I’m not digging that deep into my archives for Memory Monday this week – this post is only five months old. However, it is so incredibly apt for where I am right now (again), that I could not ignore its call.
I have found it difficult to settle back into therapy since the Christmas break. I went from feeling completely disconnected, to feeling overwhelmingly reconnected, to feeling resentful and distrustful of the process. I thought I’d made progress in terms of understanding and accepting why my therapist might not always give reassurance, or why it might not always come in the form of words. But in my last session I found myself back in that old familiar place of feeling desperate for explicit verbal reassurance and validation, and feeling resentful in my perception that what I needed was being withheld.
One of the things that has changed, I think, since I wrote the original post, is that my therapist and I know each other a little better, and she is more openly challenging than she was. She pointed out to me that it seemed as though I thought that she was not providing me with something I wanted – but that there could be another explanation. That I was not receiving it.
In my post, I wrote that “I am the one who needs to be receptive“. In its conclusion, I noted that “perhaps for me, in therapy, I should be thinking not so much ‘what am I expecting to hear?’ but ‘what are the words, at this moment in time, providing for me, that I am missing?’ “.
I’m sure that my therapist is right. I’m sure that for a number of reasons – including perhaps a ‘push-pull’ reaction to my intense feelings for her following a recent difficult, but intimate and safe session – I was tuning her out, in every way. Her words were not being heard in the present or remembered from the past. Her actions were not being noted or were being misinterpreted.
If I can remain open to the possibility, I could go further than I did in the conclusion to my post. My therapist has talked about finding reassurance and caring in the ‘ordinary’ things. Perhaps I should be thinking not so much ‘what am I expecting to hear?’, but ‘what could I be receiving from the world around me, including the actions as well as the words of others, that I am missing?’
February 16, 2015 at 5:36 pm
This is not meant to contradict anything you say, but perhaps will be something else to consider (from the therapist’s point of view). I know that those of my patients who were particularly expressive of needing to be affirmed sometimes contributed to a therapeutic question I posed to myself. As I thought about it, it was the dilemma of their desire for affirmation vs. the (eventual) need to give it to themselves. Thus, for those who had been in treatment for a while and continued to want this with some frequency, it was ultimately the case that it was best for them to develop the internal resources to affirm themselves, otherwise being too vulnerable to the opinion of others. Of course, it was my job to help in this. Nothing you haven’t thought of, I suspect, but perhaps it is worth something to hear it differently.
February 16, 2015 at 10:53 pm
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I find it incredibly valuable to read others’ insights, and they add a huge amount to my therapy and my awareness. It can be particularly valuable when those insights come from a therapist – I find that it is with my therapist, as it is, so often, with my husband! He can say something many times but I don’t hear it unless it is ‘confirmed’ by someone more ‘independent’! It is definitely worth hearing something differently – and from someone else.
I think I understand, and on one level, completely agree with you -but I guess I still have questions. Does this mean that in essence, although all therapists withhold reassurance to some degree, it is most important to do so for those who most need to develop the ability to do it themselves? In what way can/does the therapist help? You mentioned ‘for those who have been in treatment for a while’ – does this mean it is okay to provide reassurance early on, but one must ensure that this situation does not continue indefinitely? I think that I struggle with the belief that I’m being left to ‘fend for myself’ too early. I understand the concept that I’m being encouraged and taught to develop something for myself, but I guess the argument I have used in the past, is that the lesson will not be learned without a fundamental groundwork of trust and a belief in the ‘goodness’ of the other and that one is perceived ‘benignly’ or even fondly – and building that up may require a fair amount of reassurance to start with. It’s been incredibly valuable for me to read about therapy, and to realise that withholding reassurance can be just as difficult for therapists as it is for clients. But I still struggle with the sense of not yet having ‘built up’ sufficient reserves to enable me to apply the lessons to myself. But then, I can see the opposite argument. How many reserves would be sufficient? How long would it take? At what point would I be willing to start to learn the lesson for myself? At some point I have to just have faith and try and do it. I have to take some things on trust, and experience will show them to be true…..one of the frustrating things, of course, is that my frame of mind at any one time tends to determine my ability to appreciate these points and to be convinced of them emotionally! Hence my rather different attitude now, to the one I had last week! Many thanks again for your honesty and for taking the time to offer your thoughts. As I noted in a comment on one of your posts, I value honesty and directness extremely highly – so I hope that if you wished to make a comment, even if it did contradict something I had said, that you would feel able to do so! 🙂
February 17, 2015 at 2:40 pm
You are welcome. Without knowing you in depth, I can only make a few general statements. Yes, one has to develop trust in the therapist. But, I think before full assurance in your own value happens, it is often necessary to begin to do things in the world that will demonstrate a few notions to yourself: 1. That you can do them even if you are unsure (because none of us has full confidence in everything we do) 2. To begin to receive feedback from the world that the worst won’t happen and that sometimes good things will and 3. That dependence on the world for approval is a fool’s errand — we all take a beating from the world at some times and need experience to develop a tougher skin. Now, as you say, it is very hard to know how fast to go with this process, how soon you are ready to venture out, how much reassurance support you need before and during the process, etc. Other skills might be required like meditation. As I say, all of this requires the judgment of the therapist and the patient together. And, just to make sure, I’m not at all in a position to doubt anything your therapist is doing. I’m assuming, indeed, that she is right for you and about you. All the best!
February 20, 2015 at 11:10 pm
Thank you so much for your reply. I like the idea of ‘beginning to do things in the world’ in order to demonstrate things to myself. 🙂 I definitely find lack of certainty unnerving, and often need to be reminded good things might happen. I always had the notion that expecting the worst was the safest option as it would avoid disappointment. As for dependence on the world for approval….it’s odd, isn’t it, how a notion that to many seems so obvious – that we can only depend on ourselves for approval – to me feels wrong because the opposite seems to obvious. Somehow the idea of the approval being internal, renders it invalid. This is where Wittgenstein would chastise me severely – I am getting caught in a linguistic trap and applying the idea of ‘scientific’ external validation to the realm of values and self-esteem, where it does not belong. As a complete aside, have you come across the comparison’s between’s Wittgenstein’s philosophy and psychotherapy? Very interesting indeed….Sorry, now to get back on track. Please don’t worry – I know you can’t and wouldn’t make judgements about my therapy or my therapist, and I hope it doesn’t seem as though I am asking you to 🙂 It’s simply fascinating and instructive to have your insight and your thoughts. Understanding more about therapy and therapists, and hearing things a different way (as you described it) is all part of the wonderful process of self-awareness and healing!