Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Beyond Afraid II

Frank rushes into my office, words tumbling out of his mouth as he walks. “The doctors keep telling my Mom she’s going to be all right. But she’s still scared. I am too. How do we know fibroids can’t turn into cancer? But now I’m scared about something else, I’m scared you’re going to take my Mom away from me, like you said in our last session.”

“Stop a moment, Frank. Take a breath. I remember saying I have neither the power nor the wish to take your Mom away from you,” I say, feeling as though I’m talking to a young child rather than a 36 year old man.

“But you said we’re too close!”

“And what do you think? It’s way more important what you think than what I think.” 

“That’s impossible. You’re the professional.”

“And you’re a person who gets to think for himself.”

Frank looks at me confusedly. 

I continue. “I think you said last week that your Mom didn’t want you to think differently from her. Is that correct?”

He nods.

“And how do you feel about that?”

“Well, I do usually think the same as my Mom.”

“Can you tell me some of the things you agree on?”

“We both like funny movies, not sad ones. We like Italian food but not Indian food.” Pause. “We believe in being good to people.” Pause. “We wish my sister would come home from India.”

“Can you think of anything you don’t agree on?”


Frank fidgets in his chair. “Aren’t you going to say something? I don’t like just sitting here. Makes me even more nervous.”

“Can you say what you feel nervous about?”

“The silence.”

“What about the silence.”

“I don’t know what you’re thinking.” Pause. “I’m afraid I’m not being a good patient. I’m afraid you won’t like me.”

“You know, Frank, right now I find myself feeling really sad for you, sad that you’re so afraid of not being liked or accepted, that you’ll turn yourself into a pretzel trying to please.”

“And that makes you sad for me?” he asks incredulously.

“It does. Why does that surprise you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think anyone ever said they were sad for me. Except maybe when my father died.” 

 “Do you ever feel sad for you?”

“No. Except when my father died. But even then I felt more sorry for my mother.”

“When you do feel sad, for yourself or whomever, do you feel less anxious?”

“Gosh, I’d have to think about that. Should I feel less anxious?”

“I can’t tell you how you should feel. Your feelings are all yours and you get to feel however you feel.”

“That’s not what my Mom says. She says there are right and wrong ways to feel and that I should always feel the right way.”

“So would that mean if you didn’t feel the so-called right way you were being bad?”


“I imagine that always trying to feel the supposedly right way could make you really anxious since you’d be constantly worried about trying to control feelings you can’t control. There are no right or wrong feelings. We feel whatever we feel. So it’s like you’re trying to do the impossible, trying to make sure you don’t feel anything you think you’re not supposed to.”

“You don’t believe there are good or bad feelings?!” he asks, shocked.

“No, I don’t.”

“What if I … if I … if I felt I wanted to scream at you right now?”

“You can scream at me whenever you like. But that’s not a feeling. Maybe you’re saying what if you felt really, really angry with me.”

“I can’t be angry.”

“So that’s one of those bad feelings according to your mother.”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Well, I disagree. I think you can feel as angry as you feel, as long as you don’t put those feelings into an action that hurts me, like slapping me.”

“I would never, never do anything like that!!”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t. And because you wouldn’t you’ve just said why feelings aren’t bad. They’re your internal feelings, inside you. No one ever has to know they exist unless you choose to tell them.”

“I feel really nervous right now.”

“I believe you and I apologize for making you so anxious. I’ve said a lot of things today that are very different from what you’re used to hearing and thinking, and that can certainly threaten your sense of both yourself and the world. That can be pretty scary.”

“Thank you.”


“For understanding. For not getting mad at me for being anxious.”

“Here, Frank, you get to feel whatever you feel – sad, angry, anxious. I hope we can help you to feel less anxious and I believe that will happen as you become more comfortable with all your other feelings. But change doesn’t happen overnight, so neither of us should expect more from you than you’re comfortable with.”

 “Thanks again. I do feel a little better.”


Anonymous said...

Another amazing psychotherapy story. Again I wish Linda had been my therapists.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for precious sharing. Got very clear ideas. Great work