And yet again, another version of the same dance we’ve already performed many times over. In session on Monday, E says something, and I feel hurt, pushed away, rejected. It doesn’t all sink in immediately, but by the time I get home, I am sad, angry and afraid. I want to quit seeing her. I want to run and talk this out right now, immediately. The urgency of it pulses like a living thing inside of me.
It starts off innocently enough, a quiet, low-key session. We talk about group last week, which was good. I fill her in on my dad; he had heart surgery last Friday and is doing okay. I tell her about things I think I need to do to prepare for my next big drop in Effexor dose, which I am afraid but determined to do in about two months.
Then, out of the blue, she asks, “What are you thinking about the schedule?”
“The schedule?” I am not even sure what she means. “You mean our schedule, of sessions?” It’s only March 9, so we have barely returned to our regular schedule after my experiment of far fewer sessions in February.
“Right,” she says. “Have you decided what you want to do? I mean, your slots are yours, of course, but when you decide to give them up, you’ll let me know straight away, right?”
My initial reaction is, Duh, of course, it’s not giving them up unless I tell you, is it?
But slowly it sinks in. She wants to give those slots, or at least some of them, to someone else. I know her schedule is pretty full.
It stirs up all my old insecurities. She is ready to be done with me. Time to move on. She wants to place her attention elsewhere. She feels it would be a better use of her time to work with someone else. Other people matter more.
I don’t say anything there in the session, because sometimes these things take a little while to fully sink in. But later on, at home, I can feel myself growing increasingly upset. I don’t want to do this, I think. I don’t want a rupture. I don’t want to be mad at her. I don’t want to feel this pain again.
How can I make it different this time? I wonder. I pull out my journal and start writing, trying to pull on what I have learned in therapy, what lessons I have drawn from my readings on trauma and my introduction to the way trauma works in the body.
It’s all old stuff, I write in the journal. This reaction is a leftover emotional habit from childhood trauma. I’m reacting because the situation reminds me in some way of childhood experiences of being pushed away, unseen, unimportant. As a child, I experienced this as very frightening and dangerous. Even though this situation is different, and I’m not in danger now, at a very basic level, my brain sees the similarities and sets off all the emergency alarm bells.
Okay, now I understand this in a way I didn’t use to. That’s the first thing, I guess–some self awareness and a bit of perspective.
But what do I do about it? I ask myself that question, and all kinds of thoughts spin around in my head: Harm myself. That one always seems to come first, that old reliable strategy for self-soothing. Confront E, ask her why, why, why does she not understand me better by now? Or if she does understand, why does she poke at my wound with a sharp stick? Cancel my next session (no, no, no, not that!). Reach out to her by email. Never reach out again, no way, don’t lower myself to ask something from someone who doesn’t want to give.
I am full of contradictory impulses. I am mad at her and don’t want to talk to her. I am afraid of losing her and want to fix this. I am mad at myself for being so stupid…
The first thing is to stop the judgment. I don’t need to scold or shame myself for being emotionally triggered. It’s okay to react to something that reminds me of an old wound. It doesn’t mean I am stupid or oversensitive or immature. It’s just a thing that happens to human beings. Humans get emotionally triggered sometimes, and that includes me. Big deal. It doesn’t say anything about my maturity or my sanity (even if I feel a little insane). It doesn’t say anything about my worth. I don’t need to be ashamed of having these feelings.
It’s okay to feel like this, even if it doesn’t feel good. And it most certainly doesn’t feel good. There’s hurt in there, hurt and grief and frustration. I’m frustrated because I thought this was something E understood about me. I thought we had come to a place where she accepted that I would gradually reduce the frequency of sessions at my own pace. Today’s comment seems so thoughtless and uncaring.
It reminds me of the time she blurted out that texting wasn’t working for her anymore. She just said something because it was on her mind, without thinking what it might mean to me to lose our texting relationship after three years. And today it seems she’s thinking about how she’d like to give my slot to someone else and doesn’t think about how that question will sound to me. She’s thinking about the needs of another client.
She’s entitled to change the way we work; of course she is. But what about some sensitivity to how is feels to me?
I start to think again: other people matter more. But I don’t need to feed my hurt by running down the path of that thought. E wants to use the time for something or someone else. It doesn’t have to be a rejection of me. It doesn’t have to be about me at all.
Except that she sees me as ready, or about ready, or should be about ready, to have fewer therapy sessions. That part is about me. And it makes me not only nervous but also… I don’t know… misunderstood? Yes, there’s a way in which I feel she and I do not share a common understanding of the value of on-going therapy sessions for me.
It’s true that I no longer go in and reveal deep, dark secrets to her. But that doesn’t mean the sessions aren’t important anymore. Maybe I need to find a way to explain to her the contribution that the on-going therapy makes in my life.
Also, I have given up therapy with Marie and with Elaine, and I meet less often with Tabitha, the psychiatric nurse. So to E, maybe it seems like I’m getting as much therapy as a year ago, while to me, it feels like I have pared back considerably.
I feel a little better after writing. The most important piece, I can see, is knowing that I don’t have to shame myself for having these intense emotions, this mixture of longing and repulsion, fear and love and rage.
The next morning, Tuesday, I feel like crap in the morning, tingly and sluggish and unfocused. A lot of mornings are like that. I sit down with the journal again.
I am still upset with E. I’m not insanely consumed with it, as I have been in the past, so I guess that’s progress. But it’s very much on m mind.
I wish she didn’t matter to me, the way I don’t matter to her. That is, she cares about me, but I’m not important in her life. I wish I didn’t feel this yearning to connection and care.
I write that and immediately think, wait, no, that’s another thing I’ve learned: I can’t just wish away emotions. Emotions get to be there. They may not be rational. They may not be the emotions I would choose to feel. But wishing them away, repressing them, denying them, none of that will help. If I’ve learned anything in therapy, I have at least learned that.
Annoyingly enough, when I feel a difficult emotion, I’m supposed to turn toward it. I’m supposed to acknowledge it, soothe it, embrace it.
It sounds good, but it’s so hard. It’s hard with any difficult emotion, I suppose. But it’s a particular struggle not to dissolve in a sea of loneliness when you have to sooth a longing for care and connection by yourself. It seems like the cure for the pain of rejection should be inclusion, embrace, affection, re-attachment. But no, the cure is self-soothing, and that still feels so very lonely to me.
That’s where I am right now. It’s helping to journal about it. It doesn’t change the situation or my emotions about the situation. But maybe it prevents me from making it all worse by blaming and criticizing myself for feeling what I feel.
CREDIT: Photo by thom masat on Unsplash