Acceptance – is it active or passive?

I’ve continued to talk to M about my intense need for approval and it has been difficult and shame filled for me. When M has talked about the way everyone has needs and that it is part of being human I told him I felt like he is telling me that I’m making a big deal out of nothing and I shouldn’t find it so difficult. So then he told me that I was extremely emotionally neglected and so was taught that my needs were not okay. I said everyone was taught that as children and he said yes to some degree but I had it much worse. He has a way of phrasing things that don’t sound like he empathizing to me. Instead I feel like he is telling me I’m damaged or broken. I’m not sure what he means until we discuss things further usually in another session after I’ve struggled with feeling unsupported. He also has a way of asking questions that confuse and irritate me instead of making statements that I can follow. For example last week he started a session by asking me if there was a way we could continue the discussion without torturing me. At one point when I was struggling with talking freely, he asked if I would be further ahead if I left the session without talking. At the time I heard these questions has an indictment of how I do therapy which made it more difficult to talk. After I left I realized that he was trying to help me and I wrote him an email saying if he was trying to encourage me to talk maybe he could try reminding me that he was trying to help me. I’ve rephrased things before and it seems a futile and possibly insulting request. So I tried something different.

Before my second session last week, I emailed M and asked him if we could try a session where he wouldn’t ask me any questions and he could only make statements. I would try to talk but if I was silent he wouldn’t question me about it. The session felt very different. M realized very quickly that almost everything he wants to say is a question and so had to stop himself from talking often. I realized that if I stopped talking he wasn’t going to ask me the “right” question to allow me to say what I wanted to say. I also didn’t have think about what his “wrong” question really meant or implied so I just thought of what I wanted to say. I also looked at him more than ever before. I can rarely look M in the eyes while I am talking and that was still true but when I wasn’t talking I looked at him. I didn’t realize how much I avoided him because I didn’t want him to see my reaction when he asked me a question.

The main point I struggled to make was about our recent discussion where M pointed out that I spend a lot of time trying to discern his judgement of me and he tries not to hold judgments about me (or any of his clients) because he doesn’t think judging people is helpful. I told him that I understood what he was trying to do and I think it sounded amazing in theory but in practice I found it so difficult that we spent hours of time talking about what he meant/implied/thought of me or my feelings and very little time on the issues that I brought into therapy. I suggested, hesitantly, that maybe I wasn’t capable of functioning in a judgement-free place much like developmentally I don’t think small children can function without a person giving them positive feedback. I was afraid that when I finally expressed this incredible ly brilliant analysis of the impasse we continually reach in therapy (please read the intended sarcasm inherent in this idea) that he would immediately agree with me and talk about ending therapy and me finding a therapist whose personal style would provide more positive approval. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead M suggested that what I (as all people do) needed was an acceptance of where I was and how I was feeling. He agreed I spent a lot of time trying to discern his thoughts and feelings about me because I believe most of the time that he is judging me but is not expressing those judgments clearly and instead they were coming out in his communication style. He thought I spent a lot of time confused about how things were between us; was he angry? frustrated? thinking of quitting? and that I needed to ask him about his feelings so I could be sure of the state of our relationship. I told him I didn’t think I was capable of asking him what he meant by things immediately because I am frequently confused and feel out of sorts but don’t recognize that his question was the start of feeling misunderstood or indicted. I told him I understood that I needed to check my assumptions about his feelings when I realized it but that I thought his acceptance of me could be an active practice for him. That is where we left the discussion so what do you think: is acceptance active or passive for you? do you show people that you accept them or assume they know it unless they ask? how about the people who accept you? do you feel their actions show that acceptance?