When safe feels unsafe

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Instagram Youtube ‘Are you going to keep yourself safe this evening?’ asks the therapist. It’s nearly the end of the session. And it’s been a tough one. We’ve done some good work – knowing what I’ve previously been unable to know, feeling...

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Why don’t I belong?

‘I don’t fit in,’ I complain, earnestly, full of pain. ‘I don’t belong. I don’t belong anywhere.’

The therapist looks at me steadily, brimming with compassion for me and probably a little stuck about how to respond. If she contradicts me, she’ll risk being misattuned. If she agrees with me, she’ll reinforce my misery. So she sits and waits and eventually she says, ‘When did you first feel like this?’

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The shame of dissociation

The woman’s eyes flick around the floor. Her breath is caught up in her ribs, hardly exhaling. Her fists are clenched. Her shoulders shrug upwards around her neck, protectively. The agony of being is raw on her face. Terror and dread and shame and confusion.

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The fallacy of grounding

But she’s not a substitute. She’s a prison guard.

That is the first conclusion I jump to even before our first session starts. But I am being driven by fear of the unknown; fear of attachment; fear of rejection; fear of being shamed. I’m aware, just about, that I’m not being entirely fair.

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The powerlessness of grooming

‘It’s just a terrible sense of guilt,’ I explain, ‘but I don’t even know where it comes from. I just know that it was my fault. That it was always my fault. So how can I sit here in therapy and complain that I was abused if I caused it?’

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Am I too much?

‘She said I was too much.’

There. I’ve said it. My shame is disclosed and I tighten reflexively, waiting for the words that will doom me to hopelessness: ‘Yes, you are too much.’

Instead the silence wafts gently between us, backwards and forwards, like a palm leaf.

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The power of negativity

‘Things aren’t getting any better,’ I whine miserably at the therapist. ‘If anything, they’re getting worse. I can’t sleep. I’m in constant pain. I’m up and down and all over the place. I can’t stay present. I can’t see a way forwards. I can’t stop the flashbacks. I can’t cope. I just … can’t … do it any more …’

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The shame of wanting to be loved

I try to take a deep breath, but there’s only space for air in the uppermost part of my lungs. Really I want to run away. Or hide. Or cease to exist.

She bobs her head slightly forward, trying to find me because she knows I’m avoiding her.

Don’t look for me. Don’t find me.

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Learning to control switching

‘I can’t help it though,’ I complain, with a mixture of forlornness and mild outrage. ‘I just … disappear. And other parts come. I don’t mean to switch. It just happens.’

The therapist looks at me and nods understandingly, but I can tell she’s not finished. I prefer things to be black-and-white, all-or-nothing. She seems to relish the grayscales.

‘Yes, I believe you,’ she says, but her eyes have narrowed determinedly.

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Why can’t I just get over my trauma?

‘If I could just get over it, I would,’ I say, and I’m trying not to sound irritated or hurt but I’m not quite sure what emotion my face is displaying and my throat is tight and my fists are clenched and really I’d rather not be here, and neither am I convinced that I’m a good enough actor to hide all of this.

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The start of my journey out of shame

Shame. It’s a familiar word and yet the more I think about it, the stranger it becomes. What does it mean? Where does it come from? How does it go? What is the point of it? Why does it even exist?
I’d never even considered it before therapy. It was just a run-of-the-mill emotion: one that I’d heard about, but never (so I thought) really experienced.

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Dealing with Denial

‘But if I accept that this is real, that this stuff really happened to me, then I don’t think I’ll be able to cope.’

The therapist looks at me as I splutter out my confession. I have used denial all my life to cope with my abuse. Now, a couple of years into therapy, I sit perched on the edge of a precipice. Will I free-fall into life without dissociation?

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