When Getting Support Doesn’t Feel Safe

I had a therapy session today that I don’t know whether to describe as a good or bad: I had an awful time, explored some very painful things, discussed extreme hopelessness, cried non-stop (which I never do when people can see) and shook violently with fear but my psychologist was amazing. From the moment I sat down she noted my tense/defensive body language, that I was already shaking in fear, and that I was a shadow of even the depleted person she normally sees. We tried to explore what had been happening (there had been a large overdose, hospital admission, and other traumatic things since we’d last met) and ended up having to work out what was going on right then. She picked up on the pure terror I was experiencing and realised that it was her/help that was terrifying me…but we all know that not getting help was a literal dead end. We discussed how my recent overdose was triggered by a combination of traumatic memories/flashbacks (and in discussing this we acknowledged how terrifying and overwhelming these experiences are, how they truly seem to take the power out of my hands) and relational issues – that the immensely damaging and punitive ‘treatment’ I’ve received in the past has left me absolutely terrified of the very help that I so desperately need, and that this ties in to the flashbacks as much of the punishment resulted from those suicide attempts. That I am so terrified that ‘therapeutic relationships’ will turn abusive, neglectful, harmful, punitive, accusatory, or result in complete abandonment that I’m caught in a paradox that means that hints of those things sends me so much into ‘protection’ mode that I become completely paralysed, lose all hope of getting better  (having tried so hard for so long to make myself better that I know I just can’t do it alone), and/or try to spare myself being hurt again that killing myself becomes the only ‘safe’ thing. The only way to make things stop and not be hurt more. We talked this through, I disintegrated, sobbed, shook more than I knew possible…

…and she said she was so sorry that people who were supposed to help me had made me feel so unsafe, and that this had been perpetuated and intensified even recently to the extent that the very simple act of being in a room with a mental health professional (and, at that, one who I respect and who I actually trust more than any other professional working with me) terrified me beyond comprehension. She got it and she was truly sorry about it. I was speechless and wish now that I could have thanked her, that I could have explained how much just those few words had meant to me. 

No-one should ever be made to feel in danger from professionals looking after them, but it happens and it is often brushed under the carpet, misunderstood or overlooked. I’ve been trying to get someone to understand for the past 6 months (since the one professional who did understand was removed, creating further triggers)…and today it finally felt like someone really got it. Unfortunately, getting over feeling safe is not something we can hope to achieve quickly (I can’t even wrap my head around how complicated this process will be), and right now we’re not sure how to simply get through the next week with the intensity of everything combined…but now someone at least understands. Now at least there’s a tiny bit of evidence that this isn’t just me being useless/pathetic/hopeless/annoying/dramatic/all-the-bad-things as my head constantly tells me…and even more in that she ran over by almost 20 minutes to give us the time we needed to process this and come up with how to try to put one foot in front of the other for the next week until we see each other again. We’re not sure how to get over it but at least it’s now something that WE can think about together and try to tackle head on; it’s not my responsibility to ‘get over it’ or stop wasting everyone’s time as I felt it was until today. 

I also hope that anyone who’s had similar experiences might be able to draw a bit of hope from this garbled tale: no matter what you’ve been through at the hands of anyone, even professionals, there is hope that just maybe someone out there will finally understand and be willing to work through it with you. 

Stay strong x 

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3 thoughts on “When Getting Support Doesn’t Feel Safe

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