Making Space for Anger

One of the key things my therapist and I spoke about during our phone conversation Wednesday night was emotions. I told her I felt like I had trapped a bunch of difficult emotion within myself, specifically in my chest, because there didn’t seem to be a safe place to discharge them.

I was admittedly upset with her for leaving me in the waiting room for fifteen minutes. I wasn’t able to identify exactly what I was experiencing emotionally, but I knew there was a lot of energy built up. It felt hard to even breathe.

I didn’t want to go to Friday’s session. I considered bailing, but I’d had a difficult day at clinic (unrelated to the actual internship, more about food stuff) and I needed a place to process it. I decided while walking over to my therapist’s office that I would use my hour in session to talk about all of that nonsense.

Which I did. I opened the session by telling her I’d had a difficult day and then started to explain what had been happening. I was telling a story about my colleague who’d lost some weight and was passing around her before/after success story photos that were featured on a prominent website recently.

While everyone was reacting with the obligatory, “Wow you look so great!” comments, my classmate encouraged me to share about my own weight loss. She met me last year, about two months after my relapse so she’s watched my lose a pretty good amount of weight. She doesn’t know it’s due to restricting and disordered behavior, so I know she was just trying to be kind.

I told my therapist that I shared my weight loss with my colleagues. She asked me what number I gave them. I said I didn’t want to tell her that. She asked if I told the truth and I said yes. Then she asked me why I wouldn’t tell her what I’d told them.

“Because I don’t want to.”

“Well I think there’s probably something behind that, don’t you? It’s strange that you don’t want to share that with me.”

“I don’t want to talk about this!”

She pushed me even more and I got pissed. I told her that she was irritating me because I rarely ever say I don’t want to talk about something specific, so I wanted her to respect that. She scoffed.

“What?! It’s true. I almost never say I won’t talk about something!”

“I think you say that a lot more than you think you do…”

I was livid, but also something else. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but I felt violated in some way. I have a very clear idea of how often I’ve flat-out refused to engage about a particular topic because it is very hard for me to do that.

It’s hard for me to say “no”.

I just kept being nasty to her. I was angry and she said it was important to “stay with my anger”. Except, staying with my anger only made her angry and she started to lash out at me back. It wasn’t really disrespectful or abusive (at all). It was subtle. But I am incredibly sensitive to even minor changes in others’ emotions, especially when that person is my therapist.

She asked me something. I answered with attitude. She responded with a hint of mockery and I snapped my head up,

“First of all, don’t ever mock me again…”

She paused and said, “You’re right, I can see that. I’m sorry, I won’t do that.”

I closed my eyes for a second and then just unleashed a torrent of frustration on her.

“This is exactly what I’m talking about! You never make any room for me to be angry. You keep telling me that it is so important for me to be able to bring all of my emotions in here, even the difficult ones, and especially the anger. Yet here it is. This is me, angry. This is what it looks like: I’m a brat who says nasty things. And you can’t handle that. Your immediate response is to mirror me and be nasty right back at me.”

“How am I supposed to react to you? Am I supposed to just allow you to behave however you want? That’s not realistic and it’s not authentic to who I am or how I experience you. You are allowed to be angry and behave however you want. But you have an impact on people, on me, and there are consequences.”

I just laughed and then said,

“I literally don’t give a shit. It is NOT my job to take care of you; to make sure your feelings aren’t hurt or I don’t offend you. There’s no way I can stay genuinely with these emotions if I need to be constantly worried that I’m going to upset you….or face ‘consequences’ for how I’m behaving!”

“What would you like me to do? Is your expectation that I will just sit here when you’re kicking me?”

“Yes!”

“That is not realistic.”

“I think it is. And that’s what I need from you. I don’t need you to point out that I’m being an asshole or how that hurts your feelings…”

“I don’t think that’s what I’m communicating to you. I do not think that you need to take care of me or not hurt my feelings. At all.”

“Yet that’s always the FIRST thing you bring up whenever I start to be more difficult or rude in my demeanor. Why?! Why do you have to do that?!”

She reminded me that there are consequences for the way we behave.

“Do you really think I don’t know that?! Do you think there is ever a moment when I’m in here with you that I’m not worried about how it will impact you…and how that impact will end up affecting me?!”

“No. I think you’re very thoughtful and I know you worry a lot about that…”

“Then WHY do you constantly keep reminding me that my actions have an impact?”

“What else would you have me do when you’re acting this way?”

“I don’t know…love me anyway? Just let me be angry and rude and nasty. Let the emotion be in here with us…let me feel it…let me be in it. Be in it with me. Make space for it. I don’t expect you to not say anything at all, but why do you have to say it right away? Can’t you just let me be pissed at you and do what I need to do and just stay with me. Then, once we’ve had a chance to talk about it and I get it out, you can gently remind me that while anger is okay, being rude to you is not….???”

She thought about it for a while. We both did. We talked some more but I can’t remember the dialogue as clearly. At one point I said something nasty to her again. She calmly asked me if being rude to her and ‘knocking her down’ was funto me and what I was getting out of it.

“No, it’s not fun. I don’t know what I get out of it but you need to fucking deal with this. This is what my anger looks like right now and I’m going to stay in it even if that means I’m rude to you and you keep getting pissed off about that.”

“Hmm.”

“Oh my god, I HATE you right now!”

“I know you do.”

“All I wanted to do was talk about the shitty day I had. I didn’t even want to come here at all but I needed to deal with everything that’s happening and Wife works until late so I thought it would be nice to just let it out here. But then you had to insist I share something I didn’t want to share and you just pissed me off even more. Which…whatever…if you hadn’t left me in the waiting room last time I would have been able to talk about this all sooner and then maybe today wouldn’t have been so shitty!”

“So it’s my fault you had a bad day today? That seems a bit simplistic…”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Simplistic? OF COURSE it’s simplistic. I wasn’t attempting to capture all of the nuance and complexity of that situation in one fucking sentence. Jesus. I was just trying to be authentic with you.”

She looked confused for a moment but then she said, “I see. And now that I look at it, I can tell you were trying to bring up being left on Wednesday and introduce that topic into our conversation in perhaps the only way you knew how?”

“Exactly.”

“And I think that this all ties back to boundaries and the rupture we had a few months ago around boundaries.”

I glanced at the clock and felt myself scream internally. I looked right at her and said,

“I’m implementing a new rule: you’re not allowed to say the word ‘boundaries’ if there are less than five minutes left in the session.”

“Why? Because it’s hard for you to even hear that word?”

“Yes!”

I’d been holding my chapstick, uncapping and re-capping it about a thousand times, with the rage of a bull behind each movement. She asked me what the chapstick represented; what the emotions or thoughts were around the way I was holding it.

“I wish it was a blade so I could carve into my own fucking skin!”

She frowned and said, “Carve into your skin or into mine?”

I jumped in my seat. “Mine! I wouldn’t…I don’t want to actually hurt you…I…”

She interrupted me. “I know, I know. I didn’t mean literally.”

“Okay?”

“I just think that when you’re angry with me, you punish yourself. You cut yourself, you starve yourself, you deprive yourself, you put these punitive rules in place that isolate you and hurt you. So maybe you can just be mad at me and not hurt yourself as a punishment for having that anger? Don’t hurt yourself because you’re mad at me…”

I felt tears starting to come up. I was shaking. She walked me through a quick grounding exercise to slow my breathing and heart rate. I put my coat on and walked out without saying anything.

I opened my wallet while waiting for the elevator. I pulled out the last blade I have – the one I keep on me at all times “just in case.”

I thought about what she said as I held it.

What if? What if I didn’t hurt myself to try and contain or push away the pain of being angry at her? What if I just let myself be pissed and trusted that nothing terrible would happen to me because of that?

I walked back into the office and knocked on her door. She opened it.

“This is my last blade.”

I handed it to her.

“Thank you.”

She took it.

 

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35 thoughts on “Making Space for Anger

  1. Sirena says:

    Wow, well done in giving her your last blade. That’s hugely symbolic. I could feel your anger in that session and am totally with you, I don’t get why she seems to get passive agressive in response to your anger… surely she knows by now it does not help any situation to become reactionary? She’s right that she doesn’t have to put up with rudeness and also her accepting all your anger with no reaction isn’t representative of real life but there is something about timing. It feels like her reactions to you are knee-jerk countertransference. Do you think she is deliberately stokes your anger with her comments? My therapist calls it ” adding in heightners” I don’t think mine has done it yet because I’ve told her not to, I’m not ready, but she will some day soon I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      It’s possible. I brought up feeling as though she had been intentionally provocative. She didn’t say that was her intent, but she did acknowledge that dynamic being in play between us. I am DEFINITELY not prepared for intentional provocation or heighteners. I would lose it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. La Quemada says:

    I don’t understand what all was happening there, why she won’t just sit with your feelings and let them be what they are. Maybe that’s some therapeutic technique? Or maybe she needs to be working with her own therapist on her reaction to you. It’s frustrating just to read this, because it seems so clear: what you want is the ability to be angry with her and have her love you anyway.

    After all that tension, I was surprised to read that you gave her that blade. I’m so pleased and touched that you did–thinking about it brings tears to my eyes again. It is so hard to just sit with the feelings and not cut or burn or otherwise chase them away. Good for you; you are awesome.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Anxious Mom says:

    Her reaction to your anger gets me. Surely she must know there’s a better way other than that argumentative thing she does. It’s like she takes focus off of you and puts it on herself. Ugh. I am glad how it ended though, I’m proud of you for giving her that last blade, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nintschgo says:

    Wow, this is intense…I can totally relate to the kind of anger you were feeling but I never got that far with my therapist because I just didn’t have the courage to tell her what you told your therapist…
    It’s really impressive what you did, especially handing over your last blade in the end. I certainly couldn’t have done it, you’re my new role model 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Life in a Bind - BPD and me says:

    Wow, it took real courage and openness to change, to hand over that blade – you’re awesome 🙂 (and don’t go telling yourself you can always get another one, it’s no big deal etc- you _can_ get another one, but it _is_ a big deal, it’s just your self-critical voice trying to do you out of your progress, trust me, my own has done the same to me 😉 ).

    I can see how frustrating and painful it must have felt to have her react in that way – and I often thing that your therapist reminds me of my own therapist, who often also reacts in ways I wish she wouldn’t, or doesn’t react in as ‘loving’ and ‘tolerant’ way as I wish she would….but I’m trying to get a ‘learning point’ out of it, and I don’t know if this will in any way be helpful, but I thought I’d share it, just in case it is….I agree with La Quemada that we want to be able to be angry, and have our therapists love us anyway. But, could it also be the case that not only can _we_ be angry and they can love us anyway, but _they_ can be angry with us, and they can love us anyway? I know I find that an almost impossible thing to believe. That someone could be angry with me but could still care, love, like, respect me etc. That there could be anger without destruction or diminishing of the relationship. When I met my husband I fell into the arms of his family because they regarded me as a ‘princess’ and I think I felt it was my second chance at ‘being parented’. Then, one day several years later, my mother in law and I had an argument. Not exactly a surprising event for most people, but it was our first, and it completely shattered that picture that I had and literally since then (around ten years ago) I have never let them ‘back in’ to my heart or felt the same way about them. I have cut them off emotionally in the same way I have done with my parents. Her anger on that one occasion was enough to destroy years of being the ‘princess’ – the two things were simply completely incompatible.
    So if there’s something helpful you can get out of her reaction, even if it was upsetting, could that be the understanding that she can be frustrated, or annoyed, or sarcastic, and STILL really love you, and continue to love you? Hopefully that can be both realistic and wonderful at the same time…..
    Take care, the two of you are doing amazingly 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. I honestly hadn’t really considered the possibility that she could both love/care for me AND be a lil pissed at my behavior. This gave me so much to think about and to bring into session 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. e.Nice says:

    As others have said, wow. Were you able to get some of the anger out? This will still be something that comes up between you, but she does seem open to looking at her responses. I think she does really care for you, even if you do push her buttons (on purpose or not), and by giving her that blade (especially your emergency one) that says to me that you get that she does too. Have you been able to feel the mad and not hurt yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rachel says:

    I totally understand now, why you became so upset with her not being willing to just meet your request for sitting with your anger, letting you be angry, etc. Because you’re not thinking from an adult lens, an “equal” relationship lens. If it were you and your wife, you would of course not expect her to just “take” your anger and not react. But this is therapy!! I get it. I didn’t before, but I do now. You have keen knowledge of your needs and are used to being flexible to others’ needs, and right now, want this specific action from her (acceptance) because you think it will really benefit you. I get that. Did I just make wild projections, or am I tracking this properly?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Nope that is spot on. So, projecting or not, you’re absolutely right. What’s funny is that my wife is actually brilliant at doing this – sitting with my anger in a nonreactive way. If only I could get my therapist to do that lol

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rachel says:

        That is just exactly how I am feeling right now about what happened with my therapist and the gift – so I get it. I get your frustration in a real tangible way I didn’t before.
        Haha, well, glad your wife can. She sounds so healing for you.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Cat's Meow says:

    Hi, Andi. I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it. I had some thoughts, but I’m not sure whether I can get what I want to say to really make sense, but here goes…

    I, also, am ultra sensitive to any tiny whiff of disapproval or irritation from my therapist. Generally, i have a younger aspect triggered, as soon as I feel like I am in trouble and this makes it even more difficult to hear my therapist clearly. It’s like everything “negative” that I expect to hear is being shouted through a megaphone, even if she is trying to whisper it as gently as possible. The problem isn’t really what my therapist is doing, it is that I was taught that displeasing someone I count on in any way was terribly dangerous. I’m not doing anything wrong, per say, by having this reaction, but it makes it impossible to clearly see and hear my therapist and gets in the way of our connection.

    We have had to work very hard on her very, very gently pointing out how I am reacting, my working over time on believing that she is telling the truth when she says that I’m not in trouble, but also making room to consider whatever it is that is that I feel that I am “being bad about.”

    I can’t help but wonder if you are just as sensitive to very small cues from your therapist. Considering that it’s a valuable survival skill in an abuse situation, it would make sense for you to be ultra attuned to the people you rely on.

    I also wonder if your therapist was trying to say that as a human being, in interactions with you, she is going to have some feelings, if she is to remain emotionally open. She may not have meant it in a punitive, “if you say mean things to me, you are going to make me mad, and I am going to hit back” sort of way. I think that I might be worth clarifying with her whether she can have her feelings, but promise that she won’t punish you for being angry at you.

    For instance, you might be really angry and say what you need to say and she might actually be ok with the fact that you made her uncomfortable, because she understands that this is work that you need to do. She may not be able to make it comfortable for herself and keep herself from wincing, but can she accept that your anger is what it is right now and you need to experience expressing the anger without being punished?

    Her saying or looking “ouch” could be a “stop that” message to you or it could be that she doesn’t want for you to stop at all.

    Just throwing out some ideas to see if they open up some more possibilities in the situation with you.

    I’ll be honest that it has taken years for me to get to the point where I was able to have a spontaneous outburst of anger at my therapist and feel comfortable about it through the whole thing. But I’m a lot older and my ways of being are a lot more ingrained.

    I hope that the two of you can find a way to talk about what is going on, so you can clearly understand each other soon. This repeatedly feeling at odds with a major support person sucks, doesn’t it?

    Like

  9. LosiLosLoco says:

    Woah. That was….intense. But… that sounded, I don’t know… fruitful? Anger is a complex emotion as it is. But, in your case, I feel like the overall result was a good thing. That last blade is gone. And you resisted its temptation.
    Andi, it’s OK (I think) to be angry. It’s a natural response and while it can sometimes have bad consequences, in the end, it’s just another way of dealing with things. Much better than a blade in my opinion.
    I have to give some credit to your therapist for keeping her cool. She’s good because you were going at her! But maybe that’s why she’s YOUR therapist. Because she can handle you.
    I don’t know. I enjoyed reading this. And I’m trying not to say anything that will upset you in anyway but I sympathize with you.
    Just…try to be happy. It’s OK to be wrong sometimes. It’s OK to not understand sometimes. Just make sure you learn from your experiences. 🙂 I say that with a genuine heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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