Therapy today: Relinquishing responsibility

I’m just back from my first therapy session of the week. It was one of the easier ones; I didn’t get overly anxious or upset and I didn’t dissociate. I didn’t leave feeling drained and miserable.

Actually, we laughed a bit before I left, and that’s what I carried home with me. I like that we can laugh together, because I want her to know some of the me that exists outside of all the crap I bring to her door. I feel like we connect outside of our professional relationship when we laugh together.

Today we talked, as we often do, about my overdeveloped sense of responsibility for how other people feel. I pay dutiful attention to worrying about making everyone but myself happy. I have spoken with her on several occasions about how anxious I get when people I love are upset. I feel helpless and panicked. I get emotional flashbacks to the devastation my parents felt when I was 11 and they discovered that my brother was abusing me.

My response as a child was to act as though nothing had happened, because if I was alright then surely they would be too. And this is an adaptation I can’t seem to shake off. And part of me doesn’t want to. I see taking care of people as the main reason I am loved, so I am frightened that letting go of it would lead to rejection. I also know that if I stop fretting about how everyone else feels there will be a whole lot more space in my head to concentrate on how I feel. I can’t face that prospect. Not yet.

It was interesting today when she asked me how I feel when she gets upset. I realised that I don’t get that fear and anxiety with her. I am comforted by her empathy, even if she cries, because I feel like it won’t stay with her. I am honest with her because I think she can handle it. I see her as someone equipped not to be adversely affected by my problems. And I suppose that if she was, I wouldn’t know about it. So maybe I am just blissfully ignorant.

I think one of the reasons I look forward to our sessions is because I get this rare opportunity to relinquish that heavy responsibility. I know I have an impact, but I also feel confident she will be OK when I am not. Perhaps that’s why even though the work we are doing is painful, it feels good. It feels like a relief to drop all the constant mind-reading I do with everyone else.

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