Here’s the draft of a letter I am considering reading to E in our therapy session tomorrow.
Before we finish our work together—or at least transition to working much less intensively than we have—I feel the need to bring up a topic I’ve been uncomfortable talking to you about.
The nearly three years of regular access to you via text was an amazing gift you gave to me. Over time, it shifted something in me. In part, it allowed me to trust you more deeply. But there was something else too, something about the sense that I didn’t always have to be alone with the painful things, big or small. This has made a difference that I expect will last for years to come, probably my entire life, whether or not we are working together at all anymore. I’m profoundly grateful.
That’s not the uncomfortable part, of course. Rather, the uncomfortable part is this: the way you ended the texting, abruptly, with no plan and no thought about how it might impact me, has been a huge source of emotional confusion for me for more than two years now. I think it’s related to how reactive I can be about our relationship now, how easily I can think I’ve lost connection with you, and how unsure I have been about when and whether we are done working together.
Do you remember how it went? We might remember it differently, of course. This is how I remember it: It was January 2019. I came in for a session feeling kind of low, and I said something to you along the lines of, “It must get tiresome for you to have me texting you about the same kinds of things over and over.”
I didn’t know this at the time, but the day before the question of whether it was a good idea to text with clients had come up in your consultation group the day before. With that conversation in mind, you said something like, “It’s not so much tiresome to hear the same things, but the texting does interfere with my personal life. It just doesn’t work for a therapist to be available all the time. At least not for this therapist, at least not for me. It blurs the lines between my work life and my personal life too much.”
This was the first time I had ever heard you say anything that suggested the texting was a problem for you. At first we had checked in about it fairly regularly, but it had probably been months since I had asked you if you were still okay with all the texting, if it wasn’t a burden on you. I was still working on the basis of things you had said to me long before, things not only like, “I think it’s good for you,” but also, “I’m glad to be able to support you in the moment,” and even “I like it.” So to hear you say it was not working for you came as a big shock to me.
You went on to say maybe we could text less often. Maybe only once a week—though that might not be quite right, since then there was no chance to give a response. Maybe only during your regular office hours, Monday through Wednesday. You weren’t sure. We could figure it out.
I know you were saying there were some options available. However, that wasn’t much consolation to me, since 1) the options were all dramatically more limiting that the pretty unrestricted access I’d had in the past and 2) all I could really think about was that this wasn’t working for you. You didn’t want to text with me. It was interfering with your life. You didn’t want us to have that close relationship.
To say I felt crushed would be an understatement. I felt that the floor beneath me had given way, and I was suddenly falling through the air–who knew where I might land? Moreover, I felt ashamed. I wondered how long you had been feeling this way without saying things. Maybe I had been bothering you for months! Maybe for a whole year! Maybe a text would show up on your phone, you’d see my name, and you’d feel a heavy weight drop on your shoulders. It was painful to imagine that.
So I stopped texting you. Not entirely, as you know. But I immediately stopped the daily texting, about the silly little things and about the big things. My texts started to spread out, to maybe one a week, maybe every two weeks. And I tried to stop the long back-and-forths entirely, so that any exchanges we had would be fairly simple.
I didn’t try to negotiate with you about it or get you to change your mind. That’s because I didn’t want daily relationship with you if you didn’t want it. I didn’t want it out of a sense of obligation or “all right, I’ll keep texting a few more weeks with her, but I can’t wait until this is over.”
Some of this you already know, and some maybe you don’t. I have sometimes tried to minimize its impact on me. Other times I have tried to talk about it, but it’s hard. I worry that complaining about how it ended will affect your awareness of my deep gratitude for all the time and attention you did give me—via text and in so many other ways.
It’s uncomfortable for me to be upset with you and also love you and appreciate you, and I am not sure how to communicate it in a way that conveys the right balance. But today I am trying anyway, because I feel that it’s hard for me to end therapy, after everything we’ve experienced together, and to leave this distress unresolved. I don’t want to walk away carrying this residual frustration, especially since I believe we can talk about it together in productive ways.
You might wonder, why does it still matter, more than two years later?
It matters because the impact on me was to undermine some of that trust I had placed in you. On the one hand, I still knew that I could trust you to hear my hard stuff with care and compassion, and we continued to do good work in subsequent months. But all the time, I was haunted by the thought: for a while she said she liked our texting, but then it became something she didn’t want and that interfered with her life. She might tell me something else that indicates she likes me or wants to work with me, and then she might change her mind about that, too.
Of course, you can see how that echoed feelings I have about my mother. My mom had loved me, but then I became too much. I should do more on my own. I shouldn’t expect so much. She had other things to focus on. She couldn’t or didn’t want to see or hear what my experience was.
So going forward from that day in January, I always wondered what else might change about your feelings toward me. This intensified my reaction when you suggested we might be finishing up most of our work together, or that we could meet less often. It made me very sensitive to changes in your tone. When you were tired or discouraged (maybe due to other work, maybe due to COVID), I wondered if part of it was me.
Sometimes I would tell myself, “Ow, it hurts to feel this way! I can be kind to myself in this moment.” I have used all the self-compassion stuff you have taught me; I find if very effective and valuable. I would also tell myself that I am not that big or powerful influence in your life, and your energy on a particular day and your wondering about whether I might reduce my number of sessions didn’t necessarily have to be anything about your personal feelings toward me. But still, there’s that mother wound I carry around, and there’s no denying you stuck a big fat spike into the middle of it.
I’ve also been afraid you might do it again. That wound hurts so much! I become afraid to bring it up, because what if I do, and what if you hear it as a criticism, and what if you say something even just a tad defensive, and I feel upset by it, and then I might spin out and spend another few weeks with pus oozing out of the wound.
So sometimes I come to our sessions with a little protective wall around me. Other times I come, resolved to try to talk about some of it, but then I find I tiptoe around it and don’t necessarily address it directly.
Sometimes I think, “We need to stop therapy because I hate this oversensitivity I carry toward any little perceived change in the way E connects or doesn’t connect with me.” Other times I am convinced it would be a mistake to end our work without talking about it. It might be easier to avoid it, in the short run. But it wouldn’t be healing. And what I am looking for is healing.
I’m not entirely sure what would bring healing to this wound, but today I had an idea pop up that I thought we could talk about. What if we pretended? Pretending has been a brilliant tool for me—my whole internal house, with its inhabitants and the way I interact with them has been a little crazy, but it’s been soothing and helped me find a lot of internal peace.
So what if we pretend. It is January 2019, and for whatever reason, you want to bring about a change in our texting relationship. You don’t want to receive intimate, emotional, sometimes difficult texts from me nearly every day. Let’s pretend we’re at that point, and let’s approach it in another way and see if we can both support that girl with the mother wound. Like a do-over.
You can think about it. I should probably think about it some more too. Maybe it’s not the right approach. Maybe you can think of something better.
However we go about it, I trust that you would like to repair this as much as I would. I know you would never intentionally drive a spike into me. And I fully acknowledge you have the right to set boundaries on our texting, or on any other aspect of our work together, whether I like it or not. I just wonder if we can’t bring some tenderness to the whole experience.
With respect and affection,
CREDIT: Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash