Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my therapist of two and half years. I didn’t know he was leaving until three weeks before his final week. He just dropped it on me during session: “So, I will be leaving. I will no longer be practicing in the state. Had I been simply leaving the practice I would ask you to follow me.”
Admittedly, I was somewhat stunned, but I thought it might be a good opportunity to take stock of the process. Should I continue therapy? Where exactly did I stand in terms of recovery? Am I recovered from the psychological warfare and domestic abuse that ultimately ended my marriage? Are the past issues like family of origin abuse, for example, that kept me blind to some of the abusive elements in my marriage appropriately processed? Did the EMDR address the maladaptively processed trauma that was lingering?
I liked to think so. But, was I in the clear? I didn’t want to run a great race and then fumble at the finish line because of self-judgment: “You sure do need a lot of therapy, MJ. Just how fucked up are you?” That judgmental accusation is probably not new to most of us. Stigma is often what keeps people out of therapy or keeps them from meeting their goals. Or fear.
In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Rachel Maddow commented on therapy after describing herself as possibly bipolar:
“Have you had psychotherapy?”
“No.” (Maddow speaking)
“Are you afraid of changes to the psyche it might produce?”
“No. I’m just not interested. I’m happy to talk to you for this profile, because I’m interested in you and in this process. But, in general, talking about myself for an hour—it’s not something that I would pay for the privilege of. It just sounds like no fun.” (The New Yorker)
Well, no. Therapy is no fun. It’s not supposed to be fun. I do not enjoy therapy at all.
In my last session, my therapist introduced me to the only other PhD in the practice with neurocognitive training. His name is Jack. Jack is new to the practice. My therapist suggested that Jack and I meet. Should I want to continue or check in from time to time, he thought Jack would be a good person for me. I made a face.
While I am a huge advocate of psychological flexibility, I don’t seem to always want to practice it. Change is hard. On the inside, I was pouty and begrudgingly agreeable. On the outside, I was agreeable and happily shook Jack’s hand although I think he saw right through me.
And then, I hugged my therapist goodbye. And, that was it. I’ll never see him again.
I saw Jack yesterday for a trial run. When we chatted after my therapist introduced us, he had some words of wisdom that I couldn’t ignore. He suggested that I consider not abandoning my process yet. If I had come back to therapy to address an acute problem like abuse, then it is often much easier to do core work once the acute suffering has passed. He is correct, but I was just getting used to the idea of “being done”. I liked the idea of having my Tuesdays free. No more therapy! What should I do?
So, when I sat in his office yesterday, he asked me if I had any issues with “right brain” stuff? I rephrased it for him.
“If you’re asking me if I have dissonance between what I know to be true and what I feel to be true, then my answer is a resounding yes. You have just met the poster girl for cognitive dissonance. Let me shake your hand.”
His proposition? Let’s start focusing on that then. I know what is true, but my “distortion machine” often gets in my own way. He wants to address that so that both my right and left brain unite and function together rather than fight each other.
Well, shit! Yes, please! Let’s get on with it then.
He asked me what to look for in terms of how I might evade during session.
“Do you check out, intellectualize, use humor….that kind of thing?”
O sweet fancy Moses, where do I begin? If only I could do an entire therapy session in Anne Taintor postcards:
You know, this isn’t a bad idea. ::she says with hopeful sarcasm::
Painfully setting my snark aside, I’ll say that I don’t know another way to get better with efficiency than to find a well-matched therapist and get to work. There are ways to do work on your own, but it takes longer; and the process is often more painful and cumbersome.
As always, keep going.
All images are courtesy of Anne Taintor collection and annetaintor.com
Oh boy, I do intellectualize alright. Funny I just realized this few weeks ago how I try to be the psychologist than the physiologist herself (more catholic than the pope:)
And the other thing I love is, going to my session and tell my therapist my achievement, the realizations I attained, well it sounds very good–in theory. My therapist will cheer me up for the sophisticated understanding. put simply I like to hear myself talk (hehehehe giggle, giggle). Few weeks ago it downed on me that while I have very good intellectual understanding of my situation, I am emotionally very backward. In other words on emotional level I don’t have a good grip on reality or on what is happening but I can be so happy to discuss, dissect, pinpoint cause and effect.
That in mind on my latest therapy session, I threw the intellectual mask i.e talking about arrested development, how loneliness changed my brain chemistry, how I have raw emotion, my abandonment issue, identity issue… I was just there in the therapy as bare as I can be emotionally, I wanted to engage in emotional level and I was purposely shutting down my intellect to sort myself emotionally. It was great, I cried my ass off, I showed myself how I am not well adjusted emotionally even that was a shock to me. one thing I learned is that there is a place for everything, ideally it would be best to work in intellectual and emotional level together but for me from very early on I have trained myself and my body to cover all my emotional mess with embellished intellect and it never helped just made me emotionally stunted.
I can understand what you are saying. The intellect is easier to develop, too. We get more opportunities to do so what with school and extracurricular clubs, etc. It is a value in society at large–being intellectually developed. Being any manner of emotionally deficient is excusable because as long we are contributing intellectually it’s all viewed as okay. There is even a stereotype that smart people are eccentric meaning that you can’t be very smart AND be emotionally developed. One must come at the cost of the other.
What I would very much like to do is bridge that dissonance. If there is arrested development, then surely I can develop. Others can. What is the mechanism and best modality for accomplishing that?
I think that it’s okay not to “match”. For one to be better developed than the other. I think the point is to continue to work on integrating. And, you are doing that. I am doing that. For me, the hard part is giving up the intellectualizing. Just step into the emotions that I’d rather avoid and get on with the feeling part. Learning to regulate them. They feel too big. The fact that you are in therapy and doing this kind of work is just admirable and outstanding. And what you’ve described here is exactly the kind of work that people avoid. And you are doing it. It doesn’t feel like it, but you are living. It’s the hard work of living. But, you are doing it. A lot to be proud of there. You are building something.
“Difficulties in this world will not go with self realization but devotion will equip us with deeper level of perception” Radhanath Swami
I thought above quote is fitting for what been discussed.
Intellect is very important very! but at times if it isn’t developed in balance with other elements(i.e emotion, body) it can act like a tumor at least in my case. I want to get smarter emotionally and I know to achieve that I need commitment, discipline, ritual, routine, meditation, sense the body, mindfulness… least goes on. Sometimes I joke (half serious) that what I need is a priest not a therapist. To be engaged in emotional level it borders the spiritual realm (I think) for that reason it can be difficult to achieve emotional intellect.
Thanks God for your intellect, emotion here, you provided a place to learn and heal.
I think that you are correct. When one intellectualizes everything as a defense mechanism in order to avoid emotion pain, then one does not progress or grow–or self-actualize. There are ways to unlearn this. As usual, I’m going to write about what I learn from Jack in this space because my biggest issue at this point is regulating the “right brain”. I wonder if this is true for you. Do you find that once you get into your emotional self, you find your emotional load so heavy to bear that you shut it down and go back to intellectualzing? I have a problem regulating grief and sadness. Those two emotional experiences can take me down. I can regulate anger well. Frustration. Sure. But…anxiety is hard. Sadness? Oh boy. Grief. Dammit! So, I have to start to look to my faith tradition and mindfulness and such for answers because I either decompensate or…find a way through it intact. And that is the very hard part. DBT has some decent answers on this in terms of riding the emotional waves. I need to post more on that. I’m loving this conversation!!! It helps.
You asked “Do you find that once you get into your emotional self, you find your emotional load so heavy to bear that you shut it down and go back to intellectualzing?”
I think I trained myself very well that any emotion that can threaten my matrix(reality) will be shut off with philosophizing, day dreaming, imagining, visualizing.. anything but dealing with actual emotion. So to answer your question I have never felt true emotional load, I have an auto ride to lift me up from this burden. Or the emotion I feel is from the intellectual part of self, for example I have a problem regulating my anger that is because I can easily assume insult to my pride–due to fragile sense of self. Emotion I feel is secondary(by product) emotion like pride, defensiveness, vindictiveness, being victim hood(and that result B rated anger), lack of self worth, low self esteem, a feel of being fraud, unnecessary guilt, pride(more worried about what others think of me than what I actually feel), my biggest fear of all is ‘not making sense’, being an anomaly…
I wish I can feel sad, grieve, love, feel primal anger, or simply get bored… the problem I have isn’t NOT having emotion, I do experience very intense emotion in regular manner, it just most of them are useless emotion comes from a hovering simulated self and have no use in transforming me but only to keep me in self constructed sad reality. And this reality is very weak and can be threatened easily for example by a dissolving of a marriage. Oh yeah my marriage is ending and the feeling at times is that I myself is ending, ceasing to exist–in a way it is death of a part of self because I can no more sustain the reality I created.
My son who is 10 month have emotion of anger, joy, being bored, irritated and he didn’t learn it, that is innate emotion and these emotion are very important for his survival. He is a pure primal force( bless him so cute:). As a child I experienced a lot of physical punishment, neglect and lack of nurture, and I am understanding now what abuse does to a child that is to drain child’s primal energy. I think I was robbed of that growing up, I lack all primal force in me. What I am saying is emotion that comes out of the primal side of things is innate, natural and very important for one’s survival. I think I lack that. To the point my obtuse emotional side threatens my survival. For example my husband clearly stated he is no longer enjoys the marriage, he want to get out of it, He slapped me, He used very nasty insults, he told me he can’t stand me..list goes on instead of feeling sad and grieve for the end of my marriage and trying to gear up emotionally to start a new life, my abandonment issue/fear overrides the warning signs which is important for my well being. Sometimes I feel I can wait it out, it might pass, or so on. My unregulated erratic anger is only a disservice to me, just more proof to my husband to say “yep you are cray,cray:)” For my basic survival, the best thing to do is to get out of the relationship and move on but I am in complete lock down.
The problem I have is I can’t grieve or feel sad instead I feel I am a victim, I am trolled upon, I need to show “them”, I am betrayed, my pride is insulted.
Okay, I understand. You are in an acute situation right now. Do you think it is at all possible, and I say this delicately, that you can use that innate energy that you have–the “I will show them”–to get out of “shut down” mode? From what I’m reading, you are experiencing two strong, acute emotions–victimization and anger. The “I will show them” is a strong, energizing emotion that is almost opposite to the victim experience. That’s the resiliency in you speaking up for you. Victims don’t generally get up and say, “I will show YOU!” Victims stay down. I had and have a similar experience. I finally got up and out of my marriage when I realized that nothing would change for me unless I found my strength, and it showed up in the words: “I will not let him get the best of me.” And that is resiliency coming online. A hit to the pride in this situation is actually energy. Something has to catalyze you seeing yourself in a different light than the light cast upon you by your circumstances or other people in your life. That dissonance created by the extreme sadness and grief and the energy of the anger and resiliency and need to prove people wrong is what creates momentum to finally move. This is the “acute” phase. Once things settle, it’s far easier to go back and look at the identity issues.
It make sense, I didn’t r:ealize I am in acute pain. Yeah I think I have been in acute pain for too long it almost seemed chronic. I took great encouragement in what you said. Good to know things will/may get better that is why I found great solace from your journey. I saw how much love you had for your ex and how you gave everything to lift your relationship and how you moved on.
Thanks for the insight on if I can use “I will show them”–to get out of “shut down” mode? yes I think I might, never tried it before.
I love this line in a book I was reading
“Have you ever noticed in a row with someone that no longer loves you that you have no recourse?”
That is exactly my position in my relationship(or lack of it:).
Ok may be the best time is yet to come. I was reading the bible in a moment intense emptiness here is what I found, Jeremiah 29:11 “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plan of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope” I want the test of that! Yes please.
Ok I felt I didn’t do justice to my husband the way I described him earlier because that is not all he is. He is a beautiful person but very limited in his emotion and he used to be very kind and compassionate, he still could be–I really don’t know because I don’t seem to solicit compassion from him anymore. He might tipped to his dark side as many of us would at one point in our life. I just realized how hard it is to define one’s marriage/love relationship because it is so complex, trying to do so seems always out of context. He isn’t all how I described him earlier as I amn’t all a victim. I contributed to the demise of the marriage with my never ending resentment and unregulated emotion.
And I still love him and I am trying to forgive him not in a fluffy way but in practical way. He is the father of my son and I want my son to see us laugh, talk so I have no choice but to love him, forgive him out of necessity and it is an efficient way to be.
Hang on! I think I felt at peace with this realization actually to the idea of love and forgive him while going through separation.
I don’t judge your husband. Human relationships are extremely complex, and the dark side of all of us can be…well, dark. Partners come to know each other in very personal and unique ways.
Thanks MJ. The reason I wrote my “disclaimer” 🙂 isn’t because I was worried how he was going to be perceived, rather I was being mindful of the narration of my life. I no longer wanted victim narration. And as you realization pointed that nothing changes unless one find their strength, I want my life to be narration of strength.
I completely understand your point of view here. That being said, having a witness to your pain and the truth of it is a really important part of healing and recovering. I used to tell a redacted version of events, but then I found that I was stuck. I didn’t know why. Part of that was because I wasn’t able to tell the whole truth. I felt that I could not. Telling the truth about what has happened to you isn’t being a victim or possessing a victim’s narration. It’s just telling the truth, and that’s part of healing. We need to be heard and validated to do that.