I Am Not A Forgiving Person

Nikki apologised, and nothing is better.

I wanted her to throw herself on the ground and grovel, I think. Failing that, I wanted her to be solidly, repeatedly sorry in a self-reflective way. I wanted a meā culpā. Not much to ask, right?

That’s not what I got. I got “I am sorry that I didn’t validate your experience“, in a tone that might have been emphatic or might have been defensive. I got “I mean, I thought I apologised when we spoke about it last time, but obviously it didn’t come across” and “I can see I didn’t pick up on the distress and it’s important I do that“.

On the surface, that seems fine, and it was, I guess. But it left me hollow. It was too detached, I think. Too therapist-y. I mean, she didn’t even attribute the distress to me: it was just ‘the distress‘, like it was floating out in space somewhere.

I can see now that you were really distressed and I didn’t pick up on that, even though I should have – I’m really sorry.

That’s what I wanted.

Then it was “Can we take it as a real positive that you felt you could tell me that? [i.e. share the letter]“. Like it was showing how solid and trusting our relationship is, instead of showing that I’d lost most of my faith in her, and was open to the idea of terminating therapy with her.

What probably upsets me the most, in hindsight, is when she was launching into explaining her ‘agenda’ for the last session, and she commented as a disclaimer “This doesn’t undermine the fact that I didn’t validate the emotion in what you said, and I’ve apologised for that”.

It just sounded so begrudging. That’s not quite the right word, but…it was like, ‘I’ve apologised once, that part of the conversation is closed, we’re moving on to something else now”. 

Why not “This doesn’t undermine the fact that I didn’t respond in a helpful way, and I’m sorry for that – I really am. The agenda underlying some of the things I said last session was…“?  Are genuine, non-defensive apologies usually rationed so strictly?

I can’t help comparing it to the apology my last therapist Anna gave me, when we had a rift earlier this year. It’s been firmly established that Anna was not a great therapist, and I know that comparing only ever ends in tears, but I can’t help it. Anna was present and genuine, and her apology didn’t give me those prickles of frustration in my chest. Nikki’s did.

She was a bit defensive of her good intentions to start with, but to her credit, she stuck with me, encouraging me to keep trying:

“It’s really important to tell me how you feel. I’m listening to it and I’m taking it on board, and I’m learning in my really slow way about it. I’m still not getting it though, I can feel it – I’m still not getting exactly what you’re saying to me, and I need to get it. I want to get it right.”

It took some time, but we got to a place where it felt okay – she told me openly that she’d offered so much because she’d really wanted me to know how much she wanted to support me and be there for me, but that she knew she’d made a mistake and put me at risk, and she was able to reflect on our last session and recognise that she’d been feeling guilty about not being able to follow through on the crisis plan and she’d overcompensated by telling me about the limits over and over again. And then she said, with tears in her eyes:

“It’s hard to stuff up, because I know how hard it is for you. I don’t want to hurt you more. But if I do, I want to do my best not to stuff up again. Having you calling me on it is a good thing.”

The thing is, my unrelenting standards and hyper-criticalness don’t just apply to myself – they apply to other people too. I’m picking apart everything Nikki said, and I’m filtering it through a critical lens. If I felt positive about what she said, I could probably package the exact same words and sell them to you in a way that made her sound like the most enlightened therapist in the world.

It just still hurts. I’m mad at her because I don’t want to be mad at her, and she didn’t say the perfect thing that would make us okay again. I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks and I’m still crying about this – but I am.

I don’t know what the learning opportunity I’m supposed to be taking from this is. To learn to accept that things won’t always be exactly the way I want them, and to let it go and move forward anyway? Or to learn to let go of relationships that hurt me more than they help me, and move on without them?

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I Am Not A Forgiving Person

29 thoughts on “I Am Not A Forgiving Person

  1. Oh Rea. That sounds horrible. Obviously something is triggering her and making her defensive. It’s not fair, and I wish Nikki would be less defensive and more open to understanding your experience and meeting you where you are. Sending hugs and support. Xx

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    1. Thanks Alice – I always appreciate your support 🙂 I wish she would be less defensive too, but she isn’t, and I can’t control that, so I think I have to stop focusing on the ways I want her to be different and start focusing more on how I want to be…but it’s hard, and Nikki often upsets and frustrates me, and it’s much more tempting to complain instead.

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  2. Sigh (at her, not you). Nikki seems unable to sit with emotion (painful or uncomfortable), and has this compulsive “righting reflex (term in motivational interviewing)” where she needs to put a “positive spin” on things or frame it in a way that makes it “better.” What if she fucked up, let herself feel that she fucked up, felt appropriate remorse, and then apologized properly? Instead, it sounds like she can’t tolerate the discomfort of hurting someone (even if unintentionally) and is trying to get you to see the silver lining out of avoidance. No wonder you don’t feel supported or heard or like you are getting anywhere – she isn’t staying in the stuff with you. She isn’t constantly bypassing the emotions, which doesn’t let you work through your stuff, especially relationally.
    Maybe it isn’t either/or – maybe you are seeing this side of yourself that doesn’t foster close relationships (being hyper critical and punishing), AND that the relationship isn’t serving. I feel compassion for you, you developed the critical-ness to protect yourself (the people around you as a child were not up to standards and you probably needed to dismiss them in order to preserve your safety). And maybe it is time to dismiss her, maybe not. I think you’ll reach a point where the answer will be very clear to you. We don’t have to get rid of the critical part, though I do hope the little parts being protected by the critical part can hear that Rea is going to make choices to preserve their safety.

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    1. So unable to sit with the emotion that partway through her apology, she noticed that one of the cupboard doors was open and got up to close it while she was still talking. Ugh. I really want to just cancel my appointment tomorrow.

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      1. I think about 60% of it is the belief that even though she’s not great, I’m unlikely to find anyone better. In a context where I’ve now seen 20+ people, and called a whole lot more, all I can see ahead is another 5+ unsuccessful meetings with potential therapists, and then another 6 months getting to know someone who probably isn’t going to be much more skilled than Nikki is. Nikki has a PhD and over a decade of experience, so the obvious markers of competence don’t seem that helpful.

        About 30% is the time I was in hospital and she sent those really sweet messages and got emotional about wanting to protect me and mother me – some parts (I guess the little parts) are clinging pretty hard to that, and they want me to just be good so that Nikki will be nice to me again.

        And another 10% feels like things will be unfinished if I walk away now, and isn’t convinced that the problems are with her and that I won’t carry them with me if I leave.

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      2. That all makes sense to me. I definitely don’t think now, when feeling upset in this way, is a grounded place to walk away from. I hope the session goes well today. I really, really do. xx

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      3. Thank you, Rach. And I also want to say a quick thank you for the influence you’ve had on me overall (I know, another one – all this consistent gratitude must be so wearing!).

        Last night I was feeling anxious about a whole-staff Values Day we were holding this morning, because I don’t feel confident speaking up in the quite charged cross-cultural environment I work in (but as a supervisor am expected to lead by example), and because I was involved in setting the agenda and I knew one of the questions was going to be around what makes you get up in the morning and go to work, and I didn’t have an honest answer I could share with the group without coming across as self-servingly mercenary, since a lot of the time I really struggle to motivate myself and keeping a roof over my head is pretty much what gets me there. So I was spinning stories in my head about how scary it was going to be and how I wouldn’t know what to say or I’d say the wrong thing and be publicly humiliated and probably thrown out a fifth-floor window.

        I could feel myself hitting that point where I felt too overwhelmed to handle it and was gearing up to deliberately catastrophise until I reached a level of anxiety where I could self-harm and decrease the tension. And instead, I stopped and told myself “I hear you are really anxious about this, but don’t worry. You don’t have to talk tomorrow; I’ll take care of it. I know you don’t like speaking in big groups, but I’m actually pretty good at it and it will be okay.” And that felt so much better than overemphasising my incapacity. In the past, I might have raised that as an alternative argument, but it never would have occurred to me to speak directly to myself like that, and it was much more effective. So – thank you.

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      4. I am just seeing this – I didn’t get a notification (argh). I am so glad that you spoke compassionately to yourself (and thank you for the reminder to do the same to myself). It is also so helpful for me to hear what you say in all the other comments, about Nikki’s defensiveness being but one facet of her, and focusing on who you want to be. That is what I am trying to do right now with my therapist and it is helping more than me being angry.
        It also brings up for me being dismissed as a kid and no one seeing what I saw (that things were FUCKED UP). And I was supposed to be a quiet, obedient good little girl who got A’s and never spoke up or out of turn.
        Anyways, you are welcome and I appreciate you too. Thanks Rea.

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    2. I agree with this (hi by the way!). And also, I think that when someone is defensive, it becomes about them again. Defensiveness in therapy is such a mind-fuck because therapy is supposed to be all about you, and if the therapist becomes defensive then they are bringing their stuff into it and taking some of the focus away from you. And although they’re human, and will make mistakes, it’s not how it should be. So no wonder nothing is better, because it’s not: you still didn’t get what you need. Sorry that it still hurts. Hugs and tea (or beverage of choice) and blanket forts, if you want them. xx

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      1. Hi! Thank you for coming to join the meh party – I’m excited to read your blog.

        Nikki’s defensiveness is really hard to come to terms with, because it brings up a lot of shame about my feelings not being ‘justified’ and me being unreasonable, and then I get angry at her. But I’m trying really hard to see it as just one part of who she is as a therapist, not an enormous flaw that overshadows everything else. I’m sure a blanket fort will help with that 😊 I loved feeling enclosed and safe as a kid though they’re less fun these days with my nieces and nephew’s elbows jabbing into me.

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  3. That is so frustrating. Not only because you didn’t get the apology you really wanted, but because it seems so unfair that Nikki has the expectation that you as a client must learn to sit with your painful emotions when she seems unable or unwilling to do that with her own. I recognise what you’re describing of seeing the same interaction differently in retrospect depending on how you’re feeling at the time, I find that happens a lot to me as well, but I also think that because you are writing things down and thinking about them soon after they happen that you have a contemporaneous record which adds more objectivity than most people are able to bring to reflections based solely on memory, so there’s always a sort of core of truth there to go back to.

    I don’t think it is unhealthy to not want to let this go. Would it be helpful to reframe things from ‘I just have to accept it or leave’ to ‘continuing to press for what I want and need from my therapy relationship is important even if I don’t always get it’ – recognising that the process is important even if you sometimes (often?) don’t get the result you want?

    What strikes me with the way you are handling this now compared with your early blog posts is that you seem much more able to articulate what is distressing for you and what you need to be different in your relationship for it to work for you. So if you did choose to change therapists I think you are in a much stronger position than you have been before.

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    1. It was really helpful for me to have that blog post about Anna to go back to, because I was mentally remembering her apology as much more genuine than Nikki’s and feeling that I’d accepted it and things had been okay, but then I wondered whether I was just idealising Anna to make Nikki the bad guy in comparison. It was really validating to find that my memory was right and Anna and I had worked through it, because last session Nikki was commenting about how she feels like she’s in a no-win situation and no matter what she says it’ll be interpreted negatively – and it helped confirm that it isn’t just that I can never accept apologies, but that there was something specific this time that didn’t land well with me.

      Thank you for recognising that I’m better at articulating things now. It was only last year that my therapist went away for 4 months and gave me less than 2 weeks notice, and I was so conflict-avoidant that I never said anything about it and we just picked up sessions as normal when she came back. So things have definitely changed!

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      1. This is such amazing awareness and insight to your inner workings, and regardless of Nikki, you are learning and growing and that will benefit you/. No matter what she does on her end. I want to email you a passage one of my mentors told me to read – you might find it to be Buddhist bs (I know how you feel about DBT/some mindfulness stuff). but it speaks to this beautifully, I think. Transforming our own mind and using problems to benefit us. Would you like me to email it to you?

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  4. I have read through your previous to post an educated response. Ultimately, if a therapist is not in control of their own issues, they shouldn’t be practicing. I understand that she is pregnant but she doesn’t seem entirely focused on you and she should be. A therapist shouldn’t bring their own emotions to a session.
    I hope that I’m not speaking out of turn with my response. I hope you’re able to come a decision which is in your best interest and will get your needs met x

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    1. Not at all out of turn! Nice to hear from you. At the moment I’m unhappy with a lot of things she’s doing but I’m not ready to come to a final decision yet – just trying to stay open to all possibilities. I appreciate your support 🙂

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  5. I second what the others have said, especially Rachel. Rea, I don’t feel that I have a lot of strength / ability to add in my own thoughts right now, but know that I’m thinking of you and sending love and support. ❤️

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  6. Maybe you are a forgiving person, maybe you are not. I’m not convinced you can judge from this situation. It’s hard to forgive when you haven’t received a sincere apology. Instead, it was a minimal apology and then a rush to assume that everything is fine again, because she feels bad if it isn’t. I find it troubling that she would say she’s in a no-win situation. Poor her, with all your negative interpretations, no matter what she does. It isn’t about her! You aren’t there to help her “win” or make her feel good. I’m surprised and disappointed that even with your letter, she can’t shift to focus on your feelings, your perspective.

    Maybe it’s not about being a forgiving person. It’s about choosing what and when you want to forgive. We all see how compassionate you, Rea. If she gave you reason to forgive and move on, you would. But you are stuck because once again, like many other times in your life, someone you want to trust is telling you that the relationship is something that you KNOW it is not. And that just doesn’t satisfy you. You are looking for authenticity. That doesn’t make you unforgiving or critical or mean you are picking the relationship to pieces.

    You will know, in a while, whether you can keep working with her or not. You know E is very good for me, but also that we had a very painful rupture in July. Very painful for me, anyway. But she made the same mistake at first, assuming that things were fine because she explained what she really intended and what I had misunderstood. It also felt defensive and a bit dismissive. I tried to let go, but I couldn’t, because I felt she was glossing over my pain, minimizing it or something. When she said, “It’s probably good we had this, because now you know we can talk about it and resolve things, and it’s not the end of the world,” I did feel it was the end of the world because nothing felt resolved to me.

    It took a while, but then it clicked for her. It wasn’t really about any of the issues and what she had done or not done and why. It was about that horrible pain of feeling unseen and uncared for. And once she spoke to that pain, really spoke to that in a way I believed, then I could let go. Then I didn’t have to think about forgiving her; it just felt natural.

    You can give yourself a little time to see what will happen. Maybe Nikki will be able to see how she’s let her own self-doubts and insecurities get in the way of her work with you, and she’ll adjust in a way that makes you feel okay about it. Maybe she won’t. I think at some point, you will just know, and it will come not from a place of reactivity or negative judgments about yourself, but rather from listening to the wisdom inside of you that knows what is and what is not good for you.

    Sending you hugs of course, Q.

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    1. Hi BP, it’s nice to hear from you! I was pretty shit in the lead up to Christmas but having some time off work is magic for my mental health. How are you? Still looking forward to reading your blog if you decide to start writing.

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  7. Sirena says:

    Hey Rea, been thinking about you and wondering how you are? I’ve been looking out for any new posts. I hope you’re okay. Merry Christmas to you when the time comes xx

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    1. Hey S, thanks for checking in. I’m home for the holidays and okay at the moment, but I’m all over the place with Nikki. My last session before I flew home, I arrived wanting to crawl into her arms and be rocked like a baby and I left wanting to spit in her coffee.

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