That Feeling of Terror
With or without recovery work, a person with an eating disorder periodically experiences a terror beyond imagining. She feels she’s falling endlessly down a black abyss. Often she makes her first call for psychotherapy when she is in the midst of these terrors.
Within her recovery process these experiences diminish in frequency and length—but not necessarily in intensity. In an unguarded moment her defense system fails to block what triggers her fear. Her psyche cannot cope. She needs her therapist and relies on the trustworthiness of the relationship to see her through her crisis.
Separations can trigger a terror episode, So can memories and dreams. If she doesn’t have supportive resources to rely on in such an intense time, she will act out in any way she can in an attempt to save herself. She is at her most vulnerable. She is also at her most sensitive point of healing if she is in treatment with a trustworthy mental health professional.
I see it this way in my private practice.
Trust is Key to Recovery Work
Trust in recovery work is many layered. First, she needs to feel or sense that I, as her therapist, am a survivor and can tolerate her experience. She neds to know I can tolerate her terror. She needs to know I can appreciate her terror and the circumstances, real or imagined, that bring her to this emotional anguish. Part of my job is to see that her belief is based on fact. Through my own recovery work and life work I need to develop enought health, experience and emotional sturdiness to deserveher trust.
She doesn't have to make her experience "nice" for me. She doesn't have to withhold any of it. She doesn't have to minimize the circumstances or attempt to hide her self-perceived flaws or weaknesses.
As I remain present for her she learns that together we can face whatever her torments may be. Nothing has to be censored or denied.
In fact, the more she can clearly share her fears the more opportunity she has to develop strength and awareness to cope with her experience. As she learns this, our meetings and our relationship deepens and her treatment brings her more solid healing.
I listen with caring without being caught in her fears. As she learns to rely on my stability she develops more of her own. Then we can explore the range and depth of her emotional experiences that are normal and part of the human condition.
This includes all that she feels or felt when confronted by her own great terror. It gives her an opportunity to know that such a state is knowable, understandable and survivable.
Her vulnerability to a terror state is one of the key reasons for the existence of her eating disorder. As she develops more awareness and a sturdy spirit based on her practice in therapy she can bear her terrors and dissolve them. This is fundamental to her eating disorder recovery.
What part of this discussion is relates to you?
How has the issue of trust affected your willingness to seek treatment?
How has the issue of trust affected your ability to remain in treatment?
* Painting by Luiz Carlos Cappellano
What do you see in this painting? Can you see why I may have chosen it for article about fear and trust?