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. 😀
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