I see suffering

by | 11 April 2019 | 13 comments

‘Too much suffering!’ I say, quickly, determinedly, almost angrily, in response to the therapist’s question. She wants to know what my biggest problem is right now. She wants to figure out how to focus down on what we try to deal with this session. Which strand of wool shall we pull from the tangled mess in front of us that is me, today, here, now?

My answer hasn’t really helped her.

She smiles sympathetically and lowers her eyes. Mine are radiating challenge, fury, and acres of self-pity. Right now, I want to lay into anyone I can justifiably blame for my suffering. Anyone, that is, apart from the people that caused it – that still doesn’t feel safe. But I’m hot with agitation, I’m aching with abandonment, and I have that edgy, dangerous sense of wanting to destroy something. Preferably myself.

The therapist pauses, waits, calms. She’s sucking the energy out of my fight. She’s not looking directly at me, but slightly off to one side, and her upper body is languidly angled away from me too. There’s a soft gaze on her face, her wrinkles crumpled together full of pink lifefulness. She’s present and real and human and here, and it’s all I can do not to be defused by her. I want to fight her, I really do. She’s just not rising to it.

 

Find the complete article in Carolyn's new book, 'Unshame: healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy', available now!

A word of explanation

I had therapy mainly between 2006 and 2015. These blog posts are not verbatim accounts of sessions, but rather the client equivalent of ‘case studies’ - amalgamations of various sessions, ‘narratively true’ rather than ‘historically true’. Although often written for stylistic purposes in the present tense, they are very much from a past period of my life. Ideally they should be read within the wider context of other blog posts, articles and my book, to give a more integrated and rounded sense of where I was at, where I’m at now, and the process that took place between those two points. I have been on a journey of recovery, and the difference in me from when I was in therapy (especially at the beginning) to now is testament to the brain’s ability to recover from even the most appalling suffering.

My primary work now is writing, followed closely by training therapists, counsellors and other professionals to support survivors of trauma. Regrettably I cannot provide one-to-one support but our charity framework PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) provides a helpline and a range of other services: please go to www.pods-online.org.uk for more information, and https://support.pods-online.org.uk/start-here if you are looking for support.

For training, please see our range of live courses at www.carolynspring.com/live-training, and our online courses at www.carolynspring.com/online-training. We also publish a range of resources to support recovery from trauma, which you can see at www.carolynspring.com/shop. My first book, Recovery is my best revenge, is available to buy at https://www.carolynspring.com/shop/recovery-is-my-best-revenge-paperback/

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13 Comments

  1. So much of what you write resonates deeply within me, and the way you put words to what can only be described as a wordlessly emotional experience in the therapy room is nothing short of INCREDIBLE. I swear that you and I just swap places in therapy as so much of what you say is how I have felt, but not been able to articulate. I feel like I’m in the room there with you, because so many of my own therapy sessions have felt the way you so beautifully describe. Never stop writing, please.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for these raw and real posts. They are my ‘therapy’ and in many ways my heart written out by another. Thank you for the bravery of saying what my brain has often screamed by my mouth will never let come out.

    Reply
  3. Thank you, Carolyn. I am a therapist who suffers long and hard at feeling self-compassion. I know that it is the only balm for suffering and yet time and time again, I can defensively reject myself in the way you described. However, reading your description of how the skilful therapist recommended sitting with the pain has been very useful, particularly how pain does not disappear but becomes softened and regulated by attunement with another which you eventually begin to assimilate. It was also very useful to read the description of how the therapist owned her feelings and how she self soothed and regulated in order to stop too much merging and over-identification with the client. Thank you again, invaluable

    Reply
  4. Thank you for writing about compassion. It makes more sense now, and I can see the benefits for helping self and others. As you say we all suffer pain, some more than most. It can be difficult to talk about.

    Reply
  5. I can’t say too much because this is the first time I’ve responded and I feel scared and maybe it’s a stupid thing to do. But I want to say thanks Carolyn. I’ve had two years counselling and learned heaps from that counsellor about compassion and self-compassion. Now I’ve just had my second session with a new counsellor because I was unable to return to the first one. It’s very hard but reading this blog has helped me to hope that it will be okay and I am maybe capable of getting somewhere. Thank you I read your book during my last counselling and it and your blogs give me hope.

    Reply
  6. Compassion, for me as a therapist, is loving when the client is feeling wholly unlovable, unloving and unloved. It is a tenderness that permeates the space between us….it is the acknowledgment of pain and suffering where perhaps, before, there has been none. It envelops like a warm blanket and its very fibres of softness and comfort evidence that the client is worthy of this gentle touch. A touch that can be turned around, redirected and little by little, practised on the self even in just small, measured ways at first. And in that, for me, lies the very essence of the beginnings of recovery.

    Reply
  7. I am able to feel compassion towards others, but I find it difficult to feel it towards myself especially the younger parts. I know in my head it’s what I need and I’m getting there. Thank you yet again for enabling me to normalise the anger towards myself for feeling anything at all. I do hope one day I will be able to shed all the unshed tears that still hold me back instead of blanking off or shutting down as soon as I feel my throat tighten.

    Reply
  8. What does one do when one has learned how to give self-compassion, but has now become so utterly emotionally and physically exhausted that I just don’t have the energy/strength to cope with any more of my own pain. I feel like an adult attempting to parent a bunch of traumatised children, when i am so physically ill I just have nothing left to give.

    (Cant access any more therapy BTW – too ill to travel, unable to handle telephone/email counselling, & no one accessible has experience/training in dissociation)

    Reply
  9. The writing from today the 11th says everything I feel it moved me to tears . I wish I could share this with my therapist but I know I could not . I could have written this about how it is

    Reply
    • I was thinking exactly the same. I worry will my therapist think that Carolyn is ‘acceptable’ within the trauma community? (sorry Carolyn but I am sure you can empathise). I definitely can’t ‘bring’ anything I’ve read to a session in case ‘it’s judged as unacceptable’ and by association I’m unacceptable. And this is with someone who I’ve formed some degree of attachment with. But, your writing does help me to structure my thoughts before a session – but then maybe I am just a plagiarist. Ugh!

      Reply
  10. Your words are helping to save us, post by post. It is beyond reassuring to hear you recount, most exactly, how I feel in therapy… and provide me with hope that “the therapist’s” perspective is not one of disgust, impatience and fury … which were the only things I could imagine. Thank you again and again.

    Reply
  11. Thank you, well explained in understanding self compassion and how to implement self compassion. Plus learning to cope with overwhelming empathy in this world of pain and not suffocate with it all.

    Reply
  12. False compassion. And where it stems from, and where I still receive it from in the present, and what/who it will mirror. It’s toxic and cements more dissociation. It cements more uncompassion within myself. Thank you for a wonderful blog. The most insightful to me I’ve read.
    It has helped me trust what I intuitively have realised for a while now.

    Reply

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