Group Therapy – Awareness

There has never been a dull moment since the beginning of the Mentalization Based Therapy programme. No sooner do I come through one issue, than I stumble across another waiting for its turn in the therapeutic process.

The current issue has always been highly emotive. Out of everything, this has to bethZ0264K9X the one that consistently follows like a haunting shadow. It can feel as soul-destroying today as it did in childhood.

There is something very uncomfortable about saying, “I have a terrible relationship with my mother.” Somehow, it feels humiliating, maybe childlike, as though those unresolved issues are stuck in a dysfunctional childhood that didn’t mature with the rest of me.

We have always had a rocky relationship. The fundamental issue seems to be my inherent inability to please her. Rather than punish the child in a rage of violent blows, the only ammunition today is to clench those fists and wield contempt in the shape of passive-aggressive silence.

Our history of underlying issues makes it easy to play into the silence. There is little substance in our relationship, and even less to hold onto. Maybe it provides an opportunity to bail out. At first, the estrangements lasted from weeks to months, once for 5-7 years.

The group were deadly quiet as I revealed this at Friday’s therapy session. “My mind becomes stuck in a ruminating battle of ‘who-is-to-blame.” I can never understand why it causes so much anger and resentment.”

One of the group therapist asked, “What is the feeling when you think about your Mum’s silent treatment?”

“Relief because I don’t need to talk to her… happiness”

“Then why not sit and enjoy that happiness? You were agitated earlier for being on the receiving end of silence. What feeling does that silent-treatment evoke?”

“Anger?”

It felt as if the two group Therapists were anticipating some kind of mini-enlightenment.

“What comes before anger?”

“Is it hurt?”

The other group members were sitting tentatively in their seats, smiling, waiting for this eureka moment.

“What is the feeling that comes directly before hurt and anger?”

It is one of those moments in therapy when your mind is bringing something from the unconscious into consciousness. This is always a weird experience. As the ninety minutes ended, I felt a little bemused that I couldn’t yet see the obvious.

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36 thoughts on “Group Therapy – Awareness

  1. Priceless Joy

    I know in my own therapy, it usually took time for the “aha” moment to come because I was having to sift through the intense emotion of “anger” (rage). ‘That’, in itself, is so all encompassing that it seemed to throw up a brick wall to my further understanding. That wall would eventually become thinner and thinner until the light, or at least some of the light, came through. Seems like, in therapy, trying to understand all of our feelings and emotions is like trying to find needles in haystacks. We have to pull them from our subconscience so we can understand ourselves, see the problem for what it is, and heal from it. I hope this sheds a little light on it for you.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Just your presence alone, Joy, is enough to shine the light… Yes, anger, a very destructive and blinding emotion and, you’re so right, it does build those walls extra thick. I consider myself very lucky with the ‘aha’ moments. I’ve had three in 4 months 😉 It’s getting to be like a drug because it can bring a rush of contentment. I’m not sure the aha moment is the same on this occasion. I imagine what they were expecting me to say (rejection/abandonment) and while that may well turn out to be the case, I’m not entirely sure.

      Thank you, (((Joy)))

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  2. Ellen

    I was ‘treated’ to extensive silent treatment as a child. I found it made me doubt my own sense of reality, as no one acknowledged that was happening. It’s kind of passive aggressive that way. My own feelings were of hurt, anger and confusion, more or less as you describe. I’d be interested if you find another feeling that happens before those.

    Glad your group therapy is proving so fruitful for you. You are really venturing out there and are reaping some rewards I think.

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    1. Cat Post author

      That’s strange, this is exactly what I said to my Therapist last individual session… there was only a vague sense of reality… while Mum professed to be a good natured and very patient person, we all witnessed the opposite, yet no one had the courage to say. I’m only beginning to realise the major conflict it generated in my own little world, child and adult.
      I’m not sure, but I think they were half expecting me to say rejection or abandonment. I dunno if I feel that, Ellen, but it does figure logically. One of the major symptoms of BPD is a fear of abandonment, so I think the 2 group T’s were maybe trying to tap into that… if it existed.

      Many thanks Ellen. You have been on my mind this past week. I’m not sure if I agreed with one of my own comments I left on your blog, but I’ll go back to it 😉

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  3. Life in a Bind - BPD and me

    My mother was never silent, on any topic (or at least not one that had anything to do with me), but we too have always had a rocky relationship and my mind gets caught up in who’s to blame, whenever we argue….when it comes to silence, I only know how it feels when my therapist is silent. But that’s a rather different dynamic, so I don’t know if it will be relevant to your own chain of feelings…another wonderful post Cat, reading about your journey in therapy inspires me to keep carrying on with mine even when it feels hopeless or counterproductive, thank you ….

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    1. Cat Post author

      My mother was never silent with me either. She only shut her mouth after years of estrangement. Now, it’s the silent treatment, which seems to carry the same loud criticism as her tongue once did 😉
      Thank you for your kind comment about my posts inspiring you to continue with therapy. What I’m finding in my own process is that very often we don’t realise we are actually working on one issue while talking about another….mmmm…. not sure if that makes sense. An example would be childhood trauma. I haven’t talked or written too much about it, but through talking about other things relating to my mother, I find the trauma in the childhood memories are a little less. Sometimes we don’t realise our progress. From what I’ve read on your own blog, your progress is evident. As long as we are searching within, then it is working!

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  4. mandy

    I found it interesting, Cat, that you say it feels humiliating to say you have a poor relationship with your mother. It’s a well-known fact that even in really good situations, girls tend to have at-odds relationships with their mothers. Why? I don’t know. They just always touch sore spots in one another. Boys are usually close to their moms so that could explain why it feels so painful for you. I would say that, in itself, should bring comfort to you. Maybe your mother’s issues were never with you at all. Maybe something to do with men that you never knew. (Listen to me–shouldn’t I be a therapist or something?) Anyway, on to your group. There’s nothing quite like the pressure to GET IT in group, huh? I always just nodded like I was getting it or almost getting it…and I really just wanted to say, “I give up –what’s the answer!” You’re a trooper, Cat. Not giving up and that’s a good thing!! 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Mandy… I also found it interesting when I said “humiliating” 😉 but I do think you hit the nail on the head about how other people (men) have good relationships with their mother. The mother can be a very precious thing to most people and I struggle with the more common view of “even if she does get on our nerves…well… she’s still your mother”…. oh and lets not forget the, “Honour thy father and mother.” I feel guilty because I don’t carry the same sentiment – and I know I shouldn’t but we’re working on that! Nevertheless, it almost feels Sacrilegious to admit otherwise. 😉

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      1. mandy

        I completely understand everything you say here, Cat. It was always difficult for me to admit I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents. It was like saying something was wrong with ME and I wasn’t loveable. I never told anyone the “whys” of it all. I just kept trying to fix it and get them to discuss it (I was always willing to forgive them if they would just accept responsibility for the damage incurred.) There is something that feels wrong about not honoring our parents–even when they deserve it. It took writing my story to work through being okay with letting go of honoring them. Surprising how many months of tears came from the guilt. Almost like accepting that I no longer had parents. I had to go through all the stages of grief. Then the anger came. Now I’ve calmed down and it’s funny, sometimes I still feel a deep love for them, and I let myself, recognizing it as love for the way I wished it could be. (sorry for going on so long.) You’re making so much progress, Cat. If we can just not get paralyzed by how overwhelming recovery is, it will come.♥

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        1. Cat Post author

          I knew you would ‘get it’, Mandy. That guilt and self-blame for everything is enormous, but I can honestly say there is a lot less of it hanging around my neck these days. Funny you should mention “recognizing it as love for the way I wished it could be.” This is exactly what I feel when my mum says she wants to see me… she wants to pretend everything is the way she would like it to be, but the reality can make for a very awkward meeting.

          There’s no such thing as long comments, Mandy. Thank you for taking the time

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  5. jamborobyn

    I’m not sure why but I find it almost amusing that in group therapy they expect an “aha” moment! As though a moment’s epiphany can replace or alter the perception of a lifetime’s accumulation of being, experience, patterns of emotional responses to cruelty… I don’t know if I misunderstood the post or not. The only thing that ever moves me along in my growth and peace is the truth – so the only aha! moments I experience have to do with spotting the lie… whether it’s within me or around me.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Robyn… You haven’t misunderstood the post and what you say is very valid. For me, those aha moments don’t change the pain from the past, but they can bring about a different perspective and that can go along way. When you think about it, if a child is being beaten or ignored by a parent, then they most likely feel rejected, even abandoned. It just so happens that a major symptom of BPD is a fear of abandonment. I think the Therapist were encouraging me to dig around and look for that emotion. They didn’t want to suggest it because , if it is there, then I will eventually find it. If it is there, then I suppose it is the truth and, as you said, truth leads to growth.

      Thank you for being part of that growth

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      1. your mirror

        I think that the feeling just before hurt and anger is love, the unconditional love that a mother is supposed to have for her children. We, at least as mammalian, are genetically programmed to receive unconditional love, it is fundamental for our development as much as food. If this is not provided, we feel hurt and angry because of the innatural betrayal. It is humiliating to have a bad relationship with our own mother (and father) because they are the only people supposed to love us unconditionally. When they do not do it, I think our mind translate it in “you are unlovable”, with all the consequences you well know.
        I thank you because I am in a quite difficult financial situation at the moment and I cannot have any sort of support, I am using your therapy to help myself. I am glad you have started updating more regularly, thank you!

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        1. Cat Post author

          I think what they were encouraging me to dig around for was the emotion ‘rejection/abandonment’ and that would tie into what you said – in that rejection, they withhold unconditional love. TBH, I’m not sure if I feel rejection today, but maybe in childhood. If anyone is being abandoned now, it’s my mother. However, it got me wondering if maybe this is true, it’s just I can’t FEEL it yet…. maybe I am blocking out that emotion…

          Your comment has helped me focus on what might be behind that feeling of rejection in childhood and you are spot on about why someone might feel humiliated about having a bad relationship with the parents.

          Thank you for such a lovely supportive comment. I’m glad my posts help in some way

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      2. your mirror

        Eheh, you cannot feel it (yet) because otherwise you would not be in this “mess”!! Starting from the point that parents have the role to teach us to love and respect for ourself, when they do not do it, or worse, they are only able to (egoistically) pour all their frustrations on their offsprings, not only they do not fulfill their biological duty, but they cause damages that can or cannot be fixed later on, depending on a myriad of circumstances. It is too long to explain here, but try to google “embriology” or “morphogenesis”. You will see that the process that transforms a single cell into a multicellular complex organism (like a human being, for instance) takes several steps, and in each one there are plenty of chemical/biological factors which are there just to nurture and chaperone the cell (then cells) toward the functional organism. If one of this “chaperones” does not work properly, the development may follow a different path, resulting in a “faulty” system that can causes serious disability/death, a light dysfunction that can be compensated by an exogenous agent, or a fitter organism (evolution). Now, coming back to your inability to feel love, our body (mind in our example) always seeks for a way to reduce the damage caused by a dysfunctional chaperone (parent), and one of these is suppressing feelings. Unfortunally feelings are a fundamental part of our being! No emotions=psychopathology=no social acceptance etc…In my opinion, when your mind decided to retire from the world, she (in my mother language mind is female!) understood that she could not take it anymore, it was better to hybernate, let the body recover by itself through rest (intended as reducing external stimuli to the minimum) unttil better times would have come (last year, when you started the MBT). I believe that the therapists intent is not to make you feel the rejection, because you constantly do it when ruminating, instead they are digging down to take out the deeply buried feelings, let them stretching their wings, in order for them to be able to fly high, and you to live!
        Wow, I wrote a novel. Sorry but I do not have anybody to talk to and I needed to share my ideas with someone who can understand a dysfunctional childhood.
        Thank you for this space 😉

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        1. Cat Post author

          Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge. I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment and was exploring parts of it at my individual therapy on Weds. Of course, I do tend to agree about the supressed feelings and it’s intriguing what you said about the Therapists intention to dig down to the deeply buried feelings (mmm…why does that thought feel scary?!!). It has me wondering, other than rejection, what those “other feelings” might be… to be truthful, I don’t even know what the rejection feels like, although can appreciate this is what is at the route of the chronic ruminating, which, incidentally, has become a lot less this past week.
          As I said to my Therapist yesterday, if a child always felt rejected from birth, how would he/she know what that feels like. It’s as if the child would need to experience connection to make a comparison with rejection. I know what rejection feels like as an adult, usually romantically, but I don’t remember feeling like that in childhood…

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      3. your mirror

        The buried feeling is love. In a dysfunctional childhood love is associated with pain. The natural reaction of the body to pain is escape (the simplest example is when you touch a hot surface you retract from it because you would get burned, and the burned cells die). But you cannot escape from dysfunctional parents when you are a child because they “possess you” (they are dysfunctional indeed). So you grow up with a contrasting feeling. On one side you have the natural (genetic) need for love (and respect and trust etc), on the other one you only have the erratic model your parents have been giving you since birth. Outside the family context, we all tend to look for and reproduce the same dynamics we have grown up with and the only ones we know (bullying, non-acceptance, life thratening situations, in this case). But, as the hot suface kills the cells, this system slowly kills you. Your body/mind senses it and shut down the feelings, thinking that it can be a better response for a while, together with hybernation.
        A few posts ago you were talking about trust. That’s it. Maybe you cannot see it, but reading your blog from outside, your mental situation has massively changed from last year. Partly because I believe you have the intellectual skills to do it and, above all, in MBT you must have found a supporting environment where trust is reciprocal. I think that not matter how clever a person is, but no chance he can gets out from a dysfunctional childhood alone. The digging process consists in you sharing some horrible experiences that normally nobody would listen to with someone who even shows compassion and comprehension, situation this that an adult mind can easily translate in love (the famous transfer in psychotherapy). I do not think you will have the enlightenment; just, as you are already experiencing, you will ruminate less and less until it will be replaced with propositive thoughts.
        Maybe I should have shut up about the enlightenment part…;-)

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        1. Cat Post author

          Wow what you say means so much. I’m answering this via my phone as the internet is down. I will respond fully as soon as I am back online. Thanks so much for taking the time to help me understand all this

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        2. Cat Post author

          There was a lot of this that meant so much, I just wanted to come back to it. I think if you had said most of that a few months ago, little of it would have made sense. The dysfunctional parents, the erratic love, and how that reflects in life…that all makes sense. It gives a certain perspective to how my mind is beginning to change and see things in a slightly different light. I don’t really look at past posts, but it might be something I will do over the holiday period. So much has happened in therapy, I need time to take stock. Those weird but wonderful moments of new awareness sometimes feel like enlightenment. I tend to call them my mini-enlightenments. The shift in perspective is great, but the rest is probably down to hard work and self-discipline.

          Thank you!

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      4. your mirror

        Well, believe me, it was when I found your blog last year that I started tiding up all the chaotic thoughts I had about depression (psychopathology in general) and life science (my job, when I am not unemployed 😉 ). Your well ordered posts, so eloquent (and nicely written, I would add), have been the thread. I think I have the duty to share this with you!

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        1. Cat Post author

          That really does mean a lot. I hope you will find employment very soon I try to write about MH in the same way I experience it, rather than basing more of it on theoretical. It always surprises me if someone says they like my writing. When I left school, I couldn’t write and only had basic reading skills. I only started writing like this 3 years ago, all self-taught, again, with no theoretical knowledge. Thank you so much for your lovely confidence boosting comment!!

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      5. your mirror

        Here I am! And you know what, I was away for an interview, to be offered the most incredible job in my field at a top research lab, and it is a permanent position! This is just like the most sappy tearjerker of the movies, where the greatest boss in the world rescues the lost in disgrace scientist, giving a top notch job just because he likes what he sees in your eyes. Wow, I will not believe it until I start.
        Finding your blog at the beginning of my withdrawing speeded up my healing process.
        I passed by just to thank you, you had a role in it. I need to celebrate for a couple of days, then I will come back and discuss further.
        😀

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        1. Cat Post author

          Hey CONGRATULATIONS! ¬ That sounds amazing, well done. Thank you for such kind words and for taking time to share them. It’s nice to know this blog helped in some little way. Hope you have heaps of fun celebrating 😉

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  6. Glynis Jolly

    My relationship with my son is distant. Is it my fault or is it his? I actually think neither is true. He understands me and I understand him. I don’t think our love needs dialog or physical closeness. Now if I think about my relationship with my father before he passed away, yes, that one was definitely estranged. There wasn’t any love between us.

    Yes, I do understand how you might feel with not feeling the need to have that close bond with your mother. I hope you’re not letting other dictate how you should feel about her. Relationships are very private and I don’t think anyone has the right to tell you that you feel wrong about another person.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Glynis… you actually reached into one of the fundamental problems between my mother and I. I see our problems as being both our responsibilities, but unfortunately, she see’s it all as my fault and that is the crux of the conflict. The amazing thing about therapy is, if you had asked me about this last month, I might have had a completely different answer. Hopefully, I’m working towards being in a better place with it…

      Thank you for commenting 😉

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  7. Author Annie Mitchell

    I got this told to me that I had all what you mention above I got very confused as I was grieving for my son at the time and I could not separate my grief from my personallity disorder etc did anyone else very feel like this too.?

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