Backfire


We got back today after dropping my younger daughter off at college. I am finishing up a 12 day break from work that was a complete whirlwind. I had a nerve block, did a three-day trip to NYC, a block party, dinner with friends, then a two-day trip to Western Pennsylvania. I go back to work tomorrow, which is good as I think I could use the peace and quiet. 🙂

I also see BN for the first time in a month; I have a session at 11:30 AM tomorrow. Trying to get to sleep last night, I ended up worrying about walking into his office and seeing that my heart had been taken out of the box and that BN had let it happen. I then proceeded to imagine some highly dramatic exit scenarios. Needless to say, it took a while to get to sleep.

Driving home today, I realized that my anxiety level has been ramping up. I am really terrified about tomorrow’s session. In thinking about it, I realized that I had allowed BN to morph into someone I didn’t know. Aside from an email the evening after our last session and short call the next morning, I have had no contact with him since our last session. So I thought it might be a good if I called him (I was sure he was back in the office at this point) and connected briefly, that experiencing that he was not angry or upset would help reduce the fear about seeing him tomorrow.

He called me back and opened with his usual “what’s up?” I was consciously trying to keep it brief, so I said that I was feeling really scared about our session tomorrow and just wanted to touch base with him in the hope that it would reduce the fear and maybe I could get some sleep tonight (really weak attempt at a joke). I am willing to concede I may have imagined it, but there was a brief, confused pause, then BN told me that we were fine, he knew I had some things I needed to talk to him about, but it would be fine. I told him that was all I really needed and I would see him tomorrow. He told me again we were fine and told me to take care. My recall is that he sounded a little warmer towards the end of the call (but I am SO sure I am the world’s biggest pain in the ass that I think he would sound slightly irritated to me no matter what).

After I hung up the phone, I thought back over what he said and it hit me that he had used phrases that would literally cover any situation with a client. I mean, you have things you want to talk to me about? Can anyone think of a situation that would NOT be covered by that phrase?

So it is dawning on me that I have spent the last four weeks ruminating and upset over our relationship and BN can’t even remember what is going on. Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to check his notes and get back up to speed before tomorrow.

I feel like a fucking moron and the world’s biggest fool. One of the things I have been struggling with through this break has been the fear that I have imagined the relationship to be more than it is. I have wondered if my perceptions of the depth of intimacy and caring have been more wishful thinking than a sober assessment of the truth. Despite my constant refrain of not being able to get everything you didn’t, have I have failed to truly understand that BN is my therapist, with all the limitations inherent in that relationship? This feels like confirmation.

In talking briefly to a friend about these feelings, it dawned on me that this is a pattern with me. The forming of a connection and the idealization, followed by seeing the person as who I wished them to be, rather than who they were. I can keep it up for some time, but reality eventually manages to intrude. So I am not sure if this is a massive case of transference or me finishing up another hopeless attachment circle, attempting to get that which is no longer possible to get. And it’s getting exhausting trying to hang unto believing this is just transference, because right now that belief just feels like a really effective way to set myself up for yet more hurt.

So really not feeling better about the session tomorrow. That voice in my head saying “I told you, I TOLD YOU this would happen!” is unrelentingly strident. On the upside, BN will probably get a good night’s sleep. Rat bastard.

  1. Ms. Sharkey
    August 13, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    {{{{AG}}}}

    I am right there with you. I wrote recently in my journal that this whole therapy thing feels very unbalanced because I know that I spend way more time thinking and writing about my therapy experience than my therapist. I *know* he has other clients, but…still. It just feels all off-kilter.

    I also really wish that sometimes he would say something like “It feels like there are some really important things we need to pick up on from last session” instead of asking “where do you want to go this week?” I sense that you might be wanting similar things from BN. Just some sense that you’re not the one doing all the heavy lifting, again.

    I know what it’s like to approach a session in a state of terror. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow at 11:30.

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  2. Karel
    August 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    AG, I appreciate your candidness. Reading that is like looking in the mirror. I also just returned from a trip where I didn’t contact my T for over 2 weeks and had anxiety about the return session. To me it is a struggle to consider him just a reliable professional whose presence is meant to be soothing and not get too dependent on that. I hear your exhaustion. I know T’s have pat answers for some things, but try not to take it too hard, it’s probably because they always want to say something that is helpful. He can’t get too personal because he has to be objective. Still, that technique they have of letting the client determine the topic can feel like you are “reinventing the wheel” every session. Apparently it is helpful for the client if we aren’t led too much so we draw our own conclusions

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  3. GreenEyes
    August 14, 2013 at 2:08 am

    AG I’m 98% sure this is transference.
    I find that when I and other start focusing on their T’s, there is something inside they are trying to avoid.
    I wonder if really knowing your rage about your parents is putting you in a position where you are leaving them psychologically (rather than the reverse which is what happens with intrafamily abuse). But that is such a terrifying notion that its easier and less threatening to focus on what BN did or didn’t say. Connected to this rage I imagine is horrendous shame and pain and grief. Its excruciating to show this side to another. To say to someone we trust and look up to and love “hey my dad sexually abused me and my mom stood by and did nothing. that’s what they thought i deserved”.
    The relationship and the depth of feelings and care on both sides is true. He has proved repeatedly that you’re worthy and that he is not going to reject or leave you no matter what you say or how you feel. He is the good parent you never had and its perfectly natural to have enormous feelings of grief that he can never be your real father but he can help you grow up and give you the care, support and nurturing you missed as a little girl. Believe me, I completely understand you feeling shortchanged and terrified.
    Let us all know how you go
    Hugs and love xxx

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  4. liz
    August 14, 2013 at 4:39 am

    I don’t know if what I’m about to write will be helpful, or make any sense at all, but anyway:
    I know exactly what you’re talking about. I spent a lot of time worrying about my relationship with T, looking for signs that it was real and special and that it was not just a professional relationship but there were real feelings involved. I spent a lot of time counting the days until my next session, dreading summer breaks, calling at every hour of the night just to ask if everything was okay. And I spent an awful lot of time getting upset for every little detail that reminded me that he was, after all, “just” my therapist (You’re five minutes late! You don’t remember the name of my last boyfriend after I spent an entire session talking about him! The gift I gave you for christmas is not on your desk anymore! You’re only doing it for the money! You didn’t answer my email! And on and on and on).
    I imagined three hundred possible ways to make a dramatic exit and never come back (I actually tried a couple of times, then I obviously always came back) and, on the good days, or the emotionally needy days, I imagined it would have been horrible to finally end it.

    The thing is, I (slowly and painfully) got to a point in my life where I realized I don’t really need therapy. Which doesn’t mean I won’t keep going to the occasional session whenever I feel like I need it, which is very often, by the way – it means I don’t *need* it.
    There has been, at some point, after a long and hard work that lasted years, a kind of shift of perspective: that was my therapist, a person with whom I have shared a scary amount of information about myself, a person who I am 100% sure cares about me in a way that is not just professional – we did share a lot of nice moments together, and a lot of hard and horrible moments together, and there is love in our relationship, it’s right there for everyone to see -, but still, I felt more and more… detached? Independent?
    I tried not to think about this feeling for a long time, ’cause it was scary somehow, until one morning I cancelled a session because I was doing something that I thought was more important (it was not work related stuff, it was personal stuff and I could have easily postponed it, but I still felt it was more important than going to session).
    It probably sounds stupid, but that was a turning point for me. I suddenly got really scared and I started feeling incredibly anxious and needy and dependent, like I was all the time when I started therapy, and suddenly I was making lists of stuff I absolutely had to talk about with T, lists of problems I obviously had not yet solved, I felt shattered, angry, exhausted, I thought about hurting myself (another issue I tackled at the beginning of therapy and that I thought I got rid of a long time ago), I started questioning my relationship with T, maybe I imagined it all, nothing ever happened, it was all fake, and why does he look so distant today? Why did he use that sentence that sounded so aseptic? Why can’t I come twice this week? You get the point.
    Then I talked about it, and talked about it, and talked about it, and decided that none of that mess was really a mess, and that the real problem is part of me is scared to death by change, things ending (better: things transforming), letting go and going on to the next level.

    What I am trying to say with this long and incoherent rant is, maybe this whole heart box incident is not that bad; maybe it’s some annoying part of your brain that’s not yet willing to recognize how much you’ve grown, and how strong you’ve become and how you’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. Maybe you’re closer to your finish line than you thought.

    (or maybe I am really blabbering. That is always an option :-D)

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    • August 14, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Hi Liz,

      This was not incoherent at all. I totally got this. I don’t know if this is how AG perceives it but, I just wanted to comment that, for me, this totally resonated with my experience of the “back and forth” of the therapy relationship.

      I recently had a moment where I was able to internalize myself as a strong person who could take care of myself without my T. I could actually envision a new life where I had my past in perspective and I could even see the end of therapy. (Not that that will ever really happen but, for the first time, I didn’t feel like I HAD to go forever). It was all quite terrifying and I had this very unsettling feelings for my T suddenly, almost as if he had let me down and none of it ever mattered–it was fake as you described. I realized though that this was more of the past and there was just more feelings to process and, because of what happened to me when I was a child, I catastrophize and am fearful that I can’t fix anything in my own life. The difference for me now is I know what is going on and I still am able to make positive changes despite all the feelings. In the past these feelings would have overwhelmed me so I wouldn’t have been able to act at all on my behalf.

      I agree with you that this is closer to the finish line than it may seem.

      Thanks for posting. It’s so great to hear other’s perspective just when you need to hear it!

      DBS

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  5. Ann
    August 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

    AG I understand that therapy can be so emotionally disorienting. But never doubt your relationship is authentic, as long as you are being authentic!! I am finding attachment a confusing emotion-especially when it feels one way. Just remember, however he feels (and you will probably never totally know) this whole journey is about you. Your emotions and pain have real value. What makes BN sound so healthy and effective is that his needs don’t come into the picture-it is all about you. Period. And that is enough. His presence lets you know that your emotional work has real value. I also suspect when you engage him directly he is experiencing authentic feelings, he just can’t always tell you, because it is only about you. I am personally seeing my journey as a process. I will always have unmet needs, but am learning to cope with that. (Imperfectly). I see my T in 30 minutes. I basically don’t know what he thinks about me or even if he thinks about me. But one thing I do know is when I show up, he will be there. And to me that is huge! Hope your time goes well. Xoxo Ann

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  6. August 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I’ll be back to reply more thoughtfully but just wanted to say thank you, everyone’s input really helped. especially the reminder that this is not really about BN and that I can trust him. I’ll post an update later when I can. xx AG

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  7. August 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

    AG –

    So sorry to hear about your anxiety over the next session. It’s completely understandable that you would be apprehensive about it, and it feels like BN kind of dropped the ball for a second! Granted, it makes sense that what’s in the front of your mind isn’t always in the front of his, but it can be sad when you’re looking for that reassurance and then you realize that the issue hasn’t been as pressing from his perspective. I am soon to be changing facilities with my therapist and I have become quite attached to our first place – the room and the setting feels safe and familiar. So many things have happened in that office, for me. I asked her yesterday what she remembers about the room (as in, with us) and she said “Not much”. It stung a little  I really hope your session with BN goes well and you can get the support and reassurance you are looking for. And I hope that your heart is in the box!

    I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something. This isn’t at all meant to have you question being in therapy, but it is about that. You speak of your feelings possibly being “another hopeless attachment circle”, and that “it’s getting exhausting trying to hang onto believe this is just transference”. I feel the same way, and I’m wondering why we put ourselves through it. It will never end, right? I mean, people have insecure attachment patterns from their childhood and while we can learn secure attachment, it will never be what it originally should have been. So, why do we keep doing it to ourselves? I feel like I am holding out hope for something that will never happen, and I just keep getting stabbed with pain over and over when I experience more transference. Is there ever a place to draw the line and say, “Enough! Therapy is too painful.”? Or am I just being dramatic? 

    Looking forward to hearing how your session goes. Good luck!

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  8. chewingtaffy
    August 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Hard, hard, hard. Gentle hugs, friend. (((AG)))

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  9. dpblusee
    August 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Hi AG,

    By the time you read this I expect you will have already been to your appointment. I have no idea if this resonates for you but my first impression is that this is about realizing that someone you love, who also loves you, can let you down and it is not the end of the world.
    This is NOT the experience I had growing up but I learned this in therapy. When it happens, it does feel like I am completely unloved and unwanted and there is no reason for me to be in the relationship in the first place, that none of it matters. I go to a place of complete existential despair.

    I am not sure I would agree with BN’s handling of his gifts. I agree with you that the heart box represents a sacred symbol of your relationship and I would be hurt if it was tampered with.
    What I get from this whole experience is this was a boundary that you had and he chose something that crossed that boundary which hurts because when our boundaries are crossed, and we are healthy, the strong part of you stands up and says “No, I won’t let this happen.”

    I suppose the intensity of your feelings may make this mostly about transference, but I suspect there is an element that is about the here and now and BN’s gift policy. You may not like his policy and that’s okay for you to not like it. There is nothing wrong with you for objecting. You have a right to feel how you feel.

    I still think BN loves you and cares about you and I have been there with my T, where I am assuming you are (or were), where I have been terrified of losing a relationship that has been so meaningful for me. I am guessing, down the road, you will look back at this with new perspective.

    The part where you talk about idealization and finally seeing a person how they are is, in my opinion, not about “another hopeless attachment circle. This is really what happens in life because no one can ever be the ideal. Eventually, you have to come back to yourself, which if you had had good enough parenting would be enough to sustain you through this realization phase.

    I told my T that I had to idealize him so I could be dependent, so I could heal. As the dependency went away, so did the idealization to some extent. (It is not entirely gone.) It almost felt like it was the death of a parent, that I was being abandoned again and I went back to being a regressed frightened infant for awhile — kind of how I think Liz described above.
    Eventually, the feelings passed and I was able to get back to taking action in my life. I would not have been able to do all of that without learning in therapy that I was a strong person with my own sense of power and agency. I was able to come back to myself. The fact that I can now start to come back to myself means that I won’t always need therapy.

    I feel for you. All of this is SO incredibly painful because the life experiences have been so painful. I hope your session goes well and you can feel a renewed sense of security soon.

    xoxo,
    DBS

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    • liz
      August 15, 2013 at 4:14 am

      That is exactly what I was trying to say.
      Thank you 🙂

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  10. LIttle Blond Girl
    August 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I imagine you have made it through to the other side of the session by now and hope that BN was the ever present caring and consistent attachment figure you have come to find in him. I’ve been struggling with the same types of things lately, feeling like my fantasy that he could be my father has come crashing down around me and that he’s nothing but a T and I’m nothing but a client. But I try to remember that we’ve shared a lot, we’ve been through a lot, and we’ll make it through this too – even if our relationship changes, even if how I view him changes (and perhaps I grow up a little bit and see him through more adult eyes), he will always be a part of who I am, and who I became and no matter what, that is special. And BN is special, even if slightly flawed sometimes. Easy to say, I know, cuz I’m not in the middle of it now (having been on break and good and detached), so it’s easier to see that it is special right now – of course when I go back, it might not be so easy. I hope you find peace with all of this and work through it.

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  11. XXXX
    August 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Hi AG-

    I have never commented, but have kept up with your blog for a while. I have been in therapy for about 8 months, and every thing you say makes me feel really sad cause I know exactly what your talking about. Its aweful, I know my therapist’s family as I had worked with her son and thus know she really is a freaking awesome mother, and wish like hell she was mine. I dont know how this therapy stuff works, and i’m so confused all the time. I also idolize, and examine every piece of evidence about the closeness of the relationship and it is never enough. Then when its not I use it to say to myself- I told you nobody loves you, nobody has ever really loved you, and nobody ever will you idiot. I don’t know how this is supposed to help you, but your not alone, and neither am I. Sad and Glad at the same time

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  12. Mallard
    August 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    With the disclaimer that I get that it isn’t really so much about BN… and I don’t need to teach you to suck eggs 😉

    It struck me that he may have been using what felt like stock phrases but I feel reasonably confident sticking my neck out to suggest that he is very aware of what is going on, and remembers a lot of detail without having to rely on consulting his notes. It really is very hard when clients are going through such painful and evocative experiences to even begin to forget what they are going through. In my own limited experience, the reverse is often true.

    I’m not sure, but could there be some kind of parallel process going on? You already mentioned some of the feelings the invasion of your heart box evoked and how they link to being hurt by your father, and not protected by your mother. Feeling as if BN doesn’t remember, or will need to check his notes, could there be some echoes there related to other people, not seeing, or seeing and not really getting or remembering what was going on for you when you were young, while in stark contrast you were living and experiencing it? It’s kind of a leap, since I don’t know the ins and outs of your history – but I thought I would put it out there.

    One of the hardest things for me as a client has been trying to hold on to the middle ground (often with my teeth and toenails!). It is a horribly difficult spot to colonise when you are used to living at either end of the spectrum; with the idealization, yearning and intimacy at one end and the misery and despair and questioning my reality at the other. Sometimes I don’t much like the middle-ground since it is only really ‘good enough’ and will never replace what I did not have.

    Another thing that occurred to me is that the therapeutic relationship works both ways. Sure, a good therapist can learn to attune to a wide range of clients. But I truly believe that there something intangible that “clicks” in a good therapeutic alliance that is often unconscious. It is very unlikely that you would be working at this depth if he did not feel a connection to you, as you are connected to him.

    I hope some of this is helpful and that you are able to keep wading through it.

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  13. Karen
    August 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Hi there. I have really found your blogs to be insightful and completely situations in which I can relate. I’m not sure how long you’ve been seeing your therapist, but, I have read you feel he is a good therapist, understanding, empathetic, active listener and genuinely cares about you and your feelings and issues and has your best interests at heart. I too, have a very good therapist with all the same qualities, that I wouldn’t trade for the world. One of the things to remember about therapy is that you do form an
    attachment in the therapeutic relationship and he does too in his professional way. Attachment issues for people who have had a history of difficulty attaching to a caregiver/parent is without a doubt going to project a lot of the unresolved issues onto the therapist. This is transference. This is also completely normal as is counter transference. He is modeling and teaching you maybe for the first time what it is like to have a healthy relationship with a male. This is entirely the case for me and the need for strict boundaries with you is essential to maintain the integrity and trust of the therapeutic relationship. Trust me, as much as we idealize and sometimes romanize over our therapists, we really do not want them to cross that line. Having those idealized and romantic thoughts are also completely normal as well. Consider the work you are doing and the courage and vulnerability it takes to open up and share honestly in your sessions. He gives you his undivided attention, genuine care and concern and frankly, where else do we get that type of relationship? For me, I know I get up in my head about how a session has gone and I will ruminate on it for days. Almost always I am projecting my feelings of anger and fear on to him, anger that my father was not the father he should have been and fear that I will be abandoned by someone so important to me and my recovery. It helps for me to process the session and I also journal as a way of gaining more insight and awareness about what’s going on with me, therapy work and life in general. If I look back at my history with my therapist and his track record, it clearly shows that he has consistently been there for me and has never abandoned or hurt me. I’m sure if you looked at your therapist’s pattern you may see the same. For me, I often feel confused, shame, anger because I feel as if I need him too much. I remind myself that he is there to guide me and provide comfort and support. I also have to remember I’m not always going to feel needy or vulnerable. I may feel stronger and more empowered one week. One of boundaries my therapist has set, is there is no communication outside the weekly sessions. I may text him, but I do this as a way to let him know what’s going on with me and without an expectation he will respond. I have to remember he sees patients all day long and he needs time to de-stress and manage my own life. If he responded to every text or phone calls, I would never learn to solve my problems on my own. Most of the time I want reassurance too and I just let his voice speak in my head the affirming things he has said to me that tells me he is not mad and he is not abandoning me. I realize if I have something with him to discuss or need clarification about something, it’s my responsibility to do so. I struggle continuously, but not as much. Be proud of yourself for your continued healing and progress and know that your therapist is proud of you too!

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