I came home from my vacation this week and I was able to meet with M face to face. Both of my sessions this week were difficult and I left them feeling exhausted and wrung out. During Monday’s session we talked about my angry voice mail and how he spoke to me at my next session the same as he always does. I was angry about it and told him that I feel like he doesn’t respond to me, as if there is no difference between me being furiously angry and mean or grateful. He told me he did have a response when he first heard my voice mail and realized how angry I was but he consciously listens to the message without reacting from his own feelings. Instead he tries to understand what I’m angry about and what else I am feeling that I am not saying. I listened but I still felt like he doesn’t really respond to me. He is very good and listening to me, understanding what I’m expressing and reflecting it back to me but there isn’t any response. I told him he reminded me of my father who was in many ways emotionally absent from me except when he lost his temper and then he was harsh and punishing. M has only ever been absent but I am always expecting the anger to come out. He told he thought that my father was absent most of the time and present only when angry and I didn’t recognize his sympathetic presence. For me presence is scary.
At that point I started to get teary and very quiet. M asked me if I was thinking therapy wasn’t going to work because he was reserved. I said I believed therapy isn’t going to work because I want too much from you. Of course I recognize the obviously transferential reaction I am having to M. He isn’t as much like my father as he appears to me when I think he isn’t responding to me. Some of it is transference but some of it is a reaction to M’s reserve. I think that it may be very hard to work on this feeling with someone who says so little about how he feels. Usually at this point in a session where I start to feel like M doesn’t really understand or agree with me about something and that therapy is hopeless I shut down, stop responding to M. This time I switched subjects and I talked about wanting him to give me something before he went on vacation. Then I went on to tell him how angry I was that he hadn’t called me a couple of weeks ago and instead waited for my call (which is what directly precipitated my angry voice mail). He acknowledged that his email to me didn’t give me enough information so it added to the confusion and pain I felt. By the end of the session I felt good that I had managed to keep talking during the whole session and addressed a few different things that had happened over the last few weeks. Unfortunately I felt bad because I didn’t think they had been resolved.
Tuesday night I wrote M an email discussing how frustrated I was because he won’t guide therapy or give me very much feedback about it. I outlined several different discussions we could have had after I told him I would like something from him when I went on vacation (I think there were six). They included things like asking me about the presence or importance of transitional objects in my childhood, discussing what vacations were like in my childhood, discussing what an object from him would mean to me. I told him I could discuss any of those things but I wanted to know which one would be most helpful and I wanted his help figuring that out. Then I told him I felt like I didn’t know where he stood because he is so careful to not say anything judgemental. He doesn’t say anything positive or negative about me or my sessions. He would never say I was okay or that I worked hard during a session or that therapy was going well because he doesn’t define “okay” for me or how therapy is going for me. I thought it was a brilliantly written argument that was going to completely change the way M conducted therapy with me right up until I pressed send. Then I realized that we have had these discussions before and M hadn’t changed
Wednesday during our session M told me he thought all of my potential discussions had merit but he couldn’t tell which would be the most helpful so I could talk about any of them. I said that doesn’t help me decide. Then he went to his go to therapy instruction: I should talk about whatever was most emotionally salient at the moment. I hate this rule. I don’t want to talk about what is most emotionally salient. I want to talk about whatever will help me the most. I don’t want to wander through my thoughts and emotions in some meandering fashion. I want to concentrate on what will help me get better. He said that when he asks me questions that lead in a particular direction that I often evade the question and shut down so he feels like he is backing me into a corner. I can’t remember that happening but we have had a lot of sessions over the last four years.
I’m not even sure what “salient” means in this context. The Merriam-Webster dictionary website defines salient:
1) moving by leaps and bounds
2) jetting upward
3 a) projecting beyond a line, surface, or level
3 b) standing out conspicuously: prominent:
I am fairly certain he is going with definition 3b) but now I understand my problem. I can barely identify my feelings. Usually they are a tangled mess, a ball of confusion, with not start or end, a Gordian knot that I can’t untangle and I would just like to cut apart. I am not sure my feelings are reasonable or logical. Going in any direction because of my feelings seems a fool’s path. No wonder I would prefer to be told what to talk about.
I told him he didn’t have to address the feedback issue because I knew he would say he couldn’t judge or pronounce anything for me. He didn’t understand why I wanted feedback or direction and I couldn’t explain it anymore. I complained that sometimes it felt like we didn’t even speak the same language. I asked him why he couldn’t say that therapy was progressing in his opinion. He said he could never be sure that any individual session was going well or I would feel better afterwards but he believed over multiple sessions therapy was progressing. I asked him how come he couldn’t say that our relationship was okay. He said he could but he didn’t know I needed to hear it. He said I could tell things were okay between us by the way he approached the session even after I left him an angry message. I tried to explain I wanted to hear it but I gave up because I realized I wasn’t going to change his mind.
Instead I told him two things that I have been thinking about since our vacations started. The first involved our last before he left on vacation where I spent most of the hour crying and not talking. Over the last M has started bringing his dog to work with him. During that last session I had sat on the floor hoping the dog would sit beside me. Instead when M sat on the floor the dog sat beside him. As I felt more and more miserable, M petted and cuddled his dog and I felt more alone and on the outside. At one point there was a large noise in the office above his and both the dog and I jumped out of skin. I sat there shaking and crying while I tried to calm down. The dog calmed first by getting closer to M. At first I wished I was the one petting the dog and later I wished I was the dog. I didn’t literally want M to pet me but I did wish M could comfort and calm me in some way. It was an awful feeling being alone and watching another who wasn’t alone. M understood why it hurt so much. I told him it was a good example of us not speaking the same language because I was surprised he didn’t realize him playing with his dog while I was miserable would hurt me. He told me I wasn’t using any language and he could tell I was in pain but it was hard for him to really understand the pain unless I talked about it.
Then I gave him a gift. During his vacation I went to a craft show and I bought him a small carved wooden box. I don’t know what he could use it for but I saw it and thought of him. I carried it in my purse for a couple of sessions unable to give it to him. I realized that I had wanted M to give me something during his vacation but I hadn’t asked and instead I bought him something. I wasn’t sure I wanted him to know I was thinking of him (which I’m sure he knows) or maybe I didn’t want him to have the physical object. When I left I felt relieved and exhausted. In some way I don’t understand I feel like things are okay between M and I but feelings are logical and so I don’t really trust them.