“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.)