Regret

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.

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32 thoughts on “Regret

  1. kat says:

    oh i’m so sorry for all the sh*t you are going thru with therapy. it seems like your therapist has just as many issues as you and that it isn’t that safe a space and that good work done is only hit and miss. i know you’ve invested a lot of time with her, but maybe its time to consider a new/different therapist? one who connects more often, who can make and keep a safe space.whatever you do, good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Kat. It is definitely a safe space, but sometimes these things are tricky. Most of the time I am the one pulling out of/away from her efforts to connect to me to be honest. I’m not sure what exactly is going on with her or us but I hope we can figure it out soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. sophiasquared says:

    I have absolutely googled my therapist and I think it’s reasonable to do so. I admit that I don’t feel entirely comfortable about it, and I know things about him that I should perhaps mention to him, but I do think googling is legitimate and of course you’re curious about her and want to feel connected. I’m sorry that your session didn’t go well – I hope you’re able to reconnect.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jaklumen says:

    First, Andi- let me know if I say anything that seems hurtful at all. I try to be very careful with my words, yet sometimes, I find they aren’t received the way I intended them.

    That said- well, I’ll put it this way: how is it that you get so emotionally involved with your therapists? I hope that doesn’t sound too blunt or harsh; I mean, this is just a pattern I’ve been noticing. I do get that too many therapists seem to have problems- I’ve met many a schmuck and many a putz in my over 30 years now. (Too many “Wounded Healers” projecting their damage on to their clients.) But I’m wondering if it might help you to invest in emotional defense and boundaries. Rationally, yes, I agree- you didn’t do anything wrong researching your therapist. Emotionally… well, it seems enmeshed to me. Personally, I feel exhausted just thinking on it!

    Does this make sense? This is just my thought; take it for what you will. If it has merit, I hope you find something that works very well for you so therapy sessions are less emotionally tumultuous for you. DBT helps me in this area; Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV), as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Jak! I generally don’t find the therapy itself tumultuous as much as just being in an active process of healing and recovery. I’m not sure why I get so emotionally invested. Perhaps I imagine that’s how it should be in therapy? This therapist and I actually have pretty excellent boundaries. I don’t feel an enmeshment but I think it’s something worth examining closer because I was certainly very enmeshed with my biological mother.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cat's Meow says:

        Can I throw in my 2cents on this? You are doing therapy around primary attachment wounds. This is not done analytically or in a detached way. The way that I do it with my therapist is through my relationship with her. She cannot replace my failed primary attachment relationships, of course, but our space together can provide opportunities for me to heal my ability to relate with and attach to others. That requires emotional intensity at times.

        Other types of therapy (and in many cases possibly even should be done) in the context of a much less intense therapeutic relationship. This is different.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. myquietroar says:

    I have totally googled my therapists as well. I do feel a little sneaky about it but I have also googled my hairdresser, my mechanic and my bank manager so that kind of normalises it for me. As a health professional myself (in a different field) I imagine my clients google me too (hence the anonymity on here!)- and I’m okay with this. For me it’s just curiosity mainly, but also something about knowing how they are out there in the world vs. the relationship I have with them and the service I get- it’s weird to think of it as a service sometimes but I find that helps more than a relationship as I have to work hard to not get too attached. This blog here: http://sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org/ talks lot about attachment to her therapist and how she is working through it now with someone else- you might find it a helpful read? Take care. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks! Yes, I definitely feel a natural curiosity but I also think this particular decision was rooted in something deeper (and worth exploring) if we can move past this strange rupture. I’ll definitely check out the blog you linked to!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sirena says:

    Sorry Andi, this is so painful. And it does feel a bit hit or miss whether she’ll really get it or not. It feels like there’s a mismatch somewhere, because when she’s on form, she’s awesome but when something knocks her for whatever reason she does seem to withdraw into herself. In this situation you seem to have a better grip of it all than her. What’s your thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Agreed. In this particular situation, I felt like I had put more thought into the whole process and thus came into session more prepared and a bit further along, emotionally.

      Like

  6. Cat's Meow says:

    Andi, I think that you are probably spot on about this indicating a need to maintain a sense of connection between sessions. One of the reasons that I have googled my therapist was needing confirmation that she continues to exist outside of when I see her. There is very little about her on the Internet that is personal and what is personal isn’t private, so I don’t feel badly for having looked. If I stalked her on line, that would be another story.

    I accidentally discovered my therapist’s address when she gave me something in a large envelope that had her address on it. At that point I was living in another town and taking a nap in my car after sessions. It turned out that my favorite place to park for this was around the corner and less than 150′ as the crow flies from her house. So I had to tell her that I discovered her address and about my parking place. I didn’t want for her to come home early some day, walk past my car, and have me think that I was stalking her. We talked and she didn’t mind my knowing where she lives.

    When we moved back here and started to house hunt, my therapist and I talked about the issue. We live in a small town. She happens to live in the neighborhood that best suited my family’s needs. She told me that she didn’t care about where we bought a house, she just wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable. I decided that I would be fine as long as we weren’t on the same street (kind of unfortunate because it has long been one of my 2 favorite streets in town and we can’t afford the other street).

    Because of a very competitive market, we ended up having to buy outside of that neighborhood, but in one nearby. The natural walking loop for a pleasant, safe evening walk that is 2 miles long take me down her street.

    She says that she doesn’t mind my walking past her house and I actually get a bit of comfort from it if I’ve been having a hard time, so I haven’t worried about contriving a route that would avoid her house.

    That’s one way that I maintain a sense of connection that costs her very little. Every once in a while she is outside and I see her, but that’s once in a blue moon. Another way that I maintain a sense of connection is through a couple of transitional objects that she has given me. I can hold them and feel connected to her. Another way is through the use of text or email, if need be.

    I used to feel really ashamed about needing that ongoing connection and it made me resist connecting in one of these simpler ways early on, instead I would try to tough it out alone until I was in a crisis point and the only thing that would do would be to talk to her for a significant amount of time on the phone.

    I don’t know what the developmental levels of your different parts are, but I personally have found that I need to satisfy the connection and security needs of all of the different ages of parts. It can be really tricky when some parts don’t want to ever let anyone in again and other parts want to curl up on my therapist’s lap, but with some ingenuity on my part and my therapist’s part, we can generally manage to meet/ work with the different needs pretty well.

    I hope that this made any sort of sense! I’m going through a pretty intense phase integrating some information that I’ve resisted most of my life and internally reorganizing around it. It’s definitely made me a bit loopy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Definitely makes sense! I think these are tricky things are there is no clean, simple answer that works across the board. Each client-therapist dyad is different and will have unique needs that bend and change through the work. I think it’s about finding what works best to meet those needs and remaining flexible throughout the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Rachel says:

    Okay, first – I was absolutely amazed that you TOLD HER about the googling of her, and what you found. That takes a tremendous amount of courage. Well done. I know it was not easy to do.
    Second, I get the emotional intensity and wanting/NEEDING to feel connected between sessions. It doesn’t sound odd at all to me, nor does your relationship with her. That is par for the attachment course work, in my opinion. And there isn’t really much other way to address it. The issues usually are not because of the client’s intensity but the therapist’s inability to manage it skillfully.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thanks (me too!). And I completely agree – because I know that I am absolutely willing to do the work and talk about this stuff, but the challenge has been finding a therapist who can match those efforts. Luckily, I really do believe my current therapist is an excellent fit and we push each other every session.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Laura Black says:

    Just wanted to say I get the same feeling. I search my therapist online between sessions to feel close to her. I re-read her texts and emails. I wonder what she’s doing and who she’s with. It makes me feel like a stalker sometimes and I am ashamed I do it. I am actually MASSIVELY impressed you spoke to her about it. The thought of doing the same with mine terrifies me. You’ll repair the rupture, it just feels tough when you’re attached I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you for sharing that, Laura. It’s always such a relief to know that I’m not the only one who does this or feels this way. It was admittedly very scary, but I think it will prove to be worth it in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Black says:

        Reading this has inspired me to have an honest conversation with my therapist about my feelings for her. I have been holding back and it is getting in the way of our therapy. Seeing your bravery in confronting this gave me the confidence to write a totally heartfelt letter to my therapist tonight. I am taking it with me to my session tomorrow and I hope I can be as confident as you when it comes to sharing it. Basically, I just wanted to thank you for provoking me into thinking about this and taking some action. Laura

        Liked by 1 person

      • Andi says:

        That’s wonderful! Best of luck. I’d love to hear how it goes. I applaud you for using your inspiration to reach out to her and be honest. I think it will pay off and help your relationship grow deeper and stronger. xo

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Anxious Mom says:

    Even though she seemed to linger on the negative aspects, which is disappointing considering how open you were being, I’m glad you aren’t going to agonize over it. I think that’s great that you’re able to deal with it and then let it go. And FWIW, I don’t think it’s such a negative thing. I google everyone that I’m going to see for whatever professional reason or that the kids will be with (like teachers or coaches, and do a background check) to make sure there isn’t an obvious reason to stay the hell away.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. e.Nice says:

    I echo many of the previous comments about how impressed I am with you talking to her about this. I can see why you would google her. I’ve googled mine. I used to pull up her picture on the website so I could try and desensitize myself to the scared feelings that come up when I see her… didn’t work that well, but thought I could try. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you are trying to get your needs met even if it wasn’t very skillfully. Are you feeling better about things now?

    Liked by 1 person

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