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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One Step Closer To The Edge [..And I’m About To Break..?]

Four sessions to go until A. goes on maternity leave. At the most. These last few weeks since our Christmukah break I’ve been living with the worry of suddenly having a message that A. has gone into premature labour and thus leaving me to fend for myself without even getting to have the Final Session. Very stressful, indeed.

I am feeling on edge, wondering how in the world I will be able to get through these coming months without therapy. Feels like there is no way I’ll be able to cope. I am scared that I’ll go into another of those never-ending periods of flashbacks, because if that happens, I don’t think it will end well.. I am, of course, trying my very best to hold it together, to look ahead, to not assume my worst case scenario will come true. But it’s hard. Especially as over the last few weeks I have been having more flashbacks and nightmares than the norm. The other day I once again found myself looking like Harry Potter. Also, on one occasion, I tripped up and used a white hot screw head to creatively burn myself with. And this is before A.’s leave has even started.. Not great.

The last few weeks have been very intense, therapywise, almost as if my psyche has kicked into overdrive in anticipation of A.’s leave. The sense of running out of time is immense. In some ways I guess you could say that this therapy break has pushed me to delve into things I may otherwise have found a way to not get into. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

My GP, who is the best GP in the world [possibly the universe], has been really good, and has taken my freak-outs very seriously, sorting out various referrals etc etc etc, trying to make sure that I have as much stability as possible during what promises to be a bumpy ride. And I really appreciate that.

People keep asking me what my therapist has put in place for me during her absence, and it’s hard to explain to someone who has never been in therapy that, actually, she’s not put anything in place, that there is no one covering for her. What I’m doing with A. is long-term psychoanalytic therapy, meaning that immediate symptom relief isn’t necessarily the goal, and that, also, it would make little sense for me to be referred to someone else while she is off, as that would in essence mean starting again, attaching to another person, only to have to break that up when A. is back. As a case study that could be quite an interesting little experiment, but in reality, it would involve unnecessary complication, and even if that was an option, I doubt it I would be up for it. It took me a really long time to let A. in; we’re talking years rather than months, and although people sometimes find it shocking that I’ve been seeing A. for nearly three years, to me, it feels like we’re only now getting below the surface. Like I said to A. in a recent session; while I may be a fast learner intellectually, emotionally I am exceedingly slow. And trust, well, that’s a big’un. There has been a lot of testing both A. and of the strength of our therapeutic relationship to get to the place we are now, where I am slowly, slowly allowing myself to let my guard down a little.

Which, of course, makes this break all the harder..

xx

Below are two videos; one which has nothing at all to do with what I’ve just written about.. and one from which I nicked the title for this post. Both are well worth checking out!

Harry Potter, Therapy Breaks & Flashbacks

Woke up yesterday morning looking like Harry Potter. Not because my hair was all messy and in need of a cut (although that, too, is true), but because I had two bright red scratches/cuts on my forehead.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. In actual fact if anyone were to have looked closely at my forehead even prior to yesterday morning they would have been able to make out faint, almost lightning bolt shaped, scars in more than one place on the right hand side of my forehead. This is not a result of self-harm, which people tend to assume knowing my track record, but rather something I do when I’m either having nightmares about a very particular abuse situation, or when I’m re-living it in the form of a flashback. I scratch my forehead until the skin breaks, leaving these not-so-attractive scars. Without going into detail about this particular incident I know why I end up doing this. It’s not something I did at the time, but I can see why I do it now, years later re-experiencing it.

Now although the cuts on my forehead look pretty bad, they really aren’t. They really are the least of my worries. What does worry me is the fact that I’m having these dreams, and flashbacks, because I know that I tend not to deal well with them. At least not on my own.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that my experiencing flashbacks tend often to go hand in hand with a break in my therapy, almost as if being without that space to talk about things in therapy my psyche instead decides to act out, in the form of nightmares and flashbacks. Regulars may also have noted the triangular cycle of Therapy Break –> Flashbacks –> Self-Harm. In contrast, if I’m having therapy I don’t usually experience flashbacks (except if I am very stressed out about something else) and thus my need to self-harm tends to be minimal. Also, during those very stressful times when I am experiencing flashbacks even while I’m not on a therapy break, I am usually able to avoid turning to self-harm because I have a place to talk about the flashbacks and what they bring up.

During the last few therapy breaks I haven’t actually resorted to self-harm, despite sometimes suffering from flashbacks. I’ve managed to hold it together until A.’s return, somehow found a way to look past the immediate moment and focus on the fact that it’s not going to last forever. This time, for some reason, that’s not been the case. I have an idea of why that may be; there are a lot of things going on during this break which I haven’t had to deal with in other recent therapy breaks, and so I’m trying to not be too hard on myself about this failure, because I know that rarely serves me well.

Although I am disappointed in myself, I try to keep it in mind that this particular break has been different to other breaks, because of all the other things I’m also dealing with, on top of the nightmares and flashbacks. I’m also trying to remind myself that one slip doesn’t equate to being back to square one. It’s just a slip, it’s not a disaster.

That said, I am looking forward to A.’s return on Tuesday. A session is definitely due.

All the very best,

xx