Sabotaging my own Therapy

I discovered I have been sabotaging my own therapy for a while now, perhaps even a few years. I’m not ashamed of this, and see it as inevitable really. I started to care about my therapist a long time ago, and jeopardized our client-therapist professional relationship. It is just impossible to remain completely objective.

Are You My Mother?

Now I don’t mean I was attracted to her or anything like what I hear in stories from time to time. But I realized I started thinking of her as my surrogate mother (she is about 20 years older than me), someone to look up to, and trust, and ask all kinds of advice. I’ve never had a guiding light, someone looking out for my best interest. I so wanted her to fill that role. The problem here, is that I also wanted her to be proud of me, and so started hiding my thoughts and behaviors.

Healing from childhood sexual abuse is at best, tortuous and complicated. Having a professionally trained therapist to guide me on this journey has been a necessary and integral part of my healing and putting myself back together.

I’ve actually taken a break (about 2 months now) from my regular and frequent therapy sessions, for several reasons:

1. The last session was extremely painful, and took a lot out of me. I was so exhausted by it that I was unable to function at work or enjoy anything for several days. I’m in avoidance mode still.

2. My husband started seeing a therapist to support  me, and to work on marriage issues together. We don’t have the budget for both of us to go.

3. I’ve connected with my husband and don’t feel so alone in the world.

4. I’m at a good place in my life. I still have down days, but overall I am content.

5. I have friends now!

6. I have many activities outside of the home now – many with kids, but also many just for me.

I realized therapy has become ineffective, for several reasons:

1. I care about my therapist as a person. I wanted her to feel successful, and would hide some of my problems so our session seemed like I was all better.

2. I care what my therapist thinks of me, and so would hide embarrassing details from her.

3. I didn’t want to freak her out, and so would not discuss some of the more disgusting memories in my life.

4. I don’t want to believe I still have PTSD, or depression, or any type of mental illness, and so I portray myself as “better”.

5. I bring her resources to use with her other patients, like useful websites and books, to show her I’m not like the other poor souls she counsels. I always have to be “not as bad as them”.

6. I started sharing only the positive parts of my life, and each session was more like old friends chatting. No work going on.

7. I make sure I am reading something interesting in the waiting room, so we can start the session with easy small talk and she can see I am doing well because I am reading such great books. (I really am demented, I see this as I write this)

8. I wanted her praise. I shared things for her to say “good job” to me.

So what do I do about these things?

Obviously I should discuss them with her, but I don’t see that happening, or going well. I should schedule another session, but I get this horrible feeling when I even think of it. She took me to a scary, scary memory last time, and actually said, “Oh my word, I knew your dad was a pedophile, a predator, but I didn’t know we were dealing with a psychopath too, oh, no, oh . . .” as she scribbled furiously in her notes. Turns out in nearly 10 years of therapy with her, we had never gotten to his animal abuse, and how he used my love for my pets to control and hurt me.

I actually can’t remember the few years of my life surrounding my suicide attempt, when my depression was so bad, and I was on so many meds. I have no idea what we discussed then. But I know I went to therapy several hours a week, sometimes 2 hour sessions, as we dove into the sexual abuse. She was the first person to know any details, what it was really like for me as a child. And here she thought she had the total picture, a father using me for sexual pleasure, keeping me from my mom, my mom adding her own narcissistic goals for me, never unconditional love. We also discussed my physical health and disability, which I rarely talk about on this blog, and it seemed like enough. So I think it was just too much for her to handle another level of trauma to me, this little girl that she now loves.

And so, I am avoiding her. (I have many avoidance behaviors, so not surprising here) To prevent causing her more pain and grief. To prevent having to relive even more traumatic memories. It is so much worse to tell to someone, while they look at you, then to write about it to my computer screen. My blog doesn’t cringe in disgust, doesn’t feel pity for me, so I can type and type and get it all out. I can’t see my readers faces or hear their gasp of shock.

I will go back to therapy eventually. I am sure of it. But I’m not ready yet.

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21 thoughts on “Sabotaging my own Therapy

  1. I’ve taken a break from therapy in the past for similar reasons as yours and although avoidance is probably not the best way to deal with things (as our therapists would surely tell us) it’s the way I went too. The great part for me was that when I needed help and went back to her (totally chickened out and sent an email to reconnect) she was so compassionate and understanding it was like I had never left. I hope if you do decide to discuss things with her about thinking of her as a surrogate mother figure that she takes it in stride and helps you refocus on what’s best for you, without worrying about pleasing her. Gosh…I can so identify though…

    • I think I also reached a point where it helps me more to look forward, and not always back. Although we are shaped by our past, we are not prisoners of it. I will definitely see her again, but will I have this discussion with her the very next time? I’m not sure how brave I will be. I may just make sure I am not making the same mistakes about pleasing her. And then work up to the tough discussion some day.

  2. I am starting my own break, letting my counselor know next session. In my opinion taking a break is not the same thing as giving up. I noticed how much I was leaving out because of some of the same reasons. I am actually kind of excited about testing what I have learned in real life. 🙂 I am cheering for you. Amazing what you can live through and survive against the odds.

    • I agree. I did not give up, just living my life for a bit. It’s not like I stopped doing everything she has suggested. I do think I reached a plateau of sorts, where I need to settle into my own groove before more analysis. I am not stuck now, I am thinking and doing and trying – things I did not do for many years. I’m also excited to test out my new tools and practice what I have learned so far.

  3. Transference~~professional speak for what you experienced. I applaud you for taking a good hard look at what you were experiencing in that relationship. I had a similar experience with my previous therapist. So much of what you wrote, I also did to make me look better in her eyes. She helped me through so much and I am still grateful for what I discovered about myself with her guidance. The trouble was I wanted to be her friend. It took a long time to realize that in therapy, it’s all about me. I don’t have to impress anyone. I wanted to get to know her and about her life. She disclosed more than she should have in a therapy relationship. As I’m learning in my grad classes, it’s the burden of the social worker or therapist to keep boundaries intact and keep therapy a safe place for true honesty. That therapist had fuzzy boundaries and even though she took full responsibility when she knew I was experiencing such neediness, it changed my view and I thought I couldn’t trust her because she was erecting those boundaries too late in the game. What else was going to change, was my thinking. I couldn’t let her know that though. Couldn’t be honest.

    With my new therapist, I determined to keep the boundaries very firm. We’ve had some very detailed conversation about that. I will not ask or find out anything personal about her. She works for me. I am completely honest. We do have a dual relationship because she was the facilitator of the MBSR (Mindfulness based stress reduction) class I took. She also teaches yoga classes at the studio I go to. So I know her in ways outside of therapy, but I will never expect therapy outside of our appointments. With her help, because I decided to be honest and no holds barred, I got to the bottom of some difficult beliefs about myself and where they stemmed from so I could let them go (EMDR was the process). I really like my therapist and yes, it would be nice to know her on a different level but that’s not what she’s there for. I’m seeing her every 6 weeks to 2 months now just to make sure my head is on straight with my thoughts and behaviors.

    I would encourage you to go back to your therapist and discuss what her reaction did to you and what your thought processes were when you revealed more about your father did to you. I can imagine you felt very much like you let her down or thought she saw you in a different light because of what you’d experienced. We are people pleasers, aren’t we? We condemn ourselves and think we know what the other is thinking and make excuses or imagine with our twisted thinking at times. She needs to know these things. If you decide not to go back after that, you will have had a positive termination. If you don’t go back, you will always wonder. Of course, you know you best so do what you think is most beneficial.

    • Interesting comments here! I have been doing things to look better for her, but I realize I do this for everyone, my need to excel and be smarter, better, and well, perfect. My therapist did not cross any boundaries, I don’t think. I know nothing of her personally. It was me that changed how I spoke to her, out of a need to show I was healing and not a failure. I suspect she knows this already. I don’t think our time was completely wasted, but perhaps a bit skewed.

      I can not think of going to anyone else, and starting over, and how difficult that would be. I read some more about EMDR and I am intrigued, and will see what my therapist knows about it – when I go back to her eventually. I think once you reach a functional level of living, therapy can be spaced out.

      I didn’t feel like I let her down at that last session, because I know it wasn’t my fault now. But I did feel bad for telling her such a terrible story, and I also felt like she felt like she missed something. I think she realized then that there must be even more to me than she thought. She was just so surprised, but also excited, because it helped her understand me more, and she had some new angles for me. I bet it bothered her that I have not been back yet to start that work. See how much I think I know what she thinks? I do this for everyone. I realize I could be totally wrong.

      I know I will go back when I am ready. I will deal with whatever I have to so I can continue to grow. Growing pains hurt, but the gains are worth it!

      • here’s an article that I read today that may be of interest. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/observations/2012/09/3-ways-to-impress-your-therapist/

        you’re doing fine. I found myself with my previous therapist wanting to grow so fast that I tried to process without the depth needed. I think it’s ok for you to take the time you have. You know that there’s more work to do. I think your therapist would be thrilled to hear what progress you’ve made in the last couple months. Let us know what happens when you go back!

      • Thanks for the link, will check it out. Yes, the need to be better is so strong. I think I also tried to process so much, to find the truth, find the answers, that I really did not have time to process with the depth, or even the capability. I keep revisiting old spots with new clarity, wisdom, and perspective to continue growing and healing.

  4. Hello R2B,

    A very interesting and candid post! And in some ways it was (or may be) very serendipitous that I read it this morning . . . (or it may turn out not have been very serendipitous at all! Who knows . . . )

    First off, the second or third WordPress email that I read today was the one containing this post of yours.

    And then as I read your post, R2B, many parts of it called to mind Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled.” Especially the first section in the book (“Discipline”) where he talks about “Dedication to Reality”—

    “Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps (of life) only when we have the discipline to overcome the pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say that we must always hold truth, as best (meaning as honestly or as truthfully) as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all cost.” M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 50-51.

    Peck uses the word “always” twice in this paragraph. And near the beginning of the quote he says that, basically, in order for us to overcome our very deeply engrained avoidant and self-preservative tendencies, we must be “totally dedicated to truth”—meaning no holding back, no sparing ourselves any expense emotionally—that only a complete and total dedication to truth and to the search for it will be sufficient to outweigh our tendencies to play it too safe, to shrink from life and the intensity of our emotions and inner pains and struggles. The truth will set us free—but it may hurt like heck for awhile while it’s doing its thing setting us free.

    And then of course Peck concludes with this gem—“Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality *at all cost*.” —Again, no sparing ourselves any expense emotionally in this quest for healing and mental health.

    And so, R2B, after I finished reading your post, I clicked on one of the links at the bottom of your post—

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201208/seven-mistakes-therapy-clients-make

    —and read it. Serendipitous (in my opinion) to say the least.

    And then as I was thinking about what I wanted to write to you in response to your post (it sounded to me like you already know exactly what you need to do; you just need a bit of encouragement and bravery in order to do it), I decided to check my facebook feed. And there I saw a link to this post—

    http://momastery.com/blog/2012/09/06/here-comes-the-sun/#comments

    And Glennon was saying and demonstrating some things that I think may very well ring true with you. But I don’t know. So I offer you this response and the above links and excerpt.

    I hope this finds you well, R2B, and I admire how very honest and brave you were in your post!

    Warmest regards,

    John

    • John, thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment! I really appreciate it. I have never read Peck, but have it on my list to do so now. Very interesting.

      The truth is very hard to swallow. My childhood was not cute, magical, or even safe. So much trauma, and such taboo surrounding my trauma, I learned to hide that part of me. I was forced to keep my home life a secret for so many years that it was easy to deny any of it ever happened, or even mattered. Now I have finally faced the truth for myself. But I simply can not share that information with most people that actually know me. Our world just does not accept it. So living in silence whenever others reminisce about childhood makes facing my own truth even more difficult. But I am getting there. I may still hesitate, but I no longer run and hide from the truth. I did – I absolutely did, and so that quote resonates with me.

      Thank you for sharing the momastery link, I did enjoy that, although I was moved to tears by her honesty and her difficult journey. We all have a different path in this life and it is wonderful to share what we see on the way.

    • Thank you for taking time to comment here. I’m not ready to give up the solid relationship I have developed with my therapist. Simply needed to take a break and see where to go next. She has helped me through many tough spots, and I trust her to help me with our own tricky issue, as I am sure it is not new to her. Now that I am aware of what I was doing, therapy can become effective once again. I think if I started over with someone new, the desire to impress and not show my true self would be even stronger, since I present only the perfect me to those I don’t trust.

  5. My first two counselors, each of whom I saw for only a year, never heard even half of what my third counselor did, whom I saw for five, until he moved away. I had several years between counselors. With my third counselor, we started out meeting once a week and then twice a week for the first year or two. The last three years, I saw him once every three months. I called him my touchstone. I was making progress but needed someone to remind me regularly what healthy was supposed to look like.

    My first therapist changed practices after a year, and it was a very natural break. It worked for both of us. My second therapist was becoming more of a friend than a counselor. Like you, there were things I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. Then I bought a horse, and I felt better working with him. He became my thousand pounds of therapy every day, for five years. My last therapist had healthy boundaries. I miss the touchstone.

    I’ve thought about finding another counselor. I keep the idea on the back burner. I’ve developed a pretty healthy support system, and so far my friends have been able to help me work things through. I try to be careful about not dumping, and I try to talk to the person most suited to helping find an answer to the difficulty.

    You’re doing an amazing job of working things out and through. And I appreciate being able to tag along, because I’m learning a lot, too.

    • I have also had many therapists before this one. Without sounding too mean here, I thought most of them were idiots spewing dime store psychobabble. But I did not give up. I found someone smart, with bright eyes, and a gentle manner so I can feel safe, but also respect her. We’re a good team, just have to work out some new kinks.

      I can’t imagine starting over with someone new. The thought of retelling my history would be too painful, and simply reading my file would be too much for any 1 person to handle all at once. I get such strong pity from most people, and pity is not helpful at all.

      I also am forming a social network now! I never thought I would have this. I have different people that I can know I can share certain things as well, and it feels fantastic. My current therapist helped me so much to get back out in to the world and let others get to know me. I have several places now I can go, and people look up, smile and greet me with enthusiasm. I try not to cry, because it just feels so good. So affirming, I actually belong, and they actually want me here. I can’t believe how alone I was for so so long.

      Thanks for your kindness and support Judy, I’ve learned a lot from you too!

  6. This post of yours was very honest and that’s what I love about your blog.

    I, too have been to a number of different therapists. There was always a clear ending when I felt “I’m done.” No more no less. Of course we will have a lifetime of issues to work on but it doesn’t have to be with the same therapist all at the same time. The therapist who helped me the most was older, motherly and the one I told about my experience with childhood sexual abuse. When I left her practice she told me one’s healing is like peeling a banana. When you peel back one piece of skin there is still more to uncover to get to the fruit inside. (Or was it an orange? Whatever! You get the point). I think you have come far and are doing so well right now. Maybe the time isn’t right for you to move on to addressing the next layer of issues. From reading your blog I think the time has come for you to open up your circle of trust and experience all that that means. You sound like you are doing so well (really!) that you deserve to enjoy the calmness. Just a thought but do what feels right to you. –Daylily

    • Thank you Daylily! I have also heard the peeling off layers analogy. Mine also puts it the opposite way, that we are rebuilding layer by layer, and sometimes need help to reach the next level. And sometimes we just need to rest before we can grow some more. It can not happen all at once.

      I love your thought there, and totally agree. I have a circle of trust now, and I need to tiptoe around this level before I can venture on to the next one. This is all so new to me. Yes I do need to enjoy what I have achieved and not just continually push on and on. I’m so glad you understand.

      • I have always likened it to peeling an onion…ha, ha! I really like your thoughts on rebuilding layer by layer. So true. You have so many people following that also have wonderful comments. Like someone said above, I’m learning so much!!

  7. Pingback: The Name Game – Do Mental Health Labels Really Help? | Roots to Blossom

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