Working Through Some Attachment Fears

I eased into yesterday’s session before reading the “special” email to the therapist. I knew I wanted to read it to her. Well, I didn’t want to, but I had a sense it would be important to share and discuss.

Before bringing it up, I mentioned feeling as though I’d been triggered by a lot of different things lately. I said, “It just feels like I’m trying to work through this thing and right when I think I’m at a better place with it, something else triggers me and I start to spiral again…”

She let me carry on with being vague for a while before asking me what that thing might be. I told her it was somehow related to our relationship, but that I was struggling to verbalize my thoughts and emotions. She reminded me that I didn’t need to have it all figured out in order to talk about it.

I reiterated the feelings I’d first mentioned on Friday when I said that the relationship felt both threatening to me and as though it was somehow in danger itself. I told her it feels like I’m in a place I didn’t want to be and I’m both angry and ashamed that I’ve arrived here. I also feel guilt over having put myself into this place again and I feel both stupid and irresponsible for doing so.

Naturally, she asked what I meant by the “place” I’m in.

I explained that I’d begun feeling similarly about our relationship as I did with Zooey, right before the bottom fell out from beneath me. She asked me what was similar about it. I said I didn’t know. Then she asked if I could just talk about that time in my relationship with Zooey instead.

“Ugh. I don’t know…I can’t tell you.”

“How come?”

“Because I will end up revealing more to you than I want to right now.”

“So you’re trying to protect yourself a little?”

“Yes. But at least I’m clever and I use Zooey as a way to talk about OUR relationship when doing so outright is too scary.”

“That’s true. I’m wondering if you could just speak a bit on what that was like for you… with her?”

At that point, I told her I’d printed the email. I didn’t say much about it except that I felt it could help explain the dynamic between Zooey and myself. I pulled it out of the back of my notebook and very slowly unfolded the paper. I just looked at the printed words for a bit, taking some calming breaths. I told the therapist that I was super nervous and ashamed to be reading it and then, before even letting her respond, I said “Okay!” and dove into it.

She listened very attentively and with great compassion.

I won’t lie, it was excruciating to get through some of it. I was so painfully humiliated by my own words. I felt like a fucking moron for becoming so attached to this person. And I was terrified that by sharing my emotion around Zooey, I would send the message to this therapist that I felt the same way about her (which I do and I don’t…it’s paralleled in many ways, but wildly different in other ways).

I reflected some of this to the therapist and she said, “But that is exactly what SHOULD happen in this work! That’s a very normal, expected reaction to intense and intimate emotional work!”  She also reiterated that Zooey’s inability to handle my emotion is not a reflection of me as much as her.

Then I said, “Whenever I talk about Zooey, I’m worried that you know her…” (they went to the same grad school and graduated close together, plus their offices are very close together)

She immediately said, “I don’t. No, I don’t know her. I didn’t hear of her until you mentioned her. And it’s important that you know that.”

I felt very relieved by that information because it’s something I’ve worried about since the day we met. And it was nice that she took my concern seriously and reinforced how important it was that I know the extent of her connection with Zooey. Thankfully it goes about as far as going the same school.

Then she pointed out that the email shows how much I was trying to gain clarity and understanding about my relationship and boundaries with Zooey. I said, “I know, right? It’s almost as if I’m advising her on how to have therapeutic boundaries by explaining the way I understand them. I’m all but begging her to make the space safer for me.”

The therapist agreed and we discussed how it is never the client’s responsibility to do that, thus it was not my failure. It was hers. I wish I could internalize that more (something to keep working on).

Bringing the email into session and getting my therapist’s feedback helped settle some of that shame I’d been holding onto. She didn’t think it was weird or obsessive or pathological for me to love and want to feel connected to Zooey (which is what I feared she would think). She also pointed out that this was another example of how Zooey left me alone within the relationship.

She said, “And that reminds me of your parents. Right? There was always this sense, for you, that something was wrong. You struggled to know what it was because no one else around you was reflecting back that things were not okay. But you knew. And in your efforts to engage with your parents about that, they just dismissed and ignored you. They left you in that space, pretending nothing was wrong, when you knew that something was very, very wrong.”

Yes. Exactly. And it was crazy-making to be raised amidst that kind of incongruence.

It’s obvious that Zooey triggers a very primal and deep trigger around abandonment and betrayal. In some ways, I’m almost grateful for that. Her behavior allows me to go into that emotional space and talk about it with my therapist in a way that is just too threatening when discussing my parents themselves. I can’t be that far into the hurt. But I can talk about it in regards to Zooey. She serves as a nice stand-in. And it allows me to communicate my fears to my current therapist without making myself unbearably vulnerable.

Then, to tie it back to our relationship a bit, I said that feeling so similar to the way I felt in that email is very activating for me. Being in that attachment space causes me to worry that history will repeat itself; that everything will be taken from me soon (that she will be taken from me).  I repeated that I did not want to be in this space; to feel this attached to her.

She said, “Well that’s kind of hard when you’re coming three times a week!”

I just laughed quietly and said, “Yeah…true.”

But her comment was hurtful to me. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt like she was making fun of me somehow. Or as though she was putting the frequency of sessions entirely on me; as if I’d unilaterally made that decision and she wasn’t part of it. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It made me worry that she was sending me some underlying message about how she feels seeing me three times a week.

It’s probably nothing, but I’m still thinking of bringing it up on Thursday and asking her what, exactly, she meant by that.

Meh. I feel so inarticulate right now. There is so much powerful and painful emotion around this shit, but it’s incredibly challenging to string it into coherent thoughts. I suppose that’s probably a signal that we’re really “in” this, yeah?

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20 thoughts on “Working Through Some Attachment Fears

  1. La Quemada says:

    I’m so sorry that you felt hurt by the three-times-a-week comment! Before I read your reaction, I had interpreted her comment as, “well, of course it is natural that you would feel attached, since we meet and talk about very intimate things three times a week.” In fact that is the point of meeting so often, and she *wants* you to build that attachment to her. And everything she has said previously leads me to believe that she is compassionate and caring and would never devalue you for going to therapy three times a week.
    But of course, given your past experience, it must be so hard to truly trust that anyone is going to be solidly on your side, all the time. I really admire your willingness to take the risk and go to therapy, especially after your painful experience with Zooey.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Q. I can see why you would have interpreted her comment that way. And I think if this particular issues (attachment) was less sensitive for me, I probably would have picked up on that, too.

      Like

  2. spacey tracey says:

    Well im so glad to hear about somebody else who feels so very very attached to their therapist. The thought of EVER ending with this one, who has helped figure out all my parts (or in process) and brought them to the conference table and comes there too and holds and comforts the little ones and accepts even the hater and the brat and the cocksucker fatherfucker, I JUST CANT STAND THE THOUGHT OF BEING WITHOUT HER. She is 65 and will not work forever, has had a full career as a professor, then private practice….i cant even bear the thought of her retiring. You are so brave to request boundaries. I keep having fantasies that she will somehow let me stay in touch after we are done even if it is just an occasional email or something….JUST ANYTHING NOT TO LOSE HER. She is like the parent we never had and feels so unfair to have to lose the only parent figure who didnt horribly abuse and then abandon us. You should be proud that you want the boundaries because I dont. Even though I was taken home by a female psychologist in the past and got hurt, you’d think i would want them too, but i dont want to ever lose contact!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Tracey. It has been a long, painful, and complicated process of figuring out boundaries and how to use them to my advantage. And, really, it wasn’t until I started working with this therapist that I had even the faintest clue about how to do that. But she models this so well for me, and in such a loving way, that I see it all quite differently. I think we’re all different in what we want and need. I dread the idea of losing contact with this therapist once I phase out of treatment, or she retires. But I’m trying not to think of that too much right now.

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  3. alicewithptsd says:

    I’m sort of struggling with the same thing…again, again this comes up for me…so I may not be much help. I think, logically, la quemada is right– she meant the comment to explain how natural it is to be attached to a person you see three times a week, and she is supporting that attachment and not afraid of it at all.

    When I read the comment, though, it felt like she was maybe trying to lighten the mood a bit, or something. I don’t know…I’m in a weird headspace, but I can see why it would have hurt, even if I don’t have the words to explain it.

    I think everything you talked about in session was so brave, and very powerful to try to work through. And I think asking her what she meant by her comment is a good idea. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. spacey tracey says:

    I think i would have taken it exactly the same way, but i have so many of your same issues and i dont think either one of us would necessarily perceive it correctly. Likely innocent, though not to abandonment-fearing, ultra-sensitive hypervigilant souls. I see my psychologist twice a week and feel so needy for doing so and most of her clients can barely get in every two weeks. But, i dont think that is because of showing favoritism….i think that anyone with the same set of circumstances she would make that accomodation. Still, i sometimes feel so stupid for needing her that often

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you for sharing that you relate to this. And I agree – I don’t think it’s favoritism on the part of your therapist as much as her seeing (and meeting) the needs of her client. You are not stupid at all.

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  5. luverley says:

    Ummmmm I see it as she meant how can you not get attached when you see her often. Not about the frequency or anything because even if you go once a week that’s the aim. To get the therapeutic alliance. That’s her job as well to build that relationship. It’s about becoming attached to share those hard scary emotions. She cares alot I can tell. And you have said in another blog that she cares. Your doing well don’t let that comment throw you guys off balance

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, dear. I wouldn’t (I hope) let a single comment throw us off. But I think being honest about how she impacts me and talking through that experience with her is important. Doing so in the past has proven to be very beneficial to us. I probably didn’t make that clear, but I hope that kinda explains some of what I’m thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ambivalencegirl says:

    Take a deep cleansing breath…possibly, just possibly you are creating an issue to push her away. Reason to not get attached. And twisting her words to prove your point. Not intentionally or consciously. But you are scared and you don’t like being in this place but it’s so familiar and what you’ve known all your life. Not that I’ve been there or done that myself. Not that I would ever self-sabotage or create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Okay, I might do that. So I agree with “how can you not get attached?!” I like to think about my attachment to my T on different levels. I have this childlike clinginess that wants to pull her close and build blanket forts and laugh and cry and share secrets. Then there is this adolescent that is so flipping angry at her and she says it’s black and I say it’s white. She doesn’t care about me and I’m defiant and too much to handle. And then there’s me. Quiet and stoic and aloof and a mess trying to figure out all the conflictual feelings.
    Maybe none of that made sense or rings true to your situation but she cares and it’s okay to be attached.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Oh yes. I’m sure I’m, in many ways, trying to keep her a bit removed from myself since I’ve been experiencing such intense attachment lately. I don’t necessarily think I’m twisting her words, as much as interpreting them differently than her intentions. Which has a lot to do with my own attachment wounds. It’s certainly a form of sabotage, but I’m also totally willing to bring this to her and tell her how I felt so we can talk about it. We very often get caught in the double-bind of me feeling truly opposing things about our relationship, so I definitely relate to what you said! Thanks.

      Like

  7. Rachel says:

    Was your reaction at all related to feeling that she wasn’t understanding or validating just how very hard it is to sit with that vulnerability, day after day, regardless of three sessions a week or five or twenty? Like Alice said, brushing it off light-heartedly, when these feelings are so tender and so hard to initiate any conversation about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amb says:

    It absolutely isn’t shameful or wrong to feel those things towards your therapist…

    I know that it won’t matter how much someone else says it, but you didn’t do anything shameful. At all. I think that above all, the abandonment is the most difficult to deal with. To finally feel safe and loved and listened to, but with limitations is hard. It’s everything we’ve ever longed for and deserved but it can never be that in the same way that we’ve imagined it. I’m really thankful that your T is so kind and receptive to helping you work through all of this. It’s so freaking painful, but you’re so brave for pushing through it. Be gentle with yourself. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yes, the abandonment is excruciating. It’s a wound that runs so deep and is so embedded into my very soul. The process of pulling it all out is tiring and painful, but I sincerely hope it will be worth it. Thank you xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amb says:

        I think it will. I’ve never felt pain like the pain that abandonment brings, so I can only conclude that a life in which abandonment doesn’t play such a huge roll has to be worth the pain it takes to get to that life. xx

        Liked by 1 person

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