Posted by: Marie | June 23, 2010

(341) Session trois – Part 1 of 4

Post #341
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, February 4, 2010]

So . . . today was therapy day – our third session of this second round. I decided I would focus on better understanding Mark’s experience. (That was my intention in the second session, but we ended up spending much of our time getting him to understand my experience.)

I put together a list of questions and clipped the questions to my clipboard.

When I got to his office, I told Mark that I was having trouble understanding some of the things he has been saying to me about my behavior and I would like a better understanding. I asked if I could ask questions in an effort to understand. He agreed.

So, I started asking questions and taking copious notes . . . the conversation went something like this (bold = me, not bold = Mark):

What in my behavior causes you to send the “don’t blame me” emails?

Over and over I have heard you imply that I’m not doing my job well, that I don’t know how to do therapy – and you keep telling me how to do my job.

Interacting on an intimate level is kind of like walking through a landmine field. You don’t know where the landmines are until you step on one and you hear it click. Then, you have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath that is going to occur when you pick up your foot.

Taiwan Expression by Martin Chen

We all have things we are sensitive about – and those sensitive areas are like landmines.

My dad was very critical of me. So, when you tell me I’m not doing a good job, it is like you stepping on my landmine. My “don’t blame me” emails are me reacting to you stepping on my landmine.

I feel that you discount any progress to which I have contributed or you take credit for it and discount the part I had in it – just like you did with the mirror exercise. In my emails, I am defending my contribution.

I keep wondering why you keep coming back if I’m doing such a bad job.

What landmines of mine you are finding?

You are very defensive in many ways. Defenses are constructed for protection and comfort. This can be good if they are protecting against bad stuff. But, they are bad if they impede the progress in healing or development, or if they damage a relationship.

So, I have found you to be defensive about the religion issue and about the possibility of dating. You really bristle when I mention dating or other types of relationships with men.

I believe that, for you, when you are defensive, it often means that you are not ready to go there yet. But, I think you are working towards being ready to go there someday.

I have found that one of your more often used defenses is “masking”. In other words, sometimes you are emotional and expressive and other times you hold a poker face to hide what you are thinking and feeling. The poker face is your mask. You have small “tells”, but it is still very hard to read you. It also makes it hard for people – meaning me and other people – to get to know the real you.

Because you mask so well, sometimes I step on a landmine and don’t know it until I get raked over the coals for it in a subsequent email or session.

Other times I can tell when I have hit a landmine because you become openly hostile towards me . . . or, you become inappropriately agreeable – you nod your head and say, “Um-huh” to everything I say, even when your eyes and body language are saying something very different.

It seems you are defensive on so many fronts – I feel like I am fighting this never-ending battle. I am often left wondering what am I battling so hard against – I wonder if it is the memory of what your dad did?

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


  1. Dear Marie,

    While I do not wish to disparage your history nor your trauma, sometimes when people use an analogy they get it wrong. When you stand on a landmine you do not ‘hear a click’ – you do not hear anything you are dead. Or if you are near the blast and survive, you are deaf either temporarily or permanently. The notion of stepping on a mine and hearing a click is an invention of Hollywood.

    I am very much involved in clearing landmines (and other munitions) left by Americans in Vietnam and Laos that continue to kill and maim every day. My closest friend though is a victim of, and counsellor in, child abuse. She uses the term trigger for that silent stimulus that unleashes repressed (sometimes inexplicable) memories.

    So you see when you use the term landmine inappropriately it triggers a real life trauma for me that I would prefer to forget. The use of neutral terms is hard and complex but necessary if we are not to elicit responses that we did not expect.


    • Hey, Paul –

      I appreciate you taking the time to express your reaction to my post . . . it took me back a bit, but I’m glad to hear your feedback. I value your input.

      I think I hear you saying that my use of (or, more accurately, my therapist’s use of) the landmine analogy was a major trigger for you. Is that correct? It sounds like you have some very strong memories related to landmines . . . I am sad that is the case . . . it must be difficult to have to deal with that sensitivity.

      You proposed a concept with which I am unfamiliar . . . the use of neutral terminology in analogies. Can you help me understand that better . . . maybe provide an example? I think I could learn about a valuable tool that I can use in the future. I would appreciate more information, if you feel able to share it.

      Thank you for speaking up!

      – Marie

  2. Hi Marie,

    Looking forward to reading the rest of the session.

    • Thank you, Evan!

  3. Paul, you misunderstood that post very badly. Marie’s therapist used the landmine analogy, Marie was merely putting the conversation up between them where she asked questions and the therapist responded.

    Also, nobody can know everyone else’s trigger points, and your request that she not use the term “landmine” when discussing these issues (which she didn’t, her therapist did) is bordering on the ridiculous.

    • Hi, Aaron –

      I acknowledge you addressed your comment to Paul . . . and Paul is welcome to respond . . . but, I would like to add my two cents in here, as well.

      You are correct, the landmine analogy was crafted by my therapist, not by me. I appreciate you standing up for me.

      However, I am the one who published the conversation on my blog. I would like to hear from Paul how I might have been more thoughtful in doing so . . . right now, I don’t know how I could have, but I’m hoping Paul provides some ideas via a response that might help me learn a better way.

      I recognize that survivors read other survivors’ blogs “at their own risk” . . . but, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to be more thoughtful in publishing potentially triggering content.

      You are absolutely right that it is impossible for me (or anyone) to be aware of, and avoid, everyone else’s trigger points. In fact, we had a discussion on this very topic in this post: Reader input: Trigger warnings. (FYI, the Paul who commented on the “trigger warnings” post is a different Paul from the one who commented above.)

      There is one part of your input with which I am not okay. In this forum, it is not acceptable for one person to label another person’s input as “bordering on ridiculous”. We all have thoughts and opinions and reactions and responses. We may not understand each other’s experience . . . but not understanding gives us an opportunity to ask more questions and learn more about the other’s experience. It is not an opportunity to label other people’s comments with derogatory terms – at least not in this forum.

      You are very articulate and your comments have really added to the conversation. I welcome your input and I hope you continue to share your thoughts – in a respectful way.

      – Marie

  4. Point taken, I apologize to Paul for that comment. It was unnecessary and not helpful.

    Thanks for handling it all so well, I could learn a lesson from that, Marie.



    • Thank you for a humble spirit, Aaron . . . I really do appreciate your input!

      – Marie

  5. I am intrigued by this post, and by the discussion in the comments. It has surprised me, in the past, to realize how unaware many therapists — and therapy clients — are of the nuances of language. Although of course everyone reads material at their own risk, and although Marie herself did not use the “landmine” term and was merely quoting her therapist, I think a valid point exists that accurate analogies are important in discussing psychological/emotional/spiritual experience, simply because words have layers of meaning that we may not consciously recognize.

    For example, there is quite a different affect-layering to describing intimate relationships as walking through a field of landmines vs. describing it as walking through unfamiliar territory where you might be ambushed. For all of us, regardless of our level of knowledge about landmines, the idea of stepping on a landmine involves probable death … whereas you would have a lot more options if you were ambushed: fighting back, running away, identifying the nature of the threat, or simply surviving the experience and learning more about how to identify hiding places in the local topography.

    I’d sure as hell rather walk across a landscape where I might be ambushed than start across a field with landmines. In fact, I’d never even bother to cross territory with landmines; it would be too dangerous. And even I if I know that term is being used as a metaphor — there is massive danger-affect associated with it … for all of us, and use of terms like that has a resonance which our logical minds cannot combat, much though we may say “Well, it’s just a metaphor.”

    There are good reasons why poetry, for example, is effective — some metaphors carry more weight than others; they strike more deeply; they revolutionize the brain. Language is a tool and a weapon, and I think many sensitive people in therapy are listening to the therapist in the same way they listen to poetry … they are listening with the heart, and not the mind. And to the heart, the idea of human relations being riddled with landmines … well, even as a metaphor, that’s destructive.

    • Hey, David –

      As always, you have captured well a new way of looking at things. I like that you provided an example of another analogy that would fit better and would have less potential for triggering readers . . . I found myself nodding my head as I read.

      Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom!

      – Marie

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