It’s a long time since I’ve written about C, and in light of that this post relates to a session way back on 17 June. I actually missed one meeting – the first one I’ve ever cancelled in the whole year-ish of therapy – on 24 June, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was suffering a relatively-mild-but-still-dreadful bout of tonsillitis, which was long overdue (it’s usually a yearly affliction). This made speaking difficult, and since speaking is kind of required in talking therapy, this presented a problem. Secondly, though, I was also in a thoroughly bleak and depressed mood, and I know from experience that existing in that sort of plane merely leads to useless psychotherapy sessions. So, although I knew I would miss him (and I did), I felt I might as well ‘save’ the missed session for a time when it was going to be more productive.
So, back to the week before then, the week before I became ill. Regular readers may recall that the session I had the week before 17 June was a meeting characterised by (my) hostility and, in his words, acrimony. Unsurprisingly, that informed at least part of what we talked about in this session.
C was running late again, but not so much that it ate in any way into our session, as it had once previously done. I ran into him in the carpark and walked into the shithole building along with him. The poor sod was bowed down by his briefcase, a coat, some other thingy-ma-bobber and his little packed lunch. For some utterly ridiculous reason, I found this image (particularly of him clutching his lunch) to be rather sweet and charming, and I felt a sudden rush of maternalism for him, longing as I did to ruffle his fluffy (if receding) hair.
He left me briefly in the waiting room whilst he went to get himself together, but he was only gone a few minutes before he returned to escort me to his office. As we sat down he started coughing, and was clearly a little hoarse. He apologised – yes, C, because it’s your fault you’re sick – but to be honest it didn’t impact much on my ability to understand him. Indeed, it further fuelled my pathetic pseudo-parentalism for him, and I wanted to wrap him in a blanket and take care of him. I could see myself handing him hot, steaming mugs of Lemsip and gently spoon-feeding him a soothing concoction of honey, glycerine and lemon.*
What the sodding hell is this about? How can I feel such silly maternal feelings for someone who is (admittedly not that much) older than me, especially when I don’t feel maternal feelings for others, particularly children? I’m used to issues of attachment and transference in therapy – all too well, and all too hatefully – and I’m even used to the idea of wanting to protect C from certain things. This whole mother-like behaviour is odd, though.
Anyhow, the brief salutations over, I took a deep breath and and reached into my handbag for something I had brought with me. It wasn’t an extract of this blog or something of that ilk, like previous “I brought this to therapy” items have usually been. It was a silly little gift I’d made for him.
Uh-oh! Taking presents for the therapist is a dangerous sign of deep intensity, no? And they’re not allowed to accept them, right? I don’t know, but all it was was this:
It is a little white flag that I’d made out of a bit of paper and wire, with a sad face and the word ‘sorry’ ensconced across the front. I waved it at him, briefly explained what it was (thus illustrating how crap it must have been), apologised for my behaviour the previous week and finally pushed it across the table to him. I watched carefully for his reaction.
I was gratified and even quite touched to see his face break into a broad smile as he looked at the silly little thing. He actually seemed a little speechless and taken aback, though apparently in a good way as he sat there doing not-very-much other smiling for a bit. He has perfectly shaped teeth. Not two fangs on each side like I do.
When he finally looked back at me, I returned his smile rather sheepishly and apologised once more for being a twat.
The inevitable question came up as to why I felt the construction of the ‘flag’ was necessary. I told him that I felt bad for how I had behaved in the previous session and wanted to make amends.
“Not that some crappy thing like that compensates,” I said, “but I wanted to do something, something other than simply offering some bland apology.”
We discussed what had enraged me the previous week for a while. It had mainly been due to the fact that he had said that I’d pronounced the almost-imminent cessation of our relationship to be ‘tragic’, which is not what I had said. I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to have pointed this out to him, but slabbering and bitching and ranting at him for 50 minutes was a massive over-reaction.
I told him so, and he enquired as to how I had felt after the last session. He is very well aware that I post-mortem things absolutely to death, and am wont to hang on to words he says in session, questioning their meaning and mentally debating the nature of our relationship.
The thing was, although I did feel guilty about how I’d behaved, it wasn’t as bad as it really should have been. If someone had spoken to me the way I spoke to him, I would have created a death list with them in the top ten positions**, so I really should have been berating myself all week. As it was, I felt more sorry for him than actively conscience-stricken.
“It’s all very well to rationalise things like these by saying that you chose this job, and that things like this inevitably come up,” I told him, shrugging, ”and I know you’re trained to deal with clients’ anger and whatnot. But even with all that said and understood, you’re still human – and I actually thought that you looked hurt at one point. It wasn’t fair that I made that happen. So I’m sorry.”
He thought for a minute, scrunching up his face in that idiosyncratic way that he always does whilst musing, then replied with something along the lines of there being a necessity for me to bring anger to therapy if, indeed, I was angry with him. ”You’ve done it before,” he pointed out.
“Hmm. I suppose last week wasn’t quite as bad as the time I called you a ‘ sadistic headfucker ‘. I’m still sorry about that.” I shifted uncomfortably at the recollection, particularly as he nodded to denote the fact that he too clearly remembered the incident in question.
“Well, anyway,” he said, “I checked my notes, and no – you didn’t use the word ‘tragic’ in the way that I said you did.”
“Maybe not, but I still completely over-reacted.”
He looked at me enigmatically.
“What I said was that it was ‘sad’, that the forthcoming severance of this relationship was ‘sad’,” I recalled. ”And I think I may have also said that I felt a sense of loss. That I feel a sense of loss. That I think it is sad. So there you go, I admit it.”
I do hate my treacherous fucking body sometimes; my voice broke and my lip quivered as I spoke the sorry words. As he started to state the obvious by saying, “now you’re upset,” I waved my arms at him in a halting gesture and said, “no. Please don’t go there, C. Allow me to retain whatever small semblance of dignity I have left.”
“You don’t think crying or showing emotion is dignified,” he wistfully and completely pointlessly added. However, he then smiled gently and sym-(or em-)pathetically, and was good enough to honour my request to desist from proceeding with that particular conversation.
Instead, he started talking about how I have a conflicted or ambiguous view of him at times. I don’t remember all he said in this vein, but I tried to refute the idea that I sometimes regard him pretty negatively. I mean, yes – I get irritated, even angry, with him at times, but as I said to him, that happens in all interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t mean that the way in which I view him is not generally positive.
“Nevertheless,” he insisted, “those issues of anger, aggression – whether at me or whoever – they are very real, aren’t they?”
I made some noise questioning whether he thought I was always like that.
“Oh no, of course not,” he responded assuredly. ”If you were normally angry or aggressive you wouldn’t be able to do this work at all, so that’s not the case. On the flip side, when these issues arise between us, we need to examine them together, so of course it’s necessary that you bring them here. But I do wonder if, when you feel you’re not being heard or whatever, you don’t maybe behave a little too assertively…which could possibly alienate you from people.”
“If you’re talking about Mr Director-Person ,” I responded, raising an eyebrow, “then I believe that I have behaved in an exemplary fashion.”
He said that it wasn’t just Mr D-P of whom he had been thinking, but that he was one such example. Another, to my considerable surprise, had been my engagement with my manager and the Horse regarding my absence from work . Before I could contest that point, however, C queried as to why I felt that my correspondence with Mr D-P had been ‘exemplary’. He (non-accusingly) asked if I felt that my protests were generally acceptable. (I do, for what it’s worth).
I told him that this is an attitude that has been fostered in my character. Apparently that was a cryptic remark (?!), so I proceeded to tell him that my mother, A, and a number of friends throughout my life have always spurred me on to defend myself to the hilt, particularly when I’ve been fucked over in some fashion, as with the NHbastardingS.
“With specific reference to Mr D-P,” I continued, “my mother doesn’t feel I’ve been harsh enough. A helped me draft the most recent letter, so he clearly approves. My friends seemed to think my correspondence has been reasonable.”
He seemed cynical at this, but let it be. He asked of which friends I was speaking, and I confirmed that I was, generally, referring to those of you that I know from this blog and from Twitter.
“Your blog means a lot to you,” he stated.
“Yes,” I acknowledged, “it’s not some work of art, but it’s still my pride and joy.”
This led to a frustrating but ultimately intriguing conversation about intimacy. C accepts that online friendships are fulfilling and meaningful and very much real, but he was very keen to point out that they’re ‘different’ to ones formed in “real” life. The blog is of course wont to encourage contact online rather than in the physical world, especially as it’s primarily anonymous.
He said, “how often do you correspond with your ‘real life’ friends?”
I muttered something deliberately incoherent, but was forced upon his pressing of the issue to admit that my contact with them is pretty infrequent. He then enquired as to how often I ‘speak’ to some of my online friends, and I told him that in many cases that contact was daily.
I went to justify this (as if I need to justify it!) on the grounds that my online friends understand what it’s like to be mental – in most (not all) cases, that’s how I’ve met them. At this juncture I heard utterances about over-identification with my mental illnesses, which given this was perhaps somewhat timely.
I ignored the rather annoying accusation and told C that another issue was that because I can contact so many people through Twitter and Facebastard, it means easy, enjoyable, and ergo completely genuine correspondence with them. Contacting people like Daniel or Brian involves using the phone. I shuddered at the thought and provided him with a redacted, auditory version of this post .
Much analysis ensured. When I was unable to express myself why I am so bloody terrified of the phone, he proffered the view that this absolutely exemplified my fear of intimacy; typing on a computer screen is less interpersonal than actually speaking to someone, apparently (for what it’s worth, I do not concur). I protested that I am not that bad with people in person, pointing out that I’ve met two people I know from Twitter in person and am due to meet a number more (you know who you are!). I asked how, therefore, his contention could be accurate.
He responded by asking how much I go out and see people as a general rule. How do I interact with people other than, say, A and my mother? Can I interact with people other than A and my my mother, especially if one of those two is not present?
I looked at the floor, my silence confirming his suspicions that the answers to his questions were ‘hardly at all’, ‘badly’ and ‘no’ respectively (the latter is not universally true, but it is in the majority of cases. Alas).
He talked on for a while more about my alleged fear of intimacy. I have come, unwittingly, to equate it as a negative thing as a result of experiences with Paedo, V and all the others who have betrayed me over the years. He accepted that I probably don’t consciously fear it, and said that I probably don’t mean to “keep people at arms length – or even to push them away at times”, and indeed he said that he thinks part of me actively yearns for intimate personal contact. However, to completely paraphrase him, my reactions to intimate situations and relationships are maladaptive and ultimately self-defeating.
He even went on to remind me that I totally withdraw into myself for days on end, not contacting anyone I know (even my mother) in any way. ”The only exceptions,” he noted, “are your friends on the internet.” [He threw in a little joke here that I could apologise to anyone I'd failed to contact as I should have by sending them a white flag. I laughed, but told him that he alone was to be the recipient of such a thing.]
I’m making him sound really, really dickish, but all this was conveyed much more sensitively than I have portrayed it here (though it still perturbed me somewhat, of which more in the next post). He went on to briefly allude to the inherent intimacy of the therapeutic relationship, and said that whilst he felt that we did work together, that I was holding him too at arms’ length.
“You’re usually so very careful to avoid showing vulnerability or emotion in front of me, though you have done it at times,” C said, looking me in the eye when I would allow him to do so. ”You’re protecting yourself, no doubt, but in doing so issues are sometimes avoided, and you try to keep things more abstract or business-like than I think you really want them to be.”
The problem is, not that I said this to him, that things can never be what I want them to be – but, again, that is something to be further explored in a future post.
I don’t remember exactly what gave rise to it, but in some sort of response to all this crap, I eventually asked if he felt that my transferential issues towards him were represented more greatly by aggression or by fear of intimacy.
He said that he felt the two were intrinsically related, but added that his view of this was probably different to mine.
“How so?” I asked, deliberately staring him right in the face.
“I think that you perhaps understand transference [he pronounced it 'tras-fer-ENCE' rather than 'trans-FER-ence' as I do] in terms of, ‘I’m angry at my father or my uncle, so I project that onto C,’ would that be right?”
“Pretty much, I suppose, yes.”
“Well, I’m not saying those aren’t issues, but I see it more in terms of your anger towards yourself, and as far as these intimacy issues go, in terms of your inability to empathise with yourself.”
This was the end of the session, so I didn’t really get a chance to express my reaction to this hypothesis – I just sat there for the last minute or two reflecting upon what he had just said. I’d never really considered things in that way before, but now that C had said it, it seemed absolutely blindingly obvious. I mean – I think that some of the transferential reactions to him are related to others that are or have been (however tenuously) in my life – but yes, he’s the perfect way to punish and reject my own self without actually doing so, isn’t he?
Anyhow, again, I’ve made him sound like a twat in what I’ve written here, but really he wasn’t. I felt that it was a productive, and co-operative session, and we parted on warm terms, with me advising him to get hold of some Lemsip. I still wanted to mother him, you see.
[* Point of hilarity. I originally mistyped this as nitro-glycerine. Perhaps the week previous to this that would have been my preferred option!** ]