The cost of invulnerability

by | 18 April 2019 | 14 comments

‘Does that feel too vulnerable?’ the therapist asks me.

Doh. Yes. Of course.

But I don’t say this, because it feels too vulnerable to admit to feeling vulnerable. Instead, I pull my armour tighter and try to figure out how to distract her.

She had asked me how I feel therapy is going, how our relationship is. I’m damned if I’m going to tell her, I think. There’s no way I’m giving her that kind of information, so that she can use it against me. There’s no way I’m going to show her what’s really going on, inside my mind, in my guts. I imagine her ten feet away, grappling to reach me, and I savour the safety of that space between us. It feels comforting. It feels a relief. The thought of her coming any closer, touching me, impacting me, knowing me, makes me sweat with clammy fear.

I can’t think what to say in reply to her so I just shrug ambiguously, and I avert my gaze down towards the leg of her chair. I’m precarious here: I mustn’t look as if her question has got to me. I mustn’t let her see that I’m trying not to look vulnerable.

But of course she knows. She knows every-bloody-thing. She is a therapist.


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 for more information, and if you are looking for support.

For training, please see our range of live courses at, and our online courses at We also publish a range of resources to support recovery from trauma, which you can see at My first book, Recovery is my best revenge, is available to buy at




  1. I have played extensive vulnerability games previously in my own therapy, the trying not to show you care when you really really REALLY care thing. I know it well! You hold the exact same defences that so many dissociative trauma survivors will also have, and you make it explicit and detailed, which can only be a good thing. I think many clients will relate to this, and likewise, so will the therapists who work with us. You are shining a light on something that forms such an important thread running through all of my therapy sessions, Thank you 🙂 It massively helps.

  2. Thank you Carolyn for your courage to share …… I do find that these articles help and enhance my work with my clients, and believe that I am able to offer them courage to speak.

  3. “It is the cost of my invulnerability. In running from abuse I have run into a prison of loneliness …”

    “And I mean the loneliness of a thousand years alone. The loneliness of pitch dark blindness. The loneliness of shame and skin hunger and maggot-crawling unworthiness.”

    Stunning writing Carolyn, piercingly accurate description of my own suffering for so long … so grateful to feel validated and less alone…

  4. I have always thought that showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness in me. Somehow it doesn’t seem a weakness in others but when it comes to me, it’s like, of course it is! To me, vulnerability is linked to pain, hurt, sadness, shame…. wanting the connection but scared of it, scared of the attachment, the sense of dependency…

    I’m trying get my head round all this. Two years in to my therapy with my DID therapist, I’m still grappling with these. I feel there’s still so much.

  5. When you’re trying to read a blog post about vulnerability, but your brain screams too hard that it’s a trick, willing the writer to run away from the therapy room and not give into their tricks, so you have to stop reading mid blog post, and then you realise you need to talk about this in your actual therapy, and now you need to go sulk. Tricks, I’m telling you; tricks everywhere…

  6. I reiterate everything that has been said. Thankyou so much Carolyn

  7. Everything you say is both inspiring and helpful. You really are an incredible person that helps masses of people. Thank you so much for everything you do. Xx

  8. I echo what Angla said above. Thank you for taking the energy and time required to write this all out. You help MANY!

  9. I find your words so inspiring. I hope that one day that I will be able to stop locking myself away and be able to become a stronger person. I have a great therapist but I’m only really at the beginning of my journey.

  10. Thank you for your very courageous blog. Although I felt myself wince at the idea of the all-knowing therapist, perhaps considering the context I am misguided, and I am grateful to you for sharing your faith in us therapists as a possible aid to recovery.

  11. As a therapist, working with your articles enables my clients with complex trauma and dissociative issues to identify with your words. As a result they have found their own voice in the process. Having worked with them on self compassion for a very long time, reading your article seems to back up what I have said & becomes meaningful. Your blogs are so helpful and constructive and I am very grateful for your willingness to be so vulnerable and open. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  12. Hi Carolyn, it seems like you are speaking the exact words I am experiencing; it’s like you are saying what I am feeling. Thank you for your honesty. I wish I knew how I could change like you have, as I cannot remain like this.

  13. Your words are courageous and emancipatory. Thank you.

  14. Even reading it feels threatening, but familliar, and there is safety in familiarity that helped me read on.
    And follows an ‘ahha’ moment. Just yesterday I realised that I had snapped at my beautiful son so unfairly, and as I jourlaled last night I had wondered if it was just to keep distance between us. It caused so much pain and confusion in both of us.


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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.

Recovery is my best revenge: overcoming trauma

Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?

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