After the amazing session that was Thursday, I felt fairly calm and centered going into our usual Friday session. I was a little nervous about how to follow up a session that seemed to flow so perfectly, but I had a feeling I could push past that anxiety if I just started talking.
I opened by saying, “So…about yesterday. I think we should like high-five or something. That was a good session!” I think she didn’t know how to respond for a second, but then she laughed and said, “Oh..okay!” and put her hand up as if to “air five” me.
Then I said that I thought it might be nice if I reflected back what I thought was particularly helpful about the session. The first thing I mentioned was how relieved I was that she brought up the tense conversation from the tail end of the prior session. I told her that although I had been formulating a segue in my head, I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. So it was great that she actually introduced the topic.
Except, then she reacted in kind of a strange way.
She instantly reminded me that her bringing up topics is not really the goal. She wasn’t harsh about it, but it was a gentle reminder that part of this process involves me having to sit with such moments of discomfort. But I know that. I even alluded to it at the end of the post in which I reflected on how well the session had gone. I felt a little confused at how serious she was about this and I said, “Okay. I mean, I know that. Did you imagine I didn’t know that? Is that why you brought it up?”
“No, actually. I don’t know why I brought it up. I think I just wanted to make sure the expectations were clear.”
“Fair enough. But I kind of just wanted to be excited that something worked so well for us.”
“Okay. Yeah. I see that now.”
I’m not sure what happened, but it honestly seemed like she really struggled with the positive feedback I offered her. She had a very knee-jerk response to me that makes me think it’s less about me and more about something she has going on. I think my question to her made her realize that she was bringing her own stuff into the moment (which is okay, but we need to be open about that).
So then I moved onto the next item. I told her how much I felt that keeping momentum really helped me to stay present with the session and to feel like she was truly listening and interested and invested in what I was saying. I reminded her that it is very hard for me to re-start once something slows or stops me in conversation and that I’m extra sensitive to what she is doing while I’m talking. She responded in a similar way to the first piece of feedback – by talking about how she won’t always be able to do that. She won’t always know what I’m thinking or what is most important about what I’m saying.
Again, it was about managing expectations, but I was starting to get a little frustrated. It seemed like we somehow ended up spending a lot more time talking about what DOESN’T work in session, rather than what I had originally brought up, which is what DID work the day before.
“I know that. And, again, I’m not suggesting that what worked yesterday will work all the time…”
“I know. But this is important. Because I think you get very frustrated when I am not able to pick up on what is important about what you’re saying. I think you find my silence in those moments to be sadistic. Sometimes I am silent because I want to allow you to stay with your thought. And sometimes I’m silent because although I’m following along with what you’re saying, I haven’t quite picked up what the major focus is. So I am thinking about it and piecing it together. But I think those moments are especially hard for you because I don’t pick up on things that seem very obvious to you. I think it hurts you.”
“Well they are. But I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t get frustrated with YOU. I get frustrated with ME. If I’m saying something and it seems very obvious to me, but you reflect that you can’t or don’t see it that way, I’m not mad at you. I’m just pissed that I can’t ever make any sense to people. And I feel really embarrassed that I thought something was so plain and obvious when it really wasn’t…”
She said she understood what I was saying, but that she also senses I feel hurt and abandoned by those times that she doesn’t pick up my greater meaning. (And she’s right. But I also think there is some counter-transference there because she struggles with feeling as though she’s abandoned or hurt me during session.)
Then she said, “But I’m a bit confused. Why should you feel upset that I can’t see what is so clear to you? In that case, I am the one who’s missing something, right?”
“Because obviously I’m so fucking weird that the only other person in the room with me can’t even see things the way I do.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re weird. It just means that we’re different. And that’s what I think was so important about yesterday and the end of Monday’s session. You and I were not on the same page. Right? We were in the exact same situation but we were not seeing the same things. And yesterday was really about us coming together to find common ground and to re-connect with each other. It doesn’t have to be in extremes – that you are crazy and I’m not. Maybe it could just be that we see things differently?”
At this point she had found some of the original excitement I brought into the session. But I was still fixated on her initial reactions, so I said, “Well, yes, I see that. But also, I want to be clear that this is not some ‘Borderline’ moment. I don’t have an idealized illusion of how therapy will go or how you will be. I haven’t set the bar based on yesterday’s session and now each subsequent session will be measured against it…”
“Whoa. Okay. But I don’t think that at all…I’m wondering where this is coming from? “
“I don’t know, I just… Guilt. Deceit. Manipulation. These are the words that are coming to my mind. I feel bad, like maybe you’re only saying all of this now because I spun things and manipulated the conversation.”
“No, not at all! I was just thinking about how excited you were and I thought, ‘Huh. Yeah! We could just be excited that things worked so well!’ and I was trying to reflect that back to you.”
“Well now I can’t even remember how I felt about it…”
There was an intense pause and then I think we both realized what had happened.
I came in all excited and optimistic and she responded by being serious and realistic. I attuned to that. I immediately picked up on how she felt about what I was saying. But then, later in the session, when she had attuned to ME – to my excitement – and reflected it back to me, I responded by matching her earlier response. I had attuned to her needs so quickly that I had lost my own original thought.
We talked about this a bit and I said, “Wow. it’s actually kind of fascinating to see something like that happen right here in real time”
“Yes. And it makes me think that you must have grown up surrounded by such rigid thinkers…so it was crucial that you attune to their beliefs and opinions in order to keep yourself safe…You needed to know what was okay to think and feel.”
“Well that’s definitely true.”
“So I see that. And I hear that. But I AM also excited that things went well in here yesterday. Because maybe what was also important about yesterday’s session is that it showed us that we CAN potentially do this together.”
Huh. I hadn’t even thought about that. But I think she’s right. I think maybe we can do this.