Last month, I wrote about the intense battle with attachment that I was dealing with and my fear about sharing that battle with J. I still have not found the courage to discuss it with her, and the feelings continue to wage a war in my head, both as I sit across from her and in the interim between sessions. In fact, these last few days since my session have been hell for me, as I’ve been desperate to speak with her while also agonizing over some difficult feelings towards her. I know this is something that I need to confront with her. It’s a conversation that can’t be ignored, but I’ve been so scared.
Hence, I wrote this letter. My specialty. The easiest way to corral everything on my mind into one place so that maybe I can approach this topic with her in the most appropriate and effective way.
The letter is long and somewhat repetitive of things I’d mentioned in my last post, so feel free to skip parts or not read at all. I still haven’t made the decision about how I will share it with her. I know that I cannot rely on asking her to read it in between sessions; I learned that reading posts about her in absence of me and then discussing them with her never ends well. I also know that it would not be in my best interest to hand it to her to read in session instead of hearing it in my own voice, although the thought is so tempting. So it is a question of whether I will read verbatim or summarize. And if I do read verbatim, will I go all the way through or stop and discuss along the way? I’m leaning towards the latter.
Once I decide to stop chickening out of course.
I’m sitting here, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out where to begin. I’m struggling with finding perfect blend of words to honestly describe the feelings I want to share. The feelings that have been lingering on my mind for a little while.
I am so grateful for our relationship. Can I start with that? I value you both as a person and as a professional. You are the safest person I know. I have said things like that before, sure, but I hope you know that all of that remains true.
It’s like a quote I read recently about the therapy relationship: “We exist in a separate universe where you see me in a way no one else does.” That’s maybe the most perfect way I know to characterize it.
We went through a difficult period, where it felt impossible to feel connected while I was in this room. A period where, I think, both of us felt helpless and unsure of what to do. We survived that challenging time, and I think it was for the better. It was the biggest relief to begin looking forward to coming here again.
I remember that during that period, our relationship was a big focus, and it became difficult for both of us. So for awhile, I made the topic of our relationship taboo. I said nothing about it and that felt like the safest choice. That was the path we took and it worked out well enough.
But here’s the thing. I knew sooner or later that the attachment pains were going to rear their ugly heads again. With the connection comes the sting of needing someone. It’s the nature of the beast that is BPD. And with that, the challenges with emotional constancy creep in too.
I have been afraid to admit when these feelings returned because I feared discussing them would be the impetus for another blow to our relationship. Instead, I have been going to great lengths to protect our relationship by not talking about it. So I have struggled: to say anything but also to say nothing.
In doing that, all of it has been building, festering like an infection.
I’ve been projecting my shame and fear onto you, assuming what your reaction would be be based on our past, prescribing myself anger and frustration from a conversation that was never even had. I’ve done this without ever giving you the credit for how you’ve adjusted and grown from those past interactions and without giving you the chance to actually have an authentic response to whatever it is I decided to say.
If I am going to give any weight at all to the negative evidence that says she won’t or can’t understand and I am going to get hurt then I have to give weight to all of the positive evidence that tells me otherwise.
There’s a lot of it too. The fact that you have made the most noticeable effort to ask me about the self-harm and the suicidal thoughts, which makes me think this is okay to talk about and feel safe. The allowance of those fifteen minute check-ins, which make me think I am not alone and feel supported. In fact, your repeated validation and reassurance to my questions like Is it really okay to call? has helped me feel more understand and think that maybe you are better understanding my issues with constancy. I have noticed a more consistent attempt at carrying topics across sessions, remembering things I’ve said previously, which makes me feel accepted and think that what I have to share is important enough to remember. You have been able to hear and honor my perspectives about things you’ve said which felt difficult for me in a validating way. And you are always calm no matter what I say to you, which I both respect and envy.
I have to recognize that while the things I need to say may be uncomfortable for both of us, we can both tolerate it. Maybe we even require it to keep growing together. Because that’s what vulnerability is and that’s what sustains a relationship. A stupid, but necessary evil.
My shame has engineered my smallness, as Brene Brown would say. It’s been the hostile environment trying to interrupt our connection and obliterate my feelings of worthiness. I don’t want to feel small or unworthy. I want to choose courage over comfort. I want to believe I deserve the courageous choice, believe it will be connecting for us.
I asked you, weeks ago, if it was okay to bring up things that had happened in the past that still bothered me. We were talking about someone else, but when I asked, the real reason I wanted to know was to gauge whether it was okay to talk about certain things with you.
As an aside, I wondered then and now: Is it clear for you when I’m upset about something but not talking about it? Did you know then the real reason for my questions?
I don’t want any of this take the tune of an accusation or a personal attack that you’re wrong or have wronged me. This isn’t me trying to burn the bridge and run. This isn’t me throwing anger in your general direction. You told me that it is okay to bring up things from the past as long as it isn’t done in full assault mode to hurt someone. And I promise, it isn’t. The anger I had then isn’t present now. Honestly, it is a way to bring a sense of closure to the things of the past that I never directly addressed.
Talking about those relationship feelings, for me, starts addressing that dreadful session from November. The topic we’ve danced around but never spoken directly about, at least not that I can remember. It starts with the point in which I started making the conscious choice not to talk about us.
Perhaps it seems silly that I have still think of these two things that happened months ago. I told myself to let it go. I felt that I should let it go. That enough time had past. But to me, it matters. After that night, I shut my mouth and focused on other things. I pretended everything was fine. You know how I like to say it doesn’t matter when I’m uncomfortable. The truth is, everything that happened never got resolved, just locked in a box and left behind. It wasn’t fine then, it mattered, and if I keep pretending otherwise, that infection is going to spread.
I don’t even know if we need to talk about it, unless you wanted to, or if I just need to be able to say the words that I wouldn’t let myself say at the time. Share my truths. Say them and know you heard them.
To say: J, the way you handled the letter situation hurt me. Things kept changing: Not just way the letter would be written, but even the reasoning for why you wanted to do it differently changed across sessions. It felt so confusing for me, to the point that I still don’t really even truly understand what your intentions were. It felt frustrating when you could not remember, over time, why I wanted the letter. While I know you didn’t mean for it to hurt me, it did. I need you to know that. We have talked about your intentions broadly, but never about that specific thing.
To say: J, I didn’t like it on that night when you rolled your eyes at me in response to something I said and then told me it wasn’t malicious when I raised concern about it. When you said that, I felt like the boundary I was trying to assert was being trivialized. I felt insignificant, like my needs were not being recognized appropriately. You have not done it since, and I’m so glad. But please know that it remains a boundary for me.
I’m hoping by finally just saying these things, I’m treating the infection and finding the relief to talk about all the other stuff too. I’m hoping it will bring me a sense of safety in discussing the stuff surrounding our relationship that has been challenging for me, but also to gain a deeper understanding of your process so that maybe I can trust in it more implicitly. To shut the minions in my head down each time they pipe up with things to say.
Therapy is weird and my feelings surrounding us and our relationship are weird. Sometimes it’s so incredibly shameful to be seen by you. To have my pain and mistakes be so visible. Other times it’s the most profound sense of comfort and support I’ve ever felt.
Your importance to me scares me. It scares me how much I want to talk to you and how much I really do trust you. Then the incessant nagging exists in my head that you will believe me to be “too much” or a burden to you causes me to simultaneously beg for reassurance and withdraw from you at the same time.
I oscillate between all of these feelings, sometimes multiple times during session. But this, talking about our relationship and the attachment, almost always feels shameful. Like the biggest emotional risk. Like it will hurt that much more when or if something goes wrong.
There is this ebb and flow for me between being sure of our relationship and questioning the solidness of it, between knowing that you believe my pain and fearing that you are judging it. Some of that is completely independent of anything you do; it’s a manifestation of other things – life experiences. Things we’ve discussed and probably other things I don’t even understand yet.
These feelings I have about our relationship and my attachment to you as my safe person go in and out. Sometimes they are more tolerable. Sometimes they are stronger, which I think it what started this whole letter to begin with. A need to talk about them. I want to be able to talk about them.
The first instinct in me is to tell myself that you don’t want me to talk about it, even though you’ve literally said otherwise. It’s a nagging fear I can’t erase. But it’s also an assumption of discomfort on your part, something that we’ve discussed before. Maybe it’s even an unfair judgment of you.
So a question comes to me instead. What does it feel like for you when I want to talk about our relationship? Do you feel repelled or disgusted? Frustrated? Curious?
Does it confuse you when I can’t hold onto the positive feelings or trust between sessions? Do you feel as an attack against you or your character as a therapist? It’s not, just so you know.
And in fact, I wonder other things too.
We had a conversation by phone recently where I called and immediately asked you to reassure me that it was okay to do so. You rebuffed me, refused to give me that reassurance directly. For me, the conversation became painful and I felt myself withdraw. It affected me negatively for reasons I could not even pinpoint. I just knew I wasn’t getting what I wanted and it hurt.
As we hung up the familiar thoughts started to ring in my head, urging me to cancel and shut you out. Fear saying one thing: Oh you’ve pissed her off. Why did you say what you said? Can’t you just deal with it? She’s got to be sick of this by now. You shouldn’t go on Thursday. Anger saying another: Why doesn’t she understand that this is how I feel sometimes? Why does she have to be so weird about it? She doesn’t get it, I should cancel on Thursday.
For so long, I think I have looked at moments like this through an accusatory and judgmental lens. Why does she do this to me? Is it because I’ve been too needy? This hurt isn’t fair. Sometimes, for me, it feels like I’m allowed reassurance or validation when I make an effort to be stronger, but kept at arms length when I ask directly. And then, sometimes it’s not like that at all. Sometimes I’m afforded the assurance just because I’ve asked for it. For me, this is confusing.
But I am also trying look at these moments with curiosity, a chance to really understand. What does it feel like when I ask for reassurance? Does it always feel the same? Moreover, how do you decide when to offer the reassurance and when to withhold? I so desperately want to better understand so that perhaps I can accept what I’m given each moment with more grace and tolerance.
I want us to be able to talk more about the here and now of therapy. To address things like this as they come up. I remember that discussion of our relationship consumed things for awhile, and maybe that was too much, because when I backed off I found the ability to connect in new ways.
But I also think that not talking about it at all can be destructive in its own way. Maybe I’m working the same shit out on you that I do on other people. So in us talking about this it can serve as a model for how to solve issues with others. Or maybe it just helps me continue to be vulnerable and participate in therapy. I don’t know.
So I wonder. Can we do that? Can we examine our own relationship in the context of how my experience with you echoes my experience with others? Can this be something we integrate into our work together?
I am also fighting this constant feeling of simultaneous frustration with you for not being able to take away my pain (just fix it, I yell at you internally) and frustration with myself for recognizing that I am the only one accountable for getting better, but not being able to take or maintain the right actions to get there.
It reminds me of another quote from the book I am reading: “I want empathy, but if you give it to me, I’ll feel angry and hopeless, because empathy won’t solve my very real problem. So what good are you?”
I am so angry and sad empty and hopeless. This is not your fault, you didn’t create this, yet you get saddled with my frustration at it’s persistence anyway.
You say that it’s difficult to see me in pain. What do you mean when you say that? Have you ever, or do you now, feel helpless in helping me? Like I was truly beyond your ability to support? I fear this constantly. Lately, I wonder if that’s why you keep bringing up your hope that the psychiatrist will be helpful every time I mention the deep dark places my mind has wandered. Is it way of trying to instill hope in both of us?
In this book, the author talks about a cartoon of a prisoner shaking the bars desperate to get out, but to the right and left, there are no bars. All the prisoner has to do is walk around, but still he frantically shakes the bars. The author goes on to make the point that we feel stuck in our emotional cells, but there’s a way out if we are willing to see it.
Is there a way out of this? Do you see one? Or are we just blindly stumbling around this cell together?
I wonder what your perspective is, and if it might replace this story that I’m telling myself in my head.
And I wonder this. How do you decide when to push and when not to? How do you decide when to address something that’s been said in a previous session? Moving forward, can you push me harder? Can we delve deeper into this process of self-understanding? Can we talk about what that might look like?
Push me to be vulnerable. Push me to the discomfort, if it is going to evoke something different and better for me. Help me get out of this jail cell in which I feel trapped and have sentenced myself to death. It might feel like hell but you are the one person in the world I’m willing to sit through the discomfort with.
I know I have just bombarded you with so much information. I imagine that for us to process it will not be a one-and-done deal. It will be something that takes time. I hope that this is okay for you. I hope that we can have the space to truly examine all these feelings in the safety of the therapy room. Because holding onto my shame and fear is only serving me in self-destructive ways.
Please help me work through this. Please be in it with me. All of it.