Do you remember being a teenager? Maybe you had a crush on someone who seemed really amazing. You kind of idolized this person. They were nice to you for a while. You felt like they really saw you, and it felt good. Then they kind of moved on, as if they didn’t really see you anymore. But you couldn’t let go. You kept chasing that feeling of being seen, of mattering, of having a special connection. You didn’t have it anymore. Sometimes it wasn’t clear that you had ever had it. There were no realistic indications you would ever have it again. But still, you couldn’t stop chasing.
I felt that quite a bit in high school. I felt that in my first marriage. I feel that with my mother. And I feel that with my therapist. In recent weeks, no maybe recent months, no, maybe the past couple of years, I feel that nearly all the time, and it’s exhausting.
Lately it seems I am always worrying because things with E don’t feel stable and steady, or if they do feel stable and steady, I worry that soon they won’t. I monitor what I say to her, in case it provokes her to say something that might then trigger my sense of insecurity. I’ve felt this before in my relationship with her, of course, and I’ve written about it many times on this blog. But lately, it seems worse than ever. We have had three ruptures just this month, all about this.
Why is it so bad now? I have spent a lot of time (too much time!) on this question and come up with a whole range of explanations:
- Because of COVID, we haven’t met together indoors for over a year, and most of our exchanges are online. Even when we see each other outdoors, we are seated well apart, and in recent months, it’s chilly and not all that comfortable. It’s harder to feel relaxed, connected and cozy.
- For the same reasons, we haven’t been coloring together, which is always something that helped put me at ease.
- The more I have felt uncomfortable and uneasy, the more she feels my demands on her, spoken and unspoken, and this makes her pull away (not sure at all that this is true, but sometimes I think it might be).
- She is worn down by COVID and the higher level of distress of all of her clients, plus her own COVID distress. She just can’t be her warmest self.
- She is tired of me and my perpetual attachment issues.
- She doesn’t really know how to work with attachment issues.
- I’m a difficult client and normal approaches aren’t working with me.
It’s wearing to go through this list over and over. The last three bullet points, in particular, really only serve to heighten my distress, making me feel I hate myself or hate her or some combination of both
A few days ago it occurred to me that I felt kind of like this when my first marriage was disintegrating. I also felt like this when a man I dated, who was initially attentive, started withdrawing. All my mental and emotional energy get sucked into wondering why, why, why, and what on earth can I do to win this person back?
You know what, I realized, it doesn’t matter why. Maybe it’s E. Maybe it’s me. Probably it’s some combination, and it doesn’t mean we are bad people. What it does mean is that right now the way we are doing therapy is not working for me. I often start feeling upset at the end of a session, as I realize yet another session is about to end, and I still don’t feel securely connected to her. Over the next several days, I feel dysregulated, obsessed, yearning, angry and confused. This isn’t helpful! This is not what therapy is supposed to be doing for me!
And the biggest revelation of all: I don’t have to stay on this insane merry-go-round. I can get off.
I mean, I already knew that, of course. I always knew I could pause or completely end therapy. But the thought of that set off all kinds of additional attachment alarm bells. Oh no! Not seeing E? The world will end! My youngest parts will jump off the cliff! I will never be able to sleep, never be able to calm myself down.
Something shifted over this last week, however. I think it’s when I realized that this felt so much like the waffling I did at the end of my marriage to Miguel. Should I stay? I should stay. We have children together, and they love him. But is it even good for them to be around this marriage? What are they learning about love and respect? He doesn’t respect me. I don’t respect him anymore either. I should go. But I kind of still love him; at least, I remember what it felt like to love him. This is too sad. No, it’s just pathetic and I need to leave…
Anyway, the key points were: 1) I repeatedly felt distressed in my interactions with Miguel; 2) I had good intentions of repairing things, but nothing I tried helped; and 3) when I walked away, I didn’t feel fine immediately, but soon I was doing a lot better. The relationship, the way it was, hurt me much more than leaving did.
I think that’s likely what will happen with E as well. It will be wrenchingly hard to pull away, and I’ll grieve it, but in a fairly short time, I’ll be relieved and more stable, freed of the weekly emotional upheaval that goes with having therapy sessions with her.
So I’m determined to do it. The big question I am mulling over today: is this a break for a month or so, or is this really the end of therapy? What will I say to her in session tomorrow?
CREDIT:Photo by by Alex Grodkiewicz on Unsplash
I can relate to much more of this than I dare admit to, it’s been a really good read for me. Thank you for writing it.
With regard to E, I’d feel exactly the same but I can understand why you’d want to think about improving things by sparing yourself the angst between sessions. Is that all part of the attachment stuff? It’s hard to know when to call it a day, there are times I want to spare myself too, in both marriage and therapy (it’s so hard feeling like both are more important to me than I to them), but I share your fear of ‘what if’… the what if I regret it, or it’s a mistake. It’s a hard decision to make. Do you think you would know if you had a check-in with E, that would either improve it or make no difference, and how honest with E can you be about your thought process and how you feel in this?
I hope the way for you becomes much clearer, being clear helps so much!
Yes, it’s very hard to know when to walk away. That’s why I’ve waffled for so long. Of course, it was even harder with the marriage, two small children and the images in my mind of spending my life with this person.
But deep work with a therapist inevitably creates a connection that is also hard to let go of, a connection that is partly with the actual person the therapist is and partly with what she (or he) stands for–your relationship with your parents or co-workers or siblings or partner, and a healing version of that relationship, furthermore.
I certainly feel the fear that it’s a mistake. That’s why I expect I’ll probably ask for a session in six weeks or so. Maybe I’ll even still see her next week, so we have time to really think through what future contact might look like. Part of me wants to ask if we could have a short weekly email exchange, but I kind of doubt she would agree. And maybe it would defeat the purpose. Maybe I would just get myself all dysregulated from the emails. (Yes, actually, I probably would.)
The thing that makes me think it is not a mistake is this: ever since I decided on Friday that I was going to stop having sessions with her, at least for now, I have felt calm and centered. I think I can trust that.
You asked how honest I can be with E, and I’m not sure. I want to be as honest as possible. I know, however, that I’ll be worried about hurting her feelings or seeming ungrateful for everything she did offer me, most notably incredible access by text for nearly three years.
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Yes I can see why, since making that decision and feeling good about that, you’d be able to trust that message.
I’m sure you’d get across that you’re grateful for all the E has done for you, been for you… you say things so nicely here!
Oh you nailed that description of chasing the feeling of being seen. I know that feeling far too well along with the angst between therapy sessions. When I stopped seeing my previous therapist I walked into my last session very open-minded about whether I was putting a break in place or if that would be the end. The way that session unfolded made my decision very clear. It didn’t make it hurt any less, and I grieved that loss for some time afterwards, but mixed in with that grief was a very strong feeling that I needed to move forward without her. It will be hard no matter what you ultimately decide, but I hope your next session helps to provide clarity in choosing your path forward.
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I will try very hard to make tomorrow’s session finish with some degree of clarity–even if it’s “yes, we’ll take a break, and we will meet once more next week to discuss the way that break will look.”
I mean, it’s not like she can tell me I’m not allowed to quit. It’s just that she might say things that make me think I should stay. But I don’t think she will. After all, we previously had a couple of ruptures because I felt she was pushing me away before I was ready to stop. So at some level, she thinks I don’t need to keep coming.
She might object and say I am running away from conflict with her. However, I don’t believe that is true. I have made a lot of effort to tell her what I need and what isn’t working–and that effort also hasn’t improved things. What I have decided is to pull my precious and limited energy for life away from chasing after her love and attention and into my own life and the relationships that make me happy.
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It sounds like you have an incredibly healthy perspective about what you are needing right now. I know how hard that is to maintain when attachment issues intertwine with the counseling relationship. Focusing your energy towards what fulfills your life and your heart is exactly what a therapist should want for their client. I hope today goes well for you and leads you in a secure direction. My thoughts are with you. 💕
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I’ve been thinking about your situation with E, also from your last post. I’ve had the experience too of being attached then worrying all the time…and it’s good you can see parallels to your other attachments from the past. The problem I always had/have is that I don’t know whether I can trust my mind or feelings – it’s my mind that’s kind of ‘broken’ after all.
In the end I was glad I moved away from Ron and I believe I stayed way too long, even after I knew he was no longer helping me, just because I was attached to him. I was glad, but I did grieve and some parts of me still grieve this and don’t understand.
I do want to say one thing. I have found my relationship to Martine (whom I am not deeply attached to, but still she is important) seriously starts to tank when we do online therapy. It’s OK for maybe six weeks, and then the things I dislike about her become absolutely overwhelming and we basically fight. Then when I go back to in person sessions (with masks and distancing and open windows) I suddenly start to like her again. I don’t know what it is, but online seems to kill our relationship.
Just wanted to put that out there, in case an option might be to take a break and go back once in person is possible where you are. That is, if you think you are benefiting from the therapy of course, aside from relationship issues. Or maybe the therapy has run its course now.
I do believe you will make a wise and thoughtful decision Q! Take care
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Yes, I think that online therapy is contributing to the problem, though it’s not the whole problem. Right now I am thinking of proposing check-ins maybe once a month or every six weeks until she’s seeing people in person again.
And maybe that won’t really be that far away. She and I are both vaccinated, so I’m curious if she’ll soon open up to vaccinated people? Some practitioners are wanting to wait a bit more because they don’t want to seem to exclude people who haven’t yet become eligible for the vaccination. But we’re hoping that everyone will be able to get it by May or maybe June.
On the other hand, our attachment challenges predate the pandemic… they are worse now though… I don’t know. Sometimes I think that after all these years, I appreciate her as a safe and familiar person (when I’m not falling into that attachment hole), but she really doesn’t have any therapeutic insights or coping strategies or other wisdom to offer me that she hasn’t already shared.
If I sound conflicted and uncertain, it’s because I am. But I do believe that I’ll figure it out in time.
Thanks, Ellen, for responding.
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I really relate to a lot of this. My situation is different from yours, but I have to say that taking this ‘break’ from therapy (which I suspect will become an ending, if I’m honest) is the best thing I could have done in so many ways. Just to have that space to be ME instead of always focused on K (and, in the latter 6 months of our work, focused on whether I should keep working remotely or take a break). It was exhausting. I also think I was at the right point in our work for this to be a possibility and to be healing instead of too painful and difficult, especially for young parts. I know there must be so much conflict for you. It’s such a big decision. I reached a point where I just didn’t want to do it anymore – like you, I wanted to get off the merry-go-round because I was so tired of the way her actions and decisions affected me so much. I just wanted to live my life. I wanted to be the most important person in my life, for the first time. Importantly though, I felt ready for that. And it has been wonderful to have a break from all the attachment angst because even when therapy was ‘easier’ that was always there. It took a while for things to settle, but I have to say (until recent events!) I’ve never doubted if it was right. I wish I could go back to her, but it sounds like with E there would be more flexibility around this.
Anyway, this is rather rambling. I really just wanted to say that I have thought all along during this break of mine that I would encourage all long-term trauma clients to take a break once they reach a place of relative stability, just to see what it is like. I think it wasn’t until I was on the break that the sheer amount of work K and I had done just how far I had come became apparent. And, until now when things have gone a bit haywire because of her horrible emails, I’ve been integrating our work and feeling it take root inside me in a way that I don’t think ever could have happened while we were working (in part because it would scare me that I wouldn’t need her forever, and now it feels (mostly) okay to realise that I really can thrive and keep healing without her!).
Thinking of you, whatever you decide xx
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