Feeling Bad & Being Bad – Allowing ALL of Your Selfs into Therapy

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“And, what if – after everything that I’ve been through – something’s gone wrong inside me? What if I’m becoming bad..?”
 “I want you to listen very carefully: You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to. You understand? Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters – we’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.”

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The above is a transcript from Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix – film, not book – an exchange between Harry and his godfather, but – Death Eaters aside – this could just as easily have been a dialogue between Little S. and P. It’s a conversation they have had many, many times, and one – I suspect – that they will continue to have many more times.

The concept of somehow being bad because of what has happened to us is a common one among people who have suffered sexual abuse. The sense that our experiences in childhood has somehow tainted us, marked us for life, is something I think many can relate to. And even though the adult part of us may well be able to recognise that this is not the case, for our inner child this is a stain that feels all but impossible to remove. It has sunk so deep into the grain of what we were made of, that removing it feels as if it would mean removing a part of who we are. This is especially true if the abuse began when the we were very young, before we have had a chance to form a strong sense of our Selfs.

Little S. struggles greatly with being able to understand that feeling bad and being bad are not the same thing. She finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. And that makes perfect sense; because what was happening to her made her feel terribly bad inside, at the same time as one of the abusers made it his favourite pastime to reinforce again and again and again that the reason why he was doing what he was doing to her was precisely because she was bad, the two concepts got mixed up. So, ‘feeling bad’ became ‘being bad’. And, between the abuse and being fed the black and white fairytales that most children are fed, where bad people do only bad things and good people do only good things, yet another truth was formed: if you do something bad, you must be a bad person. Even the dialogue above goes on to state that “What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” It’s a lovely sentiment, on the surface – our actions define who we are, we can choose to be good rather than bad. But, – and it is rather a big but – for a child in an abuse situation, choices are limited, and more often than not we had to do things which we perceived as being bad [playing along, saying the things the abusers wanted to hear, we may even have been taught to act ‘provocatively’ by the abuser and so on..] all of which even further instilled in us that we were indeed bad. We didn’t just feel bad about what was happening or about the choices we were forced to make, we were bad. And because we were bad, we deserved the bad things that were happening to us. After all, the villain of the fairytale must inevitably be punished; the bad guy banished, put in prison or even killed..

As I am writing this I am aware of Adult Me wanting to step in, to protest, to tell Little S. that she is not the villain, she is not to blame. That those choices weren’t really choices at all, and those actions [the ‘playing along’, the ‘saying the right things’..] were extraordinarily complex survival skills dressed as what looked like bad choices. And that is a very good sign of health on Adult Me’s part, both the wanting to step in to protect Little S. from those misconceptions, and the ability to see them for what they are – but, Little S. needs therapy, too – Little S. especially needs therapy – she needs to be allowed to explain what the world looks and feels like to her, she needs the space to share her truth and to have that truth heard and accepted. So, for now, Adult Me will need to take half a step back.

And that can be a real struggle in therapy. I’ve written previously about this difficulty, how in my work with P. we found that the way to allow Little S. to speak, without Adult Me interfering or even censoring, was not found inside of the fifty minute hour, but in emails and drawings between the sessions. And even that didn’t happen overnight. It took conscious effort on behalf of Adult Me to stop herself from editing Little S.’s communication with P. And that is a hard, hard, thing to do. But, it has finally given Little S. a voice of her own. And, recently – with a lot of hard work – Little S. has even been able to have her very own fifty minute hours with P.

P. and I work a lot on trying to understand what feelings, thoughts and beliefs belong to which parts, and also to recognise that they are all valid. [Not necessarily true, but absolutely valid]. The different parts agree wholeheartedly on some things and disagree wildly on others, and for me, it has been incredibly helpful to stop and listen to what the different parts have to say.

When Little S. writes emails, she does so using childish phrases that Adult Me would never use, and in session she speaks with the kind of language and grammar and even tone of voice that a child of four or seven or nine would – even when she writes by hand, she does so in her own writing. It’s not about acting – I’m not pretending to be a child again – I am just temporarily holding back the other parts, I am turning down the background noise, so that Little S.’s voice can be better heard. And it is so so helpful. Not just to Little S., but to all the different parts of my internal system. It helps us notice where different parts struggle, and it helps us understand where the different internal conflicts take place. And it feels good to know that each part can exist both in its own right, and as part of the whole system; that the whole is simultaneously both exactly the sum of its parts, and so so much more.

I still struggle with this – it is simply not an easy job, understanding oneself and ones inner workings – and it has helped enormously having P. actively encourage all the different parts to speak up. This is one of the things that makes therapy so great: you’re not doing it on your own, there is a second heart and soul in there with you.

I know that working in this way – understanding the whole as being made up of many different parts – is not for everyone – and I also recognise that I am only at the very beginning of this journey myself; I am in no way an expert in the field, but, I would recommend anyone to give it a go. Maybe sit down and allow your Little to write a letter – about anything [it doesn’t have to be about something particularly difficult or painful] – in his or her own words, without the self-consciousness of your Adult Self holding them back.

Whether or not you choose to bring what you write to session, I think that you will discover both how difficult it can be to separate one part of yourself from another – and just how much your Little has to say, perhaps even things that he or she may not have been able to say before. And that has got to be worth quite a lot, don’t you think?

Do be kind to your Selfs.

All the very best,

xx

The Harry Potter and Sirius scene

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Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Elections, Shame & Paper Cranes

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am usually very proud to be Swedish.
Not so tonight.

Today general elections were held in Sweden, and I feel utterly ashamed to say that it looks reasonably certain thatSverigedemokraterna [Sweden Democrats (SD)] will make the 4% threshold to enter Riksdagen [the Swedish parliament]. I’m guessing that to anyone not from Sweden this might not sound like much to be ashamed of. Sweden and Democracy – how bad can it be, right?

The answer is “VERY”. (SD) is the Swedish equivalent of the UK’s British National Party, and much like the BNP they win voters through sheer scare mongering, using, what they call “severely restricted immigration” as their main manifesto, and, again, much like the BNP, they prey on people’s fear of the unknown, to gain voters. They market themselves as not being a racist party, despite the fact that many of its members and frontline politicians have backgrounds in both neo-nazi and white power movements. An early SD campaign poster [not used in this year’s campaign] read “Bevara Sverige Svenskt!” – “Keep Sweden Swedish!”

So, in short: I feel absolutely disgusted with the outcome of this election.

It looks like Alliansen [the allied, ie the conservative parties] will be the ones to form the new government, but, sadly, it’s not at all impossible that they’ll need to work with (SD) to push new policies through.

As it currently stands Moderaterna [the Conservatives (M)] is set to be the biggest party, with Socialdemokraterna [Labour (S)] second. Miljöpartiet [the Green Party (MP)] is having their most successful election ever, coming in as the third largest party, surpassing Vänsterpartiet [the Left Party (V)], who have traditionally been the second largest party in the Red/Green block. At a guess, I’d say that a fair few voters have given their vote to (MP), in the hope that they, would agree to work with Alliansen, in order to shut (SD) out.

Now, I’ve never been one to root for any of the conservative parties, but, honestly – if the choice is for them to work either with (SD) or (MP) – I’d be happy for (MP) to take a step to the right, to make that happen.

To counteract my rather dejected mood, I’ll end this entry with something a bit more positive: Had a really good day today. Had soooo much fun at the Special Event we ran at work today. Such an experience. So rewarding. I feel honoured to be part of it.

Also had a blast at my J-Prep class this evening, learning lots and making decorations for the sukkah at my synagogue. Had a go at making apple, orange and lemon decorations, but failed miserably. Luckily there was also origami paper to make paper cranes, and, having taken part in a project to fold a thousand of them for the Sadako Sasaki peace monument in Hiroshima at age 11, this is something I feel a lot more at home with. In fact, I ended up running an impromptu crane folding tutorial with my fellow J-Preppers, and I really enjoyed it. Funnily enough, I’d actually done something quite similar earlier today at work, with a very different group of people.

All the best,

xx