Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Therapy #9: Am I My Worst Enemy in Healing?

I had a two-week hiatus from therapy because my therapist had to attend to an administrative commitment, but I had a pretty solid therapy session today. I spoke more than I have spoken since deciding to address my rape, and she left me with a really important question, 
which I will get to momentarily.

As I have repetitively said, I want so badly to put this whole assault thing in the past, so I’ve been working really hard on completing “My Story.” I always start out with a lot of momentum, but my motivation quickly fizzles out. I guess it’s like I can’t decide what tone would be most appropriate and beneficial to my recovery.

For example, should I write it out as a simple timeline or bullet points of the most significant events? Or, should I write it out exactly how I experienced it, including all the physical details and even discussion of my emotional unraveling? In addition, should I include in “My Story” the emotional experience I am feeling as I am writing it out? I go back and forth in thinking about these questions while I’m writing, and consequently, I have ended up with 4 or 5 unfinished renditions of the same story! And, to top it off, I’m not satisfied with any of them.

Basically, I haven’t made a complete version yet because I get stuck each time. I don’t feel like the facts accurately portray what happened – if you’ve ever been assaulted, I think you’d agree that rape is an emotional attack more than anything – but then when I include an emotional component, I always end up self-doubting and putting a chunk of the blame on myself – not particularly conducive to healing!

Since I’ve heard that “defining your experience” is such a crucial component in moving on from acquaintance rape (or any form of sexual assault, for that matter), I brought up in therapy today how I’ve been struggling to complete “My Story.” I asked my therapist what I should do, and like any good therapist, she responded that there is no set technique and that it’s something I will have to discover for myself (Does anyone else experience this in therapy – I know that a therapist’s goal is to empower the client, but don’t you sometimes just want concrete answers? Do x, y, and z, and you will be better. J).

My therapist suggested that I bring in the versions of my story so that we can start talking about the problematic areas. She noted that as soon as I start delving into a particular issue in therapy, I have an ongoing tendency to launch into self-doubt and self-blame (i.e., it’s not just a problem in writing out my story), and she is concerned that these reactions serve as road blocks that prevent me from getting to the root of the deeper issues. She then asked me a very powerful question:

Identify healing road blocks
“If you were to take out the self-blame and self-doubt, what would you be left with? What would your story say without those two recurring elements?”

I thought about it for less than minute and realized that it was a question I needed to explore alone before attempting to talk about it in therapy. I wanted to dodge the mounting emotional surge that was rapidly approaching my threshold for emotional containment. Beyond that threshold are intense vulnerability and a dark hole that depletes my ability to productively deal with things. I knew immediately what she was getting at because as soon as I allowed myself to take away those two barriers – self-doubt and self-blame – the eruption of emotions carried a different energy and tone.

These emotions were still intense and very unpleasant. However, these emotions were kinder. Unfamiliar, but kinder. The kindness of the unpleasant feelings was almost scary in itself as it was too unfamiliar for me to explore fully with another individual in the room.

I will reflect more in depth on her very powerful question over the next few days and will report back once I have a better grasp on what it means to me.

For follow up free-writing exercise, click here.


  1. Yeah, I hate that too. When I ask my therapist a question it seems to always get turned around on me and she asks me what I think the answer is. Sometimes I just want the answer instead of another question.

    Your therapist asked you this question.

    “If you were to take out the self-blame and self-doubt, what would you be left with? What would your story say without those two recurring elements?”

    The first answer that popped into my mind was "truth". I would be left with truth and the story would only contain truth. To me "truth" means just the brutal facts. The more I think about it I already know the brutal facts, it's the exploration of feelings that I am unsure about. It's the way it has affected me that I am unsure about. So for me I can't remove the self-blame and self-doubt without removing who I am. I can't learn who I am without the exploration of feelings. I am interested in what your answers to that question are.

    You do a much better job at talking about your therapy than I do. I never talk about my therapy. I sort of hint around about it.

  2. Jaime, it's interesting how we have two different interpretations of the same question. Based on the context of this therapy session and past ones, I think my therapist intended her question for me to mean essentially, "what are your sources of distress surrounding this event when you remove self-blame and self-doubt?" (i.e., what is my experience of what happened when I don't blame myself). Almost like I use these emotions to soften and/or distract myself from the blow of other unpleasant, perhaps harder to deal with, emotions that are triggered when I revisit the past.

    One thing that pops into my mind is that I had to take on a chunk of self-blame in order to start back school and function in an environment where I saw him around campus and shared relationships with people who maintained a friendship with him. Almost like by taking responsibility for what happened, I was able to convince myself that I wasn't as violated as I was. Of course, I've learned no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, a part of you - the hollow part, perhaps - knows that you've been seriously violated. Hope I'm making sense! I'll go into more rambling I'm sure when I post a more thorough response to her question.

    Thanks for the hugs and compliment. Just curious - you write about really, really difficult topics all the time; what do you think makes writing about therapy stuff more difficult for you? Don't feel obligated to answer - I'm just curious! xxxx

  3. Just curious - you write about really, really difficult topics all the time; what do you think makes writing about therapy stuff more difficult for you?
    It's different. My feelings make me feel weak, but what happened to me doesn't. I can talk about the facts with clinical intentions because I am compelled to because of the fact that I need to provide this information to the investigators. However, I don't get too much into how it all makes me feel. If you read my story that I have posted thus far you will see a slow, really slow progression where I am letting more and more of my feeling out. I'm still not letting as much out as I need to. I have spent so much effort into just getting the facts written that I can't handle the emotions at the same time. The hard part isn't the facts. The hard part is the emotions. I am barely scratching the surface of emotions.

  4. That definitely makes sense. You're doing great. Slow and steady wins the race :)