Button Pushing, Perfection, and PJ Days.

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So, what’s it like being here today? R started speaking, sensing my nervousness from my shaking and my inability to meet her eyes.

I’m scared you’re going to leave me. After last time. I’m scared you’re going to say you won’t work with me anymore. I peer up at her from under the curls in my hair, trying to gauge her reaction, trying to prepare myself for the seemingly inevitable.

Listen to me. How can I make you believe this? I am not going to leave you because of last time. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s okay. 

——

We had a really productive session today. I love my sessions with R – they pull together a lot of the themes that I’m often aware that I am encountering in therapy or in other aspects of work. We began by talking about the session last time (I posted about it here). It was a complete shock to me, the last session. Sass came from nowhere, with such force and intensity of feeling that, as R said today, it took us both by surprise. What was really reassuring was that R repeated, over and over, that she isn’t going to stop working with me because of what happened. Not only that, but she isn’t expecting me to say it isn’t going to happen again. I was so scared that she would need me to promise that the emotions and intensity that she saw last time round could never exist again – but she didn’t. R was really calm and reassuring that we both just need to be aware that it could happen again, and maybe continue to work on my resources, because R said she was very aware that when I left the session, I had to contain all those feelings by myself for another three weeks. R replied to a text from me, which is against our agreement, but she replied because she was worried for me.

It felt absolutely amazing that she had seen a part of me that I feel is so very dark, and she wasn’t leaving. She wasn’t running away. She wasn’t disgusted. In my slightly anxious rant at the beginning of the session, I described it as R having ‘seen the evil that’s inside me’. R challenged me immediately – reminding me of differing perceptions. It is my perception that that part of me is evil – but she didn’t see evil, not at all. I said that I thought that intensity of distress was bad, evil… she doesn’t. Not at all. I feel a huge amount of acceptance, after today. I don’t want Sass to have much (if any) time in our sessions, but to know that R doesn’t think she is scary or repulsive, and to know that if she does appear again, we can manage through it, and most importantly to know that I have been seen and she isn’t saying I’m too much, she isn’t running from me… that’s amazing. Truly amazing.

We got on to talking about ‘button pushing’. I think it’s something I’ve written about before – ‘button pushing’ is my broad term for the behaviours I do that are for reassurance – but crucially, for reassurance I’ve already had. I call it button pushing because it is like when little children have toys that make noise – they squeak the squeaker, shake the rattle or press the button over and over again, to prove to themselves that cause = effect. The same effect, every time. The difference between small children and me is that small children stop this, after a while. They prove to themselves that pushing the button causes and certain effect, and they no longer have that need. I need to button push, and there is never a point in which I feel that I have the proof I am eternally seeking. It is like the thirst that can never be quenched, no matter how much water I drink – and it is almost certainly directly caused by my insecure attachment style.

There are certain buttons that are my ‘go to’s – please don’t leave me, please don’t forget me, and really really? are my most common. These phrases, in particular, have answers. I know, almost word for word, exactly what T or R or my GP etc… are going to reply. But still, when I am feeling vulnerable, I ‘press the button’. Please don’t leave me. When I’m dissociated, or really panicky, I repeat them, almost like a mantra –  please don’t leave, please don’t leave, please don’t leaaaveeeee meeee is a very common phone conversation Little has with T. It doesn’t matter how many millions of times I have pressed the button before. The need to press it again is intense, unrelenting and until I’ve pushed the button and had the response I’m expecting, I can’t leave it be.

Interestingly, R has stopped responding to my button pushing. She realised, very quickly, that no matter what she said to me, I would need to press the button again – so she has stopped, instead encouraging me to rely on what I have previously been told. This has been mostly successful, because I have been much better at digging deep into my head to remind myself of the lovely things R says. I’m much more adult with R, which I guess is why it has been more successful than if T does this (with T, it causes a MAJOR meltdown..!). It has worked, mostly, for a while… but after last time, when I had been as vulnerable as I had, I needed to button push. So badly. I needed to hear her tell me that it was okay, that she wasn’t going to leave me, that even though she’d seen that part of me, she wasn’t angry, she wasn’t disgusted… which she gave me, today. What I need to do, though I don’t know how (and to be honest R didn’t have many answers today, either) is to build my resilience and my resources. To learn that I no longer need to button push – that now, in this safer world, people mean what they say, promises are kept, and nobody is out to trick me in the way that happened Before.

And that is where this all comes from. Before. A time where promises weren’t kept, tricks were played and people did leave me when I was bad. I was remembering, whilst talking to R today, of a time when my mum and I were meant to be going to a school event together, but I had done something wrong before hand. She went, without me but taking my brother, and I spent the night in complete terror, in the dark, terrified to even turn on a light in case a waiting murderer might have seen me home alone. I remember spending the night in terror, but also overcome with panic that I needed to be better before she came home. And all those other times, where I was bad and she would lock herself in her room for days, refusing to come out, leaving us ostensibly alone even though she was only through one thin door. In this new world, where these things don’t happen to me anymore, I feel the safest I ever have – but that almost adds a new level of fear. I feel safe, and held, and if things change (like R leaves), then I become unsafe again. I realised today that this is why I have an almost allergic reaction to the thought or suggestion of being left – I am completely intolerant to the idea of change, because the idea of being plunged back into that horrendous world, when this world is hard enough even with all the love around me. R reminded me today that change happens – people change jobs, emigrate, get pregnant… one of her friends is emigrating, and that is hard. But for me it isn’t just hard – it is utterly intolerable. Like it might kill me. I button push so much, partially because of my fear that it might have changed. Like it has, so many times before.

There is another element to my button pushing, though. I only do it when I think I know the answer. We were inspected at work last week, and I didn’t ask for feedback, because I genuinely wasn’t sure whether it would be positive. I only button push when I’m pretty certain that I am going to get the same response as before. I don’t like this part of myself, and I don’t understand it… it is very close to my most-hated ‘attention seeking’ that I always fear. I think it is about reassurance, though. That constant need to be reassured, constant need to check it hasn’t changed, and constant need to hear those amazing words that are so magical, so beautiful, so wonderful… hmmm.

I don’t know how to change this. I wish I did. Answers on a postcard, please.

We finished by returning to perceptions. My perception is that everyone is ‘doing life’ better than me. I told R of yesterday, where I spent the entire day hibernating in bed, in agony over my difficult session with T. I described it as ‘babyish’… and R challenged me on it (of course!). Do you think you’re the only person who has PJ days? Do you think I don’t have PJ days? I looked at R – nobody is as babyish as me. You’re perfect, I said, you’re beautiful and always impeccably dressed and have a job and a kid and you’re the most perfectly together person I know! R laughed, and then told me that of course she has PJ days. Days where she decides she isn’t getting dressed so she knows she will stay in the house. She talked to me about how sometimes she has those days when she has had a really busy week, and sometimes she has those days ‘just because’ – but that she sees it as a nurturing thing, not as a bad or babyish thing. She led me back to my perceptions – I only see R in that one role. I don’t see her on her PJ days (though she would still be divinely beautiful, I’m sure!), just like when I’m at work, I will seem together and all those good things too. Everyone puts on that front, and nobody is perfect.

R talked to me about perfection. Told me that she doesn’t think she’s perfect, and that she’s okay with that. I love R because she is so human – she has wonderful integrity, I trust what she says. She talked about how her acceptance of her imperfections, how that was a journey and not something that she necessarily had at 25, but something she’s grown to have. It was really powerful for me to hear that. Really powerful.

When talking to my best friend on the drive home, I thought about why I find it so hard to see people as multi-dimensional. I think, having had a childhood filled with people with masks and layers, I find it much safer to believe that the face that I see is the truth. I hated having a mother with an angry mask, a happy mask, a numb mask… having an abuser who was sometimes an abuser, sometimes a saviour, sometimes a nourisher but sometimes a demon… it is very hard to accept that people have layers. R made a big leap with me today, to seeing that she has the front that gives me my perception of her, but then other parts to her, too – and that makes her human. Not dangerous, but not perfect, either. R is absolutely beautiful, but for the first time today I believed her when she said she wasn’t perfect! It is no wonder that I judge myself so harshly, when I constantly judge myself against the single-dimension that other people externally portray. I place myself under the harshest of microscopes, when I am only taking a sideways glance at other people.

I went pretty quiet after this discussion – such a minor thing, that she spends days nourishing and nurturing herself in her PJs too, but such a major internal shift for me. She suggested it was a good place to end, and I agreed. We put diary dates in for now until May – proof that she isn’t leaving…?! – and then we hugged. She fills me with resilience and love and strength when she hugs me. Hard to explain, but she’s so lovely. Meep.

On the way home, my best friend and I stopped off at a park for a walk – and got caught in a snow storm! My ears stung and my arms were freezing, my legs soaking, but I felt really alive. Now I’m home, and trying to fight the anxiety and the thoughts that make me need to button push – please don’t leave being the big one, even though she tells me in everything she does that she isn’t leaving me. But all the possibilities are so scary, and hearing that I am cared about now is so addictive… it’s hard. Ohhh, it’s hard. Ouch. She fills me with bravery when she hugs, and I just need to keep that feeling going until we meet again. Because we will. She isn’t leaving. She isn’t.

x

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6 responses »

  1. Button pushing is such a perfect way to describe it…. and my mentor used to be like R, refusing to do the reassurance thing. I agree with you that it works, as long as you are in the adult mind set! For traumatised parts there isn’t really any ‘previous’ its all in the moment. At least, that is how it is for us. Jealous you got snow….. how beautiful. Keep going, no one is perfect but I do look up to you! x

  2. I do that too – button pushing, but only if I already know the answers. For me, my go to phrases are “are you mad?” and “do you still like being my therapist?” I love your blog. Your writing is beautiful.

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