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.