She Didn’t Say Sorry

The night before my next session with Nikki, I was awake until 6am, obsessively planning the conversation in my head. We needed to talk about why her text messages upset me so much, and I wanted to do it right, so that she’d really understand. So that things would finally change.

Usually when I try to raise something I’m upset about, it goes something like this: So I kind of wish you didn’t do that, but I totally get where you’re coming from, I think I was probably just grumpy because I was hungry actually, it was no big deal, let’s talk about something else, have you seen that new movie yet?

I didn’t want to do that. It feels even worse to bring it up and then immediately invalidate myself than it does just to never mention it at all.

I was profoundly anxious about it. Not about her reaction, but about whether I’d actually be able to do it or not. I was sure that if I explained it properly, she would get it, and she’d kick herself, and tell me she was sorry.

I couldn’t do it. We sat in silence for a while, and I tried and tried to summon the courage to bring it up, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I had an opening line in my head, and I kept taking a breath and preparing to say it, but I couldn’t do it. The thought of being vulnerable made me want to bleed.

Instead we played with Lily for a while, and then went over my list of coping strategies. I wanted to ask her if I could pay her for an extra half hour, because I was so desperate to get the conversation over with and I didn’t want to leave the room with it still dangling over my head like a sword, ready to impale me. But for once she was scrupulous about ending right on time – when she looked at the clock and told me ‘We’re going to have to finish in a couple of minutes‘, I felt intensely despairing and….I don’t even know what, but whatever it was, it was intense. She greeted the next client in the waiting room, and I could hear them in her office laughing together while I was paying, and I wanted to kill myself.

We finally had the conversation yesterday, and it went so, so badly.

She was all “In the spirit of perspective, can you see how I was doing as much for you as I could?“, and “It was chaotic at my place – there were shits in nappies – and I was texting, and I was like ‘Aaargh!’, and so I was trying to shut the conversation down“, and “Can you see how we were both making assumptions about what the other one’s thinking and doing at the time?” and “We need to be able to sit with the negative emotion, but it’s difficult to hold that in a text” and “Do you feel like you have a clearer understanding of where I was at and where I was coming from?“.

I was on the verge of tears the whole conversation. It just felt like she was making excuses and she was more interested in trying to make me understand her perspective than she was in listening to mine.

She did say “It sounds like you need more affirmation and confirmation – it goes without saying that things are shit for you, but maybe it needs to be said“, but she was also all “I do believe in positive psychology, and it feels like you’re saying that it’s a blanket no, and to be honest that feels slightly uncomfortable“.

At the end, we were sitting in this tense, awkward silence. Neither of us were making eye contact, and neither of us knew what to say. It was all very civil, and ostensibly resolved, but I think we both felt defensive and misunderstood. She said something generic about how talking things through when you’re upset is one of the most important things to be able to do, and that she hoped the conversation hadn’t brought me down when I’d been in a good mood, and I left feeling like I was on fire.

I burned myself when I got home, and I felt a little calmer, less physically anxious, but still just as sad. I lay in bed with Lily stretched out between my breasts, her head on my shoulder and paws soft on my neck, and I could feel the grief tight in my chest. You feel so sad, baby, I said to myself gently, and the grief immediately spiked. I started sobbing, and I didn’t stop for a long, long time.

In my head I’m calling her a bitch and a cunt, but I know she’s neither. She’s just a person who wants to help me, and keeps hurting me instead.

This morning (okay, fine, afternoon), I woke up feeling better, but my mind kept going back to Nikki. Things that I wanted to say to her kept coming up, and so I started jotting them down, and it turned into a letter.

Back in March, when I was in this situation with my last therapist Anna, I emailed the letter to her, and asked her to tell me by email whether she was able to keep seeing me or not. (The answer was no). This time, I’m planning to take it to my session on Tuesday, and ask her to read it. That’s progress, I guess.

Hi Nikki,

I’m not okay with where we left the conversation last week. It bothers me that you’ll apologise six times for something that I really don’t care about, like starting session fifteen minutes late, but when I explicitly tell you that something has really upset me, you don’t say you’re sorry. Maybe it’s “it goes without saying” again, maybe you’re not sorry, maybe you can hold the superficial things enough to be apologetic but it’s too confronting for you to really reflect when deeper things go wrong – I don’t know.

Rightly or wrongly, I get the impression that you still feel that the way you approached the text conversation made total sense, and that you’ve said you’ll try and listen more and affirm my position more, but that you’re kind of half-hearted about it.

You get to do therapy however you want to do therapy.  There’s no point in me trying to dictate that. And if the feedback I’m giving seems unreasonable or off base to you, maybe that means we aren’t a good fit. I hope not – that would really suck – but I don’t feel at all sure that we’ve resolved anything, and I can’t even consider sharing anything meaningful with you without feeling more assured that you do get why I’ve found your responses invalidating and unhelpful and you do want to change things.

I’d like you to sit quietly for a minute and imagine that you just told someone that something is so upsetting you’d rather die, and they told you to go for a walk and forget about it.

I can hear your brain already saying “But…”.

No.

Shut that off for a minute.  Stop rationalising.  You told someone you’re so upset you’re suicidal, and they told you not to judge, and maybe you should go for a walk and just forget about it.

How do you feel?  Do you feel better?

I know that there’s so much going on and so many things you have to juggle in every conversation we have, and it’s hard. I really do have compassion for that, and for how you want to do the right thing but it seems impossible to figure out what that is. At the same time, though…this is your job. You chose this. I didn’t choose this, and my best day with you is harder than your worst day with me.

You have good intentions, and I always know that no matter how pissed off I am. I also know that sometimes you will get it wrong – we all get it wrong sometimes. And that’s okay, if you can accept that you fucked up, and apologise. Even though you mean well, it doesn’t change the fact that what you do has an impact. It isn’t enough to say “Well, I was trying to help” – I want you to acknowledge “I was trying to help, but I realise I didn’t. I’m sorry, and I want to do things better next time.”

I know I’m really pushing you here, and the easy, tempting thing for you to do is to say “Fuck this; I’ve worked so hard to do everything I can and nothing is good enough; I give up”.  Part of me really wants to just drop this whole issue and not risk you quitting, but all that would do is defer immediate pain to later pain. And I know that it must be pretty scary for you to think about the possibility that I’ll do something destructive if you do step back, so I want to reassure you that it’s okay.  You’re responsible for doing your best to help, and being honest if you don’t think you’re the right person to work with me.  I’m responsible for the rest.

What do you think? Too harsh? Too blame-y? Too controlling? Too ultimatum-y?

If she quits, I’m going to be devastated. If she doesn’t quit, but still doesn’t apologise, or fake-apologises, like I’m sorry you got so upset about what I said, I’ll be just as wrecked, maybe more, because then I’ll have to quit. She’s maybe not the right therapist for me, but she does (did?) care about me, and I’m attached to her. I’ve been seeing her for 6 months – of course I’m attached to her. I’ve seen so many different people and I don’t want to get back on that treadmill again. This part of me doesn’t want to give her the letter, but it doesn’t feel safe with her either, so, I mean…what exactly is the plan, buddy? Keep sitting in silence week after week?

The other part of me knows that the emotion doesn’t fit the facts. If Nikki quits, I have a Jewish mama who will text me sweet messages on the weekend, and take me to the hospital if I need to go. I have another who will hug me as long and close as I need, another who will take me to the park for lunch, another who will pick me up for work in the morning. I’m surrounded by love and support, and even though it would suck to start looking for a therapist again, losing Nikki just isn’t that important.

But it is, though.

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She Didn’t Say Sorry

12 thoughts on “She Didn’t Say Sorry

  1. Too harsh? No, I think what you are saying is fair, actually.
    Too blame-y? Also no, I feel like you are trying to help her see things from your point of view.
    Too controlling? I don’t think so but I am not privy to the intimacies of your relationship with Nikki.
    Too ultimatum-y? No. I didn’t get a sense of an ultimatum actually.

    I think you are driving the conversation where it needs to go. It saddens me a little that you’re the driver, and not Nikki, but I applaud you for putting this out there and taking it with you to session instead of emailing it. That’s growth, that’s huge growth. I’m with you. I’m thinking of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this is a wonderful letter, Rea. I do hope you give it to her. I see you making incredible progress and I am so proud of you!! Her answers when you were talking about the text conversation – it’s just not okay. Before you even said it, I realized it: everything is focused on her, her life, her perspective. Your therapy is not about you being forced to understand / accept her perspective – it’s about her listening to your perspective. She has things backwards, Rea, and I’m so sorry.
    Also, if there were “shits in nappies,” – that’s no excuse for treating you the way she did. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it would have been better (and more professional) for her to wait until she had a clear head and time to get back to you. These are things she should know. And if she doesn’t, they are things she should be open to hearing from you.
    You’re right – your best day with her, is harder than her worst day with you. And that’s why you deserve nothing but the best (not perfection, because that doesn’t exist, but you know what I mean) from a therapist. And of course you’re attached to her. And of course this is painful. That is completely, completely valid. And… it’s also true that you do have many others who love you.
    I sent you an email last night but I’m not sure it applies anymore. Anyway, please know that I’m thinking of you, sending you lots and lots of love and hugs. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your letter is good too. I’m trying to sift through my memories of what things made a difference to me when I was butting heads with my therapists, and two things stand out: one is that they apologise in a constructive way – like you say, even if they can’t grasp exactly what they’ve done wrong, they can still apologise for not being able to connect in the way that *you need* and resolve to do better in the future instead of getting all defensive. The second is that they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in a stand-off, but they find a way to de-escalate the situation. I can’t even describe how they do that, because every time it’s happened with my last two therapists I found myself mystified as to how they managed it. It’s like some Jedi mind trick that they learn at therapist school. I think that what’s underneath it is the therapist’s own confidence and inner strength – their belief in themselves that they are good enough and they’ll find a way through, and that it doesn’t diminish them in any way to recognise their misattunement and to apologise for not meeting their client’s needs at any given time.

    The only thing I would add about the letter is: do you think that maybe it makes it too easy for her to give up and walk away? I’d be tempted to add something beyond just the suggestion she should apologise, to reinforce that this needs to be followed up with actually finding a better way to do things – one aspect of which might be reflecting together on the things she does already that work well and that make you feel validated and ‘held’, and building on those. It is so not your job to point that out, (she’s the one who’s supposed to be modelling constructive behaviour, not you) but if it makes the difference, then it’s worth it. Not sure exactly how you’d word that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found this so helpful and just completely spot on, DV. You’ll see in my next post that I quoted some of it in my letter to Nikki, but if you feel uncomfortable with that at all or would prefer I didn’t, please just let me know and I’ll take it out.

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  4. This.shaking says:

    Dear Rea: I do so agree with PD, Lily and DV. I think you are very very strong. A (my five year old) say, loud and clear; “Yup!” TS

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  5. There have been several times when I’ve felt that Nikki lacks, I don’t know, the maturity perhaps, to be fully helpful to you. She’s more defensive than I would expect a professional to be. She’s also sometimes a bit short on strategies. If what she says isn’t helpful, she acts as though that must be something about you, because duh, whatever she tries should automatically be helpful to everyone.

    That may be too harsh. I have no doubt that she genuinely cares about you. I can’t forget her tears when she thinks of your self-harm or hospital experiences. I like her emotional commitment to you. But the things in her life that make it hard for her to respond appropriately to you are none of your business. She shouldn’t be bringing them up at all. It would be much more helpful if she listened to you about what you need and then did some problem solving with you.

    “I’m hearing that you need me to validate your pain and offer some compassion. I want to do that for you. I feel I did that in this or that instance… [refer to specific texts]. Did these hit the mark?”

    You say yes or no or what would be better.

    Then she says, “Sometimes you catch me at a moment when it’s hard for me to respond the right way. I’m in the middle of something where it’s not possible for me to drop everything right away. Let’s think of some things I could say to you then so you’d know I care and will respond more deeply later. I don’t want you to feel brushed off…”

    An apology would be good, but I think the ability to plan to do things differently would be the best. Then you wouldn’t have to dread that next time you long to reach for her, you’ll end up going through the same thing all over again.

    And, you know, I could be completely off base with this. It’s okay if you shrug it all off (just please don’t be mad if I’m going in the wrong direction).

    I do like your letter, because it asks her to focus on your experience, rather than hers. She needs to do that. Like DV, however, I worry that you are almost inviting her to quit She might even read it as though you want her to because you are dissatisfied but don’t want to make that decision. I wonder if you could instead invite her to work with you to create something that can be mutually acceptable. ???

    xxoo

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  6. Oh Rea. I’m sorry you are going through this. I think it shows incredible growth on your part that you are going to give her the letter in person. In my opinion, your letter is perfect.

    It’s easy to see, and feel how torn you are about Nikki. She makes you feel bad because she is invalidating, yet she has shown she cares and you feel attached to her. You are very clear about what you need and why you aren’t satisfied with things as they are, you articulate these things so well. You really do. Like others here, I wonder if Nikki is maybe just not experienced enough or sure enough in herself to be what you need. No one can make that choice for you, though. I think there is a part of you that knows, even if you aren’t ready to know one way or the other yet. You’ll know when the time is right. You deserve to be looked after and to feel safe enough in therapy, in that relationship, to be able to start to heal. The things that would make therapy safe for one person may not be right for another. Only you can really know what you need. And you deserve to have those needs met. Hugs. Xx💟

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  7. Sirena says:

    I also got a real sense of nikki’s inexperience as a therapist in this post. Sorry but it’s just not your job to hear or care about her shitty nappy situation. Who cares? I also hear a lot about her process and her feelings and she isn’t attending to you. You are who is important in this relationship, you have the centre role, you pay for that!
    I think you’re right to have concerns and I trust in your ability to discern whether she’s right for you, whether you think she can grow with you and fast enough to actually help you. Only you know her and your relationship.

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  8. I’m so glad you have those other people you mentioned in your last paragraph. I hope you use them! Doesn’t change the fact that all this is important like you said though. And its painful. Don’t hate me for saying this, but I think you are so brave for even thinking of bringing these things up with her. I thought of you and wanted to be brave and bring something up with Elle today in session. I didn’t and am kicking myself, but I guess I’m still trying to learn how to do this stupid therapy thing.

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    1. Don’t applaud me yet, E – my session is in 3 hours and I’m giving serious thought to just forgetting it and not even giving her the letter! I know how frustrating it is when you want to bring something up and then you just can’t, but you still have time – it took me three sessions to finally talk to Nikki about the text conversation from hell.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am still proud of you. For even writing or considering bringing this up. Even if you change your mind or can’t quite make yourself do it, I will still be proud of you.

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