Therapy Friday

It’s one of those overly beautiful spring days. The Maple trees are all in bloom with acid green flowers, showing off against a mid blue sky. With sunglasses on, it’s even more vivid and amazing.

In all this, my mood is black as I drive to my session. I think about the group and the angry email I sent Ron. I feel really afraid, and would rather not see him. I’m also still angry.

Ron starts right in.

R. Let’s discuss the email you sent me. It seems important.

He always is eager to talk about anything regarding the group. Secondarily anything relating to himself. This one featured both.

E. OK. Whatever I said, I stand by it. I can’t remember exactly what I said though.

Ron goes to get his phone and hands it to me.

R. Here. Why don’t you read it to me.

I like Ron’s phone, the novelty of reading an email on such a tiny screen. I start reading the email to myself.

E. I’m kind of embarrassed reading these afterwards. OK.

I read the first part out loud. Sorry, I don’t want to reproduce this exactly, as I find it embarrassing at the moment.

E. This is true. You are like E. I do dissociate. That’s the whole problem. I can have a part that handles the group, it’s a real part, but the rest of me is not there. It doesn’t matter if I leave or not. Just whether I’m dissociated or not. Like after your group, I was all dissociated, I couldn’t feel anything.

R. Dissociating is OK. It’s how you will heal. It’s fine if that happens in the group.

I can’t remember what Ron says for most of this session, because I am so upset. This is a big point though. For me I’m always trying to avoid dissociating, especially depersonalization and not being able to feel. It seems to me that’s a good goal. Surely it’s not healthy to come out of a group that’s supposed to help me, completely numb and unable to feel. Ron doesn’t agree with me on this. I wish I could remember what else he said, because I don’t know now what his idea on this is.

E.( reading more) I hate that you like E. and take her side. That whole aspect I could work on in the group. The dissociation not so much. It’s like I’m pretending, when I’m dissociated.

R. How do I take E’s side? How are there sides?

E. You totally do take her side. You get along very well with E. obviously.

R. (annoyed) I don’t know what that means.

E. Like with the finger pointing. You encourage us to voice what we think, even if it’s negative. Then you attack me for doing that!

I’d said in the group that E was being a martyr. She’d spoken for a long time, then she sighed, and said she wished she’d never bothered to speak, and that she’d stayed home that evening with her kids, who needed her, instead. E. started to cry, and then I’d said I was sorry I’d said that…..as I didn’t want to make her cry. The conversation veered off to myself and R. Then  Ron said to me, well, do you think you might be a martyr? When one finger points at someone else, there are three pointing back at you….Which didn’t make me mad at the time, but it did at four in the morning that night.

R. It’s an odd phrase to use….

E. Maybe it’s not the perfect word, but why was she saying she wished she hadn’t spoken? Just because she wasn’t getting the response she wanted.

R. In your own life, do you feel like a martyr? When we accuse someone else of something, it’s often about us.

E. Great. Now I’m accusing. You of course never accuse.

We went back and forth like this for a bit, me getting more and more frustrated, then choking and feeling blocked entirely.

E. So it was hard to listen to E. going on about the problem of her mother and writing her mother some email. I mean, I was sitting there thinking about death. Like earlier in the week, I’d gone in to work, had a really hard time getting up, had to lie back down I was so depressed. Then I made it through the day, and end of day, waiting for the subway, I really thought about jumping in front of a train. Well, it was a part. So I didn’t do that. But it’s upsetting.

I cry a bit.

R. So you were  in anguish, sitting listening in the group.

E. When I was E’s age, I had a young child, an abusive husband, no way of earning a living, and a bad case of PTSD. E’s problems don’t seem that huge to me.

R. So you don’t think she should talk about her problems?

E. I didn’t say that. Well, everyone has their pain, and pain is pain. It’s just….

R. There are degrees of problems. Do you ever want to listen to other people?

This hurts. Ron has brought this up before, when we weren’t getting along previously. Like I’m this self-obsessed person who doesn’t care.

R. You want to quit the group because the feelings it stirs up in you feel overwhelming. Your solution is to leave. But there’s nothing that can’t be dealt with in a group. I’ve never run a group or been in a group where someone was asked to leave, or something couldn’t be worked with…

Great. Now he’s reassuring me he won’t ask me to leave his group. I wasn’t worried about that and didn’t think it was really a possibility.

R. You dismiss things. Instead of letting a comment sink in, and then after absorbing it, deciding whether it’s true for you or not, you dismiss it without taking it on board.

I don’t say anything to this. I shred up my sopping kleenex instead. 

I’m trying to stay angry at Ron, because that is how I feel, while at the same time I’m feeling like I’m being choked and humiliated (feelings from the past). So I keep crying, then I continue with why I’m mad, and Ron continues defending himself. Then we stop and sit.

R. It seems as if you have all these feelings, and you say them, but you don’t want to go into any of them.

E. That’s true. I really feel blocked. Like I’m choking when I try and stay angry with you.

I end up talking from three different places, all mixed up. The kid is remembering abuse, and is choking and scared. The teenager is furious with Ron. And I’m there, trying to make this coherent.

R. So I see all three of you – the little girl who was traumatized, the angry teenager, you….I’m talking to all of you.

This is the one part of the session where I feel a bit heard. I’d complained to Ron that he was ‘too intelligent’ to talk to parts, so he’s trying now, and it feels good actually.

E. I can really see how I’m in all these parts at once. I don’t want to be that way, it scares me.

R. If you don’t want to be that way, you are denying who you are. That is how you are keeping these splits going. You shut down most of yourself all the time. When we first started working together, you used to lie down, and go through some of these feelings?

E. What? I used to lie down?

R. Yes, you said you’d turn on music, and feel things….

E. Oh, that. That was because the dentist was triggering all these memories. Yeah.

E. I do let the parts be. Like those drawings I do. Like here. You mean I don’t do that with other people there? If I was like this with friends, they’d be pretty upset.

R. You wouldn’t be exactly like this with friends – you aren’t in therapy with your friends. But you are denying pieces of who you are all the time.

E. Well, I have to function. (I’m really irritated). I have to work.

I can’t remember what happened next. I’m partly in a memory that’s been triggered because I’m so angry with Ron, so I’m kind of overtaken by emotions and my mind is not working well. The upshot is that Ron thinks I’m perpetuating these splits in myself by not listening to them and allowing them space, and treating them the same way my family treated me when I was a child, by ignoring.

It’s not a bad theory really. But I never feel any kind of connection or caring from Ron. We’re sparring the whole time, and a part of me is devastated by that. He talks for a while, then I simply sit on his black couch, staring at my hands. I get up and leave a few minutes early. Neither of us feeling good I’d say.

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10 comments
  1. Laura said:

    this is mostly over my head, but it's something I wonder about… people in a group are going to be dealing with different levels of stuff. what if I were in a group with you, would I ever be able to talk about my piddly stuff? I think it's an important question "do you ever want to talk about other people's stuff?", I don't know what his tone was, but it's a good question, and a central problem for groups. I would guess that the answer is "sure, but not when I'm feeling suicidal, or when my own pain is above a 5 (on a scale to 10)." everyone needs to talk, in order to be available for listening.I like his idea about dissociation being protective. Not that it's the goal, but if you get too close to the edge, it's there. I thought it was amazing that he realized he was talking to 3 parts. and it seems really good that you see yourself in each part. It looks from here that he's pushing you out of caring, and that you're more spontaneous under pressure. good for getting the toxins out. Hugs, Ellen!!

  2. Ellen said:

    HI Laura,It's great to get a positive perspective, as I don't feel at all positive about the session. It is impossible to listen well under certain circumstances, like when you feel extremely distressed yourself. I actually spend a lot of time listening to friends – they like to tell me stuff. Even in the group, there is one woman that seems only to talk about things by way of talking to me. It's really not true that I do not care to listen. I would want to listen to you and I'm sure your stuff is not piddly. There is the whole issue of how severe is the distress, but also, do I like the person. The more I like the person, no matter how upset or how calm, the more interested I am in listening. Dissociation is protective, but I don't think he talked about that. But I don't know what his point was, about that being fine. It feels bad to me. Yeah the parts thing was good. It's hard for him, so I appreciate that. To me he seemed uncaring, but maybe you are seeing it better than I am. I hope so. Thanks for the encouragement. Hugs

  3. Laura said:

    that's a good insight! "…how severe is the distress, but also, do I like the person". You don't like E (fair to say?), so she'll be especially hard to listen to when you're in distress. I can really relate to that. I already knew that you are a good listener and friend. I think it's possible to hear that question (do you want to listen to anyone else?) as an objective question to explore, rather than as an accusation.I realized afterward that, just reading the words flat on the page, my impression of the session didn't match yours (which isn't usually the case). I think that's because you're judging a lot of what he says/looks on whether it means he cares about you – and he's not winning a lot of those judgments. For example, when you say that he likes to talk about HIS group, and himself, best. You feel that you can predict that he'll go for those ego rewards. Talking about group means talking about not-Ellen, means he cares more about that, than about you, and your concerns (right?). From here, it looks like there are really great therapeutic, Ellen-centric reasons to talk about what happens in YOUR group, and what you're feeling about HIM. If you're talking about leaving therapy, or suicide, then he jumps on that and I'm glad he does, for your sake – not because he needs the revenue.anyway, these are pretty small potatoes. He does give you some feedback about dismissing comments, and not wanting to delve into your emotions (in group?), and I can really see how you would feel criticized. Still, if you're in group to understand what goes wrong in your relationships, it sounds like it might be useful. Maybe, in this case, you need to _feel liked_ in order to hear it as constructive?It's hard for me to imagine, as much as I like the idea of group, and believe in how it's supposed to work, how someone who's in great emotional distress is going to be available to the other group members, for hashing out the intricacies of how they're relating. It sounds to me as if Ron would like you to ditch the adult when you're in session. Stop being coherent. And in group, too. The only places you don't need to be coherent, where you don't need to suppress parts.

  4. Laura said:

    I'm thinking that all attempts to filter are suspect, and need to be examined (at some point). We're trying to control the interaction or the outcome by withholding (part of) the truth about ourselves – would you agree? Are you filtering out parts of yourself because you don't think THEY can handle it? and because you're afraid of their response? Do you think they can understand?the Adult (your Editor) who filters and navigates between you and others, protecting you, probably has an expectation of other people that's based on your early learning with YOUR MOTHER – someone who can't tolerate emotions, or need, whose love is uncertain? and who has no useful guidance to give you. Is that expectation (of others) valid? If you, at an unconscious level, think that Ron can't handle much more of the beautiful messiness of YOU than your mother can – and still care deeply, that would require A LOT of editing.thanks – I need to look at this in my life.

  5. Amanda said:

    This sounds so tough, and I'm so sorry you've had a rough time. I have a tough time sometimes when my therapist is being that honest with me, sometimes it feels harsh. But I know that she is doing it for beneficial reasons. How are you feeling?I haven't read the entire story yet (and will after commenting here), but wanted to let you know that you were being thought about.

  6. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – Those are really interesting points and questions. I'm feeling too out of it to really respond. I ended up still very angry and then got into some memories also, so spent most of the weekend lying prone. I quit the group a few more times by email, and each time Ron ignores that part and points out that I could discuss such and such in the group. Very annoying man.The filtering is a big issue. Yeah. And if I feel cared about is huge for me also. I probably do think no one can handle the split off parts of myself. BTW, everyone is most interested in themselves, it's human nature. If you see a bunch of photos, which are you most interested in? Likely those in which you appear. It's just how we work. Still hurtful sometimes though when I pay someone to think about me for an hour. Glad this triggered off so much for you Laura. Thanks for your thoughts.@ Amanda – It is rough actually. I've got more of a grip now but I was really low. I do not think Ron is doing hurtful things for beneficial reasons – at least not at the time. Now after a few days, I have more of a perspective and see there are other ways of taking it all. Thanks of commenting Amanda.

  7. Laura said:

    thanks for responding. I go overboard.you're sticking with your story (BTW…) that Ron is mostly interested in himself, on your dime? Like you're watching a mouse, knowing that he'll go for the cheese? Just consider that you might be wrong about that, that might be your Editor's view – it doesn't look that way from here. Maybe a cynical view helps you to feel as if you can predict what he'll do, to feel in control, and to save you from being hurt. If he really cares about you, and won't abandon you, that would be unknown territory, wouldn't it?I'll be away for a few days – I really hope you start to feel better!! I had my first interview with my future Group Leader today – way cool.

  8. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura – I'm always interested in what you have to say Laura. Actually I don't think it follow that Ron doesn't care, because he responds to stuff about himself. The himself and group stuff is about me also.Just an example – we've traded some emails. One email I say I've been going through flashbacks, and it's painful. He doesn't reply to that one. The next I say more about the group, and how I'm quitting it, and he does answer that one. It's quite predictable. He still cares, and he most likely won't abandon me, at least not on purpose. He's just predictable. Good to hear you like the group leader. Hope to hear more about it. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Ellen said:

    Comment from CandyCan:Hi Ellen, I'm missing reading your blog but my laptop is still broken 😦 At least I will have loads to read once I get it all working again! I hope you're doing OK. Just wanted to let you know I'm still thinking of you and hoping you're doing OK. C Hi Candy – Thanks, nice to hear from you Candy. Hope you get the laptop situation fixed soon. take care

  10. I wonder what he meant saying that dissociation is good? I agree that it's not good to ignore the parts and that you all need to feel heard but i don't think relying on feeling unreal or numb is a 'good' coping mechanism. Otherwise why do so many therapists treat people with dissociation? It was useful once but not now.

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