Why It’s Hard to Tell A Painful Story to a Trusted Therapist

If you’ve read my blog in the last few days, you’ll know that I went to therapy last week, planning to share a written account of a painful story from past with E. I’ve worked with her for a very long time, and I do trust her. But I wasn’t able to give her the story I’d written up.

Why not? What am I afraid of? And is the fear insurmountable? I’ve been mulling over these questions over the weekend.

One thing I am afraid of it that I will not tell the story right. I am afraid I will bias it in a way to make myself look less guilty. I fear I will put too much emphasis on how bad Stephen was rather than on my own role in going there and letting everything happen–because I want to protect myself from her disapproval or scorn.

Do I really think she’d look at me with scorn? She would never show it, of course. And scorn is surely an exaggeration. But I do fear that hearing the full story will change how she looks at me. I told her some stories from my past before, but the other stories took place when I was a child or a teenager. This story is being a grown woman who knew what kind of person she was spending time with. It’s something altogether different. It’s a story about asking for it.

I know that “asking for it” is a problematic way to talk about it. I do not blame young women in college who go to parties and drink too much and become victims of rape or abuse. But my case is different. I truly, very realistically, am responsible for what happened. And it’s been so easy for me to go from “responsible” to “foolish, twisted, and dirty.”

I don’t know that E. will make that same connection. But it is really what I think and have thought for years, except when I mentally edit the story in a way that makes it more palatable to myself (for example, playing down all the signs I had ahead of time that something was wrong). I often have edited the story, for myself, in a way to make myself seem more sympathetic and less complicit. But while editing the story make it easier for me to bear, I don’t want to give an edited story to E. I feel like if I’m going to do this, I need to be honest with her. I don’t want to tell her any lies by omitting things or over- or under-emphasizing certain facts.

I even thought about this: what would happen if I told her the story in a way I felt comfortable, and work on healing what I can. Then I could go back and revise or add to it later. But I rejected that idea for multiple reasons: 1) If she knows or finds out later, E. may not fully believe other things I say later, even if they are perfectly true. 2) How is therapy supposed to be helpful without honesty? 3) I don’t want to lie to her; she doesn’t lie to me. 4) My integrity is important to me. 5) A partly true story is just hiding from exactly the parts that pain me the most, the parts that show I went along with it.

Tell-the-truth

E. asked me what I needed in order to feel safe sharing the story. Ideally, I would want some kind of guarantee that her opinion of me won’t take a nose dive. That’s impossible, however; she can’t give me a guarantee ahead of time, because she doesn’t know what she will think of me after she knows the whole story.

Maybe instead I need the confidence that I will be okay no matter what she thinks. I need to own, accept, and care for the fearful part of myself. I need to tell E. what I’m afraid of and trust she will hear or read the story with as much respect and compassion as she can muster.

Own Your Fears

21 thoughts on “Why It’s Hard to Tell A Painful Story to a Trusted Therapist

  1. WOW …. I did something similar in therapy years ago … I have been in therapy now for 8 1/2 years, and it took me about 2 year into therapy to bring in my whole story I wrote about the abuse .. I too feared that his view on me would change, but it didn’t in fact, he (my therapist) cared about me even more …. its a chance worth taking to let the story be heard and released from within .. it helped me a lot .. I hope you can get to that place where you can share 🙂

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  2. I recently saw the film ‘Towelhead’. In it, a young girl admits to acting like she wanted sex with an older man when in fact it was rape. It’s a powerful scene. I don’t know if you’re ready to see it right now, but put it on your list because I think you’ll resonate a lot with the main character.

    My heart is with you. ❤

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    • Strange… I know I posted a reply to your comment but can’t see it here (so this may be repetitive if it posted and I just can’t see it). I had just tried to say that it is humbling to be vulnerable about something painful, but if the person hearing your story is gentle and non-judgmental, it doesn’t have to be humiliating or weakening. The trick is learning to trust the right people. I know in the past I have misjudged many times and been hurt by the response I got.

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  3. I think it would be wise to share the story as is, but tell your therapist it is slanted at this time to make you look better and that you will add more truth to it in the future. Maybe that would work for you? Good therapists are non-judgmental. I think she will see your actions ( as you reveal more truth) as coming out of your severe abuse. Perhaps you are projecting your judgement of yourself onto her?
    As always, find your blog so helpful and having so much I can relate to.

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  4. I relate to this tremendously. I struggled for a while about whether or not to tell S about my abuse and my struggles but ultimately did and was better for it because we were able to talk about it and he knew my struggles better! Thanks for writing this!

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  5. Could you perhaps share with E. all of these fears and concerns? She may not be able to guarantee any specific response, but I think being aware and mindful of how you’re feeling will help set her up to be more successful in meeting your needs.

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  6. I think it is hard to tell vulnerable stories to therapists for a few reasons. One being we are often telling stories to therapist for the first time, and that is incredibly scary. To bring something out into the light that has never seen the light. Also, therapists are someone we do come to revere and want approval from; of course we want them to approve of us and think highly of us. I know I want my therapist to like me and respect me, and fear if I tell her ___ or ____, surely her opinion will change. What I remind myself, is she has her own things she is insecure or vulnerable about (none I will know), but they are there and she even likely has fears about me too – about not being enough for me, etc.

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  7. It was always hard to talk about what I needed to talk about for fear of being judged. But the judge and jury was always me. No one else came close to being as mean or harsh as myself. Others were very kind though I couldn’t take it in. It helped. But it was me who needed to believe my innocence.
    For instance, I wasn’t sure exactly how old I was during the years of abuse. The older I was, if say 12, then I was more to blame if I was 8. Not true of course. Someone taking advantage, doing something you don’t want being done…then no age matters or causes blame for the one subjected to what they do not want.

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    • I think age is part of why I’ve struggled so much with this particular story, since I was actually an adult by the time it happened. But as E. pointed out, I have a gigantic hole in my education, so in some ways in terms of relationship and sexuality, I was clueless.

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  8. I’m sure well pretty sure she wont judge you after reading it. Therapists dont do that. You trust her, so you know she will do right by you and do her best in the situation to be helpful. XX

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