Things are feeling a bit more settled between T and I. Over the last few weeks, since the huge rupture, we’ve started our new routine – one face to face session, two email days. No contact in between – unless I request a half or full telephone session (which is obviously dependent on T being available).
It has been working well. It has given me much more structure and routine, the increase in planned contact has helped, and the set times has helped me to really plan what I want to discuss and what I want her to reply about. It has helped me focus my emails, so they are less written by Little and more written by me. So, it was working well.
And then I got sick.
By the time I saw her on Tuesday for our session I had no voice at all. My tonsils were so big and sore I couldn’t swallow without audibly cringing. I was in my PJs because getting dressed required too much energy. I was definitely too ill for therapy…. but she is the closest thing I’ve got to an emotionally supportive mother and my god, I needed a mum.
Because I could barely speak, we did a lot of sitting together in silence, fingers linked. I did quite a lot of dozing on her. She did a lot of quiet comforting, soft stroking and soothing noises.
We did talk a little about how hard I find it when she keeps her boundaries. This was a follow on conversation from our previous session, really. Because I could barely speak, she asked if she could explain two different triangles to me. That way, she could speak and I could listen!
The first triangle was the “drama triangle”. She explained how we all fit within this triangle at times, and how everyone naturally bounces between the different roles on the triangle during a normal day. Where this triangle becomes problematic, she said, is when someone gets stuck in one of the roles.
One person being stuck in a role then encourages/insists that the other person in the relationship fulfils one of the other roles. T feels that being stuck in any of these roles is emotionally difficult for anybody. She feels that keeping her boundaries with me stops her from being stuck in a role.
She said that the reason she worries about me and A is that she worries that I play ‘victim’ and he plays ‘rescuer’. She said firstly, she feels they can play off each other – the more someone rescues, the more the other person feels like a victim, and the more someone acts like a victim, the more the rescuer feels the desire to rescue – but secondly, that if the rescuer reaches overwhelm, they can switch to a different role. Either they become victim-like themselves, or they become a persecuter. She explained that her concern for me and A is that he cannot sustain rescuing me forever, and she worries about the damage and upset to me when he (in her eyes, inevitably) switches to persecutor or victim.
She then drew me the triangle that she tries to keep within – both with me, other clients and in her personal life. It looked like this:
So, the victim becomes vulnerable – less passive, more open? The rescuer becomes a responder – more boundaried, more faith in the vulnerable person to have their own strength. The persecutor becomes potent – full of their own strength and certainty but without malice. T explained to me how the roles are somewhat similar but also fundamentally different – and, she feels, much less damaging to everyone in the triangle.
She talked about how inevitably all of us slip into the drama triangle occasionally. She reminded me that there have been times when she’s rescued me. There have also been times when she’s been the persecutor for me. I can see really clearly times that I fit into different roles from the drama triangle. I could also see how my mum lives and breathes the drama triangle roles – she does the victim and the persecutor so well.
I was too ill to talk about this much more, but it was helpful to get more of an understanding beneath her anxiety about A and me. It comes from her deep care and want for me to be alright, to not be hurt. That feels very loving.
I saw her again yesterday. In between our sessions, I continued to feel really poorly and as I got more and more emotional and exhausted, the more and more I needed her. She emailed as agreed on Thursday, and I woke up Friday morning in a complete panic that now there would be no contact until Monday’s email. That felt unbearable, like the tiny baby put down to scream and scream inside it’s cot.
I emailed her that night:
It’s the wrong thing to do to email this to you, because you won’t reply and then I will be heartbroken and I will wish I never sent it because then I wouldn’t have felt the rejection.
But I need so badly to connect, I’m tired and so ill and I know it’s asking for rescuing but I wish I could come and curl up with you.
A is away camping with his girls from tonight. I feel like my heart is tearing itself apart into tiny broken fragments. My own self imposed ban on contact (even though I know A would tell me I can still get in touch, I don’t
want to be a dark stain on such a gorgeous weekend for him) feels horrendous. I feel so alone.
I’m on the sofa writing to you, cuddled up in your blanket. I know you’re still there and I know you care about me. I do know… they just feel like bubbles skimming on the water, sliding away from me every time I try to grab them to get a more solid sense
of you. The more I try, the further they wobble and skitter away.
This is the first time that I’ve really wanted to beg you to break our new contact agreement. I want to beg you to love me and to be the virtual hand hold and hair stroke I need while I feel so poorly and alone. I won’t beg, I know you will do what you
feel is right and my begging just hurts me. I’m sorry I’ve not even managed two full weeks without wanting to break down the boundaries I wanted us to put up. I’m sorry xxxxx
And, of course, she didn’t reply. I knew she wouldn’t, but I had wished she would.
Saturday passed with much sleeping on the sofa and Little’s desperation to connect to her. Eventually, L texted her, begging to connect. T replied, offering to speak, which L was thrilled about. They spoke, and as always, it felt better for the half hour they were on the phone…. But as soon as she’d gone it felt bad again.
And it felt really bad for me as an adult. I was so frustrated that I had ended up paying for a half hour session that I didn’t need. Little could have coped – there was no major crisis, no drama, she was just missing T and feeling poorly.
I emailed T about this:
We shouldn’t have spoken yesterday. I was so cross with myself for talking to you afterwards – full of angry thoughts that I definitely could have waited, I could have got through to Monday…. but before ringing you I couldn’t, it isn’t a choice when
it’s that bad…. but as soon as the need is met and L calms down I am filled with an angry frustration that I could have managed and I chose not to. It wasn’t a choice for L and she overrides me. I don’t know how to override her. She just gets louder and
louder and louder until I can’t hear or see or move except to contact you. I’m useless and weak and pathetic and I don’t know how to teach myself to wait when L CANNOT wait. She’s not doing it to be naughty, the world is genuinely ending for her when it’s
like that and hearing your voice is the only coping mechanism she has.
She replied (in her agreed time) to reassure me.
It sounds so incredibly painful. I can really hear the different parts of you – one who wants to look after yourself and be the adult and the other part that sabotages you and wants to stop any iota of care being given to you.
I really get that L wanted contact then. And we had agreed that you could let me know by text if you wanted me to contact you. And that is what she did on Saturday. She contacted me to have a virtual hand hold. I hope that it helped.
And yes the adult [me] could have coped until today to receive an email from me and then to tomorrow to see me.
She ended her email by saying we could talk in our session about whether our new arrangement was working. When we were face to face my frustration came out.
No matter what I do I lose. If we have really firm boundaries with no contact out of session then I cannot cope. If we have loose boundaries I feel like I’m too much for her. If we have a middle ground, like now, L can’t cope. I can’t win.
What Little actually needs is a parent. She didn’t need a phone session – She needed a check in. She needed a quick text, a simple button push. But I can’t schedule that, I can’t pay T to be around for that ‘quick check in’ because I never know when they’re going to be. I can’t schedule Little’s emotional meltdowns to be in time with our sessions…. But I also cannot ask nor expect T to be fully present and able to respond or check in at any possible moment. And if I did, adult me wouldn’t cope!
T asked me if there was a compromise between the parts. There’s not. I can’t win, no matter what.
It feels agonising that I was in such desperate longing pain for her on Friday and she didn’t reply. It’s agonising that she can leave me in distress like that. But then it is also deeply frustrating to my adult when I cannot survive a weekend when NOTHING IS ACTUALLY WRONG without reaching out to her. No matter what I do, I lose.
There aren’t any answers that helped to hear. T reminded me that by not responding she is encouraging my adult part to grow a little more to be able to parent Little. I just don’t believe that is possible… so it’s hard to take comfort in that. We recapped briefly the importance of developing my distress tolerance, that I need to reassure Little that it’s possible to wait, to sit with uncomfortable (but not ultimately that awful) feelings.
I got really frustrated with L in session and very dissociative. Sass was definitely in control, stroppy and argumentative. It was time to go and T knew I wasn’t present… She kept asking me what I needed, and I tried to leave but she stopped me. What does Little need? she kept saying….. She needs to pull herself together, replied Sass. T firmly corrected Sass and came towards us for a cuddle, but Sass repeated herself – she needs to pull herself together – and stormed out.
So now we are into another gap. No email response until Friday. T talked about Little learning and maybe she will. But I’m not honestly sure… and until she does, the gaps are agonising for her. Which makes them very painful and frustrating for me.