Disagreements and irritability

I was very glad to see Ron back from his break yesterday. Different parts of me were missing him a lot.

Other than sheer relief that he was back, the session was a little underwhelming. I have this feeling therapy is going nowhere. I have thought about it, and it does seem that whenever parts don’t have much of the session, I do end up feeling as if I’ve wasted my time.

At the same time, I don’t have the therapy hangover. I have been wanting to back off on the trauma and parts stuff, and wanting to stay more in the present. Ron always follows my lead. So, we talked about my present day concerns. Ron was in a kind of mood also where he talks a lot. I never feel this is a good thing – it’s different from when he says these deep insightful things. This is more stuff that seems obvious, and that I know. He just seems to want to talk, sometimes. It’s always about me though – he never veers off to talk about his own concerns. Yet somehow it does seem impersonal – more theory than anything that’s really responding to me.

Maybe I can’t get a feeling of making progress and connecting without going to deeply disturbing places.

As well, I was very tired. I’d done some more exercise the night before, push-ups and squats, basically, and so had slept very badly. My world feels thin and shaky after a night spent not sleeping properly.

I don’t know. I didn’t feel like this right after the session, but today, a day later, I feel kind of angry. As if I was missed altogether, in the one place where I look for understanding. I don’t know what it means that I didn’t feel this at the time, or after the session. Is the anger maybe about something other than the session? Right after, I felt as if I’d been talking with a good friend, and felt fine about it. I don’t have many friends where I can talk freely, so I thought, why not just enjoy that part, the support, the chance to talk?

I can remember two spots in the session where I felt annoyed and missed. True to form for me, I didn’t react much at the time, and brooded about it later. When will I learn it is safe to speak up at the time, when I disagree, or something is hurtful?

The first was when I was telling Ron about a self-help book I’ve been reading, about loneliness and attachment. The basic premise of the book is that if we’re lonely, it may be a problem with our attachment style, so that the relationships we have are not satisfying. Then he divides the problematic styles into two – anxious and avoidant attachment. Then there are various exercises to help you discover if you have one or the other problem, and exercises to help you tell the story of how that developed, in your relationship to your parents. To me, it seems like a reasonable and helpful approach.

So I’m trying to explain the book to Ron, maybe not doing the best job, as I’m tired. He gets this frowny expression on his face, like someone brooding and unhappy. After I’ve talked a bit, he doesn’t say anything, so I ask him what he thinks. He says he doesn’t think it’s helpful to just divide people into two attachment styles – people are more complex that that. I say something to the effect of probably a self- help book won’t really help, but I’m finding it interesting, and at least I feel I’m doing something to try and help myself. He looks like he disagrees but doesn’t say anything else.

Oh yeah. Then I say I seem to have aspect of both styles.

I forget how the conversation went exactly. I was just left without much of anything except the feeling that Ron thought the book was silly. But actually, it’s not. He could give me some credit. The book actually doesn’t divide all people into two attachment styles. It’s just saying if you have a problem with loneliness, here is a psychological problem that may be causing it.

I understand that Ron doesn’t believe in labels. However, then how do you talk about anything? Does he believe in vocabulary?

I feel really irritated that he was so dismissive of my reading and attempts to understand. And I feel irritated with myself that I didn’t attempt to stand up for myself in any way, when this is such a safe space to do so. It’s like I’m trying to make this relationship go smoothly, instead of trying to discover what’s real. It’s not my job to make the relationship go well is it.

I said that i can see now that the people I’ve tended to try and become friends with are the avoidant, distant type of people. My ex was like that, my one ex-boyfriend, a current friend. Because of my family, those dynamics feel familiar to me. I really want to change that.

I described a dinner where my parents had invited me and my son out to a restaurant. It was an odd event, because my parents didn’t feel the need to talk. To me, if it’s a social occasion, you make attempts to talk, but they didn’t. So I tried to make the evening go well. I chatted a lot with my son about various shows we’re both interested in, and some other things. I asked my parents a few questions. In the end, my mother joined in a bit, though my father remained withdrawn.

Ron commented that with your parents, you don’t really need to ‘chat’ – they’re your parents after all. He thinks if I can learn to be more real with them, voicing some real concerns and feelings I have, it will help me in my relationships to other people. Even if their reactions are not positive (I know they won’t be), it would still be helpful for how I feel. An example was I could have said, gee Dad, you’re being very quiet tonight, what’s up? Which I guess I could do. My family never comments or asks about anyone’s feelings, so this would be unusual behaviour in the family. The idea is to make some of those unspoken feelings spoken.

This is something I do want to try. I couldn’t sleep after the restaurant dinner, and I think it’s that sense of unreality that maybe is the cause.

That is the thing I did get out of this session – a thing to try.

The other thing that irritates me now that happened is tiny. I was pondering the age old question – what the h is wrong with my ex? Why did he act as uncaringly as he did?

Someone had suggested that he has a form of Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum. This made so much sense to me. He is peculiar in a way that is difficult to explain to people who don’t know him – it always seemed to me as if something was different in his brain. Aspergers would explain his difficulties in seeing other people’s points of view, and in a way that doesn’t totally blame him.

I know Ron doesn’t like labels, so I ask him if he believes in this. He said yes, but he thinks it’s wildly over-diagnosed. He asked if my ex has trouble with eye contact. No, not really. That is one of the huge markers apparently.

I was talking to him recently, and mentioned a problem. Then my ex, J, starts to go into massive detail about a related problem he had thirty years ago. He doesn’t seem to have processed it at all – it’s just as vivid to him now as it was then. I tell him I’m not sure where this is going – but if he really needs to talk about it, I’ll listen. He cheerfully says no, not at all. He doesn’t get the idea of talking about problems in order to process them at all. Something that really bothers him, he’d likely never tell me about.

To me, this is so strange. Ron says it sounds like he’s narcissistic – everything is about him. I say I don’t think he’s narcissistic, and stop talking about it. It wasn’t so much that he started talking about a problem, it was more that he was about to spend thirty minutes going over all the details, which would be boring, without actually needing to talk about it. For something that took place thirty years ago – to do with a work issue he had.

It’s like Ron didn’t really hear much of what I was saying – just that J started talking about himself. Therefore he’s narcissistic. Which just seems trite and off the point.

Thinking this over now I’ve written it out – I may be incredibly nit-picky. I wish I’d give my honest response in person at the time, instead of being angry afterwards. Who knows what is right. I think the point is I withhold my response automatically, then get mad after.

In general I greatly appreciate Ron. Just not at this minute.

  1. I can really relate to having days where therapy is just off and feels like it was less than helpful. I’ve found it’s usually when I’m closed off for some reason.

    In the past, I would get discouraged really quickly when every session wasn’t life changing and I quit on more than one therapist because of it. Like life, though, therapy has its ups and downs too.

    You should definitely feel free to tell him how you were feeling afterwards! When I started with my latest therapist, I was up front about why I had left my others before him (hated when they’d talk more than me – what am I paying you for; wanted them to be direct and really challenge me about my negative self talk and to dig deeper, etc.). I think it helped him adapt his style to be more effective for me and my personality right off the bat. After a little bit, I started being brutally honest about not really wanting to see him some days (mostly because my issues were getting hard to deal with, but I’d force myself to go anyways because I was feeling progress) or feeling like our last session wasn’t that spectacular. When he returned my criticisms with compassion, understanding, and zero judgment (as I hope your therapist would do too), my trust in him deepened and I started getting even more from therapy. After all, it was a huge relief to know that even if I express my negative feelings about him or our sessions, he wouldn’t abandon me emotionally like plenty of people in my life had done long before he showed up. It was also a kind of practice run at more assertiveness in general, which has begun to flow over into my daily life as well.

    Bottom line is that your therapist is there for you, so you get to tell him whatever you want and he can’t (better not) make you feel bad for it. He’s there to support all of you, your parts, your good and bad feelings. Give it a shot when you see him next 🙂

    • Ellen said:

      I’ve quit a bunch of therapies also. I think what makes the difference is feeling free to raise these difficulties in therapy, which I never ever did before this one, as I didn’t know it was an option – that you can express disagreement yet keep the relationship.

      I really like how you explain your progress with your current therapy – sounds great. I think we may be alike in that I too want to challenge the T’s viewpoint. My impression is a lot of women don’t go there, but I do.

      Ron is good that way actually – he’s never judgemental and he wants to hear all about it – including anger and disagreement. I guess it’ll take a long time for that to sink in for me emotionally. Thanks for sharing your experience LN.

  2. leb105 said:

    E, you describe all of this SO well! I’m going to cross-stitch this post and frame it!
    I especially relate to the delayed (and generally negative) response. I heard an interview with Steve Hauptman (Monkeytraps) this morning, and he described people who’ve had traumatic upbringings as having an outward focus – instead of learning, as kids ought, about their emotions, and what they like and need, they are trying to anticipate and react to danger in their environments, and suppress their emotions as much as possible so as to be ready for what’s coming at them. I often feel numb when I’m with other people. Like a big satellite dish sitting on some pretty scraggly, litter-strewn, barren ground. I think I found out in childhood that people like to talk (about themselves), and be listened to… and that’s a safe place for me.

    At the start of my last session, I was feeling something like you were a day after yours, when you wrote this post (probably different now!). Like I wasn’t getting anywhere, that I’m unlovable,pushed away by all, and not worth all this expense and effort, I was ready to throw in the towel. I got the workbook you mentioned, and it’s ironic that when I brought it up in MY session, Howard appeared to LOVE it. He wanted to know all about it. Wanted me to send it to him. Looked it up on Amazon while we were speaking. Said we could work through it together, if I wanted. The opposite of being pushed away – the response you got from Ron. I also shared my negative feelings (which might be comparable to sharing parts), and felt HEARD, and although I don’t really understand how this works, it’s somehow satisfying in a way that a session spent talking about thoughts, ideas, theories and complaints and conjecture about other people, just isn’t! Those sessions leave you hungry and dissatisfied – I think that’s what happened to you. And then you blame Ron (and I, Howard) for not feeding you. I think that once we know this in our marrow, we won’t take care of our therapist’s ‘moods’ and needs instead of our own.

    I was also confused by which attachment style I have, because I seem to have traits of both, too. The book actually suggests this possibility, but doesn’t explain how it might occur. It implies that there’s a mix and you’ll have more of this or that. H thought I was more anxious than avoidant which was a surprise. And loneliness, which might be useful as a motivator to keep trying to get what you need from your relationships, isn’t really an issue for me (maybe, yet).

    I’ve been wondering why WE are in therapy, don’t you? We both know people who seem clueless about their emotions and about relationships (such as your entire FOO and your ex), their lives are (also) deeply marked by this cluelessness, and yet THEY aren’t in therapy. Do they NOT think (as we do) that something is wrong with them? or notice that the same bad things seem to happen over and over? or think that there might be a better way?

    • Ellen said:

      He he. Glad you can relate Laura. What a coincidence you are reading the same workbook! And you also brought it up in your therapy. I’m glad Howard was so receptive – I think it might be really useful to work through something like that with a therapist. It would be a lot of work and take a lot of determination to do all those exercises by yourself – and they’re not easy, they’re deep and potentially painful questions.

      I agree the more emotional discussion and response is more meaningful in a session. I’ve been trying to strike more of a balance – not wishing to be overwhelmed for days at a time following therapy. Could be I’m swinging it too much the other way.

      Yeah, the book does suggest both styles may apply, and doesn’t explain further. Yep, it’s totally the same book. 🙂

      Ron think I’m more anxious also. For people with abuse backgrounds, the anxiety route seems more common. Ron and I got into this confusing discussion of both styles having anxiety. Which I totally understand, but it doesn’t invalidate having two different styles. Sigh. I don’t get why he is so resistant to this whole book and these concepts.

      I think if I didn’t have loneliness, I’d have zero motivation to try and connect with others, when being with people is so fraught with danger for me.

      Yeah. They should be in therapy. It’s always like that though – the way of the world. Those most in need will never go near therapy.

      Oh and what you said about SH interview – I totally learned the main thing to do with emotions is suppress/ numb them. That was all I knew. Now they’ve come back with a wallop.

      Thanks for the in depth comment.

      • leb105 said:

        Not a coincidence, E, I tracked it down based on your description. Thanks! So funny that we got such different results.

        I had to wonder WHY I felt better after my session – knowing that it could easily have gone the way yours did, and often does. You were coming back after a lonely, difficult break – you had high hopes and longed to connect, and BLEAH!

        We have a session that is somehow “discouraging” or disappointing (HOW is it discouraging? he talks, so you don’t. He doesn’t think much of your book. almost everything you list in this post) and we get angry and depressed, feel isolated, and want to pull away. Then we have a session that is “encouraging” like mine was. He’s fascinated, he’s receptive to difficult feelings, he’s somehow in sync with what I seem to need, and we’re all alight to continue, and the world is a happier place.
        In either case, we’re dependent on Ron or Howard being a particular way, something beyond our control, in order to be okay – we have no internal compass to keep us on course, we’re blown by the wind. We’re reacting to our environment, just as when we were little kids. I think the environment (therapy) we find ourselves in NOW, though, is the opposite of the one we grew up in. It’s often discouraging of thoughts and ideas and rationality, and rewards vulnerability, and emotion. It’s hard – we’re adjusted to the opposite!

        • Ellen said:

          Huh – I must be an influencer, with someone actually searching out a book I’m reading! More influential than I thought….:-) The more I read of it, the better I like it. I actually think it’s an excellent book, and that even Ron would like it if he were ever, God forbid, to pick it up.

          Your picture of a happier world is so appealing. Yes, I see what you mean about the environment – being somehow too affected by it. And yes, we are kind of adjusted to the opposite of what therapists typically reward. That’s maybe why we need therapy. I hadn’t actually thought of it like this before.

          Thank you.

  3. With parts, there are always different details in different frames. What is a detail to you is the main topic for a different part. So these mixed feelings can bubble up a long time later.It is weird that Ron doesn’t like labels, but immediately jumps for narcissistic.

    It’s hard to know what is wrong with your ex, and sometimes it seems to me the existing labels–the diagnostic criteria–aren’t really adequate. They don’t clearly differentiate between different problems. But your ex seems to have problems with perspective-taking. It didn’t occur to him that 30 minutes of the details of a minor issue 30 years ago is just boring for the listener.

    I totally understand what you say about people who avoid labels. It makes precision in a conversation impossible.

    • Ellen said:

      I wonder if it is a parts problem, or just generally having very mixed and very separated feelings, so that I hop from one to the next, suddenly. I don’t know. I know I often feel differently than I did very fast.

      Yes, he did label there. My ex is the only person Ron has ever labelled in my therapy, and he’s mentioned narcissism before in that regard. I think it’s against his principles to do so, but sometimes he does so anyway, and in this case, my impression is because he cares about me, and hates how J vented his rage on me for so many years. For some reason, that is my impression, though he hasn’t said so in so many words.

      I think it may be impossible to stay away from vocabulary that helps describe your field of work- I don’t think you actually can. And I do sympathize with Ron’s dislike of labels – that’s one reason I see him. I believe that they are misused, to other, and to medicalize problems that don’t benefit from that. And like you say, they can be arbitrary. However, I can also get really irritated by the politics around this, so I can turn either way. I’m flexible like that.

      My ex can be very boring, though he’s not a boring person. He has a good sense of humour. However, he’ll get into endless details on a topic that interests him for some reason, and won’t take in the social cues that most would see, that the other person is bored. That’s one reason Aspergers made sense to me – lack of awareness of social cues, and fixating on particular subjects. And there I go trying to label. I can’t decide if it helps or not.

      Thanks Ashana

  4. Cat said:

    Even if parts don’t talk much in session, is sounds like you are still processing other things to do with yourself, so continuing is probably for the best. Paul also talks too much, but it is always about me. It was beneficial in the beginning, but tedious after 9mths.

    I think it is quite common for the dissociation to stand in the way of us not feeling anything until after session. Do you go back the following week and talk about it?

    I remember Ron’s theory about talking to your parents more. I laughed at the dinner party because that is exactly what it’s like with my own parent’s, especially Dad. I used to get paranoid in restaurants because our table was deadly quiet and very other table were chatting merrily, having a good old family time. If Ron thinks it might help to say things like, “what’s up Dad” then why not, it seems harmless enough, although my Dad would say, “Nothing” and go back into his silent shell. What I think might also help in your relationship with other people is to start saying what you mean with Ron, even if it isn’t flattering to him.

    • Ellen said:

      I’m not sure if it’s dissociation, but it may be. It’s maybe a different part of me feeling irritated and angry, that I don’t hear until I leave. It’s not one of the main parts I know though. I mostly don’t talk about the same things the following week, because I forget, but this time, as I wrote about it, I’ll likely remember. I think it’ll be good to discuss.

      Man, families – they’re awful. It’s funny, because my father is actually reasonably outgoing, so it’s kind of strange, if he just sits there. It makes me wonder if he’s trying to communicate something with that. And it triggers me, because he meted out the silent treatment when I was a child. I think the part that important to Ron is more calling attention to the actual behaviour, and maybe my feelings. So it’s the part where I verbally describe the situation – that he’s being very quiet – that might make a difference. We never try and make sense of each other, in my family, for some reason. So it would be a change.

      He he. You could be right about your comment about me and Ron. 🙂

      Thanks Cat.

  5. manyofus1980 said:

    I hope your able to bring these things up with Ron next time you see him. Its hard when our therapists annoy us. X

    • Ellen said:

      I’ll do my best, thank you.

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