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?

….

I can’t imagine what the title of this post should be. I don’t have any idea how to summarize what I am feeling. I’ve got random phrases like my personal black hole, or I’m empty/hollow/, or there is nothing to me except the immense desire to be okay or for someone else to say/show me that they approve of me.

It has been weeks since I posted here and I haven’t managed to read M the list of things I wish he would do to comfort me. I’ve talked about why I am afraid to tell him what I want. In one session I even asked him if I could hold one of his stuffed animals and he gave it to me. I’ve also spent a lot of time during my sessions feeling how much I don’t want to talk to M at particular moments and the variety of reasons I can come up with for not talking. At the same time I don’t want to leave his office and I hate missing sessions. It is like I desperately want to go but I don’t know why or what to do when I get there.

I was sitting in my session today and M and I were dissecting last week’s session that left me feeling confused and frustrated because it seemed like all his questions were designed to prove I was an idiot who was completely illogical and quite possibly insane. I left thinking he must hate me a lot to keep torturing me like this. Since I’ve felt like this before and he has always told me that he didn’t hate me I was able to admit that probably wasn’t true. So I wrote him a long email (which he didn’t get until this morning) talking about how confused I was by what he said during the session.

We’ve had lots of sessions like this. I say when you asked me this I felt like you were judging me. He says I was actually trying to understand or comment. So he explained what he meant by his comments and questions and I listened. Every time he asked me if I had any comments I didn’t. I understood what he was saying. I knew that I interpreted the things he said differently than he intended but that was all there was for me. He tried to talk more about the issue (which I’m not going to get into here because this post is long enough). So he pointed out to me, again, that I seemed to spend a great deal of time trying to discern what he thought of me, if he was judging me or not and that he tried not to express any kind of opinion or judgement about me.

All of a sudden I realized that this is at the heart of what happens in my therapy. I don’t feel safe in a relationship unless there is nearly constant positive feedback. It doesn’t mean someone has to tell me I’m good constantly but it does mean they have to show me something that tells me they are okay with me. All my friends are people I see several times a week even if it is only for a short time. They are people I work with, or parents who pick up their children at the same school as I do, or parents whose kids are on the same team or activity as mine. When things change and I don’t interact with people regularly it takes very little time for me to “forget” them emotionally. I mean I remember them and that we were friends but I don’t miss them or think of calling them to talk or meet. If they call me or arrange a meeting I am happy to see them and immediately feel comfortable with them but that happens because they contact me and so I know they are okay with me.

Therapy is agonizing to me because M doesn’t give me any signals and I haven’t been able to adjust to that. I don’t feel like their is some kind of freedom in therapy because M isn’t judging me. Instead I feel like I have nothing to say until I feel like M is okay with me. I think there is nothing to me and I have nothing to say. The only thing I’m aware of when I am sitting in the silence is how much I want M to give me some positive feedback. Since I left his office I’ve felt hollow and shaky, like there is a painful vibration in my chest that is echoing in the nothingness. I’m afraid my rib cage is going to collapse because there is nothing to me at all. I keep looking for someone to show me that I’m okay.

Lack of safety in therapy

I had a session with M today and I was about 7 minutes late because I sat in my care and fought my fear of the session. I thought of just talking to him on my phone which would be less scary but considering the fact that I was outside his office I decided eventually to go in. It was a hard session and I never felt comfortable. I had listened to my sessions from last week and I was surprised at how similar the recording of the last 20 minutes of Wednesday’s session was with my last post, surprised and saddened. It felt when I listened to it as frustrating and hopeless as it felt in his office.

I felt like M was tired of me today, that he was frustrated, and that he was giving up. He told me that he wouldn’t change the way therapy worked but he realized that part of my wanting to be closer to him was that I wanted him to want me to be close to him. I said he was probably right because if he wanted me to be close to him then that would mean that he cared about me and he wasn’t going to quit therapy. However, he told me that he wouldn’t change anything about therapy to have me feel safer in therapy. I asked him what the solution was to my dilemma and he told me to talk about my feelings and why I doubted that he cared. Problem is that when I do try talking about things that made me feel like he didn’t care or didn’t believe me he doesn’t really respond. For example, last week I sent him an email telling him that I felt like he was laughing at me during the last session and I wondered what he meant by that laugh and that when he used the word perspective in a conversation with me it sounded to me like he didn’t believe what I was telling him and that it was *just* my perspective. Today he mentioned that I was hyper vigilant and analyzing every word he used but he didn’t say “I do believe you” or I wasn’t laughing at you.

He wasn’t even understanding about how scared I felt about coming to the session or how afraid I was that he was going to quit therapy. When I told him that I was afraid he was going to quit, he said “interestingly you are the one who keeps talking about quitting”. I said because that is how therapy works I tell you what I am thinking about and you don’t so you might be thinking about quitting and discussing it with colleagues but you wouldn’t tell me until you had made the decision. He said so you think I am on the same trajectory as you so you want to quit first. I said how would I know if you were thinking about quitting you don’t tell me that you aren’t and I know you wouldn’t tell me if you were. Then at the end of the session while I was standing up and packing up my stuff he said I’m not thinking about quitting. I wish I felt more relieved about it.

I feel like a little girl

Last Monday I had a session with M that was so upsetting. Near the end I begged M to get to make his point. He said he didn’t have a point. Then I accused him of trying to drive me crazy and I meant it. I felt like I was on the edge of an abyss and he kept pushing me closer and closer to the edge. I think he was frustrated because I wasn’t able to hear what he was trying to say. He apologized for how difficult the session was at the end and I said it didn’t do me any good that he was sorry. It was incredibly painful and since that session I have felt exhausted. I’ve seen him three times since then and each time the session starts okay and at some point I become so sad. I’ve been trying to tell M why I am so sad but I don’t think he understands.

The session after the terrible session I told him some of the things I’ve been trying to tell him about how I felt about him touching my arm and me telling him that I love him. I felt like I said a lot of the things that I’ve been struggling with lately and that was a good thing. Then a few days later I listened to my recording of the terrible session and it felt like I was listening to somebody else. Usually when I listen to a session a few days after it, hearing it brings all the feelings and thoughts I had during the session back to mind. It gives me a chance to journal about things that I didn’t talk about. This session wasn’t like that at all. I knew it was my voice but I couldn’t remember what I was feeling and I couldn’t understand why I was so upset. I could hear in my voice the absolute desperation I felt. I could hear how angry I was at M when I was accusing him of driving me crazy but I couldn’t figure out why I felt like that. I don’t feel like the me that listened to the session 5 days later or who has been trying to talk to M about it is the same me who was in that session.

Trying to talk to M about the different “me’s” and how awful it sounded to hear the me who was so desperate and frightened. I don’t feel like M knows what to do next in therapy. He wants to understand what was so upsetting in that session and so he is asking me lots of questions but I don’t know why I was so upset. I can’t explain something to him that I can’t understand myself. I think that is why I am so sad. I’m afraid that I’m going to be stuck in the me that is in so much pain and makes no sense. I’m afraid that M doesn’t know how to help that me because he can only talk to the me that answers questions and can talk to him. I told M that at the start of the terrible session I had things I wanted to talk about (the touch and the I love you) and he kept talking about something I didn’t understand and so I wanted him to get to the point. He wondered if that was what triggered me, feeling like he was monopolizing my time and preventing me from talking about things that were vital and important. When he said that I just went silent again because my instantaneous, gut reaction was I don’t know what is vital and important. Eventually I told him that I could own that there were things I wanted to talk about but I couldn’t say that they were vital and important. He told me that they were vital and important because I wanted to talk about them. To him it was that simple. I wish the child in me could believe it.

Trying to blog

I haven’t written a post in two months. Every time I think about writing I feel like so much has happened and none of it makes sense so I can’t but I miss blogging. So the quick summary of the last two months is that my health isn’t good and I haven’t been able to lose weight, my husband and I have had some horribly, difficult discussions and we are continuing to see our marriage therapist. Therapy with M has been hard.

I feel incredibly different things about therapy and M at different times. Between the sessions I have mainly felt positive and hopeful. I think about things I want to discuss with him and I rarely worry that he is tired of me or angry that I’ve contacted him or that I’m wasting his time. That has been good and I’ve actually had productive days where I got a lot of things done at home. Then I go into a session and I’m quiet. I can remember what I wanted to discuss with M but in the session it no longer seems important or relevant. It has all the emotional energy of telling him what was on sale in the cafeteria today at lunch. Then I start to feel frustrated and stupid and by the time I leave I’m upset but by the next morning I’m back to thinking how great therapy will be because next time I’m going to discuss things. I feel incredibly grateful to have M as a therapist until I sit in his office and it seems like all the positive feelings I have disappear. I practically have whiplash from the drastic changes in how I feel about M and therapy.

Last week while talking to M about things I needed or wanted from other people he started asking what I wanted from him and therapy and I was so angry I couldn’t stop myself from saying “why would I tell you what I need, when I do you just ignore me anyway”. The week after I wrote my last post about finding the lost child inside me, M told me he thought it was important for me to bring that child into therapy but I think when I do he doesn’t respond to her. At both my sessions this week we talked about why I feel like he is ignoring my needs or wants and I tried to describe how I feel so differently about him and therapy that I feel like I’m made up of little pieces that are getting further and further apart. It is so confusing.

The child in me is …lost… and I found her

A long time ago I did a sentence completion test provided by Tony White over at Graffiti and he analyzed it like he was writing in his clinical notes about a client. One of the sentences was The child in me is _______. I finished the sentence with lost and one of his notes was he would investigate how much that belief was part of the life script. At the time I was more interested (or scared to death) of some of his other comments but recently it popped back into my thoughts because I feel like I found her.

Yesterday during my session with M, he started by discussing the idea of doing a workbook together during my sessions. I was surprised because in the session before he told me that he thought that working through a workbook would result in some of the same issues I am currently struggling with: what to talk about? or what part of the exercise to discuss?; feeling like I am failing and ashamed about therapy or having the same feelings about the workbook exercises? He said he thought workbooks or set exercises provided a stimulus that leads to discussing what is important. I said you think right now the stimulus is me feeling ashamed and like I’m failing and he said yes all too often. I’ve been liking I’m stuck in therapy and nothing is working. I felt uncomfortable and unsettled with M changing his mind.

Then asked me if I was thinking of changing therapists and trying a new kind of therapy and I said no I didn’t think I would be ready to try a new therapist in the near future. He asked me why and I said that I felt like I needed to focus on my weight because of my health issues but the other things that have come up for me related to him are too painful to want to work on in the foreseeable future. I cried a lot and I admitted it is because it is so painful to think about quitting therapy with him even though therapy itself is painful. He asked me if I would try therapy with the consult T I have seen in the past and I said no. At that point my feeling of uncomfortableness grew into absolute dread. I was sure he was getting ready to quit therapy with me. I got so upset I couldn’t talk and when he realized that he asked me if I was afraid he was suggesting quitting therapy and I choked out a yes. He said he wasn’t suggesting that but he was addressing it because I brought it up in session last week and in the past I have asked him to help me quit. I got more and more upset. I heard what he said but it didn’t make the slightest impact on the feeling that he was giving up on me. I cried the rest of the session and when he shook my hand and suggested I look at workbooks before our session on Monday I felt my heart breaking. I didn’t want to leave the office and then I stood outside is office. I tried to tell myself he hadn’t quit yet but it didn’t matter.

I realized that I found her. I found the child in me and she was hysterical. She is the part of me that keeps asking M if he is angry or frustrated or leaving but doesn’t believe his answers. She is the part of me that wants M to sit close to her and hold her hand. She wants M to approve of her and tell her that. She wants to go to a session and just sit with M and not have to do anything but still to be okay. I have tried to ignore her. I’ve tried to control her and her feelings. I tried to tell myself she is crazy and isn’t reasonable and I can just be rational and I keep failing and she keeps bursting through. I am so sad because I feel her pain and confusion and frustration. I can feel how all the talking M and I have done about how therapy works and what type of therapy to try and workbooks isn’t reaching her at all. It just feels like we are ignoring her and yesterday I realized how much I’ve been hurting her and letting M hurt her by trying to understand what is possible and appropriate and ignoring how she feels and what she wants whether they are possible or appropriate. She and I are so sad.

(Here is the post on Tony White’s site)