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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Artist: Grace Wever Path to the Light

Artist: Grace Wever
Path to the Light

I recently discovered that I have told Mama Bear far less about the abuse than I think that I have. I have talked around what happened and hinted at it, but not given her many details. In some ways, that is OK; we have talked about how I can heal without going into the details. Unfortunately, it can also cause some pretty significant problems, though.

A couple of weeks ago, Mama Bear and I had a significant disruption because of misunderstandings caused by my thinking that I had been more clear to her than I actually had. She does the good therapist thing (actually it’s healthy communication, period) and doesn’t make assumptions based on what I hint at, however, in my mind, I have told her that I remember X happening. What I have been doing is referring to a lot of fuzzy “memory-type things” (my phrase) with my father (and maybe hinting broadly at what happened) and my struggles with believing myself, and so in her mind the whole story was vague and anything but clear. In my mind, I had been telling her about the types of memories, if not the details, and while I am experiencing a lot of conflict and somethings a fuzzy, what is clear, is clear.

When she came back from her trip a few weeks ago, after receiving my e-mails about the memories that I was dealing with, she asked me what I actually remembered about the abuse with my dad. In her mind, she was just trying to get a clearer picture of what was clear to me, if anything, and she wasn’t asking about specific abuse memories. She has no doubt that I was badly abused; whether I remember specifics or not only matters in terms of how treatment needs to proceed. In my mind, she was questioning whether I actually remembered anything and was asking me to prove that I did. That was not a session that went at all well. I felt attacked, bewildered, betrayed, like I had lost the person I could talk about the abuse with, angry, and more. My trust in her was severely shaken. I did not believe that she had hurt me on purpose, but what I experienced in the session and over the several days after the session was painful and frightening, so she had in effect hurt me. I took all of the anger that I felt towards her and aimed it squarely at myself, because I couldn’t tolerate being angry with her when things already felt so unstable. I was an exceedingly mixed up person who couldn’t fully get out of child states for most of the week between the disaster session and when I saw her next. Even now, there are parts of me that are wary about trusting her, now that I have experienced how badly things can go, without her trying to harm me. She made a mistake. She, herself, said that she had very poor timing and that she messed up how she asked me the question, even though it was something that she did need to clarify with me, because the lack of information was getting in the way of her helping me. However, the one thing that I gained was the certainty that something bad could happen between the two of us and while it might mess me up for awhile, I could eventually pull myself back together. If she fails me again, I can survive it. Unfortunately, the only way for me to really be certain of that was to experience it.

This experience got me thinking about how much I have kept from her, even after all of this time. I understand some of the reasons why I hide things, but I think that they are old reasons and don’t have much to do with today. I had a loving mother, but I believed that I had to keep things from her. There were lots of reasons why I believed that it wasn’t safe to tell her, both because of external threats and because I didn’t think that she could handle knowing; the end result was that I was trained to hide what happened, even from someone who was caring. I have heard other people say that if you don’t feel like you can tell your therapist anything, then there is something wrong with the relationship with the therapist (with the implication that the therapist needs to do more to enable your feeling able to share), but with Mama Bear, she has done everything possible to create a safe place to share. The problem is that I have to fight against very early survival training and then decades of following the same rules.

So I am trying to push myself to hide less. I need to act judiciously, so I don’t overwhelm myself, but I think that the very act of hiding/ not being able to speak about what happened gives it more power than it otherwise would have. I need to take that power for myself, so I can free the parts of me that still feel bound to the abuse memories.

Yesterday, I told her about a part that I have come to understand and be able to work with since the beginning of the year, but I had been afraid to tell her about because I was afraid that she would tell me that I was doing something wrong or that this part couldn’t exist the way that I was experiencing it. I had not felt confident enough in myself and my ability to support this part to say, “This is what is going on. Period. If your theories don’t work with it, then too bad.” But I pushed past that fear yesterday and discovered that 1) it was vitally important for me to openly bring this part into a session and work with it, 2) Mama Bear is interested in my experience first and then uses the theories to help inform how she organizes treatment (I knew this, but needed to be reminded of it), and 3) the way that I experience this part actually fits well with the theory after all.

Huh, I pushed past the fear that has bound me up to now, I shared with Mama Bear, and not only did nothing bad come of it, but good came out of it. Maybe I don’t have to hide as much as I have in the past. I’m starting to feel as though maybe I have the freedom to move a bit and not worry so much about making a single false step. I think that it’s safe enough to take some chances. I’m strong enough to deal with things going wrong, even if I may react badly at first. No one here is judging me. There is no “test” to make sure that I get things just right. Once again, I remember that it’s safe to be “me”, as I slowly discover who all of me is.

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birthday flowers

I had a really weird experience this week in relation to my parents. Go figure, huh?

Today, yesterday now, was my birthday, so my mom contacted me by e-mail earlier in the week asking me if I still needed a new computer and if not, what would I like for a birthday present? I realized that I wasn’t comfortable accepting such an expensive present from her right now; I simply don’t want anything that creates any sense of obligation. I did think of an alternate suggestion, though- a massage. I have a really good massage therapist here, and the work that she does helps with some of the lingering effects of a herniated disk in my neck, plus it’s just good to be nurtured, as I wrote about in Massage and the Healing Power of Touch. So I suggested a massage and mentioned that it does “help with the nerve issues related to the herniated disk.”

My mom loved the idea of massage as a gift and said that she wanted to to arrange for 3; she also included me on the e-mail to my massage therapist to initiate the process. However, she then started to ask questions as if she had never heard about my having a herniated disk. This injury happened almost a year and a half ago. I have e-mails from March ’12 between the two of us discussing the prognoses, the problems that I was having, the likelihood of surgery, and what might have caused the herniation. Based on a few factors, my doctor wondered whether I sustained an injury as a child that weakened the disk and it finally gave out a few decades later, so I asked my mother if she knew about any such injuries. My guess is that the question disturbed her so much that she blocked the whole exchange out of her mind, so she now believes that she hadn’t previously heard about this injury.

That was weird enough and interesting confirmation that she really will completely block out things that are too upsetting for her to tolerate. But then it got even weirder.

The next day, I got a call from my massage therapist. It seems that my dad called her directly and had a long conversation with her as if I have this herniated disk emergency. A., my massage therapist, asked him whether the disk was in my neck or back and my father told her, “She doesn’t really tell me these things.” (I have spoken to him once in the last 2 years.) He wanted to buy a bunch of massages, she advised three, to see if they would help first, and he purchased six. A. then asked if he wanted to let me know about the gift and he said, no, she could contact me, and “It just happens that tomorrow is C’s birthday, as well.” In this whole conversation, there was no reference to my mother at all, so when A. got home and saw the e-mail from my mom, she was confused. She thought it likely that my parents weren’t together, based on the fact that they were acting like they had no idea that the other person was contacting her.

When I first heard all of this from A., I was mostly struck by the very strange communication patterns and pure weirdness of the whole thing. But then after a couple of hours I realized that I was most disturbed by the fact that this was something that my mother and I had figured out between the two of us. I felt comfortable accepting a gift that was nurturing from her and was happy that she was able to give me something that she knew would be good for me. We have had trouble finding places of connection, and this seemed to be one. Then all of a sudden, I found my father there, in between the two of us. He had somehow taken over and inserted himself into the matter when it wasn’t needed. Either she had let him walk all over her and take over or he had done it without her knowledge, whichever way it happened, it brought into focus how my parents come as a package item. If I want my mother, I get my father. And right now I want to try to figure out how to make things work with my mother and not my father.

Also, it feels kind of creepy to me that these massages have now been purchased by my father. I wanted the connection and nurturing from my mother, I can’t get it in person and may never be able to get what I need in person from her, but figuring out any way to get any of it, even though a surrogate would be a step forward. On the other hand, massage has the potential to be triggering for me and the thought of my father being involved contaminates it in my mind. I think that I will be able to work around it, but I still resent having something that should have simply been good turned into a real effort.

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Today I had an epiphany. It isn’t very often that I have one of those moments when everything shifts and becomes much easier, so I need to celebrate this one. ­čÖé

Over the last few days, I have talked about the turmoil that was stirred up when my mother asked me to call my father for his birthday. It brought to the forefront the need to figure out how to begin to talk with my mother about the fact that the abuse still affects me. I’m not even sure that she believes me when I say that I was abused, because she changes the topic every time I make any reference to being in therapy. She is highly avoidant and because this has been a life long coping skill, she isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Unfortunately, I learned my lessons in being avoidant of conflict all too well from her, making it even more difficult to have any sort of a conversation with her. So, over the last several months, Mama Bear and I keep on circling back around again and again to the questions of “What do I need to say to my mother? How am I going to say it? And how can I prepare myself so that I am able to deal with whatever her reaction is?” The subject comes up, we talk about it, and I become overwhelmed so the actual talk with my mother gets tabled. Each time we circle around, I do get a bit further, but I have been proceeding at a glacial pace.

My mother’s request, on top of her request to send my daughter out to my parents for 2 weeks, has accelerated the need for me to get to the heart of the matter and find my voice. This weekend, it became crystal clear to me that my mom is going to continue to pretend that nothing is terribly wrong and proceed along her way, with her eyes tightly shut to what is going on, if I don’t force the issue. And because she pretends that nothing is wrong, she keeps on doing or saying things that knock me off balance, just as I am starting to develop momentum in a good direction. I deserve better and my family deserves better.

Well, I started off this morning in a shaky place and I wrote to Mama Bear about the fact that my mom hasn’t responded to my e-mail at all and how I realized that a part of me had been holding on to an unrealistic hope. Maybe, somehow I had created a situation where my mom didn’t really understand how much pain I have been in and now that I have made it clear, she will reach out to me with statements of love and support. But by that point, it was pretty hard to hold on to that bit of hope any more, because so much time had gone by since my sending my message to her. Unfortunately, I had already swung to the other extreme of fear that I had so threatened my mother that she wouldn’t ever want to have anything to do with me again! Yep, talk about a neurotic mess- that was me this morning.

Mama Bear responded with her normal good sense and reminded me that it is unlikely that my mother has cut me off completely, it’s just that she automatically reverts to avoidance when faced with a difficult situation. Then she said two things that got my brain turning: “She has very little capacity for figuring out what you need emotionally. And, you need to continue speaking up for yourself in some manner.”

Somehow, seeing those two statements side by side made something click and the obvious finally became clear to me: “Even though she is the mother and I am the daughter, I’m in my 40s now and she isn’t necessarily any more of an adult than I am. In some ways she may be even less. I keep on expecting for her to be the adult in this situation and allow me to be the hurt child. That just isn’t going to happen and I need to protect that hurt child part of me anyways.”

She simply can’t do the mother/adult job that I want for her to do and hear my need for love and support in what I say, without my coming out and having to say, “Dammit, I need your love and support here! This is incredibly hard but it would be less hard if I knew that you believed me and that you were on my side. I have been suffering a lot and part of it is because I’m going through this without your support.”

I know that I am dealing with memories of desperately needing for her to figure out that something is terribly wrong from when I was a child. I really did need for her to rescue me then and I still feel those needs as if they apply to now. But they don’t. I want a relationship with my mother, but if she fell out of my life, I could go on after a time of mourning. My safety is no longer dependent upon whether she can bear to see that I am hurting and that something is wrong.

This takes so much of the pressure off of me. I don’t have to get our interaction “just right” so that my mom’s immediate reaction is both to understand how bad things have been and to not flee. She may very well retreat in order to adjust to what I need to say, but I am her only child and my daughter is her only grandchild- she is highly motivated to retain a connection to us, so she is likely to re-engage.

It also helps to lift me out of a vulnerable place, where I am looking for my mother to provide something that she almost certainly is unable to provide. But I can provide my own nurturing, safety, and protection now. I can either give myself what I need or I can find people who are willing and able to give me what I need.

Even though I often connect strongly with feelings of being a vulnerable child, the reality is that I am not. It sounds crazy to me, but I am in my 40s. I have a daughter who will be entering 3rd grade in the fall. I am an adult, it’s just a matter of getting me to remain connected to that knowledge and to feel confident enough to act from the strength of my adulthood. Today’s epiphany was a big step in that direction.

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“I’m scared.”

Mama Bear is talking to me on the phone because I have spent the day so frightened that I have been close to non-functional most of the time.

“Your voice sounds young, are you feeling young?”

“Yes.”

“I need for you to find your adult voice and bring your adult here.”

Pause…

“Can you locate your adult?”

“Kind of, sort of…”

“OK, bring your adult as close as you can and have her be a part of this as I talk to the child part that is here… You are in a safe place and a safe time. Whatever you are afraid of isn’t happening here and now. You are a grown woman who is capable and strong and you can protect yourself. We can work together to help you.”

As I listen to her voice and try to pull on the stronger, more solid part of me, I feel that part finally starting to engage, to my relief. At last I am able to say, “OK” and both of us hear the change in my voice.

“Good… C. what has you so freaked out?”

“I am scared that something really bad is going to happen to me.”

“You are starting to sound like a child again. I need for you to stay an adult and work with me. That is an old child fear, it isn’t a present fear. What are you afraid about now?”

I feel another overwhelming surge of fear that there is no escaping serious punishment and that I am in real danger: “But I am really, really scared that I’m going to get in trouble for upsetting my mother and I’m going to get hurt really, really, really bad.”

“C., you are sounding about 8. Is there actually anyone there who is going to hurt you?”

It feels like thinking through molasses, but I realize that even though the threat that I am going to be hurt feels so immediate and present, she is right, there isn’t anyone here who is going to hurt me. “No.”

“Your mother might get upset. I really can’t predict how she will react, but you are not in any real danger now that you are an adult. You can take care of yourself and protect yourself. You have your own family now.”

I think to myself, “But she isn’t the one that I am afraid of,” but I don’t say that out loud, instead I concentrate on trying to take in what Mama Bear has been saying.

“What did you end up doing in response to your mom’s request?”

“Nothing.”

“You didn’t respond at all?”

“No, I couldn’t figure out what to say.”

“I thought that you had a good start with what you said that you wanted to send to her last night. You need to do what feels most right for you, but if you say something, you might help to take yourself out of a helpless feeling position.”

She suggests a possible wording that basically says, “I got your e-mail. I am not comfortable talking with Dad right now. I hope to talk with you more about what is going on for me at a later time.”

“Does something like this sound at all possible?” A long pause… “Or not?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I whisper: “It’s too scary.”

“That’s your 8 year old fear talking again. What are you afraid about in the now?”

I struggle because I do not want to say what comes to mind, but I know that it is what I am most afraid of: “I’m afraid that my mom will think that I am accusing my dad of something.”

Mama Bear says gently, but firmly, “But you are. Not necessarily sexual abuse, but something disturbs you about your relationship. And when you didn’t make that call, you accused him of something being wrong.”

My heart plummets. And I know that she is right. My hope that somehow I could manage to dance around this and avoiding dealing with this with my parents was a completely unrealistic fantasy. There is something that is very wrong about my relationship with my dad. I do not understand it and it drives me crazy that I don’t have a clear idea of what is so wrong. I know what I fear that it is, given what his father did to me and the fact that my dad’s older brother abused at least one of his daughters. But in some ways I am entirely convinced that there was no sexual abuse with him. Of course, when I think about it from the point of view of certain parts, I am just as convinced that he did abuse me.

Other than that, there is a history of petty cruelties, one-ups-man-ship, sending me off to stay with someone he knew was abusive (physically and verbally at the very least), competition for my mother’s attention, belittling the things that I cared about, and just plain being hurtful. But it was all done in the form of “jokes” or teasing and would not have looked “mean” from the outside. In fact, I would guess that he didn’t consider what he was doing to be mean, because it wasn’t done as harshly as his father would have. So, at the very least, I know that there is a history of behaviors that hurt my soul, if nothing else… But I also know that my parents will never be able to see those actions as being so damaging to me, so I can’t imagine trying to talk about them.

So, I sit there for a few minutes, struggling with my fears, both old fears and current fears around saying something to my mom. Repeatedly, I start to be drawn into a state where I feel in physical danger and I pull myself back each time. Finally, I say, “Well, I guess that you are right… No matter what I say to my mom, no one here is going to physically hurt me.”

I think for another couple of minutes, and then: “OK, I am feeling less scared now.”

Mama bear replies warmly, “I am glad to hear it.”

We talked for another couple of minutes, and then I got off the phone, feeling much more secure and grounded than I had since the previous morning. Over the next hour or two, I thought about our conversation. She wasn’t the only one who thought that my not saying anything kept me feeling like a powerless child. I am tired of feeling helpless, because I’m not! So, it’s time for me to start to use some of that strength in my relationship with my parents.

This is what I wrote to my mother:

Dear Mom,

I am in a very difficult place right now and I am just not up to doing the phone call. My hope is that we can talk a bit about what I am dealing with in the not too distant future, but I need to figure some things out first.

Please give Dad my birthday wishes.

Love,

C

Later on that evening, I realized just how different my conversation with Mama Bear was from the way that communication happens (or doesn’t) with my mother. While Mama Bear was kind, she was also very willing to say things or do things that are not pleasant in the moment, if they will benefit me. She kept on pushing at me when I fell back into a frightened child state and she didn’t try to soothe me, but rather she urged me to engage the adult me who could see that I was in a situation where I didn’t need to be scared. In that moment, I needed to be the one to take care of me and I needed to experience that I could do it. She showed me that she believed in my ability to work past my fears and find the strength and stability to deal with the anxiety and chaos inside. She was willing to point out to me that I had already taken the step that I was so afraid of, so I may as well keep on walking and deal with the situation, rather than trying to hide from it. I did not want to hear that, but I am better off for taking it in.

You know, I find it deeply reassuring that Mama Bear treated me like an adult.

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