Posted by: Marie | July 16, 2010

(358) Finding my voice – Part 1 of 5

Post #358
[Script I read to my therapist on Tuesday, February 16, 2010]

I read the following script to Mark in our session today . . . it took 40 minutes. I am fighting a cold so I was coughing and hacking, sucking on cough drops and sipping water . . . Mark asked me a couple of times if I was going to be able to finish . . . yes, I answered . . . nothing was going to keep me from saying what I needed to say . . . .

—————————-

Introduction/Purpose

Based upon what you have written in emails and what you have said in sessions, it seems you believe I am making you responsible for my feelings and my responses.

Obviously, whenever I share something with you in therapy, you are going to respond in some way – that’s the way therapy works.

The Island by Martin Chen

I think common sense would allow me to make the assertion that responses from a therapist can either be helpful or hurtful – or something in between. When the therapist’s responses are helpful, it would be reasonable to expect the client to gradually become more comfortable and trustful towards the therapist. If the therapist’s responses are hurtful, it would be reasonable to expect the client to become more emotionally constrained, to withhold information and to feel unsafe.

I think common sense would allow me to make the assertion that it is the therapist’s responsibility to make sure his or her responses are consistently helpful – and that it is the therapist’s responsibility to create an environment conducive to trust and open communication.

I know it is your intention to create a supportive environment – and, a lot of the time I do feel supported. And, sometimes I don’t feel supported. Sometimes your responses to what I say are helpful. Sometimes they are hurtful. In a lot of ways, I feel safe with you and I trust you. In other ways, I feel unheard, invisible and unsafe.

When I talk to you about how your responses to what I say affect me, it is because I’m trying to get you to curtail the hurtful responses and do more of the helpful responses.

It’s that simple. I’m not blaming you for my lifetime of experiences or all my bottled up emotions. I’m just trying to get you to work with me in a way that enhances my healing journey.

I have tried before to talk to you about some of your behaviors, but it seems you are discrediting the validity of what I’m saying by laying the vast majority of the blame on my shoulders – by telling yourself your assessment of the situation is right and my assessment is full of self-sabotage.

You don’t seem to be willing to consider the possibility that how you respond to what I say does affect me a great deal. Or, maybe you aren’t willing to consider the possibility that you sometimes respond in hurtful ways. Or, maybe hearing criticism, even constructive criticism, is too difficult for you to handle.

In looking at my behavior, I can see I have been protecting your sensitivities. I’ve been helping you avoid considering how your behavior has impacted me. I have worried it would be too uncomfortable for you.

But, starting today, I’m no longer protecting your sensitivities. Today, I’m saying what I have needed to say for a long time.

In an effort to be as clear as possible, I have identified six specific ways you respond to what I say that are more hurtful than helpful . . .

1) It is hurtful when you dominate the conversation

The mini-meltdown I had on the day after our last session caused me to go back and look for common themes in my complaints about our relationship and about relationships in general. The most prominent common theme I found was an unmet need to be heard.

I spend most of my time and energy within relationships fighting to be heard. Our relationship is no exception.

I have been fighting for the space to share my past and present experiences with you. I am usually able to speak a sentence or two, then, when I pause for a breath, you jump in and take over the conversation. So, in order to get more than one or two sentences out at a time – in order to express a whole train of thought – I have to speak as quickly as possible with no pauses for breathing or feeling.

When you do jump in and take over the conversation, you make wisecracks to lighten the mood, you tell me the reasons why what I’m saying can’t be true, you launch into your own personal stories, or you explain to me what I should be thinking and feeling . . .

And, in the meantime, I’m sitting across the room from you, seething because I only got to say about 10% of what I needed to say before you took over the conversation. I am seething because what you are saying has nothing to do with the main point of what I was trying to say – but, of course, you wouldn’t know that because you didn’t give me the opportunity to complete my thought.

I know we have to go back and look at my story with critical eyes at some point, but I first need a safe space in which, for the first time in my life, I can move the trauma out of my soul and body by giving it a voice. I need for you, every once in a while, to just shut up and listen. I need whole blocks of time – like five or ten minutes at a time – when I can speak without interruption.

When I do share emotional stuff with you, I need for you to hold off analyzing what I have said for a little while. When I am in that very emotional state, I need space to just feel, to cry and to describe what I am feeling. I need to know that you really, really understand what I am experiencing before we start debating its validity or begin the treatment needed to fix it. I need to move through the strong feelings and come out on the other side into a calmer state before I can start looking at the experiences with logic.

When I feel rushed to move through the strong feelings, I question my right to have feelings – or, at least, I question my right to talk about my feelings with you. I have a long history of being told my feelings don’t matter – so, when my attempts to talk about my feelings are trampled on, I struggle to believe that my feelings do matter.

I need to know that my feelings really do matter to you – I need for you to demonstrate it to me through your listening.

In order to feel safe enough to open up to you, I need to be heard without having to fight for it.

And, I need to know that you really have heard me, and that you really understand me. Right now, I feel unheard, invisible and misunderstood about 80-90% of the time.

I find myself wondering how you can truly understand my case, and know how to treat me, when you do most of the talking. Why, in order to get you to hear a complete train of thought, must I write it down and read it to you in script format – like I’m doing now? Even now I wonder . . . are you really listening, are you really striving to understand, or have you already moved on to crafting your rebuttals?

What if you used the rest of this session to make sure you understand every morsel of what I am saying in this script? What if you didn’t insert your own opinions or conclusions in this session? What if you made today’s session all about hearing and understanding me? There is plenty of time down the road for you to add your thoughts to the mix . . . are you able to wait until a later date to share them with me?

In the last session, I made a point of listening more and talking less. I wanted you to feel heard. I was hoping that, if you felt heard, you might be interested in listening more to me in the next session. You told me on the phone you felt it was a great session with great progress. Yet, I came away feeling there had been minimal progress. Do you have any idea why there was such a disparity in our experiences? I’ll give you a hint – it has nothing to do with self-sabotage, it has to do with me feeling invisible.

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


Responses

  1. One person I met asked me to listen to her. She spoke almost non-stop for the next three hours. She did this three more times. She basically told her whole life story in this time.

    And then she was finished. It shows what the old religious idea of a confessional might be about I guess.

    This has only happened once out of all the people I’ve known. But it has certainly impressed me forever with how important it is for people to be listened to.

    I’m looking forward to rest of this series – and love that you did this with Mark!

    • Hey, Evan –

      I think listening — really listening — is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other.

      Based upon our online interactions, I’m guessing that you are a tremendous and generous listener. I imagine you were very dedicated in fulfilling that woman’s request to the best of your ability. I imagine you provided a very safe a healing space for her.

      Thank you for being that kind of person . . .

      – Marie

  2. Thanks Marie, I hope I am that kind of person, at least sometimes.

  3. Hey Marie,

    I have felt bad for a while about the kindness you show in your comments on my blog and the fact that I haven’t even responded to you… I find it really difficult that people comment so kindly and lately, I find myself struggling for the energy to write.

    Thank you so so much for your understanding. I don’t really expect it so the fact that you seem to know, is really quite… well… I guess it’s quite amazing. I tend to be fairly disgusted with myself overall.

    Hope you’re well,

    WS

    • Hi, WS –

      I guess it is because I’ve been there . . . a lot. And, there have been people who reached out to me despite my not reaching back.

      I don’t think our purpose in life is always to not be in pain. I think our purpose is sometimes to learn to find value in the low times . . . to appreciate what comes with being in those places.

      I know that goes against common “wisdom” . . . but it allows us to to replace shame for being in a low place (society says only bad people allow themselves to be in low places for any amount of time) with gratitude for what lessons come from that place.

      My thoughts are with you.

      – Marie

  4. Hi Marie, this is truly a deep and revealing post. Fascinating insight into what is going on in the mind of a client, especially since I’m in study to become a therapist myself. I have been in the client’s seat before but the issues I had was a bit different. I really look forward to reading more, and thank you for sharing this.

    • Hi, Albert –

      Thank you for your kind words . . .

      It would be an honor for me if you were able to gain insight here that would help you be a better therapist!

      – Marie

  5. My first response to this (& I guess the feeling is still lingering inside me) – is why would you have to go to so much effort to explain what I perceive to be the obvious to a therapist? I think that sucks really.

    But I think it shows just how much emotional maturity & insight you have into your own healing & recovery process.

    Should you really have to teach your therapist to listen to you? That just bothers me so much.

    I do gain much insight from your writings … Thank you!

    • Hi, stacedee –

      You ask very good questions . . . this therapeutic relationship was anything but normal . . . I had such a difficult time with him that I left the relationship once. But then, I came back because I wanted to figure out why I keep creating this same dynamic in all my relationships with men.

      Because he is a therapist and because he felt obligated to stick with me and to keep working with me, I figured I’d have a good chance of figuring it out. I knew it would have to be something I figured out on my own because he was too deep into his role to help me . . . but, at least he kept showing up and kept talking to me about his experience which was a huge help.

      So . . . that’s what’s behind all this . . .

      – Marie

      • I applaud you!

        Stacy

  6. I don’t think I have words to respond to your understanding..
    I find that a lot.

    You are right about society… and most of the time, I’m very scared that they are right.

    Thank you.


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