Day 156: Mutual Vulnerability = Ability to Feel Emotions
I have a question at the end for anyone who might have an interest in offering ideas, suggestions, experiences.
I read to my T today part 3 of my mother letter. I also told her about what happened on Monday night this week. We had a discussion about my lack of emotion in reading my letter to her. I read the letter this time without editing, meaning I read the curse words. The purpose of me not editing was to help me access my emotions. She had some tough emotions reading it herself (she read it here online before I saw her). Today, before I started reading she said, "I felt sick to my stomach reading this. It's so sad what happened, what you went through."
I nodded. I know logically it is sad. But, I don't feel sad, at least not outside of when I wrote the letter. Of course, when I wrote it I had all kinds of powerful emotions inside of me. But, they were never on the surface. You wouldn't have known to look at me. My family members would variously come into my office as I was writing and they never noticed anything different about me. Meanwhile, internally I was feeling almost pure rage. I think that came across in what I wrote.
Didn't it? Did I seem angry and sad in my writing?
It's so confusing to not really know what emotions I was feeling. Maybe just disappointed and lonely? I think I was angry and sad.
As I read to her today she stopped me part way and observed I didn't seem to be feeling anything. I agreed. I said I felt a lot when I wrote it. But, now, nothing.
She pointed out I had this big abdominal problem just happen, not long after finishing that project. She asked if I thought and that's where my emotions were. She went on to talk about pseudo illnesses and was careful to explain the illness is real. I didn't require this kind of kid-glove handling. She was being careful not to imply that having a physical symptom secondary to a mental health condition meant the physical symptom was not real. She said as much to me. I explained to her I completely accept my body can and does produce physical problems as a result of the emotions stuck inside of me. I said I'm actually glad that's the case. "Instead of having an appendicitis that requires surgery, I have emotional pain in my guts that does not."
After I said that I thought, "At least, my body has not yet manifested a real problem from my emotional state." I decided not to say that out loud.
I read the rest of my letter without incident. It was the end of the session by the time I finished. We talked about my appointments being at 7 am as a good fit for my schedule and preferences. She was verifying this was still the case and I affirmed. Then, I thought more about my non-emotions and said, "You know, one possible reason my emotions are out of reach is that I know I'm heading to work immediately after our appointments." She gave that some thought. First she considered if my appointments should be at a different time, and then, second, she suggested perhaps I should desensitize to feeling my emotions during T. She gave me some examples of how I have been in this territory in some ways and been able to handle it. (I don't remember what examples she gave me.)
It didn't resonate for me and I knew there will be no chance I will feel emotions while in T, no matter what time of day. I have the Great Wall of China between my emotions and my face or my voice. I had the ability to show emotions completely, thoroughly, violently beaten out of me. I'm not going to breach that wall because I had an appointment at 4 pm, or because I realized I could handle it. Unfairly, I wondered how many clients she's had who experienced the level of neglect I experienced from infancy. I decided that line of thinking won't help me figure out how to proceed. And, I remembered something AF says to me all time about patients:
"The patient will tell you what's wrong and how to treat it, if you know how to listen."
She has said this to me many times and I certainly believe it. But, I hadn't thought about what it might mean for me. If I apply this concept to my T, it means I know what's wrong with me and I know how to fix it. I'm not saying I need no guidance, or help. I'm not saying I can healthfully decide everything for myself. But, if my intuition is telling me something is a certain way for me, I could be right about it.
I might be more successful learning to feel and express my emotions if I work with my limitations and within my way of functioning. I can't just decide to feel my emotions in T.
I had a conversation with AF after work today. I sat in the parking lot talking to her on my phone before I drove home. I sat there instead of driving because I wanted to give the conversation my full attention. When I talk to her I have a need to be fully present. I told her about the conversation I had with my T today. As I talked to her I realized it is incredibly unlikely I'll be able to show emotions to my T. It was really difficult to figure out why. I knew it was something about the nature of the T relationship for me. Maybe it's about trust? We kicked that around. But, I realized I do trust my T.
Then AF had a flash of insight: "It's a need for mutual vulnerability." AH HA! That's it! I knew it was true as soon as she said it. I have a need for mutual vulnerability in order for my emotions to find their way to the surface. I have that right now with AF. I could develop that with others, with time. But, I won't get there with my T.
I will need to first feel my emotions separately from T because this requirement for mutual vulnerability might not be permanent. Perhaps when I have some experience feeling and showing my emotions with AF and possibly even other friends (like maybe my Portland friends), I will begin to be desensitized. I will begin to normalize to my emotions. Maybe, I'll be able to have my emotions with my T after that.
Based on AF's model of patient care (the patient provides the diagnosis and the treatment with assistance from the physician), and on my need for mutual vulnerability, there is a pathway for me.
I was feeling pretty defeated about this issue after my T session today. I'm scared about even going through this process of learning to feel and express my emotions. I'm really scared. So, it doesn't take much to thwart me. If I am to stay on this path, it needs to be fairly level, fairly clear, and fairly good weather. In other words, I need to go along the route that's most likely to work for me as I am today, with my fears and limitations.
Does that make sense?
An so, I find myself needing to make another plan.
Plan for helping me feel (to be done with someone with whom I share mutual vulnerability):
- Watch something painful (telling others' stories of abuse) - Philomena?
- Do an exercise that will produce pain
- Be away from home and work, without responsibilities for either
- Have enough time to return my normal affect