Separation Anxiety – An Entry About Echoes From The Past

I had my final therapy session today before A. goes away. It will be a full month before the next time I see her. And I’m reallynot liking this. Separation anxiety and abandonment issues galore.

If you’ve never been in therapy it might be difficult to understand why this whole ‘therapist going away’ is such a big deal, so I’ll try to – to the best of my rather limited ability – explain.

I guess most people think of therapy as a place to go and talk about stuff. Often childhood stuff. But, really, therapy is much more than that, it is a multi-level experience. Yes, you do talk.Lots. You talk about the here and now (that is what’s going on in your life at the moment) and you talk about stuff that has happened in the past. But, on top of that, one of the most important aspects of therapy is the relationship you form with your therapist. Not just in a she listens to me and she really gets me sort of way (although that is certainly an important part of it), but also on a completely different level.

Just like therapy is a multi-level experience, the relationship with the therapist works on many different levels, and one aspect is that the relationship with your therapist acts as something of a rear-view-mirror to the past, in that you will almost inevitably create a relationship with your therapist that either closely resembles a relationship from your past, or takes the form of a relationship you wish you could have had (or could have) with a specific person.

One of the more common re-creations of past relationships is to attribute the therapist with qualities which your childhood primary carer had (or that you wish he/she would have had). In short, many people turn their therapist into something of a mother-like figure.

Now, as babies and children we want our parents to be there for us. To be safe and secure, loving and nurturing. To make sure that our needs are being met.
Following on to the mirrored relationship with your therapist, the same is true here. We want them to be there, to understand, and to be ‘constant’.

But then the therapist goes away, be it owing to illness, annual leave or any other reason, and suddenly our needs are no longer being met. Our pseudo-parent is taken away from us. And, so it makes sense to react to this in much the same way we did as children when our parents went away; to feel anxious because we don’t quite know how to deal with this, to be frustrated because our needs are no longer being met, and to be angry, because, frankly, parents just aren’t supposed to go away.

I’m guessing that no matter how good or secure your relationship with your parents was, you will likely still have experienced these type of emotions, and so, by extension, you are likely to feel something similar when your therapist goes away.

Of course the level of distress varies from person to person, in part based on what past relationships have been like. Some people may be able to cope with separation reasonably well, while others find it very very difficult to manage.

Personally, I fall into the latter category and I very much struggle with this unwanted break in therapy.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, not all of them dating back to my early childhood, but almost certainly my experiences as a baby will have had an impact on how I now deal with separation.

I was adopted when I was six months old. Before that, I am not sure exactly what my life was like. I know that I spent at least the last three months before being adopted in an orphanage in India, being cared for by whatever staff happened to be available. I don’t know when or how I came to the orphanage, if I was given up at birth, if I spent some time with my birthmother before being given up or if I was simply a foundling.. there is no way of knowing.

Now, although I can’t consciously remember the first six months of my life, based on most commonly accepted attachment theories, I think it is safe to assume that whatever happened to me back then will have had an impact on me, and so I’m wondering if part of what I am going through now, dealing with A. being away, triggers a re-experiencing of the feelings I must have felt back then.

So.. Yes, this separation is bringing out some pretty extreme emotions in me. I’m not very good at naming exactly what they are, but I know that they really do rattle me in rather a big way.

I do feel reasonably strong in general at the moment, and I’m trying to accept that whatever feelings I have are ok. But there is always a worry that I might ‘forget myself’; even when you’re not feeling particularly depressed on the whole it can be difficult to manage negative emotions.

So, I’ve set myself three little guidelines to follow until A. gets back:

1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!

So, watch this space: I’ll keep you posted on how I fare.

All the best and other good things,


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