Posted by: Marie | May 27, 2010

(322) An attempt at cleaning it up

Post #322
[Email to my therapist written on Monday, January 18, 2010 – 1pm]

Hi, Mark –

Thank you for your quick response . . .

I am so sorry . . . I am afraid I gave you the wrong impression in my previous email. If I had thought you would take it the way I think you have taken it (based upon your response), I would have never sent it via email – I would have waited to talk to you in person.

Given the words I have spoken/written to you in the past, I can see how it would be easy for you to think I was doing more of the same. I apologize for not being more careful with my words and for not creating a better context and framework.

Angkor Wat by Martin Chen

I’m not sure if I’ll do more damage by responding via email, but I don’t want to leave things hanging like they are for the next several days. Let me try to clarify a few things . . .

I do not feel you have done anything inappropriate – in fact, just the opposite. I was trying to share the insight I gained from our most recent session.

For the last 18 months, I have felt wounded by how things ended with us before – but, I couldn’t put my finger on “why”. Over time, I have come to understand that I have been over-reacting to what happened around the religion discussion – but knowing that didn’t allow me to not feel so strongly about it.

In order to restart therapy with you, I had to set aside my feelings about it (until I can understand them) and create a plan for how I would deal with it if the religion discussion came up again this time – a plan for protecting myself from a situation that is painful for me for reasons I don’t understand – a plan for ensuring I could feel safe – a plan for protecting you from my undeserved wrath.

Despite my best intentions to set aside my feelings, I found myself struggling to do so during our most recent session – I found myself feeling on edge and worrying that it would come up – and I found myself wondering if I really had the guts to follow through on my plan.

To my relief, the religion discussion didn’t come up in our most recent session – you absolutely were respectful of that boundary – thank you for that. I didn’t have a need to put “my plan” into action and that is a very good thing – I really appreciate it.

The “good news” I was trying to share was that, as a result of what we talked about in our most recent session, I figured out why I had reacted so strongly 18 months ago . . . and why I am still struggling to control my strong emotions about it even now.

It is because what happened with the religion discussion 18 months ago triggered memories of what my dad did to me – I reacted so strongly, and I felt unsafe, because I felt like I was being verbally attacked again – with my dad, his use of religion was more damaging than his use of the belt – my reaction to your words was as strong as it would have been if I had been hit by a belt.

After being triggered that strongly once, I really needed to know that I wouldn’t have to deal with being triggered again by you in that way – I’m sure you couldn’t understand that it was so important to me (I didn’t understand it) – and that is why you didn’t understand that even talking to me about religion, in any way, was too much for me to deal with – and that is why I had to leave – I didn’t feel safe anymore. I didn’t understand it until just now.

I can now see that you behaved reasonably back then – I was just dealing with stuff way beyond my understanding – way beyond my ability to explain – and outside of your awareness.

The stuff at the bottom of my previous email (“What I need from you”) is what I need from you, now, in order for me to feel safe. A better understanding of why I am so easily triggered by discussions on religion doesn’t keep me from being deeply triggered now – the thought of having to deal with that powerful trigger causes me to feel out-of-control and unsafe.

You didn’t do anything in our last session that causes me concern . . . this anxiety is left over from before . . . I need to know I won’t be surprised by a discussion on religion unless I have some control over when and how.

I wasn’t accusing you of anything . . . I was simply asking for help in dealing with the stuff going on inside of me. I need to know that you understand why and how I am deeply triggered by religious discussion and I need an assurance that I won’t have to deal with it until I feel I’m ready.

Again, I am so sorry that I did a poor job of saying what I wanted to say. I am sick in my heart about it – I was excited and hopeful about my progress – and I wanted to share it with you before our session so you could have some time to digest all of this before our session. I should have waited.

What more can I do to make this right?

– Marie


  1. Offering to do something about your contribution to the situation seems a deal more mature than Mark’s response.

    I think the guts of the issue is put very well when you talk about the triggering of your emotions – and needing a way to control what issues are raised. I think this could be a very fruitful and helpful topic to deal with in psychotherapy.

    Looking forward to the next instalment!

    • Hey, Evan –

      Thank you for the supportive words . . . I agree that these issues could have been great fodder for therapy . . . that is where I wanted to go with them!

      Thanks for staying tuned in!

      – Marie

  2. I have to say … you deserve a therapist who brings as much to the table as you do. Are you perfect? No, of course not; and you’ll react out of triggers and stuck places and hurt places and irrational places just like we all do. But your continual determination to take responsibility, to take ownership, and to manage yourself honestly and compassionately … it’s really amazing.

    • Hey, David –

      Great insight on your part . . . the main reason I went back to Mark was to see if I could find that fine balance between holding myself responsible for my actions and holding the other person responsible for his actions . . . and the fine balance between knowing when to be compassionate and when to be tough and when to stay and when to leave. That is what this whole battle was about.

      I wanted to build a healing relationship with Mark . . . if I could without sacrificing my own sanity. However, having a relationship with Mark was secondary to learning how to establish and maintain the aforementioned balance.

      Thank you for your kind and supportive words . . . I value them!

      – Marie

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