I want to fight her, I really do. She’s just not rising to it.
‘I see your suffering,’ she says, the words melodic and gentle. Now she’s looking at me, and she’s evidently not scared of me. She’s wiping down the space between us with tenderness. ‘Tell me about your suffering.’ Something about her softness breaks my aggression and I look down, and sigh. There’s pain in that sigh. It burns to breathe in again.
‘How can I help you?’ the therapist asks me. ‘What do you need from me?’
I look at her closely, examining her features, whilst also looking through her, to make sure I don’t connect too closely.
First the fear: Is this a trick? What does she mean? What does she want? Why is she saying this?
Then the shame: What right have I to be helped?
And afterwards, the sadness: No-one has ever offered to help me.
Three emotions in three seconds.
‘Unshame?’ says the therapist, checking that she’s heard me correctly.
I nod. ‘I don’t know what else to call it. Because, what’s the opposite of shame? There isn’t one really, is there?
‘What are you going to do to keep yourself safe?’ It’s a subtle change of question, but an effective one, because I’m caught.
‘I have absolutely no idea,’ I say, deciding that honesty is the best policy.
‘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?’