Touch (And Hugs) In Therapy

I find it fascinating that when I’m contemplating or experiencing something, that topic keeps showing up in various ways and settings. It’s like that popular example of wanting to buy a new car, and the model and colour you’re especially interested in, seems to show up everywhere.

This time the topic is that of touch and hugs in therapy. I’m subscribed to a few different YouTube channels, two of those of therapists, and found one of the videos particularly intriguing.

There are so many people, therapists included, that believe that touch either shouldn’t have a place in sessions, or that it might even be harmful to clients. I’ve also read a lot of research and opinion pieces on the role of touch in the mental health field. It’s a very grey area. Through this, and through my own feelings and experiences of the matter, I’ve firmly believed (and still do) that touch can be important in a therapeutic setting. And that’s why I found this particular video really great. I’ll link to it at the end of this post.

I can remember a very good example of the power of touch during one of my therapy sessions. I was in a very chaotic state, disoriented and dissociated at the same time. It was a culmination of certain things that happened that day, and something that happened while waiting for my session to start. When we got to my therapists office (she had to take my hand to lead me there, that’s how disorientated I was), she sat down right next to me on the couch and held both my hands in hers as I slowly started feeling better. By her doing what she did, I didn’t feel like I was free-falling and alone in a place I didn’t quite understand anymore. I can’t remember a lot of what was said, but I can clearly remember the warmth of her actions, and how powerful it was for me at the time. I believe it’s what helped stabilize and regulate me much quicker than if she had just sat across from me as usual.

Have you had any similar experiences in your own therapy? What are your thoughts on the role of touch in the mental health field?

You can watch the video here:

 

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Want

I recently came across something I wrote years ago. This was before I started therapy, and it’s beautiful to see how things have changed. I still struggle with most of these things, but not to the extent I used to. It’s become easier to reach out and open up. To be honest about my feelings, needs, and wants. I’m still a work in progress, but then again, aren’t we all?

Want

You want to reach out. Instead, you keep it inside.
You want to know whether they care. But you don’t ask.
You want to be seen. Instead you hide.
You want to be heard. Yet you silence your voice.
You want to feel real. So you hurt yourself again.
You want to tell someone you want to die. That you can’t imagine living one more day. Instead, you smile, because you don’t want to be a burden.
You want to cry. Instead, you hide behind humour.
You want to open up. Instead, you put your shield up. Afraid you’ll be rejected and cast aside once again.

A Good Therapy Session

I’m feeling a bit better today. Clearer. Less confused.

Last night I went to group and during the break I saw C on her way out. I had been feeling a little overwhelmed during group, and without even thinking about it, I ran to catch up to her. I had no plan. So when the first words out of my mouth were “I want A”, I was surprised. I can’t really remember much of what happened next. I vaguely remember C saying something and asking me questions, but it’s all a blur. I had sent her a message the day before telling her that I want to cancel our session for this week. I had bumped into her just before group as well, and told her that we could have a session next week instead. What I remember very clearly during these weird few minutes during group break, was asking whether we can still have our session today.

So that’s how I wound up in her office this afternoon. I spilled the beans, and told her everything I mentioned in my previous post. My doubts, self-doubt. Thoughts. Feelings. All of it. And C validated me every step of the way, which just made opening up easier.

She asked me what had happened the previous evening. What had changed between me seeing her an hour earlier and being adamant about not having our scheduled session, to my request to have the session after all? That one stumped me. After a little introspection, it hit me. Attachment pain (as one of my fellow bloggers puts it). The OT I had worked with last year was facilitating the group last night. The first time in months. During group I had been fighting that feeling of attachment, among other things going on in the group. Missing A and wanting to go back to her hadn’t left, and the two situations fed off one another, culminating in a big attachment mess in my mind.

The reason I had initially canceled our session was because I felt I needed more time to figure this shit out. I have also been wary of how things were going and didn’t want to deal with C this week. It came out during the session that another reason was that in my mind she was the “bad object” (she used this term) I wanted to get distance from.

Just as an aside: This is very hard for me, but instead of referring to her as “C” like I’ve been doing up to this point, I’m going to refer to her as “my therapist”. I’ve realized that’s one way I’ve been keeping her at an emotional distance, so I need to change this.

Anyway, we spoke about a lot of things in only 45 minutes (it was supposed to be a 30-minute session, but we went over) that have come up since we started working together, including the relationship. One of the things I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my therapist hugging another client, came up too. She actually brought it up, which I was grateful for, since that was one of the things I wanted to discuss with her. She said that A and I had established boundaries over the course of our relationship. It had been a process. Painful and frustrating at times. But I settled into it eventually, and it became the norm. I was used to those boundaries. To the way things worked. I knew what was acceptable, what wasn’t. And now some things work and look different. So it’s normal that I’m feeling confused, unsure, and insecure. She said that whenever there’s a threat to a structure I’m comfortable with, that’s when I become unsettled. She mentioned a few other instances of this (things I haven’t written about). One of them is the time she came into my room when I was still in the clinic, to see one of my roommates (who didn’t want to come down to her session). Things like this that threw me off. When she said this, it just all clicked into place. It cleared up the confusion I had around these times. About what was happening inside me.

As the session progressed, I found myself softening toward her. I told her that I feel like I abandoned A, and that I didn’t do things the right way. But I’ll send A an email about this when she gets back (I see she’s currently away on leave). The more I spoke about her, the sadder I felt. At some point I switched and felt anger toward her for being away on leave. “again“. My therapist pointed out that A had suddenly become the “bad object” and she, C, the good one. That’s when I started crying. She was right. And I hadn’t even been aware of it until she mentioned it. Her tone of voice changed to soft and gentle, which only made me cry harder. She told me that it’s okay and possible to have two “good objects” at the same time. I remember A had also pointed out how I tend to do that.

So much of what my therapist had said this session made so much sense. So many things seemed to fall into place.

Today was the first time I felt she was really in tune with me. The first time I actually felt some real connection to her. In the short time I’ve been seeing her, she’s taken a lot of crap from me, and always handled it amazingly well. No matter how much I’ve acted out, she remains calm, patient, and surprisingly, compassionate. She deserves a medal for that. As does A, although I was more “well behaved” with her.

This was truly the most valuable and insightful session I’ve had since starting with my new therapist. Which gives me hope for future sessions. So I’ve decided that I’m going to stick with it. With her. I hadn’t realized until today that I had actually subconsciously been fighting against her. And as she mentioned again, it will always remain my choice to be there. If I decide I want to go back to A, that will be okay. Even though I feel better now about working with her, it feels even better knowing the option, the choice, is still mine, and there.

Things still don’t feel quite “in place”. I’m hurting a lot, and it’s extremely hard right now. But at least after today, things seem to be moving forward in a positive way with this situation. All I can do is give it time, and truly try to give this my all.

Am I Still Me?

I’m not quite sure what I’m dealing with.

For the past 6 days I’m having problems figuring out how I’m truly feeling. I just feel “different”.

I’ll start with last week Thursday, because that’s when it all seemed to begin. After the final skills group for the day I asked D (OT) for a hug (since I’ve gotten quite a few from her when I was still attending group). As a side note, since I was back in the clinic, I can now go to 12 more group sessions on Tuesdays. (I didn’t go tonight- needed a break from the clinic environment). I wasn’t expecting her reply. She told me she wasn’t allowed to (it was a legitimate reason as far as I can recall). In the past I would have felt ashamed and rejected and probably gone off somewhere to cry and nurse my wounds. This time however, while I still felt a tiny bit embarrassed for having asked in the first place, and quite shocked at her reply, I was okay. I was surprised at myself. There were no big emotions. Just tiny little hints of them, barely noticeable. I did, however, feel myself distancing from her emotionally.

Actually, as I mentioned in my previous post, I felt disconnected from everyone and everything since waking up on Thursday, so maybe that was why I wasn’t as upset as I usually would have been?

On Friday I didn’t get to go to any groups, as I had my psych appointments. After my appointments I went to D to let her know that I won’t be in any groups for the day, that I was leaving. And what did I do? I asked her if I could hug her goodbye. This time she did hug me. While it was the same amazing D hug, I didn’t feel connected to her. Now here’s the thing… I don’t really feel connected to anyone anymore. Not even my therapist. And I haven’t reached out to her, which is even more strange. Usually when I feel the connection slipping, I’ll send her a text or email, but not this time.

I also don’t care that my roommates haven’t been in contact. I sent them each a message on Saturday and they both replied with a very brief message and that was it. Usually I would have reached out again by now (I told them I might come visit them as they’ll still be at the clinic until Friday), but I don’t want to.

Elizabeth and I have sent a few text messages back and forth during these past two weeks, but it’s become less frequent. I took two days to respond to one of her messages, and vice versa. And it didn’t bother me when she didn’t reply for those two days. Every now and then I would feel a lot of anger and hurt during the first week after she broke up with me. But most of the time I haven’t really felt much of anything for and about her. It’s as if our relationship didn’t even happen.

I’ve had some moments during the day where I’ve felt pretty good. Not happy. But good. I don’t know what emotions come with that “good” though. I made an appointment to go see my GP today, and she kept telling me how good I look. That I look confident and am carrying myself differently. That she remembers the first few times she saw me… I was this shy, timid little thing. At some point during our conversation we got onto the topic of relationships and I told her that I’m sick and tired of letting people walk all over me. I’m tired of giving others power over me. That I’m taking back my power. Whoever doesn’t like it can remove themselves from my life. I’m not going to take any more shit. That “the bitch has emerged”. I surprised myself by how powerfully those words came from my mouth. I felt strong, determined and in control. Well, she seemed to like this new side of me. Problem is, I don’t know if I like it. Part of me does, part of me doesn’t. Part of me feels like I’m in “self protect” mode. Another part of me wonders whether this new attitude is good or bad.

I don’t feel like me. Not that I really know who “me” is. I just feel weird dammit.

On Connection, And Saying Goodbye

Yesterday was my last full day in the clinic. All that was left for me to do was to see my psychiatrist and the psychologist I’ve been seeing here this morning.

I woke up late yesterday morning, and felt somewhat disconnected from everyone and everything the entire day. My stomach had also been giving me issues, so didn’t feel too great physically either.

My time there was filled with anger, tears, anxiety, frustration, melt downs (both mine and some others), hard work, and drama. But it was also filled with care, support, friendship, connection, laughter, and silly fun. I learned a lot, and feel as though I have grown.

Coming into the clinic I didn’t want to connect with anyone. I had this almost defiant attitude. I was tired of connecting, attaching, loving, then losing. Of course, that intention didn’t last. When you spend so much time with people in an intimate and healing setting, you can’t help forming bonds with some people. Besides, it was exhausting trying to keep up that “distance” attitude.

The intensity of my connection to these people isn’t as intense as my connections usually are. I think I managed to strike a good balance. I made sure to spend time alone and give myself space from time to time, instead of my pattern of sticking way too close to a person or group of people, afraid that I’ll be rejected or forgotten about if I’m not with them the entire time. There are a couple of people I’ve met here, like my two roommates for example, who I hope to stay in contact with. I’d like to continue building these relationships. But I’m not as emotionally invested in it as I usually would be. Meaning, I know it might not happen. That we might lose touch. That it might not work out. But even though that wouldn’t feel good, I’m actually okay with that too.

Over this past week, I was hit with a revelation. It’s nothing I haven’t known before, but until this week it had just been head knowledge. People are going to come into my life. It’s okay to connect. It’s okay to form attachments. It’s a beautiful part of life. It’s also okay if things don’t work out. Yes, it hurts when people leave and relationships end. But I’ve been through enough “abandonment” and endings to know that I’ll survive. Boycotting connection is even more harmful. As humans, we thrive on connection. We’re built for it. It’s a basic human need.

I felt good when I woke up this morning. I was ready to leave and come back home. The goodbye’s were sad, but I also felt so grateful to these people who have been a part of my life over these past two weeks. I took a piece of each of them away with me. They inspired me.

It’s strange being back at home. I don’t quite feel like I belong here. I miss the clinic, but not too much either. I feel a little lost, but I guess that’s normal. I have to adjust to life outside that sheltered and safe place again. I’m not entirely sure how I feel. How I’ve felt since I left the clinic. But that’s okay. I’m going to read a chapter of a novel I’m busy reading, and make it an early night.

It’s the best thing I can do for myself right now.

It’s Different

Last night’s group session was nice. I was in good spirits going in. Saw the OT I used to have sessions with, and it was so nice seeing her again. I went up to her and gave her a hug. I can’t believe I did that! But I’m glad I did. The attachment is still there. Dammit. I miss her. I didn’t know just how much until I saw her.

For the check-in’s, we did something a little different. We split up into two groups of five, and did the check-in with those in our group. That suited me well. There were two new girls in the group and they happened to be in mine. So when I shared, I was still terrified. But I managed to overcome it and actually shared something that I wouldn’t have mentioned if we had done the check-in’s as usual with the whole group. And I managed to say everything that was on my mind regarding that, and felt I communicated it pretty well. Go me! With only four other people I had to share with, it was the perfect balance between stepping out of my comfort zone, without it being too overwhelming. The therapist leading the group asked how we found it doing things this way. It seems I was the only one who preferred the split groups. I hope we can do it this way again though. Maybe after enough of those, and becoming more comfortable with it, I’ll slowly start being able to open up to more and more people at once.

Something else also came up last night. But first, a little back story. In a comment on one of my posts regarding my attachment to D, someone said I should try opening up to her and telling her how I feel. So, after about a week of giving it some thought, I decided that even though I’m scared to do it, I’m going to anyway. Life is short, right? So I reached out and opened up to her through an email. Then, at last’s week’s group I asked her whether she had received my email. She had, but said that she wanted to read it through completely before responding. Cool stuff.

It’s been more than a week now, and I haven’t heard anything back from her yet. Obviously, my paranoid and insecure self doesn’t like that very much. I found myself thinking “stupid, stupid girl, you shouldn’t have sent that fucking email”. But fuck that. I sent it, it’s done, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. So I allowed that thought to just float on by, and away it went. Sure, it crops up from time to time again, but I know how to better deal with it. After all, for all I know, she might just have been really busy, on leave, etc… There could be a lot of reasons for not having received a response.

Back to last night though. Sometime during the last part of group one of the other ladies was talking about some meditations that D had emailed to her. I had also asked her to send it to me. But she didn’t. So when that lady mentioned that she had gotten that email, I felt this stab of pain. I brushed it aside and tried to focus on what she was saying instead. There was no way in hell I was going to allow myself to think about that and feel that emotion right then. Hurt? Confusion? Embarrassment? Shame? All of the above. Dissociation, my friend… Welcome.

The rest of the evening I kept telling myself it’s okay. I kept trying to deny those feelings. Because they were from the young part. I’m an adult, I’m healing. I can’t still be struggling with this inner child thing. But I’m fed up with denying things that demand to be out in the open. So I let it out. You know that look on a young child’s face when they get hurt, and you can see they want to cry, but they’re trying to be brave? That’s the image that came into my mind… That little girl was me. And I just cried, from that very young place. The adult me understands (well, sort of), but that little one’s heart is hurting, wondering whether she was bad and that’s why she doesn’t want her. That little one will latch onto anyone. She’s so trusting. She keeps reaching out. D seems to satisfy some deep need and longing. The adult me is content and secure in my relationship with my therapist. But for some reason, my inner child is drawn to D. I wish I could figure out why. Because if I know the reason, then maybe I can deal with it somehow.

As an adult I know things aren’t always what they seem. There’s probably a good reason she hasn’t sent me those things, or replied (Of course I was hoping for a reply, but not expecting one). But the little one doesn’t understand. She can’t make sense of things the way the adult me can. She can’t rationalize. So when I’m in that young mode, the adult doesn’t exist. It literally feels like a completely separate part. And I can switch so quickly between the two sometimes that I don’t even realize the switch has happened.

I’ve been dealing with feelings of rejection and abandonment by two significant connections, so I’ve already been in a vulnerable place. So this one just compounds the issue.

Somehow though, I’ve been dealing with it pretty well. I say that because usually I’d be a complete mess. These situations cloud my perceptions of every other relationship in my life, intensifying the fear of abandonment, and making me want to push everyone away. It ramps up my paranoia. But for some reason, this time, these situations haven’t been able to spill over into my relationships with Elizabeth and my therapist. I feel very secure and content in these two relationships. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I had a moment where I felt disconnected from my therapist. After writing that post, I sent her a text letting her know how I feel. She sent me a lovely text back, and I felt secure again. All it took was one little text. My relationship with Elizabeth is progressing at a comfortable, steady pace. Which is so very different from my previous relationships. It’s wonderful.

In our session today, my therapist said that I don’t give myself enough credit for things. That I give other people and things the credit. Something to that effect. And that’s true. So, I’m not saying that it’s entirely because of these two relationships that I’m handling all of this so well this time. I have grown and changed. I have made progress. I am doing well. But having these two strong and stable connections is also contributing to my ability to deal better with this situation. Connection is powerful, and definitely helps us cope better with life.

So I was hurting last night, and still don’t feel good about it, but I’m not obsessing about it the way I would have in the past. It’s different this time.

Elizabeth, and the Dilemma

About an hour after writing my previous post, my mood started climbing again. All memories of Wednesday’s “negative” events just vanished. It’s like they stopped existing, and never even happened. The happiness I’ve been experiencing has been amazing and intense. I had a few hours of mania on Monday last week, and that was insane! But no, the happy space I’ve been in lately is the more stable kind. Extreme, but not in the “danger” zone as it was that Monday.

So, about Elizabeth. We met just less than three weeks ago, dated for just over a week, and then on Friday we made it “official”, as the kids say these days. There was a connection between us from the first date already. We spent almost 3 hours together, and would have continued if we didn’t have to catch our bus home (to our own houses of course). As it was, we ended up having to chase after the bus, as it was the last one of the evening. That was a hilarious (and fun) moment! Life is an adventure with her. She’s already been opening up new worlds for me.

She’s an extrovert, but not the extreme type that makes me fear for my sanity. She enjoys spending time alone too, and up to turning down invitations if she wants a quiet night in. She’s an artist (I love her art!), but that’s not her main job. She’s working in another field (don’t want to give too much away for the sake of anonymity), and studying for her social sciences degree. I really like that she loves learning new things. It’s something we’re both passionate about.

Elizabeth has a nice solid, stable sense of self. I never have to worry whether she’s “faking it”, as she’s very expressive. She speaks her mind, so I don’t have to wonder what she’s thinking or feeling. She’s not afraid of talking about the difficult things. One evening she told me that I have a very expressive face, and she really likes that. Now that came as a surprise. It was in that moment that I realized that it’s true… just how much of my guard I drop when I’m around her. For some reason I’m not afraid of being vulnerable with her, and allowing my feelings to be shown. It’s easy. She has a lot of empathy and compassion towards others. My family adores her… Even my stepsister, who never liked anyone in my life. She gives them her evil eye. But from the first moment of meeting Elizabeth, she liked her. Once Elizabeth had gone home after that first meeting, my stepsister kept telling me how cute and nice she was. I felt so proud.

I don’t over-share with her. I find that I only share certain things when it comes up in conversation somehow. It just comes, and flows naturally when I do share with her. When I first met Jasmine, by the second week, she already knew my whole life story (well, a lot of it at least). So I’m enjoying this, taking it as it comes, and not feeling this pressure to lay it all out on the table in one go. Elizabeth knows I have BPD. It started when she asked me one Tuesday what plans I had for the evening (she had dancing practice). I told her that I was going to a support group. On our next date she asked me type of support group it was, and I told her. She didn’t seem to be bothered by this at all. During the conversation that ensued, she told me that one of her closest friends has BPD (she was speaking very fondly of her). This was the perfect moment! So I told her I also live with it.

I was expecting her to either get up and make some excuse to leave, or look at me differently. But she didn’t even flinch when I told her. I kept waiting to see her expression change, but the only thing I could see on her face was compassion, and genuine interest. She asked questions, of course, but knew exactly what BPD is. I felt so heard and at ease talking to her about how BPD, depression and anxiety affects me.

I can’t be someone’s entire world again. Best friend, lover, parent, saviour, etc. In all of my past relationships I’ve often felt claustrophobic, and there was a whole co-dependent thing going on. Even with my ex-boyfriend (yes, I have one of those). So I love the fact that Elizabeth has her own group of friends (who I’ll also hang out with from time to time with her- and vice versa), and her own hobbies and activities that are just hers, and that I have mine. It’s a breath of fresh air. Thankfully, when she goes to dancing or out with friends, she sends me a little voice note just checking in sometime during the evening. It helps me feel secure in her and our relationship.

With Jasmine, relationship wise, we were a match but not a fit. If that makes sense? As friend’s we’re the perfect fit. With Elizabeth though, it feels like both a match and a fit. Jasmine obviously knows about Elizabeth. I was completely open and honest with her from the very beginning.

It’s so hard though. I feel like I’ve let Jasmine down. I don’t want to lose her. But she has been pulling away from me, which is completely understandable. It’s a tough situation. Even though she was the first one to say that we should rather be friends, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy for her. I guess that’s why people don’t remain friends with their exes… And especially not best friends.

I invited Jasmine out for dinner last week Friday, since I knew she really needed a friend then, as she’s been struggling lately. Especially with her new job. I didn’t bring Elizabeth up, but I was open to her bringing her up. I tried to be my usual self with her as far as possible, and I think I did a good job. I know there’s an overconfidence bias where we think we did or know something better than we actually do, but I still think I did quite well here. Jasmine didn’t end up mentioning Elizabeth either. The conversation and dinner went okay, but Jasmine didn’t talk as much as she usually does, and didn’t open up much. I sent her a text a few days ago, telling her that if she wants to talk about all of this, she’s free to. That it might be helpful and good for her to get it all out in the open. I invited her for coffee today, but she turned it down.

I always have to drag things out of her. Even when we were still in a romantic relationship. The way we’re going to get through and around this is if we sit down and honestly talk about it. I’m aware that she probably just needs time. But how much time? I care about her so much, and just want her to be okay. Even if that means we never see one another again, if that’s what she thinks will be best for her. But I want to know how she’s feeling, what she’s thinking. I just want her to say something. Even if it’s something that hurts me.

We’re all (a few other friends of mine and Elizabeth’s) going to an event together on Thursday, but I’m not so sure whether Jasmine will still be joining. If she does, I’m a little worried. I can’t not hold Elizabeth’s hand (her love language is also touch, and she’s very affectionate in public too- to a reasonable extent of course), but I also don’t want to put our relationship on “display” in front of Jasmine. It’s not fair to her. But it’s also not fair to Elizabeth by keeping a bit of distance between us. So I don’t know what to do. I don’t want my relationship with Jasmine to interfere with my relationship with Elizabeth. This relationship is too important to me. But I also don’t want to hurt Jasmine anymore than I probably already have.

When I first started developing feelings for Elizabeth, I thought of Jasmine, and how it might affect our relationship. I even considered ending things with Elizabeth for the sake of not messing things up with Jasmine. But then I got a flash of insight. I’ve always sacrificed my own happiness, and put my life on hold, for others. But what about me? Don’t I also deserve to be happy? I never used to think I did, which is why I always lived for others. But through my healing journey I’ve come to realize that I’m important too. That I’m only responsible for my own life and happiness. Yet, I’m still struggling with this feeling of guilt.

What do you guys think? I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this.