Editor’s Note: This is part 39 of Marie’s story.
Today was therapy session day… after the usual greetings, we shifted the conversation to the piece of writing I had emailed to Carl a few days earlier…
Me: I really had a hard time doing this homework assignment… it took a few attempts to arrive at that piece of writing.
Carl: I can imagine it was challenging!
Me: My first attempts at the assignment were about historical events. Then, I ended up writing about what is coming up for me now, as you and I are working together. The latter seems more important in this context.
Carl: Your writing gave me an idea of what you are dealing with—it was very helpful for me.
Me: Thank you. So, I have no idea what we do now with what I have written—I am looking to you for direction. Do you have enough information to know what direction you would like to lead the discussion?
Carl: I do have enough information to determine an effective direction. You captured what is going on with you very clearly. You wrote very eloquently. Would it be helpful to you if I told you what I hear you saying?
Me: Yes, please!
Carl: That one sentence in your letter to your dad stirs up a tremendous amount of emotion for you. You are finding it very difficult to sort through all those emotions.
You believe that the way in which you currently see yourself is a direct result, at least to a large extent, of how you went looking for connection and affection and love from men when what you really wanted was to be seen and heard and validated by your dad.
When you were younger, you still had the hope of measuring up. But, now, you have lost that hope.
You have become accustomed to feeling “less than.” Right now, you believe hope for something better—to feel “enough”—is too risky. You believe you cannot afford to hope for something better.
Well meaning people have tried to help you by telling you your belief about yourself is wrong. But, that hasn’t helped anything; you still feel “not enough.” If the same thing is going to happen here—if I’m going to tell you your belief is wrong and expect you to simply “snap out of it”—then you don’t want to waste your time talking about it in here.
Even if I am able to find an effective way to work through this with you, you want me to know you are not promising to be hopeful again. You are only agreeing to work on this, with my help, to see if you can get to a place where hope might again be possible.
So… how did I do? Is that pretty close to the message contained in your writing?
Me: (Fighting tears that came as a result of feeling very “heard”) Yes, you reiterated what I wrote very well. Thank you for paying so much attention to my words.
Carl: You are welcome.
Me: So, what happens next?
Carl: I am concerned that you see what needs to be done and you demand yourself to do it right now. You are in the midst of an effort to shift your thinking from “what is wrong with me” to “how dare you treat me—a child—like that.”
It is a process that takes time. It is a very gradual shift. You can’t just decide to change it and then immediately change it—as you already know from experience. You don’t want other people to expect you to change things with a snap of your fingers, but I think you still expect that of yourself.
(I sat quietly for a few moments, absorbing what Carl just said. I realized he is right… I do expect myself to change what needs to be changed as soon as I become aware of it. I could afford to cut myself some more slack… Carl certainly is giving me all the time and space I need. I don’t need to worry about him finding fault with the pace of my healing process—which I have been worrying about.)
Me: Okay. You are correct… I do push myself to heal as quickly as possible. That is not necessary. It’s likely counterproductive.
Keeping that in mind… I’m still curious… what do we do now?
Carl: What would you like to do?
Me: I don’t have a clue… I think it would be good to talk about what is in this piece of writing, but I have no idea what that would look like.
Carl: Okay… we will figure it out together.
Me: I guess we could start by talking about the ways in which I don’t feel like I’m enough. What do you think about starting there?
Carl: That’s a good place to start. So, tell me a bit about that—who gave you that message?
Me: I guess a lot of people… I don’t even know where to start… (my eyes filled with tears and my voice got shaky…)
I feel like I will break into a million pieces if I talk about this stuff… like I’ll disintegrate… and I don’t know why I feel that way. It’s not like there is one particular thing to talk about, it’s just the heaviness of the whole issue.
(I was getting hit with strong waves of emotion… fear, shame, grief… emotions that caused me to want to curl up and disappear. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. I really wanted to move to the corner of the room and to get under the blanket, but couldn’t bring myself to say that to Carl—I was too embarrassed by my need to be that physically demonstrative. Instead, I said…)
Me: I feel myself going into hiding… going to that “little girl” place… this stuff is really hard to deal with.
Carl: Would you like to move into the corner or maybe get under your blanket? That would be fine… or you can stay just as you are right now. You are welcome to do whatever you would like to do.
(That brought a wave of relief—and another wave of tears… I was so grateful he brought up the possibility of moving to the corner and/or going under the blanket—it made it possible for me.)
Me: Yeah… but I need a minute…
Carl: Take your time. We have all the time we need.
(I still couldn’t bring myself to say the words “I want to move into the corner” so I asked the same thing in a way that felt safer…)
Me: If I sat in the corner, where would you sit?
Carl: I would sit wherever you wanted me to sit. I could stay in my chair or I could sit on the floor closer to you—but still an appropriate distance away—or I could sit at the opposite end of the room.
By the way, near the start of the session, Carl stated that he had forgotten to refill his water bottle before the session and that he would like to take a break at some point—sooner rather than later—to refill his bottle—he was fighting a ticklish throat and he really needed the water.
I wondered if he was creating these “breaks”—the one today and the one a few sessions ago—on purpose so I could have time to myself. Either way, I was glad for the opportunity to gracefully send him out of the room.
So, I said…
Me: Why don’t you refill your water bottle now? That will give me time to do what I need to do without an audience.
Carl: Sure. Do you think you will be staying on the couch? Or, do you think you’ll be moving into the corner?
Me: I’m thinking I want to go sit in the corner and cover up with the blanket. That is what my body is telling me I need to do.
Carl: Have you decided which corner you would like to be in?
Me: No. When I first thought about it a few sessions back, I was feeling attracted to that corner (the corner of the room at the end of the couch closer to the door). However, now I’m leaning toward that corner (the corner of the room at the end of the couch farther from the door). I’ll have to decide after I check each of them out. It depends upon which one feels better to me once I am actually in them.
Carl: Would you like for me to move that (very tall, very heavy) plant out of the corner (nearer the door) so you can more easily check it out?
Me: No, thank you. I’m pretty sure I’m going to use the other corner. If I change my mind, I’ll ask for your help in moving the plant when you get back.
Carl: Okay, that sounds like a good plan. There are plenty of big pillows stacked in this corner and some small pillows on the couch… please use them as you see fit. I’m going to refill my water bottle and I’ll be back in a few minutes. Okay?
Me: Okay. Thank you…
(And, he left…)
[Continued in the next post…]
Visit Carl or one of the other therapists at Heart-Centered Counseling at their new location in the heart of Old Town, at 320 W Olive St Fort Collins, CO 80521.