The therapeutic relationship is surely the mother of all headf**ks

My therapist thinks we have two relationships; one therapeutic and one personal. I am finding this rather confusing. Unless you’re so dissociative you completely split into different people, surely it isn’t possible to have multiple relationships with the same person?

The subject of our relationship has come up again after a disaster of a Skype session last week. We were talking about my boat and the mooring we’re currently waiting for. I said that we’d be cruising around close to the marina until they have space for us. Then J informed me that one of the villages I’ll be staying in from time to time is where her daughter lives. Apparently her daughter walks the dog (whom I know because I see her at Js) on the towpath. So it’s likely we will cross paths.

J asked how I felt about that, and I said it was fine. In that moment I didn’t feel much about it at all. I felt a bit angry that she had chosen some indirect language to break this news to me. She’d told me the dog goes for walks there, leaving me to make the assumption that her daughter is local. It felt patronising to say it that way. Like she didn’t want to deal with how I’d be if she mentioned her daughter.

She went on to start talking about how we have this ‘normal’ relationship as well as the therapeutic one. That really irritated me. She kept saying how we need to find a way to normalise our relationship and I pointed out to her that it’s not normal. It frustrated me so much that she was insisting our relationship is normal, at the same time as saying that she would avoid walking by the canal there if she knew I was moored in that village. Because if she were anyone else I know, it would be good news wouldn’t it? In what other (chosen) relationship would that be a possible problem?

It seems like a small, simple thing, but for some reason it has stirred up all the painful attachment shit. The stuff that is always around when I think about her, but that I desperately try to avoid.

Often I imagine those attachment feelings as a colony of bees. There’s thousands of them, and their combined hum makes it impossible to discern the individual tone or traits of any particular one. There’s always this drone they make, and a vibration that stops me being able to ignore them. But if I leave them alone, that’s all it is. A kind of constant, low level discomfort that I can just about tolerate.

This particular conversation with J was the equivalent of whacking that beehive with a big fat stick.

A week has passed since then, but when J asked me about what I’m feeling today I still couldn’t even start to describe it. Its anger. Its hunger. Its loneliness. And fear. There’s a whole load of fear. But none of those is distinct. I’m just giving this the only labels I’ve got. They don’t feel right. They don’t feel like they do it justice.

Desperation feels more fitting. Desperation for something impossible. I’m not talking about hope or longing. It’s more active. It’s more painful. It’s sharper. The energy is different in desperation. It’s a place of knowing what is wanted so badly is never going to come to pass.

But what do I want? What is it I am desperate for? That I can’t say. It would be simple to say I want J to be my mother. And sometimes that’s accurate. From time to time, I wish she would cuddle me up and do everything within her power to soothe me. Sometimes I just want to stay with her, to fall asleep with her close by and rest peacefully knowing that I am safe there.

I know those feelings come from the young parts of me. I can say for certain that the adult part definitely doesn’t want J to be my mum. I know that. I know our relationship wouldn’t be what it is if I were a part of her family. She accepts me and hears me and stays with me because she is my therapist. I’d never want to risk losing that. I actually hate the thought of her not being in that specific, boundaried role (and I loathe the boundaries as much as the next person).

Perhaps what I’m struggling with most is the fear. Fear of not being important enough. Fear of being too much. Fear of being ‘difficult’. Fear of abandonment. Fear that I am basically just ‘work’ to her.

Oddly, it’s triggered this fear of her being ashamed of me. Or maybe it’s fear of my own shame. I only noticed this week, that the confidentiality of our relationship is attached to shame for me. Because I know she can’t talk about me to the people in her life – and rightly so – but that touches on something. It is familiar in the sense that I have experienced feeling as though I was a shameful secret before.

When I was little, nobody talked about my brother abusing me. Everything stayed the same and our family went on as usual. That left me envisioning myself as shame. I was the embodiment of this horrible secret we didn’t speak of. It sounds insane even to me, but because I talk about that stuff with J, it’s hard to detach from feeling like I am once again that awful, shameful secret. Her reasons for not speaking about me are different of course, and I really do know that, but the secrecy and separateness of our relationship from real life triggers this. It’s not a thinking thing. It’s an intense feeling.

That’s the problem with the stuff around our relationship. It’s just so full of that intense feeling. It’s harder to manage all the attachment crap than it is to actually talk about the trauma and the feelings I have about other stuff in my life. Literally anything is easier to discuss with her than what exists between us. Therapy would be a million times less painful if I didn’t have to deal with the therapeutic relationship. And yes, I also know that therapy wouldn’t be therapy without it.

That’s what I always come back to though, when things feel this tough between J and I. I return to the option of ending therapy, and ending the relationship. I know that would be incredibly painful and sad. It would hurt to say goodbye to J. I imagine I would need to grieve. But then I also imagine moving on and not having to keep returning to this quagmire of attachment feelings.

For sure, if I changed therapist this would all emerge again in time. So I really see the options as; keep enduring this anxious, fearful, angry mess that comes up with J, or stop doing therapy completely.

At the moment, I am leaning towards the latter. I’ve been doing this for over 3 years now. Stuff has changed, of course it has, but what price do I pay? It exhausts me. It brings up anxiety and pain almost every time. I spend a ridiculous amount of time agonising over my relationship with J – probably a lot more than I spend ruminating on what I’m there to work through. And when travel is factored in it now takes me a whole day to go for therapy each week. Then there’s money. Of which I have almost none to spend on something that essentially makes me feel like shit week in, week out.

I wonder what the hell I’m doing it for.



19 Comments Add yours

  1. This.shaking says:

    Wow. I’m shocked she said that. I’m sorry – that’s no help to you, is it. But I’m not at all surprised that you are confused. I do hope others chime in here. Sending you vast sympathy – TS

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks, I understand why she said it but it’s a very strange one.


  2. CB says:

    I resonate with so much of this. I often feel shame around such an important relationship being such a secret. And I also sometimes wonder if I’d be better without therapy seeing as it is the therapeutic relationship which seems to cause me the most pain. It is hard to know what to do. My T is taking a year off from December so we are ending and whilst most of me thinks a new T is definitely needed, some of me does wonder if I’d be able to stabilise and integrate our work without getting constantly triggered by the relationship if I were to stop therapy completely. It is a mindf*** for sure!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura says:

      Oh wow a year off? That must be so hard. And thinking about finding someone new would really scare me. Thanks for the solidarity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CB says:

        Yeah, she needs surgery and is taking next year off for her health. Finding someone new does scare me, and makes me wonder if I’d be better off without therapy at this point too…


  3. I haven’t read the post yet but absolutely love the title of this post! 😬

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know how rotten it’s been this last week. There’s nothing I can say to make it feel any better. It can certainly feel like a quagmire of shit at times. Try, if you can, to remember the amazing stuff J has done since the boat move. Sending you heaps of love x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laura says:

        Thank you lovely. I am trying to keep some of the good stuff in mind. It’s a battle x


  4. slantgirl says:

    gah, i am SO RIGHT THERE with you on all of this. first, with the therapist who muses about our relationality (and mine has the added fun component of blurring boundaries with me sometimes too). and then the fear, shame and desperation around the attachment pain that comes with therapy, along with the deep understanding that i need her to be my therapist more than i want her to be anything else. and finally, the question of whether this pain is worth it. solidarity! i hope it starts to feel better for both of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      So sorry you’re stuck in the same struggle, but it’s nice to hear your identification. It’s bloody hard work isn’t it?!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. DV says:

    I think that unless your connection outside of a treatment relationship is an important and unavoidable part of your life – and I’ve been in that sort of position myself as a doctor in a small remote military community and if I didn’t socialise with my patients I’d have no social life at all – then I don’t think you can honestly say you have two relationships. And my situation is still not really a proper comparison. Therapy is different. As far as I’m concerned the therapeutic relationship encompasses everything, regardless of *where* it happens. Small and seemingly innocuous interactions outside the therapy room can have a huge and disproportionate effect as you’ve said here. One thought crossed my mind about the secrecy aspect – does J have a supervisor that she talks to about you? And does that make any difference to how it feels for you?

    The question as to whether continuing therapy is worth it is a tough one and there is no right answer. Sometimes you can only tell by trying out quitting and seeing what happens. From personal experience, I often found that I wasn’t ready or that it wasn’t really what I wanted, and it was kind of humiliating to come crawling back but also a relief. Which leads to another important question – would J take you back on as a client if you quit and then changed your mind and wanted to see her again?

    I hope you can find a way through this which will give you some peace of mind. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks DV. Actually I thought of you this week and what I’ve read about your experiences trying out different therapists. Reading your blog is one of the reasons I know that changing therapy might not change what comes up for me. I haven’t properly talked about quitting with J yet. I’m struggling to talk to her at all right now. But had a family bereavement yesterday that has shifted my perspective a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh poor you. I can so relate to all of this. Literally all of it. I’ve written very similar posts myself countless times. I once googled my T and found her Facebook, and then found her 2 daughters and wow it sent me spiralling!!!! So I completely get it.

    I once wrote when in a similar place to you that “nobody” could possibly understand how I was feeling because I couldn’t even understand it myself and that no words did the feelings justice, I wrote that they felt life or death. My t explained to me once I confronted her with my feelings that it’s forcing us to repeat old primitive feelings that are from a time when we literally couldn’t speak or literally didn’t have the words – I don’t know if this offers you any comfort, I just want you to know that I can relate, I really can.

    I also relate to wishing my t was my mum and her not wanting to lose our special relationship and the things that make that possible …. Christ it’s confusing isn’t it??

    Please don’t quit. I know this is a proper annoying phrase, but my t says “this IS the work” and it makes me all sorts of angry but it’s true.

    Sorry if that’s waffle, I just wanted to reach out xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks for your really isn’t waffle. It’s good to hear that you get it. Funny because J says exactly the same about this being the work. I know she’s right but it also makes me all kinds of angry! X


  7. endardoo says:

    Gosh there are so many poor, self-involved therapists out there. She should not have passed on that information about her daughter. And it stirs up stuff in you that you talk to her about … material for the sessions you are paying for. I hate the whole infantilising thing poor therapists do … it is always your issue, and your response that is to be analysed.


    1. Laura says:

      This isn’t how I experience J. I get very frustrated with her at times, but I don’t think she is being self involved. She told me this because I know her daughter’s dog and so might have been very shocked to run into them suddenly. I think she did the right thing telling me, it’s just brought up a lot of unmanageable feelings. It’s all stuff I have to work through, not because of her, but I get angry with her because that’s where it all emerges I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. magicalmaven says:

    I heard a quote the other day on a healing summit really struck a cord with me as a person and as a healer..”if you find yourself in a room with a client and you find yourself working on your own stuff, your in the wrong room”..if you feel like she has crossed over boundaries as your healer, and is working on herself through you, then maybe its time to reevaluate your time with her, if you don’t feel that and she is just triggering your inner self, give that self a hug and find a tool and outlet that can restore and balance because healing isn’t fun, it hurts, its painful but there is light and hope when the temporary feeling moves through you…good luck and follow you gut!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura says:

      Thank you for your thoughts on this. I sometimes get worried about whether the relationship is healthy and healing, but as you say I think it’s more because of the painful stuff that’s triggered. My gut tells me I need to stick with it and with J. It’s just my head intervenes!


  9. magicalmaven says:

    our triggers are huge, and that mirror that someone holds before us can be alarming and scary..that said, I was raised by a mother and married to a narcissist and suffered mental, emotional and spiritual abuse for years until I began my healing process..its never fun, but I can tell you there is a light in that tunnel and you will meet people who will raise your vibration..<3 good luck!


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