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Day 156: Mutual Vulnerability = Ability to Feel Emotions

Posted by intrepidshe , in Healing Work 15 May 2014 · 855 views

May 15, 2014 Intrepid Age = 85 Days:
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
Suggestions for this plan?

Mutual vulnerability; that really resonates with me too! I just had a light bulb moment. Thank you SO much for sharing this!!  It is so insightful, and so awesome (though sad) to know that somebody else can relate to how I feel and know's what I'm going through.

May 15 2014 08:10 PM

Mutual vulnerability; that really resonates with me too! I just had a light bulb moment. Thank you SO much for sharing this!!  It is so insightful, and so awesome (though sad) to know that somebody else can relate to how I feel and know's what I'm going through.


Thanks M. I can't take the credit at all. It was AF. But, I'll be happy to share your comment with her . . . or she might see it herself if she reads this entry.

You're maybe not going to like what I say here, but I will anyway.

  • you can't think your way to feeling. Thoughts are mental, feelings are emotional and they are in different brain regions. different dimensions of experience.
  • you may be dodging the essential element of therapy, and why therapy is different from friendship. It is an inherently non-friend, non-mutual relationship, because it replicates mother-child dynamics: You need her. She doesn't need you, but she is there to help you, by providing a truly helpful, compassionate, attentive, need-fulfilling, and ego-supportive relationship experience. Called 'corrective', because it corrects what went wrong with your mother. That's what is new, and very unlike your mother. Which is why it is so painful and frustrating.  It's in the process of encountering our resistances to change in new ways of being, and working through them that they get resolved. The excruciating part is that to you, she is reminiscent of your mother (we can only see in the way we have learned to see someone in a female caretaker role) and that's the pain that is getting worked through. Like I know my T is safe, but I have fear with her, because the relationship makes me feel vulnerable like I did with my mother when I needed help or compassion from her.  Because of this 'power differential', I recover memories of experiences with my mother that led to my being unable to feel safe.  Without accessing the unconscious causes, we can slide by on our usual surface tactics, but not really improve.
  • Just give yourself some more time. The pressure to feel is there. You want to feel, and yet you don't, mentally, or maybe emotionally, too. The dilemma is within you. You'll have to find the blocks to feeling through memory retrieval.
  • your T has feelings, she was 'sick to my stomach' reading what you wrote. Take that in more deeply. But clinically, she can't get in your emotional way by sharing too much about her personal feelings re. what you wrote. It could color or guide what you feel, and she loves you enough therapeutically, to let you have and discover your own experience, without a Narcissist's needs to make you feel a certain way, to her satisfaction.
  • you may be right about having to go to work right after session. This is the identical issue you are having with AF--no privacy. Too close to work.
  • That might also be a memory in activation unconsciously, like you had no place to be with your emotions at home.
  • maybe learn more about implicit memory and view the transference as such. The transference tells you what you experienced. You're reliving it.  You don't feel safe expressing your feelings with your T yet, at least, openly and spontaneously.
  • I thought you had a lot of anger when you wrote that part of the letter. The sadness will come as you learn more, dig deeper, and contemplate your life.
  • intellectualization is a defense against feeling. Stop thinking and see what happens.
  • Conversion symptoms--the body converts traumatic memory and emotion into physical symptoms. I think your T had a really good observation about how sick it made you to write that letter. It made her sick to read it.
  • You clearly are trying to get better. Maybe working too hard. It's happening.
May 15 2014 09:59 PM



I appreciate this and need to sit with it. I hear you and understand the need to be patient. Honestly, I don't think I can take another incident like Monday night. My poor body is just going through too much as I patiently wait.

Another view, --just the opposite---you worked really hard to get through that MF book, and do all those exercises, find emotions, and deal with the truth. Additonally, you are doing therapy, and did a huge work project and started tx with AF---maybe all that has pushed your body to speak very loudly. You may need to cut back on activity, so your body and brain can speak to you very quietly.


I think I see an undercurrent for you regarding a pace your mother set when she abandoned her role, when you were 12, and you involuntarily became an instant adult, who had to do it all, but blindly, without guidance, instruction, time to learn, or real help.  I feel that currently there's a  sense of almost panic and needing answers that echoes that time of your life. You are reliving that abuse dynamic, but focusing on yourself now, with the same pace. Something's gotta give. It might be your body.


I hope that helps. I really care about you and want you to heal on all dimensions--physical, emotional, mental.


But you know what is right for you. And I don't mean to undercut your process in any way.

May 15 2014 10:36 PM



I do push myself pretty relentlessly. I can't hear in the quiet. I have been asked multiple times recently what I do to relax. It's impossible to answer that question. I can't feel relaxed! It doesn't matter what I do.


You're right about something having to give; and each time its my body.


Again, more for me to sit with from your comment.


Thank you my dear friend!


  • Hello Intrepid. I just want to encourage you to keep re-reading all that jiva has here. Mine that gold. For me, and my experience of you, these two segments in particular resonated.




    • I thought you had a lot of anger when you wrote that part of the letter. The sadness will come as you learn more, dig deeper, and contemplate your life.
    • intellectualization is a defense against feeling. Stop thinking and see what happens.




    • And this:



I think I see an undercurrent for you regarding a pace your mother set when she abandoned her role, when you were 12, and you involuntarily became an instant adult, who had to do it all, but blindly, without guidance, instruction, time to learn, or real help.  I feel that currently there's a  sense of almost panic and needing answers that echoes that time of your life. You are reliving that abuse dynamic, but focusing on yourself now, with the same pace. Something's gotta give. It might be your body.


I think sadness is not far away for you, a healthy grieving, and you are learning to receive love to help you cope with that sadness when it is ready to come.

Let nothing in what I have just said detract however from the joy you now feel for so many reasons. You are doing so well.



I don't know that I could add anything better to all the really thoughtful advice already shared, Intrepid....

But I will say, that I feel like, for me, there is a lot of emotion within.....but from holding it in all these years, then raging and not getting any result etc....and somewhat feeling exhausted from the thoughts and feelings, it takes a lot for me to actually cry etc. 

So perhaps it is just time and that being time away from therapy...doing things that are different, on your own maybe....that will lead you to refocus and those emotions to reveal themselves in the physical sense?

Gentle self care.....which also means enjoying the joy you find in life!!! Perhaps learning to enjoy 'joy' will bring us to the place where the sadness can leak out and we can gain healing?  Swinging with you still! Kick for the skies!


I know this is a bit left-field, but maybe you are feeling. Just feeling really fast. You mention feeling scared - scared is very much a feeling, which was what made me wonder, as I keep getting handed tissues I never use and tend to want to decline in T myself...

For us ice queens, maybe it's a matter of different processing. We perceive, we sense pain (or a part of us does), our instinct to protect kicks in and the walls go up. Same way as if you touch a hot thing, your hand will automatically move away, before your brain gets the message it may burn you. Maybe we've built ourselves very effective reflex arcs that others don't share because they haven't needed to evolve them...

Just a thought, and admittedly a weird one. But it chimed from your description and Jiva's comment about how you can't think your way to emotion. Maybe by the time you are perceiving emotions, it's with a whole different set of sensors than the ones that throw up the walls.

I'm not sure a sad film will help as it will probably only resonate with the part of you you 'allow' to feel. The bit that throws up the barriers can't be made safe because that allows the walls time to go up.

I am feeling really low at the mo, acting out whenever emotions do break through and so have been thinking how those barriers need to go up and it was madness to even try to stop them. But this blog is making me reflect that I should probably expect fallout, and that the steps I'm taking by being in T, speaking to very lovely friends, finding a backstop are all just the prelude to the bit where I finally let go and start to learn from scratch how to use emotions I've never flexed. It's probably going to get messy.

But icy doesn't sound like your first choice any more than it does mine, any more. Maybe we need to learn to ask the world to be patient with any damage we might cause while we fix the damage done to us?

That turned into a long thought! But your blog tends to get me thinking, in good, useful ways. Sorry if none of those musings are of use to you!

Safe hugs,


Hi Q. Enjoyed reading that. Max



I agree very much with many of Jiva's points- particularly the relationship between you and your T.  Why that is important.   MCook shared a link to a book that you might find interesting-   Shattered self and imposed identity p 310 http://books.google....utput=html_text


I haven't read the whole book, just a bit before the pages suggested and after.  Please note I couldn't read all of it because it was triggering but what I found interesting about it was reading from the perspective of educating a T on how to handle or behave.  They are very clear on the fact that the T must not influence the adoption of a new "self" by inserting the T's own feelings or opinions.  This is because we (survivors) haven't yet developed our own and independent self that is not influenced by the abuse.  We learned to survive the trauma by "taking on" a self that we were taught.  We learned how to continually do this to survive.  So in essence we could do this (adopt the feelings, opinions, etc) of someone when we are vulnerable.    It's just like any other behavior that we learned that we don't even realize we do or that is because of the trauma. 


Anyways, I can't explain it as well as the book does.  It's a fast few pages read. 





Really impressed with the thoughtful responses here Intrepid- there are so many people here who obviously care for you and are willing you on in your healing.

I think you are probably trying too hard. I appreciate this is the kettle calling the pot black- but because I do it too, I think I recognise it in a fellow perfectionist!

Just my two pennies worth. Have you thought of thinking back to when you remember feeling? Back to little intrepid? Maybe accessing a younger self and allowing her to draw, to play, to write, to feel? That's what I did. I asked questions on a piece of paper with my dominant hand and allowed the other hand to write the answer. It terrified me because that's when my vault blew apart. My younger selves replied- from a five year old who couldn't write to my very very angry teen who was very rude and blunt.

A word of advice if you do try this. Make sure you are safe. Reward yourself. Let someone know what you are doing if you can (I didn't and was very dangerous afterwards).

Regardless, know that you are doing well. It just all takes a loooong time! :hug:
May 16 2014 07:06 PM

Mand, Nebulas, Max, Q, Cas:


I am so very grateful for your responses. You all put so much time into giving me ideas and perspectives. It is very meaningful to me.


It's a lot for me to take in. Much of what you're saying I don't understand. Perhaps for the very reason that I approach everything from the perspective of the cognitive brain and solving things logically.

Intrepid, I have nothing useful to add but I did want to say that this post and all of the wonderfully thought out replies have really hit home with me. Thank you for being so open and honest in your posts. And thanks to all who replied with such awesome insight. 

About Intrepid She

This is a moderated PUBLIC blog. This blog is a therapeutic tool I am using to help me get over my fear of doctors (which is made difficult by a history of abuse by them) to learn to grieve, and ultimately to integrate my dis-integrated heart.


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The content of this blog is not appropriate for children or for anyone who might be triggered by reading about sexual abuse.


To the many others walking your own version of this path, I wish you well on your journey. -Intrepid


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