I have a couple of posts I’ve been working on but I’ve been totally derailed this week. I’ve seen my doctor and M two times and after each appointment I’ve come out feeling like a failure. I’ve struggled with my children and this morning I had the most ridiculous stand off with my 12 year old that I lost (actually I think I lost the minute I sunk to her level and let my inner child fight with her). Tonight is my 15th wedding anniversary and I spent most of celebratory dinner out describing the fiasco of my session with M and contemplating quitting (therapy and life). Now I’m spending all my time and energy on the internet and ignoring my husband, another failure. Sometimes everything that can go wrong does and I wonder if I can ever regain my balance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how much space I keep between me and other people in the world. It has been provoked by my feeling that I thought M always kept a lot of distance between us because I was repulsive. I sent M a long honest email telling him some of the things that I have written about in my last blog post. I told him I was frustrated that he wouldn’t answer certain questions. I asked him if he would shake my hand, or sit closer to me, or hug me? That is the kind of thing that I struggle to say to his face. Usually I talk around a subject hoping he gets what I mean or I give up and shut down. M told me he was fine with shaking my hand but he was careful not to offer because he never assumed it was okay with someone if they hadn’t offered first or discussed it. We didn’t get to either of the other questions because we ran out of time but he promised we would discuss them during our next session. I think he will say no to them but I’m not sure I even want them.
I feel incredibly silly to have made such a big deal out of this feeling he is keeping his distance from me and talking about handshakes because now I’m not even interested in them. At the end of our session I got up and walked out just like always. It didn’t even occur to me to shake his hand. Maybe it was enough that he told me he was okay with it. Maybe it is just too scary to actually shake his hand because it has become imbued with so much meaning. Maybe the part of me that wanted to shake his hand and be closer to him has gone into hiding. The good things is I feel almost peaceful. I’ve been in therapy long enough to know that this feeling won’t last but I’m enjoying it.
The conversation about how much I contact M outside sessions and how I feel about it and how he feels about it led to a couple of related issues. One issue involved physical proximity or touch in therapy. I’ve never touched M (even a handshake) and he is careful to keep several feet between us at all times. Early on I asked him about this and told him I felt like I was repulsive. He said that wasn’t why but he was careful to keep his distance for a variety of reasons including client safety. I really didn’t care that much at the time because I didn’t want to be physically close to M. Over the last few months when I’ve been discussing painful memories of my childhood I’ve wished M would sit closer to me, or pat my arm, or show some sign that he isn’t disgusted by me. I tried talking to M about the physical distance between us and he avoided the topic.
That led to the next issue which is that even after three years I still don’t trust M. Whenever I try to discuss how M feels about me he avoids the topic. When I asked him whether he liked me, he told me wanting to be liked was a universal need. When I asked him whether he was frustrated or angry with me, he told me he was frustrated in relation to me and what was going on in the session but not at me. In the discussion about the physical distance between us he told me he understood why I might feel like he is keep his emotional distance from me or what I’m sharing by maintaining his physical distance but that isn’t what he is doing. I told him I didn’t believe him which he understood also. At that point we were at an impasse. Usually when we get to this point I decide that it doesn’t matter how M feels about me and I try to concentrate on a particular issue. It is getting a lot harder for me to ignore my feelings about this and talk about something else.
M asks me to figure out what he thinks of me by seeing how he behaves and what he says but I’m worried that he is a very good actor who hides how he feels. He tells me that he is a bad actor or a very bad poker player. I feel confused. I don’t know why he can’t just answer a question clearly or I can’t just trust him.
During my second session last week M asked me a lot of questions about my daughter and the conversation I had with her I talked about in my last post. I felt like M was trying to point out some of the things that I still had to worry about with my daughter. I felt attacked and shut down completely. At one point I was crying with my hands covering my face refusing to answer any questions. Near the end I tried to express my frustration that my conversation with my daughter was the only thing in my life that was working and he just poked at me until I saw the flaws. I left that session furious. We exchanged emails the next day and eventually I told him I wasn’t coming in this week because I needed a break. I can’t count how many times I’ve said this and he replied like he always does by saying he would keep the time for me and he hoped I would change my mind. I am not sure what quitting does for me because I went back like I always do.
One of the things I said in my email was that I felt like therapy is too painful because I am always scared I am crossing some line that I don’t understand. I spend so much time trying to figure out how to be in the relationship with M that I have very little time to work on my irl problems and issues. It reminds of the many years I spent trying to figure out how to fit into my family of origin and never succeeding. I’m afraid therapy is like that and I’m too damaged to ever make it work.
M didn’t understand what I meant by worrying I’m crossing some line. He thought I was worried that I shut down when I got too sad or too angry. Eventually I admitted to him that I was worried that my out of session contact, the emails and voice messages, were too much for him. I hate needing to talk to M. It makes me feel stupid and childish and worthless. He’s never been upset about how I contact him or what I contact him about but I worry that he is disgusted and frustrated and angry and is just very good at hiding it. I don’t know how to resolve the feeling that he hates me and wishes I would go away. I’ve been in therapy with M for three years and we’ve discussed out of session contact, my fear of rejection, my worries about what he thinks of me a lot and I still find myself in the place when I get triggered. And I still respond to that feeling by quitting but I don’t follow through (another ways I screw up).
I have three children, two preteen girls and a much younger boy. I think having children, figuring out how I wanted to parent, was a catalyst for a lot of personal growth. My parents were at best disinterested and at worst abusive to me and my siblings. I knew I didn’t want to be like them but I wasn’t sure what kind of parent I wanted to be. From the very beginning I’ve read a lot of parenting books. I’ve also chosen to spend time with people who are good parents cause I learn so much by watching them parent. My own relatives, parents and siblings, aren’t good parenting models so I’ve met and made friends with other people.
The most important and enduring things I’ve learned in therapy have resulted in me being a better parent. I’ve learned that all feelings are okay, that it is okay to express feelings, that often there are no simple solutions, no absolute right way to do things. I still struggle with allowing myself to have and express my feelings but I’m much better with my children’s feelings. This weekend my eldest daughter got angry at me. She told me she felt that I always blamed her for everything. She said that other people parents are strong, are happy and don’t cry all the time. She also told me that she had overheard me telling my husband a traumatic story from my childhood (when I thought she was asleep) and she was angry that I didn’t get along with her grandmother, she was upset that I hadn’t told her before now, she was confused and hurt and mainly angry at me for not being what she wanted. It felt awful but I was able to keep talking to her, asking her what she was feeling, telling her I was sorry that I couldn’t always be the mother she wanted and needed. It was painful and I’m worried but I haven’t spiralled out of control. Not that long ago I would have felt terrible for failing as a parent and a few years before that I would have just been angry at her (and probably wouldn’t have recognized the sorrow and guilt and fear that was behind the anger).
Even though therapy is agonizing and appears to be going nowhere I’ve got to acknowledge that I’m a better parent because of it. I spent half of Monday’s session telling M about the conversation with my daughter. I shared what she said and how I reacted and what I was worried about now. He was understanding and gave me some ideas about how to continue to keep my daughter talking. It was a very different conversation than we usually have when we discuss my children because I wasn’t overwhelmed with guilt and shame and fear. I know that I have a lot more to discuss with my daughter (and my other children) but I’m hopeful about it.
I’ve been having trouble falling asleep at night. I’m exhausted all day but I lie awake at night wishing I could sleep. I’ve often had trouble sleeping but usually it only happens for one or two nights. My more common problem is the nightmares that haunt me, waking me up gasping for air or paralyzed or crying, then I can’t get back to sleep. Right now I’m not dreaming because I’m hardly sleeping.
I had two sessions with M this week and we talked about my insomnia and my detachment from my feelings. M told me he thought it was possible (or even likely) that I was avoiding something so completely I was keeping myself busy to avoid thinking which was making it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep. I agreed but I have no idea what I’m avoiding or how to stop avoiding it. So M described the dilemma I have constructed which makes me feel wrong for needing to talk to him, being afraid of what talking to him was bringing up for me, being afraid that I will lose touch with reality, and of course my fear that what I talk about will lead him to reject me. He told me that I was adding to my already painful experience by judging myself and making myself wrong which leads me to want to quit. He told me that it was okay to feel needy and scared and stuck and wrong.
It was terribly painful to hear because I think he is right and because I feel trapped in the way I’ve constructed my world. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that what was missing in my life was someone understanding and accepting me. At different times there were different reasons I didn’t feel understood: my parents didn’t care enough to listen to me and they had no interest in who I was; during school and early adulthood I tried so hard to appear normal and fit into the world that no one had a chance to understand me because I wasn’t expressing myself freely with anyone; with my husband and with M over the last three years I’ve tried to express myself and it was incredibly difficult, like using muscles that had been in a cast for months and were atrophied. Now I realize that M understands me more than anyone else and accepts me and it is still so painful.
I guess I thought the pain would magically disappear with the understanding. I thought the point of therapy was expressing yourself freely and being understood and accepted would allow yourself to accept yourself. It hasn’t happened for me yet. I’m not quite sure what happens next. What do I do in therapy? Is there something I’m supposed to be doing that I haven’t done? M is always talking about accepting my feelings but I think the reason I’ve worked so hard in therapy was to change the things that cause me so much pain, the things that don’t work in my life and hold me back from doing the things I want to do like lose weight, improve my relationship with my husband and children, and find something that inspires me. M is so busy accepting me I don’t think we are working on change. It seems like a contradiction.