I have had a couple of therapy sessions in the past few days. One with F, who I saw for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I also tried out a new therapist whose specialism is in integrative arts psychotherapy.
During the meeting with F, which was my second and probably last session, I talked about the current estrangement I was experiencing at the time with my boyfriend, and how to go about achieving the resolution I was hoping for. It wasn’t something that I really needed to discuss with a therapist, but it was so pressing on my mind, I couldn’t help it. Anyhow, the matters have now been resolved and with time (without the counsellor’s help), I decided that the discussion in question didn’t need to happen in the prescriptive way I was envisaging.
However during the meeting F told me about Non-Violent Communication (NVC). He summarised the four points of managing a conflict as: firstly locating the incident. Secondly, relating the incident to the other party, using factual ‘I’ statements. Thirdly, explaining your underlying need or value using ‘because’. Lastly, a smart request in which you seek a change or compromise from the other party in the future.
All very well but I didn’t end up using anything like this because a formal conversation didn’t happen. When things get tough, I remember that love is all, and I remember to be mindful of the present moment and sometimes that is enough. A week-long cooling-off was enough to bring love and togetherness back to my relationship, without any recourse to complicated and painful feelings and experiences that we’ve tried hard to put behind us. I am happy with this, though it’s taken time.
A couple of days after, I saw another new NLP therapist, G. She is the best therapist I’ve seen so far. She is the first one I’ve seen that isn’t just perplexed by me and I have an instant rapport with. She challenges and stimulates me. She doesn’t get stuck for things to say and directions to take the dialogue. She talked nearly as much as me, which is what I want. Otherwise I go off course and start talking about just the current thoughts that flit through my mind, instead of the deep stuff that needs work and I need challenging on. G crammed many things into our hour. She asked me questions – the usual stuff about what my issues are and what outcomes I anticipate – but she also uses visualisation exercises, roleplay and games to find out how we really feel about ourselves and others. She asked me to for one word that sums up how I feel about my childhood, and it was quite sad really, I said ‘lonely’. That was honestly the first thought I had. My childhood was not filled with a cast of characters; people were sparse and not giving of themselves.
Despite (or because of) this I revelled in time alone, and used to relish secretly the time when both parents were out at work because their shifts overlapped. I talked about something that I had not voiced probably to anyone, certainly not for years. When I was little, my mother would forbid me to play with the other kids that lived on our safe little cul-de-sac, mostly boys very slightly older than me. I really wanted to play with them as I thought they were incredibly cool. One day when she was taking a nap, I took her house keys, let myself out and met up with the boys. We played in the allotments and had fun. She came to the allotments in a rage, having worried herself sick at not being able to find me. Of course this was acutely embarrassing for me in front of my new playmates. The reason she forbade me from playing with the boys and girls in our street was because in mum’s eyes, they were of a lower social standing as they attended state schools and I didn’t.
It made me wonder how it is the forbidden tastes so sweet. The very fact it is forbidden makes me want it even more. Over my childhood years and into early adulthood I had unhealthy attitudes to lots of practices and behaviours that were deemed immoral by my parents. If they’d only given me the freedom to experiment and take calculated risks when I was growing up, perhaps I wouldn’t have needed to take more foolhardy risks when I was older. Yet at the same time, underneath all the bravado was a split personality – someone incredibly shy and risk-averse.
But back to the exercises set by G. She asked me to picture myself as a child and asked me what age this child was and what she was feeling. I said she was 7, starting school, as I still have an image in my mind of a photograph of myself at this age. She’s feeling awkward, nervous and out of place. Her clothes are hanging off her small, skinny frame as her school uniform is two years too big for her. It’s sensible to buy clothes she will grow into. At school she is really shy and won’t put her hand up in class even if she knows the answer. She wonders why everyone else makes friends so easily and feels very jealous of the other girls.
G asked me to give a piece of advice to the 7-year old me. I said ‘take responsibility for yourself’. G said the 7-year old wouldn’t understand that. She is frightened, standing there in her too-big clothes. I honestly don’t know what advice I would have given the 7-year old. ‘Don’t be afraid to love’? ‘Find the confidence to be yourself’? ‘Respect others and yourself’? It made me feel quite sad to be honest, as I really felt that the 7-year old me was there in the room, silly as that sounds.
Despite all I should know about accepting myself, I realise by the language I was using to talk to the therapist, I still don’t. The matter of my recent efforts to improve my relationship came up. I explained some things that I had done, having finally realised that this was the correct course of action. Then I said that I felt annoyed that I hadn’t done these good things sooner – and that was the critical voice creeping in. I should take steps to notice this voice.
I realised at the end of my session with G that I still have a long way to go. I’ve said it before: even though I feel immensely calm, blissfully content, serenely happy and appreciatively satisfied the vast majority of the time, I am not out of the woods yet.