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?