This week’s therapy challenge, thanks to all you questioning patients* and potential patients out there: What happens when you not only love your therapist, but you hate her, too? Or when you not only can’t stand her, but you unfortunately find yourself actually listening to her, hearing her voice in your head when you’re not in the therapy session?
Remember your parents? Remember how you thought they were stupid, told them they were stupid, rolled your eyes and didn’t listen to the stupid things they said? And then you found yourself telling your friend, “My father says…” or asking yourself what your mother would think before you made a big decision, or – the worst – acting just like them?
It’s tempting to either love someone or hate them. If you’ve got kids, you know that’s what they do: don’t do or give something they want, and its “I hate you!” Bring home a toy and you get, “Daddy! I love you!” But the truth is that mature relationships are always more complex and contradictory than simply good or bad.
It can hurt, and we really hate, hearing the very things we most need to hear for our own good. And it can be particularly tough hearing it from an authority, or someone whose opinion of you matters to you (even if you wish it didn’t). Kind of like hearing you ought to stop eating junk food or have that colonoscopy or something. But worse. The good, healthy, in our best interest stuff is sometimes the most difficult to face. Because its often about confronting a part of ourselves we don’t much care for, or wish weren’t there at all. Because we don’t want someone whose opinion we care about to see our “bad stuff”. It’s embarassing, shameful maybe. It hurts. And since no one wants to hurt, we tend to protect ourselves automatically: we disagree, we back away, we accuse the other person of not getting us or of ill intent, we get angry.
And so we feel hateful, sometimes even act hateful. We want to “kill the messenger,” lash back, leave treatment. But then we feel guilty: because we really do know – and feel – our therapist’s concern (if you’ve made a connection, she’s trying hard, and she’s any good at all at listening to and understanding you. If you don’t feel that, for the most part, she really is on your side, you ought to seek treatment elsewhere). And sometimes facing the guilt we feel about our own hateful feelings seems too much to bear. So we don’t; we convince ourselves it’s her fault. Or we bolt.
Tempting. Don’t want to hate yourself. Don’t want to face your resentment or anger toward her. Don’t want to accept that love comes packaged with bits of loathing, if you’re honest about it. Tempting, but a huge mistake. This is not the time to put up a wall, retreat, or leave! This is the time when the real work starts: when you tiptoe out onto that trust you’re building together, take a risk, and say what you’re feeling and thinking as if she were really listening and trying to “get it.” This is the time you remember she’s working for you, caring about you, trying to help you. You try to listen as if she were giving you a gift: understanding and accepting the “not so good” parts, a chance to go through the scary stuff with someone else, learn about and accept yourself, come out alive and still be in it together.
She can take it. And she’s not going to punish you for it. The therapist in her will appreciate your courage and honesty and the gift of your trust. Oh, truth be told she’ll hate it a little, too (the human being part of her, that is. No one likes to feel on the wrong side of someone else’s fury). But she’ll get over it. So will you. If you’ve chosen a therapist you feel comfortable enough to be honest with, and uncomfortable enough you know you’re getting to the real issues. If you stick it out together and remember you’re in it for a shared purpose: to help you learn about yourself and become the best version of you possible, out loud and with someone else hanging in, even when they’ve seen the worst (and the best) of you.
Love and hate. Hate and love. What a combo!
* All of whom gave me permission to use their anecdotes – slightly disguised.
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.