Therapy isn’t enough Redux
Greetings dear readers,
I am in the midst of a disruption, probably unknown to BN, of my own making and struggling with what to do. It is forcing me to re-examine my role in therapy and what I am trying to accomplish, and therefore, how I should proceed. I am writing this post to try and sort through my beliefs and feelings and see the best way forward. I would appreciate any feedback or perspectives that anyone wants to offer.
I had gotten very triggered by an event last week, that I took into my session last Friday. The event had triggered some very deep feelings – the early, primitive, inchoate, supremely disorganizing kind – which I wished to explore and understand in therapy. We did really good work. I was able to stay with the feeling without dissociating and put some words to what was going on (a deep-seated, primitive terror of abandonment as it turns out). BN was very connected and very encouraging and made clear, in a fair amount of detail, how well I had faced and handled the triggering event and had dealt with the feelings coming up. That he knew they were difficult to allow into consciousness and tolerate, but that I was doing really well with that and he saw improvements in a lot of areas. The session, while brutal, hugely increased my understanding of the dynamics involved and really helped reduce the pain and anxiety created by the trigger. I had a very deep sense of BN’s compassion and his approbation.
But I was left feeling a little battered and tender, and as often happens after a deeply connected session, was badly missing BN. It was hard to put my finger on what was going on, but I did have a clear sense of just wanting BN’s presence (part of which was making sure he wasn’t going to leave, I am sure, since being left was at the center of the terror I had been facing.) So I did something I know is a stupid thing to do. (Things were going so well, you know! Can’t have that!) I emailed him around 11 that evening, explaining that I had felt very loved and understood during the session which makes it harder to leave and that, feeling a bit sad and a little raw, it would be good to hear from him. I made that part clear, as part of our agreement about email is that I only get a reply if I request one. Why was this stupid you ask? Because BN and I have a long and mixed history with email. His reply times and reliability in replying vary a lot. Actually, that’s probably not fair to him. He usually responds fairly quickly and I cherish a lot of the wonderful things he has written. But every once in a while, things do not go well. I am also very clear that he both prefers to talk on the phone and is rock solid reliable in returning phone calls. But when I am feeling particularly vulnerable, I think emailing feels less threatening. I also think I was feeling a little stupid/pathetic for feeling this way, since the connection was so palpable during the session so it felt wrong that I needed this reassurance. When I feel this way, as if I am too much, emailing feels to me like less of an intrusion. Which is ironic, since I think BN prefers phone calls so much more that actually a quick phone call would have been more welcome to him. But I can’t seem to learn that lesson and/or my fear gets the better of me at such times.
So the whole weekend went by and no reply. I held out through Monday and still no reply. By 9:30 last night I recognized that I was experiencing a build-up of not so great feelings. I kept trying to stop looking for a reply, in vain. I told myself that I KNEW the relationship was intact, it was just the email either hadn’t been read or he had forgotten to answer (yes this happened at least once in the past, he’s human). But I could feel a lot of anxiety and fear rising. I could also feel myself getting angry, that he knew what I was dealing with and why couldn’t he just answer? I had a bad experience a couple of years ago, when BN did not reply to an email I sent requesting an appointment, where I waited so long to call that when I did finally call, I just exploded all over the man in anger while he sat there totally puzzled as to why I hadn’t just called when I realized I was getting upset. Old pattern for me, deny your feelings until they explode out of you totally out of proportion to the situation. It is the ONLY time BN has ever accepted an apology from me. Most of these feelings felt in no way fair to him. There is an incredible frustration that with all that has happened in our relationship, I can’t just roll with these inevitable blips instead of being overwhelmed by them. So I called his answering service and left a message.
He called me back around 10 minutes (and 15 centuries) later and opened with his usual “What’s up?” I told him that I had emailed him Friday evening and still hadn’t heard back and that I was getting worried and upset about that so I called. He told me he had not seen the email (which was both a relief and terrible to hear) as he had been away for the weekend. He said he had literally just gotten home. There was so much going on internally for me, but it was obviously not a great time and I didn’t want to engage in a long call at 10 o’clock at night when he had just arrived home, so I told him it was good to know he hadn’t read it as that was better than something being wrong. I think I said sorry for the bad timing but its a little fuzzy. Then I remember him saying that he would be glad to read it and answer it. So I said thanks and ended the call.
I am going to try and be as honest as I can be and tell you that there were a lot of mixed emotions when I hung up. There was hurt and fear and anger and shame and anxiety. I mean the man has an Iphone, are you telling me you don’t have email set up on it? (Boundary problem right there: where he keeps his email and when he chooses to answer it, is his decision, not mine). Anger, that I spent the weekend anxious and upset (OK mildly, but still) while I was placed up on his work shelf. Fear that I was the world’s biggest PITA, calling just as he walked through the door, and that I am pushing too hard in the relationship and being too needy. I am sure most of you know the drill.
I had enough sense not to expect an answer last night. I mean, if I just walked through the door at 10 o’clock on a work night after traveling, answering my email would not be on the top of my to-do list. But I did expect that I would hear from him this morning, as he often handles emails first thing in the morning before his first appointment. But there was nothing. I still haven’t heard from him. There are several reasonable possibilities. I was so activated during the phone call that I may have indicated he no longer needed to answer the email and didn’t remember doing so. He sometimes books a very early session (7:30 AM) when his schedule is tight (which it tends to be if he takes a day off) and considering how late he arrived home, barely made it to the office in time for his first client, let alone with the leisure to answer his emails. Maybe he’s just fed up with me and pissed and is consequently not in any rush to placate the crazy woman.
I told you all this to actually talk about what is going on with me. 🙂
I fear that at least part of the problem here is that I am having expectations of the relationship that are not reasonable given the nature of the relationship. Also, as Ann so wisely pointed out in the comments of my last post, no one person can meet all your needs, although we all long for that. I do not doubt BN’s feelings of compassion and love and concern for my well-being. My life and my healing matter to him, but within the confines of a professional relationship. When I experience feeling so close and connected to him, when I feel deeply loved and understood, when I can feel his pain in response to my pain, I think it is difficult to hold on to the reality that this is a PROFESSIONAL relationship. He is not my father, or my friend or my spouse, he is my therapist. Which is no small thing; he has helped me immensely and done so by bringing so much of himself into the room and embracing the role of secure base. But the therapeutic relationship is what is between us and it will never be more than that. I am grappling with the fact that when BN made me so incredibly angry by saying I “somewhat” accepted that he was only my therapist, maybe he was right. That I am still nursing the fantasy that the relationship is something more. That I am special to him in a very personal way.
So I just ran full-tilt, full-speed, painfully into the “Therapy isn’t enough” boundary, bounced off and landed painfully on my ass. The painful truth is that BN will always, always be more important to me than I am to him; will always be closer to the center of my life than I am to his. Again, I am not questioning that I matter to him, I know I do. He has too heavily invested in seeing me get better to doubt that. But the reality is that I will never matter to him in the way I long too, as someone who isn’t easily put aside. (NOTE: I need to be someone he can easily put aside, as my therapist he has an obligation not to need me, and to maintain enough detachment to be of help to me. I am not saying that he does this in a callous “I couldn’t give a shit” kind of way.)
So I am questioning if on some level the reason I am still here, still seeing him, is because of this buried and unrecognized fantasy that if I stay long enough, I will get the relationship for which I long. If that is true, then the only thing that will result is pain; freshly unearthing the terrible reality that my parents abandoned me in profound ways and did not give me what I need and that there is no way to replace that. I have spent enough, and more than enough, time looking back at and mourning that loss. It is time to be getting on with things, knowing that I am so much more able to live a fuller life and have so many relationships in which it is possible to feel loved and accepted and get my needs met.
So as much as I cherish the growth I can accomplish with BN, I am also recognizing that the openness and vulnerability I need to experience to go so deep with him, is, I think, in some way continuing to feed this fantasy that perceives more in the relationship than is there. I do not know how to keep myself open enough to do the work without also feeding a longing that needs to die. So I am honestly wondering if it is time to go.
I am aware that this may be a really sophisticated version of “I want to run, this is too painful” or even a really dressed up version of a temper tantrum for not getting an answer when I wanted one (part of what is painful when I hit this juncture is realizing that there is nothing I can do which would make this as painful for BN as it is for me, as I can selfishly want to do at times, being human.) But seeing this as just a defense mechanism also makes me question myself. After all, if I can see this as just a defense mechanism, then I don’t have to leave (and can keep nursing the fantasy and longing.) I’m at a loss as to what is going on. And don’t particularly trust myself to know what is true.
Which would normally be my cue to bring this up and discuss it with BN as that often seems to be how I gain insight into myself and my motivations. But right now it feels so unbelievably humiliating to do that. I am sick to death of discussing this. Not to mention worn out from dealing with other things. So I just want to be done. I think that about covers the mess of my own making in which I find myself. As I stated earlier, I would appreciate any comments or insight (and while I truly desire honestly, a little gentleness would also be welcome, not feeling all that strong at the moment). Thanks.
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