S visibly cringed when I showed him the cuts on my left arm.
“Yeah, the truce is over…” I said, to him. “Something triggered me on Monday and I wasn’t thinking. I just reached for the knife and slashed myself…” Then I tried to minimize it. “It really doesn’t look as bad as it did on Monday…”
We spent the rest of the session trying to figure out why the teen was so angry that she wanted to hurt me. I brought up Q’s theories – maybe the teen is angry at me, maybe the teen is afraid that if she’s fine, then she won’t get to see S anymore or maybe she felt like just one session wasn’t enough to overcome all the years of hurt and pain.
As we talked, I realized that maybe a huge part of it had to do with the fact that the adult felt like “Yep, case closed. We’ve found out why I get so angry so much all the time. It’s the teen and she feels like she’s not heard. Done. Let’s not revisit this anymore” and foolishly thought that that was the end of it. So in her anger for being shut down yet again, the teen lashed out. Just like all the other times that she’s done so.
I realize now that the reason I haven’t done this sooner (this being self harm) is because the adult has always been stronger and has always been able to shut the teen down quickly with guilt and shame. The adult has always been good at ignoring her but since starting therapy, the teen has been growing stronger because S has been helping the adult see the other parts. S has been validating the teen and giving her reasons to be louder.
I told S that the teen wants me to hurt as much as she can hurt me. We talked about my anger for my parents and as we talked more about that, I realized that the teen is very angry at my parents. She wants someone to pay for the pain she’s experienced. Her spite and anger are just so uncontrollable – she wants vengeance. Since there is no way for her to exact that vengeance, she hurts the next best thing – the adult in me. Not only has the teen been physically hurting me, she’s also been emotionally hurting me. She’s been calling me names, taunting me, and making me feel like I can’t keep going. She’s being vicious.
She’s also angry that I seem to be struggling with school lately. It seems like there’s someone she really needs or wants approval from. It seems like the approval she wants is my parents’ approval. There’s something driving our despair and discouragement because of my current struggle with Calculus and Computing classes.
S asked, “Who are you trying to please? ” – the question directed at the teen.
We sat for a few moments in silence. S looked at me. I shrugged.
“Silence. I hear nothing…” I said. She was, just moments ago, vehemently calling me names, telling me I’m so weak and useless, telling me that she hates my parents and that someone needs to pay for her pain. Then when S asked the question of who she’s trying to please, she suddenly shut down.
As I’m writing this, I realize that she’s pouting in the corner. She doesn’t want to talk to me. I’ve been asking her the same question that S did. She refuses to respond.
“I think at this point, the adult and teen needs another truce. The adult needs to check in with the teen from time to time. Ask her if she has anything she wants to say. When she flares up, the adult needs to say, ‘OK. What else do you want to say?’ and be there to listen. What would it be like if you did that?”
It was a hard question because it would mean not ignoring the teen. It means hearing difficult things that I’ve been ignoring for 30 years. I frowned. “Well… It’s definitely something I’m going to have to do…” I said, reluctantly.
“Yeah… Do you think you could try that?”
“I’m going to have to…” I said. I can’t deny the fact that I really don’t want to. The same way the teen doesn’t want to admit that she wants and craves my parent’s approval. The same way she doesn’t want to let go of her thirst for vengeance.
After that, we discussed a little about what the teen had said to me after I had cut myself on Monday. I said that it creeped me out how the teen said to me after I had hurt myself, “Good….” and was pleased at the fact that I had done that. When I was later tending to the wounds, I heard her say, “It’s okay. I care for you. I’m the only one who does. No one else cares… It’s okay… I had to do that…” What creeped me out was the fact that this was familiar to when I was a child and would get punished by my mother. I would get caned and later at night, I would catch my mother tending to my wounds while crying, telling me that she didn’t want to punish me but had to because I was a brat. It sounded like what the teen had told me. I freaked out then. It was like the moment when Luke Skywalker went into the cave in Dagobah and saw his face under Darth Vader’s mask.
“Seeing your dark self…” S said, understanding my reference.
“Yeah. I freaked out. I told the teen to get the hell away from me! She hurt me and then tells me she cares? She is the person who both inflicted the pain and then tried to take away the pain…”
“And you remember your mother doing the same…”
“Yeah. I haven’t thought about it in a very long time…. It’s a memory I’d rather not remember. It’s painful because it makes me feel guilty…” I said. It really does because it makes me feel like a bad kid who is such a brat, who has caused my mother so much pain that she had to punish me even when she doesn’t want to. It was all my fault, right? I deserve to be punished.
“Now I know you probably don’t want to hear this right now but to me, at least in my perspective, this is a good sign. That a part of you now recognizes that your mother cared for you despite the pain she inflicted. That was something you were never able to pull out before. This shows me that you’re really making progress…”
Yeah. I didn’t want to hear it. I still want someone to pay. How is it fair that I had to go through years of pain and suffering to just forgive someone so easily? That’s what I really think. And it makes me sound like a horrible person for thinking that way. I told S that it’s much easier to blame that on the teen. To blame it on someone else. I don’t want to own up to it. I don’t want to own the fact that I am angry at my parents. I also don’t want to own up to the fact that they have hurt too in their own lives.
The thing is, I know the truth. I just don’t and can’t accept it. At least not right now. I know S is going to keep trying to remind me of this. I know I will eventually accept it. Just not right now. I can admit that now. I can admit that I can’t accept it. Before, I might just have brushed it off and ignored it. But now, I see it.
Near the end of the session, S asked the hard question he’s been asking me for weeks now, “So how are the suicidal thoughts?”
I never want to answer this question because I sometimes don’t know the answer myself.
“I know this isn’t a good thing… But right now, the teenager is so angry at me that she doesn’t want me to die. She wants to hurt me as much as possible for as long as possible. So if I die, she won’t have that chance anymore. But the adult is exhausted. She wants to die. She wants to just lie down and wither away…”
“So in a way the teen is protecting you?”
“Yeah… Yesterday, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder how high a building has to be for someone to die’… I’ve been thinking about the parking garage a lot more…”
“So you not only have the means, you also have a plan…?” S asked.
I read yesterday on The Mighty’s site (Three Questions That Are Hardest To Ask As A Therapist), that there are three questions that are very hard for a therapist to ask and they are: “Do you want to kill yourself?”, “Do you have plans?” and “Do you have the means to?”, so what he said reminded me of that.
“Yeah… The adult is just tired. I am tired, S. I’m tired of fighting the teen all day every day. I just can’t do this. I can’t do this…” I said. “But… The teen isn’t going to let me die. As much as I want to…”
There was a moment of silence.
“Can you promise me not to go near any parking garages at least?”
“Yeah…” I said, feeling defeated.
Satisfied that I made my promise, S changed the subject to end the session. We were already 5 minutes over the usual time and I know that I’ve been a difficult client lately. He said that he’s noticed that I’ve been coming in for walk-ins every Thursday for the past 2-3 weeks and that I’ve been pulling more things each time we talk. He told me that he’s realized the pattern: that on Wednesdays, during our regular sessions, that I talk about something very difficult and painful, get overwhelmed, lose my shit, and then needing another session the next day. So, he told me something I not only didn’t expect, but was also something that I had secretly wished for a long time.
“I was thinking that maybe, at least for now, you might benefit from us meeting twice a week… You’re really progressing well and I don’t feel like you’re as tense today as you were last week, but I think you might really benefit from seeing me again another time in the week…”
“Well I know that I’ve been coming in here a lot lately and I’ve been asking myself if I’m becoming indulgent…” I said, feeling slightly insecure about the offer.
“Well, I know that you’re not one of those clients that I’ve had before who after a while, I realized were just blowing smoke up my ass… Pardon my language… Every time you’ve been in here, you’re not just here to hang out and chat…” He responded. It made me feel a little better. “We sometimes do this depending on the need – you’re certainly not the first client that we’ve done this for and I think at this point, there is a need…”
I know I’ve been depending on him heavily lately and I’ve been needing him a lot more than I have ever had. Seeing him twice a week has kept me sane while my life has gone insane. I think if I hadn’t seen him so often lately, I might have succumbed to my own desires to give up.
I agreed, feeling myself blush as I did so because I felt embarrassed to admit that I needed him. It was also unexpected so I couldn’t control my physical reaction. I have a hard time admitting that I need people and want people to care for me so I never would have asked this myself. It was nice that he offered me this extra care.
I look forward to seeing what tomorrow’s session will be like – for once, I don’t have to force myself to walk to CAPS for a walk-in session. I don’t have to ask to be seen.