A Re-enactment or How Transference is a B**** Part II


This is the second part of a two part series, part one can be found here.

So I showed for the next session, prepared to tackle the topic again. After telling him quite emphatically that I did not want him to answer me, I told him how the question of whether he found me attractive can press on me. I shared some things that came out of my discussion on the forum, which is that I am struggling to accept my body and my sexuality, so I think I crave affirmation from him, because if he can accept my body and even find me attractive, then I somehow become acceptable. Which isn’t remotely true, although it can feel very powerful. It is my own acceptance that is important. Besides, I wouldn’t believe him anyway until I come to terms. I then expressed that I also thought that part of the dynamic was that a father is ideally supposed to affirm his daughter’s attractiveness while keeping her safe by in no way acting on it. Basically, I’m looking at BN and asking “Daddy, am I pretty?” But the truth is, I got neither of those things from my father. Neither affirmation or safety.

And there came the flashbacks again. I am not particularly going over new territory, but I am going much deeper than ever before and finally allowing some very deep, painful, split off feelings to emerge. I have a difficult time conveying how chaotic the experience is (I suspect many of you know what I am talking about for which I am very sorry!) My face is buried behind my hands; I struggle, sometimes for minutes at a time to put the feelings into words, punctuated with periods of sobbing or hyperventilating from fear. I say this not to elicit pity but only because I know as I reflect back and write about my experience, it can come across like this was a calm, rational, easy conversation. I would never want to give someone the impression that this stuff is no big deal to face. You need to know that I am a sobbing, incoherent mess, hanging on by my fingernails and only able to tolerate these feelings for moments at a time because BN is right there containing me. These are not only places I do not wish to go, they are places I cannot go to on my own.

I was remembering that part of the attraction of the abuse was that there was a simulation of tenderness and care. BN talked about how some abusers try to make it as pleasurable as possible for the child in order to make them easier to abuse. It was an effective strategy for me. I moved towards my father wanting his attention, and touch and love, only to be overwhelmed by demands that should never have been placed on me. My sense of pleasure is so mixed with a sense of terror and of wrongness. It felt wrong on some level, but what did I know? This was my father, so it must be ok, but it didn’t feel ok. There is no way for a five or six year old to make sense of the feelings being generated.

As I continued to move through the memories, the aftermath of the abuse came up. The memories of my father shaming and humiliating me. As far as I can piece it together, he blamed me for the abuse, that my approaching him seduced him into it. That what I had done was evil and no one would want anything to do with me, that after being used in this way, no one else would ever want me. Again, an effective way to buy my silence and to keep me coming back because I truly presumed that the little I got from him was all I would ever get. Seen through the lense of adult understanding, my father was dumping his shame about what he was doing on me by blaming me. This is the root of my adversion. Because I found some of it pleasurable, I wanted more. But it also felt like I was wanting something that was both wrong and damaging to my father. That my normal, healthy seeking out of a parent’s affection was instead the act of an evil creature. So if I want to feel attractive or enjoy my sexual feelings, I carry a very strong underlying belief that I am acting in an evil manner. So I put on weight to keep a barrier between me and the world and not risk doing anything evil. I shut down my sexual feelings because I believe the lies, that I had no control over what I would do about them. I brought up BN’s comment from the session before about my fear being that I couldn’t control myself if I acted in a seductive manner towards him. I think it was quite accurate. And just for the record, I know how wrong these beliefs are once I express them, but you know the deal, they are very powerful and take a lot of time to work through.

So it was another gut-wrenching session and BN had to do something that he rarely has to do, which was to warn me the end of the session was approaching and I needed to take a few minutes to calm down. After so many years of weekly 50 minutes sessions, I am fairly self-regulating about knowing I am getting near the end of a session. The intensity of the emotions coming up, and finally not being alone with them has made the end of sessions very difficult lately. Ending a session can be a very difficult boundary, a fact BN and I have discussed at times. So much so that I am comfortable telling him that’s its going to be hard to leave. He is very gentle about it, and usually reminds me that he is available by phone or email, but go I must.

After I left the session, I headed home as I was working at home that day. I often work at home on my the days of my therapy appointments to provide some space. As a technical writer, I do have periods of interaction with other people, but I also have chunks of time where I am engaged in solitary work. So I head home to avoid having to act “normal” if I’m really having a rough aftermath. For the last couple of months I have been struggling to maintain any sense of connection to BN in between sessions. It’s as if as soon as I leave his office, I am cut off and he feels distant and emotionless to me. The feelings have been so strong that I ended up emailing him at one point to do a reality check and see if I was actually picking up on something. (I wasn’t.) The belief consumes me that he has had enough of me, is thoroughly sick of me and just longs for me to be gone. The wonderful Dr. Stein had recently wrote a post on The Answers to More Questions You’d Like to Ask Your Therapist. I love his openness about the therapeutic process, as his compassion and care shine through his writing. But he shared something in this article that went right to my insecurities, which is that therapist’s are human and like all human beings, are going to have different feelings about different people. He said that some clients are energizing and some are draining. I live in terror that not only am I draining, but possibly the most draining client BN sees. I know this is my shame talking, although I am aware that the level of pain I am bringing into the room has to be a challenge. One, for which I am very grateful, BN rises to with a great deal of grace. But because of my fear of being sent away if I’m not behaving correctly, this fear of what kind of client I am feeds directly into my terror at the thought I will be abandoned. A fear which I *know* is totally irrational at this point in my relationship with BN, but *feels* like a very real fear to me.

So I’m sitting there at my desk, obsessively going over the session in my mind, playing back BN’s behavior, looking for the coldness and distance I am feeling. But what I am remembering was care, concern, tenderness and compassion. It was NOT making sense. And in one of those blinding moments of catharsis described by Dr. Jeffrey Smith, in his book How We Heal and Grow, it hit me. I was caught up in a re-enactment with BN in the role of my father. Don’t get me wrong, he is holding his boundaries and providing the safety and care that I need. But I realized from an emotional standpoint, I was going to therapy seeking comfort, only to be plunged into an abyss of fear and confusion and gut-wrenching pain. And when it was over, I was being sent away. From an adult standpoint, the necessity of it all makes perfect sense, but emotionally it was resonating so strongly with my early experience, that I was projecting my father’s behavior onto BN. I felt discarded and abandoned by my father after the abuse, which of course led me to question the relationship. So from an emotional standpoint, I was assuming that BN must also be feeling scornful and angry with me and wanted nothing further to do with me. Until next time. The clarity was blinding, because I felt the re-enactment in a visceral way, while being so certain that it was about the past, not about anything that BN was doing or feeling. His sending me away had nothing to do with his feelings about me (in fact, the boundary is about caring for me). The relief was immense, because once I cleared my feelings about my father out of the way, I was able to take in that my connection with BN is real, and dependable and I do matter to him. And none of that disappears when I leave his office. I was so excited, I called him. When he called me back and I told him what I realized, we shared this wonderful moment of him being stunned and going “wow” because it made so much sense to both of us. He thanked me for calling him to share about it and we parted warmly. There was an incredible sense of relief in being able to carry the connection with me again. All of that pain, but it led to an incredibly healing moment.

Which was, of course, followed by a major disruption, but that’s for the next post. 😀

  1. February 18, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Wow. You are incredibly brave.

    Like

    • February 21, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Fumbling,
      I tend to think of it as more desperate than brave, but thank you. 🙂 Doing this across from BN doesn’t take nearly as much courage than it would otherwise. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 22, 2015 at 9:24 pm

        I don’t want to discount your bravery, but I think the same thing when my T tells me about my courage or whatever. I’m like, I either do this or die. What’s my choice really? It reminds me of this poem, especially the last line. He’s the lead singer of Twenty One Pilots, a band I love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6R5KQ8b4lQ

        Like

        • February 22, 2015 at 11:18 pm

          Judy,
          Absolutely! That’s exactly the feeling, it’s either this or I die, so what choice do I have? But the truth is that people choose death all the time, by living a life circumscribed by fear, or soaked in substance abuse or hiding in denial. The truth is that we need to be able to acknowledge that we are making a brave choice because it’s not the only choice we could make. So I’ll make you a deal, if you will recognize that you are being brave, I’ll admit that I am being brave. Ok? 🙂 Thanks for the poem, really loved the last line ‘death inspires me the way a dog inspires a rabbit.’ That says it all. xx AG

          Liked by 1 person

  2. NextInLine
    February 18, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Not only do you write so clearly and beautifully, you convey so very much. Your strength despite the horrible pain of your past is truly an inspiration to me. After 4 1/2 years in therapy, I am only barely able to confide in my therapist how much he means to me and how difficult it is to believe in the therapy bubble of safety. And when I do, I immediately find fault with his response in the knee jerk way designed to drive him away, because my sticky wicket is, of course, fear of abandonment and inability to trust, in others and particularly myself. It’s the old self-fulfilling prophecy of give them a reason to leave you before they leave you on their own accord. He’s still there, but it is a most terribly fragile bubble. I don’t know how to make the leap of faith that you have. When I read about your sessions, it gives me hope that someday I can find even a fourth of your honesty and emotional rawness. You motivate me and for that I thank you for writing and sharing all this difficult processing.

    Like

    • February 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      NextinLine,
      You always say the nicest things, thank you! Hey it took me a long time to get here, I worked with my first T over the course of 22 years and I’ve been with BN (with one short break) for around nine! One of the things we talked about at our last session is that I am finding myself saying things and letting in feelings that I would not have thought possible. I think BN has just been so steady, that it’s gotten through. I’m not filtering anymore, just expressing how I feel. It’s a very odd feeling. Please know I struggled with all of those feelings too. It just takes a lot of time and experience to offset the terrible experiences of our past. I am truly glad that you can find strength in my writing and I so appreciate you taking time to tell me (so eloquently!) xx AG

      Like

  3. Jen
    February 18, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Wow! I feel so inadequate when it comes to my therapy. The fact you are recognizing and realizing so many things is great! Thank you for sharing and giving me hope that maybe someday, I can get there.

    Like

    • February 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Jen,
      Don’t feel inadequate! Just have compassion that you’re where you need to be in your journey. As I said to NextinLine above, I have not always been here either. You’ll get there! xx AG

      Like

  4. EBB
    February 19, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Your discussions help me enormously. No wonder I carry my therapist around in my head 24/7, no matter what I’m doing! I don’t want to sever the connection. And I love the article by Dr. Stein. I have tons of questions I dare not ask my therapist. Finally, 50 minutes? In NY State, with the therapists I have gone to, you get only 45 minutes. Used to be 50 long ago. Now I’m envious…

    Like

    • February 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      EBB,
      Absolutely! One of the really important developmental steps for a child is to internalize their parent, so they have resources to face difficulties. In other words, an attuned parent soothes a child and teaches them about their needs and helps them handle their emotions. As we grow up and grow older, we internalize our sense of having someone available so that the help “lives” within us, so to speak. If we didn’t get a chance to do that because we didn’t get what we needed, it’s one of the developmental steps we can complete with our therapist. Carrying them with us helps us to handle our lives. So you’re doing the right thing!

      Glad you enjoyed Dr. Stein, he’s a gem; I love his writing. I am in NY state but BN has been practicing for a long time and is a bit old school. Sorry to engender the envy! 🙂 xx AG

      Like

  5. Ann
    February 19, 2015 at 11:49 am

    AG, I think you speak the emotions many of us feel. I often leave a good session and 10 minutes later feel so sad. My T said part of it is the act of leaving a safe place and having to “put on my armor” to face the world. I am mulling that around in my head. One of the defenses I have used since childhood is “out of sight, out of mind”. So I assume that I must disappear for my T between sessions. That thought makes me sad. Something to do with object constancy.
    I am sorry you have had another disruption. I hope your family is well and husband is healthy! Thank you for writing again. Xoxo

    Like

    • February 21, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      Ann,
      I often think the toughest time is just after a session, I find if I can hold on for the first 24 hours, it tends to ease. The truth is, when we were children, we were supposed to have unconditional love and focused attention all of the time (OK most of the time from “good enough” parents) so when these needs and feelings are activated in therapy, having to experience that within boundaries, having to walk away from it, evokes the terrible loss of not having had it. We are also biologically driven to stay close to our attachment figures as children, so when we’ve awakened these needs, I truly think something just feels wrong about having to leave. So we get distressed, which means our instinct is to move closer to our attachment figure for soothing, It becomes a kind of feedback loop until we can learn to carry them with us.

      The disruption was fixed and in a rather significant way, planning on writing about it next. 🙂 And thanks DH is doing very well and I’m FINALLY feeling better, so no complaints! xx AG

      Like

  6. Jodi
    February 19, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    wow, this was powerful. This “shame” has been, in my opinion, the very worst of all to face. It has interfered with my attempts to share intimacy, sexual and non-sexual. You are so incredibly articulate. You have put words to the pain as no one I have ever read.
    I also find it so very challenging to pull myself together at the end of a session like this too. Fortunately, since I have a long drive, my T has a recovery room for me…a library. Sometimes I sleep it off, sometimes I write and draw about the session and leave it there for my T. In a perfect world it would be amazing to have a session last as long as we need, rest and then close out with an additional brief session with the T to be sure we understood it all correctly and for some reassurance for possible misinterpretation…which I do frequently. I don’t think it is so much a 50 minute “boundary” as a 50 minute Insurance code. Only one session in one day payment coverage. We who have been so horribly abused deserve all the time it takes to recover.

    Like

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Hi Jodi,
      I am definitely with you on the shame, it has been the most difficult feeling to integrate and move through, and there were points in the work where I literally thought it was going to kill me, but it does get better. I do not feel as controlled by the shame and I have internal resources to fight back against its messages (mainly remembering things BN has said to me 🙂 ). Letting BN see my shame has taught me that it’s ok and even a good thing to reach out when I am feeling ashamed, even to other people. I think the most surprising thing about shame is just how much of it was coming from inside me. I am so good at projecting it, that it was a bit of shock when I learned to start asking, to find out just how much I was assuming I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of it, but I do think that it will be so much more managable that it will stop interferingl too much in how I live my life. Although I am very much a work in progress around this issue. 🙂

      That is wonderful that your T provides a safe place for after your sessions, I often sit in my car for a bit before driving away. And while I agree that insurance can often be a limiting factor, I also think that those limits are important to protect the work. I don’t think i am a difficult client, in that I am willing to do the work and am engaged in the process, but I also know that I am bringing a level of need and experience of pain into the room that have to be difficult to deal with, by their very nature. You cannot look on the level of pain I am experiencing and not be affected by it, unless you were a sociopath. So I think BN’s “exposure” to me and time spent with me HAS to be limited, lest he burn out. The boundaries protect both of us and provide the safe place within which such intense work could be done, I am grateful for BN’s contact policy so that I can seek reassurance when I need it. But you’re right, we deserve the time we need to recover. BN reminds me of that whenever I talk about being the world’s slowest therapy client. I am very glad that you can feel like my writing gives a voice to your feelings. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

  7. February 19, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    I do find myself wondering what if I’m the name my T dreads seeing. What if I have the issues she hates dealing with the most. What if she’s just hoping I will quit showing up.

    Because, let’s be honest, that’s how I feel about myself. That’s what I think when I see my reflection or hear my own voice. So it must be how she feels and how everyone feels.

    What I find funny, or perhaps I should say curious, is that while I have two T’s I only have these thoughts and concerns with one. I wonder, why the difference?

    Like

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Broken,
      You should probably read Dr. Stein’s comment below. 🙂 I think we struggle with whether we are welcome or wanted (I know that fear has been a thread through all of my work with BN) because as children we felt neither welcome or wanted. And yes, sadly, it is how we feel about ourselves. I have told BN at times that I am projecting so much he should sell tickets and popcorn. 🙂

      As far as the two T’s my guess would be that either you trust one more OR they somehow ‘fit’ your unconscious set of beliefs of what relationship looks like, so they hold out hope of meeting your attachment needs. Some people “light” us up more than others. ~ AG

      Like

  8. drgeraldstein
    February 20, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Thank you for referencing my post and your kind words, but I do want to clarify something. Indeed, some patients drained me some of the time. Few, if any, did so all of the time. Moreover, it was my job as a therapist to manage my own schedule (I had my own practice) so that I didn’t see one sexually abused client (for example) after another. Therapists who are good at their work (and your therapist sounds as if he is) learn how to take care of themselves, pace themselves, and NOT become resentful toward their patients. They find light moments even in treatment with the most seriously damaged folks. As much as their energy can be drained, it is also fueled by the human contact and the importance/value of their vocation. The work is rewarding. One grows from it. Challenges simply come with the territory. I very, very rarely even thought to send someone packing. No patient is required to make the therapist’s life easier. Indeed, it would cheat him of the work he has chosen to do. His life is his responsibility. P.S. Congrats on the insightful and “healing moment” described above. “Wow,” indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 22, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Dr. Stein,
      Thank you for clarifying what you said. I know all that but it is good to hear it laid out by someone who has been there. BN and I have discussed the necessity for a certain amount of detachment in order for him to be effective. I also have a deep trust in his ability to exercise self-care. He’s made it very clear that he is comfortable holding his boundaries where he needs to, which actually makes me feel very safe, I had to laugh when you said challenges come with the territory as BN has told me that I am challenging (in a “you ask hard questions too” kind of way). I also am acutely aware that my fears about being sent away or not wanted are very much mine. BN has worked very hard to make it clear that I am welcome. But I very much appreciate how clearly you laid out what this looks like from the other side of the couch, it was very kind of you to take the time to do so.

      Thanks also for acknowledging that healing moment!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. SW
    March 14, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Thankyou, AG, for your honesty and clarity about your experiences in therapy, in particular your insight into transference.
    Your blog is helped me immensely in work I am doing now as a counselling student on my final research project on how transference impacts the therapeutic relationship, and in understanding and putting into context transference experiences I have, and have had personally.
    Your blog is helping countless people, I am sure.
    Good luck on your personal journey, lovely woman!

    Liked by 2 people

    • DpBluSee
      March 14, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for your comment to this SW. I agree with you that AG is doing a great service for so many who struggle with understanding transference in the therapeutic relationship. There is a lot of literature related to transference from a therapist’s point of view but not much from the client’s side. This presents such a gap in awareness about how difficult and challenging this is for so many who went to therapy to get help and were not anticipating the surfacing of deep, dependency needs. These needs are very healthy and indicate the healing process is beginning but can be experienced as so painful and confusing for clients (myself included!). I have noticed from reading here and other places that this phenomena is more common than one may think, but it is not very well explained or documented especially for clients so they can learn to manage and understand such feelings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • SW
        March 14, 2016 at 10:34 am

        That is so true DpBluSee, that is what I am finding, that there is much from the therapist’s perspective. Apart from my personal experience of transference, what I am reading here and another site (https://www.myptsd.com/c/threads/struggling-transference-is-so-deeply-painful.42065/) is helping me to document a larger perspective (from the client’s as well as the therapist’s) so that perhaps the profession can benefit from a wider field of knowledge.

        Liked by 1 person

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