Therapy Thursday – flight

Things have fallen apart a bit here. I ended up getting really pretty sick with an allergy attack, stayed home from work Friday. I’ve been recovering this weekend and am feeling better physically, but really low emotionally.

Therapy was a bit of a wash this week. Saturday night, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and wrote an angry email to Ron. I actually thought he wouldn’t get it until Tuesday because he’s away, but he replied first thing this morning. Which scared me. So often, I long for a reply, and get none, and this time, I didn’t expect a reply, got one, and felt scared for a long time.

First of all, Thursday was an adult therapy time – no parts. Which did mean we were able to have a longer conversation. I talked about work being a bit better, though still really rough. How there’s a strange dynamic happening between my co-worker B and boss, J. I brought in a book about complex PTSD I’d been reading. In this part of it, the author describes four possible choices young children who are traumatized by their parents typically make – fight, flight, freeze or faun. Faun is what he calls co-dependency, when someone focuses on pleasing another person without regard for their authentic selves. I said that I thought my boss typified the fight personality, which can be narcissistic and self-involved. And B typified the faun personality, where the person subsumes themselves to another’s needs and wants. I said they both do this – it’s not just my boss. If B stood up for herself in any way, the dynamic would be so different.

Then we talked about which type I am – freeze, I say. Freeze is the dissociative response. The book doesn’t go into any detail about dissociation (so far anyway), but that’s what he calls the freeze response. Then, most people use two of these coping methods, with one dominant and the other secondary, so we tried to figure out what my secondary one would be. The conversation got tangled up here, because this is not a theory Ron really knows about, and I wasn’t explaining totally clearly. He said something about how I might be a fight type, then something about how that had manifested in group.  Which made me mad. I know I’d had a protector part triggered out in group a couple of times, but that is not the same as being a fight type.

Anyhow. Maybe I am fight. Or flight. I know I’m not faun, but that’s the only one I’m clear on.

We also talked about how I currently am obsessing about leaving my job, and how it reminded me of when I was married, I obsessed for years about leaving, but didn’t do it. Though I wish I had done it much earlier. And then that in most of the jobs I’ve had in the last few years, I was unhappy and thought about leaving. Ron comments that maybe this time I can try staying and talking it through, which I’ve been trying to do.

Then I tell him I’ve also been thinking of leaving therapy. I’ve been going for five and a half years, and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I feel this pull to leave. Ron says in therapy, I can stay and talk through those feelings of wanting to leave with him. So I do a bit of that, but it doesn’t go real well.

He doesn’t visibly freak out, but he goes off on a hurtful tack and keeps pushing, which is unusual for him. I say I’m not sure what I’m trying to work on, really. Shouldn’t I be working on something, or is it all magic that happens once a week in the therapy hour? And he says well you haven’t felt able to follow any suggestions I’ve made. Like what?

Like starting to talk with your family. I think you have a lot of important things to say to them about the past, about how you feel. If we’re not authentic, that is a recipe for depression, if we can’t express who we really are.

GRRR…..I hate all of this. I hate this authenticity tack for one thing. I really don’t think lack of authenticity is a problem I’m suffering from. And talking to my family? They’ll just reject me more than they already do. He says I’m attached to them, and need to get free.

He goes on for a while. I am feeling worse and worse, and not in a cathartic way either. I feel kind of numb with pain at the centre. I ask him to stop, I don’t want to talk about this any more. I’m not sure why exactly his saying this distresses me so much, but it does.

He gets back on this tack again, after I’ve asked him to stop, and I’m saved by the end of session. Saved by the bell, I say, and we both laugh.

I did express to him that I didn’t want to do this, and that I needed for him to stop talking about it.

So in this session, I didn’t get into any of my feelings much, and no parts got time.

Saturday night when I can’t sleep, I feel furious about this stupid session. So I write the email. I tell him he was defensive when I said I’d thought of leaving therapy, like he was saying, if only I’d do what he said, then his therapy would be working.

Then I tell him he doesn’t have any theory, so I’m trying to read and bring what I’ve read in, in order to have something to talk about that would move things forward, but that it’s exhausting having to do it all on my own. Then he doesn’t seem to much respect anything I tell him I’ve read, and it’s true sometimes I don’t have all the aspects in my mind when I’m sitting in his office, so I don’t explain that well. Anyway, I tell him it’s a problem he doesn’t believe in theory, that we have no vocabulary for talking about anything.

Then that his group was hurtful, and when he referred to it in session that was hurtful also, and that basically, he’s not understanding much about me after all these years of my seeing him. Yep, I blasted him. I attacked. Maybe I am the fight type. The freeze/fight combination is almost impossible to treat, according to my book. Mostly though because people who have that generally don’t believe they need to change. Which is not the case with me.

Ron replied the next morning, from wherever he is. He said he was glad I’d been able to express my feelings in the email, and we’d have a lot to discuss next Thursday.

Which is nice enough. OK, here he’s not being defensive. And so then I feel guilty for attacking him. I know he doesn’t talk about theories because he doesn’t want to pathologize clients – I know it’s not simple.

I haven’t replied, not wanting to stir up anything else. Maybe I’ll say thanks for replying or something.

Today I’m super paranoid. I’m avoiding things – chores, and even going into a store because I can’t face the clerk. I forced myself to get out and go to starbucks at least, to try and break the paranoia. Just sitting at a table pretending to be a regular human. That helped a bit.

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20 comments
  1. Neloran said:

    I don’t think any one person is confined to fight/flight/freeze/faun. Depending on the situation, a person may respond any number of ways. You may see yourself aligning with one more than others (I would say freeze for myself–no shock–dissociation), but there have been times I fought. I fought hard. They are survival instincts and it’s all about what you instinctively equate gives you the best chance of survival. So, don’t feel frustrated if Ron saw you’s one way in group, and you remember another way.

    I totally understand feeling “stuck” in therapy. Ron does make a good point that in therapy you can work through the “stuck” feeling. For me, it was frustrating and slow, but I was able to uncover a little more about my trauma when we connected with “being in a situation where you fight and get nowhere” to a trauma event.

    Know that it is also okay to take a break! Sometimes we’re just truly wiped out! I have been in therapy now for 10 years (yikes!) with my therapist, and she always reminds us it’s okay to take a break. Self-care has to be #1!

    The stuff about authenticity and talking to your family. I’m actually with you on this one. You can be totally authentic to yourself without involving individuals who are not (or possibly never will) be at a place in their healing where they can listen without reacting and give you support.

    It does sound like you are able to express your feelings with Ron, and he does not personalize it, and sets boundaries by indicating you’ll talk about it in session. I think it’s normal to feel paranoid after this. Anyway, the way I see it, our abusers would lash out at us when we attempted to speak our mind. Nothing I ever said was right. In some cases, I would be physically abused because I verbalized my feelings. So, putting your honest thoughts out there, it’s easy to be heightened an so anxious you’re paranoid — waiting for someone, anyone — to treat you with disrespect.

    Be safe, and great job expressing yourself.

    -Nel

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks for getting this Nel. It’s true speaking out angrily would not have been received well when I was young and that could make me paranoid now. And a part of this is not the content so much but the feelings.

      Yeah, I don’t think talking to family will help. To be fair, Ron does not think they’ll suddenly start being supportive if I am more open. He thinks just the fact of being myself without hiding so much will eventually make me feel better and less depressed. I dunno. I don’t buy it really.

  2. I’m sorry! This sounds like a difficult place for you. It seems you keep referring to Ron not being able to help you in ways you’ve actually helped yourself. That’s a tough call. I know you have history together, but if you feel it’s always one-sided when you’re in therapy, it may be worth exploring other options. My opinion, of course. I hope this week goes well.

  3. e.Nice said:

    That would drive me crazy, you told him it wasn’t working for you, and he still kept on that vein. First off I’m glad you told him off. I think that is healthy to have those discussions and get your concerns out there. I am glad he responded and wasn’t defensive to the email. That is good. I can see why you are so uncertain about work, about therapy, and all of that. I’m afraid there isn’t a right answer. but I do think you are doing damn hard stuff.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks nice, I appreciate your comment.

    • Neloran said:

      Yeah, I was thinking this, too. There is a time when a therapist sometimes needs to push you out of your comfort zone. Yet there is also a time (especially when working with trauma survivors) that you respect a person’s “no”

  4. Wow. Talk about being clueless in responding to you. It would be triggering. Therapy would work if you could just be the person I think you are and if reality could conform to my assumptions. He still thinks he’s right. He lets you disagree with him, but never modifies his views. He is tolerant, but he is rigid, because he has held these views for a long time, and the assumption he will always make is that the client’s views are distorted. His are accurate and supported by other professionals, but the client’s views are the result of transference.

    That stands out in what you say. It’s just one moment. I am sure it’s not everything he had to say, but it stands out. Yes, you haven’t taken his advice, because it isn’t realistic and it would harm you. I am completely in agreement with you that talking authentically with your family is just idiotic. You don’t want to be “free” of them. You want to be able to get through the occasional barbecue with them. You do have a lot to say to them, but they will never hear you, and it doesn’t help to just dump your thoughts on people and have them react to that without taking anything in or caring about what it’s like for you.

    You are going to have to do a lot of this on your own, I think. I did. There was just no one I could find who was better.It is hard to do, but finding someone who really knows about this and doesn’t just think they know about it is very difficult. It’s rare.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks for wanting to stand up for me Ash. I appreciate that.

      You are seeing one part of this, because of how i am writing it. The other piece is, I’d be mad at any therapist. If Freud himself was pronouncing on what is wrong with me, or what I should do, or not saying much of anything – I would still be angry. It’s a dynamic I get into. I know it.

      On the family advice – I’m on the fence actually. I know it started disturbing me a lot as he was talking about it, but I’m not totally sure why. Even if I don’t want to do this, why would it bother me so much that I couldn’t stand it – I’m not at all sure. I agree they likely wouldn’t hear me very well….I agree with both your view and his view, so obviously, I’m confused.

      I do feel I have to figure a lot of this out on my own, though Ron can provide support and company. I don’t know how you manage so much completely on your own, but you certainly do.

      • You are welcome.

        I get what you are saying. It’s a tendency on your part, as you say it is, and yet there might also be some truth in it. The things we are very sensitive to do happen. It’s not like things happen only once in our lives. It’s not like lightning striking.

        I am thinking about the family advice: in the past, it hasn’t been acceptable for you to disagree with someone and to each have your own views. If you disagreed with your dad, for instance, he emotionally annihilated you. Differences in opinion were just not permitted. And maybe all this time, you didn’t realize Ron still holds this other view. You talked it over, you gave your views, but Ron still thinks you should be doing what he says and, intentional or not, there is a feeling of blame about it. If you extend the logic of what he is saying, therapy would work if you could give up your own views and perceptions. It seems like it mimics that same kind of annihilation, even though it’s much softer and less intentional. Maybe I am misinterpreting it, but it seems like something I remember from my own therapy. There was kind of this implied punishment if I stayed true to my perceptions, which wasn’t being dished out by the therapist directly, but lay in this gloomy forecast about my future. Either I could annihilate myself, in a sense, and deny the reality that what they advised was simply not realistic, or I could get better. There was no way for me to have a brain and be a thinking, feeling person and get better in their view. It was quite awful. It wasn’t intended. They didn’t mean to hurt me, but they really did believe they were right and I was wrong. Only I wasn’t wrong. I think if I could have stood the stress of feeling bad and wrong because I just didn’t see it the way a professional did, I could have gotten some support from therapy, but it was too difficult for me for a long time. I look back now–I was really thinking about it this morning–and I did do that faun thing you talk about in therapy. Not very overtly, not in an over-the-top way, but I went off to therapy once a week, played the part of the good therapy client and went home again. No wiser and no better. Therapy wasn’t helping me feel safe, and it’s safety that starts the healing process. I think it was hard to see why I wouldn’t feel safe, because the therapist tolerated disagreement. The therapist did not get angry. But it was this other kind of punishment being suggested–sort of like talking to a nice fundamentalist Christian. Well, it’s alright for you to say that and to think that. I am a good Christian and I love the sinner. But you are going to hell.

        I have started to understand that this is what happens when people’s way of thinking are very far apart. We all tend to see others as defective versions of ourselves, even though this is usually subtly expressed and not purposefully intended to harm. So someone who doesn’t understand what I am thinking and feeling or how my mind works will see my mind in terms of how their mind works, and they will think I would be fine if I could just think more like they do. Only my mind is truly different. I am not a defective version of a normal person. Trauma has made my mind different, and I have to learn to cope with my mind, rather than pretending to be like someone with a non-traumatized mind.

        It touches a very deep wound of having my perceptions not valued. They are not valuable enough to some people to actually try to understand or to take in as being as potentially accurate as their own. It hurts. But that is how it is. That is just part of being a person, that kind of narcissism, where someone sees their own mind as naturally being superior.

        Just my thoughts. Take care.

        • Ellen said:

          Your therapy does sound like an extremely unhelpful experience, at best. For instance, if you were the ‘faun’ type, to be helpful that would have needed to be brought into the open and up for discussion….but that would take a really good T to figure that out. I definitely don’t have that problem at this point and am able to say where I disagree.

          I’m not sure where my experience is mirroring what you went through. I am able to speak up, and Ron really does not paint a gloomy picture of my future….My feeling is, he was maybe just subconsciously threatened when I said I had been considering leaving – his feelings were a bit hurt. When that happens, he morphs into this person who is directive and has solutions. It’s unlike him for the most part. He is very respectful and very low key about any suggestions usually. But I have noticed if I tip him off balance, he becomes ‘bad therapist’ in a way – directive, he starts talking more theory, and stops tuning in as much as he usually would. Even then, he did stop when I asked him to. Somehow, we got back on topic, but it was really not him pushing his agenda, even though I’ve written it like that.

          That said, I’m not sure his overall theory works – the one he doesn’t talk about much. I suspect it works best for people who are more like him. I do relate to what you say about a therapist, or people in general, having trouble really understanding that another mind (i.e. mine) can be so different. Whereas I have more experience figuring out other minds, because most are so different from mine. I just think some of Ron’s opinions are workable more for minds that are like his.

          The thing he is able to do is accompany – and not so many are able to do this. If I can figure out where I need to go, he will allow it to happen and he will support me. To me, this is worth a lot.

          Thanks for your thoughts.

          • I would guess the agenda just comes through, even if he isn’t forcing it. It’s good you feel he can accompany you.

            I think I haven’t described my experience that well. No one forced their agenda on me either. There wasn’t an atmosphere of threat. Instead, it was as though anything I said that didn’t corroborate their views didn’t exist or wasn’t important. What was important to me simply wasn’t worthy of comment. Everything I said could be molded to support whatever they thought, and that’s what happened. It was incredibly frustrating, because they simply weren’t interested in understanding my mind. They felt they did understand it, and I was the one who needed to be brought along. And that sounds terrible, but it really was just typical therapy. They were nice people, but they had no idea how to help me and little interest in learning.

            • Ellen said:

              I hope that wasn’t typical therapy. Your experience was really bad. Not abusively so, it could have been worse, but unhelpful and a waste of time, it sounds like. My opinion is that in a way, you never actually entered therapy. What I mean is, the relationship with the T was not important to you, and you learned nothing about yourself from entering into it. It sounds like more of a coaching type experience, where the coach had techniques that didn’t work for you, though they may have worked with others.

              My experience really hasn’t been like that with Ron. He has his faults as far as I’m concerned, but insisting on his views isn’t one of them really, as far as anyone can not insist on their own views, myself included. I learn about myself through my relationship with him, and what it’s like to attach, and what comes up…. I learn what it’s like to express anger and not be abandoned.

              Thanks Ash

            • I think I am not explaining it well. It’s difficult somehow. They didn’t overtly insist on anything, but what seemed important to them about what I said would be according to their own views. It was very much like your conversations with Ron sound. When i settled on a therapist, each time I met with several people before deciding, and the person I chose was a better fit and usually less bizarre, but they were all quite similar in how they approached things. I do think it was typical therapy, but they had no idea how to help someone with attachment problems. None whatever.

            • Ellen said:

              I think I understand, but this is your experience. I do not feel or think this way about my own therapy to any great extent. I feel my therapy is worthwhile, and Ron does a good job in a lot of ways. For instance, a lot of the interactions with parts and Ron are very important, though I don’t mention those much on the blog, as they’re hard to explain.

            • Yes, I think it works well enough for you, and it didn’t work for me. I do think I am more traumatized than you are, and typical therapy was just never going to work in my case. For example, the parts come out and can trust Ron and interact with him, and that helps, but I don’t think that was ever going to happen for me. I might be mistaken. I did have one therapist who was in some way different than the others, and maybe something could have come of that, but I moved quite a long ways away shortly after I started working with her. I was in graduate school, and she had a day job but was doing volunteer work at a low-cost therapy center. Maybe I saw she had more integrity and more commitment. But I did have a different feeling about her. With the other therapists, looking back, I can see a point when the backblow of symptoms got too much and I became really suicidal and each time I stepped back from therapy, because it was overwhelming me. In one case I quit, because I saw how distorted my thinking was getting and I thought if I keep this up, suicide is going to start seeming very reasonable even though it’s basically unnecessary and a dumb idea. I think each time I started with a new person, there was a lot of hope that it would help me, and then I became overwhelmed by the symptoms and basically lacking the tools to deal with them, and I saw that it was really impacting my functioning and that is when it became more about going through the motions, because it was absolutely too much and there seemed to be no help for it.

            • Ellen said:

              I’m glad you quit that therapy.

              Yes, you are of course more traumatized than I am. And still, I don’t think we have the same therapy experience, though I can see how easily what you describe can happen. I think with trauma, we can be using so much energy just to function, any cracks in that from even well meaning therapy is too much, if there are no tools or support to help.

              For me, this is not what is going on, mostly.

            • I guess I was thinking the therapy experience is different for us mainly because we are different. The therapists are also different, of course, but I think you have a greater ability to trust. My therapists never offered skills or tools, and it probably would not have made a difference if they had, because I would have thought they were stupid. Even if I had used them, I wouldn’t have known why I was using them, the effect would have been small, and I wouldn’t have been very convinced about it all. There just wasn’t any way to establish trust.

  5. It was brave to send him the email and I’m glad that he responded to you. It can be scary to express anger or distress to someone that you need. And I’m glad you shared how you are feeling. I’m working on doing that, as well.

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