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?