Nothing wrong all along
AG, if you don’t mind sharing, what exactly helped you recognize that BN was totally comfortable with your relationship with him?
Instead of answering in the comments, I thought I’d write a post about my last session instead. So my thanks to Ann for providing inspiration. 🙂
I know I have been speaking about my work with shame recently, but in some ways my work has always been about shame. BN and I have recognized a pattern, often discussed, since the beginning of my work with him. I was worried I had manipulated my way into working with him (which is actually pretty funny in retrospect as manipulating BN would take someone a lot smarter than me 🙂 ), that I had no right to be there, that I had been there too long, that I was too much and too demanding, that I was too dependent and too needy. I’m sure you’re catching a theme here. I found reason after reason why I shouldn’t be seeing BN.
And if I felt guilty about seeing him, that is nothing compared to how I felt about the feelings that I have for him; the neediness, the attraction, the paternal longings. Having such deep feelings about someone I do not know wholly and with whom I am in a fiduciary, professional relationship caused me to cringe. The feelings felt humiliating, wrong, dangerous, you name it. I remember very early on, nearly the first time I ever discussed my feelings of attraction for BN, him asking me how did I feel about feeling this way? (A question only a therapist would ask. 😀 )I looked at him stunned, because to me it seemed so blindingly obvious that how I felt was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. I mean he was my marriage counselor, how stupid (and horrible) that I was developing feelings of attraction to him. He told me that some people find comfort from these kinds of feelings. I have told him many times since, including last session, that he might as well have been speaking Russian for all the sense that made to me. If I am honest, I think my reaction was along the lines of “are you out of your blinking mind?!?” I was so worried about the relationship vis-a-vis my marriage vows that I actually sought out an older, wiser woman whose values I share and whose judgment I trusted, to see if she thought it was wrong to continue working with BN, as well as being open with my husband about how I was feeling. So I think we can say with some degree of certainty that there has been a sense of discomfort surrounding my relationship with BN. The same way water is a little damp. 🙂
So I went to my session and talked to BN about everything in my last post. The mixed feelings surrounding my mother refusing to have a relationship and all the shame that was being triggered. It was nothing earth shattering but BN listens while I talk through all the feelings about my mom, and him and other people in my life and he truly understands what it is like for me. He very gently told me that when these thoughts of being a terrible person or my fear that I have been blind to my own selfishness (other stuff was also being discussed) come up that is my shame speaking and it’s not true. That it has not been his experience with me and if I stop to think, it really doesn’t fit with what I know of myself. But he does it with an immense amount of compassion and understanding of why I would feel that way. He really got how my mom’s rejection is triggering all of my “not good enough” and “I’m unlovable” messages.
I have recently been facing some of my less than pretty parts lately in therapy and areas in my life that I am finally able to tolerate seeing where I have not been the person I would have wished to have been. One of those had been mentioned, very casually, in the middle of something else BN had told me in our previous session. I told him that I had been wondering how long he had waited to talk about that issue (and that I knew he couldn’t until I could see it for myself). It felt like he might have been sitting across from me all this time thinking how terrible I was. That becoming more conscious of my behaviors was making me look back over my life and that while I knew I shouldn’t slip over the edge into shame, I was also realizing that I may have seen myself as better than I was to protect myself. I worry that I was more self-centered and selfish than I realized… and he interrupted me and told me that this was the shame and when I was feeling it, that I felt like such a terrible person that it would feel like anyone behaving as if they believe anything else about me must be lying. Then he said this drawn out, really gentle no and told me it’s not the truth. But he realized that his saying that would feel like he is lying and therefore, the relationship is not real and cannot be trusted. You can see where emotionally it’s a Catch-22 where I lose either way.
I had a very intense reaction to something that BN had said at our previous session. We were discussing the relationship with my dad and BN said something that in retrospect was quite obvious: that I was ashamed of the relationship with my father. This went straight through me and felt like an explosion in my chest. Through all these years as I have healed and struggled with shame, it was always centered on me, on what I felt myself to be, on what I had done, but I had never thought about in terms of how I felt about the relationship with my father. So it hit me with an explosion of clarity, that I was literally ashamed of how I felt about my father, not just about what happened between us. I returned to this again last session since I had time to think about how that had impacted me. He repeated something from last week, that an event had triggered off feelings of my and BN’s relationship being illicit and something of which to be ashamed, but the truth is our relationship has been corrective and a safe place for me to learn that I didn’t need to be ashamed. The relationship is a safe place where ALL of my feelings, no matter what they are, can be safely heard. While I was listening to BN, it impinged upon me in a visceral way that BN knows exactly what our relationship means to me and he’s not only comfortable with my feelings, he thinks it’s a good thing I feel that way.
And that’s when the realization hit me. I had been ashamed of the relationship with my father and that had so clearly spilled over into my feelings about the relationship with BN (can anyone say transference? Funny how most major breakthroughs in therapy have a “D’oh!” quality about them. 🙂 ). With that realization came the memory of how much shame I experienced in all of my early attachment relationships. So much so, that any time my attachment mechanisms get activated – so any time I move closer or form an emotional connection or have someone attend to my needs – it always comes with a sense of doing something shameful. So even when I am having perfectly healthy, reasonable feelings and having them met in a completely legitimate manner, I still feel ashamed. And that flash of insight gave me enough space between me and my feelings of shame to realize that they’re not true. That there really is nothing wrong, and so much right, about my relationship with BN, especially as I can completely trust him to hold appropriate boundaries. So my feelings of neediness and being comforted by him and wanting to enjoy that I found him comforting… you get the picture… are really ok. I don’t have to be scared all the time that I am doing something wrong.
And near the end of the session, I told BN that I was feeling so clingy that the feeling of being an insatiable maw comes up … and he took over and said “so it feels like you’re going to ask too much and wear me out.” He told me it’s the shame again. I looked at him and told him that I keep walking into his office and expecting this will be the week he’ll look at me and say “I just can’t do it anymore, I just can’t keep acting like you’re ok, get out.” I said it was so insane that I could even think that. And he told me that he knows that I get that’s not going to happen, but the feeling is very real and he understands it.
So I left feeling very connected and feel myself “breaking in” the realization that there is nothing to be ashamed of here: not my need for BN or the pleasure I take in feeling cared for or the comfort and security I derive from knowing that I can depend on him. These are GOOD things. It feels like breaking in a new pair of shoes. It pinches in some places and doesn’t feel completely comfortable, but the realization is made of really high quality leather and I can tell that in time it will stretch to fit just right. So the shame isn’t gone, but it has a lot less staying power because I keep returning to what I now know is the truth.
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