Group Therapy – In Retrospect

I find it easy to be retrospective, but when something is actually happening, I seem oblivious to the idea of connecting with the thoughts and feelings in that particular moment. It is a challenge to maintain concentration or observe a situation objectively.

Friday was group therapy. Earlier in the morning, I was struggling with an all too familiar sense of detachment. I resist the temptation to turn the car around. Something as petty as not knowing what to talk about seemed to be invoking anxiety and paranoia. There is usually an opportunity to rehearse my agenda, but my mind is blank and it feels as though I’m going on stage without first learning my lines.

groupSitting in the group, those stressful emotions were so intensely focussed there was no awareness why I wanted to hide. In hindsight, I wonder if there’s always a need to simulate the best of me… too worried what other people might think… too eager for them to like me… not judge me.

Since the start of therapy, there were concerns about my memory problems and an apparent inability to retain information. It’s even a struggle to remember recent posts on this blog. A vague summary of the last two are already hazy, and beyond that, there appears to be a dark hole.

It is feasible that my memory problems are more about dissociation and perhaps the distractions of a very busy – extremely paranoid – mind. Oddly, it hasn’t yet crossed my mind to share with the group how paranoia envelopes every corner of my life. Despite the central focus, the dissociative part often forgets it’s a problem. The thought simply isn’t there.

The two group Therapists were talking a little more than usual, most of it made little sense. Some sentences sounded like a foreign language.

The group Psychiatrist, Dr J, was talking about connecting with the feeling rather than the details of the memory… something about sitting with whatever emotion comes up. I didn’t have a clue what she meant and asked for clarification.

Rather than appear foolish, it’s easier and more comfortable if I feign understanding. Inapproach avoid retrospect, perhaps there is more avoidance at play rather than an ability to comprehend. Nevertheless, her words have tiptoed in and out of my consciousness ever since.

As the group sliced through the ninety minutes, there was something starting to swirl around inside my mind. It seemed so unrelated to what everyone else was saying and there didn’t seem to be an appropriate entry point, although I do recognise the avoidance tactic.

computerIt feels safer to work with this kind of awareness from the retrospective comfort of my PC. From this vantage point, there are no surprise questions to challenge my somewhat warped rationale and neither is there a chance of sitting with any emotion… or is there?

Part of me wants to continue to hide just behind the veil of the here and now, pretend everything is okay, that I’m happy with this existence. Today I catch a glimpse of what Dr J meant by sitting with the emotion…. I think this is where healing is supposed to take place.

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26 thoughts on “Group Therapy – In Retrospect

  1. Priceless Joy

    I think it is human nature to want people to see only the best part of us and being in a group session along with 2 group therapists would definately be intimidating for me. Yet, what Eric Tonningsen said above intrigued me, “why is that so hard for us?” It turned a light on for me, maybe that is what we should be working toward – being able to just “be” in that moment and express what we are feeling in that moment.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I think when we go to therapy with an agenda, it protects us from experiencing the unexpected, which might just be a lot of trauma. But, f awareness is the first step, then we are on our way, Joy!

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

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  2. Ellen

    Good for you for resisting the urge to turn the car. 🙂

    I think you’re right on the money with the thought that group shows up how badly we want to be liked, and our wish to fit in. Just this does not make for good self-expression, often, and so then we lose ourselves. I found getting that balance difficult, and i found people would act in group they way they had to act in their FOO in order to be acceptable there. In my group, that was mostly be withholding their feelings unfortunately.

    As you know, I also use dissociation as a defense. It will make my mind blank out, and I will forget things entirely that I knew perfectly well a half hour before. This last session in therapy, when I got home, I realized I’d left half the situation I was discussing out entirely. I’d ‘forgotten’ it. So I do know the struggle.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, Ellen, it made me wonder about the new driverless cars and maybe one day we’ll be whisked off in the therapy direction, kicking and screaming from inside 😉

      Yes, oddly, I hadn’t thought of the other group members struggling with their own need to be accepted… that may well help next session. Unfortunately, the numbers in my group have dwindled, but most are okay. We have two new people joining this week. It is a working group, which means there are people starting and leaving every 3-4mths throughout the the entire 18mths. It actually works quite well with ensuring there are always members who are more experienced and already talking in session.

      I am very conscious of the dissociation being a defence, but it can feel scary when we forget things that we should know very well. I get totally paranoid, fearing everyone will think I’m making it up just to avoid talking about certain things, so I usually cover it up with my rehearsed agenda

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      1. Ellen

        ‘it made me wonder about the new driverless cars and maybe one day we’ll be whisked off in the therapy direction, kicking and screaming from inside’

        LOL.

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  3. Life in a Bind - BPD and me

    I admire anyone who goes to group therapy – I have never done it and I find the thought incredibly intimidating! I also wonder whether I would every truly be able to let go and be myself – I feel as though the ‘competence mask’ or the ‘wanting to be liked’ mask, or other ‘shield’ of defence would kick in, and I’d never truly be able to connect with myself or what I was feeling. So definitely well done for not turning the car around! As for memory…I don’t know if it’s a function of BPD, but I always seem to have an appalling memory. I feel so lame when I keep saying ‘I don’t remember’…in therapy. Sometimes I will remember a single feeling or thought, but absolutely nothing about the context. For example, I am convinced that I remember genuinely worrying, as a teenager, that my parents might split up. However, I have almost no recollection of any events/arguments etc that might lead me to think that, other than an _impression_ (so hazy, it feels like a dream) that my mother might have taken off for a few hours in the car one evening, after a major argument with my dad. But so vague is that impression, I feel as though I could be making it up. My main memories growing up, are of films I saw, poems I read, books I read, dances I watched, people I idolised….any event, in fact, connected with an intense emotion of some kind….it’s the same with my dreams, the only ones I tend to remember are the ones where I feel intensely….so I’m not sure if my memory problems are due to dissociation, or some sort of faulty calibration that only lays down imprints if the emotional response is strong enough…

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    1. Cat Post author

      Group therapy is extremely challenging. Already we’ve had half the group drop out. It’s not for everyone and people who do go for it, most definitely need to feel ready. I can’t imagine any of us entirely letting go and being ourselves, but even if we are able to do it just a little bit, then it might be worthwhile. This therapy programme is specifically for those living with a Personality Disorder. It’s called Mentalization Based Therapy – ninety minutes group and 60mins individual therapy each week. I guess it helps us to get along with one another and then take those new life skills outside group.

      Our memory problems sounds very alike, it might be worth exploring the issue in relation to BPD, but I tend to think it is a kind of defence from experiencing too much of the painful memories/details.

      Thank you for commenting

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  4. mandy

    I read this post earlier, Cat, and I had to let it digest a spell. While I was reading I kept thinking, I could be writing this. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been driving to a ANY place that is a social situation–and I am thinking about “how can I cancel? how can I turn around? what sounds believable for an excuse? if I do go, how stupid will I sound? and on and on and god-awful on! And once I am “there” so much more time trying NOT to be there. I don’t know what is so painful about being in the moment. It’s such a vulnerable place for some of us. But we miss out on so much. You did a beautiful job laying it out there, Cat. I want to remember this. And I think it’s true–it’s not always faulty memories–dissociating has saved many lives. But we have to work on not falling back on it-especially when it will make us miss out on things that can move us forward. Sorry for the ramble, Cat. This was such a good post. ♥

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    1. Cat Post author

      You could never “ramble” on my blog, Mandy. Thank you for your kind encouraging words. You describe the avoidance so well, I particularly clicked with the… “And once I am there so much more time trying NOT to be there.”…. tut, that’s a weird one, eh? Perhaps we avoid being in the moment because we are avoiding recognising everything you lay out here in your comment. I’m so busy battling inside my head that I fail to see what exactly I am avoiding and why….mmmm… not sure if that makes sense.

      I would definitely agree that dissociation can also be positive and in many ways my own are a protector against experiencing too much trauma all at once.

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      1. mandy

        Thanks for putting up with me, Cat 🙂 I love that we can bounce these things off each other. In the end we usually get to the bottom of it and make sense of it all. (And sometimes laugh at ourselves–I especially love that! 🙂

        I think for me being in those social situations makes me feel vulnerable to “outing” myself as having problems. And I worry about judgement. All that slows down any benefit I might get if I were “there.” Maybe with this awareness, that can start changing, albeit slowly.

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        1. Cat Post author

          You hit the nail smack bang on the head, Mandy! ‘Outing’ as having MH problems is also a huge one for me. I would die if I thought people knew. The weird thing is that we would be quick to tell someone else not to be too bothered what other people think and not to be too hard on themselves….mmmm… we really are very cruel to ourselves.

          Small steps, Mandy, we’ll get there eventually

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  5. Gel

    I can relate to the part about wanting to turn away from group things….and I’ve done that a lot. And there are times when I’ve pressed forward and gone anyway. I now take great care in what kind of group situations I get into. Who the people are and how they are. We are so individualistic that we blame our limits on only ourselves or our disfunctions. The energy and intentions of other people bring our inner selves out in different ways. it’s not all just about our own abilities or willingness…..not sure I articulated what I want to say.

    But good for you for trying.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Gel, thank you for commenting. What you say is very true, but the other side of the coin seems to be about leaving ourselves open to contact with all sorts of people, particularly the difficult ones. We’re encouraged to talk about those issues in group, which hopefully helps to resolve any difficulties with people on the “outside” But, it’s equally important not to be too hard on ourselves

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  6. Glynis Jolly

    I think some emotions, the ones that evoke painful memories in particular, would be hard the “sit with”. And yet, I’m almost positive that this is what you’re discussing in this post and it’s better to stumble through those emotions and get them out, if for no other reason, to get rid of them.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Glynis, it can be so easy to be too hard on ourselves. While replying to comments today, I did feel I was indeed sitting with those feelings, albeit retrospectively. Maybe next time I will be able to recognise them in group. Thank you for commenting.

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  7. Bradley

    Cat, It’s so hard to push yourself when you want to turn around. Be proud of yourself for this huge accomplishment. There were so many times I wanted to turn back. I would think to myself, “I can’t say much today, otherwise they’ll think I’m crazy. Sometimes you just have to let go of the floodgates and let it all flow out (much easier said than done.)

    Be proud of yourself.

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  8. Sharon Alison Butt

    Cat, do you think there is a possibility that some of the post you wrote, but cannot remember, are owing to dissociation? I was wondering if maybe different personalities write different posts? It must feel awful to lose time like that. Thanks for this x

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    1. Cat Post author

      Well, I d think dissociation does run through my memory issues, but I’m not sure about different personalities in different posts. Maybe I should look back to see if there are obvious differences.

      Thank you for commenting, Sharon

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      1. Sharon Alison Butt

        Sorry, maybe that was a daft question. I was thinking of the book called Sybil where she dissociated into 16 different personalities to cope with life. She spent a whole year dissociated at school and when she finally ‘came back’, she couldn’t do the math problems she’d learnt nor play the piano. Teachers got mad at her as they thougt she was being stubborn. It’s making me cry as I think about it.

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