Going into Thursday’s session, I knew I wanted to talk about the comment my therapist made on Monday in response to my fears around our growing attachment (“Well that’s kind of hard when you’re coming three times a week!”). I re-capped that part of the conversation and I explained that it felt like she was making fun of me or mocking me somehow.
“It’s like you were saying: ‘Well what did you think was going to happen if you came here so often?!’…as if I am stupid or something.”
“I don’t think that. In fact, I have no expectation that you should know what to feel or expect about coming here three times a week. I’m sure you feel a lot of complicated things about it.”
“And I can see how my comment might not have sat well with you…”
She paused a bit to reflect on the conversation and her own intentions.
“I think what I was doing was responding to the double-bind you were in: that you want so much to have support and to feel safe and secure in this space, but at the same time, that intimacy scares you and pulls you out of the safety. So as I was listening to you speak on Monday, I realized how difficult this situation is for you and I wanted to speak to that.”
“Well it felt more like you were pulling away from the moment. I felt a lot of painful emotions during that conversation. By saying that, it felt as though you were pinning the responsibility of frequency entirely onto me – as if you had no say in that change. Or, even worse, that you were subconsciously communicating regret about increasing frequency.”
“Huh. Well, first of all, I do not feel regret at all.”
“But I imagine you do! I imagine that you check your calendar on the days I have session; you go down the list of clients and see my name and think ‘Oh man’ in a disappointed or annoyed manner, as if you’re dreading that session.”
She looked genuinely shocked. I could tell she was struggling to find her words.
“You really do that?”
“Yes. I mean, I think that as I check my own phone. Once I see our session in my calendar, I picture you doing the same thing and that’s how I imagine you reacting.”
“Okay. Well I want to point out that we made that decision together, to increase sessions. It was something we talked about a lot beforehand and slowly eased into. I do not feel regret about that. Actually, I think it’s working really well for us. And I don’t regret seeing you three times a week. I think this work is really exciting and I think we’re doing great things.”
“Whoa. Okay. But that’s a lot of pressure.”
She just looked at me with the same expression she always gives that kind of makes it seem like I’m breaking her heart. I kept talking,
“I mean, well…what happens when this changes and it’s not exciting anymore?”
“It won’t always look exactly the way it does right now. It will look different and then shift and look different again. But that doesn’t mean it will change in a bad way.”
“But what if I do something and you decide we’re not doing ‘great work’ anymore?”
“There is no expectation of what you will or will not do. This work is not dependent on your behaviors or reactions. I just want you to be authentic and yourself, whatever that is.”
I started to settle a bit.
“Also, I notice how this is another tough situation for you: you want to feel as though this is working for you…for us. And I think we’re in a really good space. But that, in turn, causes you to feel distress over somehow messing up and ruining it.”
She later reflected that she felt she was trying to lighten the mood a bit when she made that comment. We frequently use humor in session and it mostly works very well for us. I responded,
“No, I know that. I caught that actually…that you were joking. It wasn’t lost on me, I mean. I just…sometimes when people are joking, they’re not; they joke about something they don’t want to say outright; it’s a form of passive-aggression.”
“That is very true. However, and this is where we can do some reality checking, right?, I was not being passive-aggressive or communicating anything indirectly. But I see how that particular moment was poor timing for a joke. And now that we’ve talked about this more, I can see how a joke at that moment, no matter how well-intended, would have been hurtful to you.”
“Thank you. It was hurtful. But I’m glad that’s not how you really feel.”
These moments are so difficult, both when they occur and when we talk about them later. But the follow-up conversations are always so important and usually where a lot of crucial relationship development happens.
This dialogue was necessary, not so much because I was unable to see what she genuinely meant (I could see that; I know her well enough to understand most of her intentions), but because it allowed me to talk about related fears and worries that otherwise may not surface. And it allowed her to be more open with me about how she feels about this work, forging a stronger (albeit more scary/precarious) bond.
I always dread bringing things like this into session. But not once have I ever regretted it. Not with her.