Scarred Soul of a Grieving Daughter
Scarred Soul of a Grieving Daughter
JANUARY 6, 2015
Tuesday already! What happened to Monday? Time seems to fly by faster than the speed of lightning the older I get. It's January and everybody's making their New Year's Resolution. NOT ME. I stopped after my father was killed, thirty years, five months, and six days ago. Damn, I miss him, still. If I made a resolution it would be to find his killer and destroy him; but why? It wouldn't bring him back.
Oh dear, my car clock reads a couple of minutes after 10am as I pull into my parking space. There she is-my first therapy patient for the day-standing at my office door, arms crossed over her chest, scowl on her face, ready for a fight. As I let her in, I ask for a minute to get myself settled. She grunts an okay. She's difficult and I don't expect an ounce of courtesy from her, but I know her gruffness is a defense against rejection-something she experienced a lot of growing up.
She's a forty-five-year-old never-married woman with a successful IT consulting practice. How she's able to get clients with her personality has always baffled me. I guess in IT, a bedside manner is not important. As soon as she comes in, before she even sits down, she tells me she doesn't like to be kept waiting and then goes into a tirade of complaining about her clients, her family, her neighbors, her friends, and, finally, me. I'm not surprised.
"I've been coming here for three years and don't see any improvement."
She's made a lot of progress, but I know she has another agenda-to use me as her scapegoat. I take it easy on her-more gentle than usual, as I sense something has happened since her last session that accounts for her hostile attitude towards me today. Therapy 101 works in situations like this as the therapist merely reflects the feelings expressed by the patient and they, in turn, feel heard and understood.
I reply, "Progress is slow and you're frustrated with coming here every week, doing the homework I assign and feeling like you are getting nowhere. It's making you very upset. I get it."
I continue in this vein to ease her into telling me what's really making her so upset. The rest of the session goes well as she tells me about yet another episode with her tyrannical mother that left her feeling rejected and worthless-not an unusual outcome when she's with her. I listen and she talks, which is what I want her to do. The session is coming to a close and I remind her again to use the coping skills we've worked on in helping her set boundaries with her mother.
As she leaves, she rewards me with, "Alease, I apologize for my rudeness today. I feel better now. See you next week."
Friends often ask me how I can sit all day and listen to people's problems. They want to know if I get bored or take their problems home with me. The answer to both questions is yes. Experiencing boredom now and then is not necessarily a reason for me to be overly concerned that something has gone awry in the treatment process. But when I feel this way repeatedly with the same person, it's a signal for me to check my countertransference to see if there' something on my end that I need to examine, or it could indicate a need to consult with a colleague for help. When I'm bored a lot with my work, it usually means I need to take a break. I will admit, it's hard for me to take time off. I feel guilty, like I'm abandoning my patients. I have to monitor this tendency of mine regularly.
Yes, sometimes I take my patients' problems home with me. This usually happens when a sudden life event upends a patient's life. It can also happen when I'm deeply saddened by a patient's despair. If they are not suicidal and can carry on the basic functions of their daily life, I have to let the process unfold and hold my feelings in abeyance until we reach a resolution. This process is tricky and requires a lot of discipline. I want to hug them, li