when will our feelings simply be about what is going on now?

In my experience, sorting through what are present needs and what are unmet needs in the past, grieving the unmet needs that can no longer be met, and sorting through whether our feelings are about here and now or are echos of the past are all interwoven tasks. This is the heart of the healing process. We walk into therapy, with our unknown unconscious, and enter into a relationship in which we can bring ourselves into the light and into focus.

BN always said there was no need to manipulate therapy or deliberately do anything to a client. The therapeutic relationship is like all relationships; what you need to work through and the issues you need to face will occur naturally. We all have unmet needs, some from childhood and some present, that drive us to seek help. Many of us go to therapy pursuing our life-long quest of trying to find that one person who will love us well enough and long enough to finally fulfill those needs, to fill up the void.  These are often inarticulate longings, we don’t quite know what we are looking for, but we know we’ll recognize when we get it and finally rid ourselves of a plaguing restlessness. The set  up of therapy: having someone’s full attention focused on us, and attending only to our needs, not asking anything of us and providing the closest thing to unconditional love you can find, triggers the feelings that finally,  here is the end of our search. And so long repressed needs will start to make themselves known.

Therapy is also a place where we can, with the help of our therapist, learn about our behavioral patterns. Often, the behaviors that allowed us to survive in the past have become maladaptive and now get in our way instead of protecting us. These behavioral patterns make themselves manifest in the interactions with our therapist.  So the basic idea of therapy is that we walk in, be as honest as we can be at any given moment and allow ourselves to be seen (despite our terror :))  so that our therapists can help us to make sense of why we behave the way we do and learn to change the things we want to.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will break our needs down into three categories: unfulfilled childhood needs, developmental needs and present needs. Unfulfilled childhood needs are those needs that can no longer be met and must be mourned as a loss. Developmental needs are the things that we did not learn as children, but still can learn from our therapists (albeit, with more difficulty and pain than if we had learned them while growing up). Present needs are our adult human needs for acceptance, understanding and connection. Our therapists usually fulfill these needs for a time so that we can learn how to get them met, then go looking in the wider world for a reciprocal relationship in which to get them met long-term. Much in the same way that a good parent takes care of a child and meets their needs, until they are mature enough to go out into the wider world and make a life for themselves.

So how do we learn to tell the difference between these types of needs? This is where the boundaries prove to be so important. It is in running up against them that we sort through these needs. This is also where it gets terrifying and very difficult…

We have to take the risk to speak up about what we are feeling and what we want. But this means we risk hearing “no,” and that can feel like it will destroy us. For many of us, we heard “no” too many times as children when we should not have. Therefore, we promised ourselves we weren’t going to risk that kind of pain again by asking for something we need. But that causes another problem in that we are not going to always get a “yes” when we ask for what we need, especially if it is something the person actually can’t provide (versus not being willing to). But we cannot know ahead of time where someone else’s boundaries are (there are obvious boundaries such as not assaulting someone, not stealing from them, etc. I am talking about the kinds of boundaries people set according to their own comfort level, desires and values.) So to speak up about what we need can feel very dangerous. But if we do not risk asking, we never get what we need. So we are faced with having to learn to not only risk hearing no, but surviving hearing no, if we wish to live in such a way that allows us to get our needs met.

So in order to determine if we are dealing with a past or present need, we first need to be willing to express the need. The best way of knowing if it is past or present is to ask. We discuss all the feelings around what we ask for: what feelings is the longing evoking, why do we want it, what do we think it will do for us to have it, what happens if we get it?  This is where the therapeutic relationship becomes so important, because we can ask these questions of the person from whom we are asking for what we need. Because the therapist keeps their needs out of the room, the arena is clear of their agenda, and the focus is what we want and why we want it. And hopefully, if our therapist is attuned and paying attention, they will be listening to both our conscious expressions of desire and the unconscious patterns so they can help us understand what it is we are really asking for.

Paying attention to the intensity of your feelings is a good rule of thumb for deciding about past or present.  The feelings which occur IN the therapeutic relationship are a road map of where you need to explore. The intensity of the feelings is often because they are evoking or resonating with experiences in our past, from a time when these needs were life or death. So if you’re spending a lot of time thinking “why is this such a big deal” or “why am I getting SO upset about this?” then its a good time to look to your past for an explanation.

A good example of this would be the time I found a book of poetry which featured BN in the acknowledgements and had a poem in the body of the book dedicated to him (see The Paradox of Shame). Seeing that BN had a deep, close relationship with someone so accomplished and talented made me feel intense shame, such that I wanted to flee the relationship. It was also incredibly threatening in that it felt like knowing this was destroying my sense of the relationship being a real one. It literally felt like the work we had done together was slipping through my fingers like sand. I do not normally react that way to finding out someone was acknowledged in a book. My normal reaction would be “wow, that’s pretty awesome!”

In trying to figure out why this felt so intense, I realized that I wanted to be special to BN, and this was rubbing my nose in the fact that I wasn’t really all that special. BN does have other clients that he cares about, he offers to them the same care that he offers to me. Which feels horrible. It feels horrible because I should have experienced a time in my childhood where I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt, in a taken for granted way, that I was special and loved more than other children (with the glaring exception of my siblings, but that’s another subject). I should have been able to feel that I was one of the most important people in the world to my caregiver. I want that from BN and I cannot have it. He cannot allow me to be that important to him because then our relationship would be about his needs also, not to mention that those kind of feelings about a client would interfere with the necessary detachment a therapist needs to see us clearly.

This is where a therapist’s clarity about the boundaries is vitally important. BN recognizes that even if he decided to kick over the traces and treat me as his most special client (I mean, we all know I’m his favorite, right? ;)), the time has passed where I could take in that treatment and integrate it into my sense of self in the way that would have happened as a developing child. So this is a loss that needs to be grieved.

But the loss is so painful and feels like it threatens our very existence, how do we face it? We face it by talking about how it feels, by having someone attend to our feelings of grief, of knowing that our loss matters, that it is worthy of grieving. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that getting the answer I wanted, having a longing fulfilled, was not the important thing. The important thing was that I was attended to in my disappointment, that someone would listen while I talked about how I felt, even if how I felt was angry at them for denying what I so desperately wanted.

This grief also feels so  threatening and destructive because when we experienced the original loss, it WAS too much for us to handle. Because our caregiver was the source of pain, no one was there to help us handle the feelings and move through them. Alone and without the necessary resources because we were not yet mature, the feelings became something that had to be shut away in order to protect ourselves. So the other reason that it becomes important to express these feelings to our therapist is that they provide “containment.” Being with them and having them stay calm and unafraid while we experience the riptide of these memories and these losses, is what anchors us and teaches us that we are strong enough to have these feelings, that they will not destroy us and that we will not have to feel them forever. The first time I ever let myself experience the really deep grief over loss in my childhood, of not being loved the way I had longed to be, I was totally shocked that the tsunami of feelings lasted only minutes. I looked at BN and told him I was shocked to find the other side of despair, that I had always felt as if letting these emotions in would mean being trapped in them forever. In one of the paradoxes so central to therapy, we cannot know that we can face these feelings until we allow ourselves to face them and experience that they do not destroy us. We have to trust the process.

This would be hard enough if we only had to do it once, but we have to do it over and over until we do not need to do it anymore. I have gone back, time and time again, to talk to BN about the hurt, the anger, the rage, the sadness, the despair, you name it, that has been evoked by understanding my losses, by allowing them into my consciousness. I have screamed and cried and yelled at BN. I have threatened to throw things at him. I have been furious at his refusal to fight with me. I have been utterly amazed at his willingness to walk with me anywhere I needed to go, no matter how much pain I encountered. Through it all, he has stood still, a steady unchanging presence, open and accepting of all that I bring. Now I know that all of me is acceptable because he never changed toward me. And I know that I really do matter because he has paid attention to all of it.

So in many ways, BN has functioned as a human sorting bin. I ask him for something. If he says yes and provides it, I know it is either something to help complete my development or meet a present need. For example, during our work he has allowed 24/7  contact by email or phone (I call his service, he calls me back within an hour). BN has told me that it is impossible to know when you will need your attachment figure, so it was important that I could reach him when I needed to. So he met my need for access to my attachment figure, so I could learn to be securely attached. He has given me a blanket from his office when I asked, (I gave him a replacement) so I had something of his to comfort me when I was away from him. I have a handwritten note for which I asked him when I “ended” therapy. But if he says no, that what I have asked is not something he can provide, or its gratification will block my healing, as he did with hugs and reading the book and allowing me to live under his desk, (Full confession: I HAVE asked to live under his desk, but for some reason we’ve never had a serious discussion about that one. ;)) then I know I am up against a loss and have to go through the grieving process.

Once the grief is acknowledged and processed, it loses its power over us. Subsequently, when it is evoked or triggered, we can recognize a grief that we understand and have dealt with and let it go. The feeling can move through us freely. In a sense, once we learn we do not need to fear those feelings, we no longer need to revisit them. We have brought them into consciousness, so when they spring up in the here and now, we can acknowledge within ourselves “oh yes, I recognize that feeling, I know what’s going on with that, but I don’t need to react to it” and get on with what is actually happening.

Another example from my own experience. Because of the pattern with my father, of moving towards him to get my needs met, then having it turn abusive, I hold this deep-seated belief that I should not trust anything “good.”  Anything good will eventually be ruined. Which means that in the middle of really wonderful, fun, fulfilling times, I can be struck with a sense of dread, of feeling like it is really bad to actually let myself enjoy something or believe I am doing it well, because it will only hurt more when it turns out not to be true. But I have learned, by working through the grief of not being able to go to my father and trust his care for me, that while that belief once made sense, it is no longer true. That it is ok to enjoy and accept good things, knowing that in those rare times where something does go wrong, I can face and handle any feelings that arise. So, in effect, when that fear rises up, I can now quickly identify “oh yeah that feeling is being triggered, but I know it’s not really the truth” and move past it. In other words, because I am no longer avoiding the grief or terrified of feeling it, I safely can allow myself to be conscious of it, and therefore, discount its relevance to the situation at hand. This is something that used to take days, or even weeks, to accomplish. But now, it can happen in a matter of seconds, on the fly so to speak, such that no one but I would actually know it happened.

We never reach a point, nor does anyone, where our past will never rise up, but we will become more skilled at seeing the lies of the past at work, and putting them aside to see the present more clearly, including our own abilities and strengths that we can use to take care of ourselves when need be, and to express our needs and reach out to get them met. There will always be some trial and error to the process, but recognizing that we won’t always get it right and that’s ok is also freeing. If we realize we made a mistake, we can change course and correct it. It really is ok to be human and not get it right all the time; no one is perfect and we don’t need to be either. When discerning the difference between past and present no longer feels like it threatens our existence, it can be much easier to do.

May I confess that everything I have said feels inadequate? In so many ways, this process is an emotional, felt experience and so much of what we need to learn is learned implicitly by watching our therapist model the behavior. We learn what we need to know without really knowing how we learned it. In the end, the most useful thing I can say is to trust the process. Trust that no matter how irrational you feel, or how scary it gets, that all you need to do is show up and be honest. Talk about how you feel, as many times as you need to and for as long as you need to until you feel better. Knowing that the process will take much longer than you want it to, and hurt a lot more than anyone would want to experience. But there is a point to the pain, when you heal and can let the pain go. And yes, I realize this is a terrible answer. 🙂 The truth often can be. Having to go through this process sucks, but it’s a lot better than not being able to heal.

  1. Jenny
    January 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Thank you, AG. For this post and for the blog in general.

    I’ve had a few therapists over the years, but never allowed myself to be open with them. I went to them for specific issues, got some help for those issues and moved on. I never really understood that it could be a safe place to work through decades-old hurts. I started with my current therapist a year ago, and again, my plan was to deal with one really difficult situation and move on.

    But I found myself telling him things I’d never told anyone. Then I found your blog and it finally dawned on me what was possible. That I could work through all my stuff. Indeed, since it’s all interconnected, I really have to. And that it was okay, perhaps even necessary, to direct all the stuff at my therapist. That it is his job to hold a safe space for me to do that.

    You’re light years ahead of me in the process, but reading of your struggles, successes, and insights gives me hope that I can get there, too.

    Thank you.


    • January 20, 2013 at 1:13 am

      You’re very welcome and thank you for the words of encouragement. It made my day to know that you find hope in my writings. That is my real goal. I thought for the longest time I couldn’t heal, and when I learned to hope it made all the difference.

      And I think you’re right where you should be, in opening up to your present therapist. The timing of healing is a very personal thing and we open up when we sense we are both safe enough and strong enough to face our “stuff.” And as for timing, take comfort in the fact that no one has been in therapy longer than me. 😀 ~AG


  2. January 19, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Thank you for writing this! It helped me to clarify some things that I was trying to think through and write about myself.

    Something that I have realized over the last couple of days is that having someone consistently respond to my needs has allowed me to finally feel comfortable reaching out for help when I am in need. I don’t have to question whether my misery level is high enough or have I gritted my teeth for long enough and I don’t have to have someone else judge whether it is OK for me to ask for help, but I can go with my gut saying, “I need help.” I deserve help before I get to where I am completely desperate. Even when it is inconvenient for the person from whom I am asking for help. That’s a pretty radical concept for me. 😉


    • January 20, 2013 at 1:24 am

      Totally underestand as I also had to work through allowing myself to ask for what I need. I always have thought that there is incredible irony in the fact that if we are willing to ask sooner, before we’re in total crisis and going in to meltdown, makes us MUCH less of burden to those we turn to. I once waited days after not getting a reply to an email from BN, only to explode all over him when I finally called (it was bad enough that I ended up writing him an apology and he accepted it. :)). He very wryly pointed out I could have called sooner. The truth is that if I had called as soon as I started to feel upset, it would have been an easy quick call, but, out of a desire not to be too needy, I waited until I wwas so upset that it turned out to be a difficult disruption. I try to remember that when I am hesitating. The sooner I ask, usually the less help I need. 🙂 So glad to hear this helped clarify things for you! ~ AG


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Cat – your comment about learning to ask for help even if it may be inconvenient for those you are asking for help from has really struck me. It has been circling in my head since I read it. I am far from there at this point but it is really challenging some beliefs in there. Thank you.


      • January 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm

        I am so glad to hear that what I wrote was helpful to you. Thank you for telling me!


  3. January 19, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Good Morning AG!
    Excellent, thorough and thought-provoking post! Thank you so much for putting yourself out there routinely in order that others can make sense of our worlds, learn to navigate the terrain and wind up in a beautiful place. As far too many therapists have difficulty or a lack of experience with the smooth handling of transference they often wind up hurting their patients, to the point that they make them worse than when they first crossed their threshold! Having said that, your insight on the subject makes me wonder if a peer support group would be far more healing in the long run. After experiencing my trauma I recognized something key: We all need someone who is our soft place to land on. And that is paramount to commence the healing process. As I don’t even have a dog to talk to, I thank you for AG for being you! 🙂



    • January 20, 2013 at 1:37 am

      Thank you for your description of the post; I really struggled with this one trying to say what I wanted and wasn’t completely satisfied with the result, so I ws very glad of your feedback.

      I think that peer support can be very important, especially for disorganized attachment, as you can feel pretty crazy until you find other people who are experiencing what you are. I agree that far too many therapists do not understand how to work through the transference (I have urged BN to write a book or go on lecture tour, I think a lot of therapists could benefit from how well he understands and handles the transference. :)). But I do think that for most people a therapist is important. I moved through a stage of deep dependence while healing that would have been too much to ask of any other kind of relationsip as an adult. I think we need a relationship focused on our needs, with someone willing to examine what is going on between us without the need to defend themselves or get their needs met, and that means therapy. I think that the more support we have during healing, the better. I’m glad that you can talk here. ~ AG


  4. Bourbon
    January 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    You see, this hits the nail on the head with one of my worries regarding my therapist. The difference between present day needs and past needs… I am worried that actually she is fulfilling our past needs? BN clearly has boundaries… hugs… reading a book (what was that?)… Cat… well… she hasn’t said no to anything yet. Not to say we have asked for much because asking is far too scary at the moment but I just worry whether us being allowed to become so reliant on her, so close to her, is going to backfire miserably at some point later down the line. I don’t know. I worry/think too much perhaps. I enjoyed reading this though, thank you xox


    • January 20, 2013 at 1:56 am

      I totally understand your concern, but have two things to say about it. The first is that I did go through a very dependent stage in my therapy where I really needed BN a lot more than I do now. It was not unusual for me to contact him two or three times between weekly appointments and even be in tears at having to leave at the end of a session. A normal part of human development is our need to be dependent on an attachment figure to implicitly learn emotional regulation and a sense of our worth. Those are things a therapist can, and should, provide but that will not look the same for every patient. Being dependent can be extremely scary as it didn’t work out real well the first time we tried it as children, and that memory makes us wary of believing it can be any different this time (especially since we often (wrongly) see ourselves rather than our caregivers as the problem.)

      My second point would be that I would expect Cat’s boundaries to fall in very different places with you than BN’s with me. You have alters, some of whom are very young children and children have to be handled differently in therpy because their ability to “talk” it through canbe hampered by their developmental state. So a therapist working with young children will behave differently with them, then they would with an adult. In your case, Cat needs to keep in mind the needs of everyone in the system, so it makes sense that she would be providing things for you that ARE present needs, that would be trying to fulfill past needs for a singleton like me. From everything you have said of Cat she sounds like a very capable therapist and I think you can trust her. All that said, I’ll say what I always do (somewhere True North is rolling her eyes :D) if you’re concerned about this, talk to Cat about it. Send her the post and your comment and see what she has to say. I think it would help put these fears to rest. xx AG


      • Bourbon
        January 20, 2013 at 1:58 am

        Thank you. I might just do that xx


  5. January 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Bourbon, I just love your avatar!

    AG ~ That is so true about the dependency we need to create that no other person could possibly tolerate. But we need to experience object constancy for a change! We do have to recognize that in the real world, people will disappoint us as we will them.
    While BN writing a book (Counter-transference for Dummies?! 😉 ) would be a fabulous start, I am beginning to believe he ought to just clone himself!)
    About transference/counter, first off, I despise the word! Feelings works for me. One of the most pointed arguments CE and I had, was over the issue of certain streams of psychology such as Feminist, Humanist etc. believing in the power of positive trans. Good old Freud, reigns supreme in the curriculum of Psychiatrists, thereby handicapping them to assume it is negative, harmful and to be avoided at all costs. So if a client is in therapy precisely to form secure attachments, the therapist could benefit from a more eclectic view of the subject.
    I noticed in my town that about 15 therapists advertise themselves as specifically dealing with this diagnosis. Perhaps that is a question we should ask before entering therapy-So what is your success rate in treating BPD and BPD traits? Perhaps that would save a lot of time and tears!


    • January 22, 2013 at 1:02 am

      Sorry for not responding sooner, I was answering the comments in my Comments queue and you had gotten pushed off the page! Didn’t mean to overlook you. Love the title “Counter-transference for Dummies” LOL I’ll have to pass that on.

      I agree about transference. I use the word as a short hand for “reacting based on our relational model implicitly learned during our early childhood experiences.” But these are real feelings that are about what is going on; they just also evoke the feelings and especially the intensity of those feelings from our past. BN was always very careful about that, he doesn’t like the word transference either. I really appreciated that once when we were talking about my romantic/sexual attraction, that he was very willing to believe that there really was an adult component, that I was really attracted to him. You don’t feel so crazy that way. 🙂

      As far as attachment, I would make sure they’ve read Attachment in Psychotherapy by David Wallin. I really do think that alot of people with attachment issues can be misdiagnosed with BPD as complex PTSD can present in very similar ways. What do I know? I’ve only been diagnosed with plain old garden variety PTSD. That’s another thing I appreciate about BN, he’s not big on diagnoses. He just follows the client, remaining open to their experience and striving to understand. I like that approach. ~AG


      • January 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

        Hi AG!
        Trans and counter Trans can get really tricky, eh?. Apparently there are two kinds. One that is happening in the here and now and one that is based on what the patient is projecting from the past and the T is responding to that. It’s akin to role-play to me. The way I explain this to myself is this: Had I had insecure attachment in childhood, I would be looking for a parental /adult figure of either sex.. I, the adult never looks for that in a partner – I look for younger men and have since high school. I can only attribute that to my parents refusing to provide me with a baby brother! LOL! Seriously I think it’s a birth order dynamic- I am first born and an only. So it’s a natural, comfortable fit for me. I would not be drawn to another first born because we would be at loggerheads too often.
        Now here is the not-so-surprising dynamic. If one has secure attachments in childhood it stands to reason we will want to copy that experience – so the romantic blueprint is set.
        My scenario was a tad, er, weird! LOL! I had wonderful parents in early childhood (critical developmental phase) but they died just as I was entering middle childhood (equally key phase for different reasons). At that point I was raised by an uncle, who I adored.No attachment issues there. Long story short I HAD to be adopted due to forces beyond my control. The couple who adopted me were diametrically opposed to my family of origin,despite looking really good on paper. Initially I attached to the man but that did not last long unfortunately. Attaching to my step-mother? Just call me Cinderella! So attachments became disorganized.
        Rather than try to fix the relationship that did not work with my step-father, I am drawn to carbon copies of my uncle. (Which is problematic because statistically there are not many like him but that’s a different post altogether…) Enter my T and guess what? I had to cry uncle!! So I experienced positive transference with him which was echoed. So those feelings were based on a past figure but also the right fit for me in the here and now. Now this can be equally problematic- I could never be romantically involved with a father-figure despite positive transference. Now my ‘ex-current T’ (LOL!) fell a wee bit too well into the romantic category. Needless to say I was terminated! Hope my next T is NOT tall, dark and handsome!!
        AG I would like to recommend a book for you as well- it’s called The Haunted Self by Onno Van der Hart. Google him first-he is an international expert on C-PTSD. I was totally impressed with his treatment protocol. It was the first that made sense for those of us who are closer to the neurotic end of the continuum rather than the psychotic.
        Most T’s I know use the DSM as a doorstop or a paperweight.
        Which makes sense. There should just be one comprehensive listing of problematic behaviours that create obstacles to healthy functioning, including maintaining healthy relationships over time. Those items are checked off, upon which therapeutic goals are set. Labels belong on clothes not people.
        Ok enough of my soapbox for today!


  6. liz
    January 21, 2013 at 4:12 am

    YOU should write a book! One of the most difficult things for me is trying to make sense of the healing process while it’s happening, and your posts are often the source of some relieving “a-ha! so that’s what it was all about!” moments 🙂


    • January 21, 2013 at 10:53 am

      Funny you should say that since its the same thing BN said when I told HIM he should write a book. 😀 Trying to build up courage for the attempt, thank you for the encouragement. No higher praise than an “aha” moment.


  7. January 21, 2013 at 9:15 am

    I have had to re-read this post a number of times since you first posted it. It has taken me a long time to process. It is somewhat bittersweet knowing that nothing will get us through to the other side without having to wade through all the crap and pain. It helps to have a basic understanding of the process and know that it will happen if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and somehow trusting that I’m not doing this healing thing wrong. :/


    • January 21, 2013 at 10:59 am

      (((Grace))) It’s very bittersweet, and most often falls much more strongly on the bitter side. One of the reasons that healing from these kinds of injuries can take so long to heal from is that this is difficult work which takes an enormous amount of energy so there is only so fast you can go at it without taking yourself under. And you’re right, it is very hard, if not impossible, to see your progress when you’re in the middle of progressing. It is only later, in looking back, that I could achieve any kind of clarity about the process. I really meant it when I said this is the heart of the healing. I remember once after a particularly horrendous session doing grief work, I commented to BN how very hard it had been to face and BN told me that he thought it was probably one of the hardest things I would ever have to do. This is NOT easy stuff, nor for the faint of heart. I would that it were otherwise. ~ AG


  8. True North
    January 21, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    True North is indeed rolling her eyes LOL… and struggling to follow your advice to just talk to him about it (whatever “it” is at the moment that is torturing me). At least today I got as far as asking for a longer appointment sometime when he can fit it in. And no, this is not easy stuff at all. Especially when you are trying to do it the second time around. Thanks for all the reminders, AG. Love ya.


  9. January 22, 2013 at 12:52 am

    The feeling is completely mutual. 😀 Really glad you were able to ask for a longer appointment. I really am impressed that you have not thrown anything at me at least one of the times I was saying you needed to talk about it. Being on the phone does have SOME advantages. 🙂 And thank you for saying thank you for the “reminders” and not the “nagging.” You are very gracious. xx AG


  10. LIttle Blond Girl
    January 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

    There is a lot in this post to take in, and I think I’ve had to read it several times. I feel like I’m finally stepping into the heart of the grief and the loss and I actually think what you said about the intensity of the feelings is going to help sort some losses that need to be grieved out from those things that I want today (even if I can’t have them…). I find it very difficult to go in there and face the feelings, and talk about what is going on, and what I want and why I want it (and in all honesty have contemplated quitting therapy because it all just feels like it’s getting way too difficult). But I realize that I do need to show up and try to be as honest as possible – and hope that on the other side, it gets a bit easier. Thank you for continuing to share.


    • January 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      May I commend your perseverance in reading it several times? 🙂 I’m sorry, I do know that the heart of the grief is a very painful place to travel. I am glad though that being aware of the intensity of the feelings can help you sort through it faster. Its best to move through this as the best pace we can manage. I do want you to know that it really does get easier on the other side, so much so that it can be hard to believe and your memory of the pain fades to a shadow of its former self. To quote Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” xxx AG


  11. Belle
    March 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog on and off for awhile and have read through most of the posts again in the last couple of days. I am really, really struggling (as are many of us it seems) with trying to come to terms with the fact that my t won’t adopt me and give me everything I missed out on. In fact I am pretty much stalling my therapy/healing/progression because such a large part of me thinks that if I hold out for long enough my t will cave in and give me what I need. There was actually a time in the first year of seeing her that I really believed that was going to happen. Now part of me sees the reality but I just can’t get myself to in any way begin to accept it, deal with it etc.

    My t knows how I feel but I worry that we aren’t talking about it in the right way. This bit you said – ‘We discuss all the feelings around what we ask for: what feelings is the longing evoking, why do we want it, what do we think it will do for us to have it, what happens if we get it?’ – I don’t think we’ve really done that at all. Partly because I think she wants to see me move forward and so she always highlights the positives (that she does love me and care and there is real warmth and affection there) which leaves me feeling bad for being upset about what isn’t there. And partly because I shutdown so easily because I don’t want to accept the reality and when she has asked me to describe what it would look like to get what I need from her I refuse to answer because it feels humiliating and pointless to describe something I can never have. It feels way more exposing than I can allow myself to be in the therapy room. And I know it’s supposed to be a place to risk being vulnerable but if someone keeps rejecting me I don’t want to cry to that person about it. I want to go off and lick my wounds on my own. To be upset with my t about what she won’t give me feels like I will lose what little pride and self respect I have (which is very little!). I will have nothing left.

    All last year I gave her a really hard time about not caring, literally twice a week for most of the year, so I worry that she will get rid of me if I keep bringing this stuff up. I do believe she cares now but I worry that I approached it all the wrong way last year and now I will have worn down her patience for dealing with it. I don’t understand why I did what I did last year and how to deal with it now and how to ever even begin to accept something that is so unacceptable. Sorry for the long post. I still feel I have not really explained myself well enough for anyone to understand what I am really trying to get at. I really struggle with words…


  12. March 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Hi Belle,
    Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I am very sorry it has taken so long to reply to you. We were out of town last weekend visiting my younger daughter at college and I am working very long hours these days, so its tough to find the time right now.

    I do want you to know that you are being very clear about what is going on and I recognize, most, if not all. of those feelings from my own experience. You are not stalling therapy, you are working through coming to terms with a deep loss. Giving up our deep longing for that care is incredibly difficult and takes time to work through. Just the fact that you understand you need to figure out some way to accept it is a major sign of progress. Some people never get past looking for what they can’t have.

    And I totally understand your feelings of humiliation. That was very difficult for me also. But the truth is that although I could feel very humiliated asking for something I knew BN wouldn’t give, he NEVER reacted to me with scorn or harshness. He never humiliated me for having those feelings, he acknowledged how difficult and painful it could be while also understanding how reasonable it was I felt that way. And it is possible to both recognize that which we are being given (your Ts love, care and affection) and that we cannot make up for a very real loss. You may need to let your T know that her care and love are what is making it safe enough for you to feel and express your anger and sorrow over what you didn’t have. To quote BN “all the food in the world isn’t going to help if you’re thirsty.” The feelings of shame you are struggling with have to do with our need as children to try and shut down these longings and needs because expressing them kept leading to us getting hurt. Shame is a very powerful preventative so we employ it to try and keep ourselves in line (this is of course impossible because these are fundamental, real needs that we had every right to have and to express, but it didn’t stop us from wrapping it in immense amounts of shame). So when you attempt to express these long buried desires, you are going to experience acute shame. That’s why it is imperative to talk about these longings. The solution to shame is to be heard and accepted so that you can know there really is no need to feel ashamed.

    And I know the fear that you will burn out your therapist (I once told BN that I really was waiting for his head to explode :)). But your therapist can understand that this isn’t really about her and where its coming from. Understanding why you would struggle this way and why it takes time makes it much easier to be patient. As do the boundaries. Not being in constant contact with us protects our Ts from burning out.

    So my best advice, as always, is to just continue to go and talk aout how you are feeling, be as honest as you can be about all of it. I know if feels impossible right now, but the work of grief does eventually lead us to acceptance. It won’t always hurt this much. I wish you the best in your healing.



    • Belle
      March 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Hi AG,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my comment and reply so thoroughly. I saw your post about you being busy for a while so I wasn’t expecting a quick response – or any response necessarily!

      Thanks for sayng that I’m not stalling therapy. It feels like I am. I think I definitely was up until a couple of weeks ago when I admitted that a large part of me was determined to hold out for t to meet more of my needs. I can still feel that part of me, that desire to have what I need and the disbelief and shock when I see that she really isn’t going to be the mum I always wanted. That she doesn’t even want to be! Everytime I think it I automatically hear in my head ‘I can’t believe this’. But I suppose it is starting to sink in a little bit otherwise I wouldn’t be so upset and in so much pain over it.

      This bit you wrote ‘You may need to let your T know that her care and love are what is making it safe enough for you to feel and express your anger and sorrow over what you didn’t have’ was interesting. I was actually going to write and ask you how you manage/have managed to allow your t to be there with you while you feel all the pain and sadness and anger over those needs that can never be met. At my last session I sat there and felt completely alone in the room, which is how I’ve felt most of the time (over the last year and a bit anyway). I know she cares and she loves me but I haven’t been able to let that in for a long time so even though I feel all this pain I don’t really feel it when I’m with her. I mainly feel it while I’m alone. She beame very frustrated with me on monday because I’m not letting her in and she says that I need to in order to go through this and move forward. That I am just using my survival skills of shutting down and building walls to keep her out and I need to start learning that that isn’t the only way to survive.

      You seem to be good at letting your t in and knowing he is there with you and cares about you and I’m just wondering how you do that. If you even know or can put it into words! I know you are very busy so don’t worry if you don’t have time to respond anytime soon. And of course you don’t have to respond at all (I don’t want to sound like I think you must respond). I am just curious how you can be so connceted to your t while going through such pain.

      Thank you again for your reply. I will try to talk to t tomorrow about the shame of having these big needs and see what her response is. She said on monday that she didn’t feel the same way about her t and I had previously thought she did and so really understood how I feel so now I feel even more ashamed, like I am the weird one and she is normal. Which I know isn’t true but knowing and feeling are so far apart I sometimes don’t know how they exist in the same body!

      Sorry to go on and on.



  13. TherapyFailure
    July 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I love this blog so much… You are an angel and very wise! I am sorry to come here and vent… I am curious how people bounce back from bad experiences in therapy to be able to do the things you talk about…

    I have just started with a new therapist and I’m really scared. I have so much shame and I feel some of my past experience in therapy reinforced the shame and increased it alot. It is very scary to feel that I am the worst patient/person in the world and will inevitably bring out contempt and frustration in my therapist.

    I swear with my last therapist I didn’t scream, swear, insult him personally, threaten or anything like that. I just was oversensitive and had hurt feelings come up in therapy that I needed help with. Sometimes I bent over backward to tell him “I don’t mean to criticize you, this isn’t your fault” before mentioning a feeling but he still so often got defensive and made me feel like I was abusing him. I am scared to express feelings or needs now. He once told me “you’re treating me like your parents treated you” which really didn’t seem fair or comparable. He said “You’re making me walk on eggshells” “I can’t win with you” “I’m frustrated” “I can’t keep seeing you if you stay so stuck. I like to get fulfillment from my job” When I confided that I wished I could get positive reinforcement instead of always feeling like I was hearing about things I did wrong, he said in a sarcastic tone “You’re not a DOG, you don’t need reward and punishment” It was humiliating.

    And this man is a prestigious therapist who also holds positions of authority. I feel like nobody will ever believe me. Even he didn’t believe me because he would say things and honestly forget he said them and would act like I was just being crazy. He once told me a story about another patient in which he painted himself as a heroic figure dealing with an unreasonable nut. I fear he is telling such stories about me and maybe even publishing them. I wish I could tell myself he was just lying but I know he truly believes the things he says, and that’s what hurts so much. Part of me feels like if he believes these things about me they must be true.

    I feel I am nothing but a burden, and soon my new therapist will be overcome with contempt for me. Sometimes I think I should quit and just die instead. But this new guy seems different and I have a bit of sick horrible hope. It’s very scary and humiliating right now. I even feel sub human sometimes.

    Sorry for the ramble!


    • July 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Therapy Failure,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting, I am very glad you did. I do not care how prestigious your old therapist was, in my opinion he was a lousy excuse for a therapist. If he wants to express his feelings, or make it about his sense of fulfillment, he should get his own therapist or seek out supervision. There was way too much of him in YOUR therapy. I don’t think it is EVER useful for a therapist to shame a client; a lot of us ended up in therapy in the first place because we were wrongly shamed when forming a sense of self. You absolutely did the right thing to seek out a new therapist. If you have not already done so, you need to talk to your new therapist about your old one and his behavior. You need to cleary hear that you weren’t doing anything wrong. And you need to change your user name. You were not the failure, your therapist was. Sorry, I am stuttering I am so angry. I cannot believe that you were courageous enough to express a need to your therapist to be met with sarcasm and a derogatory comment.

      I think you might find it helpful to go to Psych Cafe. Its a forum for people in therapy, and a number of them have written about recovering from a bad therapy experience. I would especially point you towards the members True North and Somedays. You can recover from a bad therapy experience and go on to heal, but it very difficult and it is completely reasonable that you are struggling. But it is scary enough to move closer to someone despite the terror and incredibly damaging to have our fears come true. It only re-inforces our fear of getting closer. I think the hope with your T feels “sick” and “horrible” because its give you something else to lose. I truly hope he proves to be a better therapist. Its ok to trust yourself that you are picking up on a difference. And no apologies. 🙂 I am very glad that you commented and asked for help. It’s a healthy thing to do and you deserve support in your healing. Please let me know how you get on. ~ AG


      • TherapyStruggler
        July 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

        I changed my name 🙂
        I can’t thank you enough for your extremely supportive and fast response! It was so kind I started feeling guilty and confused, which gives a glimpse into my mental problems haha!
        I feel shy even on message boards but I will try the one you mentioned, thank you!
        I keep meaning to tell new T about my previous experiences, I even wrote something down and then kept rewriting it, but chickened out so far. I am used to being disbelieved and invalidated and have had other difficult experiences with counselors and doctors so I am quite paranoid and confused and ashamed.
        I have a session tomorrow… Nervous as usual 🙂 One other thing I’m ashamed of is my physical attraction to this new T. I was going to admit just to get it out but I chickened out. It’s very much transference and I can even link it to specific past issues I need to address. Your blog entries on transference really inspired me to think more deeply!
        Thank youuuuuuuuu!


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