Time to Run: The Power of the Amygdala


A member on the psychcafe forum, Closed Doors (CD), started a discussion about what dependency on your therapist means. In the course of the discussion, I ended up writing a formula for what happens when we want to run from our wish to move closer. With CD’s kind permission, I am going to reproduce it here.

She asked for examples of how other people have been dependent on their therapists. In discussing what dependence looks like, the conversation turned to the shame that can arise around recognizing that we have needs and how terribly vulnerable it is to express them. CD is returning to therapy after a long break, which she took because the feelings and need for her therapist were feeling too intense (Raise your hands if you have ever experienced this. Yes, yes, I see those hands. You can put ’em down now. :D)

She’s back in therapy and the feelings are coming back with a vengeance and so is all the pain and confusion about having those feelings. At one point she talked about how reluctant she was to return for her next session, saying that she felt like if she went back, then her therapist won that round. Since to my knowledge, her and her therapist are not actually competing for anything, this statement stood out for me.

Therapy, at its best and when it is working, is a collaborative effort, with the therapist offering insight and objectivity and the client offering honesty and vulnerability with both of them working towards a fuller life and healthier relationships for the client. I have found in my experience that when I am experiencing therapy as adversarial (ok, ok, HIGHLY adversarial), that is a sign some transference is kicking in. Or I am rationalizing an action I have already decided to take. The scenario unfolds as shown below (using CDs particular situation as an example). Admittedly, this is a fairly simplistic take on a complex and largely unconscious process, but I hope it might illuminate what it is we do.

1. Going back to therapy means moving closer.
2. Hamster amygdala checks prior experiences.
3. Hamster amygdala screams NO NO NO TOO DANGEROUS.
4. Frontal lobe does not want to look irrational and goes hunting for rationale.
5. Frontal lobe says “but if I go back, he wins and I don’t want to lose again, hence, I am not going back!”
6. Hamster amygdala stops screaming and frontal lobe feels smart (and if you’re me, sometimes smug. Let’s see ‘im argue with THAT one! :)).

I know this is a bit on the tongue-in-cheek side but I honestly think that’s what’s happening. Our feelings are being driven by our unconscious need to protect ourselves. I know when I stop to think and do a reality check of comparing my emotions to my experience, it can be a real head-scratcher* as to where my expectations are coming from. For instance, I often fear being met with anger, frustration or scorn when expressing something I have not revealed before, yet in my experience, BN has always been empathetic and accepting.

The truth is, we need to go back in spite of our fear in order for our amydala to “learn” that even though this once was a dangerous activity, it no longer is. Eventually, it even can learn it is a pleasurable and good thing to move towards the other because our needs get met.

This is incredibly frustrating because we cannot THINK our way through it; it’s not about what we know, it’s about what we’ve experienced. And we like to see ourselves as cool, rational, thinking people (especially in Western culture), so it’s a little embarrassing to know that a more primitive, reactive part of ourselves is really in the driver’s seat. If it was just about knowledge, we could walk through the door and our therapist would hand us a book “How to Live a Happy, Healthy Life” and we’d say “thanks! See ya!” (yes, that is my perfect fantasy too) but it doesn’t work that way.

So in CD’s case I recommended asking herself some questions. What does he win? Why is it bad if he wins? Why do I NEED to win? What do I lose if he wins? Then I said that if she found herself unable to answer those questions despite the intense feeling of needing him not to win, there’s a fairly good chance that your amygdala is running things. Each of us would need to come up with your own set of questions particular to our expectations.

What’s that dear readers? How do I know this? Cause *#*&$*()O(#^^ BN does this questioning thing to me all the time. I often talk in vague terms of dreading “it” happening, knowing that “it” needs to be avoided at all costs, but when asked what “it” is, a blank stare of confusion overtakes me and nothing comes out of my mouth. (Sometimes I think BN asks just to get a respite. :))

CD very bravely responded to my questions and said:

what does he win? he wins by me admitting by going back that i’m dependent on him and, G*d forbid “needy”. barf. it’s bad because it makes me more vulnerable than i already feel. i need to win so i won’t fail if i don’t change (if that makes sense).

Yes, this makes total sense. Many of us were so deprived that even our most basic human needs came to seem highly unreasonable because of how our asking to have them met was responded to. We had to protect ourselves from expressing our needs, to stop ourselves from getting hurt again and again. And so we wrapped our needs in layers of shame, the strongest motivator of aversion in the human arsenal. (See It wasn’t my fault and Identifying and Expressing Needs for more details.). There is only one way to defeat shame, which is walk into it, express it and endure the shock of not being treated as shameful (see The Paradox of Shame for more information on that process).

But through all of this, be gentle with yourself. You didn’t wake up one day and decide to make up reasons to be scared of your therapist. You carry years, if not decades, of experiences that taught you these lessons. You need to be patient and present, experiencing and expressing those emotions to an attuned, calm other to implicitly learn that the situation that used to be so terrible, no longer is. Not only should it not be avoided, it should be sought out.

*Sorry! For my non-American audiences, “a real head-scratcher” means puzzling. I know, I know, why didn’t I just say puzzling? Because I’m a technical writer and NEVER get to use idiomatic expressions, so I indulge myself when writing my blog. Thanks for your patience.:))

  1. Peter
    August 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    “This is incredibly frustrating because we cannot THINK our way through it; it’s not about what we know, it’s about what we’ve experienced.”

    This is an excellent and important point. So much of clinical psych practice, at least in the US, is focused on “intellectual” therapy — CBT, psychodynamics, etc., that deal only with *cognitive* processing and don’t consider the part that *emotional* memory plays in forming our beliefs and behaviors, and maintaining these years beyond the events that warranted them.

    The real difficulty, however, is in how to treat emotional issues therapeutically. As you said, it’s simply not as easy as hearing it and accepting it, like hearing a weather report and accepting that it’s going to rain. New beliefs and behaviors must be *trained* into one’s mind, just as one learns to play a musical instrument or sport. When someone finally develops a successful methodology for this that can be “bottled”, I’ll be the first customer waiting in line at midnight. 🙂

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      Hi Peter,
      Been trying to get BN to write a book for years. 🙂 So much of my healing has just been about experiencing these feelings and fears, expressing them to BN and having them heard and understood. He often talks about the Thou-I of Martin Bruber, that we just need to be with each other and that the act of examining what happens actually breaks us out of that. I truly believe that there is a mystery at the heart of healing. We just have to keep going back until we learn differently. The trick is in finding someone who is patient with our coming back. BTW, “General Theory of Love” does a fairly good job of explaining this. ~ AG

      Like

      • Peter
        August 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

        “So much of my healing has just been about experiencing these feelings and fears, expressing them to BN and having them heard and understood.”

        This is very encouraging to hear. I’ve been doing the same kind of therapy, but have questioned whether simply “experiencing” my repressed feelings was going to really achieve anything. (There’s a lot of minimizing here. 😉 ) It’s nice to have you corroborate this technique as successful.

        I will look into the items you mentioned. Maybe *you* should write the book. 😀

        Like

  2. Mrs. Sharkey
    August 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Darn it, AG, get out of my head! I wrote a journal entry about feeling that opening up to my therapist meant letting him “win:

    “So I have this strong feeling that if I open up and really let him in, that I’m letting him “win”. Win what, exactly? That’s what I can’t figure out. It feels like he would have one up on me, something to use against me. ”

    We’re still working our way through that one, this sense I have that letting him have any info about me is automatically dangerous. I think those of us who were damaged in childhood have a very hard time conceiving of a situation where someone would NOT use our trust and vulnerability to hurt us. It’s a hell of a legacy.

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Mrs. Sharkey,
      It is a hell of a legacy. I remember early on when I started to recognize my strong feelings for BN I was dismayed because I knew it gave him power in the relationship. When I tried to understand why that was a bad thing, I realized that I believed anyone who had power over me would use it to hurt me. Lovely view of humanity my father left me with huh? Sorry you get this so well also, although it makes me feel better to know someone else gets it. xx AG

      Like

  3. liz
    August 6, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Once again you wrote a post about the exact issue I was thinking about these days, it’s incredible 🙂
    (I was thinking about it because I recently realized with horror that I am acting with my new boyfriend the same way I did with my therapist, as in desperately trying to look strong and independent and then one day bawling my eyes out ’cause he went downstairs to get breakfast while I was still asleep and I thought he left. Which led to a wonderful explanatory moment, proudly sponsored by stupid screaming hamster amygdala. Sometimes I wish I could get my brain out of my head and replace it with little rustling rocks or something).

    Anyway, I think the point (at least for me) was learning that dependency is temporary, and that the thing that I called “dependency” (a word that sounds accusatory somehow) from my therapist had a function, which was to make me realize it’s ok to have needs, it’s ok to have A LOT of needs, it’s ok to express them, it’s ok to express them in loud and incoherent ways, miraculously sometimes they do get met.
    But the even more important thing I learnt from the (long and frustrating) dependency period of my therapy was that even when my needs didn’t (read: couldn’t due to deontology issues :-D) get met, the pain I felt was not going to destroy me. Which is the main problem of all this shame/dependency thing, I guess: you let the other “win” so you give him power so he can use that power to hurt you so you will be physically wiped away by pain.

    The good news is, if you do it enough times, you’ll eventually find out it’s not about winning or losing but doing stuff together as a team. (If you do it an incredibly high amount of times, you may even discover that falling asleep with someone and waking up alone doesn’t always mean horrible horrible umpteenth abandon. Sometimes it means chocolate crumble and coffee, and when it does life is amazing and it’s also thanks to therapy and letting go and learning how to trust).

    I’m done with rambling. This is the first thing I wrote in english in a month, I apologize for all the mistakes.
    But I will still proudly point out that I knew what a real head-scratcher was 🙂

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      Liz,
      That was an AMAZING description of what it is like to work through dependency, I hope everyone who reads this post also reads your comment. Chocolate crumble and coffee are a much better end point than abandonment. I am happier than I can say that you are open to experiencing that and have. Your English, as usual, was flawless and you taught me a word. 🙂 Had to look up ‘deontology’ which I really should have known having studied Kant albeit a very long time ago. 🙂 Thanks for your input. xx AG

      Like

      • liz
        August 8, 2013 at 9:41 am

        I had to look it up too, it’s a common word in italian (deontologia!), but I wasn’t sure it means the same thing in english.
        My self esteem is always grateful for your comments 🙂

        Like

  4. Mallard
    August 6, 2013 at 8:58 am

    I think it’s also why healing can feel so glacially slow at times. I can’t tell you how many times I beat myself up over the fact that I ‘get’ why things have been so difficult but I still react with fear and trepidation over admissions of vulnerability… or heaven forbid… dependence, which on the face of it don’t seem so much of a big deal, but in my head are still enormously dangerous and threatening.

    Coming to terms with the idea that experiential learning and change happens at its own pace is something I’ve struggled with. Helpfully, that is all neatly tied in with family messages about achievement, not being emotionally indulgent and ‘mind over matter’.

    Your dialogue made me smile because I used to and still do have imaginary conversations with my bits of protective learned processes when I’m trying to work out how I am feeling. I think I conceptualise slightly differently (I did not coin a catchy term like hamster amygdala – I wish I had! and I sort of lump in the frontal lobe to form a entity I call overbearing protective stuff) I hope it’s okay to share an anecdote.

    Cognitive me: So, I think we might have to talk to T about this transference
    OPT: OMGWTFSeriously?Nooooo!Doooooom!
    Cognitive me: Yes, because it will probably help. It’s important to do this work. I like her, I think she is trustworthy
    OPT: Are you nuts? People hurt us when we’re vulnerable. *points to neon inner scoreboard* Look at all the proof!
    Cognitive me: *sigh* but…
    OPT: Don’t make me flood you with all the remembered fear.
    Cognitive me: Please don’t. I have no desire to walk around in dissociative fog today.
    OPT: Let’s not speak of this again.

    And then it gets put off for another day…

    Tongue-in-cheekness aside, I do hope you are doing okay, AG.

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Mallard,
      You speak in the voice of one who has walked this road. Love the OPT! That disconnect between what we know and what we still continue to feel can be the most frustrating thing in the world. And I must confess that, like all my best stuff, I kind of stole Hamster Amygdala from BN. He once told me we have the same amygdala as a hamster does, so its my shorthand to remind myself of that fact. Glad you liked it. 🙂 And thanks, I really am doing ok, just eight more days to go on the break and I’m on fairly even keel although I expect the first session back will be a doozy. xx AG

      Like

  5. August 6, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Hi AG! This is the first time I’m commenting, but just to say that I have been following your blog for some time and am always amazed at how well you explain things. Your honesty about your therapy process is also refreshing because it is so easy to relate to. Thanks for sharing, and I definitely agree that when the process feels highly adversarial, it is a sure sign that transference is kicking in!

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      Hi Leanne,
      Welcome and thanks so much for commenting! I very much appreciate your kind words (especially since right now I don’t feel like I’m understanding too much, let alone explaining it well. :)). ~ AG

      Like

  6. Ann
    August 6, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Great post! You express so well the feelings I have experienced in therapy. I generally just stuff those fears. Giving power to a person puts them in the position to hurt me and no one likes being hurt. Especially me! Reading about the risks that others take in therapy inspires me. Having you verbalized these fears help me understand what I am feeling and sort of normalizes the situation for me. It is hard to “need” someone who doesn’t “need” you back. Except he probably doesn’t mind having a patient who pays on time! 🙂 Ann

    Like

    • August 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm

      (((Ann))) This is really hard stuff because we really have experienced people whom we need using that to hurt us. These fears are a natural consequence of what we went through. I’m glad that reading helps normalize your feelings. They are reasonable reactions to unreasonable circumstances. But I agree that experiencing needing someone who does not need us back is one scary experience. But learning that our needs are right and normal and that expressing them can lead to them getting met is worth it in the end I think. xx AG

      Like

  7. August 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Such a great post! I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog!

    Being the suspicious person that I am, I am always assuming my therapist is manipulating me so she can get paid. It feels like she uses her “shrink powers” to get and keep me attached, puts me through hell with the topics of discussion, and ensures she keeps me coming back because now my head is crazy and I need her! Time and time again, I try to quit so I can “beat” her at this game, but perhaps it is just my frontal cortex trying to rationalize it all away. Therapy is so profoundly, mysteriously, frustratingly remarkable.

    I hope you are doing well in your own therapy and in life in general. Looking forward to future posts!

    Like

  8. August 6, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Nocivum,
    I’m glad you found you’re way here. 🙂 Therapy is frustrating and confusing because it so strongly feels like our therapist is the cause and the source of all our pain, when really they are just the catalyst which brings out pain into the light and our consciousness. If you haven’t yet done so, I would really encourage you to talk about your feelings of being manipulated with your therapist, it could provide you with a lot of insight. ~ AG

    Like

  9. August 7, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I love hamster amygdala! I don’t get the adversarial version of this interaction, but I do have my own, which tends to go something like this:

    I do my writing thing and end up with something really big there in front of me. Something that is relevant to what is going on in therapy and something that I might not have let myself see before, certainly haven’t told anyone.

    Me: It really would help my T if I let her know about X.
    HA: You have got to be out of your freaking mind! She will think that you are crazy/horrible/
    dirty/disgusting/unbelievable/whatever if you tell her!
    Me: She never has been up to now. She always reacts calmly to whatever I tell her.
    HA: Yeah, but this is different, this is worse, this will finally be what is too much.
    Me: Maybe it’s worse, but we really can trust her. She tells us that we can tell her anything and we will deal with it together.
    HA: But what if she has changed? What if this is finally too much? How will I bear it if she pushes me away?
    Me: We’re just going to have to take it on faith that she still is the same person as she has been every time I have seen. (Presses send.)

    It’s amazing how this still comes up every single time I reveal anything big (and I still can’t bring something into session and intentionally reveal it) and guess what, I can’t get past feeling as though I can’t be honest with my mom! Surely a coincidence, yes?

    Like

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Cat,
      Just change she and her to he and him and I’ll swear you’re spending too much time in my head. 🙂 I find it an endless source of wonder that I can STILL get scared of BN (especially considering some of the stung I’ve told him). Primitive, really powerful stuff we’re dealing with. xx AG

      Like

  10. anonymously
    August 7, 2013 at 1:15 am

    “Many of us were so deprived that even our most basic human needs came to seem highly unreasonable because of how our asking to have them met was responded to. We had to protect ourselves from expressing our needs, to stop ourselves from getting hurt again and again. And so we wrapped our needs in layers of shame…”

    I exist here now, in those words. Actually, I suspect I have always existed there. Kind of like, for any nerds who relate to my love of Star Trek, the pilot episode of DS9 where non-temporal beings who are trying to learn about how our species experiences time question Commander Sisko, saying, “But…you exist here!” (in the traumatic memory of his wife’s death) and he has to admit that it wasn’t an experience he could leave behind.

    I’ve had memories come up related to this, but a lot of it is…just an emotional flashback that I seem to be stuck in any time I am called on to approach or initiate attachment. I knew there was a need inside me, a dissociated one, in my last session. I wasn’t feeling it so much as “hearing about” it, but I knew it was there, and it needed acceptance, acknowledgement as a part of me…and it meant approaching my T. I literally froze and had to talk around it for 20 minutes, because every time I tried to start the sentence with, “May I…” I would freeze at the “I.” If I could have talked about the other “part” who needed it, it would have been more safe, but to own it felt like the consequences were ruin and death. And to even finally say it required a very angry, sarcastic voice, full of the bitterness of shame of ever needing anything from anyone, and the terror of approaching in the certainty that it would only cause deep pain.

    There were a lot of experiences that added up to a requirement that basic needs, and especially attachment, had to be dissociated out of my awareness…and that the only way to be close was in response to others’ attachment cues, approaching when needed, instead of when in need. Here, the inability to approach became married to the message that having boundaries against another’s approach was similarly forbidden. Ultimately, that meant even that strategy could not keep me safe.

    As you pointed out above, knowing this cannot see me through. I understand how things got the way they were, though am a long way from accepting every experience that has surfaced in the exploration of these messages. I know, objectively, my therapist is the safest person I have ever related to, especially with so much vulnerability. Yet, it took every ounce of my courage and strength (and quite a bit of time) to push through the terror and tell him something he already knows: I need his help. And still after, it feels as if something terrible will happen, something will be ruined or broken or suddenly change, because I asked for something he’s long been willing to provide for my own good. When I think of what it took to make me so terrified and ashamed, when I try to see beyond the disgust with my own sensitivity, I’m almost mad about what happened to me, even if it still feels more like a natural disaster than any sort of crime. Almost. After two-and-a-half years, that’s something…isn’t it?

    Like

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      (((Anon))) Sorry you understand this dynamic so well. You describe the cycle and reversal of roles really well. Abuse seriously distorts our perceptions. And it’s not something, its everything. It is often a hellish uphill battle to heal and no where more so than in our struggle to move towards relationship and reveal ourselves. xx AG

      Like

  11. Jenny
    August 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Once again, you’ve read my mind. In my session yesterday, we were talking about how I can’t differentiate between needs and wants and calling everything a want means that I’m not entitled to it. That comes from years and years of not getting my needs met. I was relaying a memory to T yesterday about one time when I was little – maybe 5 years old – and I couldn’t sleep. I knocked on my parents’ bedroom door and when asked, told them that I couldn’t sleep. My father actually said “what do you want us to do about it?” Like a 5 year old would know. So, it’s hard for me to identify needs and even harder to ask to get them met.

    This came up because I’m facing a potential health crisis and we were talking about whether I’m going to tell my father. If I do, it’ll just mean taking care of him instead of getting support from him, so it doesn’t seem worth it. T spent a fair amount of time pointing out how opposite that is from most people, who, even as adults, get emotional support from their parents.

    And of course, I thought (but could not say) how lucky I am that I have T, since my own father only thinks of himself. Transference, much?

    I hope the 8 days goes by quickly. Summer is a difficult time in therapyland.

    Like

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      calling everything a want means that I’m not entitled to it.

      Jenny, oh yeah, I have employed that strategy myself. 🙂 it is good that you are paying attention and doing comparison’s as it helps us to learn that the problem wasn’t us, but the lack of care. And yes, I have two children, one of whom is now a fully-fledged self-supporting adult who lives 260 miles and another halfway through college and if they called to express a need, I would NEVER say “what do you want me to do about that.” I am sorry you were so abandoned as a child. ~ AG

      Like

  12. GreenEyes
    August 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

    maybe this is why i’m finding moving closing to my T and trusting him more deeply is triggering physical agony and nausea.

    Like

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      ((((GE)))) absolutely!! I am sorry you are experiencing that but in my experience each time I move closer and open up more, there is another wave of fear and revulsion to work through. It can feel like we’re making no progress when in reality we are reacting because now we are standing one foot away instead of the one mile mark where we started. Try to hang on to knowing you have worked through these kinds of feelings before and it won’t always feel this way. xx AG

      Like

  13. August 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

    We are ALL dependent on someone….our feelings aren’t right or wrong, they simply…..are.

    Like

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      Nicole,
      What you say is so true and one of the terrible legacies of abuse is that we struggle so to believe it is true. ~ AG

      Like

  14. A.M.
    February 21, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    I know this is an old post, I just find all your posts so insightful. And I wanted to share. Maybe because I wish I had a BN of my own. Instead I seem to have found a boundary snake. moving lines of what’s okay and what’s not. And when I did finally do everything this post is saying- trust that it would be okay to share a major vulnerability… He finally realized he needed more boundaries and threw together a wall that looks like the Great Wall of China. And then denied it when I brought it up! I was the one who had to question our boundaries! I’m so hurt. I’ve gone to see someone else, and all my friends in the field agree that he had questionable practices so I don’t know why I keep trying to find a way to make it work still. He felt like a fit. He felt like a place I could rebuild my heart home. It’s not as desperate as it all sounds. Just a rough day and I’m finding solace in your strength. Thank you.

    Like

    • February 24, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      Hi AM,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I am glad this provided a safe place to speak.. I’m really sorry, I truly think one of a therapist’s most important responsibilities is to know where they need to set their boundaries and to do so consistently. It’s hard enough to sort through our pain and confusion when our therapist is holding still.

      As far as you trying to find a way to make it work? Look no further than the dynamics of childhood attachment. We have no choice about staying close to our parents, our life depends on it, so we do whatever is necessary to make it work, up to and including blaming ourselves for anything that goes wrong. My guess is that since this therapist is activating your attachment mechnisms, he is also calling up the old imperitives of having to stay and make it work. An important part of our healing can be the recognition that we no longer have to stay near people who hurt us. But I know that doesn’t make it any less painful. I am very glad you have found some solace here and hope you continue to heal. I am sorry for what you are going through.

      AG

      Like

  15. MAC
    August 5, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    My T has given me a slightly different way to approach it, which I’ve only recently begun to understand the usefulness of. Rather than thinking of it as a HA, I think of it as either a crying baby that is being ignored (which hits rather close to home) or a bitter, old, resentful woman who feels not cared for and is in need of compassion rather than more bullying. My T asked me to give this “person” a name (Gretchen) and to try to speak to the her and explain that while I appreciate her attempts to keep me safe and am sorry for the circumstances that led her to feel that way, I am no longer in danger and she does not need to protect me anymore.

    At first, I was like, “I’m just talking to myself and using another name. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” So I stopped.

    But just this weekend, as I was contemplating (ok, getting frustrated by) the conflict within me that both wants to draw closer and doesn’t, I suddenly got this image of Gretchen having been like my fiercely protective older sister (I’m the only girl, and I think the idea of a sister has always been appealing to me) who was tired of seeing me get hurt and who vowed to never allow me to be hurt again and so kept me in hiding and fought off everyone who ever came near. I realized that I need to tell her that there is now a safe adult (my T) in our lives that will protect both of us and she doesn’t need to hide me anymore, so that instead of getting annoyed or arguing with her, what I’m doing is assuring her that we really are safe now.

    Connecting with “Gretchen” in this way was incredibly powerful for me, as it gave me the thing I always wanted – someone to see my pain and protect me – and helped me to grieve the fact that I even needed such protection at such a young age. It also helps me to be compassionate toward rather than frustrated or discouraged with myself (Gretchen) for being so conflicted.

    I’m obviously not saying this is the best or only way. I just wanted to present another way to approach this in case someone else finds it helpful.

    Like

    • August 10, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      MAC,
      I’m really glad that you shared this. I think there are a lot of approaches and metaphors that help us to find healing insight. When I was working through recovering the bulk of my abuse memories and processing them with my first therapist, I actually encountered two different parts: Little AG, who was four or five, which was around the age the abuse started I think and an older teenage boy whose job was to protect little AG. He was fierce and agressive and trusted no one, he thought his job was to protect little AG from letting her needs get the best of her and stupidly trusting someone. My therapist and I had to work together to talk to this part of me both to allow me to “speak” to little AG and to allow AG to finally share the terrible memories she had carried all those years. So what you wrote about Gretchen resonated very strongly for me. I also love that you are seeing this part of yourself with acceptence and compassion. BN always makes a point of not allowing me to pathologize my early behavior. While he recognizes that these behaviors no longer serve me well and need to be changed, he also very much honors why they occurred in the first place. I think it allows us to see ourselves through a lens of strength rather than shame. xx AG

      Like

  1. August 9, 2013 at 1:24 am

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