I wish I had written a post on Friday, after I’d gotten out of session. It was a difficult session, intense and uncomfortable. But also profoundly intimate and full of rich connection.
When I left, it took me roughly two hours of slowly browsing through a bookstore to restore my nervous system to something resembling calm.
The long and short of it is that I’d begun to feel quite disconnected from my therapist. I’ve written previously about my struggles with an eating disorder and how that has tremendous power to pull me out of connection with everyone (myself included). My therapist has certainly not been an exception.
In making the decision to increase my food intake and actively fight back against my ED, the lack of connection between her and I has been that much more painful. I’m still not entirely sure what possessed me to do this, but last week after a particularly challenging (failed) attempt to connect with her, I came home from session and did a web search on her.
I put in her name and location. I’ve done this before – when I first began to see her. In another life, when I had therapists with poor boundaries and even worse communication skills, “googling” a therapist seemed like what you just did. So naturally I searched her online to see what came up. The answer: not much. Just professional stuff like her education , work history, and licensing information.
Which, I suppose, is what I imagined I would find this time around as well. Sometimes I go directly to her profile page on PsychologyToday to feel close to her and to remind myself that she wants to be doing this work and that this is literally her job. It’s soothing.
But I was wrong. There was more.
It turns out that since the last time I web searched her, her father died. It was this past April. I read the obituary. So now I know the names of her parents, I know their professions, and I know she has one sister and one brother (and where they live).
Once I realized that I’d actually uncovered something personal, I felt like shit about it. I told my wife when she got home from work. She recommended I talk to my therapist about it. I said I would never tell her such a thing – too shameful!
But then I told her anyway. I called her Wednesday evening and explained my thought process and what I’d done. I didn’t mention finding anything because that felt too scary. But then during Friday’s session, I brought it up again and as we were discussing it, she said,
“I don’t know why I didn’t think to ask this sooner, but did something come up? Did you find something that we should talk about??”
I felt my heart sink. I was terrified, but I also knew this was my chance to come clean.
“Uh, well mostly just professional stuff…things I already knew. But also, there was an obituary…”
I looked up. She took a breath and said, “Wow. Okay, yeah, that’s a lot of information.”
I started to cry. I felt awful. I told her I felt like I’d stolen something from her and that although I was searching for a way to feel closer to her and to bridge the space between us, I feared that my behavior would now have the opposite effect. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I was afraid I’d hurt her.
She reassured me that she was okay. She wasn’t thrilled about it, but she said that we could talk about it more next session. She said I could ask her questions and she would maintain boundaries during that conversation – a statement that gave me pause. She noticed my reaction and said,
“I say that so that you know it’s safe in here to talk about this.”
In the end, it was a beautiful moment. Painful, raw, vulnerable. These are the kind of moments I do everything in my power to flee from. I hate them because the intimacy feels annihilating – as though I am being crushed to death.
But something about the unexpected way she responded to my disclosure with such kindness and gentleness made me feel incredibly safe and loved and protected. Which, to be fair, has it’s own activating effect.
Regardless, it felt good. It felt like important work and although I don’t recommend googling your therapist, it seemed to have worked out okay. She didn’t yell and scream or throw me out of her office. She acknowledged what happened and made space for us to explore it further.
So I spent the weekend really reflecting on this. I knew that I wanted to talk about the connecting part – how can I remain close to her between sessions without feeling a need to reach beyond the boundaries that keep our work so safe and protected? How can I hold her close to me? How can I have a sense of continuity? How can I find a way to lean into the intimacy, rather than immediately shake it off (only to have to work that much harder to claw my way back to it during the next session!)?
I felt (somewhat) prepared to attack this stuff in session yesterday. I went in feeling nervous, yet optimistic. I opened the session by noting the intensity of the previous one and then began talking about the impact of feeling so connected to her; how good it felt.
But then she shut me down. It’s hard to explain, really.
In session, she usually keeps the space very open. She lets the session flow in a very organic way. She responds to what I bring up with curiosity and tends to follow my lead. But yesterday was different – I felt as though she was very pointedly steering me into a specific direction; a place I wasn’t prepared to go yet.
She kept alluding to the “negative” aspect of what I had done. We’d previously discussed the obvious fact that my actions would certainly have an impact on our relationship. I came in willing to discuss that, but I suppose I wanted to start with how I felt it had brought us closer. I immediately got the impression that she wanted to linger more on how it was not appropriate and had crossed a boundary.
But she didn’t explicitly say that. She just kept dancing around it and ignoring the things I was saying. At one point I asked her to please just tell me what she wanted from me because I felt so confused. She said she wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I didn’t believe her. I told her that I felt she responded better to me when I was in a place of shame and self-deprecation on Friday versus when I was in a more resolved, accepting place yesterday. She acknowledged my statement, but didn’t really say much in response.
Eventually, we sorta made our way to the same place. She said that she was admittedly trying to steer back to that space of difficult emotion because she believes it’s important for us to identify why I felt I could not receive connection in person and thus took a more “cynical” approach and sought out information elsewhere. She also said that maybe she was doing that because it does directly involve the boundaries of our relationship.
Fair enough. But it also seemed about more than that to me. I am very attuned to her and to the way she conducts herself in sessions. It seems to me that a lot went unspoken. I asked her directly about it, explaining that I sensed she was feeling something (anger? frustration? betrayal?) that was pulling her in a different direction than where I was attempting to go. She said,
“I actually don’t know what I’m feeling about it.”
Which, in my opinion, very much means that she could be upset with me and just hasn’t yet been able to tap into that emotion. And that is a scary thought.
She mentioned my earlier comment that I felt as though I’d stolen something from her. But after yesterday’s session, I feel as though she also stole something back from me.
It took a LOT for me to be honest with her – not only about searching for her online, but about what I’d found and what motivated me to look in the first place. It took even more to be brave enough to stay in the emotion at the moment of disclosure and reach for her instead of push her away. The result of that effort is that I felt close to her, which inspired me to dig deeper into my behavior and seek to find a better way to hold onto that connection.
But I feel like she stole that from me. She took the moment and somehow made it ugly. I felt like she kept distancing herself from me yesterday. She made a comment that this had an impact on both of us, and then said, “But I think you more than me.”
Which, yeah probably, but that also seemed like an odd thing to point out. And she seemed to compulsively reaffirm that she was somehow not impacted or not anything about it; as if it didn’t effect her at all. It was bizarre. And the incongruency between what she was saying and what I was feeling from her was frightening. It was almost like she was punishing me for finding closeness in the wrong way by revoking that closeness and withholding transparency.
I know she would argue with this. She would disagree and say that connection ebbs and flows and often after a moment of intense connection, we often find ourselves in a place of disconnect. But it seems different this time.
Strangely, I don’t regret searching for her online. When all is said and done, I don’t really know much. I have no context for the obituary, so all I know is factual information. That doesn’t make it right or okay, but I didn’t actual violate her boundary. I didn’t hack her email or show up at her house or something equally strange and inappropriate.
It was not the right choice, but I honestly don’t want to agonize over it and spend the next several weeks or months drowning in guilt and shame about it. What I’d like to do is figure out why I did it and work on finding new ways to get what I need or want.
But I do regret that I didn’t write about Friday’s session and capture the absolute wonder of that intimacy and connection when it was still fresh and untainted by yesterday’s session. I wish I had my own thoughts and feelings written down so I could go back to that place and remember that it was real and wonderful and possible.
I hope we find it again.