Editor’s Note: This is part 7 of Marie’s story.
Continued from Dad Threatened to Kick Me Out, So I Planned Accordingly…
Carl: Do you think your dad was glad to have you as a daughter? Do you think he valued you as a person?
Me: I think he valued me when I worked hard . . . when I got good grades, when I helped him with his construction business, when I behaved like a Christian girl is supposed to behave.
Carl: So, he valued you when you performed well . . ??
Carl: Do you think he valued you just for being you?
Me: I don’t know. It didn’t feel like he did.
Carl: Ouch! It must have been very hard work to always have to perform well in order to be accepted and appreciated!
Me: Yeah . . . . (More tears)
Carl: Do you feel that way about yourself now? Do you believe you only have value when you perform well?
Me: Very much so. My employers value me because I’m a hard-working employee. The men I date value me because they can get sex from me, because I can clean and cook, because I can help pay for household bills.
Carl: So, you don’t feel you have intrinsic value as a person?
Me: No . . . I mean, logically, I know I do, but my gut says I don’t. I feel I have to work very hard to earn the right to be in a relationship. If I don’t perform well, I will get kicked out of the relationship. So, being in a relationship is exhausting.
Carl: Was it exhausting to be in a relationship with your dad?
Me: Well, yeah . . . in order to stay part of the family, I had to live up to all his standards and follow all his rules. I was always in danger of losing my place in the family.
Carl: Can you tell me how you felt about all the standards and restrictions and rules? What emotions did you experience?
Me: I always felt trapped. I always felt like I was in a confined space and, more than anything, I wanted to push it all away – break out of it – so I could have space to move and breath and think. (As I said this, I was moving my arms like I was breaking free of chains around my chest.)
But, my dad was always pushing back, holding me in my place. He was always stronger, so trying to break free was a waste of energy.
Carl: Would you like to get in touch with that sensation of pushing to break free? You could turn around and push against the back of the couch as a way to physically get in touch with those feelings . . .
(I tried to answer him . . . but as I thought about turning around and pushing against the couch, I started having trouble catching my breath. Tears started streaming down my face as I struggled to find a way to respond to Carl’s inquiry.)
Carl: It looks like some pretty strong emotions are coming up for you . . . can you tell me about that?
(I continued struggling . . . and I started gasping for air.)
Carl: Okay, just take a deep breath . . . take your time . . . take another deep breath . . . and another . . . . take your time, we’re not in a hurry here.
(After some deep breaths, my breathing became a bit more regular . . . and I noticed my eyes were tightly screwed shut and I was pushing my thumbs so hard into my eyeballs that I was seeing explosions of light . . . so, I eased up on the pressure but still kept my eyes tightly closed. I just wasn’t ready to open them yet. I listened to Carl’s voice, letting it lead me back to the present.)
Carl: You’re doing fine. Take your time . . .
Whenever you are ready, would you be willing to tell me what’s happening for you?
(Finally . . . I was able to open my eyes. In between residual sobs, I explained what was happening . . . )
Me: Whenever someone gives me direction on how to move my body, I become paralyzed with fear. And, whenever I think about being expressive with my body, even when I’m directing my own movements, I freeze up. So, when you suggested I turn around and push on the back of the couch, I froze up.
Carl: So, you got triggered by my suggestion . . .??
Me: Yes . . .
Carl: Okay. Thank you for telling me. You don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. You are in control of what you do with your body.
Let’s take a moment to allow you to feel the emotions and sensations that are coming up for you. Take as much time as you would like . . .
Me: This is how I reacted when Dr. Barb told me she wanted to do a meditative visualization with me to help me move past the memories of the trauma. Well – I never reacted that demonstratively to her suggestion, at least not outwardly. Instead, I would just freeze up and say nothing.
Dr. Barb told me she couldn’t help me much until I was willing to do the visualization. I told her I couldn’t do the visualization until I got past being triggered by the idea of doing the visualization. She didn’t get it. So that is why she and I were never effective in our work together.
Carl: Ouch! That must have been very frustrating for you to not be understood by her!
Me: Yeah . . .
Carl: Your reaction gives me a better idea of what has happened to you. Our bodies usually carry stronger memories of what happened than our conscious minds do. Now I know to be extra gentle with you when we are treading in similar areas in the future. I promise I will be careful of that trigger, now that I know about it.
Me: Thank you . . .
But, I can’t avoid that trigger forever. I need to someday learn how to deal with it without having a meltdown!
Carl: (Soft chuckle) Well, yes, that is true, Marie. But, we don’t have to do that today. We can work on it over time, a little bit at a time, at a pace you control. Today, let’s just work on breathing, okay?
(I had to chuckle, too . . . he is right, we don’t have to fix everything today.)
(He watched me thoughtfully for a few moments, then he asked . . . )
Carl: Are you in touch with your anger about the abuse you received from your parents?
Me: No, I’m not. How can I feel anger towards them? They did the best they knew to do! If I were in their shoes – if I had been raised the way they had been raised, if I felt bound by the rules of the church like they felt bound – I would have done the same.
Carl: No, you wouldn’t have. I know you wouldn’t have because you have such a big heart for kids. When you teach piano lessons, you make sure your students feel special by honoring their natural expression and creativity and curiosity. And, you spent a day out in a field in the middle of nowhere looking for a 12-year-old girl you don’t even know.
You understand deeply that kids need to feel valued and heard and seen. You wouldn’t have done the same as your parents did.
(I didn’t respond . . . I wasn’t ready to agree with him, but I couldn’t really disagree with him, either.)
As I reflected on what he had just said, a second train of thought started forming . . . I caught a glimpse of a possible life calling having to do with honoring and respecting kids. What might that look like?
Anyway, that pretty much wrapped up our session.
We have agreed to meet every three weeks. However, I’m slated for jury duty next week, so we scheduled today’s session a week earlier than “normal”. There were only two weeks between the first session and this one, and now there will be four weeks between today’s session and the next one on May 12th.
Four weeks sounds like a long time . . .
Other posts in Marie’s series:
- Part 1: My Therapist Stinks… I’m Searching for a New One
- Part 2: Choosing A Therapist… and Breathing Again
- Part 3: I Have Always Had to Keep the “Real Me” In Hiding…
- Part 4: My First Therapy Session with Carl
- Part 5: An Email I Sent to Carl After Our First Session
- Part 6: Dad Threatened to Kick Me Out, So I Planned Accordingly…
- Part 7: Do You Feel You Have Intrinsic Value as a Person?
- Part 8: I Am Learning Not to Fight the Tears
- Part 9: It’s About How I Have Violent Fantasies