I am surprised

I just got home from a difficult session with M. I don’t think I can write about it. Instead I’ll tell you how my brother surprised me tonight. As background information I have three older brothers. The youngest one is closest in age to me and taught me to play games when we were kids. My oldest brother abused me. The middle brother and I have always had a strained relationship. He is a lot like my mother. We often get into discussions about our childhood and our parents. I feel like I am compulsively trying to get him to understand how my mother treats me. I guess it is just like how I try to get my mother and father to see how they treat me and how it is effecting me.

Tonight my brother and I got into it again. I told him our mother didn’t treat him the way she treated me. He told me that I was wrong and she treated us all the same but my response to her is the problem. It is a problem I have with her because I can’t accept her and her major coping strategy which is denial. It was in many ways a typical argument between us but tonight I told him about all the comments she has made in the last six months. I told him I she criticized my weight and appearance at my daughter’s graduation and how she has started making comments about my daughter’s weight. I told him how she responded to my request that she and my dad stop commenting on appearance, weight, eating, etc. I told him how whenever I try to talk to her she claims I misunderstood her, or I’m overreacting because I’m too sensitive, or I am talking about the issue wrong (I’m too mad or too upset or been stewing about it too long). Basically how she will do and say anything except admit that she was wrong or hurtful and apologize.

Shortly after the discussion I went to my session but I didn’t tell M about my talk with my brother. I left my session and thought about how much frustration I felt in trying to get my brother to see me and my experience. I thought about how I doubt my own perceptions and wondered why I argued so much that I was right about my mother and he was wrong. So I called my brother and admitted that I don’t see my mother clearly. I told him it is too hard for me to see her clearly and there was too much pain and hurt in me. I admitted that I noticed I was compulsively trying to convince him that my mother was a bitch to me and I didn’t know why but I would like to stop. I know his relationship with her was different from mine. I asked if we could stop trying to convince each other, stop trying to be right about this, and let the conversation end. This is where my brother surprised me. He said he was sorry that he had never listened to me before and acknowledged how hurt I was by my mother. He said the stories I told were eye-opening because they sounded like my mother but he wouldn’t have thought she would be so cruel. He said he was wrong and he thought I was compulsively trying to convince him of my point of view because he had never acknowledged my feelings and instead spent his energy on trying to show me I was wrong. He told me I could not talk about it or talk about it in the future.

It was a surprise.

I calm down

I have calmed down quite a bit with the help of some online friends. Thank you for the conversations.

I realized I was really angry because I thought M knew I wanted to ask him if he loved and cared for me and was trying to avoid talking about it. It seemed obvious to me. I said that in the blog post I sent him. Of course there was a lot stuff in my post. Someone suggested that he might not be as smart as I think he is. LOL

Today when he was back at work I asked if he would call me. I asked point blank it he knew I wanted to ask if he cared about me and he said no. He felt like there were a lot of possible questions I might have asked around the topic. I explained my frustration. I said I knew it wasn’t a simple Yes or No question (nothing is for M) but I thought in simple binary questions. I am willing and even interested in exploring the topic but it starts with a question for me.

I finished the phone call by asking if we were okay. He said yes. Then I asked if we could try it again Monday.

I’m done

I went to another session with M tonight. I considered cancelling but decided to go. I sent him my last post by email monday night so he would know what I was trying to say. It didn’t make tonight any easier. He wanted me to say more than my email but I didn’t know what more to say. He said my email was a start of a conversation and not the whole conversation. I got angry and told him that I was waiting for him to respond to the start of the conversation (which I had written). I asked him what he was waiting for me to do before he started talking to me. I feel like there is something I need to do right before he will talk to me only he won’t tell me what to do. I left angry and the stuck my head back in the door and told him I wasn’t coming in next week. I didn’t wait for a response.

Lost and alone

I feel so stupid. I spent 50 minutes in M’s office and said about 3 sentences. I don’t know why exactly. I know that I felt like things were okay with us last week. This weekend when I started to get very anxious and concerned I listened to my recordings of the sessions from last week and it happened again. I was feeling like therapy would never work because I’m too needy and he is too reserved. I was feeling hopeless and then we hit that point of the session and I felt it change. It was when he agreed with me that something was missing in our interactions, something that wasn’t transacted and then that “we both” needed to try to chip away at what was missing. That “we” could explore modes of interactions that could allow me to feel that we were fundamentally okay. I felt like there was a we in that room and that feeling was new.

Today I was alone again. I sat there ignoring M’s questions about what feelings came up after last week’s session. He asked if I knew what it was that helped me feel more connected last week. I told him I wasn’t sure. I wouldn’t even let him know what I described in the above paragraph. I told him that I felt like I needed to explain something but when he asked me what it was I couldn’t say. All I could say that the reasons I gave him last week for why therapy wasn’t working weren’t completely true. He wasn’t surprised. Is it better to say nothing until you know that what you are saying is completely true? or is it better to talk around things trying to discuss them at get at the truth even though nothing you say will be complete or completely true? I didn’t answer. I told him I felt it strongly and was afraid to say it. He asked me if I knew he was okay with having the conversation I was struggling with having? I said how can you know when you don’t know what the conversation is.

Listening to my sessions I realized that I spent a lot of time saying things like I don’t know where you stand. I don’t know if you think therapy is progressing. I don’t know if you are okay with me as I am. He answered those questions: yes I think therapy is progressing and we are okay but the answers don’t seem like enough. I think I really want to know Do you love me? Do you care about me? I can’t ask those because he doesn’t and I don’t want to sit there while he fumbles for a therapeutically helpful answer. I also don’t know why I want him to care so much. It feels like therapy has become all about his feelings and not about my problems and life. I’ve started to read blogs by therapists like Martha Crawford at What a Shrink Thinks – Unspoken or Joseph Burgo at After Psychotherapy – Attachment Theory and the Healing Psychotherapy Relationship who describe loving or caring for their clients. I wish M felt that way about me.

Sessions with M

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.

Forgetting or dissociation

I had my phone session this week and managed to talk about my wanting something from M that I could hold onto before he left for vacation and how afraid I was to ask for something. I admitted that part of my anger last week over who called who and my frustration over the session had to do with being angry at myself for not asking. M told me he would have been okay with my asking for something and asked if I knew what I wanted. I said no I wanted him to offer me something. We talked about why I struggled with asking and I told him I was afraid he was going to tell me I should get a different therapist if I asked for something he wouldn’t do. He assured me that there are no limits on what I can talk about or ask for even though there are limits to what he would give me. During the session I felt incredibly tired even though it was in the middle of the day and quite floaty. It was harder for me to stay focused when I was talking on the phone. At the beginning of the session he told me that he listened to my voice mails from last Thursday and I sounded quite clear and certain about how I felt and my interpretations of our interactions. During the session I thought that was a good thing but later on I wondered what he meant by clear and certain. I went to listen to the beginning of the session again to hear exactly what M said and I realized that I had recorded one of the voice mails I had left on Thursday morning so I listed to it.

I should mention that I have been recording my sessions with M on a digital recorder for about the last 3.5 years with M’s full knowledge and permission. I have listened to over 300 hundred sessions a second time. I started recording sessions because I found that I often couldn’t remember what M had said in a session when I was upset or stuck in my own head. Listening to the session later gave me another opportunity to hear what M was saying and notice what I was thinking about when I stopped listening. I didn’t tell M but I was worried about how much I was dissociating during the session and was afraid that I was saying things I didn’t know I had said (rather than just not hear what he was saying). My extreme worry and one I didn’t want to admit to was that I was afraid I had DID and wanted to ensure that I had no alternate personalities that were talking in therapy or elsewhere in my life. I was relieved to listen to sessions and find that I didn’t forget what I said. Instead occasionally I couldn’t remember what M said for a short time and usually I could easily identify why during a session I might not remember what he said. Sometimes I would by very quiet and be having a long internal conversation and I didn’t realize M was talking. Sometimes M would say something that upset me and I would be intensely angry or sad and not remember what he said next.

When I listened to my voice mail from last thursday I heard myself being incredibly vicious while accusing M of not calling me because he didn’t care how I felt, not understanding how stressful he was making things for me before my vacation, leaving me stranded and alone because he didn’t give a shit about me. It was quite a diatribe that went on for almost two minutes. I was horrified. I don’t remember saying those things. I was upset but I thought I was calmer in describing my frustration with him thinking I would call him when I couldn’t know when he would be available. I thought I said that I cared very much about speaking to him and so was frustrated at the miscommunication that shortened the time available to talk on the phone. I also told him I was frustrated because I hadn’t been able to ask for something before my vacation and I wanted him to do something like offer an object or make a phone call rather than it all being up to me. None of that was on the voice mail. I also don’t remember recording the message I left but I did. I don’t usually record phone calls or messages I leave but at the end of June when I had a phone conversation with my parents to set some boundaries on their behaviour I purposely recorded it so I could hear what I said. I didn’t expect my parents to listen to me and I couldn’t record what they were saying but I wanted to hear how I responded. When I heard myself I was horrified and sick to my stomach. M’s statement that I was “clear and certain” sounded like a code for absolutely bat-shit crazy about blaming him for how I felt. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t discussed it with me during our session. I also didn’t know if I said anything that I thought I said (although I did leave another voice mail a couple of hours later and maybe in that one I explained things the way I remember).

I wrote M an email telling him that I wondered what he meant by clear and certain about things so I listened to the voice mail. I apologized for my angry rant and told him I had forgotten it. He responded that he meant that I had expressed exactly how I was feeling at the moment and not censored myself as I usually do. He said he didn’t believe that was all of what I felt and he took a broader view. I don’t understand how he cannot be angry and offended at what I said and how I said it. I feel like the anger must be under the surface and will come out later.

More vacation

I’ve had a good long weekend at the cottage. We had friends come up with their children one of whom was a two-year old. I love two-year olds particularly when they aren’t mine. They are charming and funny, full of energy, always trying new things, completely engrossed in what is happening right now. Sometimes that is fun and laughter and sometimes it is miserable whining and crying and lying on the floor. When my own children were two I wanted them to be happy and fun all the time and I think I felt like it was my personal failure as a parent whenever they were inconsolably upset. Now I am amazed by the ups and the downs and the immense amount of frustration everything can cause. The world is too big, they can’t make their bodies do what they want, people don’t respond fast enough or properly and even when they are trying to communicate people can’t always understand them. It is no wonder they can be so upset and angry. It is so moving to watch them be comforted by their family. I wonder about what my life was like at that age.

After I thought through the events of last week and my session and subsequent communications with M I decided to write him an email dealing with only a small part of what I was angry about. I felt like it was important to address my cancelling the phone session this week and him saying he would leave it open. I told him that I felt like he was ignoring my decision to cancel and that I felt like he was saying “there, there, I know you think you want to cancel but I know better”. I also told him I didn’t know what “leaving the session open” entailed. Did that mean he was keeping it as an appointment and he expected me to keep that appointment or cancel it according to his policy of at least 48 hours before. I admitted that if he had accepted the cancellation I would have probably spent a long time thinking about why I cancelled and regretting it and may even have emailed him requesting a session next week. However at least I wouldn’t be worried about cancelling 48 hours before or feeling bad if he didn’t book anyone else for a session that I wouldn’t keep. At the end of the email I asked if we had the session booked or not and if he thought we should wait until we could talk in person after my vacation. He replied the next day saying that it would be helpful if I could tell him the day before the session if I wanted it or not and that while he thought it would be helpful to talk if I wanted to wait he could do that too. I think he overuses the word helpful and I’m not sure what he means by it (probably because I am so unclear about what is helpful or not). After that I spent a long time journalling about the many things I was upset about and what I would like to talk about during my next session.

Tomorrow is the day I have to tell him if I want to have the phone session and I’m feeling a lot more anxious now. I know how important how I felt last week was to me. I think one of the most important things I want to discuss is my desire for him to give me something to hold while we were on vacation. I was too ashamed of how I felt to ask him in the sessions before he went away. I think that contributed a lot to my anger when he didn’t call me in the morning and instead waited for me to call him. I want him to do things to show he is involved in a relationship with me and in some cases I want him to do something without me telling him what to do. It feels like it doesn’t count if I have to ask him and I know how ridiculous that kind of thinking is but I don’t know how to combat that feeling. I’m also afraid that if I ask him he is going to say no and worse than no suggest that if that is what I want from a therapist then I should find a new therapist. I know that worry comes from a session I talked about in this post.  During that session M told me if I needed a therapist who would comfort me with touch like my consult T, B, had then I should change therapists because he didn’t work that way.  It led to a good discussion about touch in therapy and his boundaries around safe touch and my feelings about touch.  Unfortunately it also left me with the fear that if I ask for something that he doesn’t want to give me he will suggest I change therapists.  I guess it is easier to not ask then get told no and you should change therapists.