Boundaries, Shame, and Sexual Tension

Today’s session was very….dense. We got through so much important material, but it seems like we just flew through it. Everything feels so jumbled and messy in my head. I wish I’d had an audio recorder so I could play it back because at this point it’s hard to even remember what exactly happened.

But I want to get this written down, so I’m just going to start at the beginning and hopefully writing will help me organize my thoughts…

First I read her my Mother’s Day post, since a lot of the emotion from this past weekend was around that stupid holiday. She laughed a lot at the appropriate moments. We didn’t spend much time dissecting it, probably because I essentially said everything I had to say about it in the actual post. She more or less just agreed with me. We did do a bit of reflecting on the bizarre way our society both canonizes and yet holds contempt for motherhood, as well as the ultimate “taboo” around family estrangements. I felt like she heard and acknowledged me, but that part of the conversation wasn’t too deep.

She commented that she’d also read the article I mentioned and found it to be both interesting and spot-on. I said, “Yeah, that seems like something you’d read” to which she kinda just laughed, but also – it was an admittedly awkward moment as (I think) we both realized she’d just revealed something about herself. I also felt a little strange about knowing that she’d read it because it DOES tell me a lot about her political leanings and feminist values. Not that I couldn’t have guessed that on my own, but making an assumption about your therapist and having actual confirmed knowledge about them are two very different things.

Which is what most of the rest of session was about. I told her about seeing Zooey’s gentleman friend on the train. I prefaced it by saying, “I’m going to tell you a weird story and you’re probably going to judge me, but that’s okay because I would probably judge me if I were you.” She narrowed her eyes and skeptically said. “…okay.”

It was hard to explain what happened without explicitly stating that I had internet-searched Zooey as well as her roommate. I needed to explain how I would even know who he was, let alone recognize him. I basically summed up everything I said in the post about it and her first question was, “Were you maybe secretly hoping he recognized you?”

“Yes and no. It’s not really about him, but I think I’d hoped I’d somehow been important enough for Zooey to share the photo of Wife and I with him – even if it was to warn him to stay away from me…”

“Is that because you wanted things to be equal – she was so important to you, and you wanted her to feel the same?”

“Yes, but in a different way. I wanted to feel like I’d mattered to her somehow.”

“What do you think made you do the internet searches”

“When I look at the timeline, it’s clear that I was just trying to hold onto her in any way I could. At that point, she was intentionally withholding connection from me. I could see her decompensating as the relationship itself was deteriorating. I think I was just reaching out for anything to connect me to her….anything that would allow me to remain connected to her once she was gone. I also think I was looking for information that might help me understand what was happening better and then maybe help me save the relationship. Like…if I could find a way to relate to her in a new or better way, maybe I could fix it.”

“That makes a lot of sense. And it’s also kind of sad that you went through so much to try and connect with her and to save the relationship.”

Indeed.

She talked a little more about boundaries and clients doing things like internet searching their therapists. She wasn’t ever weird or judgy about it, but I felt strangely insecure and defensive once I began talking more about all of this.

I thought it was shame around having “violated a boundary” so I brought it up. She said that I didn’t violate a boundary – I did creep along the edge of it, but I didn’t actually do anything inappropriate. She spoke a lot on this idea that how a client is testing and pressing the parameters of any therapeutic space usually says a lot about how the therapist is setting said parameters. She feels like Zooey, similar to the abusive hospital shrink, was unable to draw a line for me. I was ultimately asking both providers to set clear and safe boundaries around our relationships and both refused to do so. In fact, one totally violated me and Zooey just sort of left the boundaries deliberately vague. This therapist thinks part of what happened is that I leaned into the vagueness, grasping at whatever I could find to feel safe and secure.

She’s probably right.

Then she asked me to talk more about the shame I was feeling. I mentioned how frustrating it is to even have a conversation about boundaries because in the therapy-world, “boundaries” is generally discussed within the context of containing these crazed, therapist-obsessed clients. I’m not like that. None of us are. Historically, we (the system) actually prefer to know very little about our clinicians and we have never pushed to know more than very basic information. None of us had ever “Googled” a therapist before. I felt very frantic and vulnerable as I tried to explain this important nuance to her.

She said, “I see and understand that this was very specific to Zooey. I’m not criticizing you and you don’t need to defend yourself for wanting to know more about her. But since it was very specific to your relationship with her, I would like to see us stay with this and really talk about your feelings around it and explore what made you want to feel closer to her, personally.”

“That’s fair, but I just feel so ashamed now and I didn’t feel like that when I came in. But I don’t regret wanting to know more and I don’t regret searching her online. Or him.”

“I don’t think you should. And I hear you saying that you’re ashamed of how you behaved, but I wonder if the shame you feel isn’t actually related to the emotion that drove that behavior…?”

As soon as she said that, I knew she was right. At this point I was just melting down inside. I don’t know what was happening, exactly, but I felt so completely exposed and fragile.

“It’s obvious that some of this boundary stuff came right out of the way you and Zooey interacted. You two definitely had some sort of strange and intense energy…maybe even a sexual tension.”

I just said, “Oh probably…” But I thought about how strange it was that she used the phrase “sexual tension” instead of “erotic transference”. Why? There was probably a whole lot more where that came from, but we were running out of time.

I told the therapist that I can see how there was a weird energy between Zooey and I and I’ve spent the last six months trying to figure it all out. I feel like I get closer to an answer, especially because this is the most well-boundaried therapy I’ve ever had and I think that allows me to explore more stuff. Then I said, “But ultimately, I don’t know why I care so much. I don’t know why I can’t just let it go.”

“Because this was really important to you. It was a big deal. You just spoke so much and so eloquently about what she meant to you. And we’re almost out of time now, but maybe we should talk about your tendency to follow up a really great conversation by putting yourself down in some way. Why do you always negate the hard work you do in here?”

Excellent question, lady. Excellent question.

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16 thoughts on “Boundaries, Shame, and Sexual Tension

  1. Boost Connection says:

    Wow, great post and great reflections. You guys do hard work! It must be draining. Sounds like the therapist is bringing up new ways to process and understand your past relationship dynamics. It sounds overwhelming though. I hope you take the time and space you need to take care of yourselves, my dear. Sending supportive and positive vibes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Life in a Bind - BPD and me says:

    What a great session! And a bit bizarre that my own session yesterday went over some of the exact same ground about googling including the difference between the feelings about what motivated the searching to start with, that is need for connection , and the feelings about the search itself in terms of curiosity, pushing boundaries hoping to write about it at some point !. thanks for a great and thought provoking post….

    Like

  3. Julia says:

    Hi andi!

    I’ve been following your blog for a while but never commented.
    I’ve been diagnosed with did and i to lost my therapist in a really abrupt way and now i’m (or we) trying to start over with someone new who is great but well, trusting someone after a lot of bad therapy and an unforeseen ending is really really hard.
    I just wanted to say thanks, you and your selves writing about therapy, the struggles and the discoveries about zoey really has given us some inside in to our own relationship with the previous therapist as well as helped with trying to see what a gift it was, even though it hurts like hell, that she left and that we found someone great instead.
    I also wanted to comment on the ‘internet searching’ because i really really don’t think you should beat yourself up about that. Therapist and client is such a weird relationship and for us, we always struggle with power, with the feeling that some else has all the power and we, in the end, are always pulling the shorter straw.
    I think for us, googling is trying to make us equals. Like, she has a life to and therefore is human and therefore is less of a danger. Plus it is only natural to want to know more about the people you have a connection with, even more if it is such a loaded connection as therapist/client.
    O men, i’m writing a whole blog myself it seems 😉
    Again, thank you for sharing,
    Greetings

    Julia

    Liked by 2 people

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