“Can we agree that you can trust me to be on your side?” E asked me last week. I think my hesitation shook her. Maybe she saw for the first time how much the previous month had undermined a generally positive relationship that maybe she took for granted.
I’ve been going back and forth all week. Was it my fault for not communicating well? Or was her head just somewhere else? What do I need to do or see or know before I can get over it? Does she need to prove herself for a certain amount of time? Or should I accept it was a fluke, not characteristic of how we work together? Perhaps I should just let it go?
Of course there is no “should” in my relationship to my therapist, I know that. The relationship is just what it is. But I don’t know how to react to what’s happening. I haven’t had this experience before.
What exactly did happen?
- I get my feelings hurt when E asks to change the time of our appointment.
- I try to talk about this with her, and she responds with a discussion of existentialism and how we are all ultimately alone.
- I find the idea of being ultimately alone frightening. I feel she is rejecting me, holding me at a distance. This fills me with rage; I feel cheated.
- Rage turns very quickly into self-loathing. I am not doing therapy right. I am a hopeless case. I am not worthy of care.
- When I try to express some of this to E, her responses don’t indicate to me that she understands what I’m struggling with. Or perhaps it’s that she doesn’t recognize the intensity of my reaction. It is dominating my thoughts, sucking my energy, leaving my unable to work full days (which also stresses me out because I fall behind).
- I begin to doubt that she understands or cares in the way I thought she did. I feel I have revealed my secrets to someone who holds herself apart from me, who perhaps finds my vulnerability and neediness annoying. I want to pull away from her.
- Something I say in our session this last Monday seems to reach her.
- She makes a lot of effort this past week to show me how much she cares.
It’s been very touching over the past week, to get friendly short texts, not full of a lot of content, but just to connect. Midweek I receive an affectionate card in the mail that essentially says she accepts me the way I am. That she loves to see me get stronger. That it’s okay to push against her and to struggle with the process. That she’ll be there for me through all of it.
Do I let me guard down? Part of me wants to. Another part wonders if it’s too soon. Are we going to turn around and repeat this little game? If so, will it be worse if I’ve decided to trust her?
Then I think: no, it’s not a game at all. This is about the therapy relationship, which is only there to support my emotional well-being, my healing. I won’t heal by holding myself at a distance. I will just be postponing the day when I do decide to open to her again and move forward in my healing. And I have to let her in again (or leave and find someone else) because there’s no purpose to the relationship otherwise.
Long, slow breath. Okay, then. I’ll take the risk. I’ll let her in. Not for her sake, but for mine. I’ll trust that something went very wrong in the last month, for some reason, but that it doesn’t reflect the way we have worked together most of the time, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. We have both felt bad about it (especially me), and E wants to do what she can to make it right again. I will let her and see what happens.
(Besides, I’d like her on my side this week. I am planning to give notice at my job on Tuesday.)
No, there are no “shoulds” in your relationship with your therapist, but it sure does feel like there are at times. I think listing out what happened, even if that doesn’t give any simple answers, helps. I think that you choosing to let her in again, for you, to care for yourself, is really an amazing choice. I’m proud of you for making that choice— a year a ago, you might have chosen something different. I also think it’s okay to need to rehash what happened with her and talk about it and work through it, too. It doesn’t make you bad or wrong to need to talk about again. I hope that you are able to let her in and feel her support this week. I’m really so impressed with how well you are caring for yourself, Q. Xx
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I think I already spoke to this in my last comment, but I think that sussing out the situation and giving all of your feelings space and room to breathe and move about is so healthy – E isn’t going to leave, whether or not you leave or don’t leave. She is right there. And I think that something very powerful did indeed become provoked here, worth exploring further. I think it both is and isn’t about what happened with E; of course it is about her, and also, something deeper has been stirred. I say that only from experience, of course just my thoughts. Sending support Q. You’re tackling this so well.
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Thanks Rachel. I know you are right. Something very young and tender was provoked, and it could only be provoked because I had trusted her so deeply. Now that I know it’s there (painful discovery), we can work on it together. It was kind of about her, but it was an overreaction because it was also a reaction to things that were not about her. She has really communicated that she wants to be with me and support me to work on it. I know I don’t have to rush trusting her but choosing to do so feels, to me, as though I have some agency in my healing.
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Absolutely, that choice is so important and valuable. I’m glad you’re choosing, and that you feel agency. You went a long time without it.
You are so very strong, Q! I love how clearly you listed out all that had happened and subsequently, what you could do in response. From what you’ve described of E, I believe that she is there for you and that she is as invested in your healing as you are. I’m glad that she is also trying harder to show you that she cares and that she is willing to make changes/fix things. It must’ve felt great to receive all those friendly texts and even a card! I know I’d be immensely pleased if S ever did anything like that (he probably won’t). It’s always nice to feel like someone is on your side!
“I won’t heal by holding myself at a distance. I will just be postponing the day when I do decide to open to her again and move forward in my healing.”
Yes. Exactly this. So hard to put into practice, though.
Oh, no kidding. I am not fighting her like I was but I’m also holding back a bit. I’m not as warm as I was, I can feel it. But still, we’re doing better, and I can see she is really trying.
I’m glad. It seems like that was a lot of what you needed – to see that she was really trying, even if she wasn’t getting it right all the time.
really great insight Q. All those questions are important. I am glad she has been reaching out to you and you are letting yourself take the time to figure out your response. As always I am impressed with your ability to be gentle with yourself and the work you are doing.