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