Here’s a small story I wrote to try and explain how my life and therapy seem to me. If you’re dissociative, maybe you can relate a bit to this.
A woman has a fire raging inside. She’s had this going on as long as she can remember. But no one else sees the fire, and she’s always been told that she is making it up. It is not real. She feels the pain of being burned though. It seems real. But if no one else thinks it’s real, then it can’t be real, can it? She decides she is bad and crazy, and tries very hard to do better. To cope with the fire, she bundles it up well behind fire walls. She can feel the heat still, but she forgets what the heat is from. Then she decides that really, she is not feeling the heat. Her feelings don’t make much sense to her, so she tries her best to fit into the world without paying much attention to her feelings which are crazy anyway.
But. The stress of keeping up the walls exhausts her. Sometimes bits of the fire break through anyway, and make her feel ill, until she can get the walls working well again. She thinks she should not be tired and sad and confused all the time. So she goes off to seek help from a healer.
The healer has had lots of experience and training. Most of the people he has helped do not have fires behind walls though. They have problems expressing their feelings. Sometimes their feelings are hidden and need to be found. Sometimes they do things that hurt themselves, and need to find new ways to help themselves instead. The healer does lots of good work with these people.
The woman with the fire inside likes the healer. He is kind, he is soft spoken, he listens. He speaks with part of her she’d had to hide to survive. She has lots of hope that he will be able to help her with the fire and the walls. And for a while, he does.
But then, they get stuck. The woman still has the fire burning, and the walls. The healer knows now the walls are there. He tries beating them down. He wants her to feel better, and other people he has helped have felt better when their feelings came up, when they stopped being scared of them and expressed them. He tells the woman she must try harder to beat the walls down. His efforts make some holes in the walls, and fire comes rushing through. He mostly doesn’t notice the holes or the fire though, because the way the woman tries to tell him about them don’t make sense to him. Sometimes the woman doesn’t feel the fire right away anyway. She’s used to putting things off to feel later when she’s alone. Fire really comes rushing through once the woman goes home, and she becomes burned and ill. By the time she goes back to see the healer again, she’s somehow patched the wall, and they start over again. She trusts him and likes seeing him, and she keeps going back. She’s always been told how she sees the world is wrong and crazy. Maybe it’s true. Maybe the healer knows better than she does what is going to help her. This happens over and over.
Sometimes, the healer tells the woman she is afraid of the pain of her feelings, but that the pain is how she will change. So she tries to feel all the pain. There is lots of it, and it feels like she will die sometimes, it is so bad, and it never does seem to end. Other times though, when the healer pounds at the walls, trying to help her feel her pain, emergency alarms go off instead. She doesn’t mean for this to happen, but it does. The fire alarm sounds, sprinkler systems are activated, and everything shuts down. She goes home and everything is soggy and wet, and she feels frozen. Slowly, everything dries out again, the alarm stops sounding so she can think, the walls dry out and the fire crackles away again. She goes back again and tries to explain about the sprinklers but it’s hard to explain.
The woman starts to think about things. About how she is already exhausted from keeping up the walls and keeping the fire contained. How beating at the walls scares her and makes her try to fix them faster and faster. She remembers more about the fire now. She no longer thinks she is so crazy. She knows she is so tired, and it all hurts so much, that she cannot pay that much attention to the healer’s opinions. When you have fire and you have walls, she thinks, is there another way, besides pounding at the walls? Is there another way, that doesn’t put her into an emergency? Is there some gentler way of lowering the heat of the flames maybe, or of trying to put out one corner of the fire at a time?
Unfortunately, the woman has been quite busy with the fire and the walls most of her life, so she did not learn how to express what she feels and thinks very well. She’s mostly had to pretend there was no fire and there were no feelings. The way she tries to tell the healer how she feels, and what she thinks she needs, is not very skilled. He has theories, and she doesn’t fit in that well with the theories, and he decides she is avoiding big issues and not working hard at healing. A lot of his patients do this, so he doesn’t take it personally. But he tries his best to get her to see that she must try harder to beat down the walls. And she gets more angry and also just burned from the healer’s attempts at helping her not have walls anymore.
The woman is now burned and exhausted and losing hope that this healer, or anyone, can help. He is frustrated that the woman isn’t trying harder, isn’t making the progress he wants her to make and isn’t feeling better despite all his help. This is where they’ve arrived after years of work. What should they do?