Mistakes I Make in Therapy

I started out calling this Mistakes I Have Made in Therapy. Then, as I was writing, I realized that I make them repeatedly and am probably not done making them. Hence the change to the present tense. 

Waiting for my therapist to “discover” the depth of my problem. I drop hints and feel disappointed when she doesn’t pick them up. I minimize my pain (because that’s what I learned I was supposed to do) while also desperately wanting her to see it and validate it. Why can’t she be a mind reader?!

I have had this realization more than once. I think it’s a complicated issue, actually. Part of it is the childish me, the one that wants to be seen and rescued without having to ask for it, just like I wished someone would notice what was wrong all those years ago, even when I didn’t have words for it. I know sometimes I reenact that with my therapist.

But it is also part of me operating as a highly functional professional and a leader at work. That role demands that I have a high level of emotional management and a good poker face. I smile at colleagues, no matter how I feel. I am used to pretending things are fine.

This means that 1) my husband says he can’t tell when I am feeling really depressed and 2) even my therapist can’t necessarily tell. I thought I had become better at describing my emotional state, but just two weeks ago in therapy, I showed E a “map” I had drawn of my depression which revealed I was coming out of a place characterized by self-harm and recurrent thoughts of suicide. E. looked at me and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling like that?” I said, “But I did!” She was quite disconcerted. I think we’ll need to process this again. I am sure I mentioned those things, but it could be that I mentioned them in passing, in a way that made her think I was talking about long ago instead of these past few months.

Thinking it is enough to deal with my issues in the therapist’s office. I have sessions every two weeks, for 45 minutes. We talk about my issues. She helps me realize things or teaches me a different way to think about things. I go back to my regular life for two more weeks, with my same behavior problems, then repeat. Why am I not getting better?!? You’d be amazed how long I have done this and fretted that I was still depressed. Not that long ago I had this big aha moment: wait, I am supposed to use these skills she is teaching me!

I’m exaggerating a bit, of course. I certainly knew I am supposed to use what E has been teaching me, and I have used many of them. Yet I also feel as though I my life evolves on two separate and parallel tracks. I have my emotional life, with major depressive dips. And I wall that off as much as possible from my life as professional, and as a mother and wife. Sometimes the wall crumbles of course, especially when my depressive demons are acting up. But a lot of the time I can keep the wall up, and since it feels better to move around on the side of the wall where I feel competent and functional, I don’t actively attend enough to the crazy side of the wall in between therapy session.

Expecting my therapist to lead the way to wellness. Doesn’t she have a plan for my therapy?  Two sessions on this, then a session on that, a little talking about coping skills and boom! Done! Healthy! Why does she keep asking me what I want to talk about?

This is me being too passive. I’m tired. I’m depressed. I let myself be abused by multiple men. Things happen to me. I don’t want to take charge or make choices. I want to be magically rescued. And dammit, my therapist refuses to do that for me. I’m supposed to rescue and comfort and take care of myself. That would mean changing how I do things. Change is a lot of work. It all seems too hard.

Focusing on my past to the detriment of my present. At various times I have become so obsessed with figuring out my past–what really happened, what was the impact on me–that I have plowed forward, forgetting to tend to my current life. So I have trouble sleeping, so what? So I’m having anxiety attacks? I can just burn myself to cope with them.  It doesn’t matter–let’s keep on talking about the stuff that freaks me out because I need answers!

It’s only recently that I have realized that this is another way of re-victimizing myself. Yes, I need to process my past. But the most important thing is my present and the rich things in it–my husband, my children, my interesting job. If my therapy is endangering my ability to function well in my current life, it’s okay to slow down, to breathe through it. And when E asks me what I want to talk about, sometimes I need to say, “let’s talk about how much I am struggling in my current life.”

CREDIT: Image adapted from photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash


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