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Defence Mechanisms, Transference and Making Paul Pull Teeth – Week Seven

Posted Dec 07 2010 6:48pm
As promised earlier .  Beware of possible triggers.  Perhaps more pertinently, beware of rambling introspection and anal-as-fuck detail, resulting in a ridiculously long entry.  Finally, beware of the fact that I couldn’t be arsed to proof-read this, so it’s probably riddled with errors of various descriptions.  Please pretend you haven’t noticed if this is the case.  I will notice myself soon enough and then bang my head endlessly off a wall, maybe getting around to correcting it as I do.  You have been warned!!!

Here I am catching up on therapy session reviews (in this case, that of 22 November).  It was a difficult and curious hour.  Towards the end of it, Paul described his ability to break down walls – or, more accurately, my inability to let them be broken down – as “like a dentist pulling teeth”, causing a panicked me to ask if he was annoyed with me.  Apparently not, mercifully.  I think, actually, that he had been – but in the course of his frustrations with me, he noted his own tendencies toward countertransference and as such became pissed off with himself.  He sees my struggle, apparently: the dichotomy between (a) desperately wanting to make progress in therapy (and realising that in so doing comes a lot of extremely difficult material, and a potential temporary regression in mental health) and (b) being so terrified/mortified/disgusted/degraded/blah blah blah – and, indeed, so utterly used and resigned to repressing so much bollocks – that I clam up at the slightest tickles towards the truth.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth reiterating that one thing I really like about Paul, as opposed to C, is the fact that he says what he fucking means.  He doesn’t bullshit, he doesn’t politicise or pussyfoot around his answers, he is forthright, and he is honest.  Admittedly had C been as open and straight-up as Paul is, I would probably have battered him half to death or thrown myself off the nearest adequately-high suspension bridge (yeah, cos they’re ten-a-penny in Northern Ireland…), but still.  My relationship with Paul is different than the one I had with C.  Perhaps there is less asymmetry, less of a power balance lying with the analyst.  More equality?  I don’t know.  This is dubious armchair speculation at best, but whatever the case, candour is a quality I by and large value, and it is present in Paul in droves.

I reported being depressed in the wake of my birthday, and told him how much I hated the occasion as it “is a constant reminder of everything I haven’t achieved that I should have achieved.”

“What would you like to achieve?” he asked.

I didn’t know.

I told him about my academic background and how much I resented the university for mis-marketing what was frankly a desultory degree.  There is a very well known, and well-regarded, TV drama in which the protagonist is a practitioner of science that I studied.  I told Paul that I’d wanted to be like him, a lack of naivety about the realism of the programme not withstanding (such careers really do exist, though they are unusual and more wide-ranging).

We had a strange discussion about the character in question for a few minutes – he was flawed, but a genius – and, for the drama of the story at least, the latter was all that mattered.  I understood – with that strange, alchemic way that psychologists perceive things – that he was drawing parallels between the bloke and myself.  I spent a long time thinking about anything I had done that outweighed my faults, but could think of fuck all.

Instead, I lamented my wasted intellect and told him I was full of bitter resentment that I found myself in the position that I’m in.

“I don’t know whether it’s self-directed, whether it’s directed towards my father, my uncle and his friends, or just being mental.  But it’s there.”

“A lot of resentment to spread around,” he noted.  ”Is it directed here?”

I laughed.  ”No.  Not yet!”

“If I don’t succeed in this [the therapy], do you think you’ll resent me for having let you down?”

I said that I was more concerned about transference; I didn’t want to come into therapy some day and start “kicking off” at him.  Of course he protested that he dealt with transference – that was his job, and the way he conducted his form of counselling.  So why was there any danger in that?

“It just seems so horribly unfair,” I sighed.  ”If it’s the angry, bitter form of the phenomenon, why should you have to sit there and take it when you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“No, no,” he protested, almost urgently reassuringly.  ”I don’t take it, I don’t get hurt by it, Idon’t suffer it.  I put me into it, not you.  I don’t get affected by it.”

“How?!” I asked, genuinely incredulous.  ”How can you tolerate such a stream of nastiness?  I would kick the person in the face.”

“Well, never mind me for a minute.  How would it be for you to come in here and behave in that way?”

“I think in the moment you can get carried away, but in the immediate aftermath – and I have a horrible penchant for post-morteming things – you go through guilt, self-disgust, horror, regret, misplaced altruism.”

“What from the past would come into here?” he queried.

I said that the obvious answer would be my disgust for Paedo, but that things weren’t just as convenient as that.

“I don’t especially feel anger, hatred or resentment towards him, to be honest,” I admitted.  ”He’s a redundant skidmark of a person.  He exists.  I feel utterly indifferent towards him.”

“Which is strange given your experiences,” Paul acknowledged.

I went on to tell him how much I resented most of the rest of the family.  Georgie and Merv, Maisie, V, and to some extent my mother for some of the things she has (and hasn’t) done.  ”I can go through about three-quarters of my extended family and say, ‘yep, hate him, yeah, she sucks’, but when it comes to this person who probably deserves much more of my disdain, it isn’t particularly there.”

He asked what the “more expected” feelings towards Paedo should be.  ”I suppose fear, disgust, hatred – but I don’t really feel any of that,” I told him.

“And yet he did some pretty horrendous things to you,” he noted.  ”So what do you make of that?”

“It’s some sort of psychological defence, I’m assuming.  It’s strange, but it is.”

“Can we consider transference again for a moment,” Paul interrupted.  ”You expect the transference of our relationship to manifest angrily or bitterly or whatever, but I think there’s some transference going on here now.  All this intellectual stuff – ‘it’s a psychological defence’, etc – it’s like you come into the room with this neon sign above your head, screaming, ‘Treat me as your colleague.  I am your equal.  We will sit here and discuss transference, countertransference and  projective identification .  Let us analyse and debate, and come to some conclusions.  Let’s talk about this client between us.  She’s a case study’.”

He cleared his throat.   “Isn’t that right?”

I sighed.  ”Yes.”

“I’m not having that,” he said authoritatively, somewhat to my perturbance.

“I find myself getting into intellectual discussions with you,” he continued, referencing again projective identification.  ”And I’ll think, ‘this is good work we’re doing’ – but what I’m actually doing is vindicating your defences.  Do you think that’s what’s going on here?”

“I think it’s what I’m trying to make go on,” I mused, resignedly.  ”It’s so strange.  I don’t consciously come in here and go, ‘oh, right, today we’re going to look at the psychological theory behind my mental health problems, and not tackle those problems head on’.  It just seems where I naturally end up going.”

“That’s the thing about defence mechanisms,” he replied.  ”They have to be unconscious, otherwise they don’t work.  So what I’m doing now is drawing attention to them.  The big question is why do we have to look at them like this?”

He paused, waited for an answer, observed me bowing my head in either deference or avoidance, and continued.  ”Why can’t we sit here and think what it’s like for a five year old girl to be raped?” he asked. “Because that’s the alternative to intellectualising, isn’t it?”

I had visibly winced at his use of the word ‘rape’, and he said that in saying it, he had just cut right through all those nefarious bloody defences.  I tried to steer him away slightly by telling him of my somatic symptoms that so frequently accompany – and often manifest independently of – my psychological distress.

“I’ve really noticed one of them,” Paul replied.  ”You choke on the words.”  What’s more, he drew my attention to the fact that I am always coughing and clearing my throat in session.  Obviously I’ve not reported much of that here:  I coughed, then I coughed again, then I cleared my throat, and whilst I was saying x I spluttered a little more, then coughed a bit again does not make for particularly engaging reading material.  Nevertheless, I had noticed it myself and had been wondering why I cleared my throat disproportionately in his company.  I rationalised it as being due to the fact that I spent the best part of an hour babbling on verbally; at home, I just sit here all day.  Yeah, I speak to A and/or Mum, but not nearly constantly for fifty consecutive minutes.

As you might imagine, though, Paul has a different theory.  My coughing, stuttering, stammering, throat-clearing, and at times outright mutism are all down to my unconscious desire to avoid talking to him about the very issues for which I am there to talk.  It’s all psychosomatic to him, and I suppose he may well have a point.

I said that I found it odd because I wasn’t usually mute in other “spheres” of my life.

“It’s an uniquely horrible sphere,” he replied.  ”What other experiences could you possibly have had that even came close to what happened with your uncle?”

Good question, P.  The thing is, this therapy is largely about one particular set of experiences – that doesn’t mean, though, that it’s the only set of experiences that have adversely affected me throughout this so-called life.

I told him so.   I think I said something like, “I know it’s not relevant to this therapy, but…” but he told me to go on anyway, and I ranted a bit about my father, V.  I said that he’d done nothing to me directly, but that he had been chronically and horrifically abusive towards my mother, and that I hadn’t seen him since I was about three, basically because the fat bastard was too pissed all the time (my mother, to be fair, did give him ample opportunities to see me, most of which he spurned in favour of alcohol).

I said that I found it odd that I harboured a lot of resentment towards V, but surprisingly little towards Paedo, for whom I rarely feel anything other than indifference.  ”What V did, whilst awful beyond description, didn’t happen directly to me - and stuff with Paedo did,” I noted with confusion.  ”Why such a divergence of reaction?”

“When did your father first leave the house?” Paul queried.  I told him that my mother had kicked him out when I was about two, and that they had divorced about a year later.

“How does a two year old girl feel about her father effectively disappearing?” he asked, and I was unusually forthright in discussing my fondness for the piece of shite, therefore feeling kicked in the teeth when he left and, particularly, when Mum would take me to see him and he was too blocked to even answer the fucking door.  Arsehole.

To my considerable and profound disgust, I said, “that hurt.”  YUK.

He opined that for a kid of that age, it must have been a “shattering” experience, and said that he felt that it “set the tone” for each subsequent relationship that I would form.

“In a sense,” he offered, “it’s somehow worse than physical abuse.  It’s like a rape of your attachment, your trust, your love.  When you have a strong attachment, you can survive most things.  To have it shattered like that is to shatter your whole life.”

I whinged that my reaction to V’s departure had been “spectacularly childish”, a point at which Paul pointed out that I had been two or three.

“What should you have done?” he asked.

“Said ‘sod it’,” I replied.  ”Which, of course, was exactly what I pretended to do.”

“You learnt that you have to deal with pain.  It was a ‘good lesson’, I suppose, for what came next.  So when that happened, perhaps you felt ‘trained’ to deal with the psychological pain of the situation, because you’ve already had to learn how to do that.”

“I suppose, objectively speaking, that it’s sad.  Having to grow up almost as soon as you’re born.”

“Are you admitting to sadness of what happened to you?” he said, almost excitedly.

In a sheepish, disgusted voice I said, “I suppose so.”  But then: “but I’m so angry that I didn’t know that he was a fucking wife beater!”

He then started banging on asking how I “felt” about V, and when I replied, “well, you know,” he responded with, “no, I don’t know.  I know how the case study goes, but I don’t now how you felt.”


To get him to shut up, I actually told him, rushing through the “emotional” words (and all their complete fucking evil), then opining that something “…would be rational to be reasonable in thinking that…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he interjected dramatically.  ”‘It would be rational to be reasonable’?  This sounds like a social workers’ conference.”

I accused him of insulting me.  I have not had good experiences with social workers (note that I merely worked with a barrage of them in my last job; I didn’t have one ‘assigned’ to me at any point or anything like that).  He claimed not to have had that intention.

He said something horrific then.  He said, “fill in the blank in this sentence.  ’I loved him and when he left I felt ________.”

I recoiled in horror at his use of the ‘L’ word.  Other people find themselves offended at the words ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’, terms that I of course adore.  I, in contrast, am offended by the sickening terms ‘love’, ‘emotion’, etc etc (‘CBT’, ‘anti-psychiatry’ ;) ).  They nauseate me.

I said so.  He said, “that’s OK; you can be as disgusted as you like in here.”

Through gritted teeth, I once more condemned what I called “needy, vulnerable bullshit”.  I sat and muttered castigations at myself for a few minutes before finally admitting, with palpable self-disgust, that the missing word in Paul’s sentence was ‘destroyed’.

“What’s so bad about saying that?” he asked.  ”Are you breaking this big taboo that you can’t be vulnerable?”

“It’s disgusting.”

“It’s not disgusting.  It’s sad.  [IT'S NOT!!!  IT'S NOT FUCKING SAD!  IT'S FUCKING DISGUSTING! FUCK!!!!]  It’s sad that you’ve had such hard knocks, that you can’t let even a little bit of vulnerability in, even now.  Sad that feelings of hurt have to be hidden behind anger.”

I sat there in silence for some time, avoiding the intensity of his gaze.

We discussed some more specifics about V – nothing revelatory, just more of the same really, and how I’d reacted to his abandonment, and how his final insult had been over his will (though, as I’ve said, I’m not so much angry at him as at my aunt, uncle and cousin).  I spoke of my resentment about being all but forced to go to the fat fuck’s funeral, and how I also had deep disdain for my own sycophancy in which I kowtowed to the accepted norms of the occasion by uttering such meaningless platitudinous bollocks as, “oh, well at least he’s not suffering anymore,” etc etc etc.  Ridiculous.

After a few moments, he said, of my demonstration of relative candour and supposed vulnerability, “this is horrible for you, isn’t it?”

“Yesssss.”  It even sounded like an actual hiss.

He asked me how I felt.  I told him of the physical sensation that was regularly coming up in session with him where in my head went through this weird physical sensation – sort of like a pressure bearing down on it – as I started to dissociate.  I also measured how much my hand was shaking – my yardstick for measuring my anxiety, in light of what happened with Hideous Ex – and it wsn’t shaking too much.

He, however, believed it was not about measuring my anxiety per se, but about measuring how well I was controlling it.  ”I think you’re full of anxiety,” he added.  It was a fair analysis of the situation.

“I’d like to see your hand shaking,” he said eventually.  ”You’d be more in touch with how you’re feeling.”

I understood his point, but the reality was that I was feeling Very Fucking Bad Indeed, and was perfectly in touch with that.  Of course I wanted to escape that – very much so – but there you go; I couldn’t.  It was real. It was there.  It was visceral and raw, and it was happening to me.

We discussed Hideous Ex for a few minutes, and how I’d felt in the wake of his betrayal, but although it was an exploration of how I allowed my horror and anxiety to manifest, I didn’t think it added a lot to the conversation, and eventually I said, “OK, I’m talking about everything here but the one thing for which I am actually here.” I mean, Nexus is a rape and sex abuse therapy service.  It’s not about my wanker of an ex feigning a serious illness.

I admitted to feeling sorry for myself, then told Paul that I was angry with my self for feeling sorry for myself. Apparently it always goes back to self-retribution.  He said that anger is a safe place for me; it’s my default ‘place’ to go to when I begin to ‘feel’ stuff.

I finally uttered the inevitable: “worse things happen to other people, and they get on with their lives.”

I was sagely informed that this statement was “one big cop-out”.

“What should I say?” I asked him, which reminded me of my I Don’t Know What to Say Moment of the previous week .

Paul said that he felt that sometimes it was OK just to “sit” with things in silence.  Both his point and his phraseology instantly reminded me of C, which was unfortunate.  Paul is a more skilled therapist than C will ever be – and I genuinely don’t believe that’s bitterness talking.  I think these last seven weeks, and my reviews of them here, have shown that more is being done in this relationship than was in the previous one, regardless of my obsessive attachment to C.  (Though of course there let’s be fair here; would I be in the position I am – namely that of being able to talking to Paul at all – without first having seen C?  Probably not.  But yet, I spend a year under his care and in the end ended up in a worse position than when I first saw him. Part of that is due to my premature discharge from his therapy, naturally, but nonetheless – there was progress for a while last year, but very little in 2010, apart from my admissions about what happened with Paedo).

Anyway…I had been watching the phone of evil on the little shelf to my left.  It is also home to a lamp and, inexplicably, a wicker receptacle containing a not insignificant amount of crayons.  During the stolen moments of silence in the session, I had been fantasising about bashing my face in with the receiver of the phone.

He felt that my use of the phone was intriguing - why not beat myself to death with the lamp instead?  I told him of my phone phobia , and he pointed out that the wretched thing is a communication device – and that certainly during this session I was finding communication tremendously difficult.  He certainly likes his depth psychology.

“I don’t know how to do this,” I admitted, dispiritedly.

“So in your frustration you wreck the possibility of communication,” he said.  ”You break the phone.”

And then began an interesting conversation of session-conclusion.  He pondered aloud as to what I had communicated to him, despite my bloody defence mechanisms nefariously conspiring to keep shtum.

He said, “the first thing that came to mind was that I felt like a dentist pulling teeth.  Desperately trying to get something.  But I’ve thought about that, and I think it’s unfair.  I’ve actually been more like a witness today.”

“To what?”

“Your struggle.  You desperately want to be seen and heard – just like that little girl wanted – but it’s really, truly hard.  And you’re angry and terrified that you’ve put your hopes into being able to do it, but might not be able to.”

“Yeah.  I wouldn’t have come into therapy if I hadn’t wanted to face the stuff that has left me feeling this way.”

“Of course, but that doesn’t make it easy.”

“No, it doesn’t – but I set my own parameters.  Not consciously, of course, but still – it’s me that’s resisting.”

“OK, you’ve now got it into your head that you’re failing.  You’re not,” he told me, his emphasis strong.  ”You’re showing me your internal fight – ‘here, Paul, this is what’s happening to me’.  That is communication.”

“But how do I overcome it?  How do I get it right?”  (Writing this back, I wonder if Aurora was in control during these moments.  The simplicity of my words reeks of Child.

“It’s about little steps,” Paul said.  ”At the beginning today, it was a case of, ‘yes, I intellectualise and rationalise’.  Now, I’m getting a lot more of a vibe of ‘yes, I intellectualise and rationalise for a reason. Because this horrible stuff is all there’.  So you’ve shown me a little bit more today.”

Pathetically, meekly, quietly, I asked him, “is that good?”  Fucking Aurora!

“What do you reckon?”

“I don’t know.”  Head bowed, eyes raised anxiously and hopefully, yet doubtfully, in their sockets.  A quiet begging to my words and expression.  Like I needed his absolute validation.

And despite his earlier pulling teeth comment, I actually got it.  ”I think you’re doing great!  I think it’s brilliant!” he cheerfully reassured me.  ”That’s why I withdrew my dentist comment – it’s not like pulling teeth.  That means I’m doing all the work, and it’s not that.  You’re working hard.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, with pitiful gratitude.  ”I always feel like a failure, though.”

“I know.  And the transference in this room seeks to try to get me to agree with that, which I suppose fuelled my image of pulling teeth.  When I analyse that, though, I see it for what it is.”

“So…” I began, confused.  ”Are you annoyed with me?”

“Would it matter if I was?”

The same bowed head posture as before.  ”Probably.”

“There’s something really childlike about you at this moment.”

“I know [at least I had that much insight].  It’s disgusting.”

“No.  I think it’s lovely.”

“‘Lovely’?!” I retorted in horror.  ”Why?!”

“Why not?  Why is it disgusting?”

“It’s so needy.”

To my surprise, he felt that my disgust emanated from “alarm bells”.  The childlike Aurora and a middle aged man.  Most middle-aged men (or any other men for that matter) don’t fuck children.  But does Aurora know that?  How could she know that?  That was her normality.

I told him that I regarded his idea with interest, but felt that it was worth pointing out again that I get on, and have always got on, better with men than women.

“Ah, but do they get to see the needy child?” he asked.

“Very few people, male or female, get to see the needy child,” I smirked.

“OK,” he accepted, “but consider this.  Your father created the needy child.  He rejected the needy child. Then your uncle used what had been created for his own ends.  The big symbol is that if you allow this part of you into the room, horrible things happen.  So, it has the net effect that that part – the child part – is horrible. Certainly your first reaction just now was ‘disgusting’ – it doesn’t make sense, unless you consider the horrible context in which she found herself.”

I dared to disagree.  ”What is disgusting is that someone who is 27 should be behaving like they’re 27, not someone 20 plus years younger!”

But Paul had a considered, yet instant, rebuttal.  ”When you were five you were trying to be 27!” he pointed out.  ”You were coerced into having an adult relationship – a sexual relationship – with an adult.  You had to be an adult in a sense.”

“That’s disgusting, though,” I said.

“Absolutely it is,” he concurred.  ”I absolutely, 100% agreed with that.  You had no choice in the matter though – it’s not as if you chose to be a sexual being, he forced you.”

“I shouldn’t have encouraged him by doing bad shit,” I whined.  ”I shouldn’t have been cheeky to him or whatever.”

“You think he did it as a punishment?”

“Yeah.  I mean, no – obviously that’s ridiculous.  But it feels like it.”

“OK.  Between her ‘guilt’ for being sexual as a child – which she was forced into believing in, by the way - and her ‘causing’ her own sexuality at the time, you’ve reached a point where even all the terrors of psychosis, of the depths of so-called madness, are preferable to dealing with her.  Does that make sense.”

I confirmed that it did, but queried as to what sort of stupid mind would do that.

“A very clever one,” he replied.

I snorted at this.  ”In the short-term, perhaps.  It hasn’t done me much good in the long run though, has it?!”

“The litle girl survived though,” he pressed.

“What else could she have done?” I batted back.

Permanent psychosis, [a barrageof things I don't remember], suicide…”

That caught my attention, and I confessed to him that I first tried to do myself in when I was about nine.

“That shows how much that nine year old was hurting.  That’s an incredible amount of hurt for such a young person.  I think what your uncle did was so overwhelmingly repulsive and vile that it took all that child’s resources just to survive it.  The fact that she did – it doesn’t matter in this since if she’s been knocked along the way – is amazing.  It’s testament to your success, not your failure.”

I thanked him, but it must have sounded sarcastic, because he iterated that the sentiment was ‘meant’.  I admitted to being pathetically grateful for it.

We sat in silence for a while.  Well, that is to say that we sat in verbal silence: my mind was far from silence. As I eventually told him, the word ‘Munchausen’ was being repeated ad nauseum in my mind.  It was as if someone was taking a physical manifestation of the term and thumping it against my skull.  (Synaesthesia! Yeah!).

Paul tried to make sense of it for me.  He thinks that I turn to alternative explanations for what happened rather than face the enormity of it not just because that enormity is hugely unbearable in itself, but also because it simply was so awful that I can’t even understand how terrible it was.

This is true.  Absolutely true.  Even if every single recollection is true, even if every piece of hidden knowledge accurate, it’s still not that bad.  It’s only fucking sex.  It shouldn’t happen to a kid, obviously.  That’s disgusting.  But is it really that unspeakably dreadful?

Put Marcus or Sean into the equation, or even some of the now-adult girls in the family.  The answer is resoundingly ‘yes’.  It is that bad.

Put me in it.  Of course it’s fucking not!

I expressed frustration too with the dissociative element to it all.  Whilst understanding the function and accepting the usefulness of the phenomenen, I also hate the fact that I don’t really know all that happened – at least not the minituae.  This makes me feel like I have a lack of control over the whole fucking thing.

We sat quietly for a few moments, before I (or Aurora?) asked, “will we get there?”

Paul said, “I think we’re are getting there.  I think you’re beginning to be able to sit with all this feeling.”

“Yes, I suppose,” I nodded quietly – but vaguely hopefully.

“And we have to finish, I’m afraid,” he noted regretfully. “I can hear you thinking, ‘Thank God’!”

Well, yes indeed.  It’s demanding work.  Exhausting, intense, demanding work.  But I still feel good about Paul, and about our relationship.

If you have gotten to this point, you have read nearly 5,000 words of pedantic, navel-gazing nonsense.  Have a gold star.

Gold Star

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