Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

100 Ways to Answer the Question “How Are You?”

I know that I struggle with this all of the time and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.  I think that there is something for everyone in here.  Number 59 and 85 made me laugh the hardest and some day I’ll have to use one of them on Mama Bear.  92 is brilliant for when you don’t want to lie and don’t want to go into how you feel but do want to engage with someone.

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Leah Day Winter Wonderland

Leah Day
Winter Wonderland

I took my daughter to see the new Disney movie, Frozen, last week. There was a scene where one of the characters fled what seemed to her to be an impossible situation, one where she had been trying to conceal a large part of who she was for much of her life. In Disney fashion, she breaks out into song, and I cried, particularly through the first part of the song. I looked up the lyrics tonight, and I can see why they resonated with me…

Let It Go

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I’m the queen

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

I think that I’ll go and cry again. And keep on trying to work to the day when the rest of the song might better reflect where I am.

Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand and here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

Of course my version would include being able to freely feel all of my emotions, so I want to be able to cry about everything I need to cry about. But what would it be like to be able to simply “let it go”? To let go of all of that control? To stop fighting with myself? To fully know that the past is in the past? To no longer be controlled by the old fears and the old rules? What would it be like to be free?

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Well, today I totally stunned Mama Bear to the point of her just staring at me speechless for a bit. I’ve done that once or twice recently, but she’s usually pretty unflappable, so this is pretty unusual. I think that it happens when she thought that she had an understanding of a situation, but then I tell her something that reveals to her that it was far worse than she had realized.

Having recognized that I feel the need to convey my needs to my mother, today we are talking about what makes communicating with my mom so difficult for me. It’s easiest for me if I use specific examples, so I talked about my mother’s last visit, almost two years ago, when she came to stay for about a week. Mama Bear and I talked about the patterns of interaction at that time and what seems to be ingrained for my mom and how some things that led me to feel shut out may have come from external causes, since she hasn’t shut me out so clearly in the past. Then Mama Bear asked me to remind her about the content of a conversation I had with my mom while I was driving her back to the airport. It’s about a 2 hour drive and the talk occurred about half way through the drive.

“First, do you mind if I make myself a cup of coffee? With this illness, at this time of the day, my energy always starts to lag.”

“Go ahead. Well, she told me more about her mother and her father, oddities in her father’s family and her half sister who was also a cousin.” (I think that she missed the last bit in the coffee making.)

Mama Bear paused and asked, “I thought that there was something abuse related in what she told you.”

“The most striking thing to me is that her father had a daughter by his niece who is a month younger than my mom.”

“What?!? Your grandfather? Your mother’s father?” “Yes” “The daughter of his brother or sister?” “Yes”

She just stood there speechless, staring at me, with her mouth open.

“Did you tell me this before?”


“Somehow I didn’t get the relationship.” (This isn’t as sloppy as it sounds, because we talked about it in an emergency session via cell phone, while I was sitting in my car. I was due to fly off to California for 2 weeks the next morning and I was terribly dissociative and upset, so less coherent than normal.)

I could see the wheels turning in her head, as she took that information and reevaluated what she knew about my mother and realized that my mom’s family was even more dysfunctional than Mama Bear had realized. “Oh, C, it really is a miracle that you and your parents are on your feet at all.”

Seeing her reaction brought home just how serious this information was. I added, “Of course, my mother didn’t know about her half sister until she was 12 or so when her other cousins told her. She just knew the girl as a cousin. Everyone else in the extended family knew except for her and her brothers.”

“She had to have been steeped in don’t talk messages.” Mama Bear shook her head sadly, “I really don’t know how much she going to be able to tolerate without doing any work of her own.” We both thought about that for a bit. “She told you this without warning on the way to the airport, right?”


“I wonder if at some level she was trying to help by telling you these things.”

I nodded in agreement, because I have wondered the same thing.

“I bet that you were pretty shocked.”

“To say the least.”

“How did you get home?”

“With great difficulty. I called my husband. I e-mailed you from my phone. I IM’d with my close group of friends on facebook. I was able to make an appointment to talk with you that evening. I remember that when we talked, we agreed that there was one good thing that could come out of my mom’s revelations: here was clear proof that my family really was terribly messed up on my mother’s side as well as my father’s and there was no way that ‘everything was in my head.'”

That realization was a turning point for me and it allowed me to start to let go of the harsh denial that I was dealing with. The denial did keep on coming back (it was serving a purpose at the time), but it lost the harshness, because at an important level, I was secure in the understanding that I had proof that it wasn’t all in my mind.

Thinking again about this story seems to be pushing me through another turning point. I’m looking at the information with fresh eyes and considering the impact that these events would have had on my grandparent’s parenting and my mothers environment throughout her childhood. I know bits and pieces of other stories that creep me out and who knows what else is out there? It occurs to me that there probably aren’t just skeletons in the closets of this branch of my family- there probably are entire graveyards. Thankfully, it isn’t my job to figure any of that mess out, but it does help for me to take this background into consideration while I am planning out what to try with my mother. Once again, it’s a reminder that it isn’t all in my head; my mom was born into a situation with secrets, lots of pain, and taboos about talking. I’m not imagining that she has these difficulties and am not creating worries out of thin air. These ways of being are deeply ingrained in her and they are going to make it difficult for her to deal directly with my reality. She quite simply may not be capable of dealing with much of any of it directly, because she has more than 6 decades of training in not tackling painful material and she has no support to help her do anything differently. If she freezes up and can’t come through for me, it won’t be a statement of her not loving me or caring enough about me, it will simply be about her limitations. But it will hurt like hell for me to deal with. The important question will be can we move past that to find something that she can tolerate that will give me at least a bit of what I need in regards to the abuse and allow us to retain some sort of connection? What will be enough for me to get from her, so it won’t just be painful for me? Can I deal with the frustrations that I feel with her limitations and forgive her? I think that so much will depend on what efforts she is willing to make, and I can’t know that until I give it a try.

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Olga Norris- Ponder

Olga Norris- Ponder

Over the past several weeks, I have been working very intensively around my parents, particularly in regards to my father. That focus was called for because I have had this pattern of getting myself into a crisis in regards to my dad and as a responsible therapist, Mama Bear pointed out that I was harming myself. In “What am I going to do with my dad?”, I wrote about agreeing with Mama Bear that I need to decide how I am going to deal with my dad in the now, based on the information that I have now.

It has been an intense and incredibly painful struggle that has left me wiped out and feeling cut off from the world. I spent a lot of time sitting in my rocking chair, just crying so intensely. It was clear to me that while some of the pain and grief was present based, most of it was past based. That is why I would fear that the intensity of the pain would kill me and I would feel completely alone, utterly helpless, and unable to do anything to console myself. I was dealing with memories of pain and grief from when I was a child. I wish that I could say that I was done with the process, but I know that I’m not. There is a lot of hurt and loss to go.

In the midst of all of this, I lost my voice. I believe that to some extent that was because I was dealing with the emotional memories of very young states and so the vocabulary simply wasn’t there to be able to describe what I was experiencing. Really, I feel as though for the past couple of weeks I have gone around half way in one of these child states. To some extent, I was dealing with controls put into place as a child that were designed to keep me out of trouble. (Defense mechanisms and silence)

But the end of yesterday’s post marked a turning point for me. I realized that while I have felt trapped in a tiny space with my parents I can choose to emerge into the “open” and deal with it there. There is so much more to me and my life than my parents in the here and now. Even if the worst should happen and there should be a complete break with my mother, it would be terribly painful, but my life would go on and it would be a very good life.

Coming to this realization seems to have given me my voice back and it has helped me to focus on the fact that my understanding of my relationship with my father is only important to me in regards to my mother. I have no desire to see him or have contact. I do not fully understand why there is such a deep lack of trust and a need to shield myself from him, but that’s the way that things are. One painful truth that I continue to have trouble fully accepting is that my father hurt me. I’m not talking about in the horrific cruel way that my grandfather did. Maybe there was real cruelty there, but it’s all very complicated and figuring out that part isn’t actually important right now. What’s important is accepting that being my father’s daughter hurt me. It is a source of pain in the now and was a source of great pain as a child, for whatever reason. My father was not the father that my mother needs to believe that he was. As hard as it may be, I have to be solid in my acceptance of the fact that I hold a truth that is in opposition to my mother’s beliefs, so I can hold on to my truth, despite the desire that I most likely will have to make things easy on my mother whenever I engage with her again.

I suspect that there will be some form of engagement in the not too distant future. You see, I’ve realized that I have tentatively tried to get an appropriate response from my mom, but in all of the time that I have been working on dealing with the abuse, I haven’t ever flat out said from her, “This is what I need from you.” I have hinted. I have obliquely asked. I have tentatively started to introduce the subject of dealing with the abuse and given up when she repeatedly changed the topic. But I haven’t ever clearly said, “You have asked how you can help, because you know that I’ve been struggling, this is what I need from you.” I have been too afraid of how much it would hurt to have her refuse and lose the hope that one day things might be better with her. But this can’t continue indefinitely. She is getting older and I don’t want for time to run out. If I don’t give something clear and direct a good try with her, I will always wonder what would have happened if I had tried. I don’t want to live with that question over my head. So I have to find the courage to break several basic family rules at the same time: don’t talk about something that upsets my mom; don’t ask for something that she might not be willing to give to me; don’t talk clearly and directly about any problems of any type; keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong.

It’s a tall order and it’s intimidating to consider. But helps when I take a step back and remind myself that those were the rules of my childhood. I couldn’t do anything but follow them then, but now that I am an adult, they only apply to me if I allow them to apply to me. That is something that my fuller, outer self can appreciate, but I also know that I will be dealing with the memories of child states and in those states, I will fully believe that I have to follow the old rules. Hopefully, over the next weeks and months, I can bring the two close enough together, so that I can hold both beliefs at the same time. It is in that state of dual awareness that deep change can take place. The more that I can help all of me understand that I don’t need to live by the old family rules, the easier it will be to manage some sort of contact with my mother.

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Caryl Bryer Fallert, Flying Free #2

Caryl Bryer Fallert, Flying Free #2

I think that I am starting to understand at least part of the reason that I have had such a hard time writing off and on over the last few months. I have been experiencing a tug of war inside between needing to be heard and feel understood and needing to hide away everything that is unusual or “challenging” about me.

Yesterday in session, Mama Bear said something to me that demonstrated that she has been listening and she understands a lot more about how I function internally than I would have guessed. I have been aware of desperately wanting and not believing that I would ever get that level of understanding but while she was talking, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I feel happier and more relieved to hear her saying these things?” Instead, when she asked me what my response was, I realized that I was very frightened at the idea that she might actually understand me that well. I was so frightened that I couldn’t even begin to figure out why I was frightened or what might help me to feel less frightened. In fact, I was frightened enough that I can’t even remember exactly what it was that she said.

This afternoon, I was thinking about the fact that all of my life I have been afraid to make any waves. I have had an extreme need to be a “good girl”. If I have something that I need to say that might be difficult for someone, it won’t be said. I have a very difficult time standing up for myself when I am wronged and will go to great lengths to deal with it in some manner that does not involve a direct confrontation. I very much need for the people that I like to like me back and their disapproval is not just uncomfortable, but frightening to me. For a long time, I have assumed that these dynamics derive from my interactions with my mom and my fears of being abandoned by her if I put too many demands on her. I’m sure that is a big part of it, but there is more there. Today I realized that I have a young part who believes that if only she can manage to be “good” enough, “likable” enough, or otherwise acceptable, then finally someone will step in and want her enough to take her away to someplace safe. This part of me still has no understanding that the threat of being abused is long gone, but still believes that I am in danger. And one of the rules that this part lives by is that I cannot ask for help or let anyone see what has happened, because if I do, they will be disgusted and I will never be acceptable enough for anyone to want for me to be near them. The only possible way to safety is for no one to know what happened and what a disgusting child I was. If they knew who I really was, the only people who would let me near would be people who “knew how to deal with someone like me.”

What a bind. “No one safe will ever want to touch you, if they know what you did” and at the same time “I desperately need for someone to hear me, believe me, hold me.”

I don’t think that there is any quick or easy way to work through the fears and lies that through revealing what happened and all of myself, I will make myself unacceptable to everyone who I would want to be loved by. My guess is that it is one of those things that is going to take slow and steady work, with me working to support this part through looking at, trying out, and taking in different possibilities. Thankfully, the world isn’t as bleak and threatening as this hurt part believes it is; there are people in my life who are willing to love me despite what happened. But right now, I can really feel the fears of this part.

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One of the questions that I have been troubled by for decades is “Is it really possible that I could have so effectively dissociated the abuse that when I entered adulthood I had no memory at all of being abused?” It just seemed impossible that I could have blocked it out so well that nothing started to leak through until after I was married.

This question was one of the things that I was bold enough to ask Mama Bear about in the letter I mentioned in Struggles with Transference- Part 1. I had been avoiding asking it for ages, I think because I was afraid of what either answer would mean. But I’m at a point where I want to put to rest whatever I can, both so I am not distracted from the really difficult work and because I deserve to have whatever relief I can.

We spent a bit of time looking at this question in today’s session and Mama Bear said, yes, even in cases where there aren’t completely separate alters, it is possible to dissociate so completely that large chunks of memory which contain the abuse are blocked out. She talked about how the fear related to severe physical or psychological harm could cause that much dissociation. She then mentioned that there may also be a strong pressure to have no awareness of the abuse, because that is the only way to maintain important relationships.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when she said this. Here was the missing piece that I had not been considering. I could understand dissociating the abuse while it was happening or immediately after it, but what could have possibly maintained such an impenetrable shell around the memories for a couple of decades? Here was my answer: it was the need to preserve my relationship with my mother. I still am frozen by the fear that I cannot have my mother and also be honest about the abuse, even though I am no longer dependent upon her and haven’t even seen her for a year and a half. When I had been dependent upon her, it would have been beyond unthinkable for me to do anything to risk that relationship. I could not have allowed myself to know something that would have torn the family apart, because I have always feared that she would choose my father over me.

And suddenly things make sense to me. The idea that the fear alone had maintained that level of dissociation just didn’t ring true for me. My guess is that the danger of being physically harmed had vanished long before I left for college. But I would have done anything to maintain my relationship with my mother. I recognized that in Struggles with Tranference- Part 2. So, yes, I would have bent myself into whatever dissociative pretzel was necessary in order to preserve my relationship with my mother.

And when you take into account that it was after I got married that things started to leak through, then the relationship component makes even more sense. In fact, it was on our honeymoon that the emotional flashbacks really started to come through while we were making love, so as soon as I was certain that I had someone else in my life that I could rely on, the barriers started to come down.

I think that I can finally let this go and realize that completely dissociating the abuse for that long is not a far fetched idea. In fact, it is what makes the most sense in my situation.

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Today’s session took a sudden turn from being a “steady but difficult work” kind of session to an “incredibly intense” kind of session and at first it was hard to figure out just why.

Mama Bear had asked me a question and my brain was going in 4 or 5 different directions at the same time. Given that we had just talked about how useful writing things out can be for me, Mama Bear asked me, “Would you like for me to get a piece of paper, so you could right it down in a diagram? That might be easiest.”

I had a strong internal “no” to that and said, “No, that doesn’t feel right, right now.” But when I tried to think about the original question, I couldn’t focus. “Something odd is going on.”

Mama Bear could see my difficulty, “Can you describe what is going on right now?”

“I feel a lot of pressure and it is really loud in my head.” I started to shake.

“Is your mind having trouble letting you answer that question?”

“No, that isn’t it. I’m still reacting to the whole writing things out question. I really don’t want to have to write in front of you.”

“It sounds as though a lot of you really wants to make sure that I am clear that you don’t want to ever write in front of me.” I nodded. “C. it is OK for you to tell me “no.” In fact, I want for you to tell me “no”.”

I sat there and thought for a bit. “That is what I am reacting to so much. Saying “no.” I thought that it was all about why it is that I am afraid to write in front of you, but it isn’t really.”

“What is it like for you talk about saying “no”?”

“I have been experiencing sensations of being dragged to be forced to do something. But as I have been talking with and looking at you, those sensations are fading.” I was clearly aware of the presence of young parts who were very frightened, but who were looking at Mama Bear intently and taking in that she showed no signs of getting upset at me.

She looked at me sadly. “Do you remember when your daughter hit the stage when she learned the power of ‘no’? Do you remember how she said it all the time, sometimes just for the pleasure of being able to say it? ‘Do you want candy?’ ‘No!’ ‘No! No! No!’ It such an important part of a little one’s development. They took so much away from you when they took away ‘No’. We have been talking about loss of self. You need to be able to say ‘no’ in order to fully have a self.”

“C., I know that you said it before, but can you say no again?”

I took a breath and said, “No!” but it came out with a bit of a squeak.

“OK, that’s actually better than it was before, but I think that you can do better.”

I took a deeper breath and used my adult to firmly say, “NO!”

Mama Bear smiled at me. In retrospect, though, I wish that I had continued to work to help the child parts learn to say a firmer “no”, rather than taking over from them.

Unfortunately, all of this had started relatively close to the end of the session. So soon after this point, Mama Bear said, “C. we need to start to transition. Is there something that we need to do so that you can tuck back in your insiders?”

I closed my eyes to try to “feel” for what I needed to do, because I knew that I was wide open, and I proceeded to start to “pull into” me some of my vulnerable parts.

I hadn’t given any indication as to what I was doing, so Mama Bear asked, “Are you still thinking?”

With my eyes still closed, I said, “I’m working on pulling my parts back inside of me.”

Gently, she asked, “Don’t you think that it would be a good idea for you to open your eyes first, since I’m the one that they said “no” to and they didn’t really finish with me?”

Startled, I realized that she was correct, so I opened my eyes and looked at her. And the connection took my breath away. I could clearly see that she cared. More importantly, lots of me could take in seeing that she cared; she was really there, sitting in the room with me. And nothing terrible was going to happen because I had said no.

I teared up. “I had forgotten that I wasn’t in this alone. I had forgotten that I didn’t need to try to do it on my own.”

“I know. It’s going to take awhile for you to remember that you don’t have to try to do everything on your own.”

My insides are just reeling at the possibility that it might be safe to say “no” to someone that they rely on. It’s like I’m pulling apart a foundational rule of my universe: “I must figure out what is most convenient/needed for me to be for an important person and then live into that role when I am with that person. What I want is less than unimportant. If I cannot do what I should, I can try to avoid doing it, but I can never directly say no.” It’s disorienting to start to take apart the rules that your life has been based on, even if they were lies.

The funny thing is that I thought that I learned to say “no” years ago. And I did go from being unable to say “no” to anyone to being able to say “no” when it was something that I really didn’t want to do and I hadn’t been asked by someone important in my life. I completely missed the fact that I couldn’t say “no” to my husband, my mother, my therapist and that I even had a hard time with my daughter, even though I have very good developmental reasons to need to be able to say “no” to her. I missed the fact that if my husband asked me to do something that I wasn’t willing to do, I just avoided doing it. I avoided putting myself in a situation where my mother could ask something of me and did learn that I could say “no” if I felt that it was a safety concern. And somehow I avoided saying “no” to Mama Bear.

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