I wish I could report that yesterday’s session went better than Monday’s session.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it was worse, but it was very very similar.
I had session right after my internship. On the train ride to my therapist’s office, I was debating whether or not I should share about how the shift had gone. It was my second day, but I didn’t mention it at all on Monday because there were so many other things I wanted to touch on in that hour.
Also, it always seems like such a silly waste of time to share about these peripheral things when there’s so much else we’re in the middle of right now that is more important.
But I’d had a very successful shift and treated five patients on my own. My clinical instructor was very impressed with me and I felt proud of that. So, like a little kid who wants to run home and tell their parents about the awesome thing they did at school, I wanted to run and tell my therapist how awesome I was at my internship.
I did. And I could tell she was proud of me, too. She said, “I’m not surprised at all, but it’s very cool that they obviously like you so much at your clinic!”
Then I shared that I met the massage therapist who rents the office on off-hours. After we had our obligatory social introduction, she asked me where I was from (meaning my family heritage). I told her I was born here in the U.S. but my family comes from the United Kingdom and Italy. She said, “Oh wow. I thought you were maybe Polish or something – you’re so beautiful! And those eyes – they are stunning!”
Then I made a reference to the 1980’s and she said, “You were around in the 80’s?” so I told her I was born in the 80’s. She looked surprised and said, “Oh my goodness, I thought you were closer to 20!”
Which led to an emotionally charged conversation with my therapist about how difficult it is for me to accept such “compliments” because #1: I hate people looking at my body and things like this remind me that they’re doing so, and #2 it’s not really a compliment since I literally had nothing to do with my genetics.
(Also, I didn’t mention this to my therapist, but #3: I hate my face because I look so much like my parents and so every time I look in the mirror, I see those monsters staring right back at me.)
I told my therapist that I thought the massage therapist was being nice. She said, “She wasn’t just being nice, that is how she genuinely experienced you – as youthful looking and beautiful.”
I said, “No she didn’t, she was just making conversation!”
She had a defeated look on her face and just said, “…Okay.”
I knew we wouldn’t make much headway with the body image conversation, so I changed the subject about fifteen minutes in; I told her I wanted to circle back around to Monday’s session and spend a little bit more time processing what happened between us. She thought that was a great idea and I could tell she was impressed that I’d brought it up.
I explained that there were a lot of important things that came up in that conversation that weren’t actually expressed properly. I also said that we were very disconnected – it felt like we were so far apart and just could not find each other. She asked me to share more about what I felt she didn’t hear me saying and to try again to say what I wanted to say.
I hesitated. I told her I was afraid to recreate that conversation in all of it’s messy frustration. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what happened. I don’t even know how it happened, but it did.
I started to share the way I experienced that particular part of the session and she responded that she had actually experienced it completely differently. At that point I didn’t even want to talk about it anymore, but she said it would be good to do so. She said that our realities will never match up and they don’t have to, but the goal is to bring them closer together.
I knew she was right, but it is SO HARD for me to get this shit out of my mouth at all. The idea of having to try yet again to articulate something that feels so painful was not at all appealing. Plus it’s embarrassing for me; I’m always afraid that by re-hashing these types of things, I’m making it super dramatic. So then once she realizes what I was actually trying to say, she’ll just think it’s dumb.
At one point she asked me to share how I experienced her reactions to me while I was talking on Monday. I told her that I felt she was frustrated and probably confused because my tone was very strong and a bit confrontational. I imagined she was caught a little off-guard by my emotion and was wondering where all of this was coming from. I also shared that I was watching her face while I was speaking and I felt she had a bemused smirk on her face and that she seemed to be feeling a lot of emotion that she was trying to restrain.
She said, “And why would I be feeling those things?”
“I don’t fucking know! And you know that! How could I possibly know what or why you’re feeling anything?! This feels like such a trick question! This line of questioning sucks. Does this work on other clients? Are they okay with being interrogated like this? Am I the only one who thinks this feels like shit?!”
She asked, “How could I have asked that differently? What would you like me to say in response to you?”
“I don’t know! What the hell? Do you want me to do your job for you, too?”
“Yes, because you won’t let me do my job.”
She was right and I knew it. But I wouldn’t admit it. I was too frustrated and I felt too helpless. She kept talking,
“I’m thinking of an earlier conversation we had where you shared that you felt you often caused your therapists to feel incompetent. I am not feeling that way right now, but I do wonder if you’re intentionally being provocative. I feel like my hands are tied right now – nothing I say is what you want to hear. And I do detect an attitude from you. Which is okay – you’re allowed to have these feelings, but you also need to know that your behavior has an impact on people.”
“Right. So now, on top of everything else I’m worried about, I have to worry about your feelings? I can barely take care of myself and now I have to take care of you? I can’t do that!”
“No, you do not have to take care of me. But you do need to be aware that you have impact.”
I tried to calm myself a bit. I said, “Listen, I know you aren’t really interrogating me. I know that when you ask me such questions, you’re genuinely interested in the answer and trying to figure out how I’m experiencing this or what I’m imagining about you or about what’s happening in the work. But it just feels like an attack. I feel like you’re questioning my reality and my reality was ALWAYS questioned. So when you do that, it triggers an old wound and I react with a lot of powerful emotion. But I think that emotion is important. So I think what I’m trying to do is use this relationship and use the therapy to talk about other emotions from earlier in my life. I’m trying to use it as the medium with which we can discuss it.”
She replied, “Well this is something we’ve talked about before, right? That trauma response. So maybe what’s happening is that the way we’re interacting reminds you of an earlier time. We both know that you grew up in an environment where if you did try to share your experience of something, you would not only be questioned, you’d likely be attacked for it. So although the emotion you’re feeling right now about this conversation and about how I’m responding to you is genuine, I also think it’s based on historical relational trauma.”
I just looked at her, dumbfounded. Then I took a deep breath and said, “That is literally exactly what I just said.”
“That is not what I heard you saying.”
I grit my teeth, crossed my arms, and looked up at the ceiling to try and contain all of the emotion that was surfacing. I tried so hard to hold back my tears, but I started crying anyway and that made me even more frustrated. In that moment, I didn’t want her to see me crying. I didn’t want to give her that.
After a moment, I looked at the clock. We were out of time.
I just started yelling, “This sucks so fucking bad! I brought this up because I wanted to feel better about it but now I feel even worse! And now I have to hold onto this until Monday; hold onto this relationship drama along with all of the other shit I’m trying to hold onto and it’s just too much. It’s too much, it’s too much, it’s too much.”
My entire body started shaking.
She very slowly said, “There is nothing I can say right now that will help you or make you feel better. And that is awful. So we’re just going to need to hold onto this until Monday. But I am here. If you need to check in before then, I am here.”