I knew I wanted to set up yesterday’s session for success as much as possible, but I wasn’t sure how. I was still reeling from Monday and felt confused and unsure how to proceed. In the end, I decided that just being as honest as possible would probably be my best bet.
So I went in and talked a bit about the things I wrote about in my previous post – feeling unheard, shut down, veered into a space I wasn’t prepared or willing to enter. I told her I felt as though she was withholding connection, perhaps as a consequence for seeking (and ultimately receiving) connection in the “wrong” way. I mentioned the seemingly strange ways she was drawing a distinction between us and how distancing and alienating that felt to me. I talked about feeling as though there was a mismatch between the conversation we’d had on Friday versus Monday and the seeming incongruence between what she was saying and what I was feeling.
She mostly just listened. For a while, she didn’t really respond or seem to identify with much of what I said. She maintained that she was indeed “there with me” during the session, even if it felt different or disconnected. Then she once again mentioned that my actions have consequences. At that point, I felt very frustrated with the way she was talking around this issue, so I asked her what exactly she meant by that.
Finally, she said,
“I guess maybe I am having a bit of a a delayed negative reaction to being googled. And I see and hear that you felt a lot of positivity from the connection we shared on Friday and you want to talk about that and find that space again, but I am not feeling that connection. I feel like you’re trying to force me into a space of connection instead of talking about why you did what you did…”
That was hard to hear, but I was relieved that she was finally talking to me in a sincere manner. I sat in a somewhat stunned silence for a while I felt a lot of emotion and the pain of hearing her admit she did not feeling connected to me (or neccessarily even want to feel connected to me) was excruciating. I tried to fight back tears, refusing to be vulnerable in that moment, but then my body just started shaking so I let the tears fall.
Then I took some deep breaths and tried to speak from a very raw, honest place. I explained that I had spent the entire weeking thinking and writing about what I had done and that some pretty big revelations had come from that experience:
“As I continue to eat – to allow myself to eat, to expand, to take up space and feel my body and my emotions – everything becomes heightened. I think that’s what initially led to me searching online in the first place. I felt a lot of very intense emotions around you and our connection and I was searching for a way to soothe that. And it was not the right thing to do, I know. But what came from that is that I DID feel very connected to you.
And when I left session and thought about it over the weekend, I realized that the connection we had in person – the intimacy and closeness that arose from me just being honest with you and staying with you in that moment – was far more rewarding than finding something on Google. And that felt important to me. So my focus has been on figuring out how to be honest with you; how to find that connection and stay with it both in the moment and then to carry it with me between sessions.
You’ve often talked about the parallel between my ED and our relationships, something I never understood, until Friday. And then I could see it so clearly. I really understood what you were talking about and that felt so important to me.
So I know what I did was not ideal. But I suppose I came in here yesterday with optimism and hope and excitement about all of this space that had been opened up. I felt like I’d FINALLY given myself permission to reach out for you – to need you, to long for you, to want that connection and be okay with feeling connected. And then I got here and you felt distant and reserved and different, which was scary.
For 90% of this relationship, you have been reaching for me, trying to find a way to connect with me and I just sit here. Then I finally find a way to allow myself to reach back to you and you just sit there. Maybe it’s just bad timing, but it’s really really painful to know that my actions have the consequences of pulling you away from me at the exact moment I reach for you…”
She started to argue with me, I think because she really struggles with feeling as though she’s disappointed me. But then she paused and said,
“Yes, this is unfortunate timing, but sometimes this is what happens. We won’t always have a perfect connection, but I am always here with you. I was with you Friday, yesterday, and I’m here today. Just because we’re not as connected right now doesn’t mean mean the relationship is damaged or that we’ll never find our way back to there. And the fact that you are feeling all of this, feeling like you want to reach out to me, is incredible. I see you pushing through this and fighting to have this conversation and talk about all of this with me and that’s amazing! But the truth is that you’re going to have to keep reaching and keep pushing. You’ll need to reach for me again and again. And sometimes it will feel good and we’ll connect right away. But sometimes we’ll miss each other and it will be painful or scary. But you have to keep trying and keep experiencing what it means to miss each other, but still be okay.”
I could already tell she was softening and relaxing a bit, so I decided to ask her directly what exactly bothered her about “being googled”.
“I’m not really sure. I’m not upset about the information – I’m okay with that. I just…I feel like it was very sneaky; like you went behind my back and took something from me – information that I didn’t know you would have. And that doesn’t feel good. So I think I retracted a bit, to protect myself, because it felt icky to realize someone had done that.”
I knew she was right, but I was sort of stunned by the juxtaposition between how much I reveal in sessions with her – how vulnerable I am and how much information she has about me – arguably the most intimate relationship I have is with her. I pointed out this one way flow of information and how it was unsettling to hear her say she needed protection because I knew something about her when she knows the most devastating things about me. She responded,
“Like I said, it’s not the information. I don’t mind you knowing. But…when it comes to transparency, I want to be in charge of that information and how it’s communicated. I want to be able to choose what I tell you and how I tell you and I want it to be a conversation between us. I just…if I googled you and found something that you hadn’t prepared to tell me…even if it was something you didn’t necessarily mind me knowing, I think you’d be upset that I had gotten the information sneakily, rather than waiting for you to give it to me.”
Yep. She was absolutely right. And then it all sorta fell into place for me. I realized that she wasn’t angry that I’d learned something about her, but rather that I had taken that information, rather than allowed her to tell me. And I don’t think she would have ever told me that her father died, but I could see and relate to her point.
Because, yes, I would be devastated if she googled me. I often wonder if she has, or would, ever try to find this blog. She knows the name of it and I’ve given her printed copies of blog posts. They don’t have a url on them, but she could easily match the words in a search engine. I worry about that from time to time, but mostly I trust that she wouldn’t do that because she would want to hear my words FROM ME, under MY TERMS.
And yet I hadn’t given her the same consideration.
She followed up her statement, saying “Like right now. I was transparent and honest when I answered your question and that felt good to me, to share that with you.”
I really appreciated the way she responded to me on this. I think I was attaching a lot of historical meaning to boundaries and the stepping across those lines from my past. Many of the people that were attachment figures throughout my life were people that were also emotionally out-of-bounds in many ways (teachers, clergy, therapists, etc). And most of my adolescence was spent in hospitals, where there is virtually no relational exchange between staff and patient. It was dehumanizing and isolating in a way that always struck me as somewhat cruel.
But there was something very humanizing and respectful about the way she handled this. I didn’t hear her saying, “You are not allowed to connect with me in this way! You don’t get to know things about me!” as I often did in previous similar relationships. What I heard her saying is that she wants to be able to have authority over the information I know about her, and that is absolutely reasonable.
I also think the way she spoke about this showed me that the impact I have on her is not just about a client and a therapist. It’s about two people that care about each other and trust each other and I think that by going behind her back and seeking information elsewhere, I betrayed some of that trust and she was hurt.
Which is okay. I don’t feel responsible for her emotions, but it felt good to know that I am capable of having that kind of effect on her because she cares about me and she cares about our relationship, even within the unique confines of psychotherapy.
So now I understand why she was distant and disconnected from me on Monday. It didn’t feel good, but I think maybe it’s okay.