This week’s Memory Monday is one of my most-viewed posts, and it was also one of the hardest for me to write. I first started it nine months before I finally had the guts to finish and publish it, in August 2015.
Many people I’ve come across who are in therapy, experience a range of feelings for their therapists; but perhaps some of the hardest feelings to deal with are sexual ones, particularly if you are already in a committed relationship, or if the gender of your therapist is not the gender you are most frequently attracted to. The feelings are difficult for a number of reasons, including the sense of shame they can engender and the sense that they are ‘wrong’ and that you are ‘bad’ for having them. They can also be incredibly confusing, as often they can be juxtaposed with other feelings (such as feeling childlike or also viewing your therapist as a parent figure), and that juxtaposition in itself can lead to further shame.
What I finally realised after many months of agonising over these feelings and images, is that as with dreams and fantasies, they are multi-layered and can be incredibly revealing of one’s inner psychological state and preoccupations. And I also realised that rather than feeling ashamed or trying to shy away from the emotions, it can be very helpful to ask two key questions: what are these feelings or images trying to tell me; and why are they particularly prevalent at this time. Examining the feelings in this way can also, to a large degree, help to take the ‘sting’ out of how ‘wrong’ they feel, as other meanings are revealed. If this seems strange or unlikely, I hope that my post helps to explain how this can work, and how it has worked (and continues to work) for me:
The reason I am using this post for Memory Monday now, is that I am coming to the end of a two week therapy break, and sexual feelings for my therapist have resurfaced, after many many months of being absent. As noted in my post above, I used to find that such feelings and images used to come to the fore prior to a ‘reunion’ with my therapist, and it seemed to make sense that the sexual images of merger were anticipating that reunion and the desire never to be ‘abandoned’ again. When those feelings and images were absent for many months, I put that down to an increasing confidence and trust in my therapist; the ability to keep her more in mind during therapy breaks; and the ability to hold on to the fact that we were still connected, despite being apart – she had not abandoned me.
And so at first I found the reappearance of these feelings disturbing – as if they were a retrograde step. But when I gave myself permission to really think about them (and the accompanying images), and to let them run their course in my mind, they became much less disturbing because the puzzle pieces started to fall into place a little bit. The fantasy in my head involved me, my therapist, and one other person. Thinking about the positioning of the three ‘characters’ in this scenario, and how this changed as the story unfolded; and thinking about how I felt in each section of the ‘play’, really helped me to get a sense of what the fantasy may be about. In the end, I think the three characters are all different parts of me, and the story that plays out reveals not just how I currently think about the physical act of sex, and about emotional intimacy (I have never been able to successfully marry the two together); but it also reveals my desire for the ‘ideal’ linkage of the two aspects into a single whole, as well as the belief that I will never be able to achieve that ideal.
I would very much like to repeat the message I tried to give at the end of my post above; a message of encouragement to dare to face these feelings not just for yourself, but to dare to face them and reveal them, when you are ready, to your therapist. Realising what the sexual feelings mean is one thing, and it can be an incredibly illuminating and instructive experience; but having those feelings accepted by the person they are focused on, is another thing entirely, and it can be a feeling of powerful ‘absolution’ from any sense of shame or guilt about those experiences. It may take many months, as it did in my case – but if you can bring yourself to discuss these matters with your therapist, it could end up being one of the best decisions you make in therapy.