J is going on vacation next week. While I never look forward to a therapy break, I’m almost relieved that she will be gone.
Therapy has been weird in the last couple weeks. I have a sort of ambivalence towards going. On one hand, I yearn to see her because she’s kind and safe. She encourages me and reinforces my hard work, which I both appreciate and need. I’m happy when we work in the DBT book because I like talking about skills and I have been able to comfortably discuss some of the issues that have come up in my life.
On the other hand, I’m holding back. There are a few topics I’ve been going to great lengths not to talk about. When she asks me what’s on my mind, I shrug and look away. Then I bring up something else, literally anything. I spent fifteen minutes talking about the girls I babysit during a recent session just because I didn’t want to admit what was really bothering me. J went along with it. She either hasn’t noticed that I’ve withdrawn or she isn’t asking about it.
Of course, the minions think she has noticed and just hasn’t mentioned it because she doesn’t want to deal with me. Always worst-case scenario with them.
Here’s what I’m not talking about:
Relationships. A huge trigger for me right now is seeing other people in relationships. Whether it be pictures on social media, a relationship on television, or couples out in the world, it immediately floods me with emptiness and envy. The immediate thought is: I will never have that.
I don’t feel pretty or interesting enough to attract someone, which makes it hard enough to meet someone as it is. I fear rejection. I’ve been trying online dating for about the past month and a half, but dating is scary to me. Relationships are a rarity for me, so I’m not well versed on how they operate. Intimacy is even scarier. The second anything seems like it could be a budding relationship, I find a reason to shut it down. I don’t trust myself enough to know if I ghost people because of valid reasons or my own fear.
J and I have discussed this in the past, when I have previously tried venturing into the online dating world. It hasn’t been brought up in a long time and she has no idea that I’ve seen someone four times and gone on first dates with a few others.
Attachment. This is perhaps my least favorite topic in all of therapy, talking to J about my relationship with her. I always feel all of six years old, a little girl whining for her comfort item. Recently, I wrote and sent J this letter, which she read in between sessions. If you don’t feel like reading it, it pretty much just outlined my difficulty with accepting her positive reframes and how that was impacting my motivation to continue with therapy and how much progress I thought we could continue to make.
This topic is nothing new to J. Even though I absolutely hate talking about it, I do occasionally. She knows that my negative transference creates thoughts like she doesn’t care enough and feelings of anger at her for being so “together”. She also knows I’m simultaneously very attached to her and I dread the end of therapy. She knows I struggle with containing my feelings once I leave the room.
Yet, I can’t think of a single time that talking about it has left me feeling like the issues were any bit resolved. Maybe this is negative filtering, but I have no recollection of us developing any real solutions. When the job hunt process began, I frequently expressed the fear that I would get hired somewhere too far away from her and it would end our work. She was often quiet when I said this, mostly because, as she later admitted, there wasn’t much she could say that would be helpful.
Even that letter I sent her, we barely discussed. She encouraged me to continue coming to therapy, and she validated a few things I said. She told me there was a lot in it we could address, but I stayed pretty quiet since I was riddled with shame, so we never addressed it. And we haven’t since.
Right now, there’s a lot of transference happening. It’s part of the reason I don’t want to discuss relationships, because every time she offers up a suggestion I want to reject it because she’s married so how the hell can she understand that no one will want me. There’s frustration with her for appearing so perfect and put together, as if because of that she could never possibly understand.
I hope I’m not painting J badly. She does the best she can. She’s a good and competent therapist. Whenever I ask, she’s always willing to remind me that she’s there for me. I have plenty of posts documenting that she cares.
Yet the attachment issues continue to linger.
Suicide. I mentioned in the letter I wrote to my suicidal self that I’d actually made suicidal gestures while I was at one of my recent low points. Namely, the skeleton of a plan and three notes. I admitted this to J only after I asked her what I would have to say to make her involuntarily hospitalize me. Because I needed to know where the line would be, how much I could share without getting myself in hot water.
When we discussed this, J did make me assure her that I could be safe in the time between sessions . However, she’s not asked about it since. As much as I think she’s really good at her job, I find this surprising.
I know that suicidal ideation is a characteristic common to sufferers of BPD. For me personally, it is a common product of intense sadness, anger, shame, fear, or jealousy. I’ve expressed the thoughts repeatedly in two years, so J is quite familiar with them.
I wonder, does she assume the thoughts have subsided since the job offer? Or does she assume they’re still there, but that I’m not acting on them?
For over a week, I’ve been having suicidal thoughts each night. Over the weekend, a small trigger saddled me with them for a good portion of time. Even though I’m not actively suicidal at this moment, I’ve been quietly planning. Continuing with the notes. Considering other details. The how, the where. The conditions under which I might give in. I limit myself to how long I’m allowed to do it; only half an hour at a time. Then I must do something kinder. But regardless, it’s been a comfort to know I have it in my back pocket if need be.
Why am I choosing not to talk about these things anyway?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Truthfully, there are different reasons depending which topic you’re talking about.
As far as the relationships go, I just really don’t want to talk about it. The intimacy conversation brings up a lot of shame. Plus, like I mentioned, there’s a transference issue there. Despite that we’ve discussed this in the past, and despite that I know I need to face this to have even a chance of moving past it, I don’t really feel confident that anything we could discuss will change the fact that I feel destined to end up alone.
Maybe if this were my only guarded topic right now I’d be more willing to just run right into my fear by talking about it, but there are some other things clouding my thoughts at the moment. Namely, the attachment and suicide stuff.
In consideration of the attachment issues, and this pains me to say, but it seems almost like my complex attachment is a burden to her. She’s never directly said this of course, she’s always kind, so maybe my anxiety is causing me to read into something that’s not there. Still, I feel like her body language changes whenever I say something that is needy or childish. A gaze in her eye, a change in her tone. Whether or not she understands the roots of the issue, it feels almost as though it is uncomfortable for her to hear me talk about how attached I am to her.
I sense this reservation, the tendency she has to subtly disengage, and it immediately makes me back off. It no longer feels safe to talk about in the room. What if I mentioned this fear to her and she confirmed it? I couldn’t even imagine how gutted I’d feel.
She encourages me to talk about it, but her actions don’t always align with what she’s saying. For example, after I wrote her that long letter, she asked what I needed to help me feel more comfortable with our relationship. After some time passed, I got up the courage to ask her if she’d be willing to write me a short letter that I could refer to when I was having difficulty maintaining a connection with her between sessions. I hoped that I could use it as a resource to keep me motivated to attend therapy. Even better, I thought it could be used as a resource when I’m in a difficult emotional place in lieu of me texting her for extra support. At the time, she said she’d consider it.
Well, it’s been two weeks now with probably four sessions in between, and she’s made no mention of the letter. Has she considered it and decided that she won’t do it, but doesn’t want to tell me? Is she writing it and just has yet to finish? Or has she just forgotten?
The latter seems most likely. Which, if true, really bothers me because it was not easy for me to advocate for myself in this instance. I knew I was risking rejection. Whatever the answer, can you please just give me one?!
Part of me hopes that maybe she’s just going to give me the letter tomorrow as a parting gift before she leaves on vacation, but a more rational part is telling the other part not to get her hopes up. This seems implausible.
The forgetting has been an issue multiple times in the past. I’d ask to table a topic until the following week and she wouldn’t remember to get back to it. I’d feel rejected that she seemed to have no memory that we left a discussion half-finished. She’s told me sometimes she just can’t recall from week to week certain things that I’ve asked of her. I’ve done my best to accept this, because she does have tons of clients and I can’t expect her to be perfect. Plus, I do have accountability in bringing up what I need to talk about too.
Fine. So as a solution, I made her a list of topics I’d like to try to circle back to from time to time. Attachment issues in therapy is on it. Only she continues not to ever address it.
So either she doesn’t want to meet my needs or she can’t be bothered to remember to meet my needs! Either way, I’m frustrated. Why would I want to keep subjecting myself to this?
Because the boundaries will always need to stay in place and because there are some things about our relationship I just need to radically accept, I honestly don’t know if there is anything that she could say that would help. Even if it is valid for me to want a different response from her, is it realistic to expect one?
Part of me thinks it is not what she would say, but how she would say it. Validating the neediness effectively without the slightest hint of judgement. Checking in throughout the conversation to see how I’m feeling.
Yet how many times have I left a session feeling worse after talking about attachment? Is it worth it to bring it up and continue feeling disappointed?
Then there’s the topic of suicidal thoughts. Which, I admit, is a big one. She should know about what’s going on, but she doesn’t. If she asked, I wouldn’t lie, but I’m having a lot of trouble being upfront about it in session.
It’s the fact that she doesn’t ask. She asks only if I say certain buzzwords: dark place or struggling badly or really, really low. Even then, she rarely asks directly.
Yes, I should be telling her when I have suicidal thoughts…but with an issue as important as this one, shouldn’t she also be following up? She knows that my suicidal thoughts have been chronic in our time together, so why doesn’t she ask?
Is it that she doesn’t want to know?
I don’t want to make assumptions, but my mind will not shut up about it.
There’s a reason I need her to check in with me about whether or not I’ve had thoughts and even made gestures. The topic of suicide is a very severe one. It’s admitting that you’d like to or have even taken steps to remove your existence from this Earth. Talking about it, admitting it, feels dramatic. I’ve been having suicidal thoughts for so long, surely if I were actually going to kill myself I would have done it already, right? It’s like I don’t feel I have a right to my feelings anymore and I fear J feels the same way. Like she thinks I’m being dramatic too. Other people clearly have it so much worse. I just got a new job. I shouldn’t be continuing to feel this way.
It doesn’t matter if that thought is rational or not. I can believe with some certainty that she is not judging it, but the minions are louder. They tell me that she doesn’t ever bring it up because she thinks I’m being ridiculous and I believe them too. I need her to ask about it on her own because then it feels to me like she genuinely wants me to talk about it, that it’s not something she’s just saying because she’s supposed to. If initiates the conversation, I’ll feel like it’s okay.
Right now, I don’t.
I know that some of this is just me testing her. If she checks in, about the suicidal thoughts, it proves she cares.
But at the same time, it’s not a test, because I’ve been very honest and direct about that need with her in the past. I need her to check in about the suicidal thoughts. I need to have the pain validated. I need to be reassured that it’s okay to talk about this. I need to be reminded that it is not going to scare her off. I don’t need all of these things every week, but I need her to make an effort to do them sporadically. I need it to be a priority.
Hopefully, I will not always need these things. Right now, I do.
The concept of “checking in” has been a huge battle between us throughout out work together. Her therapeutic style is very client-centered, while I benefit from a little more therapist-led guidance. We’ve waged many wars about it. Although I think I’ve made the majority of the compromises, she has tried to take the reigns a little more now and then. I see that and appreciate it.
If I were to bring this issue up, I know she will listen. That’s not the problem. I have no doubt she will respond in the typical therapist way, governed by calmness and recognition of what I am saying.
However, if you’ve been following me long enough, you know I’ve been in this place before. J wasn’t checking in about whether or not I’d self-harmed. I worried about the reasons why she wasn’t asking and I wanted her to start. So I brought it up and it felt like a big deal to do that.
Well, it didn’t go well. She got defensive, which of course sent my emotions skyrocketing as I tried desperately to feel heard. We stood on either side of the argument and by the time I left, I felt hurt, invalidated, and unsure of our relationship. We discussed that later and she admitted, albeit somewhat indirectly, that she felt unjustly accused of something. So much so that she wasn’t really able to process what I was asking.
I’m learning effective communication, but I don’t know how to do this without making her feel I’m blaming her for how I feel and like she’s doing therapy wrong. I’m terrified of repeating history.
I’m afraid to bring it up and have it turned around on me as my problem, a figment of my disorders. I’m afraid J will be unwilling to even consider that there might be something she could do differently. This is a pattern I’ve played out again and again over the years with friends and family. I get upset about something, it becomes a fight, they refuse to accept any part in it.
I can’t even tell you how much that would kill me. Our conflict would be settled eventually and we’d move forward, but I believe it might begin to erode some of the trust I have in her.
I can feel one way: that I need something, that my feelings may have some validity, even if they may be influenced by BPD or depression or anxiety. But if she does not agree, it hardly feels like it matters because she’s the one in a position of power. Whether or not I feel like it’s a valid request to have her check in, she holds control over whether or not she will actually make the change.
But I also can’t bear to have a whole long conversation again, have J agree to compromise and commit to trying to adjust to my needs, only to have things end up the exact same way they were before.
So what am I going to do about it?
Great question. While this stuff is important obviously has been looming in my mind, it’s not completely impacting our relationship. We are still working through the book and I am learning skills. I still trust her and feel safe. There are many times in session that I genuinely smile or laugh at something she says, because she can be quite humorous in a very sweet way.
However, there is an invisible barrier between us right now. She may not be cognizant of it, but I feel it. Sometimes, in the minutes before she comes out to get me, I feel intense anxiety about how our session will go. Once I’m in the room, I feel somewhat more at ease, but I am actively refraining from going too deep or showing too much emotion. I don’t discuss the big feelings, I just handle them independently outside of the room.
Right now, I’m going to do nothing. I have my last session with her tomorrow and then we’ll have a short break. There’s no point in bringing this to her the day before she goes away from vacation with the potential that it could blow up and I would have to go into the break with a shitload of unresolved feelings. I’d just resent her more for leaving me with that.
So tomorrow we will talk about whatever I decide I can handle so that I can at least go into the break feeling stable.
After that? Well, it’s just about getting up the courage. I don’t know how long that’s going to take because I feel like I’m walking into a situation that will not go the way I want and I don’t want the outcome of that to impact my ability to connect and feel safe with J.
In theory, I’d like to have addressed this before I start my new job. At that point my schedule will require I switch back to once weekly sessions. Right now, I’m still seeing her twice a week, so if things were to turn sour at least I wouldn’t have to sit with the feelings for a whole seven days.
I don’t know. The therapy relationship is a complicated one. I just want things with J to go back to feeling as strong as they did before.
Whenever I finally get around to this, wish me luck.