Tomorrow is the 4th of July. I still had my regular Monday therapy session scheduled with E. Last week I even asked her, “Why are you working on the 4th of July?” She didn’t have any big plans, so just thought she would. I said I might change my appointment to earlier in the day so I could go to a picnic and fireworks in the evening. But then I didn’t change it, because I like meeting with her in the evening.
Today, Sunday, she sent me a text. She said she didn’t have very many sessions tomorrow and was thinking she could cluster more of them together. Would I mind moving to earlier in the day? If not, that was okay.
Such a reasonable request, and even about something I had considered doing myself. Yet it seems to have hit a sore spot and then shot me out into Outer Space. You know, Inner Outer Space.
I felt uneasy almost immediately, but I didn’t know why. I made a joke about 10 pm being a good time (thinking about all the fireworks going off). I think she misunderstood, because she texted that 10:30 am was open. She’d move me there.
Ummm, I don’t know what I want. I guess 10:30 is okay.
You don’t have to move up. It’s okay.
No, it’s not about a particular time. There is something about rescheduling which is disconcerting. Not in any sort of rational way. My day is flexible.
I was starting to realize what I was feeling. I was feeling, or some part of me was, that she just wanted to put my appointment earlier to get it over with, so she could be free sooner and go to a barbecue with friends or something. It was just one of those moments when it becomes clear yet again that my therapist means so much to me, but I am just a piece of her job.
I know, I completely know why the therapeutic relationship is this way. It’s for my own benefit. The idea is that I don’t owe her anything (well, except payment). But it’s not like a friendship where I have to worry about what she needs. It’s about what I am feeling, what I am needing. Her needs get met elsewhere. (I do sometimes think about what she needs… but that’s not the main focus.)
This imbalanced relationship works well, except when it doesn’t. Today was one of those times. I had just texted the night before that I’d had a good day and felt so connected to her. And some piece of me felt like rescheduling broke that connection.
I’m working on allowing myself to feel whatever comes up. I don’t have to deny it, to push it away. I work on this in my mindfulness practice daily, and I work on it in therapy with E and in the mind/body work I do with C. Yes, it’s a lot of practice, but it’s a big challenge for me. So I tell myself it’s not rational, but it’s still okay to feel what I’m feeling. Furthermore, it’s safe to tell E how I’m feeling. So I text her back.
I think I am feeling like a widget.
It is sort of the nature of our strange and wonderful relationship. Can I reassure you that you’re quite a lovely widget for whom I have great fondness?
Don’t take my humor wrong – please. Help me know how I can assist you in this.
I know it is not reasonable to react like this to a schedule change.
Not reasonable but emotion-able.
It is because a part of my attachment to you is not rational adult. It is young and needy.
Part is, not all. We need to care for that part well.
I paused for a bit, just trying to pay attention to what I was feeling. It can be so hard to identify feelings. My stomach is tight. My skin is tingling. But what is the emotion?
I notice it provokes anger at myself for expecting/wanting something different. Like “you are so stupid!” But I am trying, trying not to judge myself for it.
How about saying to yourself, “Gee, look at you all cranky that things are switching up from your normal and comfortable routine. It’s annoying, isn’t it? Is there something you’d like me to advocate for? You can see shifting would help someone else, but are YOU really okay with shifting? If not it’s time to speak up, and I’ll help you. If you ARE okay with shifting, then let me soothe the discomfort that is showing up as result of changing your routine. I can help you get comfortable if you’d stay connected with me so we can figure it out. If you go off and tell yourself you’re stupid, weird or inflexible, then I lose connection you and I have a harder time comforting you.” Or something like that.
Or how about, “Little one, I see how attached you feel to E. You feel like she gets you without judging you. She accepts you, and you feel you can rest safely in her care. You love that time in her office, I know it. And now you are afraid her request to change the time means she just wants to get it all over with so she can be free of you. I don’t think she really meant it like that. But I get you feel the imbalance of the relationship. It’s needed for the work, but sometimes it feels crummy and can leave you feeling vulnerable and unimportant.”
“I get too that vulnerable is scary. It’s been dangerous in the past. It is not dangerous with E, but there are times you will risk being open and for whatever reason feel she can’t meet all your wishes. I want to encourage you not to run away from that. Go ahead and feel sad. You don’t have to hate yourself. You don’t have to close yourself off. You don’t have to pretend you don’t want to see her. Just go ahead and feel it. I’ll be here with you. I won’t go away and leave you. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.”
Hi little one. Your wise mom is doing a great job listening to you. I like that. My job is to teach her everything I know so she can take the best possible care of you and all your needs. She’s a very lovely person, and you are lucky to have her on your side. I really like working with her and making her the most excellent protector and guide for you that I can. I see that by asking you to shift the schedule tomorrow, you felt unimportant, not special, and like a “thing.” I bet you HATE that! You mom is trying to help me out, and I appreciate her efforts. Neither I nor your mom see you as a thing to be pushed about. She and I are both working to give you as much attention and support as you need. She’s doing a great job of it in this painful situation. Thanks for letting her know you are sad and cranky. She can support and listen to you about this, and she can even speak up to me to ask for something to be different if you want. Keep showing up. Don’t be mad at yourself for not being “rational.” Most kids aren’t. Thanks for letting me talk with you. Your mom is strong and brave!
So that seemed all right. I ended up figuring out what the feelings were and articulating them to E. She didn’t get irritated with me. She was patient and spent a long time texting back and forth. She expressed a willingness to schedule based on what I (or my much young self) needed.
And yet soon thereafter, Anxiety began to storm around inside me. The wise woman self vanished, or at least I couldn’t see past Anxiety to find her. And then I went in the other room and burned myself, quickly. I hadn’t done that in months, but at that moment it seemed to necessary. It hurt, but it also opened a door for Anxiety to exit.
Now I feel better, but I wonder: how I can be mindful, willing to let my feelings come up, willing to be honest with my therapist and then, short moments later, abandon all that for the old, unhealthy coping strategies?