I left my session yesterday feeling like M was avoiding what I wanted to talk about because it involved my feelings about him. As I thought about what happened over the last week I realized it wasn’t quite like that. Instead I could see how this very familiar feeling that M wouldn’t discuss my feelings about him evolved.
It started with M telling me that he thought I had fortitude. It wasn’t the main point of what he was saying and it was actually more off hand which made it clear to me that he believed what he said. It is very unusual for M to express any kind of judgement or assessment of me; even things that could be construed as positive. I’ve been angry about that often and I’ve accused him of refusing to give me any assurance of our working relationship. When he said it, my almost instantaneous response was to feel very uncomfortable and I changed the subject immediately.
Later I thought about why I was uncomfortable. Did I disagree with his belief? Definitely in some areas of my life I have no fortitude. What do I think fortitude is? Do I even know what he means by fortitude? I wrote him a short email telling him I had been uncomfortable with his statement and that I wanted to discuss it further in our next session. I felt like I was finally getting a handle on how to do “therapy” properly. Guess what? I didn’t feel that way very long.
So we started to talk about fortitude; what it was and what it wasn’t. He asked me why I didn’t think I had fortitude and I wouldn’t tell him. Then he gave me an example of something that I did recently which showed fortitude. I admitted that it could look like fortitude but it wasn’t really a very important things in my life. I said he had given the one example that I couldn’t argue with and then he gave me another. That is when I fell into a deep, dark pit. M encouraged me to talk about what I was feeling but I was overwhelmed. Eventually I asked him to stop talking to me and when the session was over I asked him to move to the other side of the office so I could pack up and leave without him looking at me. It has been a long time since I was so ashamed that I couldn’t face him at all or even move while he was watching me. I felt a desperate need to quit not just therapy but life. I kept thinking of ways to kill myself. I know I wasn’t actually going to kill myself but I was obsessed with thinking about doing it, like it is very important to have a plan in case things get to be too much.
I think I fell into the pit because in an instant I realized that even though M thought something positive about me (that I had fortitude) and expressed it to me freely; it didn’t have much impact on how I feel about myself. I am sure that is obvious to most people and even I intellectually understand that you have to like and respect yourself most importantly. But some part of me believed that if I could be sure M liked and respected me then I would finally be able to feel better about myself. I spent my life wanting to be liked. I grew up in a family where no really saw or liked me. For example, my mother got up at her 75th birthday party and announced to about 125 party guests that she had never said anything good about her children while they were growing up because she didn’t want them to think too highly of themselves. She wanted to say on that occasion for the first time that she was proud of us. My own memories would suggest she was consistently and actively critical of me often punishing me for doing things that she had never talked to me about. There was no chance of me feeling conceited. I was desperately trying to figure out what was fundamentally wrong with me and how I could hide it, but I digress.
The next part came when I realized that I’ve spent years feeling like if M would be more expressive, or more supportive, or more there for me it would make a huge difference. I felt needy and vulnerable and desperate for his approval. And it didn’t matter to me anyway. But I still want him to approve of me in some agonizingly childish way which feels even more f*** up than my actual childhood. So I went to my next session (yesterday) to discuss it more and we couldn’t understand each other. I felt like M was avoiding my feelings by cognitively analyzing why I felt like I didn’t have fortitude and why I might feel uncomfortable with him saying I did. Like maybe I was afraid that he wouldn’t think I was in pain anymore and expect me to be better. I’m afraid it is a blur and I left thinking it has happened again and M is avoiding this huge issue because it is about me being needy and wanting something from him. I started to feel like I misunderstood what he said anyway and it probably wasn’t an expression of any positive feeling about me.
Here is the progress (if that is what it is called), I realized that M wasn’t avoiding the topic I was. I wanted to talk about it but I am drowning in shame and self-loathing for feeling the way I do and wishing M would feel and express positive sentiments about me. I feel like it is a pathetic thing to want from a therapist and it is even worse to want it even though I’m not going to believe or accept it. It feels like my personal hell is to want to be cared for and to search endlessly for that caring and then not be able to accept it when it shows up anyway.
I’m not sure what happens next. I’m clear that I’m ashamed of myself and don’t want to tell M how I feel about this but I desperately want him to know all the things I can’t say. I think it would be progress if I could stop being so needy and wanting so much. Instead it had taken less time for me to see the way my mind twists and turns to end up in the place where I’m angry at M and I start thinking if only he would (fill in the blank) then I would feel better.