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Page Contents: Letting go of trying to control psychotherapy and just diving in.                    


I am really stuck in psychotherapy. I’ve been in psychotherapy about 3 years, have done some good work, made some significant progress, like and respect my psychotherapist. Now suddenly I feel like I’m going backwards.

I think it is partly that we’re down to all the really hard stuff. Lately we have been working with some memories from my childhood that are painful and shaming to remember, I seem to be reliving my adolescence, and I am being honest about my transferential and fleeting erotic feelings for my psychotherapist. But the more honest I am, the more I feel paralyzed with shame.

Now I feel enraged at my psychotherapist because everything is painful, there’s nothing he can do about that, and for numerous other unfair and irrational reasons. And at the same time, I cling to him, and am fearful of pushing him away. . . . I know all this and yet I am unable either to change my behavior or accept my feelings. I am getting more and more depressed and both more enraged and more dependent on my psychotherapist and psychotherapy. . . . I seem to do less and less in my life, spend my time waiting for the next session, all I want to do is sleep, and I feel like a big jerk for being so limp and unable to get myself moving. I am having continuous migraines also, which does not make my thinking any more incisive.

Here’s my question: Should I just take a break from psychotherapy and see if I can pull myself together? I am tempted to do this. I am terrified of this dependence and believe that I am not making much progress. As I said, I respect and like my psychotherapist. He is perfectly willing to listen to my feelings of anger towards him and my transference feelings. He is never rejecting, belittling, or unprofessional. I love him, and I hate him, and I am enraged at him. I want him to fix everything and I want him to butt out and leave me alone. Obviously, he does neither of those things.

On the other hand, I believe that I should somehow let go of trying to control my psychotherapist, trust the process, and dive in. But I am afraid I can’t handle it, that I’ll fall apart even more. Plus . . . I feel like that would be giving in to him somehow, knuckling under. O, I am so frustrated with myself! I am having trouble choosing this path.

Let’s begin with your perception that you are going backwards. You are not really “going backwards” in the sense of losing any progress you have made in your psychotherapy; you are actually in the process of feeling the feelings that you stifled and stuffed away in childhood. In this latter sense, though, you are going backwards, but it’s not a bad thing—that is, you are “going backwards” into the past emotionally so as to recover the truth you once pushed away.

From what you say—and even from what you don’t say—I can tell that you suffered much emotional abandonment from your parents. Most likely your father was absent either physically (due to divorce or work, etc.) or emotionally (due to his own lack of emotional sensitivity) or both (e.g., alcoholism). Your mother could have been angry, either outwardly or in a veiled fashion. But however it played out for you, you most noticeably felt angry at your parents for the way they neglected you. Maybe you acted out as a teenager, or maybe you turned inward into isolation and sadness.

In addition to that (and here is a critical point) you also unconsciously knew what was missing in your life: genuine appreciation for your own being; that is, things such as affection, comfort, encouragement, guidance, and so on. Thus, on the one hand you were angry that you didn’t receive appreciation from your parents, especially your father, and, on the other hand you craved appreciation. Not realizing that you craved the emotional comfort of a father, however, this desire for appreciation was perceived in your mind and heart as fantasized images of desire for other persons. And so you would have felt these desires as shameful.

Moreover, in addition to all this, one odd dynamic entered the mix. The conflict between anger and desire would have manifested unconsciously as a “pushing away” behavior. That is, you want appreciation, but, because it’s never the real love of your father, it’s never good enough—so you feel deprived, and, in your rage, you push others away. Thus you can end up feeling alone and abandoned, complaining that others have abandoned you, when really you have been pushing them away in your anger—all because your father and mother really did abandon you emotionally as a child. Thus everything has to go back to the pain of your childhood.

So, here you are. You’re in psychotherapy to heal that pain, but, in the course of the psychotherapy itself you have to “go backwards” to re-experience that pain in order to speak about it and understand it. The surest way to re-experience that pain now is to experience it through your psychotherapist.

Remember, though, that your psychotherapist is not your father and he never can be. His job is to help you experience the truth of your life and to put it into words—to contain the raw emotions and, ultimately, like wild animals, tame them.

Thus you will feel through your psychotherapist the very things you craved from your father, and you will have the urge to manipulate things to get what you desire. You will also realize that your psychotherapist is just a man, and will feel ashamed of your desire. Moreover, you will experience the times “it’s not good enough,” and you will get angry and try to push him away.

And now we come to your request. You need some encouragement to follow the path of psychotherapeutic healing. It may not seem rational to ask for what you already know. But the unconscious is not rational—it’s beyond reason because it is truth itself. You will fall apart not because of the truth but because of its lack. Because of its lack you fall into manipulation. Thus I can encourage you to seek for what you already know: seek what is missing. Seek the affirmation of your life by desiring to speak the truth about all your inner experiences that would push truth away. To do this, please understand that you are not pleasing your psychotherapist but you are saving yourself from falling apart.

So, to begin the depth of your treatment, speak to your psychotherapist of what until now has been missing from the treatment. Your migraines know very well what I mean here. Let them speak. Let them speak, for your sake. Let them speak as you, the child, couldn’t speak. Don't push them, the child, or your psychotherapist away.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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