Sep 11, 2022

She’d shut her door on me, Beth told me angrily at our next session, because I hadn’t formulated a request—told her specifically what I wanted of her. It didn’t occur to me till later that she had done exactly the same thing to me that afternoon—failed to articulate what it was she’d needed from me, i.e., a request.

Later I wrote:

“I want to tell Beth about that Friday, about sitting on that beanbag chair, trying to buckle my shoes to go, with fingers that didn’t work, suffering, wanting to believe the back she turned on me was not a dismissal, unable to interpret it any other way.

“Somewhere along the line, I learned never to ask. Perhaps I was refused repeatedly—or simply experienced people as intractable and situations as immutable. I know I experienced reality as a fixed system which disallowed any breaking or bending of rules. I know that one idea never had any reality for me—that I could change anything with a request, a plea, a demand… There would—could—never be any adaptation to me.

“So it’s been almost impossible for me to ask favors, to ask for accommodation. That’s why going to her office that Friday afternoon was so difficult for me. Why couldn’t she understand that I was reaching as far as I could, instead of resenting the fact that I couldn’t reach farther?”


I remember asking Beth on one occasion why she never expressed empathy for me. “Because it doesn’t do any good,” she answered. (Ah, but it does.)

On another occasion I asked why she couldn’t conciliate me after an argument. “Why should I?” she shot back. “Because I conciliate you,” I said.

Like my mother, when I told her about a problem I was having with someone, she would criticize me, telling me, “You’re rigid,” “You hear selectively,” “You just want to play ain’t it awful.”

Instinctively, I knew what I needed from a therapist, but when I tried to talk to her about it, she resentfully declared that I needed to define relationships and didn’t give the other person any room. Despite her lack of empathy, I kept trying to make myself understood to someone who, like my mother, was never going to understand me, and I might have gone on indefinitely—except that one day she announced that she was leaving county practice the following month, which meant I couldn’t afford to see her anymore.

I’d put away any anger I felt toward her early in our therapy together because she led me to believe that getting angry was immature. But when—during that last month, feeling betrayed and abandoned—I took finally the lid off, she threatened to throw me out of the session, which, also, was reminiscent of my mother, who on more than one occasion had screamed, “I just want you out of here.”

At our last session, when I was so overcome with grief I could hardly talk, Beth paid me the only compliment she ever did during the six months I saw her (if I really heard selectively, I shouldn’t remember it, should I?)—she said that I had courage.