For nearly three years, I had permission to text my therapist pretty much whenever. I know, amazing, right? She encouraged me to reach for her when I needed reminders and reassurance and validation. I needed to learn what it felt like to turn to someone when my emotions were too big or too confusing, to turn to someone safe, and to be met with kindness. And E provided that for me, quite a lot of that.
Until, for whatever reason, she didn’t want to anymore.
I was already texting her much less frequently, and I often paused to ask myself, Do I really need to text her about this? Maybe I can manage it myself. Or maybe I can wait until I see her again. But other times, I still went ahead and reached for her, because it felt so, so good to me to have someone there. I suppose I thought the texting would taper off gradually and maybe eventually, in some unnamed future time, it would stop.
But instead, on January 9, she unexpectedly told me that it wasn’t working for her to be so available all the time. It meant work intruded into her personal life. This wasn’t good for her. Maybe we could limit the texting to two messages a week? Or some other kind of limit.
BOOM! I felt like I’d been smacked in the face. No, it was bigger than a smack in the face. It was more like the example I wrote about a few days ago; it was like someone ran over me with a car, and I lost my leg. The pain and loss felt enormous. And though I tried to rationalize myself out those emotions, the truth is they have been chasing me now for more than six months, culminating in all the distress I felt last week.
Somehow, though, my
processing obsessing over the weekend led me to a place of internal acceptance. Okay, I didn’t like losing my leg; I didn’t like losing the access to her support and care. But I saw I couldn’t change it. It was as if I finally stopped denying reality. I stopped wishing I could rewind us back to January 8, when I didn’t know that she was no longer okay with our previous arrangement.
Accepting something you don’t like isn’t easy. (Deep insight, right? I’m sure if I hadn’t spelled that out for you, you would never have come to that realization yourself.) It brings up a lot of difficult feelings: anger, grief, confusion, self-doubt. Furthermore, accepting this particular reality forced me to confront, again, some of the painful stories about myself that I carry around in my head:
- No one wants to be close to me.
- I expect too much.
- I *am* too much.
- People get tired of me.
- I’m not worthy of love and support.
So part of accepting an unwelcome reality is allowing those feelings to exist–not minimizing or denying them. I have a lot of strategies to avoid painful feelings, but let me tell you, minimization is one of my particular specialties. Deciding I would invite all the big, scary feelings in and let them say what they needed to was a big shift for me.
I already described most of this in my last post, I know. But I’m still thinking about it a lot, hence the rehash. Also, I wanted to tell you that I went to my therapy session on Monday and said all of this stuff to E. I told her that I still wasn’t over the change in our texting relationship, that it hurt me a lot, that I didn’t want it to and had been trying to pretend it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t working. I told her everything I wrote the other day: losing a leg, realizing I needed to adjust to the new reality, wanting to accept it, and having a lot of complicated emotions connected to that acceptance.
I could see it was hard for E to hear, again, that she had hurt me by asking for a different boundary around texting. I knew it would be, but I also knew, somehow, that I wasn’t ready to put it to rest. She admitted it was hard, “I see my job as supporting you and helping you come to a place where you feel better. So knowing I’ve caused you pain, even if that wasn’t my intention; that’s hard.” But she also assured me that it was okay to talk about it and that she could take care of her own emotions.
It felt really different talking about it this time. I think other times when I tried to discuss the boundary change, I wanted E to somehow fix it for me. I wanted her to change the boundary–though honestly, we never specified the new boundary, and I mostly just stopped texting her because now I knew she didn’t want me to. And if she had changed the boundary, I wouldn’t have believed her anyway, so that wasn’t even a possible solution. Maybe I wanted her to miraculously convince me that I was important and loved and worthy. Or I don’t know what exactly I wanted, but I wanted something from her.
On Monday, I didn’t want anything from her except for her to listen and validate my experience. I didn’t minimize it or pretend it was something different. So part of it went something like this:
E: I’m genuinely sorry that I stepped on your toes in the process of trying to care for myself and re-set a boundary.
Me: I believe you, thank you. But you didn’t step on my toes. You cut off my whole leg. That’s not said to make you feel guilty. You have a right to change a boundary. It is said to let you know what a big, huge, enormous effing deal it has been for me. It’s not just a matter of a couple of bruised toes.
She laughed at that, but she also heard me.
I don’t think I’ve ever sat directly across from someone and told her exactly how she has hurt me. It was confusing, both unnerving and a relief at the same time. I felt shaky and sensed I was starting to space out.
I opened up the box of cards she and I made together. I haven’t even had a chance to write about that yet, but it’s an idea I had after the last time we teetered on the edge of a rupture, maybe only a month or so ago. We made a series of cards saying things we would like the other person to know or do when we don’t seem to be connecting well. I dug through the cards, looking for a specific one. I found it and handed it to her:
Please help me stay connected to my body.
She nodded and said something simple, like, “What is going on in your body right now?”
It didn’t take me two seconds to know. “I feel like I have a big, gaping hole in my chest, with my heart exposed and raw.”
“That sounds intense,” she said. “What does that hole need?”
I put my hand over my heart. I remember she told me, after she went to a training by Kristin Neff, that we have a genuine physiological reaction to that gesture; I believe she said it prompts the release of oxytocin. I deliberately took a longer, slow breath. “It just needs the validation, I think. It needs me to recognize that this is a big deal to me, that it’s hard.”
I can’t remember what all we said directly after this. And I won’t lie and say SHAZAM, at that moment everything was fine. But I do feel like the intensity eased just a bit.
E said, “I can’t help but feel this session has been a really big deal. You came here and told me your truth. You were brave enough to say it, even though you knew it might be uncomfortable for me. You trusted me to be able to hear it with becoming reactive. You recognized and named your own pain. You realized you needed to stay in your body and asked for support to do that. You noticed your sensations and you found a way to soften them, even if only a little. I think you’ve just demonstrated a very high level of skillfulness. You’ve done amazing work!”
Of course it’s nice to have your therapist’s approval. But even more importantly, I also felt like I had really shifted something for myself. I think it’s that I ultimately looked for the soothing to come from myself, rather than from E.
And even now, two days later, I think that maybe (maybe!) I’m done needing to fret and suffer and obsess over the change in our texting relationship. Maybe that big, raging emotional bear of mine has settled in for a nap, for now at least.
CREDIT: Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash