Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Am I Coming?

“Why am I coming here?” Albert says as soon as he sits down. A depressed, distanced 58 year old man I have seen for two months, Albert is a difficult person to relate to.

He continues. “Nothing’s going to change. I’m never going to find a woman to be with. My two sons are going to continue ignoring me. I’ll never have friends and if I do they’ll always want something from me. It’s never going to change.”

Aware of feeling some anger at this litany of complaints I ask, “Do you feel angry when you say all that? Do you feel angry at me for not being able to make those things change?”

“What’s the point of being angry? They’re just not going to change.”

My anger inches upward. “Anger doesn’t necessarily have a point. It’s something you feel. Are you aware of feeling angry with me if I can’t help you change what you want changed?”

Albert shrugs. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”

I have to agree. Time to change course.

“You’re right, Albert, I can’t bring women or friends into your life. I can’t change how your sons treat you. But are there things inside you you’d like to change? Things that perhaps make it more difficult for you to relate to people or for them to relate to you.”  

“What kinds of things?”

“Well, you don’t seem to present yourself as someone who’s warm and friendly. You seem aloof, removed, perhaps angry, suspicious.”

“I have reason to be suspicious. When you make the kind of money I’ve made you have to know there are all kinds of gold-diggers out there. It’s not like my ex-wife didn’t take me to the cleaners. And my sons were always hitting me up for money. That’s all I was good for as far as they were concerned.”

“I’m not saying you don’t have reason to be suspicious or that you haven’t been taken advantage of, but I wonder if now you don’t use those reasons as an excuse, an excuse to keep yourself away from people, an excuse to protect yourself from being hurt, an excuse so that you don’t have to be vulnerable.”

“Damn right! Why would I want to be vulnerable?”

Feeling as though I am hitting my head against a brick wall, I say, “Because unless you’re vulnerable, unless you allow yourself to get close to people you live a very lonely, isolated life.”

“That’s how it’s always been,” Albert says, some of the edge gone from his voice.

Taking some hope from this change in voice tone, I say, “Tell me how it always was.”

“I already told you. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, a farm in Iowa for God’s sake, with parents who barely spoke English. I wore these clothes my mother made me because we were dirt poor, got laughed at school, did horribly, played hooky. It’s a miracle I ever got through. But I showed them. I showed them all. I made it bigger than all of them put together!”

Albert is back into his anger, the brief softer quality, gone. This time, however, I find myself feeling sad rather than angry. “Albert, for a minute, when I first brought up your living a lonely, isolated life, you seemed to soften just a bit, perhaps to be more aware of your sadness, but then as you talked about the deprivation and pain of your childhood, you went back into your anger.”


“Well, that may be the question you need to answer, Albert. When you say, why should you come here, my answer is that you need to come here so that you can work on getting underneath some of your angry defensiveness to the sadder, more vulnerable person underneath. But that’s something you have to decide if you want to do. Do I think if we worked on that and you could find that more vulnerable person underneath that you would have a more fulfilling life? Yes, I do. But, again, that’s something you have to decide.”

After a few moments of silence, Albert says, “I don’t know.”

“I believe you,” I reply. “I imagine you feel quite torn. Your defensive anger has in many ways worked effectively for you for a lot of years. We can see how it goes. I know I said you have to decide, but it’s really not a decision. It’s more of a process, a process that ebbs and flows and we’ll ebb and flow along with it.”


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading this week's blog as usual, Linda. I can relate to having this experience with some of my own patients even recently. These blogs are a great way to help therapists feels less alone - at least it does for me - in terms of what we experience.

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

As always, thanks for your positive feedback. I never thought of my blogs quite in that way, but I think you're correct. I hope that my description of typical therapy experiences can help both the general public understand what it's like to be a therapist, as well as helping therapists to feel less alone in their individual offices.
Thanks again.