We often resist therapy because we do not want to know the truth about ourselves. We don’t want to admit we have a drinking, eating or smoking problem. We don’t want to know that there are things we can do about our anxiety or depression, things that we don’t see. We are often wedded to the idea that the way we are operating is fine and it is only the wrong people in our lives, bad breaks, or other circumstances prevent us from getting what we want. We resist intimate relationships for the very same reasons we resist therapy.
Often there is a difficulty trusting other people in intimate settings. When we don’t trust people, we are not honest with them, particularly about our feelings. Consequently, we act out our feelings rather than expressing them.
Instead of talking to our lovers, our friends, our relatives, saying something like, “When you said I was wrong, I felt hurt,” we keep those feelings to ourselves, not wanting to expose ourselves to possible rejection. We may have learned in our families that it doesn’t pay to be honest and that resolution is often or always impossible.
When we don’t talk about our feelings, those feelings have nowhere to go, so they get acted out. The more feelings we hold on to, the more we act them out. Instead of telling somebody we are lonely for their love, which would make us feel vulnerable and weak, the loneliness and hurt may be transformed into anger, which feels more powerful. We try to get love or attention by guilt-tripping, cold-shouldering or snapping at the person who we feel has mistreated us. Or we take the feelings out on ourselves by getting stressed out, eating too much and generally making ourselves sick.
We tend to relate to our therapist the same way we relate to other people. Instead of sharing our feelings about a therapist, we distance ourselves. This is also what we do in relationships. At a certain point therapy begins to seem like a chore. It begins to feel as if we are only going out of habit, or because we’re afraid to hurt the therapist’s feelings by leaving. This is also what happens to us in relationships.
When we finally tell the therapist we want to leave therapy, he or she suggests we talk about it. We react with distrust. “She only wants to discuss it because she wants to keep me in therapy.” We have the same reaction when we’ve made up our mind to leave a relationship. We don’t want to discuss it with others because they will just try to talk us out of it.
However, it is this very moment that is the most important moment in therapy and in a relationship. The moment we say we want to leave may be the first moment we are being completely honest about our feelings. And it represents an important opportunity to truly learn something about how we relate, particularly in the therapy relationship.
Often we go through the same pattern in relationships over and over. After about one year, we start to feel bored, restless, unsatisfied, or attracted to others, and then we leave for greener pastures, but those green pastures soon fade. To stop that pattern, and to truly become connected to another person in a way that brings the highest love, trust, contentment and peace, we need to work through the feelings beneath the pattern.
This is where therapy becomes a laboratory relationship. In therapy you can take the risk of being honest about your feelings. If the therapist is a professional, in touch with his or her own feelings, neutral, objective and empathic-as a good therapist should be-you will get an appropriate response when you do so.
Talking to your therapist about wanting to leave therapy represents a chance to dig deeper. We want to leave therapy just like we want to leave relationships at a certain point. Yes, we feel bored, restless, unsatisfied. This is all true. But is there is often another layer of feelings we are not aware of.
For example, you go to a party and sit in a corner and feel bored, so you make excuses and leave early. Underneath the feelings of boredom are fears about making small talk, fears about being accepted, fears about approaching people, assumptions about what other people are thinking or how they are judging you. We do not want to go there, but in therapy that is exactly where we should go.
When therapists ask you about your feelings about therapy, they are not doing it because they want to keep you in therapy. They are doing it because they want to help you get in touch with the deeper layer of feelings that lies at the core of your relationship patterns. Getting in touch with this core is threatening, because it may mean to you that you are not seeing things clearly. It may suggest that your problems are largely of our own making. Just when you are about to leave therapy and are convinced your therapist doesn’t understand, you are confronted with the realization that it is you who doesn’t understand. This is hard to take.
But it is this painful corner that we need to turn in order to find our real selves and real relationships. The highest calm often comes after a storm.