Tangling with the therapist

I’ve been sick the last week and a half with a lovely flu / cold type combo. Not sure what it is, but it’s really put me out of commission. Today is the first day I feel somewhat better. I’m no longer doped up with Tylenol Cold anyway. I feel shaky and tired, still coughing, but I’m here.

I drove to therapy yesterday with lots of time to spare. I met E. on the way in. We both say a bright, tense ‘hello’ and quickly rush past each other. My bad luck that the one person I truly struggle with in group has the session just before mine.

Ron has on layers today – white shirt, sweater, and blazer on top. Beige pants. It turns out he has a cold.

E. You have different clothes today!

R. Yeah?


E. Are you feeling OK? Are you sick?

R. I have a cold, sore throat. It’s not the flu.

E. Oh, it sounds like what I have. I’m sorry. And I sat next to you in group last week – you must have caught it from me.

I feel guilty. I could have stayed home sick from group last week, but went because I didn’t want them talking about me in my absence, which is what would have happened.

R. It’s OK. I know lots of people who have this, not just you. It’s around.

E. I met E on my way in. It’s awkward. I’m worried now I’ll say hello in some wrong way. It’s awkward meeting someone who disapproves of my very existence.

E. had said in group that when we meet, I don’t look at her, or something like that, and that it makes her feel distant from me.

R. How does she disapprove of your existence?

E. I don’t know….There are just some people whom you don’t click with. You just don’t get each other. It’s the way the world is.

I’m having trouble remembering Ron’s responses for this session. I think in general I blocked out most of what he said, unfortunately. The upshot is that he thinks I hurt E’s feelings, he keeps bringing that up, and that I’m not caring or something like that.

E. I think I do care. I listened all evening to Z’s story. She is a good story teller, it was very interesting. And I cared. And I could relate to a lot of it, especially the loneliness she talked about. Like I said.

R. You’ve said that when you don’t say anything in group, you have trouble staying present.

In the group the night before, I was firmly in listening mode. Which was lucky, because Z, a member who had not spoken much about herself before, started to tell her story. It was very affecting, and it lasted for most of the group time. At the very end of the group, I said that I could relate to a lot of what she said, especially the loneliness she was going through, and also a feeling that her life was kind of over.

E. Yeah, I have said that, but I was listening.

R. When you left, was it because you were coughing and didn’t want to be disruptive?

E. Of course. I get these coughing fits….

I have been known to leave the group for emotional reasons, but in this case I was clearly coughing, so I’m a little miffed Ron didn’t see that.  I’d felt I did a good job staying adult in the group this time.

E. The suicidal teenage voice came up a couple of times. I’m trying to work out when and why that happens. It happened quite a few times when Z was talking, then once when A was talking about abandonment, then once when you were talking to Z.

R. What was I talking about?

E. I don’t remember. Maybe it was jealousy – like, hey, why are you talking to her, when I’m here, and i’m nice….kind of a deal.

I’m imitating how the parts think.

E. You really did look scared of me at the end of last session.

R. I didn’t feel scared. When did it happen?

E. I was just walking out the door. You looked completely scared.

R. I don’t think so. What do you make of it, that I looked scared?

E. It’s always about the client isn’t it.

I’m irritated with the way always turns things back on me somehow.

R. Why is it a problem that it’s all about you?

There, he’s doing it again.

E. Because sometimes it’s not about me. I want to stick to my guns a little bit here. Yes, at times I am projecting, but at other times, I am noticing a real response from you, and I’d like to know what it means. Sometimes I want to know how you feel.

R. Well, we do have micro-expressions that flit across our faces, and you might have caught that. And when you’re walking out the door, I’m transitioning. It could be that I thought about something from my personal life for a second that disturbed me….but I don’t think so. There’s nothing going on that I’m scared of at the moment. Next time, if you could catch it in the moment, say something to me.

E. While I’m walking out the door?

R. Sure, and we could discuss it next time. It would give me a chance to try and catch whatever it was.

E. OK.

E. So I’m finding I’m angry a lot at work. There’s a department I get so angry with. It seems like I’m too angry for what the situation warrants.

R. What happens?

E. There’s this department. They’re communications. They’re terrible. They make all these rules and regulations that are completely meaningless, then make me follow them. They make my documents worse.

R. So they make your life more difficult….

This wasn’t what I was trying to say. It’s not all about me. They are actually making the end product worse, and wasting a lot of time and energy doing it. To no purpose. But I give up on this. Therapists mostly don’t understand corporate life.

E. Well, I’ll just keep talking. So I’ve been coughing a lot, and it’s bringing up my stuff, bits of memories. When I get sick, that always happens. I never get just a little sick – it’s always this huge thing. It’s hard to tell what’s physical and what’s psychological.

R. What are the memories like?

E. Well, I just see bits of things. And I end up saying things where I don’t know what I’m talking about.

R. What do you see?

E. It’s more like feel I guess. I don’t remember quite. I should have written it down. Well, I seem to see a bunch of legs. People’s legs, table legs….If I was short, that would make sense. And I feel like someone is angry at me. I’m angry too. It’s like I’m defiant. And then I’m really sorry….I think we’re at my uncle’s apartment. This rug reminds me of that…they had a Persian carpet.

I’m half remembering this stuff as I’m talking, but never get into it too far.

Now Ron starts saying some things which I cannot remember. But in the middle of it, the voice who wants to kill herself pops up, so I mention this.

E. There. I want to kill myself. That voice is there again.

R. Talk from that place. What else does she have to say.

E. Well….I want to kill myself. Everything is black. No body likes me. I have no friends. It’s very sad to have no friends…and I feel…I feel as if you don’t like me.

Ron uncrosses and re-crosses his legs.

R. Is that the teenage voice who thinks that, or all of you?

I’m not sure.

E. The teenager I think….

R. Why do you think I don’t like you?

E. Because I can’t explain how I’m feeling like the other people in the group can. They all make it make sense and it sounds good. I just seem to be at the mercy of internal forces….

E. And the group is difficult. And no one in the group likes me. E doesn’t like me. Z doesn’t like me. R doesn’t like me. And A has stopped talking…..Why don’t they like me?

R. I’ll take E. since you have had the most conversations with her. What has she done that makes you think she doesn’t like you?

E. I don’t know. She just doesn’t. And maybe I hurt her feelings, but I apologized. She should forgive me!

This conversation in the teenage voice is in a whiny aggrieved teenager type tone, not really my usual way of speaking.

R. I  think it’s more complicated than that. You said you didn’t care. She……

Ron goes on for a time with a very adult explanation of things, which makes this part furious. She interrupts.

E. I don’t care. I don’t care. They should like me and they don’t. Why don’t they? I’m nice….It’s very sad when people don’t like you even though you’re nice.

Ron again provides some kind of adult commentary and I don’t care to follow it.

E. Do you want me to switch out of this part? Because I can.

R. No, stay in it….

E. So I don’t know why they don’t like me but it’s not fair at all.

R. You push people away, when you say you don’t care. Like with me, you don’t care to hear what I have to say, yet you’re paying me to provide insights.

So I switch out of the teenage voice.

E. Phew…so that was the teenager. Wow. And now I don’t want to die.

I’m kind of shaken by this experience. I didn’t know I was feeling like that, or that a part of me was.

R. It’s a very vulnerable part of you.

E. It’s not that I don’t care to hear what you have to say. But it’s all adult stuff. I’m sure it’s true. But I know it doesn’t seem like it to you, but it’s hard for me to access what I’m feeling. So when I do, I don’t want to lose it by getting into what you are saying. Sometimes I can’t understand it. Other times I can understand it, but I don’t want to get into it.

R. You’re pushing people away when you can’t listen to what they’re saying.

E. Well, with you, it’s totally different than with the group. I do care about what people in the group are saying. With you, you’re not talking about your own issues, you’re talking about my stuff. Are you deeply hurt when I don’t accept it?

Ron looks taken aback.

R. No.

E. I’m sure all this crap is true…it’s more complicated, etc etc…..

R. Is it crap?

E. No. But like, when E was talking in the group, she was busy saying she couldn’t relate to Z, blah blah blah, meanwhile I totally could relate, but had to listen to E, but anyway, Z likes whatever E happens to say….

I’m really getting into my criticism of the group dynamic. And I realize it’s late. I look at the clock – oops, three minutes over time. Ron has made no move to stop me, which is unusual. He looks all interested actually. I break off mid-sentence.

E. Oh, it’s time. It’s OK….

I get up to get my coat. Ron opens the door. This time he’s kind of smiling, or his eyes are twinkling or something. He says take care. I say Bye.

I feel OK after the session. A bit of a therapy hangover, but I can function more or less. I’m a little distressed that Ron seems to think I don’t care about people, that he takes E’s side, and that he thinks I am angry at this department at work because they cause me more work, which isn’t true.

Also I’m surprised by this teenage voice. Letting her speak takes away the wish to die. At least temporarily.

  1. Ruth said:

    My counselor would try to get me angry too. He told me that inside the anger is how I really feel about life. I finally got used to it. Once I was better able to express how I felt, he stopped trying to get me angry. Just a thought to consider.

  2. Ellen said:

    Hi Ruth – What was it you got used to? Ron thinks I need to express anger at him. I have felt some sometimes, but not on a regular basis. I don't have a problem finding things in my life to be angry about though. Unfortunately. hugs

  3. Ruth said:

    I got used to him trying to get me angry. I got used to feeling and then sharing why I felt angry. I got used to looking for what was behind the anger. I guess that is a lot to get used to.

  4. Ellen said:

    That is a lot to get used to, and seems like a good thing. thanks

  5. Laura said:

    re-reading this, I relate to "pushing people away" while you strain to hear what's coming from within. Sounds perfectly reasonable and healthy. Like you're on a long-distance call, bad connection, and people keep chattering away, in your face. Easier said than done with Ron, since therapy is all about you.Have you experienced an upside to letting people in?

  6. Laura said:

    I meant, easier to do with Ron, since therapy is about you. Actually, Group is about you too!

  7. Ellen said:

    I actually don't mean to push people away. But I guess if they're not getting what I'm saying, I kind of do. Mostly I just don't talk. An upside…well, then you can have friends I guess. Or feel connected to people, not lonely…thanks for the thoughts and the clarifications. take care

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