I’m a unique patient, in therapy. I have my bachelor’s of science in psychology, and generally I have always fallen on the “prove it to me with a well researched and thought out argument” side of things. I’m also pretty logical, and when I want to, I can find a reason against almost anything. Essentially, I’m a pain in the ass.
Because of my upbringing though, I’m also a people pleaser, a perfectionist, and due to my lack of emotional nurturing I don’t do well at labelling or expressing my feelings. They weren’t allowed, and still even now, and even with my closest and best friends, even with my husband sometimes, I behave how I feel I am supposed to, not how I actually feel. A noted that in session on Thursday with the astute observation that I still scan my environment with her when she asks my opinion about a new topic, I’ll answer how I think she feels. But she always catches me.
A has been the first therapist to match me, step for step. To not let me pull the wool over her eyes, or distract her. She calls me out when I do something like that, but she will let me choose to continue. For example, this week, “you’re steering the conversation away from you and I. We can do that, if you want, I just want you to know I know what you’re doing, and make you aware of it if you aren’t.” It’s never threatening or accusatory, and usual once I’m caught out I’ll redirect and open up more. I respect her intelligence and stubbornness. I respect that it matches mine.
One of the things that gets me and can catch me off guard, is my inner child. It’s like a different ego-state, if you will. The adult professional in me is cool and collected and logical, able to adapt, entirely in my head. The child in me – the young ego that was largely deprived and forced to be a parent early – wants to be comforted and held. It’s always been something I’ve thought about, having A hold me, rock me, comfort me. To cry it out and not be told “that’s enough”. But I took that as the natural whining of an unloved child, not something that could be corrected (to a point) through attachment work. I have a resistance to dependency on others that seriously affects my relationship with my husband, and I have a deep resistance to feeling my emotions or needs. ‘I don’t get to have needs’ I will often tell A. She will tell me that’s an old story. I don’t believe her (she’s working on it).
Scientifically there is backing for touch working in therapy – although not with all people. There are obviously limitations and one has to be careful. There is no way touch does not affect both parties – therapists are human after all – and especially with survivors of childhood sexual abuse (which I am not, so it’s easier here), it can be a very tricky situation largely client dependent. The aversion we have as a society to touch between people who are not related or in a romantic relationship comes from risk aversion and lawyers and living in a western individualistic society more so than from a scientific standpoint.
There is also danger in bringing touch in to therapy if the practitioner isn’t educated. Touch is the first way we explore the world, like breathing, our skin and the messages it sends is with us from day one. Touch and therapeutic holding can both provoke and heal trauma, it’s a dual process – but with an experienced professional the sense of getting what you need now and the discussion of missing things then can be more healing.
Of course, this is all stuff I have learned in the past twenty four hours from reading academic papers on the matter. When it came up in session, I knew none of this.
Two days ago (from my journal)
In therapy today I was talking about that part of me that is lonely and alone and no matter how much I am held by (my husband) or touched it remains empty. I didn’t vocalize it, but all I ever wanted was to be held until I was cried out, you know? But when (my husband) does it it doesn’t fill that hole or even begin to heal it. A asked what that part would want and I said I didn’t know, and she said really? And I said yes (even though I did know. I’ve always known, I just don’t like the answer).
And she then went, totally unprompted. “if you ever wanted to be held while you just sobbed, thats something we could do. We can work towards me holding you. I can hold you while you cry. I bring it up so you know it’s an option, because I know you won’t bring it up with me” And I SWORE I heard her wrong but wanted to believe it and then I just looked at her and nodded to indicate something so she wouldn’t ask more.
And then she asked how that felt and then I was telling her I just wanted to avoid her and be sassy and she was like “can you just be here with me? Be present” and then I was sassy and then she was like “I know I’m getting closer to that super vulnerable and grieving protected part of you when you snap at me. And it’s okay, I’m not going anywhere.”
So then a few minutes later, I asked about if I heard her right that she would be willing to hold me while I cry and she said absolutely, that I could climb into that chair and be held, that we could work towards that. That it was an option we could discuss. And oh did part of me want to. And oh was another part of me so mad. And another wanted to run and it was very confusing but I do want to be held. I want to be held and allowed to cry and not told “that’s enough”. And I never let myself think that was a thing.
I never believed that it was a thing. I’m still not believing it’s a thing.
And I was looking at her and she was like “you still scan your environment in here, and try to assess if you’re actually allowed to believe or think what you’re believing or thinking. And you still question where I stand and if I’m going to hurt you or change the rules or take back what I said.” And she wasn’t wrong. “I want to know how you actually feel, not how you think I want you to feel.”
After, I told her how I would never have asked to be held even though it’s something I have thought of, that even though she’s told me something is okay, that I still question if she means it, that I’m so afraid of crossing boundaries and losing access to any of it, to her. And she said how boundaries are her responsibility and how she needs to take better charge of reassuring me – about how I even scan her and that environment for permission, to see if things are right or wrong or allowed. I am so scared of tripping that wire. She says that it’s her job to define the lines and make sure that I know where they are and she promised she would never just leave me even if I did trip the wire, but that I haven’t even come close.
And yes. That was my session. And I feel so full and loved and fuzzy. And also so wary and concerned. It’s quite the combination. I hate emotions.
I wasn’t going to post about this. But I’m curious about touch in your experiences of therapy.
All I know, is that when I researched it, and talked about it with good online friends, and talked about it at length with Lu (thank GOD for Lu), I realized I am exactly the person in these articles that is said to benefit from therapeutic touch in therapy.
I never thought about it before. I’ve mostly been against it. But I am now thinking it seems like a natural next step. A needed next step.
Providing ‘therapeutic nurture’ through touch and holding to a client in a regressed state, at this crucial point, can repair damage done in earlier years as the central nervous system is wide open. By being touched gently, appropriately and timely, a primitive reaction can be triggered – one of bodily relaxation, soothing and a feeling that one is not alone. Appropriate touch conveys the therapist’s emotional relationship to the client: that he is willing to be more in touch with him, that he wants to try and understand more of what is happening for him, that he sees him, and accepts him. There is nothing required or demanded in return except for the client to give himself permission to receive….. …..could the space between therapist and client now present an opportunity to experience what was missing, lost or abused – safe contact and bonding?
(Excerpts from The Place Of Touch In Counselling)
I truly believe (now I believe… the only part of me that wanted touch 48 hours ago was that lonely child locked in the hole of the middle of my chest who is now full of Hope, so thanks for that, A) that maybe this would be good for me. That maybe touch can bridge that gap that words can’t.
Living in my head means I never connect, or relax, not truly. And if touch can help fix that, well then, I honestly don’t know. But maybe I’m willing to try?
I might be willing to try. But I don’t even know where to start with that discussion.