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.’

Seeing Beyond the Void

As we go through life, each of us develops defence mechanisms that help dealth1W15UEW3 with a wide spectrum of stressful situations and to protect us from painful memories. Two clever tactics that I know very well are suppression and repression.

Suppression is something everyone does. It’s when we think about something, but then consciously squeeze it to the back of our mind. This doesn’t need to be in a negative way and can act as an aid to filter out one thought while we deal with something else.

Suppression and repression are very similar, although repression is a little trickier to identify because much of the avoidance takes place on a subconscious level as we deny the memory or emotion even exists. I’ve only just become aware of my own repression, which unravelled during a poignant moment in therapy last week.

When I became a victim of an attempted murder, which I wrote about here, I was extremely lucky to survive, but what I hadn’t realise until now, was a fundamental part of me died inside. While the experience was particularly traumatic, the history of my assailants past crimes, including murder, would only add to the horror and hinder any path to recovery.

I’ve always abhorred any kind of violence because abusiveness has been a prominent pattern in my life since early childhood. Each incident of physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse would slowly hamper a willingness to recover, while placing significant strain on my ability to bounce back. My traumatised brain soon interpreted life as dangerous territory and wise to be devoid of trust.

Trust is the necessary ingredient for all human interactions, from casual acquaintances to personal relationships. Losing the ability to trust means everything about life feels unsafe. Meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar places eventually becomes something of the past.

th43ZJN5J0The more vulnerable and withdrawn I became, the more I developed an unhealthy need to protect myself from any kind of attachment. My need for love and affection or to trust and be trusted, had sunk beneath years of repression and there was no awareness of just how cold and distant I had become.

I painfully recall the pleas of significant people to consider their feelings and wishes, even if I had none of my own. It felt like they were on the attack, rather than trying to save me from an emotional black hole. As time progressed, the empty space became so vast, it was impossible to see beyond the void.

The dissociation from reality eventually made me inaccessible to those who had spent years trying to hold on to the person they once knew. The consistent pleas meant nothing and I slowly cut everyone meaningful from my life. The diagnosis of Depression, PTSD and Agoraphobia were my new companions in life, but the Disorders also became my shield against any expectations to change.

In the last fifteen years, venturing beyond a two-mile radius of home hasn’t been on the agenda and there are only six places I can visit, anxiety free. While I do believe in my ability to overcome these phobias, I’ve made little effort to push the boundaries. In all this time, I cannot recall boredom or loneliness ever featuring within my comfortable agoraphobic cocoon.

For reasons that may always remain a complete mystery, I once believed this dysfunction lifestyle was not only justified, but also acceptable. I had repressed my emotions to such a depth that I forgot they even existed.

When I learned of my friend, Anne’s, death recently, via the extraordinary coincidental telephone call, my mind became flooded with memories of a time when I viewed life very differently. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, these new realisations are like awakening from a fifteen-year coma to find that I’m living an unacceptable reclusive lifestyle.

There were a number of stark moments in therapy last week, as I recalled the pain caused to othersthAQ8EK2XX and the injustice I dealt to my own potential. Repressing the fundamental emotions necessary to human existence only blocked the flow of healing and tainted my perception of trust.

Fifteen years of extreme isolation is a very long time and I’m careful not to get ahead of myself. I’m excited, fearful, and fragile, all at the same time. It’s impossible to find a way back to something familiar, any previous point of existence no longer exists. The unknown feels a scary place to be and the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but somehow I need to find the courage to move forward.

Contrary to Christian Scripture, spanking is abuse

I am quite sure there will be many who disagree with me, but my blood ran cold when I read thisth (7) statement “Is your child unruly, undisciplined, or disrespectful?” It immediately raised questions over how much love and respect the child might be receiving at home, or if the lack of mutual reverence is behind a lot of the unhappiness.

I shouldn’t have read this particular blog post and it was probably wrong of me to comment, but it’s not okay when Christian’s use Bible verses to justify abuse against children and, yes, I do consider spanking a child as unnecessary and cruel abuse.

The author of this blog was promoting a 20-page booklet, which seems to be the miracle cure for children with behaviour problems. The more I read, the clearer it became as to why this type of parent is experiencing problems in the first place.

If one follows the draconian steps of beating and intimidating a child into obedience, then I’m quite sure the parent’s life may well be a little easier. But, will this approach contribute to a psychologically balanced child who grows into a secure and happy adult?

When I was a Christian, I enjoyed pondering the teachings of Jesus. I remember how he viewed children as innocent and certainly never “little monsters” that deserve “the rod” to teach them the error of their ways.

In the Bible, Jesus said, “Unless you are like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” This doesn’t sound as if he condoned the physical or emotional abuse of a child, so why do some Christian’s justify this by quoting Biblical scriptures that date back to a time when sacrificing your child on a alter was a Godly thing to do?

The author then goes onto say that a child will act like a heathen with no moral standing if they don’t reflect God’s authority. Of course, this is completely incorrect, as well as ridiculous. I’ve witnessed more morals among non-Christian children and adults than those who attend church on a weekly basis. In my opinion, the following statements are testament to the “moral standards” contained in the author’s post.

“We must strive to teach our children to honour and respect the parent, no matter how sick, weak, or incapable we are as parents.”

“The rod is a useful tool for a foolish child”

“Spanking your child is a good and Godly act.”

“Love your child by spanking them.”

“The parent who spares the rod hates their child.”

I don’t see anything in there about Jesus’ teachings of love, honour, respect, and forgiveness. Jesus said in the bible, “Whoever humbles himself as a little child is the greatest in heaven.” This doesn’t imply that it’s okay to humiliate and terrify your child by using violence to address behavioural issues.

I had behavioural problems as a child, which spiralled as I grew from toddler to teenager. I don’t ever remember my parents trying to help ME understand why I demonstrated little ability or willingness to obey any type of rule.

Slaps on the legs as a toddler soon escalated to dad holding me down on the bed as a five-year old while pounding my bare bottom black and blue. By the time I reached nine-years old, until I left home at seventeen, I would get a slap, punch, or kick and sometimes all three, whenever I broke the rules.

Obviously, I didn’t like the violence and I was petrified of my stern father, so I was confused as to why I was unable to be perfect, rather than misbehave and face another potential leathering. It never occurred that a lot of my misbehaviour was actually quite normal, but the expectations and discipline were not.

What their violent discipline did do was create secretiveness and distance. While growing up, I was never able to trust or like them enough to sit in the same room and share family time. When neighbours were sexually abusing their child and then teenager, I was unable to approach either parent for guidance due to fear of a beating.

My parents will defend their actions as unconditional love and guidance, but this does nothing for the psychological damage I’m still trying to repair in therapy today.

th4AG1UDCTSmacking children is a lazy option to parenting and does little to encourage healthy development. A child needs the support and guidance of a loving parent, but fear of physical punishment will only discourage them from discussing and learning from their mistakes with mum and dad by their side.

We wouldn’t smack another adult for misbehaving or making a mistake, hitting out at children is an extreme abuse of power and this is not okay.

Psychology Today on Smacking

Why does everything always have to be about me?

If I walk into a room and greet someone, but they respond with a grunt, I automatically take it personally and assume it must be something I said or did.

Likewise, if someone cancels an appointment or treats me with less respect than I reckon I’m due, I will often take it as a reflection of who I am. If the cancellation was important enough, I might feel disregarded, and maybe even rejected.

Last week my Therapist Paul cancelled my session. Well, he didn’t exactly cancel, but I turned up at the service only to discover he wasn’t there and the staff had forgotten to let me know. The whole palaver felt hugely irritating because we have now missed six sessions within eight months.

I will not make excuses why this came at the wrong time or how grumpy I was to begin with. Recent therapy is learning to be honest about my feelings, especially the unhappy ones. I expressed annoyance at Paul’s secretary and then I stomped my way through Thursday before blowing off more steam during group therapy on Friday.

I was tired of allowing people to walk all over me as though I’m an idiot. I moaned about how difficult it is to have an unreliable Therapist and how rude of Paul not to call the next day to apologise, “It just proves what he thinks of me,” I whimpered along… “And if he can’t be bothered calling before next week’s session, then I won’t bother attending.” Sometimes I forget how old I am.

I was giving it a good old run for its money and in the process of my tizzy, something inside my mind suddenly switched. I’m not usually good at taking a step back to identify my own feelings or those of my opponent, not when there’s steam belching from my ears.

Of course, I was feeling rejected, disregarded, disrespected, and maybe even a tiny winy bit emotionally abused. However, it finally dawned that the therapy services weren’t going out their way to cause this distress on purpose. My unreasonable and erratic response was associated with triggers from defending my early life from narcissists.

Narcissistic parents exert a wide spectrum of violence and intimidation towards their children, but another tool they use with skill is rejection. They see misbehaviour or criticism as a major challenge of their own perfection and will subsequently withhold love, conversation, and even presents, in response to questioning or not living up to their flawlessness.

How do I know Paul wasn’t responding to another client’s crisis, or one of his own? Who am I to judge the service for being so overwhelmed they forgot to call me, just this one time? Why does it always have to be about me?

Growing up in a controlling and abusive environment hardwires the brain into assuming that whenever someone is abrupt or when things don’t quite go our way, it’s a personal reflection or rejection of who we are as individuals. If those early caregivers abused, rejected, or humiliated us, it’s easy to assume other people are doing the same.

Sometimes people are too busy to be perfect all of the time, other people are simply just having a bad day, but this doesn’t reflect how they feel about me. Maybe their budgie died or they might be responding to someone who has more needs than I do.

This change of thinking is one of a few transitions going on at present. They are just in time for our two-week therapy break. While I miss the sessions, it feels an important time to just sit back and allow the process to take shape. I don’t have a clue what this “process” is all about, but I am distinctly aware of its presence.

No Contact with the Narcissist… “But, she’s your mother.”

We were born into a culture of idolising our mothers. People expect us to sit themthYS3WK643 gracefully on a pedestal, regardless of what they did, or who they became. When a mother and child’s relationship breaks down, there seems to be a predisposition to place the blame on the offspring.

I appreciate how difficult it is for those from functional backgrounds to understand how I could cut my mother off in the first place. People imagine the scenario to be fraught with a wide spectrum of grief. Their lips utter the words without thinking, “But, she’s your mother.”

As soon as people realise my experience is not as they imagine, they view my attitude with a mixture of suspicion and sympathy, their eyes say it all, ‘Awe, poor man… surely he must feel loss’. Many of them say, “But, she’s your mother.”

“Why don’t you try something different,” one woman suggested at last week’s group. I guess my course of action must be playing on her mind because we hadn’t discussed my mother for several weeks. “Write to your mum and tell her how you feel.” She continued, “You might never hear from her again, but at least you tried… what else can you do?” She shrugged, “she’s your mother.”

When I admitted to everyone in the group that the only worry on my mind is regarding what to do if a family members dies, heads nodded enthusiastically, each assuming the devastation and guilt.

It’s not the first time I’ve listened to how I ought to be reacting and it will not be the last when I go in search of those elusive feelings of loss, guilt, or any prospect of reconciliation. I’ve asked many times, where is my sense of loss?

The no contact rule with my narcissistic mother has come as a last resort. The sole intention is to free up enough headspace to address the issues that affect me today. I tried to live harmoniously alongside mum for many years. The first and most important aim was always to please her first, until I eventually realised this was unlikely to ever be successful.

I next moved towards the healthy distance option, while attempting to rise above the manipulation and covert abuse. This only riled mum’s frustration to control and she would only try harder to tear down any boundaries that stood in her way. We would run through her familiar spectrum of volatile moods, and ultimately, the silent treatment.

My sense of loss encompasses all those years I grieved when mum said I was a mistake or when they used intimidation and violence, just because they had the power to do as they pleased. I wept as a teenager for the paternal bond that never was and cried in early adulthood for the criticism that spilled from their mouths. I even questioned if they really were my parents and bawled when I realised they were.

When the group member suggested that I email mum again, it came as a bit of a blow. Her flippancy seems to undermine the blood, sweat, and tears, but her ignorance is forgivable because it’s difficult to appreciate the full flavour of a narcissist unless you’ve been there.

Sending a more detailed email assumes I might appreciate a potential resolution and whenever a person imagines a family death might influence my guilt and grief, they are wrong. The truth is, a close bereavement is the only event that would bring mum out of the woodwork, and the expectations are what I dread the most.

Of course, there is still hurt and anger leftover from the abuse and dysfunction, but arriving at my decision has nothing to do with anger or an inability to forgive the narcissistic mother. It’s not a means to resolve and would never generate a meek response or entice reconciliation.

Staying in touch with a narcissistic mother who is incapable of unconditional love only generates toxicity, which links directly to the source of the emotional and psychological damage. Severing communication is about reclaiming control of my own life and creating a healthier environment to begin healing.

While it may feel unimaginable to ‘divorce’ from one’s own mum, it’s equally difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to experience a maternal relationship based on unconditional love and acceptance. When someone says, “But it’s your mother,” I only want to reply, “So what.”