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Counselling - I've started, but think I'm stuck - [Trigger warning added by MNHQ]

(48 Posts)
pinktransit Sun 10-Apr-16 21:58:38

I've very recently started some counselling, which started as an issue with bereavement, but has moved on somewhat. I really have a problem with identifying and expressing emotions, which we believe is down to a physically and emotionally abusive marriage many years ago. This led to me shutting down any negative emotions, which has now been going on for so long that I no longer know how to deal with these emotions at all.
So far so good :-)
However, my counseller wants me to identify 2/3 times during the marriage when the violence led to me freezing, or shutting down emotionally. In theory, this is fine, and it's something that will help. However - I have successfully blocked it all out, and I genuinely can't remember specifics. I can't remember the first time he hit me, or any time really. I remember having to wear long sleeved tshirts because of bruises, but not how the bruises got there. I remember that punches to the kidney area was a favourite of his, as this would frequently trigger a kidney infection - so plenty of pain without any external evidence. But I can't identify any one time or incident, or what started that particular situation.
How can I begin to remember something I've blocked out for decades? I really get the theory behind it - we will go through the specific memory and update it rather than me being stuck at that point. But I don't know how to.
I've got a week until my next appointment, so I'm not feeling any huge pressure to remember right now. Any ideas of how i can get started? How do you uncover a blocked memory?

Sorry if relationships isn't the right place for this - if there's anywhere better, I'm happy to ask for it to be moved.

Marchate Sun 10-Apr-16 22:59:25

Recent thought is that, for some people, bringing things back into mind is counterproductive. Burying bad memories can be a useful way of dealing with them

pinktransit Sun 10-Apr-16 23:06:44

For me, now, I think that dealing with the past will be helpful. The buried memories, and my reactions to them are stopping me moving on now, and feeling things that I need to feel.
I'm so used to burying negative emotions that I don't know how to actually feel them. This is a start on learning how to do that, and going back to the place/time when I started blocking them feels like the right way to do it. Agreed, it's not the only way, but of the options I have, this one feels best. I just don't know how to find the memories. They are there, I hope - but it think it's a bit like finding the end bit of thread on a cotton reel: can be difficult, but once you've got it you can use it.

Intheprocess Sun 10-Apr-16 23:40:00

This may be a bit random, but what I do when feeling a bit emotionally stuck is watch the film Interstellar - that bit where Coop gets the messages from his kids makes me almost unbearably sad. It's like an emotional jump-start.

And sometimes I'll get a take-away for no other reason than I really want one. I eat it thinking "screw you world, this tastes amazing". Is that weird? Possibly, but I don't care. "Screw you world, I'm really enjoying this and there's absolutely f*ck-all you can do about it, lol." It's very liberating!

Guiltypleasures001 Sun 10-Apr-16 23:45:20

Hi lovely the way you are dealing with it at the moment is with blocking it out, when your mind believes you either can or need to deal with the memory's it will let you access them complete with the emotions connected to the time.

What your experiencing at the moment and might do for a good long while is part of something called disassociation, it's the minds way of allowing you to cope in the present tense.

Being stuck isn't a problem in its self so please don't panic it's natural plus your mind isn't wanting to give up its secrets just yet. There's a few things your therapist can do that might act as triggers as your sessions progress, I'm sure there's lots of other stuff you can work on in the mean time. thanks

reynoldsnumber Mon 11-Apr-16 00:14:36

My experience was that the emotions came on their own at some point during the counselling process. I wasn't openly trying to access them like you, but I had the same thing, couldn't remember key events in my childhood. Not abuse like you, but very difficult times. I'm not sure how my counsellor/I did it.

I couldn't believe it when I felt those emotions again as an adult. It was intense and very real. But ultimately healing for me.

MiscellaneousAssortment Mon 11-Apr-16 03:48:06

"My experience was that the emotions came on their own at some point during the counselling process."

This is what happened for me as well.

The blanking out and disassociation were one of the key issues I was trying to undo with counselling, because I'd grown up being forced to ignore physical messages from my body... I wasn't in pain/ ill / injured / fractured etc (when I really really was), and of course emotions were also denied and belittled. So disassociation was a great coping mechanism in that situation. However, as a grown up with a horrible and disabling condition, being in touch with my body is kind of the most important thing I can be.

Hence the counselling. But what I found was that it's not like turning a tap gradually, or being able to control the memories. They come in a rush, with emotional triggers, and I find myself utter overwhelmed by the flood, stripped bare and sort of, 'unmanned' by them (well, unwomaned really!). My counsellor is really good and this didn't come as a surprise to her. She is very aware of helping me build strength and resilience to cope with them, and being very careful about pushing the memories to come.

So knowing what I know now, I'd ask any counsellor how they will help unlock memories, but also how they will support you in coping with the memories when they come.

Good luck flowers

janaus Mon 11-Apr-16 06:05:38

I am not finding counselling that great really. I don't know where to start, she sits and waits for me, then I end up babbling on, and going over stuff I have already talked about. I thought I would get more direction, and more out of it.
I find it a bit awkward.

pinktransit Mon 11-Apr-16 13:07:37

Thank you for all your comments - I'm fairly new to this, so don't know how it will work...
The disassociation is the bit I'm trying to work through - there's this big box of stuff that I've spent years ignoring, but now I need to work out how to open it.

My counsellor does seem to be great - he's very aware that this is going to be hard for me, and also the reason for doing it now.

So how to unlock the box? I can't even pin down one specific memory. I thought that if I could find one, then the rest might follow. My mind is being very stubborn though in letting me know where it's all hidden. I thought I might try going through some old photos of this time and see if that triggers anything.
I may come back to this thread for handholding and tissues if it works smile
Again, thank you - I'm sorry that others have gone through these issues, but it does help to know that I'm not on my own.

Room101isWhereIUsedToLive Mon 11-Apr-16 13:11:16

Sense of smell is the most triggering thing for memory. Could you get hold of aftershave or something along those lines?

mmmminx Mon 11-Apr-16 13:19:46

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sadie9 Mon 11-Apr-16 13:59:08

What you can do is just start with any memory you have. Good bad or indifferent. A memory of anything. Start with a time you felt a strong emotion of any kind, ever. Or even some small scene from your childhood, that might seem insignificant. Eg. something as simple as one day a girl at school gave you a lend of a pencil and it was red and top was all chewed.
Your issue is with describing and feeling emotions. Lots of people from an early age 'put away' their emotions to keep themselves safe. Then we put away strong feelings of happiness and joy and love as well because they are just as hard to manage.
So worry a bit less about the actual content and actual memories and concentrate on the process of talking and describing how you feel in the moment now, when you are talking to the counsellor. Not concentrate in a straining way, but just let that be the only thing you 'need' to do.
Once your mind is 'reassured' that you can discuss anything intimate or important things with this counsellor it will start to allow you to remember stuff.

pinktransit Tue 12-Apr-16 12:37:39

I think I found the end of the thread that may well unravel this for me. It's not what my counsellor asked for as such, but it's a start, I think.
He's looking for a time when exh was violent and I froze, but I'm not there yet.
My recollection is that there was more emotional abuse than physical, but then again, I could be just forgetting a lot of it.
The time I remember is that I'd done something, or upset him (probably by breathing or something equally heinous), so he made me take my top and bra off and walk to the end of the balcony we lived on (top floor of maisonettes, so past about 9 houses), and walk back again. Apparently I didn't do it right the first time, so I had to do it again before he'd unlock our front door and let me back in again.
That is pretty bad isn't it? I didn't freeze, but I would not let myself feel how humiliating and upsetting it should have been. I just did it.

Reading that back, I'd be so shocked if I read it about somebody else, but it was just one of those things that happened. sad

I'm quite upset on behalf of my 20 or 21 year old self.

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 12:51:14

Sorry to bump this, but I'm trying to put together an email for my counseller - the therapy is online, rather than face to face, so I email the work that I do during the week, and we then discuss during our online session.

Can someone please read the email I'm going to send, and let me know if it mostly makes sense? I'm not convinced even after rewriting that it is coherent.

Thanks smile

Hi *****

I'm finding it very hard to remember specific incidences with my ex husband where there was violence and I froze. I don't know how to remember - I've kept that locked away for so long that I don't know how to recall it. I'm trying to - I've looked at the few photos I have from them to see if that helps, but it's not.

There are a handful of things - one I've always remembered, even if not in a lot of detail, about the night I finally left. He held me down by the throat and hit me - the only time that he left visible bruises and I was really scared that he would kill me.
The others aren't about being hit. They are more about being controlled, and not being able to not obey.

Chronologically (not the order I remembered them in).

1 - I came home from hospital with my first baby. In those days you stayed in for 5 days, so this was the 5th day after birth. We got home, had some visitors who then left, settled the baby and went to bed. He had sex with me. I was sore, bleeding and had stitches - the midwife was concerned the next day as some stitches were torn. I couldn't say no to him - I had to do what he expected: saying no, or not doing it were not options available to me.

2: Later on, we were living in a maisonette , on the top storey. There was a balcony that ran along the outside of all the flats, 9 or 10 in total. I'd done something to annoy or upset him. He made me take off my top and bra and walk along the balcony. I didn't do it right the first time, so I had to do it again before he unlocked the door and let me back in.

Again, saying no was just not an option. I had to do it. He found it funny, so I acted along with that. I couldn't let myself feel the hurt and humiliation that I should have felt, so just did it.

Guiltypleasures001 Wed 13-Apr-16 14:43:07

Hi Pink

You have a huge amount of potentially triggering trauma in your back ground, to be very honest with you I am surprised that a counsellor is doing this sort of therapy online.

Ideally from my professional point of view you need a safe place with which to deal with this, with another experienced person in the room to handle reactions triggers emotions etc.

Asking you to remember this type of trauma as home work isn't in my view safe or I think that ethical, in very emotional situations which you are trying to put yourself in to, to enable yourself to feel the emotions
Of the past event is to my mind damaging without supervision of the client face to face.

As another poster said when you shutdown emotions and past memory's, you can also include the good stuff that's happens.

But there is always a danger that the wall the mind has built around these events can just drop and your left all of a sudden traumatised and alone in it. If this happens how the hell are you supposed to articulate this in an email?

I'm also wary as to why this therapist is pushing you to remember such events as an urgency, unless this is my take on it and I'm wrong. Do you actually want to revisit them warts an all? Are you comfortable doing this?

Because your not in the room your therapist isn't able to use any other tools at their disposal to help the client along. Such as guided imagery walk throughs and relaxation techniques, picking up on body language tone of voice, and things unspoken.

I'm a stranger to you and on here, but to attempt this kind of therapy by email is in my opinion potentially damaging and not in your best interest. It's also not going to be sorted within 6 sessions if this is also another factor.

Guiltypleasures001 Wed 13-Apr-16 14:47:41

May I just add that freezing playing dead memory loss and doing as you are asked to avoid further punishment or pain, is a natural reaction and sometimes you have no actual conscious ability to do otherwise.

This is the minds way of protecting itself and you, it will do whatever it thinks is the best course of action,
Please dont think you did anything wrong by doing any of them.

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 15:32:56

Thank you Guilty.

The reason behind the counselling is to release the block on negative emotions that I have, that is caused by the DV in my past. Once I can do that, then I can (hopefully) deal with my current situation better.
I don't know whether it's the right way of dealing with it - this was one option, and there was another of just learning to process emotion without facing the past. Facing the past felt right to me, rather than papering over it which I've done for many years.
He is asking for 2 or 3 specific examples by email, which we will then discuss during my appointment by live chat/messaging rather than email. The guided imagery and more detailed recollection I think we will go through at that point. I do know that I risk feeling traumatised - and that even thinking back to some of the events in the past has been hard, and left me feeling a bit shaky at first. I think I have to do it though, I need to move past events that happened over 20 years ago.
I do really appreciate your comments and advice though. And I do need to actually believe that it wasn't my fault, and that by going along with it all I condoned it and was complicit.

MiscellaneousAssortment Wed 13-Apr-16 20:06:09

Sorry if this isn't useful for you but my first reaction is the same of Guilty's. I'm not a professional but from someone going through a similiar process, and having had counselling quite a few times (unsuccessfully) in the past, alarm bells are ringing all over the place on this.

"Asking you to remember this type of trauma as home work isn't in my view safe or I think that ethical"

I had a similarly clumsy sounding attempt at counselling in my early twenties, and it was awful. And left me very damaged and raw. And closer to killing myself than is comfortable, in hindsight somewhat terrifying really. I think it's the mark of experience and expertise to tread carefully and spend time building a therapeutic relationship and a thorough understanding of the situation before opening up the person up to potential very vulnerable and overwhelming situations. This man has NO idea of your mental state, your coping strategies and of your ability to cope with his attempts to crash through all the mental protection and armpit that has been built up for a reason.

Anyone who just jumps in there and starts with such cack-handed exercises (sorry, that's clearly not the professional term for it!), smacks of arrogance and ignorance. And also mirrors my first bad mh experience a little too closely for my liking. Which is why I feel the need to jump on here and write this, although you may find it completely unhelpful and in opposition to your needs from this thread. flowers

MiscellaneousAssortment Wed 13-Apr-16 20:41:28

Oh lord I've just noticed the typo... I don't really think your counsellor is crashing through your armpit shock grin

It's quite a mental image though ... Incoming, incoming, protect the armpit!!!

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 20:47:20

I am listening to you all here.
You could be right. This is the outcome of our 3rd session - the first wasn't very helpful, the second more so, and the third I've gone through more detail with him and what I want to get out of the counselling.
So it's not the first session we've had, but it still feels as though it's the first when we touched on the actual issue.
I think I'll stop thinking about the past for now. I'll send the email and see how the next session goes.
At the very least I will have got something out of the process so far - I know that I have issues, what they are and where they started. That could be a basis of a different type of counselling maybe.
Thank you for reading and for taking the time to respond - it's very much appreciated.

Guiltypleasures001 Wed 13-Apr-16 21:31:18

I certainly wouldn't be asking this kind of homework in the 3rd session, he can't have any idea of how you would cope or react.

May I ask how you found him, and does he check out through the BACP UKCP websites?

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 21:42:04

I'm going through the online NHS funded Ieso CBT service.

Guiltypleasures001 Wed 13-Apr-16 22:00:31

Hi Pink

Sorry to keep jumping on your therapist, the NHS are training their own people plus existing counsellors
To only offer CBT as a therapy, which in all honesty and obviously in my opinion is not suited to your issues.

Some CBT techniques are useful but only in conjunction with other deeper therapies, I wonder if he's only trained in CBT how he would cope with a real time traumatised client. As I mentioned before I wonder if this is only 6 sessions whether he is trying to rush things.

I'm worried that your mental guards are going to come down without adequate support, to be the told there's no other sessions left and your on your own.

There's something called re traumatising the client, I hope he's taking this in to consideration.

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 22:43:48

Hi Guilty
Please keep jumping :-)
I do appreciate the input - in some ways I've not been totally happy so far - he's very keen to diagnose with a specific condition that can then be treated, whereas I'm more concerned with dealing with the issue than labelling it. But I don't know what to expect from counselling, so your thoughts, experience and opinion is really helpful.
So - as a result I will take things more slowly than I would have. I've sent the email, but will now stop trying to push any further memory recovery. I'll wait for his response, and see what direction he wants to go in.

He hasn't said that it's only 6 sessions, there's been no mention of time limits.

pinktransit Wed 13-Apr-16 22:45:23

Oh - and I giggled too at the armpit crashing smile

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