Therapy Friday

I drive through a slushy snow storm to get to therapy today. Still make it in time though. Ron is wearing his blue suit with blue shirt. He fixes me with a steady unsmiling gaze as per usual. I sit for a while getting acclimatized to his office.

R. I’m going to keep this heater going for a while I think.

E. Sure.

R. So group last night was difficult for you?

E. Well, not too bad really. It was interesting how it was all about people’s relationships with each other this time. It wasn’t people saying this is my issue and then going on about that, like before. So that was interesting.

R. You seemed to be having trouble with me at some point, when I was asking you questions. Maybe you thought if you answered people would be angry with you, or dislike you….

E. No. I’m worried about being ignored. I don’t mind if people are angry with me. The only thing was I ended up a bit dissociated after the group. I couldn’t sleep without taking a bunch of pills.

R. Yes?

E. I think it happened when you were asking me the questions. I felt really really confused….When I feel like that, often it’s because I’ve dissociated. It happens if I feel I can’t handle a situation sometimes.

R. I thought you felt I was attacking you somehow. As if you had to provide a definitive answer.

E. No, I didn’t think that. I just didn’t know what the answer was.

Ron had asked me a few questions, when I had been responding to E about how I hadn’t cared about her issue, last time the group met. One of the questions was, ‘So how do you feel about E? Do you care about her?’ And I’d felt put on the spot. And unsure how I felt about E. So I asked was he going to ask other people that question, or just me? Was he going to ask R, or A? To which Ron replied he didn’t know if he would or not.

R. Why did you ask me if I was going to ask other people the same question?

E. I don’t know….It was maybe hostile. I think I was buying time, because I didn’t know what to answer to that.

R. I wasn’t thinking you were hostile. It seemed like you thought I was. Maybe next time I won’t ask you a direct question…I may just say what about exploring this…

This is kind of amazing to me, that Ron is so interested in this point about when he asked me questions. To me it was no big deal. Yeah, I fobbed him off a bit, but I hadn’t taken it that seriously at the time. I kind of liked arguing with him at the time. I liked that I wasn’t scared of him, that I knew he wouldn’t get mad.

E. Or you could ask questions, and I could work out how to answer and not get dissociated, if I notice it.

E. About the emails…I know they’re pretty negative. Do you mind getting them? Are they too negative?

I’d sent Ron a couple of emails (two) between our sessions, both about problems I was having.

R. You’re afraid I’ll reject you for being negative?

E. No….I kind of offload bad stuff onto you. It doesn’t seem quite fair. I know if I had a friend who did that, I wouldn’t like it. On the other hand, you are a therapist, which is different….

R. The emails are fine. We’ve discussed it, I’ve encouraged you to send them. I think it’s part of our contract with each other that this is OK.

I’m not sure what contract he’s talking about, but this is what I want to hear.

E. Oh, OK. Good then. It really helps me a lot.

There’s a peaceful pause in the room, where things feel really nice. The heater whirs peacefully. But therapy has only just started, so we press on.

E. So my co-worker was let go on Monday. I was really upset about it. All they give him is two weeks’ notice. It also means they could do the same with me.

R. In what sense is it a contract then, if they can let you go any time with only two weeks’ notice?

E. That’s just how it works. It’s always written into my contract like that.

E. I wrote to you a couple times about being lonely. It’s like a severe loneliness, not just missing people. A friend of mine said it could be loneliness I felt as an abused child, when it’s severe like that. Do you think it could be?

Ron looks kind of enigmatic and doesn’t say anything, at least not that I can remember. I didn’t think it at the time, but now I’m worried he thinks I was lonely for him. Sigh. No I wasn’t.

E. Sometimes at work, I’ll show up for a meeting, and I’ll be completely scared. I hate that. It’s like out of the blue.

R. Like you are little and everyone else is big?

E. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but maybe. Do you think it’s a feeling from my past that I blocked out, that’s popping up now?

R. That could very well be.

E. I had a meeting at work with one of the managers there, he’s young, he’s very good looking, and he’s smart – he has everything, I tell you. It’s not fair.

Ron gives me this look. I don’t know what it means. Not friendly. Am I not supposed to mention people’s looks? Or what?

E. I met with him the day after V got his notice, so I was pretty upset still. And I ended up switching into the kid. Which was very embarrassing.

R. What happened?

E. Well, not that much. I just started speaking in a childish voice…

R. What did you say?

E. Oh, something like the procedures were too complicated, and I get all confused…I can’t remember what I said exactly.

R. How did he react?

E. He was OK, he didn’t act like anything unusual had happened. He’s nice. I just realized afterwards….man, I was talking in a kid voice. Sometimes men think I’m flirting with them if that happens, then they have to warn me off, man it’s embarrassing. But this guy is nice.

Ron gives me another enigmatic look and doesn’t say anything. Whatever. This is my session for enigmatic looks.

E. I’m more aware of the kid voice now. I never used to be unless it took over. But now I can tune into it all the time.

R. How often would you respond to the kid part? Like daily, weekly, several times a day?

E. I don’t know…maybe daily. You know last time I switched into the kid part…that was really important to me. It felt really good.

Ron says a bunch of theoretical stuff which unfortunately I’ve completely blocked out. But somewhere in there one of my internal voices pops up, and I want to figure out why, so I mention it.

E. There, the suicidal voice. It’s right there. It was there in the group also, a few times, but not shouting like before.

R. Do you remember when in the group that happened?

E. No, I don’t. I wish I did.

R. I think that’s the teenage part. Try talking from that place.

E. Um…OK.

I switch into the teenage voice. It’s not as stark a contrast to my everyday mind as switching into the kid is. The teenager has logic and her mind is mostly working the same as my usual mind.

E. I want to die. I feel sad. Everything is black……I hate everybody. They’re mean to me. I hate high school. Ach, I see the lockers from high school. I didn’t have any friends….I really want to kill myself.

R. People were mean to you?

E. Yes. They shouldn’t be like that!

R. No they shouldn’t.

E. I hate high school……I hate people. It’s not good to hate everyone, but I do. That’s how I feel.

R. I want to talk to you. I want to hear how you feel.

E. Yeah?

R. Yes…..How do you feel about me?

I look doubtfully at Ron.

E. I’ve never talked to you. Oh yes, I have. I got mad one time, and I talked to you! I was really mad. I feel angry a lot.

R. You have good reason to be angry. Your father was sadistically silent with you…

E. Yes he was.

At this point I start feeling emotional, and it’s almost the end of the session. I switch out of the teenager, because the kid wants to tell Ron how much she likes him and his office. Sigh.

R. I’d still like to talk to the teenager.

E. OK. So I hate everyone. Like the people in your group. They don’t like me.

R. Because they don’t understand. You have these parts that make your relationships difficult. (Or he says something like this, it’s a little hazy.)

E. Like Z told me she doesn’t like me because I don’t make eye contact. I do look at her. That’s just not fair. And E, who says I don’t say hi to her when I see her leaving her session. I do say hi to her! I don’t even know what she’s talking about.

R. Maybe a part of you says hi but a part of you doesn’t….Remember when you said I never looked at you the whole group, and I was sure that I had? Maybe another part of you is seeing that…

E. I have no idea what you’re talking about. That doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I don’t lose time. I always know what’s going on. And if I’m doing something they don’t understand, they should tell me! How else will I know?

I switch out of the teenager again. I’m feeling really upset but there is no time to cry as the session is over. Ron talks a bit about how groups are helpful, or some such. I followed it at the time, but now it’s lost. I get my coat. I look at Ron as I go out, as I’m working on eye contact. And he looks rather freaked out to tell the truth, as if I scare him. That’s what it seems like.

I feel kind of sad from the experience of switching into the teenager. But I’m functional. I get home and do some work.

I feel bad about the group now, where before I had felt vaguely positive. I don’t actually think all the people in it don’t like me. Just that teenager part does think that. But Ron seemed to agree with that, which bothers me. Maybe they all don’t like me? I just don’t think that’s true. If it were, I wouldn’t go.

It is interesting to hear how people really feel. Where else does that happen? And it’s good for me to be reminded of the eye contact issue I suppose.

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12 comments
  1. Ruth said:

    Sounds like a lot is going on. My kid voice almost never came out but it freaked people out when it did. It is ok. Believe it or not most the time you can pass it off as kidding since most people don't realize they are talking to someone else. Take care of yourself.

  2. I never liked a group setting. Some people crave them. Hopefully if everyone is honest in a group setting, you will actually hear "the realness." I know when I am uncertain of situations, my little girl appears. Because she is usually frightened. Be gentle with yourself dear one.

  3. Laura said:

    interesting session, Ellen!It amazes me that you not only remember what you both say, but also his facial expressions. do you "receive" the puzzling facial expressions in the moment? does it feel puzzling in the moment? would it be possible for you to ask about them right then? that is one of my challenges. did you feel that this was a good session? does it feel important to let the teenager speak? he seemed supportive – altho I wondered if he believes or knows that you were abused – pointing to your father's silence as a cause of your anger. was that okay?Glad you clarified that your emails are OK. I seem to get hung up when I expect a response and don't get one – I can't seem to write emails to Howard or leave phone messages – there's a fear of exposure – but I like him to read my journal.sorry, these are just random thoughts!

  4. gniz said:

    Hey Ellen, great session description! Interesting how you read in to some of his expressions as being judgmental in situations where I kind of expect he's just trying to listen closely. I think that kids who've been abused and mistreated are very much trained to read into the expressions and body language of others, because they (we) are constantly on guard for a negative reaction.But although this can be a helpful skill, it's definitely a double-edged sword and I find that I personally can read far too much into the smallest of interactions. Most of the time the facial expressions and interactions between people are not quite as deep as we imagine.And oftentimes we pick up on something that has little or nothing to do with us and everything to do with the other person's internal state and thoughts and fears. Just something to keep in mind. I believe Ron tries hard not to judge you or your "stuff" but is in fact trying to stay open and receptive and really listen to you. That's probably most of what he does, but I'm sure occasionally you pick up on a little emotion or reaction he has to something you say. Even then, his inner reaction of perhaps surprise might come off to you as a judgment…get what I mean here?Enjoying reading about your journey Ellen!

  5. Ellen said:

    Well, no one would ever think it wasn't me. I don't switch completely in a situation like that, just partly, but it's involuntary and it upsets me afterwards. At the time I don't realize it's happening. Thanks Ruth

  6. Ellen said:

    I kind of do like a group, but sometimes it scares me. For me also, it's stress or fear that causes the kid to appear by mistake. hugs

  7. Ellen said:

    I don't think about his expressions enough at the time to ask about them – that would be a challenge. I'm used to ignoring this kind of stuff in other situations. I did feel it was a good session, and having the teenager speak was huge for me. It feels quite nurturing or something to do that…I don't know how to describe it. As if a part of me that was never spoken to before is being heard. It's cool. Ron does know about the SA. Yes. My father's silence was emotionally abusive…that was very damaging. So it was fine with me that Ron said that. I also struggle with always needing a response to my emails. I always explicitly ask for a response, and after the first few months, Ron has for the most part been great about getting back to me. He mostly doesn't say much in his response, but it's enough for me to feel everything is OK.Thanks for the thoughts, random and otherwise!

  8. Ellen said:

    Yes, that makes sense Aaron. I like to think it's a good skill, reading people, if I keep it in check. The good thing about therapy is that theoretically I could check these things out. Ron would tell me if it's true or not, in most cases. It's just that I forget to do that at the time. Maybe next time. I think it's true Ron is not judgmental. A lot of this 'what Ron is thinking' stuff I'm sure is about me. Glad you're enjoying following along, thank you.

  9. Laura said:

    but, I wonder if your interpretations of his facial expressions (along with ambiguous remarks) doesn't have an immediate impact on you, in the session. If you see his demeanor as "frosty" say (last week), does it feel safe for you to take off your coat? Or, if it seems as if he doesn't like you? that would be an argument for clarifying what he's "saying", so that you don't get steered or shut down by something that isn't there. I like the idea of being able to converse about our interaction at the moment, IN the moment with Howard, but it seems as if I don't take the time to notice what I notice, until after the session. It's like being loathe to pull the emergency brake on the bus.

  10. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – Yeah, it probably does have an immediate impact. I think I'm like you – it would be a matter of slowing things down long enough to address this kind of stuff – the T's expression. I think if I keep it in mind right from the start, maybe it would help me to do that.I guess with the feeling that I'm not liked – I struggle with that in all areas of my life, so I'm used to 'over-riding' that feeling. I have talked with Ron about it before – sometimes it just seems that I could spend all my time figuring out if he likes me or not, finally being reassured, and then having to do it all over again next session! It's something to think about though. It is important. Oh and I did ask Ron by email about whether I scared him. He said I didn't, and he didn't know why he looked like that when I walked out the door. I'm glad I don't scare him. Cheers

  11. Laura said:

    Maybe he's got some kind of facial tic!I'm sure that's true – that your feeling of his liking you is not stable. It's good that you see the connection with the rest of your life.Automatically over-riding your responses is a good description – I think that's what I'm doing, too. why do we do it? We should be able to slow things down, we are driving this bus.

  12. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – I think it's really hard to slow things down…but luckily we don't have to do it all at once. It's a good thing to aim for.

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