Feelings can be irrational: Example #637
Preface:This is going to be a bit of gloom and doom as I am in the middle of doing some fairly heavy processing of which this post is a part. When I am doing this kind of work the past rides close, which means that I will be struggling with bad feelings about myself. I know they’re not all, or even most of them, true. I also have a number of lovely friends and my husband who have been supporting me through this with care, kindness and love. So don’t take the gloom too seriously. Yes, this is not fun, but it’s also not insurmountable or unbearable and I am not alone in facing it.
This has been a really long crappy week. I’ve been dealing with a couple of different situations in which I’ve had to work very hard to keep my boundaries clear, work very hard to examine myself to sort out my own stuff and in most of the situations draw a hard boundary which has either not gone over well or has left me feeling like I’m kicking puppies or even worse, becoming my father. At one point this week I was actually wondering if someone had hung a sign somewhere on my person that said “please tell me what a crappy human being I am.” Since I am quite capable of doing that on my own more often than I would like, I honestly could have done without the assistance. 🙂
In the midst of this I have managed to stumble into a massive rupture with BN. To make it even more painful, it is mostly of my own making. Our last session was a very good one. BN helped me to understand some deep triggers that were occurring in a difficult interaction, one in which I was questioning and second guessing my motivations and whether I had handled thing correctly. It involved my having to make a difficult decision in an area in which I exercised authority. I was really struggling with feeling comfortable with the decision I had made, which was even more complicated by the fact that a friend for whom I have a deep respect was concerned about the decision. We had a very open, respectful, considerate talk about it which helped both of us, but I went to the session still not completely sure.
My husband and I had been in for a couples’ session the week before that had not gone well, at least for me. My husband and I had decided to go get some help dealing with our weight, which we’re not happy about from a health standpoint. My weight problem has been of long-standing duration and was actually what drove me to start therapy 26 years ago. But I have somehow managed to dodge ever facing it head on. (Side note: I am close to certain that giving up my coping mechanism of stuffing down unwelcome feelings with copious amounts of food is contributing to my present difficulties). At the end of our first session with BN about the topic (our first couples’ session in a year and a half) we had covered a lot of basics but near the end of the session BN had brought up shame. So when we went to the second couples’ session, I was acutely aware I did not want to do this. I am profoundly uncomfortable discussing my body and my weight. So we’re sitting in session and BN and DH are chatting calmly away and I’m sitting there looking calm but inside my head is a little voice SCREAMING “this is horrible, I am so uncomfortable, I can’t do this, it’s too embarrassing, can I run out of the room and exit the building before they realize?” It was like watching the gauge go up on a pressure cooker. When it redlined, I just suddenly exploded into words, and said “this is horrible, I am dealing with a huge amount of shame and I want to flee.” So BN, being the sharp crayon he is 🙂 focused in on me. We spent the rest of the session discussing my sense of shame, with me NOT happy about being the only mess in the room. At one point, I actually came close to screaming at both of them that my DH sat there calmly and BN sat there all detached (please picture a lot of arm waving and vehement pointing) and why was I the only one who had to be a hot mess?!?? And here I was making it all about me! Again! BN was really good and very reassuring but I really wasn’t having it. (OK I was behaving like a three-year old having a tantrum. And I may be insulting three-year olds.)
So I had a week to brood before my next individual session. In processing what happened, I connected to a deep sense of humiliation. So I started out the session by telling BN I needed to discuss the situation again (we had talked previously about it) but that I had also connected to these deep feelings of being humiliated and I had no idea how but the two felt connected. As we explored it, the memories surfaced in me of how I could feel humiliated by BN because of his detachment but I realized that he had NEVER humiliated me, I had just felt ashamed in front of him. That the sense of being humiliated was really about my father (NO! A feeling about BN that turned out to be about my father?!? I was shocked, shocked I tell you!). That I hated how humiliated I felt, how angry I got about it and that there was a deep desire to be my father so I could have humiliated him and hurt him so he could know what it felt like. This was neither an easy or welcome realization. I actually reached for the trash can, because I was close to being physically ill. BN did reassure me that I did not want to be my father, I just wanted enough power to enable me to stop the abuse. And then BN made a very powerful connection that deeply resonated with me. My exercising authority was triggering me into feeling as if I was behaving like my father, abusing my power to humiliate someone. As soon as we made the connection, it actually became clear I had not done that at all. I had sought good counsel, I had worked hard to examine myself and in the end, in good conscience, made a decision in the best interests of all involved. We talked about how you could never be certain, and that sometimes you could get it wrong, but you had to do the best you could with what you were able to be conscious of at the time.
So at the end of the session, I felt a LOT better and much more clear. I made an appointment for two weeks out (April 24th). But the sense of connection and well-being slipped away really quickly. I was having trouble hanging on to a sense of the connection, which honestly hasn’t happened in a long time, at least not this intensely. As I struggled with why I was feeling this way, I realized I had this nagging feeling that something had shifted between BN and I, that the relationship had changed but I honestly couldn’t tell if I was picking up on something real or projecting my own fears. After wrestling for a couple of days, on Thursday I emailed BN to ask if I could get in the following week instead of waiting two weeks, planning on asking him about the feeling. I know he wouldn’t talk about his feelings or what was going on, but he would be honest with me if I WAS picking up on something (he has done so in the past when I’ve done reality checking).
I think I have mentioned this before, scheduling does not seem to be BN’s strong suit. It can sometimes take days to hear back about an appointment and in the past, he has not responded because he doesn’t have an appointment to offer. So I very carefully worded the email, telling him I wanted to get in earlier if possible, could he respond to me either way and let me know if it was yes or no, and I wanted to keep the appointment on the 24th in either case. I got an email back that evening which said he had gotten my email, he would email as soon as he knew and thanks for my patience. So I waited. I knew his schedule well enough that I didn’t expect to hear from him until Monday or Tuesday of this week. I hit Wednesday and still nothing.
Remember how at the beginning I said that this rupture was mostly of my own making? I had an emotional pattern that we had identified early on in our work; (I think it was actually in couples’ work before I even saw him individually) my pattern of being so scared to express my feelings, that I would hold them in with everything in me, until they built up and they burst forth with the scorching heat of a 1000 burning suns, catching EVERYONE off guard with their intensity, including me. I’ve done a HUGE amount of work in this area and really haven’t done that in a long time. Until, you guessed it, this week. When I finally called on Wednesday and BN returned my call, I exploded all over the poor man. Turned out that he thought he had already told me an appointment wasn’t available in his original email. He apologized when I told him it hadn’t and was very non-defensive. But I was really upset. So I ended with a very stern demand that on the 24th we needed to find a better way to handle appointments because I couldn’t stand ending up in this place again.
After we got off the phone, and I had calmed down a bit, and replayed the call in my head, I realized BN had sounded genuinely shocked. One of the things I had told him was that when I read “thank you for your patience” that even though I know he didn’t mean it that way (as if that made a difference! :)) what I heard was “please just wait to hear from me and don’t nag me about the appointment.” I HATE having to do a follow-up call asking for an appointment because I already feel like a gaping, insatiable, maw of need because I asked for one in the first place. On the other hand, BN has gone blue in the face telling me not to hesitate to call, even to the point of telling me that his phone system is set up in a such a way that a reply is more reliable. So during the call, he had told me that it’s always ok to call, that when I realized I was upset, it would have been fine to call. Which is when I realized that if I had just called when I realized it was bothering me I hadn’t heard back, we probably would have had a very calm talk, discovered the mix up and it really wouldn’t have been a big deal. He had also mentioned being very busy (which actually has been happening a lot recently.) Which is when I realized I had fallen back into my explosion pattern.
I knew I didn’t have to apologize for getting angry, but I didn’t like the way I handled my anger. So I ended up emailing an apology to BN that evening explaining that. I did not expect a response and ended with “see you next Tuesday.” But within about ten minutes of sending it, I realized that I had just put myself back in the exact place I had just exploded on the phone to get OUT of. Wondering whether or not I would hear back from BN. At which point I thought, ok, what am I getting out of this, what am I trying to recreate by emailing, why won’t I call? Decided I really needed to examine that at our next session.
I woke up the next morning. If BN emails in the morning, it’s usually between 8 and 8:30 before his first appointment. I checked my email around nine o’ clock and was really surprised to see a reply from BN at 8:37 (a sure indicator he was running late, which means he probably thought it was important that I get a response.) And I thought, that’s really nice, he didn’t need to do that, and opened the email expecting some reassurance that the apology was accepted and we were fine. Gentle readers, it was a ONE word email. It said “thanks.” Just for the record, there are an almost endless number of possibilities for the tone in which you can hear “thanks” uttered, some of which were the furthest thing from reassuring. Those, of course, were the tones I made a beeline towards. And I was already struggling with the feeling something was “off.”
I went into complete attachment freak out meltdown. I was certain he was beyond annoyed with me, and heartily wished I would just disappear. I ended up talking to a friend and realizing I needed to call. That this fear was just me dealing with childhood fears, and that a phone call would put it right. We always do well on the phone. So I called his answering service and left an emergency message. He returned my call about 15 minutes later (almost past the time I would have expected a return call, he was even further behind then when he had emailed me that morning). I told him I was pretty sure it was coming from me, but that I was feeling very scared about our connection and needed to make sure we were ok. He said “yes, we’re fine” and then I said, “so you’re not angry with me” to which he replied “nope” and I said Ok, and he said “take care, goodbye.” I checked my cell and the call had lasted 27 seconds. Yes, less than half a minute. Now usually when I was in that kind of state, BN would have checked in with me to make sure I was ok before getting off the phone or been more affirming. So yes, this was when the bottom REALLY dropped out. Because now I had called him and had no where else to go.
My frontal lobe when off-line. My higher cognitive functions disappeared and suddenly it took the kind of concentration you’d apply to solving a particularly difficult ballistics problem in order to call a friend. I was in a dissociative state the like of which I had not experienced for years. Thursday was NOT a good day. A series of friends picked me up and carried me through the day. And when my husband got home, he was really lovely. When I explained what was going on, he was very quick to reassure me that he thought BN was just busy and my fears were unfounded. Which was good because at that point I had worked myself into believing that I had done the impossible and exceeded even BN’s legendary patience, that he was going to talk to me about terminating on Tuesday. Yes, my better sense told me this was just my fear, but my amygdala was being very counter productive, running around in circles, screaming “aaaaahhhh aaaaahhhh aahaahhhh.” Makes it hard to think.
I went to bed early, took a 1/2 Xanax (which I occasionally use as a sleeping aid and seemed even more appropriate at this time) and got a good night’s sleep. By the time I woke up this morning, I had achieved a sense of stability so that I could get through to next Tuesday when I see BN. I was also immensely helped by an email from a dear friend who had generously used part of her own session to ask her therapist about what I was going through and sent some very reassuring feedback. So I decided not to send the email I had written telling him I had hit my breaking point and could go no further and was leaving therapy. (Yes, I feel like a Class A drama queen, but there it is.) Near the end of the day, I ended up coming here and reading my posts about the “L” word and the subsequent appointments, because it has felt like things haven’t been quite right since I brought up the whole subject of BN loving me. As I read through my posts, I realized that we’ve had a lot of disruptions lately, ones that involved me being angry at BN. I had gotten angry over him not reading the blog, we had another mix up about appointments which led to a less than stellar reply from him when he was on vacation, to which I send a really snippy reply, something I’ve never done before. I had confronted him about saying he had a standing appointment, when years before he told me he doesn’t do them. I had yelled at him and DH in the couples session. I was starting to see a pattern.
I got home from work and took the dog for a walk. It was a really nice day, 80 degrees and sunny, and my husband was still at work, so I had some time to really reflect. I went back through that list of disruptions and realized I’ve been angry a lot lately (an emotion I am still working on getting comfortable with, especially in regards to BN.) As I thought about why I was angry, I realized it was coming from a very young place. So I decided to allow it to come a little closer to see what it was about.
Please now refer to the title of this post: feelings can be irrational. Because this is what I realized. I am angry at BN, actually I’m furious at BN, possibly enraged, for two reasons. The first of which is that he is insisting on continuing to be my therapist. Every time I move closer, every time I acknowledge the depth and reality of the relationship- and it doesn’t get more real than admitting there’s really love involved- I run up against my desire to get everything now I didn’t get then. So how dare he continue to just be my therapist? And then I realized the second thing: I was angry at him because he wasn’t my father. Why wasn’t he fixing this, damn it?!? He totally understands the problem, so why wasn’t he just MAKING IT RIGHT and becoming my father. Yes, gentle readers, I am grappling with the fact that my beloved therapist is not a magician, wizard or miracle worker, nor is he perfect. They did not issue him a magic wand when he graduated. He is actually human. And I am angry at him for being merely human and not the idealized amazing creature I thought he was for so long. It’s why I’ve been getting so angry at these small failures, they are rubbing my nose, in fact my whole head, in the fact that he is human. Only a man, doing his best, which let’s face it, is pretty damn impressive, to help me heal. But he’s human and that means he’s not going to fix everything and turn into my father and make all the pain go away.
I am hoping, fervently hoping (but knowing I probably hope in vain) that this is the last time I have to pry open the tiny clutching fingers of my inner four-year old AG and let go of the hope. It should be an interesting session on Tuesday, where BN will be what I do not want him to be, but very much need him to be, my steady, consistent, trustworthy therapist with his clear boundaries and firm grasp on his own human limitations
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