What I missed
Since I’ve been on the topic of how we work through our grief for that which we did not have, I thought I would share some particulars losses I ran into and what was underneath them. As I’ve worked my way through therapy and uncovered the feelings I had buried so long, I also uncovered losses I had not been able to admit, let alone grieve. This is a very personal list. I expect that some of this will resonate with other people and some of it will be not true for them or seem like a significant loss. These are mine, what I needed to mourn, and I again offer the disclaimer that not everyone will need to do this the way I did. But I am hoping by being more specific about some of the issues I faced, that the process might be more understandable, even if my reasons to mourn do not resonate with you.
Loss of Safe Nurturing Touch
Before I begin in this one, I want to state again that I do not think there is ANYTHING wrong with using touch in therapy, such as holding, hugging, holding a hand, etc. as long as it is appropriate and not sexual in nature. Many therapists incorporate touch into their practice; some, like somatic therapists, focus on it. Touch is a very powerful part of being human and as such can be very comforting and healing. My first therapist would hold my hand when processing really difficult traumatic memories, especially when I was deeply struggling not to dissociate. She would also hug me at the end of sessions if I asked. So I want to be completely clear that when I speak of how important it was for BN to withhold touch, I believe it was true for me, but would not be for everyone. Because I was sexually abused by my father, and was sexually attracted to BN (go figure! ha! :D), I think it was very important for me that VERY clear boundaries were maintained. Please do not read this as a blanket condemnation of touch in therapy. OK, now that we have that out of the way… 🙂
I’m going to start with one that I have often spoke of here; the issue of touch in therapy. This was a very difficult issue for me because it hinged on BN having to hold a boundary he strongly believed in, in order for me to face my loss, that of safe, nurturing touch.
One of the things with which I had to really grapple was my sense of responsibility for the sexual abuse. I would move closer to my father because of the healthy desire for physical closeness and wanting to be held and be safe. And it would start that way, at least for me, but would lead to my boundaries being overrun and my being used to meet my father’s needs, not have mine met. This manifested in my relationship with BN by my wanting a hug. That is such a bland description; what I wanted was for him to cross that unfathomable divide between our two chairs and hold me tightly while I cried my heart out. I wrestled with asking him about a hug for a long time (around a year and a half). We shake hands at the end of every session so there is physical contact. That contact was very important because on some level I used to believe I was so repulsive (more on that later) that no one would want to touch me. But there had never been anything beyond that. I finally got up the nerve to ask BN about getting a hug.
I made sure to ask at the beginning of the session, because I was pretty sure the answer would be no. And it was. A very gentle, caring no. BN felt that there was too much potential harm versus not enough potential benefit in a hug to risk it. He has an across the board policy about hugs with his patients, one of his few. I agreed with his explanations when we discussed it. Wasn’t happy about it mind you, but his reasoning made sense to me. And as difficult as it was, not getting a hug from him turned out to be a good thing for me. Because NOT getting a hug from him left me to face the pain of not getting a safe hug from my father.
It was incredibly painful to let myself realize that I kept seeking out a safe embrace that was about my good, only to be betrayed again and again. When I was a child, I couldn’t let myself remember that, because there was nowhere else to go. I had needs that had to be met and so I had to keep my father “good” so I couldn’t admit his embrace was never safe. If you can’t admit a loss, you can’t grieve it. I can have safe embraces now from many people in my life (not BN unfortunately :D) but I will never have had that safe place in childhood which I deserved. A loss necessary to mourn.
We returned to this issue a number of times, the most passionate being a session where I was railing at BN (translation: bordering on screaming) about his damn detachment and his boundaries, that I was in pain and I just didn’t care and I didn’t want to hear it was for my good. He asked me what I did want. For once, I was angry enough to be honest as well as having learned that it really was safe to express how I actually felt. So I told him that I wanted him to get out of his f***ing chair and come over and hold me and tell me everything would be alright. And he gently told me that it wouldn’t help; the pain would still be there. To which I responded that sometimes I really wished he would just f***ing lie to me (have I mentioned my language gets REALLY bad when I’m upset. :D) It felt really good to just let that burst out; I had been wanting to say it for so long. He was incredibly understanding about it and why I would feel that way and how I had every right to be that angry about it. His meeting me with understanding created a safe place to mourn it.
Loss of feeling special and cherished
Another loss was the right to feel special and cherished. The truth is that every child has a right when very young to feel like they are incredibly important and special and cherished. That the universe DOES revolve around them. That someone is totally focused on us and our needs and meeting them. I hated BN’s boundaries and struggled with him having other clients because I wanted him to myself. If I couldn’t have him to myself, I at least wanted to be special and more important to him than his other clients. But the hard truth is that I’m not (or if I am, I’ll never know that from him). I told him that I had to face that while our relationship is very deep and very real (both of which I wholeheartedly believe) he did not offer me anything different from what he would offer to anyone who came through his door. Not being able to be special to him made me realize the loss of not having that as a child. Being the center of the universe without having to attend to the other’s needs is the behavior of a child and not appropriate for an adult relationship. Therapy is as close as we can come in that the relationship is focused solely on our needs BUT the specialness and importance isn’t there. We don’t get them 24/7. So I can’t have that. Another loss I mourned. Again BN was able to hear my feelings and confirm how appropriate they were. (Funny aside: when we discussed this he talked about the fact that everyone had to eventually face moving away from their family and the fact that they’re not quite as special to other people. So I very ruefully asked him if I had busted my butt just so I could have NORMAL problems? We both got a good laugh out of that one.)
Loss of Protection
Another loss I grappled with was the longing for someone to come and stop the abuse. I got so angry at BN at times, and even hated him, for not making it not have happened. If he really cared, he would be able to reach back through time and make the abuse disappear, right? Realizing I felt that way made me remember how badly I wanted my mother to see what was going on and make it stop. That never happened. Basically the abuse stopped because my parents divorced and my dad disappeared out of my life. The cessation was a side affect, albeit a good one, of my abandonment by my father. No one can go back in time and change the fact that no one ever saved me from the abuse. Another loss to mourn.
This loss was added to by the my aunt’s revelation to my mother that my father had been found in a compromising position with a child but no one told my mother. It was bad enough to know that my mother had stayed oblivious, but to know that another adult had reason to be at least concerned, but didn’t do anything was just devastating (not to mention enraging). It was like ripping off the lid and reliving the loss all over again. I was very grateful for how steady and affirming BN was while I dealt with learning about that.
Loss of Peace
Living in fear, that was a biggie. I experienced so much fear with BN. Fear he would abandon me, fear he wouldn’t like me, fear he would realize how terrible I really was, fear I was too needy, fear I said too much, fear I didn’t say enough, fear that my feelings for him would overwhelm him or be highly unwelcome. In trying to understand these fears, I finally came to realize that I had ALWAYS lived in fear. Fear of hurt, fear of abandonment, fear of closeness, you name it. No matter what I was doing, or feeling, or experiencing, it happened in an atmosphere of fear. I told BN that it felt like fear was in the air I breathed and the food I ate, that it was somehow embedded in my DNA, When I realized that, I looked at BN and said, “it’s sounds crazy but I think I’m scared not to be scared. I’m not sure who I’ll be without the fear.” He told me I deserved to find out. As I thought back through my life, I realized that so many major decisions had been based on the fear of being injured or hurt or moving too close. If I had not experienced that level of fear, what would those decisions had been? How differently would my life have turned out if I had NOT been scared? When BN and I talked about it, I told him that this was a really difficult loss, because there was no way to know WHAT I had lost. Maybe my life would have turned out the same way, but I couldn’t know that. He told me I couldn’t but at the least, I wouldn’t have had to have been so scared all the time. So I grieved for what might have been and even the knowledge that I could not know that for which I was mourning.
Loss of Confidence
Another huge issue was my sense of attractiveness (still working through this one when it comes to physical attractiveness, honestly). One of the worst memories I dug up was finally remembering that I had NEVER felt attractive because my father told me I wasn’t, that there was never any hope of my being attractive. He used this to convince me I had nowhere else to go, ever, to get even the poor semblance of love and care and affection he gave me. I have healed enough that I can now see myself as attractive in some ways, but I lost so many years of not believing it or even believing it was OK to want to be attractive or take pride in my good qualities. And it was incredibly painful to realize that it was something my father took away from me instead of affirming it the way a father should.
There is more, but I think that’s enough of a sampling to show you what I mean. I am so very, very grateful that BN stayed with me through all of this and could hear how I was feeling about him in such a way that I could follow the trail of my feelings back to these losses. As I have allowed myself to realize and admit and mourn these losses, I have been able to heal from them. There are scars and I will always carry these losses, but they have lost their power over me. I am no longer trying to get these things which are now impossible to get. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced and I would blame absolutely NO ONE for not wanting to go through it. And honestly, I don’t believe I could have faced it without my highly skilled therapist and the support of both some cherished friends and my loving family, as well as the wonderfully supportive folks at Psychcafe forum. The pain got so bad at times I didn’t think I could bear it (pain doesn’t kill us, we just wish it would :D), but I did and found out there was far side to despair and that the grief and loss wouldn’t destroy me. And it was worth it. I would do it over again (although I am infinitely grateful I don’t have to.)
One last thing. There is a very important distinction to remember as we work through our losses, which is to recognize that there is NOTHING wrong with having these longings. Just because the answer has to be no for some of what we want, does not mean there is anything wrong with asking. These are legitimate needs that should have been met and our wanting to have those needs met does not make us needy, demanding, pathetic or damaged. All healthy, normal children long for these things.
I know this will sound strange, but there was also a relief in mourning. I could finally stop trying to convince myself that it was my needs which were the problem. There were MY losses and MY feelings of grief and it was a release to be able to finally express and own them.