Attachment to Your Therapist IV

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*** Now Available: Attachment to Your Therapist: A Conversation. This series of posts in expanded E-Book form, on Amazon.***

Susan comments:  Hi I see my therapist 4 times a week and have done so for the past 3.5 year’s I am totally obsessed with her, cry all the time we are apart, she is everything I wanted in a mum, she feels like my best friend. I am totally in love with her, can’t stop thinking about her and can’t bear the end of each session. I have discussed my feelings and she says it’s o.k. To feel this way and it’s normal when you work with someone so intensively. There is no end date, but I am absolutely petrified when the time does come and I lose the most important person in my life and I kill myself as a result. Please help me? (See post “Attachment to Your Therapist”)

Dear Susan,

I can’t tell exactly what is going on in your therapy, but I think it might be helpful to consider some possibilities. My thinking goes in two directions. First, the developmental. “Is there an era in emotional development when it is normal to experience this kind of feeling?” Your obsession reminds me of two times. The first is quite early, maybe age three to four. At those ages, we have enough cognitive development to hold images of the primary caregiver we so much need and love. When she is absent, we can think of nothing but her, and feel terrible pangs of sadness and desperation at the thought of separation.

The next one is in very early adolescence when girls, especially, have “crushes” on adults. There is a similar quality, yearning to be close, to emulate and to be loved by her. Perhaps this is not a fit with your experience, but I am including it for completeness.

Does either of these remind you of how you feel? Intensive therapy is a strong force that encourages re-enactment of times and issues that were somehow not resolved the first time. Are you dealing with unfinished business from your earlier years? If this rings true, in some way, then the next question is what unfinished business is your mind trying to get you to resolve? And how? Are you sending “smoke signals?” By this I mean the non-verbal attempts to get the attention of the other so that she will do what you need her to do. Your mind has an agenda and it is up to you and your therapist to understand the agenda and why it didn’t work in the first place. What do you want from her? What would allow you to calm and become interested in others besides her.

Sometimes it seems to me that in the course of development, there are needs that just wait to be fulfilled, and when they are, as it is with children, we outgrow them and no longer yearn for them. Sometimes therapy can satisfy that kind of need, but in your case, it seems that you might already have progressed to another stage. Now let’s try another way of looking at your experience.

The second way of approaching your situation is to think of your obsession as an attempt to avoid a painful feeling from long ago. The feelings we dread are the ones that were too overwhelming for us to deal with way back when. This could go back earlier than the re-enactments suggested above. Maybe the dread was that your primary caregiver wouldn’t be there, or would disappear. Or maybe the feeling is anger towards someone you desperately needed. Anger can feel so huge that it could destroy the very person you must depend on.

With long-buried feelings, as long as they are buried, they don’t evolve and aren’t modified by time or experience. Maybe your intense focus on her is keeping you far from buried feelings that really frighten you. Until they are dug up, those feelings keep all the horror they had long ago. I call this the “freezer effect” because, like food in the freezer, they retain their original flavor and power without regard to time. If this rings more true than re-enactment, then I have interesting news.

Your mind is convinced (takes it for granted) that the solution is for the other person (your therapist) to do the job of keeping your terror at bay by staying near to you for ever. That would solve the problem, but it generates a new fear that she might let go or not be there one day. Your child mind can’t imagine another way to assuage the terror, so everything depends on her staying close. Unfortunately, your answer has a childlike logic and is not really possible, at least not forever.

But the real solution is radically different. The real solution now (and even in childhood) is for you to change. It is for your therapist to help you face the feeling you most dread, the feeling of loosening your grip on her.

But your mind thinks that feeling is equivalent to death. It is the worst thing that could ever happen and must be avoided at any cost. The younger feelings are, the more globally scary and disruptive. So going into those feelings is a major operation and should be undertaken thoughtfully when you are both ready and with both of you clear about what you are doing. 

Perhaps you are already doing that. Just by acknowledging how much you want to be with her all the time and how impossible that is, you may be starting to face your most difficult feelings. The question here is, are you making progress towards accepting that she can’t be with you all the time? Are you, by small steps, making peace with adult reality? Or are you holding out, hoping that somehow you won’t have to accept, and somehow she will be able to continue staying close and allowing you to keep your worst feelings far away.

If you are more bent on holding off the reality that she is a therapist, not a mum, then you will have to work hard with your therapist to take tiny steps towards imagining what you would feel if the worst happened. It will help to try, both of you, to understand exactly what feeling or feelings are the objects of your dread. Gradually, as you enter into the forbidden territory, your feeling will heal by small increments and won’t feel so terrible any more. As that happens, your therapist will be helping you resolve the worst terror of your childhood once and for all.

You will need to experience the feeling, to go through it. This is not something for her to impose unilaterally, which she doesn’t sound like she would do, but for you to approach voluntarily. Going through your worst-case feeling with an empathic witness will resolve it. Just as in trauma therapy, feeling the terrible feeling in the company of an attuned other person leads to healing. Freud realized this in 1893 and called it Catharsis. I like that term, too.

After all, the goal of therapy is to resolve things. Therapy should have an end. Yes, there are times when facing your feelings might cause such unraveling of your being that a lifelong dependency is a good thing, but if you are seeing your therapist 4 times a week and are still intact, I’m pretty sure that is not the case. For most people, a therapist should not serve as a prosthesis, but should be there to help you use your adult strengths and her experience to settle issues you couldn’t deal with before.

I hope these thoughts lead you to a greater perspective on what is happening. Once again, I can’t know exactly what is going on or what you should do, but these are general thoughts that are intended to help you and others in a similar situation to navigate towards resolution in the here-and-now, which is, quite miraculously, fully equivalent to resolving your problems from the past.

Be sure to check other posts in this series See categories. The next one is Healing the Damaged Self.

JS

44 Comments

  • What a great post. This was helpful and reassuring, not to mention inspiring to me regarding some of the work I have yet to do with my analyst. Thank you for your wise and gentle words.

  • This post was amazingly helpful & enlightening. It’s explanation was so thorough & clear. I’ve been having the most terrible time with this matter, but reading & really meditating on the issues addressed in the post has allowed me for the first time to feel a certain level of peace about my situation. I think when you don’t understand the underpinnings of all your emotions or how they all work, it can be horribly disorienting. But to understand them even just a little more does a world of good I think.

    • Dear Andria, It is so good to hear that the blog is helpful. The clarity that helped you is exactly what my new book, How We Heal and Grow: The Power of Facing Your Feelings, is about. I hope you’ll like it, too. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

      JS

  • I am worn out by not knowing just exactly what my therapist is *really* thinking. It’s getting in the way of this whole ‘therapeutic process’. I’m obsessed with doubting, questioning, analysing every word or movement she makes to see whether she’s genuine or faking. We’ve talked a lot about this and there is absolutely nothing that she has ever said or done to give me reason to doubt her integrity, but I just can’t let it go and relax into a safe relationship … which is what I understand that I need to do before anything especially therapeutic can happen. I can’t force myself to trust her … but will I ever be able to believe that she (or any other therapist) is for real?

    • Dear Worn Out,
      Thanks. This is an interesting situation. Are your doubts in some way a repetition of something from your past? Is it possible that the struggle with trust is unfinished business form long ago? If someone important in your life was not trustworthy, could you be waiting, as you did then, for the other person to change? If that is the case, then maybe the emotional work for you to do now is to realize and accept that you can go on anyway without having what you want (but should, long ago, have had). There is a lot I can’t know, so these are only thoughts. On the other hand, if you can’t find the link to the past, the answer is more difficult. Then the question might be, “who is the manipulative, untrustworthy person that part of you is making your therapist into.”

      I hope these thoughts help.

      Best wishes and Happy Thanksgiving, JS

  • I found this post very helpful. Having entered therapy for the first time a year ago to deal with the death of my mother and my own breast cancer, and then — as they occurred – the death of my father and my reunion with the daughter I put up for adoption many years ago, I became almost terrified of the dependence I’d started to feel for my therapist. We had a miscommunication about the shceduling of an appointment and I fell apart. This reminded me so much of how I felt when I was living on the streets as a teen, after my mother asked me to move out (at 15). My parents and I resolved our differences and remained close until their deaths but we never did talk about those years when I was on the streets, or about my daughter.

    I quit therapy because I felt that I was leaning too much on my therapist, that it wasn’t good for him or for me. Especially as I was suicidal.

    Reading your post has made me wonder whether my despair at missing the appointment, and my fear of dependency, doesn’t have more to do with being kicked out by my parents than with my therapist. Maybe I am just afraid to lean on anybody. Maybe learning to be a little dependent would be good in my case. Maybe it’s irrational to think that if I lean on someone, I will somehow hurt them (like I did with my parents, by disappointing them); and if I let someone get close to me, I will hurt them (like I did my daughter, by putting her up for adoption).

    I have never thought about this before,even though since quitting therapy I’ve been blogging my own therapy sessions. Thank you.

    I would like to buy your book. Is there a way to find out when it is published? An electronic version would be fine; I don’t have to wait for the paper. Good luck with writing it, by the way.

  • JS Thanks for your post, very enlightening..
    Now the question for me is when is time to quit therapy? when the obsession becomes so strong and disturbing, that almost seems like the cure is worst than the disease?
    Right now, after 3.5 years of 2 times a week analysis, I decided to interrupt because I got scared that this is really driving my crazy..

    I´m not sure it can be worked through in therapy.. because of the intensity that the person of the therapist elicits in the patient. it sounds to me very much like the parallel of erotic transference when it gets really hard to work it through and sometimes distance is the right choice.

    have you read theory about this kind of transference? I would really like to read more about it and usually I find the classic explanation of positive, erotic and negative transference or perhaps what we are talking about here sounds more like psychotic transference, still I haven´t found much written about it and less about how to work it though.

    I´d appreciate your insight on this.
    thks.

    • Without knowing the details, two thoughts come to mind. First, the obsession can be very powerful. I’m thinking of addiction where the person simply can’t stop until they have some distance from the substance. Theory is right that erotic transference can be so strong that some distance may be necessary.

      The other thought is that the intensity of the feeling or obsession needs to be explored very thoroughly. What life-and-death emotional issue is at stake? What terrible thing will happen if the relationship is broken? When relationships are positive and healthy, then parting is usually easier.

      JS

  • So when would you say that an obsessed patient should interrupt therapy because the obsession became too strong?
    I´m really confused whether these intense feelings towards the therapist can really be worked out in therapy or like you said, at some point it becomes like an addiction and one should keep distance from the substance.
    thanks for your time and insights.

    • Rachel, See my answer to Sandra. I can’t tell, but it might be good to try to understand your attachment and then, if you really can’t manage it, the two of you might decide on some distance, or a consultation with another therapist in your area. Often an outsider meeting directly with you can help you understand what is going on.

      JS

  • I am a psychologist and psychodynamic therapist in Houston, Texas. Love in psychotherapy is a strong force and often threatens to divert the therapy from an analysis of the symbolic meanings inherent in the attachment. Some people have described love as a kind of insanity because we literally lose our mind and stop thinking clearly when we are in the grips of it. I think it is important to know as a client that the love relation that forms through therapy is part of the material of the therapy, just like one’s memories, fears, wishes and so forth. Therapists even have a word for it, which is “idealizing transference”. Different schools of thought differ in how they conceptualize the meaning of the transference. Some say it is the stuff of the therapy itself and that the person will be cured when they work through the issues that the transference brings up. Others say it is a distraction and diversionary tactic that leads the person away from dealing with some harder issues, of which the need to be liked and impress now begins to stand in the way. Insofar as the love relation to the therapist as an imagined all good figure begins to become all consuming as it looks like it already has in this case, it is crucial to begin to talk about it openly with the therapist, so that it can be worked through therapeutically and begin to lessen in intensity.

  • Dear Worn Out,

    I can relate to your words. I have been in that situation before and I am in it yet again. I’ve been in therapy for about 10 yrs. and on anti-drepressants for most of that time. I have had trust/anxiety issues since I can remember and have always had an obsessive ‘crush’ since I was like 13. It has since transferred to my therapists since I started therapy. My second last therapist really hurt me and even though this last one is pretty darn good and doesn’t deserve this distrust I think I have lost faith in the process. When I think about it now I cannot settle into what the therapy relationship promises, I cannot settle and trust anything she says or does. It seems artificial, fake, empty, and like a game. I don’t want to face the obsession feelings anyways lol. I tried to break it off with her when I started feeling a loss of control over myself but emotionally I couldn’t walk away like I can in real life. I push people away by becoming more and more unattractive to them so they will move away on their own. Then I can deal with my feelings on my own. Therapists were supposed to be unique in that way but ultimately everyone has their limits. I run hot and burn then I run cold and prefer it but it is unsustainable. I am in an interesting place as in I’m half way around the world to get away from it and I still don’t know what to do. I shouldn’t continue with her and must have control until the obsessive feelings lesson and maybe they can transfer to something better and I can finally be rid of her. But I’m so sick of this, there’s never any peace. Sorry I’m starting to ramble. I found this googling obsessed with your therapist and was looking for some answers and I just needed to share. I hope things were able to work out for you 🙂

    Cheers.

    • Herring, Impasses in therapy are attempts to solve a problem that seems insoluble, a life-death one, most likely about connection. One thought is that the solution may not be to solve the problem, but just to tell your therapist exactly what the problem is. That is not easy, but maybe more possible then solving it.

      JS

  • I am not sure this is where I should post this…
    I have attachment issues with my psychiatrist of 5 years. I did not have this issue until she abandoned all her patients during a “Personal Crisis.” I only knew of this when I called her office for an appointment and she had left a message letting her patients know she was no longer seeing patients, could not talk to them, fill prescriptions, etc.. I could go into more detail but I won’t. So long story short, she is back to seeing patients and I have seen her every week since mid January. We have talked through all of this, I know she feels bad, and says she understands what I am feeling. I thought I was better and had gotten through it. I am trying to tell myself I don’t need to see her every week but it seems like the only way I can do this is to be mad at her. Or I am just mad at her and I haven’t completely worked through it yet. I didn’t get to see her last week because of my schedule and I decided I wasn’t going to see her this week because in my mind “I want her to know I don’t need her” which I do. But she just let me know that after this weeks visit, she won’t be able to see me for 2 weeks because she will be out of town. Which then brings up panic. So then I told her I wasn’t sure I as coming this week but if I don’t it would be 5 weeks without seeing her, so I am going. I hate feeling like this. I have always been very open and honest about my feelings but am starting to feel like she thinks I should “get over it already.” I hate this feeling. I hate this dependency I feel, I have close friends and family I can talk to so it isn’t like I have no one in my life who understands my depression. Any advice would be helpful.

    • Dear Teresa,

      What I don’t hear is anything about the source of your vulnerability. What allows healing in the therapeutic relationship is being able to be adult and young at the same time. Young feelings come from a time and circumstances when we feel we are in a life and death struggle, usually to hold onto the attachments that we depend on. When they are not resolved, they come up in important relationships including the one with your therapist. What makes it possible to heal is being consciously aware of your young feelings and compassionate about your young self at the same time that you know you are not really in life and death danger.

      A therapist who understands and is also compassionate about your young feelings will help you face them and will help the adult you hold the hand of the young, frightened, angry you. It is possible that your feeling that your therapist is impatient may also be more about your past experiences. Maybe you are afraid to count on his/her patience with your young feelings and reactions. Hopefully your therapist is comfortable with the young you and will be there to help you navigate what feel like dangerous waters.

      -JS

  • Thank you for your quick response. Could you elaborate on What I don’t hear is anything about the source of your vulnerability.” Would this be what happened in my childhood that makes me vulnerable now. It probably is my perception that she is getting annoyed but I wonder if it is harder for her to take or harder for me to continue talking about because it is about her. I guess I haven’t resolved my childhood issues after all because I had been doing so well and now I feel like I have taken a hundred steps backwards. I wasn’t abandoned as a child but I grew up with an alcoholic father and a controlling and manipulative mother. I was extremely close to her until about 6 years ago when I realized a lot about my mom I didn’t know as a child. Thank you again for taking the time to respond.

  • I can’t even begin to thank you for this. I thought I was weird because I think of my therapist all the time. She is just a huge part of my life and I am so scared she is going to disappear or stop seeing me, for whatever reason. I doubt her, I am convinced she isn’t going to stay around much longer. And I pick apart everything she tells me and before you know it she has turned into this monster therapist when she has done nothing but good for me. I feel bad doubting her and she always tells me it’s okay to doubt and I just recently told her what a huge part of my life she is… I didn’t realize what that meant at the time but now I kind of regret saying it. Anyway, thank you for you post! I am going to try and bring this up next week.

  • Hi Jeffery,
    I am also way too obsessed with my therapist. I have OCD, and he is all tangled up in my obsessions. I spend hours and hours ruminating – in mental rehearsal of our next conversation, and mental review of past conversations. I spend way too much money on clothes and jewellery – to wear at my next appointment. (I know he doesn’t care about my clothing, but I feel that I should have something new and fabulous to wear, so that I look good for him.) He has a progressive muscle relaxation audio recording on his website, so after my partner falls asleep, I sneak downstairs to the computer, and fall asleep listening to the sound of his voice. On the two days a month that I see him, I often call in sick in order to concentrate on what I’ll say, and get ready to see him. When I do go to work on those days, I get nothing done. Part of the reason for the rehearsal is to be sure that I don’t accidentally say something that would lead him to believe the relationship is unhealthy, or that he has become a third partner in my relationship, and and ‘terminate’. (Hate the use of that word.) We have had that conversation. He says I have a fear of abandonment – I’m terrified of losing him. I think of him while having sex with my partner, I fantasize about going for a long drive with him, or sitting around a campfire with him. He’s never far from my thoughts. I don’t actually feel that his psychotherapy approach is helping me at all, in fact, I think the answer is CBT. But I don’t care if it’s not helping. I just want to talk to him anyway. I love him so much that I can’t even look at him – I spend more than half of the session looking at the floor or somewhere else. It’s just too hard.

    • Dear Anna Maria, While I can’t know enough about your therapy to give you answers, I can comment on therapy in general and for OCD in particular. There is good evidence that psychotherapy for this condition can actually change your brain chemistry by natural means that arrives at the same result as medication. What makes this challenging is that letting go of obsessive thoughts and rituals brings up very intense feelings that are hard to face. The thesis of my new book, How We Heal and Grow: The Power of Facing Your Feelings is that facing those feelings is actually the pathway to cure for practically every therapy and all kinds of problems. The good news is that the fear of feeling is from long ago when feelings might have been more than could be dealt with. Our mind still treats the feelings as if they could not be faced, but that was how it was some time in the past. As an adult, feelings are not so dangerous because we have the resources and support to cope with them. For therapy to succeed, in my view, feelings must be shared. When patients are afraid of doing that, then the discomfort with experiencing and sharing feelings must be the subject of the conversation.

  • Long story short, because it follows in the vein of most of these previous posts. I too ruminate on my therapist to a ridiculous amount. So much that my studies are affected (like right now- I should be studying!). What I find in therapy is that I don’t like to be seen. I can’t look at my therapist when I am talking, I am too embarrassed or ashamed by what I am saying, and the intensity would be too much for me to be looking directly at my therapist. I’ve found I am able to communicate a little better in email format, but am wondering if this is a cop-out of sorts because I completely avoid the elephant in the room- which is my close to desperate need to have connection with my therapist all the time. If I can’t seem to handle bringing other things up, I don’t believe I could manage what would come up within me to bring up this need for attachment. But I do find it so distracting in my daily life…I”m constantly checking to see if there is an email from my therapist, I even monitor the public aspects of their Facebook page. It is so very overwhelming and threatens my academic future as I cannot focus on anything while I wait for some kind of communication.

  • I have found this post so helpful, no shaming, and healing..
    Thank you for using kindness in your response, providing several pathways to discovery, and for communicating the therapeutic process in everyday language. I find it helpful and calming to read this site, much like how I feel in therapy. I have had a lot of these same feelings towards my therapist during the past six years. Only now I am able to start to face letting go, and I know my therapist will help me. I think therapy is such an interesting encounter related to what happens when that connection is so close. It’s almost like that connection starts to draw out all kinds of locked away feelings, even sometimes when we don’t want to face them. I have found it humble, amazing, healing, and sometimes humiliating (my own shame) to have seen my therapist as the father I never had. All those many feelings that come up, including that intense love feeling, are healing, but at the same time so interesting. It took such a long time for me to be ready to even think about therapy ending…thank you for all of these insights, and I intend to buy your book and maybe my therapist and I will use that as we prepare to say goodbye. What has helped me, though is my therapist telling me his door is open and I can return if I need to.

  • My problem: I’ve been seeing a therapist for about ten years, Many of the first years were truly baby steps. I did not trust her (or anyone in my entire world) but eventually felt it was OK to share things that were entirely difficult, troublesome, and systemically shaming for me. She reassured me many times…it wasn’t your fault, you were a child, etc. Her response once again took me a long time to trust, was she just saying this? Did she believe it was true or just felt like it was “the thing to say.” Perhaps she really felt otherwise and was hiding it from me. How could I tell if she really meant it, and therefore accept this? I have kept her at a distance for a decade. I try VERY hard not to change appointment times, I show up on time, leave on time, not bother her with phone calls…to be a good person and a good patient, to be independent. However, over the past three months, I have felt overwhelmed with shame as I now believe perhaps I have become too dependent on her. I think about her all the time. It feels bad. I know she is not my family. I know she is not my friend. I know I should not feel this way and it is wrong. It is shameful to feel dependent on someone whom you know is really not a part of your life. I don’t know what to do and I am at a loss about my feeling of shame. I am afraid to look her in the eye now. Have I become attached to her? I swore this would NEVER happen with anybody. Now I feel this shame is unbearable. I’m not saying I am suicidal, but I’d rather die than feel the shame I do now. If I have the courage and the guts to do so, I am going to tell her the above and ask if its time for me to terminate due to dependency. That also is scary but if that is what is right I know I should do right and not wrong. Typing this out I feel helpless. What is normal and what is wrong or bad? I don’t have any hope for a satisfying outcome. I am sorry. Thank you for listening/reading. I just needed to vent. Sorry.

  • Fascinating series of posts. I, too, probably have spent varying amounts of time wondering what I should say to my therapist (conversation rehearsal of sorts). Interestingly, I never thought much about her reply, although when I did, typically assumed it to be negative. By and large, however, the real-life replies were not negative. Over the past few months, I have noticed that I “think” far less often of my therapist and the conversation rehearsals really stopped some time ago. I’d like to think that is because I am making some sort of progress. Unfortunately, I still revert to some of my usual behaviors of either self blame or deflection of blame onto others (including the therapist), under certain [expected] circumstances. I also know that I can still occasionally be triggered by something that makes me think of my therapist and then really wish that I knew more of this person’s life – as it would help me to know if there might just be something more we held in common (maybe as a means to better accept, or trust, the feedback that I receive or more simply to serve as a proof of sorts of the sort of connection that I feel we are probably supposed to have). I’ve begun to wonder if it might be helpful to finally admit some of my more persistent thoughts, or at least the process that I go through (if not the content) when these thoughts arise, as I think this is probably a pattern of communication avoidance for me and others with whom I am/have been close (e.g., not co-workers). Never expected any of this when I first entered therapy for marital issues (and stayed for my own).

    • I’m very glad to see that my posts are encouraging people to take good risks, the kind that are likely to turn out positive. I just want to remind everyone that the reason for the shame and low self-esteem is mainly to keep anyone from surprising us with rejection or criticism. The protection is far too costly to be worth the benefit.

      All the best, Jeffery

  • Thank you very much for your posts about being attached to your therapist. You explain everything so well. I’m attached to my therapist and struggling with letting her go, because therapy is ending. I’ve talked to her about it, several times and she is very understandig about it and helps me get through it. I’m really glad she is there for me until I’m ready to finally leave her. It really helps that we can talk about it in therapy. But still, it hurts very much and I can’t wait for these feelings to go away. Reading your posts gives me comfort and helps dealing with the pain.

    • Thank you, Coco. I hope your comment is of help to others who are struggling to bring themselves to talk about their attachment. One part of letting go is losing something and another part is about having to find new attachments in the non-therapy world. I hope you make good ones going forward.

  • These posts are answering some very difficult questions for me. But I need to ask- what happens in a situation like this, where the therapist is trying to help bring out the feelings and deal with them but the client cannot tolerate the pain? My therapy is taking me back to my teenage days of self harming and now I think my therapist may even be freaking out a little. Do I give up- knowing full well that somewhere down the road I will form an inappropriate relationship with someone again, or do we continue to face the pain but I cut my way through it. I find it ridiculously hard I leave at the end of a session. Any advice- I am at a bit of a loss.

    • Helen, As usual, I have to say that I can’t respond directly to your situation, but i’ll answer from my experience. When the upset about going into some material is too big, then it is not helpful to force it. Patients have to feel safe enough to be willing and ready. So when you are stuck, the next thing is to explore why the issue to be tackled is so big. Is there a part of you who has extra concerns? Then they need to be heard. If it is simply too big, then the thing is to creep up closer, bit by bit asking why it is so scary or painful. Social workers have a principle called “partializing.” What it means is that if something is too hard to deal with, then cut it in half, and if that is too hard, cut that in half. Please look at the posts on trauma. You may also find ideas that you haven’t thought of in my book, How We Heal and Grow.

  • Hi again,
    Thank you for your previous response- it actually turned out to be very helpful.

    I have just been reading Chapter 1 of your book and fell overwhelmed by what you write about the inner child in the section entitled, ‘if you get really bogged down’. I am really bogged down! Since my last comment my therapist has done what you suggested, I think, in partializing the problem. She seems to have taken a different tact and suddenly, my inner child is being accepted and heard. In the hours after this session I felt wonderful but since then I have gradually felt more and more scared.

    In your book you say I have to make friends with this inner child. When my therapist asked me what I would say to this child in a distressed state, my only answer was that the child did not want to hear from me, she wanted my therapists voice and that was it.

    I think I am feeling worse each day because I cannot seem to placate the inner child. I see my therapist once a week and I am desperately trying to placate the child with this info and with repeating my therapists reassurances. This child feels so strong and she wants to contact the therapist but my adult self recognises this won’t help and could actually make me feel worse.

    How do I placate this inner child? And how do I teach her to accept my voice not my therapists? This is all immensely painful and hard to cope with. Have you seen people change from places like this? Cause I feel stuck.

    Thank you for your time- I think your writing is fantastic- you have been the only online source about adult attachment problems that has actually seemed sound and not kooky!!

    Thanks,
    Helen

    • Dear Helen, Oh, my. I want to help, but really don’t know you or your therapist, so all I can do is try to bring in principles that might pertain. Perhaps the most important principle is that reality is good enough. At times all of us, not just children, want things that aren’t possible. Call it mindfulness or love or compassion or empathy, but what they all amount to is acknowledgment of what is without apology. You say you can’t “placate” your inner child. We all know that children may ask to be placated, but what they really need is to be responded to with understanding and honesty that they have wishes and needs that are very strong and may or may not be fulfillable. The people by whom we feel the most supported are the ones who admit their limitations and promise only what they can deliver. Please talk to your therapist about whether you think this principle might apply to your situation and that of your therapist. I hope this is helpful, as I really hear that you are in a lot of distress. JS

    • Hi Helen,

      I feel I can relate to what you describe. I have dealt with this by actually doing things (alone) with my “inner child”. I don’t know what you liked to do as a chid, or if you didn’t get to do what you liked, what is was you wished to do. My inner child likes to color, and eat baby food, and take baths and be listened to (if it’s hard for you to respond). I too have wanted DESPERATELY for SOMEONE ELSE to soothe me, as I was not as a child. I got a book on Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT) that someone recommended and it has instructions for self-soothing. It really, really sucked at first, to soothe myself when I wanted the therapist to soothe me. Like it sucked really bad. But as I persisted with doing it little by little, with stops and starts, I have come to realize that this is how one becomes a person, and that if I had been properly taken care of in childhood, THIS IS WHO I WOULD BE. It feels good. It is still a practice. I don’t have it perfect but it is a lot better than it was. My inner child also likes to mindfully look at the lights on our Christmas tree, and the lit candles of the neighbor’s Menorah. Whatever holiday is yours, I hope your inner child enjoyed it to some extent. I hope you find out something you wanted to do, or enjoyed doing, as a child, and you do again with her 🙂 I’m sure that she will love to know you.

  • I have seen a lot (60 or 70) therapists and psychiatrists, most only a few times as I did not feel that they could help me. Of the few I saw longer (up to 3 years), the relationship grew intense because I wanted, as always, for the professional to literally physically hold me. They always ended up terminating the relationship. Recently (about 2 years ago), someone recommended to me that I study DBT. This study has resulted in an enormous change in my ability to deal with my attachment problems in therapy. It really sucked really bad at first, but I am doing and feeling quite a bit better. I have a therapist (again!) but this time I’m actually able to talk about my feelings with him instead of just acting ways to try to achieve some emotional state.

    In reply to a previous comment about always wanting to be held by these professionals, you suggested that perhaps really that desire was so to avoid feeling a certain rage. I have come to see that this may be true: I do have a lot of rage about my childhood – emotional neglect and being taken advantage of. I don’t really have access to the rage; I don’t feel it really very often. It tends to express itself as a voice-like thought in my head that screams. I do often feel very much like I would like to have a tantrum of sorts in my therapist’s office, with the fantasy that he would calm me and soothe me as I was not as a child (if I began a tantrum as a child, or even simply said “NO”, my mother wilted and cried, for one thing. My current therapist said that is “emotional blackmail of a 2-year-old.)

    However I feel that my therapist has analyzed me out of his office, and I still have the problem. The way this happened is that I told him of my desire to have a tantrum, and have him soothe me. He said that because we talked about it, it would not happen hopefully. He has told me before that he has trouble working with people who have strong negative emotions. So I feel like I cannot go to him for help with my rage. I feel very alone, unsoothed, alone, rageful, bitter, disconnected, angry. I don’t know how to talk to people anymore if DBT is that you have to soothe yourself because you were never soothed.

    Lately since this happened I am trying to have some insights into how this relates to the long, drawn out trauma of things from childhood. There are so many aspects to a relationship with a therapist and I guess I cannot expect that one person can be all things. Now that I have written this, I think I will try talking to my therapist about how he analyzed me out his office. But if he doesn’t respond in some way that i feel like we communicate, I feel I am going to feel alone and very angry, which, yes, I’m quite afraid of. Because like I said, as a child, the “world” would end (my mother would wilt in tears) when I was angry or asserted myself. So yeah I am quite afraid of getting angry and making this therapist go away, and maybe he is afraid of me, too?

    Do you have a suggestion for a healthy way to deal with the dichotomy of wanting to experience something I intellectually understand but feel a deficit of?? Talking feels disappointing as it is not the same thing as having the experience.

    Beth

  • Hello Jeffery
    I must thank you for your post! It is always a relief when I get down to doing some Doctor Googling (rather obsessively) and establish there are others out there that are just like me..
    I can relate to so many of the comments that have been raised in this forum. I am currently going through what seems like an interminable obsession with my therapist and her life that I am not sure I can overcome. I have been seeing my therapist for a year now, but there have been gaps in between, I actually went off half way across the world for 10 weeks a few months in as I felt like I was suffocating in my daily life and needed to gain some perspective. I did gain some perspective, but some of my trip felt a little overshadowed by the fact I had my therapist on my mind more than I had anticipated. I have struggled in our sessions to open up and our therapeutic journey has been dominated by excessive emailing by me in between sessions. Initially, it was seen as my way of expressing myself and conveying those feelings that were so absent in the sessions, so my therapist allowed for it, although, she did try and set some boundaries up, which I am afraid to say I have pushed constantly and when she has said that she won’t respond to all my emails I have broken down in tears as I feel I am losing my closeness with her. I have an obsessive need to feel that I am special and that I am more important than her other clients, this is something that I think about a lot. One of the issues that has been very prominent in therapy is an alcohol problem I have had, and it is only the last 6 weeks that I have managed to knock this on the head (for the time being, at least) and of course the feelings I was drinking and taking cocaine to disguise have returned with a vengeance. I am absolutely and utterly fixated on my therapist and her life, I really am. I have OCD and was diagnosed many years ago with it, my first episode I can relate back to when I was approx 7, so it does seem to be ingrained in me. My mind has a tendency to move from one obsession to another to another; it is truly a vicious cycle, and beyond tiring!! I have permanent anxiety, which I can again relate back to my childhood, but meditation is helping to address this, despite my reluctance to engage in the process initially. It doesn’t really work when alcohol and drugs are in the mix! Well, my therapist seems to be my latest obsession and fixation. I have complex tranference occurring, which I have touched upon with her a few times whilst blubbing away and she has not seemed phased, but I am not sure she is being abrasive enough in explaining the history behind these fixations, but maybe I haven’t given her a real chance as my heavy armour means that a lot of our sessions are dominated by my humour and inability to focus on the problems in hand. Humour is something that I am well known for and I seem very concerned about trying to impress my therapist through making her laugh. This is a distraction mechanism, but I suppose I feel so worthless and hopeless that laughter is something that gives me an identity at least. The identity part is an interesting topic here, as I have realised that through my drinking and self harming I have been trying to maintain a destructive identity as it is what feels familiar, however, there is an element of feeling that therapy has made my destructive behaviours escalate as I have constantly struggled with the idea that I am not worthy of therapy and that my therapist will lose interest in me if I don’t have pronounced problems. I am a sensitive and empathetic character that spends my time consumed with others misfortune and it is this that circulates my mind permanently, which makes me feel guilty for having therapy at all. I compare myself to the most extreme cases of people in Syria/Afghanistan etc, and working for a refugee charity where I encounter horror stories on a frequent basis only serves to make me feel less worthy of therapy. This has been discussed in therapy and it is frequently noted how I distract myself from talking about myself by talking about others in worse circumstances. I suppose this is related to a lack of self-worth and esteem and not feeling worthy of anything.
    Right, sorry for the essay here, I am just so relieved to have found your article and there are so many thoughts I want to download. Again, this is another part of therapy that is particularly present; my inability to stay with my thoughts and this overwhelming need to capture them in an email and send them across to my therapist all the time…. I am getting much better though and really investing much more time and energy into mindfulness, which is the model my therapist specialises in.
    With all of this history I have given you, I have neglected to express the most pressing worry I have in therapy. The obsession is so domineering. I am jealous of my therapist and her life. I have googled her obsesssively and found out every detail of her life that I can through her public pages, I even know what her husband does and know from pictures what he looks like. I have made her life into a dream that has turned me into the green eyed monster. I know that it mirrors my own insecurities and what I am missing in my own life. I am at a funny age of 31 and feeling so unfulfilled and disatisfied with all aspects of my life. I have never had a job that I like and I was in the wrong relationship for 12 years that I was too afraid to break away from because I didn’t believe I would ever find anyone else, I became, again, obsessed! My voluntary refugee work has inspired me though and I am applying to University at the moment, which is big progress. I still doubt finding a partner though as I push people away and my physical and mental insecurities are so crippling that I feel I will be rejected, although, if you saw me you would wonder what the hell I was going on about, but my mind attacks me relentlessly, I have a huge persecution complex.
    This obsession has spiralled out of control. I know my therapist has a child, I know her husband has a very good job and is good looking and I feel consumed with such guilt that I invade her personal life in the way I do. I am fixated on her life and what she is doing, and, I have accused of her of being arrogant because she has such a good life; dream job; dream husband; child etc etc. Basically, she has got everything I want and dread I will never have because I am so neurotic. I have expressed this to her, but she has no idea the extent of my googling activites and although she knows I have discovered what her husband does (didn’t seem phased), I haven’t told her the excessive amounts of time I have spent just fantasising over pictures of her and her husband consumed with total and utter jealously. I have basically put her on a pedastol and feel that she is has the most perfect life. Gorgeous intelligent husband, perfect job and a child! I spend hours and hours feeling anxious about my activities, I really do! I feel sick to the pit of my stomach and like a stalker. I can understand where a lot of it derives from though and it mirrors my own deep rooted insecurities. I even said the other day that I was jealous because she is prettier than me, which to most may seem quite irrational. I hate the way I look and hate myself, but other people do comment on my looks at times and they don’t understand why I am so insecure about them. I don’t see what they see when I look in the mirror though. My therapist arouses all the insecurities I have about myself physically in her appearance. This has again been discussed and she has mentioned features that I have that she really loves.
    This is an essay, I am so sorry, I am in a complete pickle and I don’t want to end therapy, but I feel hooked. I am seeing her less now, from once a week to every other week because I don’t have the funds. She has kindly given me a discount though. Initially, she wanted me to see a psychiatrist and her twice a week, but I refused psychiatry because I know it wasn’t necessary and it was my drinking that was causing my problems to be amplified, which I think she knows now. Although drinking is only just a symptom. I did top up on sessions along the way, but not consistently due to finances, more when I was having a crisis!
    I need help here, my mind is done in!
    Big big thanks!

  • Oh, and another thing to add, is, I hate to admit it, but my obsession has become so extreme that I even think about my therapist and husband having sex. My OCD used to take the form of intrusive thoughts, so this can be related to this, I suppose, but I know it is the jealousy of not having this intimacy in my own life and fear that I never will. Drinking was my magic blanket and I was promiscuous because of it. I feel naked without it in the equation now :-(.. I feel so ill writing everything I have to you, I am completely and utterly fixated and my thoughts are consumed with my therapist and her ‘amazing’ life. Of course, everyone has their problems, and she has even said that if I knew her everyday life I wouldn’t be jealous as it isn’t that interesting, but, of course she is going to say this!

  • Jeffrey, it’s funny. I read your book Attachment to your therapist about 8 months ago. I had many things hi-lighted. Upon rereading it, much deeper things have stood out causing me to delete all hi-lights so I could go in with new perspective. Much deeper perspective into the how’s and whys and not just I can relate to those feelings. My question is this. I’ve been seeing my therapist for 2 years. Been through lots of trauma work, etc. I’ve become very attached. I came to her from becoming extremely attached with a friend. Is it possible to heal the attachment with the same therapists? Are there attachment expertise therapists I could make a few visits to? I’m wondering do I need to walk away as painful as this is? This issue has caused me to become stuck. My focus so much on my therapist, I’m not continuing my therapy work. Unless this attachment is part of the therapy work. Both of my parents are alcoholics, no mothering so I’m not surprised I’m where I am. I have accepted we will never be more than therapist/client. She is very good with boundaries and while extremely painful in the beginning, it was what I needed. Now, I think about her constantly. I have accepted it but I do not know how to stop the pain. Any suggestions would be more than helpful. I just downloaded your book about getting the most of of therapy. While I dont see anything wrong with people that need therapy for ten years, I do not want to be one of them. I will. E eagerly waiting your reply.

    • Would it be beneficial to just stop the therapy? My fear is if I go to another therapist after it happening with a friend and my therapist, will it happen again? I won’t even get a sponsor in Alanon for this same reason. It has caused me to back away from many. Do I quit? Do I continue with my therapist? Do I find someone new? The thought of starting over makes me ill. Thanks

      • Dear Hopelessly Attached, Speaking of general principles, healing the attachment to your therapist is equivalent to healing the unfinished business that wasn’t completed through satisfactory parenting. Doing it with one’s therapist is normally the best way, in that that is someone you trust and who deals with your feelings well. The resolution may involve grieving for what you did not get and what she or others in your life can’t give, and grieving is painful. Leaving a therapist doesn’t make that emotional work happen, nor do I know a shortcut to doing hard emotional work. What is always most important is to talk about your feelings. It isn’t clear if that has happened, but as mentioned in my book, that is important, whether or not your therapist handles it appropriately (by listening and not shaming or rejecting). Yours, Jeffery

  • Hi Jeffrey, my name is Karen and in reading the experiences of those who get attached to their therapist, I have come to realise I am not alone. My therapist ended my sessions with her after a year because I attempted to hug her without permission, after she had told me repeatedly I could no longer get huggs from her. The way she ended it was to have a college, break the news, which didn’t help me at all. Putting some pieces of the puzzle together I consider her actions wrong. Because she knew I had anxiety issues as well as impulsivity issues and I was also terrified of the end of our therapy. I am not allowed to contact her so how do I resolve what I believe to be my inner child attachment to her without her. I thought I could deal with leaving her and left without a fuss but now after three months the need to see her is ever stronger. What do I do?

    • Dear Karen, Letting go of an unfinished relationship is definitely hard. It would be easy to suggest a more thoughtful and robust therapist and to try to do it better, but another answer would be to say that letting this one go is likely to be fully equivalent to resolving an unfinished relationship from long ago, and would therefore be a therapeutic win. Sometimes using non-professional resources, such as friends and self-help to try to come to an acceptance that not all relationships can be satisfactory, and not all have to end well can work. In the end, even with a new therapist, the job is the same, to let go of something that should have ended well and did not. The truth is that if one can achieve acceptance of that fact, one may well have the necessary equipment to go forward in life and find new attachments that are appropriate to adult life. Talking to one’s inner child is an important way to process what happened.

      I hope that helps. I’d invite others to share as well. JS

  • Hi Karen, I was very attached to a doctor who refused to continue seeing me because I became overly dependent on her. It took me almost a year of intense grief before it was not an almost constant feeling of loss. She had been for a time very nurturing and responsive to me, as my own mother ideally would have been but unfortunately was unable to. So I also learned to mother myself as I grieved so intensely the loss of what never was in my own mother. Some of the things I tried, to start with (that I wrote in a earlier post), might seem odd: I fed myself baby food, and bought myself a baby’s toy to listen to and play with. I gradually learned to feed myself the nutritious foods my body needs even as an adult. I drew with crayons and colored, gradually settling on colored pencils. I learned to play a musical instrument (though I’m not good at it!) because it is something I had wanted to do as a child. That was a start. When I was very anxious, I made little bowls and pots with clay that I got at a craft store, because that was something I had enjoyed doing in kindergarden. I went for walks and looked at the flowers growing in the neighborhood. I really felt the softness of the fur of my cats. One thing that helped in doing this was learning mindfulness. I did this by practicing the exercises in a workbook on Dialectical Behavior Training. It was hard and painful at first because I wanted somebody else to do it, but I persisted in trying and then coming back to it again and with practice the pain has subsided a lot. I have been in therapy a lot, but ultimately learning to soothe yourself and know your own boundaries is very helpful in calming the inner child. I was neglected as a child, so my inner child simply screamed, always wanting someone else to soothe her. I still fall into that sometimes- wanting someone else to make up for what was not. When I find myself doing this, I remember that we can only move forward, and instead of thinking about what the neglect was like and how I “need” my therapist, I try to practice gratitude for what I have right now. It can still hurt but these things help by changing my focus (which I am oddly resistant to doing sometimes). Right now I am grieving again, and I started reading these posts because I was obsessing about my former therapist in an unhelpful way. Reading these posts and feeling compassion and a desire to help others going through similar things has helped me feel patience and change my focus from obsessing over my therapist so much to being more present to the physical place that I am – the objects in the room, their colors, the texture of the beige blanket I’m sitting on.

    It also sounds to me that you had trouble respecting your therapist’s boundaries, particularly with regards to physical touch. It might help you to think about what your own boundaries with physical touch are, and whether they have been violated. Knowing your boundaries, and knowing how to respect them, is a step in healing. Sonia Connelly in her book describes boundaries as your preferences, and healing them as learning when to say “yes” and “no”. This made more sense to me than “where you begin and I end” or however that went.

    I am on this journey too and as I learn to use more tools for self-calming, the less what the therapist did matters. I am going on a hike this afternoon and looking forward to what I will see. Let’s continue to move forward.

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