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Page Contents: Facing the terror of a manipulative mother.                    


I decided to share with my psychotherapist (CBT) some pain regarding my mother (like that she cared more that I fit into her self-image rather than getting to know me). However, during my trip to the session I started feeling some intense fear. The last months we have spent quite some sessions on talking on a rather toxic 4-year interaction with a teacher. I got some threatening thoughts about this teacher. This has happened before, but I had never talked extensively about it (the fear part) with my psychotherapist. So I thought I would tell her about this [even though we had planned to do hypnosis for another issue]. From the beginning of the session I was rather tense and avoiding much eye contact.
     So first she asked me to explain my fear (that he would find me and kill me). Then she asked me, “How plausible is that?” I told her not very but possibly it shows that I have not processed enough my (past) fears with him. She then told me, “You know this topic with the teacher comes on and off, but could we take 5 mins to talk about what you are planning to do with [an upcoming job issue]". So I stopped to give her an overview with the concrete steps I’ m taking. Then we went back to the topic.
     She told me, “You know its interesting that this fear came on your way to the session.” I told her I’m not sure, but I have a hint, i.e that yesterday I read the plot of a horror movie where a guy is visiting a house with seemingly friendly people and without him realizing he is getting hypnotized...and during my interaction with the teacher a lot of my world beliefs were changing without me realizing. Then she explained a bit that during hypnosis you still have control and it’s not like in the movies. I agreed. Then there was silence.
     Then she asked me how a future without preoccupation with this teacher would look. There I started getting annoyed. I told her that I believe this will come naturally once I have processed sufficiently emotionally the whole thing. She asked why I was getting mad. I told her because it feels like a distraction at the moment. She started in a relaxed, condescending voice tone to explain that sometimes when one thing is behind us and new things are coming. Then I asked her if it looks to her that I have left this behind, since I felt such a fear. She told me not yet. By that time, I had only eye contact when I told her something.
     Silence again. She asked me how I would like her to help me. Then I told her I would like her to help me process my fear. She started telling me—it felt in a condescending voice tone—that it is not unreasonable to get such a threatening thought about the teacher. I told her that it feels like she does not believe me. Then she said, “I believe your feeling, but regarding your (threatening) thought we cannot know because this is in the future.” I interrupted her, saying that she does not believe that my experience with the teacher could have been so terrifying in the past. She said, “This can feel horrible because when somebody acts so unpredictably this can make you very insecure.” (She changed my wording, which now I realize also annoyed me because “terrifying” has a different semantic than “horrible”.) Around that point I gave up. There was like 5 minutes of silence. I thought to myself, “Am I trying to escape?”, then I felt I cannot continue with this condescending voice tone of hers. So we stopped 5 minutes before our normal ending. In the end she said in a relaxed voice tone “Good, do we still keep the meeting next week?” which is a very untypical question.
     I got angry that she was not listening to what I was telling her (i.e. actively doing something about my past fears rather than her throwing a couple of sentences on the topic) and she acted as if she was left untouched by what happened; i.e., I was the one acting childish. I also see that my mother is like this.

In what you have told me, I find evidence of a theme of terror running through your experience; it’s a theme that began with your mother, manifested with your teacher, and continues now with your psychotherapist.

So first consider what occurred with your mother. Interpreting your own words (“she cared more that I fit into her self-image rather than getting to know me”), it can be said that your mother’s behavior of manipulating your experience to fit her desires was psychologically terrifying for you. Every young child needs a mother to endow the child’s life with a sense of safety and security, and when a mother tries to shape the child to suit her own needs, then the child’s sense of safety will be ruptured, and trust in the mother will be broken. Because of this broken trust, the child will experience a sense of terror about life; that is, without being able to find security in a mother’s loving arms, the child will find life to be chaotic and dangerous, lacking in any place of comfort or protection. In all the manipulation it’s as if the child is being told, “Your needs do not matter. You are not worthy of success.” The child is essentially being told to perish. The manipulation is all an act of hatred, and the terror is the terror of being hated.

Mind you, this sense of terror is a general unconscious perception that always lurks in the background even though there may be other things the mother does that on the surface are caring or nurturing. In other words, the child will likely be able to get through life in a generally stable manner, and, by outward appearances, will appear to be quite normal, not “crazy”. But unconsciously a sense of instability and worthlessness will be lurking in the shadows to terrorize the child.

Consequently, your experience with the teacher was a psychological repetition of what occurred with your mother: a person supposedly trustworthy manipulated you for his own needs, and, just like with your mother, it terrorized you. (This is why, during the trip to your psychotherapy session, your initial thoughts about wanting to speak in psychotherapy about your mother shifted to thoughts about the teacher. It’s a good illustration of an unconscious free association.)

Now, in psychotherapy, you feel the same terror. This does not mean that your psychotherapist is literally dangerous. But, because your psychotherapist has the particular ideology of CBT, which does not have any interest in the unconscious but concerns itself only with conscious matters of the present, your psychotherapist will “manipulate” you away from your unconscious experiences so as to serve her own preconceived ideas of how psychotherapy “should” progress. And from your perspective, this manipulation will be terrifying. Furthermore, if you try to talk about this terror to your psychotherapist she will not be able to comprehend your experience; instead, she will try to fit it into her own ideas about CBT, and you will be left frustrated and more terrified, troubled that someone from whom you sought help is now “harming” you.

Furthermore, this terror about your psychotherapist revealed itself in your own free association about the hypnosis theme of the movie. In a psychotherapy session in which you were scheduled to do hypnosis knowingly, as you thought of the character in the movie being hypnotized unknowingly, you understood (unconsciously) that your psychotherapist has been “hypnotizing” you unknowingly. That is, she has been manipulating your experience to suit her ideological conceptions. Hence she gave you a conscious defense of hypnosis while missing the point that you were unconsciously telling her that you were terrified of her “hypnotic” manipulations.

Even though your psychotherapist’s ideology will probably prevent you from working out these experiences in your psychotherapy, here are some facts to meditate upon, as ideas to repeat to yourself over and over for comfort and guidance.

1. “I am feeling this way because of what was done to me by someone else.”

2. “What was done to me was wrong.” (That is, it was manipulative or even abusive and did not occur for the sake of your good.)

3. “I am not foolish or childish or crazy for feeling terrified.” (That is, there is a clear and present unconscious reason for what you are experiencing.)

Note carefully that if the terror is not named in this way, then throughout life you will be subject to episodes of anger, because in the anger you are unconsciously trying to force the other person to admit that what he/she has done is wrong. But if you can assert these three points to yourself over and over, then you will have a tool to use when someone manipulates you and the terror starts to erupt. If you know the truth, even if the other person doesn’t see it and won’t admit it, you will be able to renounce the manipulation and, in that renunciation, you will protect yourself from being deceived by the other person.



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