Connecting with Others
My time in Utah set me up to be successful with my 2021 intention to “engage.” The EMDR work I began with my therapist shortly after returning from Utah challenged me to continue to engage at the level I had been while away. My relationships with others also afforded me the opportunities I needed to show up and connect in ways I had been avoiding for years. My idea of engaging?
- I was not going to use humor to escape discomfort.
- I was going to speak honestly and openly about difficult things.
- I was going to choose to feel all my emotions AND allow those emotions to be expressed outwardly if they started to flow.
I am proud of my effort. I made great strides and saw some progress. But I struggled. Wow did I struggle. Communication and emotional expression after years of pretending and hiding were just as hard, if not harder than I anticipated.
The Side Table
I was holding the tappers, one in each hand, the buzzing sound and vibration moving back and forth somewhat slowly.
The voice in my head was repeating like a broken record, “Don’t make me do this again.”
With each repetition, the words faded, becoming automatic rather than emphatic. The past was becoming less fuzzy again and disordered flashes of a specific memory were punching me in my gut.
“Open your eyes. Take a deep breath. What are you noticing?”
My heart was pounding. My eyes were open, and I could see the familiar brightness of my therapist’s office, but it was dampened by shadows that I am certain my therapist could not see. I think it was the memory that came up that was darkening the room.
My therapist’s office was different now than it used to be. It used to be a dark room with a masseuse table. I had been there a few times, and unironically, it had been a dark time in my life. The last time I walked in and out of that room as it had been was the afternoon I had hugged the toilet for hours, panicking and gagging, afraid for my future, sickened by my past, and unaware of my present.
“It’s late, maybe just after midnight. It’s dark in the room. I’m trying to pretend like I’m sleeping.”
“Go with that.”
(The emphatic voice in my head started talking again…)
”Don’t make me do this again.”
“It’s too much. I can’t do this.”
Anger and panic overwhelmed me…
…I stood from the couch…
…I lifted the side table that sat to the right of me…
…I spun and flung the table at my therapist…
…I grabbed it again and started smashing it over and over…
“Open your eyes. Breathe in. What are you noticing?”
“I’m going to throw the table at you.”
I meant it. I felt rage. I needed to act to make her stop sending me back to that place and time.
I also did not mean it. I would never do something like that, not toward someone. I have trashed rooms and thrown weighted chairs with ease in the hospital, but I would never do it if someone was in the room with me, or even standing in the doorway.
My declaration caught my therapist off guard. Truthfully, it caught me off guard. It would have been better to tell her why I was having that kind of reaction, but I honestly did not understand why myself. I think I was trying so hard to be “healed” that I put my head down and plowed through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It never occurred to me that more damage was being done. By not saying anything, I was getting retraumatized repeatedly.
When I wrote a blog post about seeking out another therapist to ask a question about EMDR and shared it with my therapist, she and I were able to have a real discussion about how I was handling the sessions.
I think she was hurt that I went to someone else instead of her. She was also confused about why I would seek out a different therapist. She and I had been working together for several years, multiple times per week. She questioned whether she was the right therapist for me.
I was hurt too—by her reaction. I questioned whether therapy was ever going to work for me and considered quitting forever. A couple weeks and several sessions later, we agreed to try something different.
The Girl in the Mirror
When I was younger, I would stare into the bedroom or bathroom mirror. I would see a girl looking back at me and was curious about her life. I would ask and answer questions while looking in that mirror and learn things about that little girl. Then one day, I stopped looking at that girl with the same curiosity and compassion. I stopped caring about her. I stopped liking her. I thought she was stupid, uninteresting, weak, helpless, unlovable, and worthless. I thought she was a screw-up. I thought she was a POS. I never wanted to see her or talk with her again.
The little girl in the mirror grew older and older. Her face changed. Her likes and dislikes changed. Her strengths and weaknesses changed. Her thoughts and feelings changed. Her experiences changed. Still, I ignored her. I learned, not that long ago, that the little girl in the mirror, who has grown over the years, is not who I thought she was. The girl in the mirror was and is a part. Each part is unique, has a story, needs help and protection. Each part needs me, Becks.
When my therapist and I decided to stop EMDR about five months ago, we agreed to try Internal Family Systems (IFS). She was as new to it as I was but threw herself in by reading, paying for and participating in trainings, and consulting with an IFS therapist. IFS is much different than anything I have ever done. In essence, I am talking to the different faces I see in the mirror—parts of myself.
I sat with my brother over breakfast one morning and told him about the last several months of therapy. It gave me the opportunity to practice talking about something I have not talked about (except bits and pieces). My reasoning for not talking about it until that breakfast was three-fold.
- I was embarrassed by the idea and execution of it. I did not want people to think I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (known previously as Multiple Personality Disorder), and IFS therapy is based on the idea that a person has a “system.” Each person has “parts” that one can explore.
- I did not know how to describe it to someone who has not experienced it without sounding ridiculously unhinged (Then again, I did just tell you that I had a complicated friendship with my own reflection). In session, I talk with parts. I look inward, ask questions, send messages, and listen. I am literally talking to myself as if I have multiple personalities.
- The details of the sessions I have had have felt far too personal to want to share with anyone. It has been intimate. When I talk with my parts, they tell me things that they do not want me to share with people who the part has not given me permission to share with. That probably sounds weird, but it is important to me that I honor that.
Connecting with Myself
If I had understood “parts work” back when I vividly pictured throwing the table at my therapist, I would have understood much more clearly what was happening with me. The part was trying to tell me something, and I did not know to listen. I could have engaged with that rage part, listened intently, asked questions, and tried to help it see that it does not need to destroy things or scare people to communicate needs.
Truth be told, I thought about that incident during EMDR quite a bit when thinking about my “year-in-review.” To provide a glimpse of IFS, I wanted to share some of the conversation I recently had with that rage part.
First, I had to be in “Self.” IFS uses 8 C’s to determine if a person is in Self: Confidence, Calmness, Creativity, Clarity, Curiosity, Courage, Compassion, and Connectedness. If I approached the rage part judgmentally, irritated that it caught my therapist off guard, then it would be evident that I was not in Self. When I spoke with rage, I was genuinely curious about what it was trying to communicate with me. I did not want to guess or assume anymore. I wanted to fully understand.
What did I feel about the rage part? Grateful. I felt grateful that it stopped the re-traumatization that Spring morning, even if only temporarily.
Where did I feel the part? -Or- How was I experiencing the part? I felt the part throughout my body. It was a vibration of energy, like when a hunter’s arm quivers with their bow drawn. My part was not actively rageful when I sat with it, just ready.
Was it willing to speak with me and answer questions? Yes. Rage gave me permission to ask questions and share the answers with others, but it also did not answer every question.
What did it want me to know? Rage had no intention of hurting anyone, but it was firing a warning shot during that session to stop things. Beyond that, Rage did not want to answer.
What was the part trying to do for me? There had been another part attempting to manage the situation during the EMDR session, but things got out of hand. I was no longer observing a past trauma. I was blended and experiencing the trauma as though it were happening in real-time. Rage wanted to dowse the fire and make the experience stop. It saw my therapist as the enemy for putting me in that situation and needed to scare her away.
Can I show that part gratitude for helping me? “Rage, you put an end to the terror I was experiencing. I needed you right then. Thank you for saving me.”
How did the part respond to my gratitude? It felt heard and understood. It was grateful that I understood what it was trying to do for me.
What did/does rage need from me? Rage told me it does not like to do what it did to my therapist—or what it has done many times in psychiatric hospitals. It has never liked acting like that. And in that specific situation, it needed me to listen (“Don’t make me do this again…it’s too much…I can’t do this…please stop!”) so I could respond before I became completely hijacked.
How do I feel toward that part now? The day I sat down and spoke with Rage, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and realized how much compassion I had for it. It wanted the same thing I have always wanted. It wanted to be listened to—really heard, and it wanted the pain and chaos to end immediately.
What would the part want to do if it did not have to act or threaten to act aggressively? Rage told me that it wants to be the alarm that tells me to use my voice—the self-assured, confident, and calm, assertive voice.
After asking questions and listening, I thanked Rage for sharing with me and allowing me to understand it more. Rage smiled. I had no idea a part so used to acting out could be so pleasant. I guess taking the time to listen to parts is the same as taking the time to get to know someone who has different beliefs, values, or interests.
So Frickin’ Cool
Brene Brown says, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” I am realizing just how true that is, for others and myself.
I am thankful that I poured energy into engaging in relationships outside of myself during the first half of the year. The more I moved in, the more connected I became with the people around me.
I am thankful that I spent the last five months engaging with myself. Those five months have been life-changing. A couple weeks ago, I said, “I like myself…when I’m myself.”
Finally, I am thankful that I have moved in closer to my parts. The more I have moved in, the more I have realized I do not hate my parts. They have protected me, kept me alive, pushed me, given me purpose, and so much more. I am excited to continue to engage with myself and my parts—the ignored parts I saw in the mirror—and like myself even more. I am so frickin’ cool.