The Grazed Knee Analogy

On Thursday I told T that when I left her on Tuesday night I was very upset.  She asked me how I knew I was upset and I said “well, because I was crying”.  She repeated back at me “you cried” and I noted that I felt a bit uncomfortable with her saying those words.

I’ve noticed lately that I said I felt “miserable” when I actually meant I felt angry and now I said I felt “upset” rather than just saying I cried. I wonder why?

T didn’t seem particularly surprised by this.  She said that at the moment I am really dipping in and out of “it“. What does she mean by “it“?  I don’t know but I imagine she meant “the work” as she calls it.  She said I go in “it” a bit, then back out again.  She said “you need to go at your own pace, you can’t rush it” and I thought – are you implying I am trying to rush or are you saying you understand why I am being slow? What was the comment meant to mean…nothing like over thinking things hey? Welcome to my brain.

I told T that I was really struggling at the moment with not being able to pinpoint a reason for my tears.  I said I wasn’t sure what exactly I was crying about.  T looked quite surprised and said almost sarcastically “you don’t think you have a reason to be crying?” and I quickly said that I didn’t mean I didn’t have anything to cause me to cry, just that usually you know exactly the reason. For example you might cry because you had an argument with a friend or because your boyfriend was an idiot… but when you are just crying after therapy with no proper “reason”.. that feels different and for me, hard and scary. T said that just in the last session alone there was “enough to cry about for weeks”….. was there?

She said that she thought perhaps when I was a child and I grazed my knee or cut myself as children do, that perhaps my mother could deal with the tears about those sort of upsets.  She quickly added that she didn’t mean to imply that she was particularly caring and warm, but that the tears were not punished because she could physically see the cause of the upset.  BUT if I were to cry about something emotional, something without a physical and obvious bruise – no actual blood so to speak, that is when she demanded a reason why and would get angry and blame, shame and embarrass me.

I had never thought about this before but it rang true immediately. I thought for a moment and told T that sounded very possibly true.  I did agree that there certainly wasn’t ever any kindness even with grazed knees, but perhaps there wasn’t the shaming and anger.  I can’t remember any particular instance which would have been helpful and that the two more major physical hurts I had as a kid she couldn’t handle because of the blood.

I told T that when I was a young child I was very small and very skinny and my legs were always covered in bruises. I said that my mother used to make me wear knee-length socks to cover them and T said that I even had to hide my physical bruises and that I was taught they were something to be ashamed of. I said yes I guess so. She said that my mother couldn’t tolerate any imperfections of any sort and so the bruises had to be hidden and I had to be perfect.  I agreed but said she allowed my teeth to be awful which didn’t fit the perfect image.  I said that as a baby and child she gave me Ribena in a bottle instead of milk and that it rotted all of my teeth.  I said they looked horrendous and that when I was about 11, I had 6 teeth taken out at once under GA and then another 4 taken out at 13 before my brace was fitted. I said that they were perfectly straight after wearing the brace for over 3 years but then my dog chewed my retainer and she wouldn’t replace it because she said it was too expensive.  I told T that my mother’s teeth were not very nice – they weren’t straight or white and so perhaps that is why she didn’t care about mine (nobody can be different to a narcissist).

Somehow this conversation made its way to me talking about what her ex-boyfriend did to me. I won’t go into detail here but basically he groomed me and then was physically “inappropriate” with me (T’s words) and it scared me. A LOT.  I was only 14 at the time and he was someone I trusted, my mother’s boyfriend and about 45 years old.  I was petrified and didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t tell any adults – only my two best friends and I swore them both to secrecy.

I told T that for some reason, I had this strange fantasy that one day I would tell my mother what he had done to me and that something would be magically fixed.  That it would make things better.  I think now I understand that I was hoping she would see the damage that had been done to me (“physically” as in, he physically touched me) which perhaps she would accept a bit more than the emotional damage that she couldn’t see that I had been feeling for years (the grazed-knee analogy).

Unfortunately that did not happen. What happened was the opposite. She eventually (not initially) accused me of making it all up. I was not validated in any way. She made the whole thing about her – how upset she was, how she couldn’t eat, how she couldn’t sleep.  I was told not to tell anyone else, especially my grandparents as they would “have heart attacks and die”… you get the point.

I said to T that I wish I had never told her because it didn’t make anything better, it just made it all much worse.  T said that there is the pain of the event and what he did and then there is the pain of knowing you can’t turn to your caregiver for safety and comfort because they can’t help you and then eventually (10 years later) you tell her in the hope that it is going to fix something and … it doesn’t, it makes it worse.

I said to T that the whole thing was totally fucked up anyway because when I broke the news to my mother she went to wake her sleeping husband up to tell him.  But the thing is, he already knew. I had confided in him one drunk night and he had told me never to tell my mother because she wouldn’t be able to handle it.  Yep….. it was about her. So when she “told him” he acted shocked and horrified and then came downstairs to where I was sitting in floods of tears and acted his arse off like a soap star that this was new information.  He even sat there asking me questions that he already knew the answer to……. wtf? I see now he was scared of my mother like I always have been.

As usual I did the good girl thing and kept my mouth shut.  I really, really wanted to tell my mother over the coming weeks and months that he knew. The only thing that stopped me was that she never believed me about anything else and I had my entire life history of her taking her latest bloke’s side, so would this time really be any different? Clearly not.. I fought against that dilemma for a long time.

T was listening attentively and seemed to agree with my feeling that it was all very fucked up.  She seemed sympathetic despite knowing this stuff already.

Then……

I told T something that sounds very strange.

I told T that when I was younger I used to imagine telling my mother about this sexual abuse on my wedding day.  I know, I know.. please don’t ask me why my wedding day because I have absolutely no idea.  T seemed confused and seemed to be trying to find some sort of link – as did I but without any luck.  I said perhaps it was because I was then going to be “off her hands” and grown up or something? I said that the nearest thing I could compare it to was this – you know when you are watching a film and a couple are about to get married but right at the very last-minute one of them tells the other at the back of the church that they’ve had an affair at some point…..that they had to come clean, that the other person had to know the total truth before they committed to the other person? I said it was just like that.

T said that would suggest that I had done something wrong. I said yes, it does sound that way saying it out loud. T said it almost sounded as though in the fantasy, I was marrying my mother.

We discussed this for a while and I felt embarrassed because I know it sounds very odd and I wish I could tell you that I’ve somehow worked it out and understand the deeper meaning but unfortunately I can’t.  I still do not know. It’s very messed up.

T asked whether my mother had any beliefs about not having sex before marriage or anything like that? If I had been drinking I would have literally spat my drink out at that suggestion. I said absolutely not and laughed – my mother was the complete opposite of that. Sex was something that she did A LOT of and sex was encouraged on me at a young age.  It certainly wasn’t that.  T said she knew it wasn’t in line with her characteristics but said that sometimes people have these sorts of beliefs despite the way they act themselves.

I’ve thought about it a lot today. Saying it out loud felt weird.  Writing it here for you to read feels uncomfortable but I am hoping that going over it will help me to figure it out somehow. I am actually still surprised I told her this knowing how odd it sounds.. it just slipped out.

Why would you imagine as a child that the day you would tell your mother that her (then) boyfriend had sexually abused you would be your wedding day, at the back of the church?