The power of negativity

by | 7 February 2019 | 17 comments

‘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 …’

My words puff into nothing like thin strands of smoke and I’m frustrated that I can’t communicate the depth of my despair. She’ll just nod slightly and say something that’s intended to be encouraging, and I’ll feel all the shame again of being so defective. I’ll feel the desperate, dank gloom of the week to come. With scrunched-up toes and jittery fingers, I’ll dread coming back next week, only to disappoint her again. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on being such a failure in therapy.

I ache with the bleakness of being me.


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. You describe common therapeutic exchanges so perfectly Carolyn. I have had similar conversations and experiences in the therapy room myself. Previously I have found positivity and hopeful optimism very irritating and dismissive of my feelings, but maybe that was about the stage of un-recovery I was at previously. Hopelessness does give a strange sense of power, and it’s hard to talk a hopeless person out of hopelessness without them resenting you and rebelling against that. Often we only learn the truth of what therapists say some time after they have said it, and it’s always quite hard to stomach that, but therapy is about change, and change is difficult (not impossible though). Loving your work Carolyn 🙂

  2. A beautifully written blog , I only wish NHS therapists (and a lot of private ones ) weren’t forced to spend so much of their time trying to get their CBT boxes ticked rather than understanding the depth of human suffering. Carolyn’s other article about ‘marginal gains’ just read too. So helpful and hopeful….

    It is with joy I find this blog and grateful I found a therapist who helped me in this way …….

    I will never forget her saying ‘there is something different to experience ‘ …. I really didn’t understand what she meant at the time , in fact it was years later I got it !

    Good luck and love to all survivors xx

  3. Yes, yes, yes……these are the insights that allow me to make little shifts inside…..its such a relief to learn that these strategies actually make sense and WERE functional AT THE TIME.. ..and I am not just defective…..and that now I am free to change them…slowly, bit by bit its happening..
    And like many others I get these insights from you Carolyn, sadly not the therapist, so its SO IMPORTANT…and powerful.
    It breaks my heart to read them though……thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Your capacity to help therapists understand the depth and truth of the experience of the client in a new and enlightening way is awe-inspiring. Thank you.

    • I whole-heartedly agree. Raw insightful authenticity is the most effective teacher for those who are therapists.
      Carolyn, thank you.

  5. Just off the phone after a session – and this makes a connection. How come the counsellor doesn’t get it or worse does get it, but doesn’t share it?

  6. Wonderful, thank you.

  7. I can relate to some of this. Feeling crushed by more shame whenever I think in a session how moany and whiny I must come across, yet at the same time feeling I so desperately have to explain it, (even though there never feels any words and I never feel I convey the pain), because I don’t feel it’s validated or comprehended by the other person.
    For me, I desperately seek a listener, to listen, comprehend, validate with genuine empathy so then I can start to listen, comprehend and validate everything that happened to myself. To piece together a whole singular true self.
    One can’t happen without the other. Well, it’s very hard I think.

  8. Aaaaghh I wish we could all have positive experiences in therapy. This is all so familiar, in terms of your feelings, expressions, beliefs…but the therapist is vastly different. At just under a year the reaction I get is that I’m not ever going to get better, nothing will improve, and they do not recommend I have any more therapy. Tears pouring down my face, I know I’ve tried to cling on to a hope that this isn’t true and to have it crushed is so cruel. I try to be brave and just contain the upset but can’t. So I’m weak and have failed. Massively. And back on my own as that was the end of that therapy. I couldn’t do any more anyway. Every single ‘professional‘ I’ve ever come across has made me worse. I don’t understand why they all want to be so cruel. Thank you Carolyn for giving us these insights to read so we can try to apply them to ourselves too.

    • K, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience of therapy. It’s shocking to me that a therapist’s approach would make you feel weak and to have failed. Rather, it seems to me as if the therapist failed you. Maybe they didn’t want to be cruel – maybe they lacked the capacity to really understand and resonate with your pain. For what it’s worth, I believe you are brave – after all, you’ve posted your pain here and that’s a brave action. Please take care of yourself – you are worth it.

  9. Thank you so much for your retelling of therapy.
    This really helps understand the complexity of coping strategies at their very best

  10. Right now I’m stuck. It’s safer. I feel exactly what you have written. I’m sure my therapist is disappointed in me. But I’m stuck and it sucks but it’s safer than feeling and hoping.

  11. Tears are threatening and there is a sob caught in my throat.

    Reading this, I am feeling a connection, I am not alone in my confusion, disillusion and feared madness.

    Maybe if I can survive another day, another week…..maybe then I can begin to hope. I am scared to hope. Death feels more comforting in my exhaustion…safer even than taking a risk on life.

    I hear my own voice, my own inner child, as well as the parts of me working with her to recover …..5 years and counting….and waiting from the day my mind could no longer contain my trauma.

    Hoping a little…..then crushing that hope with my fear… invades me , sneaks up on me too ……I keep trying to explain to professionals how staying small, feeling in control of my disordered eating is keeping me safe……safe from being hurt by others if I “let go”… from the dark intrusive thoughts telling me there is no hope, that I am useless, unloved, worthless and pathetic. Its all too hard. They would all be better off without me and I would no longer have to feel the shame of failing in my recovery each time I am overwhelmed with a setback.
    And I am pretty good at keeping myself safe this way… is something where I have the power.

    Why does my mind allow the terror and darkness to arrive unnanounced in the middle of a perfectly ordinary day and to completely overwhelm me in the middle if the night??? Why does it feel safer to self destruct than let others destroy me if I take a chance and trust them, if I allow myself to hope that my future will be ok?

    So this post resounds with me.
    Touches me.

    Negativity….feels soul destroying some days…..but on other days, sometimes it’s the only thing that honours the awfulness of what happened to “little me”, the only thing that keeps me safe….because those tired of waiting for my recovery aren’t watchful, those who lack understanding are irritated and impatient and might hurt me….and if I let my guard down and hope …and live…..I might not be safe from them and myself.

    I think the hardest thing is that the parts of me that have made steps forward…acknowledged the courage it has taken, who sometimes do have hope…are exhausted from the constant battle with the other parts……who tremble with fear that even the most ordinary day, could turn out to be devastating, and sinister.

    If there are other souls who have the same feelings as me …then at least I am not alone in my despair….someone else is out there who knows how breaking and breaking over and again leaves us fragile ….there is positivity in knowing that.

    Thank you

    • I totally understand how you feel Lola. You are not alone

    • you are definitely not alone. thank you for sharing your thoughts & reassuring me that I am not alone too. xxx

    • Absolutely not alone.

      If we stay ten steps ahead, no one can hurt us. If we are awful to ourselves, no one can hurt us as much as we hurt ourselves. If we only have negativity, things can’t get worse! Self-protection feels bizarre at times.

  12. Thank you


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