Many years ago I would spend a week deciding what to wear. Should I wear this skirt because it was bold and flowing or these jeans because they were tight and hugging – leather or lace, denim or Doc Martens? What stylish, stunning threads would be the right ones in order to illicit the response I wanted? It all depended on my intention – was it to entertain and seduce, defend and demand or gain hope and heal?
Years ago I used to dress according to the role I wanted her to play with me, whether it be best friend, favourite aunt, smart sister, emotionally devoid mother, or secret lover and I would spend an inordinate amount of time getting my clothes and hair just right to illicit as many compliments as possible. When I was more regressed and should have been wearing a onesie to therapy, she would always comment on my hair and I’d forgotten about that until she mentioned how nice my new hairstyle looked recently and the memories came flooding back. In the past she always appeared to have a special weakness for my long blonde hair, one that I used to exploit mercilessly for her attention and approval. I always gave her compliments the more sinister interpretation of a seduction scenario.
Whether a cigar is just a cigar depends if you have a psychoanalytic bent or a cognitive-behavioural one. I finally realised that I had a therapist who prefers to stay in the present moment and lets you know that your hair looks nice today and that her compliments should be met with a simple “thank you.” Ever since that time ten years ago I have met similar compliments from other people with a similar response. Much of her firm, common sense therapy has sunk in over the years.
Since I stopped worrying about impressing her and more time asking her to challenge my belief systems, we spend …
Is Google-stalking your therapist morally wrong, a self defeating masochistic exercise in futility, considered Borderline Personality Disordered behaviour or worse, or downright creepy, dangerous and illegal; or is it healthy curiosity and something everyone does but would not admit to – or perhaps all of the above?
I was surprised to find “Good Will Hunting” on our DVD recorded movies list. Apparently my oldest son, Matt recorded it thinking it was about guns. A great movie, and it was the bit at the end that settled an eternal question for me. Matt Damon hugs Robin Williams and says: “Doesn’t this violate the doctor/patient relationship?” and Robin Williams replies, “Only if you grab my arse.”
So, let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all. If it is OK for therapeutic couples to hug, then here are some types of therapy room hugs that might be considered appropriate:
The Stealth Hug: This happened for me about eight years ago. I saw her in the corridor wearing a green jumper and a black pleated skirt and I made a snap decision, so when I got into the room, I launched myself at her. She was quite startled, but put her arms around me and hugged. That, by the way, is the only correct response when a client stealth hugs a therapist. Had she refused, my mortification factor would have been stratospheric and I would have had to leave immediately – never to come back again. When a therapist refuses a client’s stealth hug it can make the client feel contaminated at best and the embodiment of evil at worst.
Sometimes, I catch myself having fierce arguments in my head with people I have never met, about situations that have not happened, followed by resolutions that are never satisfying. My headspace is cranky and irritable and there is no logical preceding incident; it is just where my head automatically ends up when let off the leash and wanders free range. I call this IBS – Irritable Borderline Syndrome.
Now, when I catch myself doing this, I redirect my thoughts into something else. I discovered I was doing this on the 45-minute journey to and from work. Without external noise distraction (my radio/CD broke) and only my thoughts to keep me company on the stop/start traffic jam journey to and from work, I was mentally irritable from plotting evil thoughts, arguing with my inner self and ruminating long before I reached my destination. My armpits and skin would itch with stress induced hormones and my bowels and intestines would cramp into knots.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not just about mental illness and emotional distress, it is also about social skills (or lack of them), empathy, manners, conflict resolution and self-care. Most children learn these vital social skills early on at pre and primary school where they observe other children’s behaviour, learn a “theory of mind” or how other children think and feel (mentalising) and experience compassion and empathy for others. These things come naturally to them.
But some children, through no fault of their own, are unable to learn and remain totally clueless about how to survive socially in the playground. These are the kids who suffer social neglect, rejection and abandonment. These are the children who need a step by step guide or a “recipe” on how to learn empathy, how to be a team player, how to get on with other children, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, the rough and tumble of give and take and sharing toys with grace and dignity.
These kids need to learn that when this happens, this is the correct response. I was not one of those naturally cluey children; I lived in social Siberia most of my school life and became a library refugee.
Here are five survival techniques desperately needed when suffering from BPD:
There is a saying in a self-help group I used to be in back in the eighties. When a “normal” person gets a flat tire, they call the Automobile Association. When someone with (what’s now known as BPD) gets a flat tire, they call the suicide hotline. There’s an awful lot of truth in that.
My goal recently has been to respond rather than react to what I perceive are excruciatingly provocative circumstances and situations. I want to think and act with grace and dignity, to deep breathe, turn around, walk away, move on, learn the lesson and get a life. This attitude has, in the past, kept me in relationships, out of the law courts, out of jail, out of psychiatric hospitals, in employment and in therapy (or life coaching as we are now doing).
No longer is my therapist my nurturing supporter, smothering me endlessly with loving/kindness, reassurances of never abandoning me and justifying my bad behaviour and lack of social skills as a result of my environment. We have a more pragmatic egalitarian relationship where I feel mentored, rather than mental.
When you suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (or complex trauma) one person’s constructive criticism or negative response is another person’s life-threatening narcissistic injury. I received a narcissistic brain hemorrhage this week when my challenging and authoritative therapist decided it was not relevant to our therapy to watch a video link I had emailed her.
My borderline reaction went to DefCon One in less than a nanosecond and I thought my brain would implode.
To be fair to myself, my thoughts remained relatively mindful (she’s said no before for the same reasons and yet I continue to email her things; it could be said that an idiot does the same thing all the time and expects a different response. If that is the case, then I am that idiot) but my body was transported instantly back to the mid-seventies where school bullying and parental fighting had finely tuned my fight, flight or freeze response.
At my last therapy session my therapist turned into a savage rottweiler; baring her sharp teeth at me, picking me up by the scruff of my neck and shaking the living daylights out of me. The doggone woman deliberately picked a fight about nothing, provoked me into a snarling row, called me a liar and then threatened to sue me for slander.
Interpretation of unfolding events is always a personal perception. I have been seeing her again for some workplace issues that need resolving. I was having problems accepting constructive criticism from the top dog in my organization. I found I was getting deeply triggered when told I was not achieving what I was supposed to achieve in the way she wanted it achieved and I was getting my feathers ruffled in a big way, getting upset, huffy and resolving the issue by fleeing or freezing.
So when within five minutes of arriving, my barking mad therapist activated every button on my panel and almost blew us both up, I almost called her a bitch, walked out the door and planned on brooding, ruminating and plotting impotent revenge against her for the rest of my natural life. Talk about an idealizing transference killer.
Learning how to accept criticism graciously is a form of art, but for me it is a work of art in progress. This is because I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and part of that syndrome is being unable to tolerate critical comments, no matter how well-meaning.
So what happens when I get criticized? No matter how mindful my brain wants to be, my body has an anaphylactic reaction. I feel as though someone has thrown acid in my face. I feel my body disintegrating and my internal organs shutting down and psychological and physical death is imminent. Does that sound familiar to you?
This isn’t planned, this isn’t about me being a Drama Queen or a Princess with a slipped tiara; it’s about staying alive. I go into survival mode where I have to sit in a chair, breathe deeply, count my fingers and toes and make sure that I am all here. I have to detoxify my body before I can even start to work out cognitively what was said, why it was said and what the ramifications of the criticism were.
At what point does a therapist decide to terminate a client because their relationship has broken down? Over the past three years writing my blog I have received many emails from therapy clients telling me that their therapists terminated them, either for no reason or for a small infraction within the relationship.
Are therapists being over-sensitive or are clients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder unaware of their own personal lack of empathy towards someone who is on their side? Being terminated for relationship issues with the therapist does not make sense to me. The entire reason we are in therapy is because we have huge external relationship problems and this plays out in the therapeutic relationship and the therapist should be aware of this.