After I published my post about yesterday’s session, I called my therapist. I left a voicemail that went something like this:
“Hi. I’m calling because I think we probably need to talk before Monday because that’s a long ways away and this feels important. I know you’re out of the office tomorrow, and potentially all weekend, so you may not be able to call me back, but I’m asking anyway. I *think* I need to talk to you, but I don’t know…because I don’t really know what that even means! Anyway, if you have a chance between now and then, can you please call me?”
She called back an hour or so later and we were able to speak for about ten minutes. I told her just about everything I was feeling and thinking. I essentially outlined much of what I’d written in my previous post, specifically that I felt like she was not necessary putting conditions on affection for me, but just withholding it entirely.
I also said that although she is certainly entitled to conduct therapy in the ways she thinks are most helpful, I’m not sure that my feeling as though she won’t offer me compassion or reassurance, even when I really need it, is a good match for me. I explained that I’d imagined I didn’t feel those things from her because I simply hadn’t been asking for them (or asking in the right way). But upon finally finding a way to point out this specific need, I learned that it wasn’t something she was even considering offering to me and that was absolutely devastating. I further told her that this realization not only undermined my relationship with her, but my relationship with therapy in general. I was questioning everything!
I was somewhat surprised by her reaction to all of this.
Her first response was to tell me to not run away with the feeling that everything I felt about therapy was wrong. She told me to trust those feelings and hold onto them. Then, with a sense of urgency I’ve never really sense from her before, she said,
“Andi, I really do want to support you. I am here and I want to do this with you. I would never intentionally withhold something that would help you. I want to hear you and understand what’s going on with you. I want to be able to help you get what you need, but I just think that our idea of that is perhaps a bit different.”
I expressed continued frustration with our apparent disconnect. It always sucks when I can tell we’re both trying so hard to reach each other, but it’s just not working. It seemed like we were talking about completely different things and I said as much. She replied,
“I actually think we’re talking about the same thing…It’s kind of like the blind men and the elephant, right?”
I had no idea what she was talking about at first, but then she outlined this Indian tale:
Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
A king explains to them:
“All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.”
Which took me a minute to process, but then I understood a little bit better. So what I think she is saying is that she does care about me and love me and support me, and she does feel compassion for me, and she does want to offer me comfort and reassurance…
But she can’t necesarily do so in the way I want. And the reason for that is not because I am unworthy or undeserving, or because she just doesn’t want to care, or that therapy just “doesn’t work like that”, but because the nature of our work means that she has to hold those particular feelings and emotions inside a boundary in order to protect the work.
So I’m yelling and screaming and crying about how she doesn’t love me or care about me or want to comfort and reassure me and, in the only way she’s able to (as my therapist), she’s screaming back, waving her arms, and saying:
“But I do! I really do! And I’m right here with you!”
Whether or not I choose to hear that or see her, based on the fact that maybe it’s not exactly how I’d like her to say it or express it, well…that’s up to me.