What is the benefit of therapy for this specific situation?
January 22, 2023 10:09 PM   Subscribe

CN: past violence mentioned, not graphic. I currently have a therapist and we have been working on some well defined goals that I had going in. This last week, I mentioned in passing that I had been shot at seven times. Everything came to a screeching halt while she was like (paraphrased heavily) “wtf how has this never come up in the eight years we’ve been doing therapy together.”

So, basically my feeling about it is that these incidents occurred between the ages of 7 and 18 and that they’re in the past and not pertinent. I am in therapy for cPTSD and anxiety, with a side helping of a pretty serious dissociative disorder. These things are related to having parents who were unfit, but they were not the source of any of the shootings.

I have gotten myself to a place of pretty good stability in my home life with a partner that’s supportive and kind, and a place of financial stability. I am not able to work because of how much it upsets my equilibrium and results in me having to be hospitalized.

We have worked hard in therapy to get me to a place where I am not being overwhelmed by the stress of being alive and to being able to largely take care of my own daily needs without my mental health providing an obstacle. I don’t want to give up this stability by unearthing things from my past that I don’t see a point of bringing up. I’m not around guns now, and am unlikely to be shot at again.

My therapist is of the opinion that although I don’t feel strain from these repeated shootings that I am actually experiencing strain from them. I don’t see what I would get out of talking about them. They happened, and I had a lot of mental instability in my early 20s because of them for which I did not receive therapy but was heavily medicated. I’m not looking to do all that again, and am pretty happy with the life I’ve built even though it is pretty constrained because of the pandemic. (Actually, I like the lockdown! It lets me control my environment better and I am much more stable because of that.)

I guess my question is - does it seem reasonable that my therapist thinks that it would be beneficial to talk about this? I have been with her a long time and generally feel that she is an excellent therapist. I’m very wary of upsetting myself by talking about this, though. I could understand the point of my more goal oriented therapy because I could name how what we were doing was helping me get there. This seems very amorphous and I don’t get the point of dredging it up. I’m asking here because I see how often people recommend therapy, and I would like some perspective about how it would be helpful in this situation. What is “processing” that is different from me being like “yeah that thing happened.”

My therapist’s answer when I asked was that she thinks it’s probably impacting me in ways that I am unaware of and that talking about it and getting attention would be helpful for me. I am made uncomfortable by the thought of having attention paid to me in general, but even more intensely uncomfortable when it is about someone being sympathetic towards me about bad things that have happened in the past. It may have been helpful to receive care 30 years ago about this, but I don’t see what the point of someone showing me care about it NOW is.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’m very wary of upsetting myself by talking about this, though.

I think you told on yourself with this line. Sounds worth talking about with her.
posted by Iteki at 10:33 PM on January 22 [41 favorites]

It sounds completely reasonable to me, even to be expected, that a therapist would be interested in your having been a victim of violence (however you interpret that violence yourself). Violence is absolutely and classically traumatic, and it seems a fairly obvious piece of history to investigate. Admittedly in my society guns are rare and gun crime even rarer, but I think even in gun-prone places like North America or conflict zones, being shot at not once but many times is out-of-the-ordinary, and stressful, enough for a therapist to want to talk about, and for her to suspect that it is indeed affecting you in ways of which you're unaware.
even more intensely uncomfortable when it is about someone being sympathetic towards me about bad things that have happened in the past
To me that is an unusual thing to say, and as a rule-of-thumb the privacy of clinical therapy is exactly where you should investigate the things that make you uncomfortable. Not to be cared for, necessarily, but to discover why.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:39 PM on January 22 [16 favorites]

I'd ask what techniques, provisions, or strategies she and you can use to keep things manageable, so that the fears you have can be addressed. Getting a plan or strategy in place might make this seem less impossible.
posted by amtho at 11:01 PM on January 22 [22 favorites]

You have been with them eight years, and they know you, and apparently you like what they do. It seems a bit odd not to trust them on this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:16 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

More than 30 years ago I witnessed something very violent and terrible. I carried without knowing it the after effects until finally I sought help to sort my life out. The thing I learned from my therapy could be helpful to consider as you're making your decision so I wanted to offer it to you.

The therapy I did was EMDR. As it was explained to me, sometimes if we go through something very dangerous, our brains continue to process the information like it's still happening now. It's part of our basic survival mechanism. So having that in the background as a silent script running under everything else, can be very exhausting - which was what was happening to me, even though I had no idea that's what it was. What therapy did for me was to take those still-alive memories and time stamp them, turning them from a movie into a still photograph that I could file away. I know it's there, the memories are not erased, but I don't have any kind of physical reaction to them anymore and they are not running all the time underneath my days. That has been very freeing for me.

The therapy was intense but it was also deeply caring and kind, and it was so helpful. I had no idea how much I'd been carrying. It wasn't something I was doing "wrong" it was simply a survival mechanism (hyper-alertness) that needed a rest. I did feel intense shame around doing the work all these years later when I felt really I should be past it already, but I came to learn that the shame was simply part of the whole trauma aspect of what I'd been through. Letting go of that has been so helpful too. And it's been a huge huge relief to not be set off by random stuff anymore. I too wish I'd been able to do it 30 years ago, but I'm glad I did finally find this relief.

It is really great you have a wonderful therapist you trust. I hear you so deeply on not wanting sympathetic attention so I won't overwhelm you now. But just know that I am sending you peace.
posted by pintxo at 12:33 AM on January 23 [31 favorites]

Seconding the effectiveness of EMDR even for past traumatic events that seemed to me not to be affecting me anymore.

Your concerns about stirring up traumatic memories and how that might affect you are totally valid. Ask your therapist how they would go about keeping you safe.

The strength of your reaction does seem to indicate that there's something going on that might be worth dealing with. But ultimately it's your call, and only you know where your limits are.
posted by Zumbador at 12:44 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

I've done therapy for childhood trauma a few times, and on the most recent occasion near the end of my time working with the therapist, I admitted that there was still a bunch of trauma from my early 20s I hadn't really processed or addressed. The therapist's view was that everyone has trauma, most people have trauma from different life stages that are different levels of processed/integrated, and that if the trauma I hadn't worked through wasn't causing me distress, it was fine to leave it and see if/whether it began to cause issues in the future, and only come back to it if it did start to cause me problems.

The childhood trauma I'd sought therapy for in the first place had come with disabling emotional flashbacks and episodes of dissociation, and once I worked through it those symptoms went away. I didn't have a choice not to deal with that trauma because the impact of it on my life was so significant. The early 20s trauma occasionally gives me "eesh, that was a bad scene" vibes but hasn't had a significant impact on my ability to function. Part of my reason for not wanting to delve into it while I was still in therapy was because I was concerned it would be more destabilising to go there when I was already pretty stable and enjoying the improvement I'd seen in my ability to function. I had a choice not to deal with that trauma because the impact on my life was minimal, and currently (a few years out from the therapy process, still stable) I have no regrets about the choice I made.

By mentioning the shootings, you've given your therapist more information about your trauma history. Personally I feel that it's entirely up to you to choose whether to work through it or not. It sounds like you're stable and in a decent place right now; if the specific trauma related to the shootings you were involved with isn't causing you symptoms, you should totally be able to make the call to leave it where it is for now. You can always come back to it. I suspect some folks will always be of the opinion that if you poke and find a tender spot, you should fix whatever is making it tender right away; my view is more that if you poke and find a tender spot, but it's not causing systemic issues and it doesn't feel urgent to address, it's at your discretion as an adult to choose not to deal with it immediately if the time doesn't feel right or you'd prefer not to.
posted by terretu at 1:43 AM on January 23 [11 favorites]

I'm in a very similar situation to yours (just a few months ahead). I've experienced some things in the past that I felt I had put away and dealt with, but my therapist sort of insisted that we talk about them. It has been a very difficult time, opening that box of troubles, and for months I had even more nightmares and negative thought spirals. But then suddenly before Christmas I realized I wasn't depressed anymore, for the first time in many years. And that I was handling things I couldn't have handled before. And my therapist pointed out that the last time I had an anxiety attack, it was actually a normal reaction to a very difficult situation, a reaction anyone would have had.
In other words: I'm recovering, after more than 20 years of a sort of half life, and 6 years of debilitating PTSD symptoms. So I'd suggest you brace yourself and go.
posted by mumimor at 3:35 AM on January 23 [22 favorites]

I am always in favour of therapists respecting their clients’ boundaries.

However I am in agreement with your therapist that this might be beneficial and I can just tell you why and then of course it’s up to you. If you think that talking about/exploring that part of your life would be just as destabilizing now as it was in the past, that’s a very good sign that it is what I call charged.

You (for some value of you) are probably expending energy on it, even if it’s not visible to you. It’s like hopping on one foot because they other has a thorn in it. Sure, you can keep hopping and that is your prerogative, but it might be better in the long term to get the thorn out and then do physiotherapy for the leg that’s been cramped.

As for the “attention now is useless,” well…that’s the thing about PTSD and dissociation…they kind of remove time. If you weren’t worried talking about then would be destabilizing then attention now probably would not be that significant. But if the shootings are still in that space, then what helps with that can be attention and/or EMDR.

Also, you didn’t name your dissociative disorder but with mine…part of truly living, as opposed to surviving, was to adopt a no one left behind attitude. I don’t personally think it’s required to process each individual traumatic moment. But it was important, for us, that each person be able to express the reality of their life. So in a way, the less that I personally thought something was useful or significant, the more likely in a way that piece of collective history was highly significant to someone else. Locked doors were almost guaranteed to be a) locked for a reason and b) taking someone’s effort to stay locked.

All that said, I agree that both having a plan for any short -term pain, talking over a fear it might be destabilizing past your new set of tools (I doubt it but that would be a fear of mine in your shoes) and having your consent are all really important. It is your (collective) choice.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:03 AM on January 23 [15 favorites]

The fact that you didn’t see fit to mention this for eight years and are now surprised that your therapist is surprised makes me think you really aren’t done with this yet. But I agree with others that when and whether to work on this with them is yours. I think you’d be wise to consider it, though.
posted by eirias at 4:27 AM on January 23

Your therapist is correct that this could be beneficial, but you are also correct that doing this work will upset you temporarily while you work on it. The question is your own cost benefit analysis on which is more important to you.

The thing about cPTSD is that all the inciting incidents blend together and kind of act as buttresses to each other, so it does actually have benefit to kind of knock the struts out from them. Trust me! But also yeah, your life becomes a mess while you work on it.
posted by corb at 4:53 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]

I’m very wary of upsetting myself by talking about this, though.

I'm not a therapist or an expert, but as someone who's been through some stuff -- it's my understanding that PTSD can hurt you not just through direct anxiety/panic symptoms, but also through all the structures you build up to avoid certain things that might trigger anxiety/panic. The avoidance starts as a coping mechanism, but over time, it can start to limit you in ways that cause you harm. Both the anxiety/panic symptoms and the limitations placed on your life via avoidance can affect you long, long, long after the original event. Your therapist's suggestion to address it seems reasonable to me, though it is ultimately your choice whether to do so.

It sounds like some degree of avoidance around the shooting is still a real part of your life. Only you can judge whether it's limiting you in ways that you don't like, and only you can judge if now is the right time to dig into it. It can definitely be a challenging experience to work on healing this kind of trauma, and you will need to decide if you have the energy, space, time, and support that you need to do that work right now. If you're not sure, you can talk to your therapist about the pros and cons. If you decide now is not the right time, you can work on building that energy, space, time, and support so you can try again later. If and when you do decide to work on it, you may find it very rewarding -- it can free up parts of your life that you didn't even realize you had locked down.
posted by ourobouros at 7:18 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]

Part of any good therapeutic modality is the creation of a safe container for the patient. This means the therapist helps you 'pack everything up' after a session so it doesn't make your life a mess while you are working on things. If your therapist hasn't done this with you yet, now would be a good time to request it. It often takes the form of visualizing a lidded container and outing in memories and emotions that came up during the session, closing it, and storing it somewhere.

I absolutely think your therapist is correct that the shootings are significant and need to be worked through. But yes, establish some protocols for dealing with the emotions that will arise, including self-regulation techniques.

Best of luck. I hope you are able to find some peace with this.
posted by ananci at 7:22 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

So this was me regarding the physical violence I experienced from my parents 10+ years ago. I had dealt with it on my own and it was fine!

Reader, it was not fine. Last year as I finally became stable and started living life the way I’d always wanted to, things that I had simply forced my way past and ignored came bubbling up because they finally had the chance to do so. I started having nightmares, and getting serious psychological reactions to even the vaguest and most disconnected reminders (as in, someone completely unlike my parents at all acted a little bit selfish and suddenly she was just like my mom and I hated her). I also provide therapy and have seen similar patterns in my clients. I can’t read the future, I don’t know if it’ll happen to you, but I can see why your therapist is concerned about it.

It is, of course, always fine to decide right now is not a time you can deal with it, if you don’t have the space and emotional bandwidth to do so. But the goal should be to get you to a place where you can eventually have the ability to process and work on anything that might be lingering. You are of course welcome to decide you never want to, many people make that choice. But it may come back later at a time you don’t have control over.
posted by brook horse at 7:48 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]

What is “processing” that is different from me being like “yeah that thing happened.”

Well, you could have said "I had unfit parents" and walked away without looking any closer at how it affected you at the time and was still affecting you today. But you didn't: you dug in and in doing so arrived at a much better place in your life.

And now you have this other thing which you simultaneously say doesn't matter and also will be unbearably destabilizing to talk about. If you honestly believed it was no big deal and has no effect on your current life then you would have no problem talking about it.

As someone who has been in and out of therapy the question I would be asking is: do I want to destabilize my life _right now_. You have found a plateau and settling in and enjoying that for a while is perfectly okay. Yes, you know you have this other issue to deal with but it clearly can wait a while until you've solidified your gains.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:49 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]

I don't know what actually does and doesn't work in therapy, but I have recently (mid 50s) found great value in acknowledging that, maybe, as a third grader, being beaten into unconsciousness by a pack of 2nd graders isn't just normal playground rough housing and part of growing up.

Even though I think I'm well adjusted and fairly successful in the things I've set out to accomplish, recasting my childhood through the lens of trauma has helped me see a lot of patterns in how I relate to other people that maybe I'd like to shift.

Looking at that school situation through a different lens, of understanding the structural and social support of bullying, has let me more consciously evaluate how I react to my adult relationships and interactions.

So, yeah, I totally get the "that part of my life is behind me and I don't want to talk about it and I'm over it" desire, but I wish I'd explored some of this a bit more three decades ago.
posted by straw at 7:55 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

I wonder if the impressive progress you have made in achieving more stability is in fact why you were able to bring this up with your therapist for the first time—in my experience, therapy works in layers. With each set of experiences I talk through and unpack, my therapist helps me identify my emotional and behavioral responses, and where my responses are not (or no longer) serving me, she helps me brainstorm and work toward new ones. And what I have found is that with every stage of this process, I have needed the tools I built before to progress further; each new achievement in stability has been the necessary bedrock for me to find new levels of calm and happiness. And I agree with the others who have said that a good therapist will help you do that on a timetable that works for you—it is important to use time in therapy to celebrate your wins and accomplishments, and to recognize that some seasons of our lives are better than others for emotional upheaval.

That said, it sounds to me like your newfound stability is both an incredible achievement and also (I say this with profound respect) not the final step of your journey. I suspect that when you say that “I don’t see what the point of someone showing me care about it NOW is” that this is, in fact, a feeling that is a consequence of your trauma. I wanted to respond to your question specifically because I spent many months telling my own therapist exactly the same thing, and it took years for me to believe that the point of receiving that care is because we are deserving of kindness and compassion and love. We deserve to have our full selves seen and embraced. We deserve to have had our child selves taken care of when we were young, and we deserve as adults to take care of our child selves now. The point is that we need that care as human beings, we really do, even if we have spent our whole lives so far being told that we didn’t. And accepting that truth is the first step to having all of our emotional needs fulfilled, so that we can be not only stable, but happy.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:15 AM on January 23 [13 favorites]

Specific to your question, "does it seem reasonable that my therapist thinks that it would be beneficial to talk about this?" Yes, it seems reasonble.

But, it is also reasonable for you to feel that "We have worked hard in therapy to get me to a place where I am not being overwhelmed by the stress of being alive and to being able to largely take care of my own daily needs without my mental health providing an obstacle. I don’t want to give up this stability by unearthing things from my past that I don’t see a point of bringing up."

I'd suggest to be open to continue talking to your therapist about how you feel about the idea of talking about the incidents in the past, especially that you are concerned that talking about it could disrupt your current stability.
posted by bruinfan at 9:16 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

(CW: Mention of rape as an example)

I get where you are coming from, because the identity as a victim and a damaged person is boring. After a certain point wallowing in it becomes annoying. It's the same as if every single time you meet your sixty year old aunt you have to listen to her rehashing about how her mother didn't hug her on the first day of first grade and she has been crippled by trust issues ever since. Why are you still living in the past and giving those incidents so much power over who you are and how you feel now??? You don't want to listen to yourself anymore. You don't want to be there in the past and it feels like being there is refusing to heal from what happened because maybe you like the identity as victim. It even feels like looking at or talking about what happened is exaggerating what happened, because frankly, it used to be an interesting anecdote but by now it's not as interesting as the cute stuff your cat is doing.

However you are still unhappy enough to be in therapy and to feel you need help in figuring out how to be a happy, mentally healthy person.

In my experience the most traumatic stuff is the stuff that we cannot think about at all, that we have become practiced it steering hastily in another direction before we actually formulate the memories. The word "rape" never crystalizes when you think about high school parties. Instead a feeling of impatience or annoyance or discomfort, which never gets very strong causes your thoughts to skitter away in another direction. You definitely never go back to that specific high school party, even if the memory of it is still there and you could. You just never do and you never have. That's traumatic repression.

Then one fine day you do go there and the memories reaches the surface just one and a new stage occurs where you finally actively realise that you are making sure you never think about It. A very non specific word stands in for the thought. That. It. Then. There. Her. Them. "Whoops, nearly thought about Them." The moment you recognize it you feel the urgency as you start to think about something else, really hard, right away. But you do know there is something you're not thinking about.

(You see, it's actually quite possible to stand in a corner and not think about a white bear if the white bear raped you or killed your mother or told you your father had died. Sometimes you can spend your whole life not thinking about the north pole, or bears of any colour, or zoos, or snow, or camping, or Santa Claus if the white bear hurt you badly enough.)

Then there is another stage where you are constantly muttering to yourself, "Not gunna think about that, I... NO, not gunna think about that. She was... NO! Not gunna think about it. Think about cats! That's it, cats!!"

Next you may get to the irritable stage of trying to get your internal aunt who can't get over it to shut up. "Okay, yes something happened but I DON'T CARE ANYMORE. It was stupid. It's stupid to think about it. It did happen. Yes. But I DON'T CARE. I'm a cat owner now. I have a nice cat. I'm the kind of person who lives with my mind on my cat. I do good things! I don't need to go back! I am over it. It doesn't matter anymore..."

Then there is the stage where you say to yourself "Rape. Okay, that's the word. Rape. It happened. I was there. Fine. Naturally it hurt. I'm traumatized. Expected. Fine. I've dealt with it. I'm traumatized and maybe I never will be fully alright but I have learned to live with it and DON'T need to make my life about that. I'm sick of thinking about this. I'VE FACED IT ALREADY!!"

My guess is that you are at this stage.

The thing is there are other stages. That last one is a good stage to be at, if it is the one you are at, because you have dealt with your feelings a whole lot already and are quite good at controlling how much the damage is affecting you and how much time and energy you spend actively not thinking about it. Certainly this feels like a much better stage to be at than if you regress to an earlier stage, maybe a stage that you missed at the time, one where you are down on the floor, completely unable to feel anything but the agony, trembling, inarticulate, crying. I could have died. I could have died. They were trying to kill me. You probably didn't go through that extensively at the time. Instead you pulled yourself together to do what needed doing at the time, like lunch, and finding your shoes and going to school. If you didn't need to sink to the floor moaning then, how much more feeble, futile, fake, it feels to risk sinking to the floor now, decades later. "Good lord, making a fuss about something that never even happened? You weren't even hit! Why there's nothing wrong with children being shot at! It builds character in the ones who do survive it! All children should be shot at!" Um. No. The first reaction, of sinking to the floor weeping, is the healthier one.

Being strong and not collapsing at the time was good defense. Crying wouldn't have made it not have happened. Nobody could undo it anyway. Not eating would have been worse for you. What kind of a mess would you be in now if you had taken a month of school each time it happened? Or if you'd never gone outside again? You'd never have even gotten through high school or escaped that household and that neighbourhood.

Part of the trouble with not processing trauma is that it makes it your whole life. If it was perfectly ordinary and acceptable to be shot at seven times, and the correct response was to try to keep going to school and keep eating lunch every day, then it is perfectly ordinary and acceptable to be shot at again. You can't move to a place where that was then even if you leave the war zone. Everyone around you on some level is still someone who might pull out a gun and shoot at you and you are still someone that people will want to kill, or don't care if they kill. Sometimes not processing it kind of gives permission to the people that did it. Sometimes it's a kind of self neglect, or self blame.

Processing the trauma doesn't always "upset" you. Sometimes when you open the closet and look at the bogey man inside the feelings are not an emotional storm that leaves you on the floor trembling and crying and unable to find your shoes or have lunch. Sometimes what you feel is a vast feeling of pity for your long ago self and you don't end up on the floor at all. You just wish you could reach down and grab that child and hold them and take them away somewhere safe. Sometimes what you feel is a cold, ancient anger that reverberates through you and leaves you aware that you have never ever really dared to feel anger before, and anger is CLEAN. It is deliberate and right and you, yourself are oh so precious and worthy of anger on your behalf. Or you might even feel blank incomprehension. "How could that have kept happening? How could nobody have intervened? How....?" You never know what feelings will come up and there could be several of them.

So those are possible scenarios if you do process the trauma with your therapist. Maybe - and probably what with your fear of being upset - you are still upset but squelching those feelings so hard that they are stunting you and blocking you from being as happy and functional as you could be.

But what if you are in the hands of a therapist who enjoys vicarious catharsis and has their own traumas, and wants you to let them join you in a pity party, the way your old aunt whose mother gave her trust issues, was always looking for people to be indignant about their evil mothers with her, and enjoys self righteous rage and enjoys wallowing in self pity? How do you know you or your therapist are not just getting mileage about reviewing your past trauma?

First of all, how much have you already processed the trauma? Have you actually cried about it? Have you actually trembled with fear thinking about it? Have you conceptualized the environment you were in when it happened, without dismissing it? "Well when you live in a war zone/bad neighbourhood/drink at parties/are young these things happen..." is a very different response than, "My mother was so stuck. She couldn't. She couldn't get the kind of work that meant we could have moved... We were at risk every day. She lost her job. She was struggling to even pay the rent there..." The first one is minimizing. The second one is grappling with how bad it was and why it was so bad.

If you have discussed being shot at with your friends, and if you can think about it without flinching or trying to pull away, and if you don't use words like "lucky" or "unlucky" or "shit happens" and if you don't blame yourself or anyone else, with no "I/he should have..." or "If I/we had only..." then maybe you have already processed your trauma and you really are bored with it.

Being bored with it is not quite the same as being bored with the way people hearing about it get interested and sympathetic like you are a performing dog doing tricks for them. That feeling, of them listening to your trauma and enjoying it because it's just fascinating - what a clever dog you are! - oh, amazing! You are so brave to have lived through that! - just makes your flesh creep. It's no wonder if you don't want to recount it again. You're entertaining them with the all the drama. You can get easy spurious sympathy, which is only a form of minimizing that people do. And unfortunately there are a lot of therapists who love listening to performing dogs, the way a Fox News viewer loves listening to outrage bait, because it reinforces their own delightful indignation and strong feelings. At the same time it doesn't matter if it is real or not, because it feels so good to them to hear it. Let it out. Intimacy! Now we are getting to the meat of it, I can declare you cured and feel proud of your tears and shove you away as neatly packed and helped and relabeled as a trauma victim. A bad therapist does almost as much trauma as the original incident

You do not have to discuss it with your therapist. But you told them about it, and the way a buried lede is everyone's cue to stop short and look closely, simply mentioning it has triggered the cue to think about if there is some significant trauma there and if you are finally ready to process it. There's some reason you blurted it out. You are perfectly allowed to tell them flatly you are not ready to talk about It, and spend the next few sessions talking about what it would require to make you ready to talk about It. Chances are you either mentioned it because you are ready (almost ready) to talk about it, or as a test to confirm that you will get the wrong reaction from a therapist you are starting to mistrust. People in therapy do that all the time. When they get the wrong reaction they know it is time to break up with the therapist. Sometimes it is because the therapist isn't up to dealing with the issue, and sometimes it's because the therapist won't let them continue in unhealthy thought patterns without challenging them. Either way that therapist is probably history. It's not manipulative. It's part of the give and take of intimacy. You make a bid for attention and see if they will bite.

I think the question to ask yourself is, why did you mention it, knowing that telling people that you were shot at seven times is not the kind of remark that anyone who either cares about you, or who likes drama is going to let simply sail past them without asking any questions. If you didn't mean to mention it, then why did it bubble up and blurt itself out there? And if you DID mean to mention it, what was the reaction you wanted? What was the feeling you were looking for, the connection you were hoping for from your therapist?
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:15 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]

I have also been through a similar thing with my last therapist, although I will note that I didn't really have a great rapport with my therapist and had been seeing her for less time. To my therapist, my omission of this event from my childhood felt like a Really Big Deal that Explained Many Things, but to me? I rarely think about it. I'm not in denial, and I don't feel like I've compartmentalized it, but I resented it being perceived as some sort of treasure map to my inner self.

I felt (and still feel) that she was right that this thing was impacting me whether I could see it or not, but I felt (and still feel) that she was wrong to insist that I unpack it and process it, at a time where I did not have the bandwidth, tools, or desire to do so. It was one of the reasons I ceased therapy, because it was so destabilizing and I began to feel emotionally unsafe.

I don't regret it, and I don't know if I will ever want to go down that path. Getting through today feels like the best I can do, so I'm just going to keep doing that.
posted by sm1tten at 10:33 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

I think it's okay to have some metaconversations with your therapist about the reasons they want to pursue this and what they think you'll get out of it, just so you have a better idea of what their perspective is.

I do think when you're dealing with serious dissociative disorder, you run an even higher-than-normal (for anxiety, CPTSD) risk of atypical presentation of trauma. Not having flashbacks of the specific events, or not having specific PTSD or anxiety triggers around guns, doesn't mean these events did not have a significant impact on your nervous system. Coming up with an immediate defense of how unimportant these events are - that's usually a flag, because if you actually thought it'd be easy-breezy to quickly run through with your therapist and move on, you'd just do that. We all do this to ourselves, but we should at least stick a post-it on it when we recognize it.

If you're not sure now is the time to address it, you are allowed to have that conversation with your therapist (including all your concerns in your post), and hopefully both of you can hear the other out and come to a decision together.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:36 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Just coming by to say you may be one of those people who hasn't experienced trauma as a result of your experience. Remember that for people in the helping professions, most of the clients they see will tend to self-select for having trauma. According to some of the research, if you select a research population more broadly and do a longitudinal study, only later looking to see if any have experienced tough events later and have after-effects as a result, the percentage of the research population experiencing traume as the result of such experiences is less dominant.

Reason for saying this: Am talking regularly to a grief counselor due to a recent loss, and am finding he is so used to dealing with people who are frozen with grief that he doesn't quite know what to do with me. (I'm talking to him because he came free as a benefit of hospice, and I thought it was nice to have counseling). Instead, I'm feeling pretty chipper now and not particularly afflicted, though of course I miss my husband now and then. Have been reading the Bonanno book on The Other Side of Sadness and finding it supports my experience. Many readers experiencing complex grief hate the book, because it seems to invalidate their experience, but I'm having the opposite reaction.
posted by Peach at 12:55 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]

The fact that you're avoiding talking about it suggests that at some point it would be helpful to be able to talk about it, but I stress the "at some point." Avoidance is usually best not done forever. Anyway, I get super sick of seeing the phrase "trauma-informed" thrown about almost meaninglessly but one thing I do think should inform any therapist's work with someone who've been through something we might call trauma is that you give people a LOT of room to pace the approach.
posted by less-of-course at 1:15 PM on January 23

I've been trying to phrase this for quite a while, and I don't really feel I've found the tone. So apologies if this is insensitive. BUT: I mentioned in passing that I had been shot at seven times should bring everything to a screeching halt. I'm not judging, the thing I mentioned in passing to my therapist was equivalent, and I felt like you about it. But sometimes it's good to get a "normal" perspective on your life.

Actually at my last session, I mentioned in passing that I have a more relaxed relation with my mother than my sister has. After a few questions, my therapist said there might be something to talk about there. As in: it might well be that my sister has a more normal relation. Now, after we've gone through the really tough issues, I'm ready. The thing is, you do what you can to make sense of your life, even when it doesn't make sense at all.

Of course being shot at is a terrible thing, and even more so for a child. Take care of that child.
posted by mumimor at 1:48 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the second reply, two more things now that I'm in front of a keyboard: A little while ago I was listening to a podcast about a foundation that, among other things, helps kids from disadvantaged backgrounds write college applications letters. One of the things they found over and over again was that kids who'd had just amazingly difficult childhoods didn't even think to note that they, for example, managed all of the achievements they had while couch surfing and taking care of siblings and whatnot. I suspect that survivors of traumatic experiences have often had their experiences normalized such that they think they're not worth mentioning. Even beyond that, that mentioning these things feels like complaining or whining.

Better to relegate it to a footnote than to be seen as wallowing it. Survivors don't complain, they trudge bravely forward through the adversity. Which is a great survival strategy, but when you've got survival down it's okay to look past that.

Second, that part of the reason it took me so long to cast various incidents in my childhood as traumatic experiences was that I am well aware of my privilege. I have a lot of advantages, some biological, some of which are tied to experiences in my childhood that I'm now looking back on as traumatic. I don't know what your circumstances are, but multiple things can be true: You can have privilege and be carrying the wounds of trauma.
posted by straw at 1:55 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]

One of the things they found over and over again was that kids who'd had just amazingly difficult childhoods didn't even think to note that they, for example, managed all of the achievements they had while couch surfing and taking care of siblings and whatnot

Can confirm, have written many such similar essays for various places/sources of funding, yet it was literally only a month ago that I realized, "Huh, when they ask about adversity, I should probably mention that I was homeless during high school?"

In recent years I've found it beneficial to hear people in various roles confirm that what happened to me was extraordinarily fucked up. Even if there's nothing to "work out" in terms of classic PTSD symptoms, I found I was carrying a lot of dismissal and "yeah that was wild haha" that was detrimental to my overall ability to be vulnerable or ask for help. I sounded a lot like:

I am made uncomfortable by the thought of having attention paid to me in general, but even more intensely uncomfortable when it is about someone being sympathetic towards me about bad things that have happened in the past.

If you relate to "When something upsets me, I'm generally pretty in control of my emotions, but if someone shows me an ounce of sympathy I'll burst into tears" then you may be dealing with similar long-term effects of trauma.
posted by brook horse at 2:44 PM on January 23 [9 favorites]

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