This is in response to TLC, who wrote a series of comments. She summarizes her questions thus: “I want to know how I know when I am done.”
Some time ago I promised TLC I would write a Q&A post to answer her question, so finally I’m getting to it. First a needed disclaimer, I can’t be your doctor because I only have a few paragraphs of writing to go on, and have never met you, so these are ideas that I hope might help you and other readers.
Some things about TLC’s personality come through. She is doggedly persistent! But also, she is very careful to mute her neediness with her therapist or with me. AS I read her comments from the beginning, one passage from January 13, 2018 jumped out at me:
“I actually hate that I feel attached to him at all. Why do I hate that fact so much? It feels so embarrassing. I hate that I feel that someone needs to help me at all. I usually pride myself on my independence and here I am feeling like I need him.”
Whenever there is shame, there are values. Shame is what we feel when we don’t measure up to our values. So TLC has an internalized value system that says depending on someone is a bad thing. Of course! When we are chronically deprived, when our needs are not met, one way children keep from constant pain is by internalizing a value that goes against their own wish. So TLC, I’m thinking, internalized a value against depending on anyone.
What does that do? It means she polices herself. Every thime she finds herself guilty of neediness, her mind (actually conscience) showers her with painful feelings of shame. Her therapist tries to show her that there isn’t anything bad about needing him, but she can’t help feeling otherwise and trying to suppress her need. That’s where the impulse to quit therapy comes from. Why can’t I squash this nasty neediness?
Values are very hard to undo. See my post called “Shame and Attachment to Your Therapist” explaining this, or better, read chapter 5 in How We Heal and Grow, on the superego. The starting point is radical acceptance. It is a clear and unwavering conviction that depending on someone is actually positive and good. The next step is to work actively on letting go of all those thoughts that it is bad or that it is annoying to him. Then it’s time to go ahead and indulge in loving his support and presence. You see, my idea is that the reason the attachment doesn’t evolve is that you are constantly starving yourself You are giving yourself the bare minimum, running on fumes. And so your yearning retains all its strength.
I can imagine a full-bodied exploration of attachment wishes and feelings both about the father and about the therapist. What, exactly, is your attachment wishing for? What hurt the most? What would have fulfilled your deepest need and wish? Then I think the feelings would come up with a full measure of emotion, making healing possible. That’s how the attachment issues would begin to evolve.
After that, the rest, I think, should follow the pathways of parents and children. He is the father, you are the mother, and you are the child. As in a normal family, all of you will work together to help the child build a life in the world, where eventually that life becomes more vibrant than the family of origin. The attachment to parents remains, but is not as much the center of existence as it once needed to be. That can take a very long time, or not so long.
Now I can see, why my instinct, like your therapist’s, is not to be the one to put the damper on dependence. To do so would be to aid and abet the shame, but more important, parents don’t cut off their children. There is no need to and no reason to do so.