Anger with M

During my last session I read M a letter that I had written when I was very angry. It was difficult to read it aloud because my anger was no longer burning. It came out sounding sad I think. I told him I was angry that he wouldn’t comfort me physically with or emotionally by saying something supportive. I told him I was angry that we’ve been doing therapy for so long and we keep having this same discussion. I think he should have helped through this before.  I also said that I wanted to feel “okay” in therapy which is some poorly defined sense of knowing that he is there and we are working together.

Being okay led to an interesting discussion where he said he could accept whatever feelings I was having but if I was having painful feelings acceptance doesn’t mean he is okay with me being in pain. I told him I thought he was okay with me being in pain and it didn’t matter to him which is why I felt like he didn’t care. Then he pointed out (again) that I believed there were things he could do to alleviate my pain and so when it was clear I was in pain and he didn’t do anything then I felt like he didn’t care. He said he did care that I was in pain but he couldn’t see anything that could alleviate the pain in the moment.

I understand and agree with him. I experience him sitting in silence with me and asking a few questions as not doing anything to help particularly because I don’t understand what his questions are supposed to do. They usually leave me feeling confused and alone. I don’t think that because he has explained this dynamic that I am going to stop wanting him to say something comforting and feeling terrible when he asks questions. I am not sure that I want to stop feeling that way and expecting me to would be another way of telling me how I feel is wrong and shouldn’t be. Ideally I would like him to say something comforting but he won’t even if I ask him to. I wonder what is the dividing line between asking for what you want and trying to control the other person. I suspect I’ve been trying to control how M resonds to me or am I just asking him to respond differently

Argh

Can I say I hate this month? I hate everything about it. I feel exhausted and wound up and alone and hopeless and angry and stupid. I hate myself more completely and overwhelmingly than I have in a long time. I can’t think of anything in my life that is going well right now. I am losing my job in 3 months (I have expected this for almost 2 years) because of a lack of funding. I’ve been worried about my eldest daughter and I’ve written about some of the things that have happened over the last few months. I haven’t written about the extreme anxiety my youngest, a boy, has started to experience. He is almost 10 and is having extreme reactions to his fears that start small and end up with him so worked up that he is completely irrational. Eventually he calms down usually with me or my husband holding him but sometimes it takes a long time for that to help. I’m starting to worry he is having problems outside of the range of typical 9-10 year boy ones and am thinking of having him assessed professionally.

I am being triggered and having problems with my relationship with my parents and FOO. Some relate to my daughter and her reaction to them. Last weekend I went on a weekend trip to Las Vegas with my 2 sisters and 6 of my first cousins, all women between 42-56 and related through my mother. The weekend was in parts amazing, fun, wild, and interesting. It was also triggering as we relayed stories of our mothers/father as parents and their shared dysfunction. It was remarkable to see how we reacted and adapted differently to the same events but for the most part none of these people have spent much time reflecting on their childhood, how it shaped them, and how they’ve defended themselves emotionally as a result. Everyone is clear that our parents were abusive in many ways but most people think that how they are dealing with it is the right way to deal with it so everyone else is wrong. This creates a lot of conflict considering some people think avoiding and denial of how they feel is the best solution while secretly hoping their parent dies soon and others want to talk about it with therapists, friends, relatives, and their children. The talkers believe that keeping secrets is what is damaging to us and the avoiders think that what is damaging is acknowledging or recognizing things. It culminated in a screaming and yelling match between five of us (me, my two sisters, and two cousins from the same family who grew up closest to us geographically). The most frustrating part is that I don’t think the fight helped resolve anything. I think everyone finished just as sure they were right about things as before and the other people are wrong. I know that is true for my 2 sisters because they both told me so. I learned some things from how my cousin has been working through her own sexual abuse and talking to her own children about it. But I’m tired.

Then I came back prepared to meet with M and having no shortage of topics to discuss. After a few minutes discussing the trip I told M I wanted to return to what we were discussing before the trip regarding therapy and caring/comforting, how therapy can work better between us, etc. He said okay what do you want to discuss and I couldn’t speak. At first I was trying to put my feelings/ideas into words and they didn’t sound right at all. They were all things I’ve said before and haven’t helped or they didn’t describe exactly what I wanted to say. Then the silence grew longer and M asked if I thought we were interacting during this silence. I said no the silence felt like waiting. He agreed and said that he was waiting for what I told him I wanted to say and he felt like if he said anything he would be interrupting me. I said I understood but still said nothing. As the silence extended I realized that I didn’t feel like I usually do when I can’t speak. I wasn’t upset at M leaving me alone, I wasn’t feeling misunderstood, instead there was an element of “f*** you” to my silence, like I have all this to talk about and I’m not sharing anything with you.

Eventually I told M that I felt like there was no point in discussing my family or my triggers or my children if we didn’t discuss how therapy could work moving forward. I also said that I was keeping quiet because I think the only outcome to discussing how therapy can work will be quitting therapy and so the silence is almost like a holding space cause I’m not sure I’m ready to quit. M said that he didn’t think that quitting was the only outcome of a conversation about how therapy works but he understood I felt that way. He suggested to me in that therapist way, that I was avoiding the end of therapy because I was afraid of it but as a defense I was disconnecting from the process of therapy. I admitted that was true but maybe it was for the best because I’m not sure about quitting and maybe I need to realize that therapy isn’t working and how awful it is before I can quit. He suggested that it wasn’t fair to evaluate if therapy could work by refusing to connect. He said it was a false proof because the conclusion was I couldn’t talk to M and the proof was I was refusing to talk to him. I said maybe I can’t talk to you because I’ve tried and failed so often I’m afraid of the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies those failures. He asked me if I thought the feeling of hopelessness I had during this session was any better.

Mercifully the session finished.

I left knowing that I’m so angry at him but I know my anger is completely irrational and unreasonable and that I can’t be angry at him in person. The only people I can be angry with in person are my husband and kids. Any other confrontation I have is over the phone much like sending M and angry email or leaving him an angry message. Over the last five years I’ve moved from never confronting my parents or siblings about things because I only felt really angry when I wasn’t with them to calling them on the phone to express my anger or disappointment about how they have treated me.

I hate feeling like I have no control over myself. I thought I’d spend the session talking to M about my trip and discussing therapy. I had no idea I would walk into session and just be silent while I had a million thoughts cross my mind and the slightest hints that I felt something other than extremely sad and hopeless. I am supposed to have a session with M tomorrow and I am sick to my stomach at the thought.

Despair and hopelessness

i hate how I feel right now. There is nothing wrong but there is also nothing that feels okay. I went into my session with M today and thought about the last few days and didn’t want to tell M any of it.  I didn’t want to talk about my birthday and how I felt bad all day. I didn’t want to tell him about the huge fight with my eldest daughter where I completely lost my shit and swore at her.  I apologized but I don’t think it matters. I’ve already damaged my children in ways I can’t repair.

M asked me how I was feeling about therapy and I told him I hadn’t been thinking about it. He wondered if I still felt it was hopeless. I said sure but if I don’t think about it then I am not upset.  He asked if I wanted to talk about how to end therapy and I didn’t. I’ve lost any feeling about wanting to end in a good way or looking for a new T to try working with in a different way. I don’t think things can change. I don’t know when I’m going to quit therapy. It still feels terrible to stop seeing M but it also feels pretty bad to see him and actively not want to talk to him anymore. I keep hoping it will become clear to me it is time to quit but so far it just continues to be excruciating and hopeless.

M talked about how I felt he didn’t care because he didn’t act in a way that I expected him to when I was in pain. I said I realized that he cared and that is why I had made the distinction between caring and comforting.   He said we should talk about what I wish he would do to comfort and what he felt able to do. I think we already have talked about it. He said it would be difficult to recognize what else could be comforting if I was only thinking about what I thought would be comforting and couldn’t get. I agreed with him. I don’t know how he thinks I can change and be more open to being comforted in different ways.  I don’t like feeling hopeless. I am not choosing feeling like there is no to talking about anything. I wish I felt like talking to him even if I just wanted to tell him how hurt I am by him constantly suggesting that I’m refusing him comforting me like I’m doing it on purpose.

At the end of the session I was talking about feeling like therapy couldn’t change. M asked me if there wasn’t a part of me that felt like it was possible for things to change. He is always trying to help me see that I have conflicting feelings about things and that my feelings aren’t all or nothing like they feel to me. Usually he just tells me that in a statement like “part of you feels like therapy can’t change and another part of you does think change is possible.”  Today he asked me and I sat for a bit trying to listen to myself and then I told him I didn’t know but it felt like there was no part of me that thought things could change. If that part exists it is hiding pretty deep right now.

April is the cruelest month

I am a voracious reader of  prose but rarely read poetry.  I have never forgotten the opening line of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” even though it has been years since I studied it at school. It speaks to the painfulness of growth as well as the despair of struggling to survive with the full awareness that life is a continuing cycle of growth followed by setbacks and hibernation.  It seems much more meaningful than the mundane “april showers bring may flowers” that is hear several to dozens of times where I live.

I was born in April and will be celebrating, marking, observing my mid-40s birthday in a few days.   Birthdays have always been  a struggle for but not because I didn’t like getting older.  I agonized over the celebration of it all.  As a child, my mother had birthday parties that fit her image of a happy, loving family although she could be quite different when no one was watching.  So I agonized over which school friends to invite to a party which might appear fun on the surface but could turn ugly at any moment and which ones my mother would have the least to criticize about after they left.  Inevitably by the end of the day I would be branded an ungrateful child.  In my 20’s, my birthday always seemed to be accompanied by a bout of angst that left me feeling like a failure because of how little I had accomplished  and my depression seemed the deepest through the spring.  Only after I had my own children did my birthday become easier.

I was married at the end of April nineteen years ago.  That is an anniversary I can celebrate wholeheartedly now.  Over the last five years my relationship with my husband has become a source of strength and comfort for me in a way that was completely unimaginable before that.  I can talk to my husband about any and everything and be confident he is on my side and willing to listen to me and continue to love me.  It is an incredible gift for someone who thought she was completely unlovable.

Somewhere in the middle of those anniversaries is a more recent one.  It is seven years ago that I started therapy with M.  I have definitely struggled with therapy and my relationship with M but it has transformed my life and my relationships for the better.  I spent my session last night in tears of hopelessness and despair, afraid that there is no way to change the way therapy unfolds for me.  That I will not be able to alter the feeling that M doesn’t care and that is because I don’t deserve his care no matter how long I spend talking to him and no matter what he says or does.  At the end of the session, M gave me a  card wishing me a happy birthday and saying among other things that he wanted to tell me in a non-ambiguous way that he cares about my well-being.

Care vs. comfort: How did I miss this difference for so long?

Things are a lot calmer for me internally since I wrote my last post. Reading people’s comments to my last couple of posts helped. Also I had a long conversation with my husband in which he asked me if I really believed that M would consciously lie to me (no) or if M was actually unaware of his feelings about and around me (maybe). It seemed a lot more possible to me after this week when M told me that he realized that he wasn’t actually open to using touch in our sessions even though he had been telling me he was. My husband reminded me that I have had an ongoing fear of M waking up and realizing he didn’t want to work with me or he thought I was hopeless or fundamentally broken.

Also on Thursday I asked M to call me if he had the time. I knew he wasn’t likely to find the time in the afternoon on the day before the long weekend. I was right and he didn’t call me before the end of the day. I was disappointed and tried to remind myself that him not calling didn’t mean anything about his feelings about me or his willingness to continue to work with me but it was a struggle. Later that evening M emailed to to let me know he hadn’t had time to call and respond to what I said on my email. It is clear to me that M cares and is trying to help me. Even though I can read how upset I was when I wrote my post or hear myself in my session (because I record sessions with M’s permission) I feel like I am quite separate from that extreme emotion. I find it disturbing to feel so completely different in the space of a few hours.

Listening to the session when I was calmer allowed me to hear what M said differently. He said that he was willing to sit beside me if I wanted to show his something (like he has done with photos) but not to give me physical comfort and he sounded like there there was something wrong with that comfort. I am continually angry at his silence and reserve when I am talking about painful things. We’ve had endless conversations about why he doesn’t say things like “I wish I could make this easier” or “I’m sorry that this is so painful/difficult” or to notice when I feel hopeless and tell me that he isn’t leaving or we can continue to work through this. I’ve called it looking for reassurance about his feelings about me which he has said is a necessary part of therapy. I think he doesn’t care because he doesn’t respond like that even though we’ve discussed it at length. I can’t believe I’ve spent almost 7 years with M and never asked him if he thinks it is part of good therapy to provide comfort for me. I kept calling what I wanted care but I think I want comfort.

So care vs. comfort. Is it possible to get both in therapy? Is there any place for for comfort in therapy? If not, what can I expect?

That hurts

I went into my session last night ready to explain to M why him finally telling me that he wasn’t willing to touch me was so upsetting. It wasn’t the lack of touch because I understand that was about his feelings and boundaries and truthfully a part of me was relieved. The bigger problem is that we discussed it several times and I told him that his actions showed he wasn’t comfortable with it. He kept telling me how I felt wasn’t true and he was open to it. He apologized and agreed he handled it poorly. He said that wanted to keep it open as a possibility because he wanted to help but he realized during his consultation that he shouldn’t be ignoring his own feelings. I get that. 

I told him the larger problem was that he had the same kind of avoidant, confusing language around the issue of whether he cared about me. I said I was afraid he was going to realize he didn’t care about me. I don’t remember him responding to that. Instead he kept talking about his realization about touch and his own feelings. Then he said that he would shake my hand at the beginning and end of a session but there would be no other touch or sitting closer to each other and I burst into tears. I didn’t realize that wasn’t okay either. I didn’t ask if that meant no more sitting on the floor which we’ve done before easily. He tried to move to my feeling that he is only okay with the rational “adult” me who can speak about things easily and the emotional shut down silent “child” part of me he just tries to ignore and wait until she leaves. I finally told him to stop talking because I wasn’t listening and I was still back at the you won’t sit closer to me thing. 

He asked me if that felt like rejection and I said yes. I just told I was afraid you were going to realize you did not care about and that seems to confirm it. He said he didn’t mean it as rejection. I tried to talk about the fact that I only feel like cares when he responds to my emails or speaks to me on the phone and I didn’t feel it in person and I thought maybe I just wanted to believe he cared because I needed too much. He said something like as if I could only care when you were physically distant from my office and I yelled back maybe it is easier to pretend from a distance which is something he also didn’t respond to initially. Eventually when I pushed him to respond to it after we had run over by 12 minutes he said he didn’t respond because he thought it was fucking absurd and it boggled his mind I could think that. I said at least fucking absurd is a response and left

Now I’m drained and I feel like he tore out my heart, stomped on it and then told me to remember sometimes he didn’t hurt me. 

What is M’s theory of therapy?

A few weeks ago I had a session with a consult T to discuss the impasse I kept having with M where I reached the point that I felt like he didn’t understand me and wasn’t trying anymore.  After I talked and cried for most of the session, the T (who called herself a relational psychotherapist) told me that it sounded like M didn’t get me in some visceral sense and while I got a lot of things from M, when I felt the most alone, young, and bereft, I didn’t feel like M was with me.  She told me that she felt sorry that it was so difficult for me and that I deserved to have feel understood and accepted when I was in so much pain.  Then she suggested that one way to work with the feeling of being alone and misunderstood which was originally from my childhood would be to give up trying to get M to understand and soothe me and instead grieve the fact that he didn’t.  It was a painful to hear and I told M about the consult afterwords.  M asked me a lot of questions about what it was like to feel alone and misunderstood.

Today, M summarized my feelings about the impasse we keep hitting.  He said that I felt like he should do something to break though the impasse, something that showed he cared and was trying to help and that in the past I’ve suggested moving closer or touch or him telling me he cared explicitly none of which seems to be how he works. I agreed with how he describe things and told him so.  Then he tells me that he discussed it with two colleagues that he considers friends and they both think touching me when I am withdrawn and upset wouldn’t be helpful and they felt protective about him. That is all he says and he waits for my reaction. I say thank you for telling me. He asks for more and I tell him I don’t see any reason to say anymore. He asks if I mean about this topic or if I meant generally.

I tell him both. Then I say that I don’t think I can get over his colleagues being protective of him which suggests they think I am dangerous and I didn’t appreciate the fact that he managed to discuss the whole topic without mentioning what he thought and felt. I said I could find therapists who would say therapeutic touch was very helpful but it wouldn’t matter because he had made up his mind. Then he continued on to say no one suggested I was dangerous and he didn’t think I was, that they were worried about professional liability. He said it wasn’t like he asked them about touch generally. He said it came out of a conversation about his feelings about touch, and therapy, and what it might mean. He realized that he wasn’t comfortable with touch like that and that any touch wouldn’t feel genuinely caring to me.  He said that he was concerned about the integrity of therapy (whatever that means). He also said he realized that he might not have been having the conversation about touch in good faith with me because his own feelings were that it wasn’t a good thing and he hadn’t said that so continuing to discuss it as a possibility.felt wrong.

So I felt oddly relieved that he had admitted how he felt because I have been feeling that he wasn’t open to comforting touch but he kept saying he was and I was misinterpreting his reserve. I also hadn’t ever discussed the specifics of what kind of touch I wanted or how it could be safe for each of us because I felt like that would have been trying to get him to agree to it. So he told me that he hoped I would continue in therapy with him because he thought we could work through my feeling alone in therapy without touch during the session. I told him I believed that was true in principle but we hadn’t found a way to work through it over the years even when touch was a supposed possibility. I said I didn’t think I would ever be able to talk about the fact I wanted him to comfort me and what it meant to me now that I knew he wasn’t willing to do it and it seems to me that I need to be able to discuss how I want to be comforted and how I feel that he won’t and all the feelings that it brings up in me.

I left his office and wasn’t very upset but I think I should be.  I told him recently that I thought I would quit therapy when he said he wouldn’t touch me because we had been discussing it for so long and I knew I would feel like it was about me, that I was damaged and repulsive.  I said I thought I could have accepted him not touching me earlier in therapy but now it felt so much more important but I don’t really feel anything right now. Maybe I’m just in the lull before the pain hits me but that isn’t like me.  I am irritated that instead of telling me his theory of therapy or how he thought we would be able to work through this impasse instead he focused on telling me that he wouldn’t touch me which I had been reconsidering after I tried to talk to him about my feelings about him sitting near me in January.

T and I hit the same wall again

I’ve been avoiding writing and responding to comments on my last post because I have been struggling in my relationship with my daughter. I love her and I’m scared for her and I’m hurt by her and I love her. It is tiring. I’ve been talking to M about it and that has helped.

Then two weeks ago something happened that triggered me badly. I was on a short trip to the French-speaking part of Canada and I only speak English. The first day while I was shopping an employee of the store asked me if I would like to get together with him while I was there. I said No but was upset by the whole thing. He was younger than I was (mid 30’s) and quite average/normal looking. He said I was attractive (I am actually morbidly obese in my mid 40s) and I realized that I completely believe I am unattractive, repulsive even. In my world no one should ever try to pick me up. I would be less surprised if gravity broke and things kept floating off ground. There are a lot of different things this experience triggered in me and one of the most difficult ones was that I immediately assumed that this man was completely messed up to find me attractive because I am so clearly not and pretty quickly that graduated to my husband must also be deeply mentally/emotionally disturbed as well. I felt ashamed and disgusting and was avoiding my husband.

After I came back from the trip I managed to tell M what happened and what had come up for me. We’ve discussed my feeling repulsive in the past and the worries I have about my safety if I lose weight. It was still difficult and incredibly painful and it took a couple of sessions. There was some relief in talking to M about it and it helped me talk to my husband as well so he knew what I was struggling with and could support me. Then the next session things got more difficult. I didn’t know what else to say and M clearly wanted me to talk more and asked me questions. I shut down and cried a lot. I tried to tell him I was starting to feel hopeless and I didn’t know what to do but it didn’t help. Then last night it reached the point where I was saying the same things, you might care but you can’t help me, all you say is “that is so painful” when I tell you things, therapy is hopeless. M responded with his go to answer, therapy works if you keep talking, therapy is like self-destructive, unhelpful ruminating when you shut down and won’t talk anymore. I said I can’t talk because I feel like there is no point and you can’t do anything anyway. He said there is a point and you need to talk, this is your fault if you kept talking eventually therapy would have worked. Okay I admit M didn’t say that exactly but that is what it sounded like to me.

So I came home and realized we were in the same place where he blames me because I shut down and stopped talking to him. I feel like it is hopeless and eventually he is going to give up so I want to quit right now before it gets really ugly. I even think the hope I have that therapy can help me is dangerous because it keeps me going to therapy.

So much anger directed at me

M cancelled my session today because of bad weather. I suspected he would but I was still upset when I got his email. I wanted to talk to him about wanting him to respond to something I say and then when he doesn’t respond feeling like I have to stop talking about it. What I didn’t want to talk about was my conversations with my eldest daughter over the last couple of days but we had another painful one tonight.

Four days ago my 16-year-old told me she wanted to talk to me about something. She started by telling me she wasn’t going to university after high school (she just finished a week of exams) and I wasn’t thrilled to hear that especially since she doesn’t seem to have any plan at all. I thought that was what she wanted to discuss but actually that was just her warm up topic.

She tried to stay calm but eventually yelling at me that she was so angry at me that I was overweight and unhealthy (I am morbidly obese and have some physical limitations because of it.) She told me she is afraid I’m going to die young and that isn’t fair to her and it makes her so angry that I won’t even try to lose weight (and I feel like I try to fail at losing weight everyday.) It was painful having her attack me at my weakest point and I struggled to accept her feelings. I told her I knew she loved me and that I accepted and understood that she was angry at me. Then she got more upset because the fact that I accepted her anger made it even worse because I clearly wasn’t going to change how I ate. I told her that It was a complex issue that wasn’t going to be amenable to an easy fix. She says she knew that but she was still angry that I didn’t care about her feelings enough to change. It was a difficult conversation but I thought we weathered it together.

The next night we started discussing my eating and exercise habits and how they developed in my childhood. I hoped sharing with her some of my difficulties would help her understand me and hopefully defuse some of her anger. I talked about my parents incredibly critical attitude where they had me convinced I was fat in the second grade. I stopped taking or eating lunch at school in grade 4 and they didn’t notice. We talked about how my parents but their sons in all kinds of sports but not their daughters. These things weren’t new to her (she has had her own experiences with my parents judgement) but I was trying to describe how events in my life have impacted my view of myself and my eating habits. I was struggling because my daughter knows that my parents were neglectful in many ways but not about any overt abuse.

While I considered what or how much I could say, my daughter surprised me by asking me outright if I had been molested as a child. I didn’t consider lying and just said yes. She was surprised even though she had asked the question. I told her I wouldn’t tell her any details but that the perpetrator was someone who was part of my large family and that I saw throughout my life. I also told her that I had told my parents when I was 14 and they had never mentioned it again and we all continued on like I had never said anything. I don’t think my abuser knows I told my parents and they certainly continued treating him and me the same. I managed not to cry and the conversation moved on to other things that happened in my childhood and early adulthood. After I worried that I might have made a mistake telling my daughter.

Tonight my daughter asked me if she could ask me more questions about the abuse although she knew I might not be willing to answer them. I agreed. She started by asking me if anyone else in my family was molested and I told her I wasn’t comfortable telling her other people’s stories but I told her I thought I was the only person who had been abused that way for years. Then she told me that she didn’t understand why I still talked to my parents. She got really angry asking why I didn’t cut them off when I was an adult, how I could keep seeing them, that what they did (ignoring what I told them) was so wrong she didn’t think there is any grey area. They aren’t good people and why in the world would I continue a relationship with them. I know she was angry at them on my behalf but fairly quickly she also got angry at me for not cutting them off. I tried to explain my attempts to maintain a relationship with all the members of my family but she couldn’t understand. She kept asking me if I knew it was wrong and that came close to asking me what was wrong with me that I could keep seeing them. It was so hard because while I do know my parents were not good parents, I am still not comfortable with so much anger expressed towards them. I feel like no matter what happens my daughter is angry at me. Eventually I told her I was sorry I told her and that made her furious and she called me a bitch because she was glad she knew and it explained so much of her life but she just needed to understand why I didn’t cut them off. Eventually I had to tell her I didn’t have an explanation that would satisfy her because it was such a black and white thing for her that she couldn’t imagine my position.

I’m afraid that I’ve hurt my daughter more than enlightened her and I don’t know what more I can say.

Where do I go wrong? or why do I get stuck?

I am feeling frustrated in therapy again. I feel like therapy helps when I am able to talk about things with M, particularly the first time I discuss something. I’m not sure what is supposed to happen next but what usually happens is I stop talking, feel like M isn’t understanding how difficult it is for me, I get angry at M and at therapy, and then the rupture. So if I try to describe it I am hoping someone will tell me where I go wrong. Is is that I give up talking about it too soon? Is it that I have unrealistic expectations about what therapy can do so I’m always disappointed by it? or something else.

The trigger:

I have an infected tooth that is going to required a root canal and crown. I have had several of these before and I always go to the same specialist for the root canal. During my appointment he asks me why I haven’t had a different tooth extracted (which was his recommendation). I tell him that the oral surgeon wouldn’t extract the tooth unless I was willing to start the long and expensive process of getting an implant (9 months and between $5000 and $6000). I say I can’t afford that. He asks about my insurance and I explain that it has an annual limit of $1500). He says he understands and tells me he will write the surgeon saying I need the tooth extracted even if I do not get an implant. He then examines the current tooth and tells me it needs a root canal. He walks me to his business officer so I can book an appointment and says something to her I don’t hear. The business officer tells me that the root canal costs $1535 total but the dentist is waiving his exam fee today of $150. I get very upset and start crying. I find it very upsetting when someone gives me money or a discount on a fee like this. I feel like I owe them and that is really bad. I don’t mind borrowing money or negotiating a lower fee or when someone says if you buy two of those I will give you 10% off the price. It is being given things that upsets me. I’ve stopped seeing professionals after they have done that for me because I find it so difficult to face them again. I know I have a problem with this.

Last week – session 1:
I tell M about what happened at the dentist and how I started crying in front of the business officer. I tell him how awful I feel. M asks me if I can discuss my feelings with my dentist and tell him I would like to pay the full fee (which I am not sure is what I want, … really I want to stop feeling bad about it.) M suggests I don’t feel worthy and I would have been uncomfortable about any gesture the dentist made that was more than I expected. I said no, it is about the money. In the past, this same dentist has called me at home in the evening after a difficult appointment, left his cell phone number, answered my call while he was out to dinner, and another time gave me his number so I could contact him over a holiday weekend if I needed him. At the time I appreciated his concern.

After the session:
I thought more about the issue and started to feel really bad that I was okay with the dentist giving me his personal numbers or that I called him when he was at dinner. I feel guilty. I think about other times I’ve been uncomfortable with people buying me something or giving me a gift even with friends. I also start thinking about a couple of awkward situations that involve money and M that I’ve never discussed with him but have bothered me.

Session 2:
I tell M about my realizations about feeling uncomfortable with a lot of things but how money is especially triggering. We discuss how it relates to my childhood. When I was a child my brother paid me in quarters and candy for sex acts (at least I remember him promising me them I don’t remember him paying me). I express frustration because I understand that makes the issue of payment complicated for me but I also understand that I professional giving me a discount is not expecting sex or a friend paying for my coffee is not going to say “now you have to do something for me.” I still feel really bad though. M says that understanding doesn’t make the feelings disappear. I want to know what will and he says continuing to talk about it. I tell him about one of the awkward situations involving him and money. Several years ago (about 5), I showed M some pictures of me on my iPad. M came and sat beside me on the couch while I did and then went back to his chair. At the end of the session, I found some change on the couch and said this probably fell out of my purse. I scooped it up and put it in my wallet without really looking at it or counting it. All of a sudden I remembered he had been sitting on the couch and it was more likely change that fell out of his pockets and I said so. He reached into his pocket and said probably. I start to take out my wallet saying I’m not sure how much it was and he says forget it. M says he remembers the pictures but not the change. I say “of course not you aren’t crazy” M tells me I’m not crazy I have reasons to be hyper-vigilant.

When it first happened I couldn’t forget about it. I obsessed about it. How much money was it? (a handful of change but we have dollar and two dollar coins so $3) Does he think I took his money on purpose? How could I return it? Should I leave it in his outer office? what if someone else takes it? what if he doesn’t realize it is from me and that I’ve returned his change? should I try to do it to his face? After my first session last week I was right back to obsessing over it. After the session I send M and email telling him about my obsessive thoughts.

This week – session 1:
M asks me more about my obsessive thoughts about the change incident but I have difficulty telling him more. He doesn’t seem to understand why I am so bothered by it. I wonder if he thinks I should give him some money for the change (like he suggested I pay the dentist). I don’t know what I am expecting but I feel like I am not really getting a response from him about this issue. I also have no idea how embarrassing myself by telling him about this is going to help me resolve my feelings around the issue of money and gifts. I start to get frustrated with M. He seems to be saying that this is how I feel and I can’t change how I feel. He says I need to have some compassion for myself. I feel like I do but that doesn’t help. Nothing helps, I told him something that has bothered me in the past and it didn’t make a difference except I feel stupid and that he knows how stupid I am again. I feel like therapy isn’t working because M isn’t doing anything. By the end of the session I am saying very little and feelings upset.

After the session
I realize that once again, I wanted M to do something to make me feel better but he didn’t because that isn’t what therapy is about. He doesn’t try to make me feel better. He doesn’t say anything about the change because it isn’t an issue to him. He won’t say I am not worried about the money or you aren’t worthless or anything I can interpret as him caring because he never does. I’m just angry because I want him to but I know he won’t so it is just wasted anger. I leave him a message telling him I feel sad that I feel this way and that I do have some compassion for myself that this is so difficult and painful for me but nothing changes and I still feel sad.

Session 2 (tonight):
M asks me if he understood my message and if his email response made sense to me. I don’t say much. He asks me how I feel. I don’t feel much. I tell him I don’t want to talk and I think it is because I don’t want to get upset. He asks me if I think I get upset because I talk to him about things or if I get upset anyway. I am frustrated because I understand I get upset by things other than therapy, the triggering event had nothing to do with therapy. Eventually I tell him talking about upsetting things leads to me being upset at him, that I get angry that all he can do is tell me that I feel the way I feel and I can’t change it so I must have compassion for myself. I think he should do something but even while I’m angry I know it isn’t his fault so why talk about the anger. So I feel stuck and I don’t want to talk about this anymore, which leads to me not wanting to talk about any of the other potentially stuck issues in my life, which means we are sitting in silence again and I’m crying. M says I keep hearing that my feelings can’t change but that isn’t what he says. He says if I keep talking about my feelings and my experience that will make a difference. I say I can’t do that . He says I did do it before. I leave and now I’m wondering what am I supposed to do.