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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”)
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.