Tag Archives: Childhood trauma

Transference with my Therapist

Wow, this feels weird to be back in the comfort of my own blog. I’ve been on the missing list while I battled with technical issues for a few weeks. Luckily the PC is insured, but why are insurers ultra-efficient at collecting the cash and then so slow to deliver the goods.

Taking a break from writing about my therapeutic journey wasn’t such a bad thing. I didn’t have much choice because my therapist, Paul, went off sick… again. He must have cancelled between 10 & 12 sessions, which make up a significant chunk of time within an eighteen-month programme.

I last saw Paul about four or five weeks ago, but he didn’t see me. I had arrived a minute late for therapy and was dreading the wait at reception, which is a long, narrow corridor situated between three busy mental health units. Paul’s already aware of how my PTSD and agoraphobia struggle to deal with this area, but I didn’t feel confident in his attentiveness.

On this particular day, the reception was crowded with an impending drama unfolding. My first reaction was to hide in the toilet where I stood in the silence, listening to voices escalate on the other side of the door. It was four minutes into my therapy time and I had two options; leave the building or go straight to the therapy room. I chose the latter, which transpired as one of my biggest mistakes.

I approached the closed therapy room door with caution and peered through the small window. To my relief, Paul was alone, fixing something on the floor. I gently tapped on the door. His head half-turned in my direction before turning back to face the wall. I didn’t twig that he was in the middle of some kind of ritual, so I tapped on the window again.

It felt like something had just smacked me hard between the eyes. I stumbled backwards, dumfounded. Paul was bopping up and down on his knees. I returned to the reception corridor feeling humiliated, like a naughty pupil who had just witnessed his teacher in a very private moment. I couldn’t understand why Paul was doing his own thing in our therapy space, while I was on meltdown in an environment that we both know is unsafe.

I sat staring at the reception wall for eternity, but in reality, it was probably only for a minute or two. In those moments, all the previous cancellations came crashing down, one disappointment after another. I thought about Paul on his knees, while I questioned his commitment and his investment in my therapy. I walked slowly towards the exit, looking back one more time.

Over the next couple of days, I couldn’t understand why memories of childhood abuse were streaming through my mind. It became one of the most challenging times of my therapy, but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Two days later, I arrived for group therapy, hoping I might see Paul in the building. Instead, someone handed me a letter to say he was off sick for the next week, which turned into three.

Even though I am vaguely aware of transference in therapy, it took a while to realise this is what was playing out between Paul and I. At first, I was just flat_out_furious and with a raging war imploding deep within, I stomped around ruminating for days.

Transference isn’t isolated to therapy, but it can happen to each of us in different situations. It’s when a person reminds us of someone or something from the past. This might be in a positive way, or it can develop into a very distressing experience.

I blamed myself for his unreliable schedule and felt guilty for sharing my anger in group therapy, as though I had somehow deceived him. It was my fault for going to the therapy room and I was completely responsible for reacting so badly to a catalogue of events that was rocking our otherwise good relationship.

When we experience abuse in childhood, it’s difficult to understand why our caregivers would cause us so much harm. The only way a child makes sense of abuse and trauma is to shift the focus of blame from the abusers onto themselves. We internalise the belief that we are fundamentally bad and the words of our abusers become the sand and cement of our self-blame, “You deserved it… You had it coming… You brought it all on yourself…” Unfortunately, the self-blame doesn’t stay behind in childhood, but progresses into our adult lives.

In my rational mind, I know this is not my fault, but it’s difficult to unravel and dissolve a lifetime of believing I am solely to blame for just about everything. Not so long ago, I would’ve dumped Paul. Why would I want to stick with a Therapist who conjures memories of an abusive past?

Paul certainly didn’t let me down intentionally and his behaviour is not of an abusive nature. I’m quite sure he’s already aware of the impact these absences have on clients, but there are obviously some medical issues. This part of the therapeutic journey has been the hardest, but I realise that it’s also an opportunity to work with the transference. I guess self-blame doesn’t go away overnight, but one of the first steps is awareness.

It’s Time to Stop Running

runningI’ve sat through group and individual therapy each week for the last eighteen months, and during that time, we touched on every aspect of my life. My presence is no stranger to the therapy room, but this is the first time I was ever able to untangle childhood trauma. I thought we were making excellent progress, but I was aware of bouncing from one topic to another, which eventually led to disorientation and feeling very lost.

It felt as if something fundamental was missing from the therapeutic journey and it took me all this time to understand what that might be. I may well have dutifully conjured up challenging memories in therapy and identified all the right feelings, but I didn’t sit with them long enough to form any kind of conclusion or attain healing

It’s devastating to reach this stage in therapy and I even wondered if the entire experience has been one big avoidance trip. The thought of having to go back to the beginning and trawl through the feelings all over again is a daunting prospect and there’s something very shameful in admitting that this is where I’m stuck…. at my age… a prisoner within the same past trauma.

When I first started this blog, the tagline read, “A tale too tragic to tell.” I was trying to convey how it almost sounds tragic to recount so many traumatic experiences in one short life. I find it difficult to hear pity and the last thing I ever want to do is sit around licking old wounds until they’re raw. What I do need to do during my final months of therapy is to stop bouncing around and learn to sit with certain emotions long enough to hopefully generate a solid state of recovery.

Shame. Humiliation. Fear. Anger. Those may well be some of the hardest emotions to admit but they are much more painful to sit with. They are the fuel to my avoidance and the catalyst to a lifetime of mental health problems.

Something happened in group therapy on Friday that seemed a benign interaction at first, but it inadvertently made me aware of something I’ve not quite grasped before now. The only other male member of the group asked if I have a problem with him. “You always seem to look straight through me,” he said.

I don’t have any particular issue with him, but our small interaction did feel slightly uncomfortable. I thought about his comment for some time afterwards and I reckon that he probably does detect subtle hints of something uncomfortable. I realised last weekend that the issue is not with him, but rather what his gender came to represent in my own life.

When I was a little boy, people would easily mistake me for a girl. Everything about me felt feminine and this played out in how I walked, talked, and the toys I liked to play with. I was only ever comfortable playing around girls and the boys found my lack of interest in football distasteful.

Maybe the gender confusion infuriated dad or he may just be carrying baggage from his own childhood. Those reasons bare little importance to the healing today, but he was always an angry bully who terrified me from an early age. His loyal-family-man principles worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on our back, but I was still unable to trust his apparent goodness. I’ve never hated anyone as much as I did my own father and his obsessively strict parenting instilled an incredible – sometimes inappropriate – fear of aggression and violence.

Unfortunately, a fear of violence mixed with feminine characteristics didn’t go down well in a deprived housing estate where violence was an everyday part of life. Fortunately, I wasn’t often a victim of physical attacks, but the verbal abuse felt every bit as bad. “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” is a load of old baloney.

It was the older boys on the estate who would spout a tirade of derogatory names while threatening all manners of violence. My close group of friends – made up of both boys and girls – would say, “Take no notice,” but the shame and humiliation was devastating to live with. The gauntlet of abuse contributed to my refusal to attend school and all because I was not your “average” boy.

I’m not blaming myself, but those characteristics became an easy target by two separate paedophiles. The first lasted from the age of about five to eight, and the second from nine until I turned thirteen. At the time, I seem to have been a willing participant in our “games,” but of course, it was still abuse and the experiences had a significant influence in my overall trust of adults, especially men.

When I shared my gender confusion with the group months ago, everyone looked genuinely surprised, as there are no traces of femininity today. It took many years to rid myself of those very natural characteristics, although I do still harness a female part deep within.

I watched a programme on female to male transgender. One person said that one of the hardest things was to change some of her feminine characteristics into more masculine ones. He had to learn how to walk, talk, and sit like a man and be constantly aware of his demeanour in public.

I identify with that experience and even remember having to lower my voice to a tone that sounded more masculine. The world was very different back in the 70’s and if I wanted to avoid further persecution, there didn’t seem to be any other option. Through the years, all of these experiences came with a painful price of shame and humiliation, which harnessed the intense fear and anger.

I often wonder where the inner strength came from back then, but the desire to bounce back was always much stronger than the destruction. There was an element of self-blame and my narcissistic mother’s critical voice would ring out in my ears, “You brought it all on yourself.” The guilt soon became the mortar for shame and humiliation.

The ultimate betrayal came as a young adult when I became the victim of an attempted murder and my assailant was another male that I liked and trusted. It was never just about my attack, but the experience opened the door to a world of extreme violence and psychotic killers. I had never even spoken to a police officer in my life and now I was interacting with the judicial system and High courts. The reality became more traumatic than I ever imagined possible and it destroyed the last bit of faith I had in my fellow man.

I am very comfortable and happy with my sexuality and gender today, but I don’t understand why I’m unable to heal from the shame and humiliation, and the fear and anger. I do get along with men in my day-to-day life, but there’s always an underlying discomfort and this particular interaction in the therapy room has connected me with something I spent years avoiding.

It’s time to stop running

stop running

Secrets in Big Sky Country Review

FINAL SBSC front cover 44-17-15jpgIt was a great honour to be one of the first to read Mandy Smith’s new book, “Secrets in Big Sky Country.” I’ve looked forward to the release date and the opportunity to share this tragic and courageous memoir, which I highly recommend.

Mandy and Cliff’s childhood changed long before they understood the consequences of their mother’s decisions to divorce their father and then embark on a relationship with his brother. This would affect the siblings for the rest of their lives, but it was never about the children, only the narcissistic mother’s needs were important.

From the age of three years old, Mandy came to know her uncle as daddy, who quickly replaced the attention that was severely lacking from her self-absorbed mother. Mandy was his special little girl, but while her innocence soaked up his apparent attentiveness, he had other depraved ideas of his own. His manipulative grooming techniques and subsequent abuse roamed freely through childhood and into her teens, but Mandy’s most heart breaking experience was yet to come.

I’ve read a few memoirs about abuse in childhood, but Mandy presents a very different story, which is not too graphic or difficult to read. Without a doubt, she is an amazing storyteller of the facts and her book is a real page-turner. Mandy’s ability to dust herself down repeatedly and then move forward in the face of so much adversity is truly inspirational.

Whether you are a survivor looking for validation and healing, or a professional seeking a better understanding of child abuse, Mandy’s book will take you on that journey and stay with you for a very long time to come.

The book is now available on Amazon here and includes a wonderful review by Brad Hutchinson Executive Director of The Gatehouse

This is Mandy’s blog, ‘Healing beyond Survival.’