Home > abandonment, acceptance, ambivalance, feelings, healing, safety, transference, trauma > Why your therapist SEEMS cruel, but really isn’t

Why your therapist SEEMS cruel, but really isn’t

We all know that therapy is a unique relationship, unlike any other relationship that we experience. It defies classification in that while it shares aspects of other relationships -friend, lover, parent, colleague – it is not quite any of these things. One of its unique characteristics is a therapist’s reaction to your pain.

In most relationships, when you express pain, the other person’s natural reaction is sympathy; they feel bad for you. This sympathy is often followed by some action whose clear intent is to make you feel better or help relieve your pain. Human beings (at least sane ones) do not like being in pain. So much so that we find it painful to see people we care about, and even people we don’t particularly like, in pain. So there is an almost automatic human response of answering someone’s pain with comfort. If someone is crying, we offer a tissue or a hug, if someone is scared, we offer comfort or reassurance, if someone is angry, we try to help correct whatever is making them angry.

Part of what makes therapy so GONZO confusing, is that therapist’s do not, by and large, do this. Their response to pain is not to immediately try to make you feel better. They try to empathize, to understand that which you feel, but not to make it feel immediately better. Which, since most of us are in therapy to feel better, really, really does not make sense. I mean, what the hell is wrong with them? I’m paying them damn it, to help me feel better, but they’re NOT doing it!! Don’t tell me you care and then JUST SIT THERE watching me cry!! (Please raise your hand if you have this tape in your collection.)

The problem is that in order to heal, we often need to experience and express long buried feelings. And we don’t usually bury the happy, good stuff. We bury stuff that was so painful and overwhelming at the time that we did not have the resources to actually FEEL it, let alone process and understand it so that it would become a normal memory. That’s what happens with our normal experiences. We process the incoming stimuli, we have feelings in response to what we are experiencing, and then we practice meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) during which we make sense of what is happening to us, fit it in with the larger narrative of our life and then store it as a biographical memory. Later, we can recall what happened, where we were, who we were with and what we were feeling. BUT it’s a memory, we REMEMBER feeling happy or sad or angry but we do not feel happy or sad or angry RIGHT NOW. Which is why there is a certain remoteness when remembering.

But when trauma occurs, we get overwhelmed, and the part of our brain that they believe “processes” our experience, goes off-line so we cannot understand or assimilate the experience or feelings that it invokes. This creates a traumatic memory which present research believes is both stored differently and in a different part of the brain, then our biographical memories.  Traumatic memories are raw and unprocessed. I call it God’s Tupperware. The experience, intense feelings and all, would be stuffed in, and then the cover burped, after which I would shove the container on the back of a high shelf, to be left for years. So when I finally got around to opening a particular container, there it would be in all its glory, intense feelings and all. That is often why when we start talking about the past in therapy, it can often feel so intense, because the feelings come back with an immediacy that we do not usually experience when remembering. And it can feel overwhelming, because it WAS overwhelming at one time. So we learn to avoid anything and everything that might call up these unprocessed memories so that our life becomes circumscribed by all the things, events and feelings we MUST avoid. We dwell in a cage of our own (unconscious) making.

What we do when we heal, is to finally allow ourselves to experience those feelings, process the experience and make sense of what happened, to fit the event into our narrative so that it makes sense, and we can obtain a coherent picture of who we are and how we got that way. When we do this, we convert the traumatic memory to a biographical one. We can recall it; we may feel an echo of the sadness or pain, but it does not roar back at us with the immediacy it once had. I actually remember when I hit the point that I looked at the Boundary Ninja and said “I’m not quite sure when it happened, but what happened to me has become part of my past instead of something I’m still enduring.”

This intensity can sometimes extend to our feelings about our therapist when the situations we get into are triggering of past feelings.   So we can react to what they are doing with an intensity that seems very over the top. In other words, our reaction to what they are doing (or often NOT doing) in the present, evokes the pain of the past and allows us access to the unprocessed memories of our past. But because it is NECESSARY to allow ourselves to remember and experience these feelings, if the process is interrupted with comfort or reassurance or sympathy, then the processing (or conversion from traumatic memory to “normal” memory as I like to think of it) gets short circuited.

So a therapist who trusts the process, who understands that you need to experience the feelings to understand and to process, in order to heal can look terribly cruel, sometimes even sadistic unless we understand the necessity of experiencing the pain to heal. I have an example of this principle from my therapy which I think serves as a good illustration. It involved not getting a hug and the BN’s detachment, neither of which I was very happy about.

SIDEBAR on TOUCH in THERAPY: I want to be very clear before I continue that there is a wide range of touch in therapy depending on a lot of factors, including the therapist’s modality and boundaries. I know people who do somatic therapy who find it incredibly healing, there are plenty of therapist’s out there who hug their patients (my first therapist hugged me whenever I asked), and clients who find the safe touch of a therapist’s hug to be very healing. The only really hard and fast rule is that there should be nothing of a sexual nature. Therapy is not a one size fits all craft, nor is every therapist right for every client. So what I am about to relate worked for me, but wouldn’t for everyone, nor am I in any way implying that a therapist who handled this particular topic differently be seen in any way as wrong or inferior. END SIDEBAR

I really, really wanted a hug from my therapist. Which was actually a pretty complicated topic since in the mix of feelings I had about him was an erotic/romantic component (which he was aware of as I had told him about it) coupled with the fact that I had been sexually abused by my dad. So my feelings about my therapist often carried an incestuous tinge and a large ewww factor. So I struggled for a very long time with bringing up the subject as I wasn’t quite clear about my motivations. I also didn’t want to risk hearing a no which I was 98.5% certain I was going to hear. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask because the longing for the hug was so intense and the pain of not having it was so acute. I, at least, did have the good sense to ask at the beginning of a session. So I told the BN that I wanted to ask him something and then I wanted to explain why I was asking. So I asked if it would be possible to get a hug at the end of the session. He immediately, and VERY gently, told me no (he really isn’t a cruel man, despite how I could feel at times). The BN has an across the board, all clients, prohibition on hugging. I probably should mention that we shook hands at the end of every session so it wasn’t about ruling out all touch. We spent the rest of the session discussing why he said no and why I wanted one. He felt that the possible benefit of a hug was so small compared to the risk of harm being done that it wasn’t worth risking it. As we discussed why I was asking, I connected it to the fact that I would move towards my father looking for the normal stuff a kid looks for: care, affection, safe touch. Only to be betrayed time and again. That what I really longed for from BN was to be held, safely, knowing that the hug was about my needs and would not need to be “paid” for. As we discussed this, I felt the incredible pain surrounding not having had that, not experiencing that safety. The BN met me with compassion and understanding. He very gently told me that those feelings were part of the reason that he didn’t hug me. That if he just hugged me, yes, I would be comforted, but that comfort would have stopped me from going past what I was feeling with him to the pain of what lay behind it, not having that from my father.

Fast forward some time ahead and we had a long break of three weeks (my vacation ran into his vacation.) I had emailed him twice during that vacation, neither of which he had answered. I finally broke down near the end of his vacation and made an emergency call, because all my feelings of not mattering had been triggered by the lack of response. I ended up talking to his backup therapist (a really wonderful man) who then asked if I still wanted to talk to BN. BN called me back about a half an hour later and reassured me which got me through until our next session. At that session, we discussed the emails and he told me that he wasn’t really sure why he hadn’t answered them, maybe he was just on vacation and not in the right mindset, but that he had gone back and read them and his take was that I hadn’t asked for a response. We discussed this all at great length, but near the end of the session, he looked directly at me and said “AG, I have to ask, where is your anger over not getting any replies?” Kind of knocked me back in my seat. I got in my car to drive home and the anger hit. I realized that I was furious at him, angry that I hadn’t gotten replies to my email (didn’t he KNOW how that would make me feel!!?!), angry at how he behaved, angry at what I felt were his excuses. My husband and I had a marital session scheduled for the next night. By the time I got home, I told my husband I was absolutely furious at BN and unless we could arrange a phone call, I was not going to our couples’ session. My husband very graciously offered to allow me to just take our couples’ session, so I emailed BN to let him know I was coming in alone.

I went in and told him that on the way home, I realized that he was right. That I was really angry about not hearing from him but had been scared to express it. That I was angry about the whole way he was behaving. We explored that and what came out was how angry I was because I had missed him over that three weeks, it had been difficult not seeing him and that when I walked in, it was really good to see him. That what I wanted was to be warm and fuzzy and talk about his trip and how he was doing, to hear that he had missed me, to feel connected, but what I got instead was detached therapist analyzing my feelings. He then (as he told me later in the session) acted in a deliberately  provocative manner, asking me questions and then adding “is what I’m doing right now what you’re talking about.” (When he told me that, I told him I came close to throwing a pillow at him. He smiled and thanked me for my restraint.) I finally moved past all my intellectual understanding and fear of being angry and trying to be the nice, good patient. It just came pouring out, that I was angry at feeling like some kind of f—ing specimen (I may not have mentioned this before, but when I’m really upset, my language would make a sailor blush. Not proud of this, but want to be honest.) That I was f—ing tired of becoming vulnerable and ripping my heart out of my chest and throwing it out into the middle of his office while he sat behind his f—ing boundaries, that were complete bulls— and just something he hid behind. That I was sick and tired of it.

BN, who remained very calm and non-defensive throughout this, very gently asked me what it was that I wanted from him. And I practically screamed at him that “I want you to get the f— up from out of your chair and cross that impassable chasm between your f—ing recliner and my seat and come and hold me and tell me everything will be ok!” To which he replied, again incredibly gently, “but it wouldn’t help, at least not the way you think, it wouldn’t make you not getting a safe embrace from your father not have happened, it’s a real loss.” And then I told him that “sometimes I just wish you would f—ing lie to me!” Then I lost it. And the real pain and real grief over what I didn’t have from my father came sweeping over me. It wasn’t really about BN, it was about my past. When I had finished sobbing, I remember looking up and saying to BN, I didn’t mean what I said about lying. I’ve told you in the past that I would rather be honestly hurt by you, then have you lie to me. He pointed out how amazing it was that I could recognize such different feelings within minutes of each other.

Bottom line, unless we allow ourselves to feel the pain and express it instead of being comforted and not going there we don’t heal. A good therapist has to be able to tolerate seeing a patient in pain. Therapy can feel and look quite sadistic. BN often said that he could only tolerate it because he knew that there was healing in it. And that to offer comfort at the wrong time could hold out the promise of something he couldn’t actually give me. He could never provide that which I had not been given, he could not do enough to make the real losses disappear. He could only provide a safe place to grieve and mourn my loss, to learn the skills I needed to heal. Healing can be hellishly painful but not nearly as painful as being told you can have what you have been searching for your whole life, only to realize that once again you have been betrayed.

So the next time you are wondering how your therapist can be so cruel as to sit there and watch you be in pain and make no move to stop it, try to consider that it is an act of love which requires deep strength, compassion and discipline because so much of therapy is coming to grips with the deep grief over that which we deserved as children but did not receive. Our therapists must endure being the trigger that draws this pain out and then answer a pain not of their making with a deep compassion and understanding. I eventually learned a profound respect for BN’s ability to face and walk through that pain with me, instead of rescuing me which would have made both of us feel better immediately, because his sight was fixed on the long-term, on my healing.

  1. hopeul
    October 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Triggering stuff AG! Resisting this type of moment but I know it’s there. Love your honesty…is always such a help.


    • October 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      It really is triggering stuff I know. I had to keep going back and facing this time and again. It’s taken a lot of processing over a long length of time to deal with this grief. And just so you know I resisted the moment for a long time. We face it when we’re ready to face it.



  2. hemlock
    October 27, 2011 at 12:49 am

    So beautiful and powerful and heart breaking all at the same time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


    • November 1, 2011 at 11:23 pm

      Thank you, I am sorry for the heart breaking park…but there is healing in the pain which I think was worth it.



  3. Lamplighter
    October 28, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Thank you AG for posting this. I really needed to hear it again (and again, and again!) You have a simple clarity in explaining these complex things that makes everything so obvious and has cut through the fog of needs and wants I’m currently struggling with. Thank you.


    • November 1, 2011 at 11:24 pm

      So glad you’re here and commenting! I’m glad you need to hear it again and again as I seem to keep saying it again and again. 🙂 I’m really glad it helped with the struggle.



  4. November 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    awesome reading…so very helpful to understand why therapy is so unbelievably painful and distressing. Thank you for this post! I think the thing I struggled the most with with my therapist, was the sense that *he really didn’t* have those feelings of sympathy for me, no matter how much I wanted him too. I was very hard to come to terms with. Thanks for explaining it all so well…




    • November 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      I’m so glad that this made sense and helped you. I want to assure you that in my experience of working on the crisis line, those feelings of sympathy and wanting to comfort are very present and very real on the part of your therapist. I believe the withholding comes from a place of discipline and strength that puts the clients need to heal ABOVE comfort for both you and him. But I also know and understand the terrible ambivalence this evokes in the relationship. Thanks for being here.

      hugs, AG


  5. True North
    November 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    What you write about AG is a really hard and painful lesson. My poor T get accused of not having any empathy all the time. I have ranted at him that he is so detached while I’m in pieces and he just acts like I’m talking about the weather and how that infuriates me. I guess he has a good reason for this and he does tell me that he would never minimize what I am experiencing and he does have empathy for my situation. Maybe I just cannot recognize what empathy looks like. Right now I’m struggling withi asking for the hug and terrified at how I will feel if he says no. Thanks for this.


    • November 21, 2011 at 12:38 am

      Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. It is a really hard and painful lesson and one that can be extremely confusing as you sort through things. Our past and present, feelings and reactions from both, are intertwined in intricate ways that can be difficult to untangle and discern what the truth is about our relationship with our therapist and the truth of what happened to us in the past. And it’s often painful and confusing. I just want to encourage you that there is healing at the end of it. Thanks for reading.


  6. katy
    November 22, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for what you write here.
    I really appreciate every word.
    Like you say…there is variation with every therapist and the boundaries.
    I’m really struggling..I’m tired of leaving so upset only to be asked the next session how I felt when I left…well I felt like sh*t!
    My therapist will hold my hand and say comforting things. Not sure if I would want a hug or not but just feel like such a strong boundary.
    Sometimes/often I guess I just want to quit. I hate feeling attached to a therapist that is just going to hurt me in the end.

    Okay, well not sure if I was supposed to post all of this here but I do really appreciate your journal entries.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Katy,
      It was fine you said all this here, I really appreciate you taking the time to write. I am sorry you are struggling so much, therapy is often a painful, confusing enterprise. If it helps at all, I used to threaten to quit quite frequently. Somehow never managed though. I will also tell you that in the end it was worth it. Its hard to see any progress when you’re in the middle of doing it, but you will heal and be able to see it in looking back some day.

      And I really understand not wanting to attach knowing it will end someday. But that is true of every single relationship we have. Part of what is so important to learn in therapy is how to face that inevitable loss, but live fully in spite of that knowledge. That relationship doesn’t bring pain, relationship is the answer to the inevitable pain that life brings. I’ll talk more about that at some point. 🙂



  7. Lucy
    February 9, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    This really helped me today. I’ve been experiencing a grief recently that seems beyond resolution because my therapy will be coming to an end later this year. We have done a LOT of hard work, involving several sessions a week over a number of years, and have achieved things within that time I never thought possible. Now I have to grieve the ending. I know this intellectually – but emotionally, I don’t want to go anywhere near that pain. The pain of the imminent loss hurts SO much (linked in with my childhood experiences of fostering and adoption) that stuff it down every time I feel it because it feels so overwhelming.

    This week, my therapist brought up those feelings again and my stomach turned. It felt just wholly cruel to be bringing up feelings that were so raw and yet I could do nothing about. I felt she wanted to make me upset just for the sake of being upset, and that perhaps she took some pleasure from that. She thought about that with me today, and I’ve been trying to make sense of those feelings some more. This post has really helped me to do that – thank you.


    • February 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Lucy,
      Welcome to my blog! I’m really glad to hear this helped. I understand the grief you’re experiencing and how bittersweet it can be to reach the point where you’re leaving. I am very glad for your successes in therapy, it sounds like you’ve worked so very hard and it has paid off. But I know that the thought of leaving and what it evokes can be overwhelming. Honestly, my last year of steady work with BN (going once a week) was spent dealing with my leaving. Looking back I realized that a lot of things came up that I would never have gotten to if it hadn’t been for leaving. Things that were very important for me to understand. BN kept telling me that leaving was just like the rest of our work. That I didn’t need to be scared of the feelings that were coming up, that we would do what we always did, which was to look at them and learn what we could about me from them. No different from what we’ve been doing. So I know that it feels overwhelming, but try to hang on to the fact that you have already learned what you need to know to face what will be evoked by leaving. And that your T is going there now so you can face it with her support rather than having to struggle with it on your own. I’m very glad that reading this has given you another interpretation of your Ts actions.



  8. Starrynights
    March 27, 2012 at 12:30 am

    This has been sooo helpful for me to read right now! I have really been touched so many times as I’ve been catching up on your posts, and several have just really struck a chord within me, but this one was just what I needed today. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and experiences here. I vacillate between thinking my T is cold and aloof to wise, warm, and compassionate. I resist thinking any of MY reactions to his distance (cursed boundaries…!) could be anything related to my past, however, as I just don’t feel ready to deal with it yet. I am so grateful for any contact from him, which I can’t stand about myself, and I resent the heck out of him when I feel forgotten, insignificant, and irrelevant.

    But your words are helping me realize that maybe what feels so heartless is actually for my healing.

    Thank you,


    • November 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      (((Starry))) I am catching up on blog comments made during my hiatus and saw this and realized I had never replied! So sorry to have ignored you. I’m really glad that it helped. The ambiguity in therapy created by the boundaries can be a killer to work through especially when we have strong internal messages of not being cared for. I hope you are doing ok! love, AG


  9. Nicole
    October 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Holy shit. I hope that the tears and aching I’m experiencing right now are just really deep empathy and not indicative of crap I have yet to work through.
    Side note: You and your husband go to couple’s sessions with BN, for whom you experience erotic transference. How does that work? just curious. 🙂


    • November 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      Hi Nicole,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for commenting! Sorry for the long reply time. I’m going to hope along with you that it’s just empathy. 🙂 This is tough stuff to work through, so here’s hoping its not part of your work.

      As far as the erotic transference. we’re all very open about it. I told my husband the same day I saw BN to tell him about my feelings. I am blessed with a very understanding, supportive and trusting husband. And the fact that we all discussed it together really helped. BN made it very clear that he had the boundaries (nothing gets the point across that nothing will happen like your T talking to your husband about your attraction for him, trust me :)) but also that these feelings were important for me to examine. I don’t want to act like it was all that comfortable (it was kind of exquisitely embarrassing to discuss with both of them, and don’t get me going about the session during which we discussed the blanket) but knowing my husband knew about my feelings made it even safer for me to explore them, knowing I accountable. I truly did debate continuing with BN because of the feelings and not wanting to threaten my marriage, so much so I went to a good friend who is an older woman whom I very much trust and who shares my values and world view and asked for her advice. She felt very strongly that I had made so much progress with BN that I needed to keep going. Oddly enough, the hardest part about couples work is actually that I can get quite jealous of the relationship between BN and my husband, so much so that we’ve had to deal with my feelings in my individual sessions. It’s not comfortable but it works.

      I have also found that as I have worked on learning to allow myself to move closer to BN, it has also taught me to move closer to my husband. Our relationship is the strongest its ever been.

      ~ AG


  10. Rarrku
    May 9, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I just came out of a tough therapy session where I felt pretty crappy and just stumbled onto your site. Your post is so spot on in what I felt (and currently feeling) about my therapist, that I felt for you when I read the part where you blew up on your therapist and he just sat there. Ohhh the feels…

    I too have felt that many times and it is a seriously mind numbing “clusterfluck” when it happens. Maybe I tend to remember what I want to remember (or just stubborn haha), but I kinda wish therapists would kinda go into it and exlain why they react the way they do. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we patients just let loose and wonder later wtf had happened. It is a vicious cycle at times. On bad days, we just wonder if therapy is even worth it…

    Thanks again though for posting this great entry. You have written perfectly what I couldn’t have otherwise described on a piece of paper. Hope you success in therapy!


    • May 9, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Rarrku,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I am very glad that this resonated so strongly with you. Therapy is a strange duck, unlike any other relationship that we have and that can get very confusing. Not to mention difficult and painful. 🙂 I get the frustration about therapist’s not explaining but I think part of that is when a client is having trouble trusting the therapist, it is more important to act consistently than to say something. BN once told me that he could have told me he was trustworthy the first time I expressed my fears (especially since he knew he was trustworthy) but that I wouldn’t have believed him, at least not for very long (about til I made it down to the parking lot from his office 🙂 ). The only way he had to convince me that he was trustworthy was to BE trustworthy until I could believe it based on my experience of him. In the same way, a therapist could explain what the witholding was about and say they truly cared, but more than likely, a client wouldn’t trust it. It took me a long time to work though the ambiguity in the relationship and trust that BN cared. I also think that many clients remain quiet about their feelings and struggling with how their therapist is reacting. It’s difficult for a therapist to address a problem that the client has not brought up (this is compounded by the fact that sometimes our therapist become conscious of a pattern or problem in our behavior long before we are ready to face it, and needs to be patient until we can see it. They need to exercise care before broaching a topic that the client has not brought up). So I am wondering, have you talked to your T about feeling crappy and not understanding why they are behaving the way that they do? We are injured in relationship and need to heal in relationship. This often means we need to talk about the feelings that arise for us about our therapist and what is going on in the room.

      But no argument, I have had a lot of WTF moments and wondering if therapy was worth the pain. If it helps at all, I came to the conclusion that for me it has been and is worth the effort and pain. I also wish you a lot of success in your therapy journey. ~ AG


  11. ruth
    June 19, 2014 at 3:29 am

    this really helped me , thank you . Ive read it a few times now , over as period of several weeks ….finally it is making sense to me! x


  12. June 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    I have have read so many of your replies and comments on PsychCafe and have loved everyone. They always explain so clearly what I am experiencing in my own therapy (6 months) but could never articulate and felt shame over. I often look for your replies first, so imagine how thrilled I was to find your blog😊 I am spending the weekend reading from beginning to end. You have made sense of what I’ve been struggling to understand and of the feelings I am experiencing. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are making mine so much easier.


  13. June 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting! I was wondering why my stats took such an uptick yesterday. LOL. Thank you for your kind words (and your heroic perserverence, as I am a bit on the verbose side to understate it 🙂 ) I am very glad to hear that you have found my writing, both here and on the forum, to be so helpful. It brings so much meaning to what I have struggled with. I wish you the best in your continued healing and look forward to getting to know you better. ~ AG


  14. Confused
    September 29, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I just want someone to put a hand on my shoulder and tell me it’s ok. Although I still feel I am not able to express emotions, my therapist can read in my facial, body language etc. she sensed I was angry even though I wasn’t being angry. She told me it won’t always be comfortable. And that I need to talk about all incidents. And when I first started talking about abuse? I am not sure why that matters


  15. kelly
    November 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you, I have found this to be very helpful, I am currently with a psychologist and having had a seriously bad day recently, I called the office but couldn’t speak so I decided to email when I had got over “my crisis” which left me with lots of different questions and emotions including anger, abandonment and that he didn’t care about me at all when I received no reply, instead I found comfort in indulging my eating disorder which has been begging me to return to it,the trusted friend who has always been in the background waiting for me. I had been toying with calling it a day and going it alone again but this has made me think. I have a troubled past and really its not going to solve anything by denying that i need help! Thank you


    • November 18, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Hi Kelly,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. Sorry to take so long to respond, I am a bit on the low energy side lately. I am very glad that reading here is helping to give you insight into what you’re feeling and what is happening in therapy. You sound very self-aware in that you’re conscious of wanting to just quit and return to old coping mechanisms but acknowledging that you need more than that. This is long, hard uncomfortable work but I think worth it in the end.

      I saw in your subsequent comment that your psychologist had fallen ill, which I am sure helped you put his lack of reply into perspective BUT that doesn’t make your feelings from not receiving a timely reply go away nor does it make them off-limits to talk about. Therapy isn’t about being fair or even sometimes, understanding with our therapists. It’s a safe place to examine our feelings and use them to understand ourselves. I think it would be a fruitful discussion for you to try and understand why not receiving a reply evoked such a strong response. (BTW, I am not implying any judgement, I have threatened bodily harm to BN for not answering emails and questioned the validity of the whole relationship. I have a no email policy for myself now if I am in crisis, I force myself to call on the phone as BN is guaranteed to return calls, email not so much.) It’s ok to talk about how you feel about what happens in the therapeutic relationship. It’s your P’s job to manage his feelings and hold the boundaries, while your’s is to be honest. For me, that has BEEN the work. It has been very healing to know I have a safe place where all of me and all of my feelings are truly welcome. It’s also ok to express that its scary to talk about and that you’re worried about his reaction. (BTW, you are NOT a coward, when we have been injured in our early caretaking relationships, then of course it feels dangerous to express our feelings. We don’t want to be in pain again. It’s one thing to cognitively know your P will react differently, but its another thing to push away all those lessons from your implicit memories that tell you expressing your feelings and being honest are dangerous things to do). I often tell BN I am scared to talk about something so he can reassure me before I say anything. I wish you the best in your healing journey. ~ AG

      PS Happylou, thanks so much for responding when I wasn’t available. I have the best readers ever! 🙂


  16. Happylou
    November 8, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Kelly, your post struck a chord with me today. I am sorry you experienced this with your T and that you felt so alone.
    I saw my T today as well and explained how I had had I rough week and had wanted to reach out to him so badly. When I cornered him on the issue of contact between sessions to confirm the expectation is that I not contact him when in a bad place, but rather push through it alone, he skirted around the issue and said the harsh reality is that he can’t always be in my corner. We left session on this sour note and now I feel wounded and angry. I too immediately nursed the ache by bingeing on chocolate. Now I feel even worse.
    Please hang in there…I hope you feel supported from other posters on here and feel better having read this post by AG. I often return to reread her insights


    • kelly
      November 9, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Happylou, thank you for your reply I to am sorry that you found yourself in a similar situation. It leaves you with such conflicting emotions its hard to know what to do, at least you had the courage to challenge your T in relation to this!

      I see mine tomorrow and am unsure how ill handle the whole thing, I feel quite closed at times since to letting him into my world any further because of this which is a real shame as I had just started to feel more confident talking to him (had often found I couldn’t talk or prevent my mind from leaving the room!)

      Deep down I know he cares he has said I can contact between sessions if I need him – great if you don’t loose the power of speech when you do call!!!! Since I had not previously made contact with him I really hoped he would have responded to my email so I spose I feel hurt, angry and that my trust has been betrayed to the extent I starved myself completely for 3 days to get in control of my emotions before I did something very impulsive. Things can only get better right! Wishing you peace on your journey take care.


  17. happylou
    November 10, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Hi Kelly – good luck in session today. I hope you find the courage to be open and honest with your T about how his lack of reply left you feeling. It can be insanely hard to trust someone in this way and then so painful when you feel that trust has been broken. I have considered leaving therapy many times (even quit once and then went back to it). I usually want to stop out of hurt or frustration with the boundaries, but I know in the long run that therapy will help me heal and grow.

    Please make sure you nourish yourself, mind and body, while you work through this–easier said than done, I know. Be gentle with yourself and reach out here when you need to connect with others who understand these issues first hand. Take care! 🙂


    • kelly
      November 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Hi happylou, session was “full on” today and I’m afraid to admit that I was not open and honest confronting this issue but wish I had been now! I’m such a coward!

      When I arrived he apologised he hadn’t replied, turns out he was of sick so I decided at that point that I didn’t need to address it but regret that decision now, I wish I had spoken with him about it and how I want him to pick me up when I fall or better still prevent me from falling!

      Thank you so much for your kind words and contact recently it has meant a great deal to me during a real rough patch. Take care and hang on in there were all in T to leave our baggage behind and live our lives in peace, I wish you all the best on your journey.


  18. happylou
    November 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Oh Kelly, I am so sorry it has taken me this long to respond. I am glad AG gave you her thoughts and insight. AG – you truly astound me! It is this forum and your insight that often keep me hanging on in my journey when I want to quit. Knowing I am not alone and that there is hope for continued healing is so very valuable.

    I don’t think I could add anything to AG’s wisdom, but I will echo her remarks that you are NOT a coward..you are human. Please, please be kind to yourself. This is not an easy process. Having the honest conversations we need to in therapy takes time and, even then, they often feel humiliating and scary.

    I hope you have see your T since this last post and that you two managed to confront the issue. Wishing you peace and healing in your journey as well. 🙂


    • kelly
      November 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      Hi AG and happylou, thank you both for your response its appreciated and nice to know I’m not alone on this journey – am starting to think my P doesn’t understands me also think id been withdrawing emotionally as been unable to cry-i spent my entire childhood holding all my pain in feeling deeply unhappy and sadly started doing this again recently. Anyway i wrote my feelings down and was totally honest in my letter and what goes on in my head and have come away this week totally confused and full of questions, in fact i think I’ve started to twist it as i simply can’t recall exactly what happened!!! I have another app and I’ve asked to go through where we are at and how confused i am over the last session, put simply I have to get over this blip as i tried to check out as a child after many years when I felt like this as it all got to much – thanks again you guys ill be sure to keep reading and not do anything silly


  19. KimberlyApril
    December 4, 2014 at 3:41 pm


    Thank you so much for sharing your insights, fears, tears, wishes, and hopes here with the rest of us who are in therapy as well.

    I have an apt. tonight, but I am not sure if I am going. Several things transpired in the past two weeks that have caused me to think that our therapy may be a wash. I just don’t know. My first reaction is to just quit. However, I have done that before and it didn’t really work.
    I have had a very close relationship with my therapist over the past six years. Of course it didn’t start out that way, and it took me a looooooooong time to develop trust and safety.
    Anyways, I sent my therapist two emails between my last session last week and the one coming up today, and asked him to please respond and let me know if he thinks therapy is also a wash as I summarized in my email, and if he indeed wants to continue to work with me. Well, no replies at all.I am really angry with him! On one hand I want to quit because I am angry On the other hand I am feeling a little unsafe showing up for therapy, and not knowing what to expect, like if he is going to ream me for some things. So I don’t know what to do, and don’t understand why he has not responded. I still have four hours or so before I would need to leave for therapy….



    • December 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Hi KimberlyApril,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting! I’m on the fly but wanted to try and answer before your session. You should go. I totally understand being hurt and angry about not hearing back (drives me bonkers when BN does that). It can really stir up feelings of not mattering. But the truth is you don’t really know what happened, there could be a million reasons why your T might not have seen your emails. Six years is a long time to throw away over one missed email, no matter how upsetting it is. Of course you want to quit, he’s really hurt you by doing this, so you want to leave to protect yourself. But one of the really important reparative experiences we can have in therapy is being able to repair the relationship when someone messes up. No one is perfect and everyone will fail us eventually no matter how much they care about us, so it’s important to learn that you can work through things when they happen. I disappeared once on my first therapist and have always regretted it. Even if ultimately you decide to quit, it would be better to do so after giving him a chance to explain and giving yourself a chance to express how this felt for you. I hope I responded in time and I hope the session goes well. Please let me know how you get on, if you’re willing. ~ AG


  20. Amb
    July 20, 2015 at 11:17 am

    AG, I am so glad that I stumbled upon this post. I had a very difficult therapy session today and I’m really struggling with it. I’m terrified to open up and allow myself to feel the pain that’s locked inside of me. I spend the entire session trying to force myself to not feel anything so that I won’t cry. I’ve longed for my therapist to hug me and have even convinced myself that this is what I need to be able to open up, when in all actuality, a hug is what I WANT-because I want to feel comforted and okay, but to actually FEEL those emotions is what I NEED. I think that my desire for a hug from her stems from believing that if I can feel loved by someone on the outside then perhaps what’s on the inside won’t hurt anymore. It’s not true. Anyways, enough with my ranting. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I’m trying to understand the reasons why I’m sabotaging my own healing and this really helped.


    • July 21, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I’m glad this is providing you with insight. These are difficult, scary, painful feelings that at one time threatened to destroy us. There’s a good reason we avoided them for so long and why it’s so hard to allow them in now. Facing my grief was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done (BN told me he thought it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done). So please have compassion on yourself. Of course you long to be held and soothed, it’s what we should have had as children and the desire is driven by healthy impulses. But you’re also right that what we need is sometimes very different than what we want. It’s an act of courage to recognize that there is a difference. FWIW, it was a relief to finally allow the feelings out and it freed up a lot of energy and resources that could be used for other things (like writing my blog 🙂 ). I wish you the best as you grapple with this. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amb
        July 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm

        Thanks so much for your kind words. I hope that I can get to where you are one day 🙂 sending tons of positive thoughts your way!

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Sally
    July 29, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Thank you so much for your very enlightening post. I have been in therapy for over two years because of a 38 year marriage to a man who has narcissistic personality disorder. My therapist has iron clad boundaries which makes it both a blessing and a curse. Since my last session on Friday, I have been struggling with exactly what you wrote about. Thank you for putting everything into crystal clear perspective. It has been so painful and you have helped me to understand why he is there and yet so remote at the time when I most need comfort. He is a wonderful man and best therapist and I am so fortunate to have him walk with me on this journey. Bless you for sharing.


    • July 30, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. May I say “brava” for seeking healing after such a long and wounding relationship? You are courageous to be doing this work now. I am very glad that you found comfort and clarity in reading this post. I do know how painful it is to struggle with the pain of the detachment (I once screamed at BN that I was not “a f****** specimen, so as you can tell I do not always accept his detachment graciously). The setup of therapy lends an ambiguity to the relationship that sometimes renders it almost unbearably painful. It truly is satisfying to know that I could help someone even a little bit to come to terms with it. It sounds like you have a wonderful therapist. Just keep going back and being as open and honest about your feelings as you can be. You’ll heal. ~ AG


  22. Sally
    August 1, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Attachment Girl,

    Thank you to your response to my message. Yes, the marriage was both emotionally and psychologically abusive. For decades I thought something was lacking in me. The worst part if how much he damaged our children, especially our younger son who wanted nothing more than to be loved by his father. For those who don’t understand narcissistic personality disorder, it is not just a personality trait, it is an mental disorder — a maladaptive way of dealing with life due to poor parenting. Fortunately, my therapist helped me through the worst of times, coming to terms with what and who I was dealing with and a difficult divorce. As you explain, there is so much more to therapy that what meets the eye. There are many layers that are skillfully being woven into the sessions and at times, there is an “AHA” moment. I have had quite an education that past two years. Again, thank you for sharing your story so openly. I know it is difficult to expose oneself but that too is healing. I am dealing with transference and had at one point asked that we talk about it but didn’t bring it up again. I don’t know if this is something I will just need to handle myself or if it will fade with time (I’m hoping because it would be most embarrassing to discuss). Thanks for listening.


    • August 4, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      I am dealing with transference and had at one point asked that we talk about it but didn’t bring it up again. I don’t know if this is something I will just need to handle myself or if it will fade with time (I’m hoping because it would be most embarrassing to discuss). Thanks for listening.

      I know it feels incredibly embarrassing (as well as scary) to talk openly about our feelings for our therapist. But I think if we can bring ourselves too, and have a competent therapist, which it sounds like you do, I think it’s a very valuable thing to explore. The feelings that rise up with our therapists, especially since the relationship is much more focused on us, are usually a good indicator of where the work is. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but my post Erotic Transference explains a lot of what I learned through exploring my romantic/erotic feelings for BN. Spoiler alert: it really wasn’t about him. 🙂 So while you might be able to “work through it” on your own, there is no need to. Part of the point of therapy is that we don’t have to be alone to handle our feelings. But I also want to say that it’s important to respect your own sense of timing. My guess would be that if its important for you to go there, the feelings will continue to press you. It sounds like you’re doing deep work, I hope you continue to see healing in your life. ~ AG


  23. August 8, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I’m not sure what to say – because there is so MUCH to say…I have just re-read and read a number of your posts, all of the amazing and hitting the nail on the head and describing what I feel and what I experience in therapy.Including this post. I had similar moments in my own therapy over the last few months – incredibly painful moments, which, as you mention, eventually bore fruit. It’s comforting to hear about BN who sounds so much like my own therapist (no hugs, no ‘I love yous’, a great deal of ‘human-ness’ and some fallibility, email contact but still very firm boundaries, and also a lot of compassion -and other similarities….). It’s comforting that they sound similar in some ways, and that BN clearly does have that love for you, even when he seems ‘cruel’ in his response. I will never forget your statement about realising that a therapist’s response is an act of love which requires deep strength, compassion, and discipline. How wonderful that we are privileged to know people who posses those personal characteristics, and more than that, who are interested in us and who care about us, and who we can get to know, albeit in a fairly limited way. Thank you SO much for this post – I will always treasure it….


    • August 10, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Thank you so much for this. I have been reading your blog and have so much respect for you that your opinion of my blog carries even more meaning. I am glad that you found so much to relate to. I agree that our therapist’s sound very similar which makes me happy for you. 🙂 And thank you for saying that you see BN clearly loving me because of course when it comes to me, I struggle to see it. I find it ironic that what I am writing conveys something to other people when I struggle with so much doubt about it. It is the hard work of therapy to reconcile the necessity of the pain that must be endured juxtaposed with this loving caring person focused on our needs. I am glad that this post helped your understanding and acceptance of these truths. And very much agree that we are very privileged to know the people committed to our healing. But I feel just as privileged to witness the courage and strength of people like you who walk this difficult path. This was just incredible encouragement for me, thank you so much.

      I also very much appreciate you citing my Erotic Transference article and linking back to it in your own very powerful piece on the topic. I thought I was brave! You are fearless, woman! I am very impressed with how deep you have gone and how open you’ve been with your T. It was an inspiring read. I wish you the best for your healing. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

  24. MG
    August 26, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, AG. I have been struggling over a session I had a few days ago in which my T seems to have failed to “get” me altogether. I was in a very fearful place and found myself unable (or unwilling – out of the desire to protect myself) to even sit down in the therapeutic space in her office. I just stood by the door. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I was so scared. I had determined that week (based on experiences with both her and my husband) that whenever I speak, I am misunderstood and it only causes pain – for others and myself – so I really felt that what I needed to do was withdraw . . . at the least, for a time.

    A small part of me wanted her to affirm my fears and work with them so that maybe I could come out of them – I wanted her to show me that I was wrong and I COULD speak and be heard. Unfortunately, when she asked me why I was standing there and I told her it was because I was afraid – she told me that was not what was going on. I told her that she wasn’t listening to me, and she said that she was – that she was watching all of my nonverbals and that they were incongruent with what I was saying – that it wasn’t about fear, but control. She came back to the same question several times – I gave her the same answer (fear), and she gave me the same response (that’s not what it’s about). I was practically shaking when I walked in, so I cannot reconcile how I felt with what she was saying, nor do I understand why she would refuse to believe me. We spent the entire session with her trying to get me to open up when I had determined beforehand that I was going to protect the wounded part of me by NOT opening up.

    This was actually a couple session which I had told her beforehand in an email I would not be speaking at. Instead of accepting my need for space, she spent the whole time trying to get into it. So unfortunately, my husband sat by the entire time and watched what I feel was a grand waste of time – he was open to talking to her, so why couldn’t she just leave me alone and talk to him? Maybe if she had, I could have had the space to try and ameliorate my fears and make my way over to the couch . . . Instead, her pushing only made me withdraw more . . .

    I have spent the days since this session trying to convince myself to go back (I WANT to trust and heal), but every time I go over it in my head, I bump up against the fact that she would not accept my answers to her questions (“Why are you standing here?” “Because I’m AFRAID.” “I don’t think it’s about that – I think it’s about control . . .”), nor would she allow me to be brutally honest about my feelings (I told her I was disappointed in the process and in her – she said I could not say that I was disappointed in her because it was shaming. I do not feel it is shaming – it is the way I FEEL. I wish she had accepted that and worked with it, instead of refusing to allow it).

    How can I know that my T is truly safe? How can I know that I can trust her? I have tried convincing myself that I can trust ANY therapist by virtue of their calling and vocation – but that isn’t working for me . . .

    Thanks for reading. And thank you so much for the openness and honesty of your blogs. I’m so glad I came across it the other day!


    • Rachel
      December 12, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      In my opinion, I would not trust her very much. A therapist is still a person and not all of them are a good match. My therapist never pushes me and frequently reminds me she will not try to force me to into doing anything I don’t feel comfortable with. She wants me to decide for myself. Check the facts here. Is she accepting your feelings? Is she allowing you to be yourself? Is she listening and giving you what you need? Be honest. Trust your gut. It sounds like you do not think she is safe because it does not match with your idea of what safety is. So maybe she is not a good match.


      • MG
        January 18, 2016 at 7:57 pm

        Thanks, Rachel, for your supportive response. It is true – she did not match what my idea of safety was . . . The thing I was struggling with was whether or not I needed to revise my ideas. I did feel disrespected, unsupported, and judged – but at the same time I wanted to be open to the possibility that all of these feelings were the result of my own issues and not my T’s behavior, you know? I didn’t want to miss an opportunity for great growth . . . I did spent some intensive time trying to work it out with her (5 sessions over 2 weeks), but it became clear that it just was not going to work out. As AG mentioned in her comment below, I do believe that the T’s own issues were getting in the way. Her defensiveness made it impossible. I just hope that she someday sees that – for her own sake and for the sake of her clients.


    • January 14, 2016 at 9:36 am

      I must admit that I find your T’s response curious in that we reason we seek out control is because we are scared! Any time we find ourselves in a situation which scares us, the normal human reaction is to seek out control to protect ourselves. There was a time when I used to get very frustrated by my husband’s attempts to control (I saw it as very manipulative) until I understood they were driven by fear. Once I understood that, when I got the feeling of being controlled, I could check in with him to explore what felt scary. So in a weird way, its like your T was focusing on the surface behavior while you were willing to go deeper. MG, I hesitate to speak too strongly, because obviously this is the first we have spoken and I have never had any interaction with your T, but a number of her behaviors throw up possible red flags for me. I don’t have a lot of problems with a T pushing, sometimes they should be asking us to step outside our comfort zones, but I do have a problem with her invalidating your responses. You are the best judge of what is going on internally for you. Your T can try to get your examine that but to outright tell you that you are wrong about how you are feeling? Most of us need help learning to trust our perceptions not being told we can’t. She could have responded by being open and curious about why you felt so scared to open up, instead of just pushing you too. I also think that one of the most important qualities in a therapist is non-defensiveness. They need to be open to hearing all of our feelings and not making it about them. Your T forbidding you to express your feelings because she felt ashamed just seems wrong to me. It’s telling you that not all of you is welcome (again, the opposite of what I would define as a healing experience) and then she is focusing on her feelings (of shame) rather than your feelings. I think your wish to be heard and accepted by her is a healthy one. It can be difficult to know if a T is truly safe and if you can trust them. It is even more complex for some of us since we know that we are projecting so much of our past unto them, so it can be hard to tell if our perceptions are based on our expectations or if the behavior is really there. It’s why it is so vital for a T to be steady and keep their feelings out of the room. The best advice I can offer would be to take this to your T, your concerns and upsets and watch her reactions. If skeeping the focus on you and your feelings, then I think that’s a good indication you’re in good hands. OTOH, if she gets really defensive, focuses on herself and her feelings or is working hard to blame you, i would consider looking elsewhere for a new T. It’s close to impossible to do depth work if the Ts issues are getting mixed in with yours. I wish you the best. ~ AG


      • MG
        January 18, 2016 at 8:10 pm

        Thanks, AG – your responses definitely resonate with the way I was feeling. I, too, have no problems with being pushed – but this T didn’t have the “cred” to move past my fears and push that hard yet – we hadn’t known her for but a couple of months. Especially with how judgmental she came across – bluntly accusing me of being controlling (yes – the only ‘control’ I sought was control of how vulnerable I was in her presence – it was protective, as you said. I told her that, but she didn’t accept it.) . . . And YES! I was just learning to trust my own feelings and perceptions – and to speak for myself – and I felt she was punishing my efforts to that effect. Every time I attempted to be open and honest, she accused me of criticizing her “therapeutic approach”. I had done a LOT of reading before coming to her (my husband and I were in therapy with another therapist for over 3 years before seeking a different approach with her), and I think she really did feel threatened by my efforts to employ what I had learned about psychology, interpersonal neurobiology, etc. She was not supportive of my attempts to apply what I had learned, but rather told me that I should stop reading . . .

        So, after writing the above comment, I did gather the courage to address the situation with the T and spent an intensive 2 weeks (5 sessions inside of those 2 weeks) trying to work it out with her. However, every time I tried to speak honestly, she again became defensive. It was devastating to me, and I found myself weeping in a session. Her response? “If it upsets you that much, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing therapy with me.” I went home and thought, “You know what? She’s right.” And my husband and I scheduled an appointment to terminate therapy with her.

        As it turns out, my “gut” feelings (as Rachel above mentioned) about this T were right. I found out from my husband that, while the T was telling me in an individual session that “My client is the MARRIAGE” (as opposed to me individually), she was telling my husband that she didn’t see any hope for working things out and that he should divorce me. She told him that she was divorced, and there was nothing wrong with that, and that he should “join the dark side” with her. I am appalled. I’m so thankful that we left her. And my husband and I are doing better than we have been in over 5 years! 🙂


        • January 19, 2016 at 11:10 am

          WOW!! I can not believe how unethical she was about the couples’ counseling! I am so glad you trusted yourself and got out of there! You deserve a better therapist. And I agree with you, she doesn’t sound self-aware enough to be practicing; I think she needs her own therapy to learn to keep her stuff out of the room! I wish you the best, and a competent therapist, going forward! ~ AG


          • MG
            January 21, 2016 at 2:00 pm

            Thanks again – I believe you are right (about the therapist needing to work through her issues so she can keep her stuff out of the room). I hope she can see that someday and do something about it . . .

            My husband and I are in the process of re-initiating therapy with the first therapist (the one we were with for over 3 years). We ad left him only because we thought it might help to have a new perspective. We left on good terms, so we feel that we can begin again with him. He is MUCH more self-aware, open, curious, and gracious. So – here’s to the future! 🙂


  25. Stacey
    September 1, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Oh my word AG! You really do know how to express the most complex of feelings! I met you on PsychCafe & have started reading your blogs and am loving the fact that I can relate to just about everything you say. So much so, that I keep sending links and extracts to my therapist and getting her to read them and comment on them in our sessions. (It feels so much safer if I can show that “it’s not only me who experiences these feelings”). Gratefully, she understands my neediness & lack of trust (better than I do!)
    Please continue to blog…I know you originally posted this in 2011 but it still seems so relevant years later!


    • January 14, 2016 at 9:49 am

      Welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to say this. I am very glad that so much has resonated with you and helped you to feel less alone. I find it even more gratifying that you are using what I write with your therapist. This is really incredibly encouraging to me. I wish you the best in your continued healing. ~ AG


  26. Rachel
    December 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Oh my gosh! I so relate to this! I was shouting the whole time “Yeeees!!!”. Oh my gosh! I love that you wrote this. Thank you. Ugh, I feel so much better that I’m not alone in this feeling. I know she’s my therapist, more of a mentor role, but all I see is mommy rejection when I sit there and cry and she sits there across the room on her stupid couch and looks at me pitifully. I get so angry at those boundaries. Actually, my attachment issues pop out in those moments and I want her to hug me but at the same time I want to smack her for even thinking about touching me because I don’t want anyone to hurt me. What is that, transference? Maybe I should talk more about that. lol


    • January 14, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. It can be very difficult to understand someone just sitting across from you which is why I felt this post was important to write. But it is in these moments, when we run into the boundaries and have strong reactions evoked, that we do the work of therapy. So you’re right (sorry!) talking about these feelings is an important way to gain insight into yourself. As for the desperately wanting a hug while simultaneously not wanting her near you, that smacks of disorganized attachment to me. If you haven’t already read it, my post Disorganized Attachment or Why you think you’re crazy but aren’t would probably be helpful for you. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Sara D
    January 24, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    This post is incredible. I myself have gone through a lot in my therapy and often told my T, she’s sadistic, she just watches me suffer and sits there. YOur post gave me such a deep understanding of what is happening.
    I also once was enraged at my T after she didn’t return my call and she knew at that points my life was chaotic and she had made up with me that I can call and any time it’s possible she will answer or get back. It took so much power to understand what was lying under my lack of patience for her to get back, but we sorted it out and I’m doing beautifully today.

    I started this evening googling on why I’m craving a hugg from my T. I dreamt she hugged me and it felt so good. We’re both female. She keeps her boundaries strong and it’s great but I couldn’t understand why she can’t do such a small act to empower me, now that I read your post, I can understand she’s doing far more by not giving me this hugg.

    Thank you!!


  28. Michelle
    July 16, 2016 at 1:21 am

    I miss your entries, but am very glad I stumbled back upon this one, in my attempt to understand WHY MY THERAPIST IS DOING THIS TO ME!!! LOL

    Thank you again, for all you’ve shared and, hopefully, will continue to share. Hope all is well in your world!


  29. October 21, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Needed to read this today
    Thank you


  30. Jess
    January 19, 2017 at 7:19 am


    This is an amazing post. Thank you so much for writing this. I can relate to it and understand it so well.

    My T often asks me where my anger is regarding her breaks or things like that and I smile sweetly and think, why would I be angry?? What you’ve said makes absolute sense and the main thing I’m taking away with me (as I head into my apt in an hour) is – she could give me a hug which I so desperately want and need but it isn’t what I REALLY want or need at all. That’s where “the work is” as my t would say.

    Incredible stuff.


    • January 19, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Welcome to my blog and thank for commenting. I found this a really difficult understanding to come to. These boundaries can just be incredibly painful, especially because they are evoking such deep, painful losses. Finally coming to understand the purpose of them helped me to tolerate them and the pain better. Intellectual understanding will not heal on it’s own, but I do think it helps us to endure what we need to in order to heal. Really glad this resonated with you. ~ AG


  31. sharen barnes
    May 21, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you for writing this, it has made a lot of sense to me, as I have gone through some very heartbreaking times with my counsellor and have felt just like you thinking please give me a hug! Having read your post I understand why it doesn’t happen when you so desperately want it too. Your post will help me greatly in coming sessions. Take great care of your and thank you once again, Sharen.


  32. July 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    AG, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and feelings. I know your post is from some time ago but I’ve just stumbled across your blog —and my how glad I am that I did!

    I had a similar moment last week over email when I (not proudly I might add) f—d and blinded and swore at my therapist (god bless him) for abandoning me on his break. Poor guy. I’m longing to be comforted and reassured and it kills me to just pour my heart out and he just looks on empathically listening and then disappears for 3 weeks on holiday. I see now he’s not being cruel.
    I’ve yet to face my grief in therapy. I’ve cried a lot at home alone but not in therapy. One day maybe I will mourn what I didn’t get and what I got that I shouldn’t have been subject to. I see now my therapist isn’t comforting me because there’s a bigger picture here and he’s thinking of me and trying to help in those moments where I feel alone. Thanks for shining a light on your experience. It has really helped me to see that my therapist too is walking through my pain with me and that he cares and that I’m also not alone and there are kind minds here to reach out to or learn from
    – from the bottom of my heart, thank you


    • October 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      All of your feelings are very understandable. I am really impressed at your ability to express them to your T. It indicates a deep level of trust. But I am very glad that reading this shed a different light on his behavior and makes the path forward more clear (not that it won’t still be confusing and dark at times!). Our view of our therapist can get very distorted from the past, but as long as you continue to be honest about your feelings and open to seeing your therapist clearly as he is now, you’ll get through. As for facing your grief, you’ll get there when you’re ready. This is difficult and demanding work and it took me years of healing to come to a place where I was ready to face that. One of the paradoxes of therapy is that the more slowly you go the faster you get there. I wish you the best on your healing journey. Thanks for the encouragement. ~ AG

      Liked by 2 people

      • December 29, 2017 at 10:51 pm

        Thank you AG.
        I agree this is difficult and demanding work. I grossly underestimated it when I started out a little over a year ago but I’ve made a huge amount of progress, I think, and I expect I’ll be seeing my therapist for a long time – a few more years (at least!) But it’s good . The relationship even with its ups and downs is developing and I hadn’t thought about my swearing at him as indicating trust. But yes, I’m trusting he’ll take it and keep seeing me. Which he has. Well done him and a relief for me! I’d be lost without him. I’m pleased you said your life is much happier than when you began. Good for you. I hope I’ll also find the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  33. inthemiddle
    August 4, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I love this post and am going through this exact thing right now. I have one key question…

    Is anyone really healed from therapy?

    Do you just feel intense pain and then that gets less intense so it feels like healing? If I knew and trusted that healing was the result, then I’d let myself go (and continue through the pain and detached cold therapist with boundaries) but I was a happy person before (aka successfully hid my problems) so I’m just wondering whether I go back to that, which seemed more comfortable to me, or if I plough through. I just want to hear from people who have genuinely live happy lives now, and therapy has genuinely helped them in a way that makes the pain worth it.



    • October 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      I do believe there is real healing. It wasn’t what I expected when I started. I thought safety was never having someone hurt me again, instead it was learning that I could bear the hurt and repair things, that someone could hurt me and still be a good, loving person and that I am able to discern the difference between normal human failings and being hurt enough to leave a relationship AND I thought I would reach a point that I would be indistinguishable from someone who had “good enough” parents. Can’t get there. But I have learned to manage my wounds such that they affect me very little and slow me down even less. The even more surprising part was achieving an earned secure attachment with BN. All of that life and death intensity is gone but the relationship is still very valued by me while being able to accept it for what it is. It turned out that for me so much of that intensity was really being driven by what I had not gotten as a child. I am hoping to put up a post about the healing to explain this in more depth.

      As for the going back, it’s not sometimes possible. Therapy is confusing because we go to make things better and instead, in the beginning, they get worse. For most of us, we’ve been managing our life in such a way that we don’t have to go near this stuff. We avoided it because it’s painful! So when we stop to look at it, of course things feel worse for a while. So even if we decide to shove it back down and go back to holding it off, I believe we only delay the day of reckoning, because it will continue to press on us and interfere in our life until we have no choice but to deal with it. All that said, that’s what was true for me and I respect anyone else’s choice as to how they deal with their past. It may not be worth it for everyone and only you can (and should! it’s your life) decide that for yourself. So yes, I think all the pain was worth it and can honestly say that my life is much happier and more full than when I began. Life still has it ups and downs but I handle both better. I hope that helps.

      ~ AG


  34. DB
    August 27, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Very well said. I completely relate. Thank you for sharing.


  35. October 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm



  36. Anonymous bipolar person
    December 13, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this.

    I just started psychodynamic therapy a few weeks back and was so confused about my therapist’s apparent distance / standoffishness to me.l, even though I was aware that this is part of the therapeutic process.

    Hearing your experience in your own words, as someone who’s been on my side of that divide between the couch and the recliner you mention has done so much to help me understand what’s going on and accept it.

    Thank you for your insight and honesty! Hope you are well.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. March 20, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Reblogged this on Therapy Diaries.


  38. Kristi
    October 9, 2020 at 3:17 am

    Hi, I have no idea if you are still active on here or will see this. I an currently struggling with the pain of my therapist just sitting there watching me as I cry in agony, as I have with all my past therapists when I so desperately wish they could comfort me, but is BN validating to you? Like if he can’t physically comfort you or jump in immediately and say something comforting or reassuring, is he at least validating in other instances? My therapist won’t validate me. She tells me I have this unrealistic expectation of how therapy is supposed to be and how she is supposed to be and how I am so focused on changing her. But it leaves me feeling so uncared for and like she doesn’t see or hear my pain or think it’s valid enough. And I know she cares for many logical reasons and past times she’s told me she cares, but I can’t help but feel so dysregulated every session because she doesn’t validate me directly in the way I feel like I need to hear it. Is it bad to ask someone to validate you in a certain way? Like I swear any other therapist would and does and that’s how my friends and I talk to each other and I swear she was validating to me in the beginning of our relationship and now she’s not… I have text messages to prove it. But now I’m not allowed to text her or if I do, she doesn’t respond. Which I understand and am trying to work on respecting her boundary. But I just feel like she is so harsh and not gentle or sensitive to me or understanding and I don’t know how much of it is me, like am I interpreting things inaccurately or is she truly just not a good fit for me because I’m just operating in my fight or flight or freeze response in sessions because of the way she’ll be firm with me or seemingly argue back with me and tell me everything I’m doing “wrong.” Like I don’t think she means it that way but why can’t she be understanding to why I take it that way? Like I’ve told her so many times that it makes me feel like she’s telling me it’s all my fault and instead of validating why I must feel that way given my experiences, she just says things like “those two things don’t equal each other.” I don’t know what to do. I’m terrified of leaving her but I also can’t keep going through this amount of dysregulation during and after sessions.

    Anyway, if you see this comment, thank you so much for taking the time to read it! I love your blog and the way you write and it’s so helpful to hear these things, so thank you!


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