My Therapist Is Breaking My Heart

I am so sad. I am so mad! I am despairing.

I have known E for probably 12 years. I saw her for maybe two years, and then I had to stop because my insurance wouldn’t cover any more visits. I went back in 2010, wanting to deal with practical challenges in my life: my dad not being safe alone and wanting to live with me. My son’s collapse and needs. My work stress.

In between, we sometimes touched, just a little, on experiences I’d had in the past, but that wasn’t the focus of our work. I shared the story of an assault, but my shame was so intense that I left out a lot of it, which meant the processing didn’t help much.

Still, I got a lot out of working with her in this way. I learned some coping skills. I learned a lot ABOUT caring for myself, even though I didn’t put much of it into practice. I learned ABOUT boundaries but continued to make exceptions to the “it’s important to have boundaries” rule in nearly every case that actually came up. I went for a long time like that. Maybe I just needed years of sitting in her office before I felt I could open up more.

It was almost two years ago that I started to open up more, tiptoeing around the topic of sexual abuse and incest. It was so frightening to broach the topic.It started as “I think maybe something happened but I’m not sure and I probably made it up but I can’t get rid of the idea for some reason and it has tormented me for years so maybe I should talk about this.”

E was so supportive. And she allowed me to go as slowly as I needed to, while ever so gently nudging me along. Her encouragement to try the experiment of “believing the girl” 13 months ago prompted some very big changes for me. Since then, it’s been a pretty steady dive to the deep dark corners of my psyche.

I have trusted her with secrets I haven’t shared with anyone, not even my always supportive husband. I think I took courage from the way she welcomed that trust and our work together. She used to tell me, “you’ve helped me too; you help me become clear on which parts of my work are the most meaningful.” She’d say she valued our connection.

She hasn’t said anything like that lately. I don’t feel the same warm energy from her. I might be imagining it, projecting my own fears. Or she might be dealing with things in her own life that make it hard for her to bring the same presence to our work. Or she might be sick of me. Who knows?

I’ve already written about how a request to shift the time of our meeting set me off early this month (July 3). Somehow it hit that “you aren’t important to me” button, which is perhaps even more tender than the “you are dirty and disgusting” button. And nothing has really been okay ever since.

***

In today’s session we talk about my plans for quitting my job. It’s stirring up my friend (?) Anxiety, but I am tackling practical things to deal with the things Anxiety is freaking out about: meeting with a financial adviser, making spreadsheets of our fixed and optional expenses, looking into options for health insurance.

She asks what that means for all that rage I’ve been experiencing in recent months. I tell her Rage has simmered down to Irritability. Somehow we get to the topic of abandonment. I express surprise that it troubles me so, given that I have a husband who is clearly willing to be with me through thick and thin.

“You are lucky, it’s not in your marriage. But I think you experience it elsewhere, including in here,” says E.  Which of course is the opening we need, but she continues talking before I can say a thing. She tells me I should write about it, since that often helps me. She suggests some exercises.

I want to talk with her about feeling abandoned in therapy, but I can’t bring the words to my mouth. Be quiet! What if you drive her further away? I can’t risk that! Don’t tell her that you still feel disconnected, that you are torn between wanting to reach for her and wanting to pull away. She will think you are being so childish and petulant–because of course, you are being childish and petulant. 

And then time is up. She slides her shoes back on and tucks her note paper in a folder and starts to get up. It might even be a minute or two early. I feel rushed.

“See you in a week,” she says cheerfully, as I walk out the door.

I experience that light goodbye as a stab in the heart. A whole week! And she doesn’t notice that I was just edging up to what is painful, and now I have to carry it by myself for a week. And it’s no big deal to her because I’m just a task she has to tick off her list once a week.

By the time I’ve walked to me car, I’m furious. I feel like she threw a generic BandAid at me, when I was trying to show her a deep wound. I feel unseen. I feel she WANTS to not see. I know I’m exaggerating. But that’s what it feels like. In the car, I text her.

It’s after I leave that I realize what I need to talk about. Or maybe it’s the sense again that  our time is too short. I just get closer to where I need to be, and time is up!  Then I have to hold it for a week, and by then, it’s half buried again. So the next week, I have to start the whole thing all over again.

I wonder how I can stop doing this.  Maybe I need to write for an hour before session so I am clear on what it is I really need to talk about.

Maybe not a full hour, but some centered time before session might be helpful.

It’s very sad to have that precious time with you and then leave feeling  there’s something important undone.  It just isn’t right there at the surface when I walk in.

I’m sorry you missed something important. I hope it can wait. You are totally welcome to set up another time this week. I can see you at 6pm on Wednesday. It’s not a time visible on my online calendar, but if you want it, let me know.

Thanks, Wed might be good.

You can always send me a placeholder text, “don’t let me leave session without addressing —“. Let me know about Wednesday.

It’s not that I forget. It’s that it’s not at the surface. So we talk and brush away other things until I see what is under there. 

I can’t believe how sad I feel! Yes, I’ll come Wednesday.

See you again in two days.

Of course, I’m still not getting to the core of it. Don’t text her that you feel rejected. Text is no way to deal with something like that. I want her to understand. I want her to know how I feel. But even when I say I’m sad, she doesn’t respond to that.

I’m just being a pain in the ass. I’m so sorry to be bothering her. I respect and appreciate her so much.

I drive to the office, impatiently and too fast. I have to slam on the brakes several times. I don’t usually drive this way, but I am agitated. I shift again from sadness to anger.

On the day she asked me to change times, I dared to show her my vulnerable, needy feelings. Even as I texted her that I was feeling bad, like “a widget,” I knew it was risky to share that. I debated with myself but said, no, I can trust her to see this pouty, needy, confused part of myself. E didn’t see it that way, but it was actually a very trusting gesture on my part.

Since then, it’s been existentialism and distance and misunderstanding. The angry part of me says that’s not fair. I’m supposed to be able to trust her. Does that mean I can only trust her with my mature emotions? My philosophical understanding of existentialism? I can’t trust her with my pouting, angry, frightened young self? I can’t trust her with conflicted feelings that involve her?

Why can’t she meet my abandonment pain with the empathy she says is always the best first reaction to expressions of pain? I’m so hurt. She must be thinking I shouldn’t have these feelings. They are wrong. I am wrong. I ask for too much. I am too needy. I am a bother. 

And that kind of thinking takes me to I am not going to text anymore. I am not going to reach out. It hurts too much. I have never given serious thought to quitting therapy. I’m more the type that has thought, how will I ever quit therapy? How will I ever give up my time with her? I’ll be going until I’m 90 years old.

But if we can’t go there together, to my abandonment fears and the way they get triggered in therapy and challenge my ability to trust, what’s the point? 

broken-heart_0

22 thoughts on “My Therapist Is Breaking My Heart

  1. This feels so painful. Would it be an option to lengthen your session time? Maybe it would give you time to settle in and bring up the stuff you want to say? It’s a weird thing, but it always seems like it’s in the dying embers of the session that I finally spit out what I want to say and then it’s too late to really get into it. I hope Wednesday is better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ouch, Q. I can feel your pain and heartbreak through your writing. I really empathize and relate – it hurts so much to think those thoughts, whether they are true in reality or not, it doesn’t really matter. It just hurts so much to be so open and not feel that openness reciprocated.
    I also have passing thoughts and feelings of thinking she doesn’t act the same or is as open to me as she used to be. When I’m feeling less suspicious, I think probably she still does. My mind just doesn’t believe it. It is so hard to hold all of the intense feelings around abandonment.

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    • I acknowledge that a lot of this may be in my head, that I am inserting meaning into things E says and does, meanings that aren’t really there. I know she is an excellent therapist and has only been good to me. She’s been so generous with the texting.

      And at the same time, I am hurt beyond measure that she seems not to recognize the depth of this whole abandonment angst.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The last paragraph you wrote resonate with me because I feel so dependent on S that I can’t help but think “Can I ever end therapy? How will I go on without him?”

    I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time. It’s so difficult to trust someone and when you do and later feel like you’re not valued, it’s definitely crushing. I’m sorry that E seems dismissive. I really don’t think she means to be. And I also get how hard it must be for you to want to bring up that topic of feeling rejected by her. I mean, it feels like an embarrassing thing to say because you leave yourself so vulnerable…

    I hope things get better. From what you’ve described of E, I think she’s a good therapist who can help you through this. I think she might even be grateful that you point out that she had triggered the feeling of abandonment from her.

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  4. I went through the exact same thing with mine! It’s really hard! I’m so glad you wrote this, it was an amazing post!❤️

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  5. You have been reaching for her and reaching for her and you still aren’t getting what you need. No wonder you feel despairing, Q – to at least some parts of you, it perhaps feels like you’ve done everything you can to communicate that you’re sad and feeling abandoned and rejected, and now you have no more ways to influence the situation. Of course your adult brain knows you can keep trying to communicate it and that E is a good therapist and will probably understand eventually, but you have been brave to trust her with your vulnerable feelings, brave to tell her you feel sad, and it just hurts so much when you leap and she doesn’t catch you.

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    • My adult brain says I’m not being clear enough. My more vulnerable self says she doesn’t want to get it, no one wants to, everyone looks away and pretends it’s not so bad. It seems ridiculous when I write it down. But that’s the emotion. I feel like my skin has been peeled back to expose the nerves underneath… Stop. Deep breath. It doesn’t help to follow that line of thinking; I just get myself agitated again, and there is nothing I can do about this today. Another deep breath.

      Thanks for always being so warmly supportive, Rea.

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  6. This really resonates with me. You may think it is “all in your head,” but even if it was, that wouldn’t make your feelings any less valid. What you think and feel is very real and very important to address (as quickly or slowly as you want to). Hang in there xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am sorry. This is so painful and the timing is pretty sucky too. Many things are shifting for you and feel uncertain and worried about. I think it is interesting that she acknowledges in session that you’ve felt abandoned there. To me that means she does care about it, but that she is missing how deep this goes (and is ongoing). I hope you are able to have an in person, in depth conversation about what it feels like currently for you and what you are needing right now.

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  8. I’ve seen the same therapist for over 10 years now and he still tells me we have about 5 min before we’re done. I asked for a 5 min call when I first started seeing him because no matter how cordial he was it always felt as if I was being thrown out of his office. Ding, times up, next. I felt like a can going through the check out scanner.
    The end of each session is as important as the beginning, their responses to our statements should be supportive. Dr. D and I went over that repeatedly because I felt he was missing some of the details I felt were important. I wrote journal entries to him which is how my blogging got started. I started blogging a good long time ago for my doctors to read. When printed off, I highlighted the parts of the entry that Dr D should not miss. I’m sad. I’m afraid. I feel abandoned. I’m angry with you. I’m afraid of you but more than that I need therapy so I keep coming in hopes that you are safe.
    Those are real statements made to him in written form that he read. Later I was able to read the journal entries to him, that took a long time, sometimes I’d read a paragraph and he’d read the rest to himself. We moved slowly on how the entry was read. I am a firm believer that writing down what you feel, without editing out true emotion, is one of the best healing methods. I hope you keep writing.
    It sounds like you are afraid your emotional responses will change her feelings towards you. I’d like to relieve you of that burden by telling you that abusers often condition us to feel as if we could somehow destroy a life or family setting if we said something *the wrong* way or if we told. I use to think my friend with cancer got it because bad things happen to me and people in my life. I thought a family member I hadn’t talked about in awhile died because I started talking about him again. If I hadn’t shared a nice memory about him perhaps he wouldn’t have died. ……The huge responsibility of keeping the world safe from me is one I still fight to let go of but on the surface I know its a lie I was told. I was conditioned to believe I’m bad and worth nothing.

    Faith

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    • Thank you for this. It’s a really good idea to think about the ending of a session and how to plan for it intentionally so I’m able to leave feeling okay for the next week. I’m going to bring this up with E on Monday.

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