In this week's blog, Choose Me, a therapist struggles to understand and cope with a patient who insists on being loved while behaving in very unlovable ways.
“I don’t understand!” Marcy shrieks at me, continuing the stalemate we have been have been in for weeks. “Why won’t you just tell me I’m your most favorite patient? You know that I am. You know that you care about me more than anyone else, that you love me, so why don’t you just say it!”
Thoughts race through my mind as my patience runs thin: ‘You’re upping the ante. Now you want to be the person I care most about in my life, the person I love above all others. You’re certainly not being very loveable right now.’ I remain silent.
“Why don’t you say something?” Marcy yells.
I sigh. “Truthfully, I don’t know what to say. We’ve been arguing about this for weeks. We know that your mother abandoned you to the care of her sister. We know that your aunt clearly favored her own daughter over you, that you felt like a second class citizen, like Cinderella, as you say. And all these things are horribly sad and painful for a child, but there’s no way I or anyone else can make up for that. If I told you you were my favorite patient, that wouldn’t take away your pain about your mother or your aunt.”
“Then what good are you?”
“I’m here to help you mourn the past, to be sad and angry, sad and angry, sad and angry about what you didn’t get as a child and then to be able to accept what was and to move on, able to take in the good from others in the present.”
“Is that a script you read? You say the same stupid shit all the time,” Marcy responds, crossing her arms in front of her chest, chin raised, staring at me defiantly.
I’m pissed. I remain silent while I try to collect myself.
“What?” March says.
“You know, Marcy…” I begin before she interrupts me.
“Oh,” she says sarcastically, “here comes the lecture.”
I ignore the interruption. “It’s interesting to me how much your behavior is counterproductive.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You say you want to be my favorite patient, but you behave in a way that would make you anything but my favorite patient.”
“Oh! So now I’m supposed to be Miss Goody Two-Shoes. I thought you always told me – for years and years in fact – that I was supposed to say everything I was thinking, not censor anything.”
“I’m not suggesting that you censor what you say. I’m suggesting that what you say has consequences.”
“So now you’re threatening me?”
‘Stay calm’ I tell myself, knowing Marcy wants to provoke me. “The more you angrily demand that someone care about you, the less likely that person – me in this instance – is going to respond the way you want. So the question becomes why do you behave in a way that is least likely to get you what you want?”
“Don’t change the topic,” Marcy demands.
“I’m not…” I stop myself. “That last comment, for example. You know I’m not changing the topic. You’re just being provocative and trying to not consider what I’m saying.”
“OK, smarty pants, why don’t you tell me why I behave this way. I know you have some nice little theory floating around in your head.”
“Let me ask something else first. What would happen if I did tell you you were my favorite patient?”
“I’d ask if that meant you loved me.”
“And what would you feel if I told you I loved you?”
“I’d need you to prove it. Like, would you see me for free?”
“So you’re saying you’d add more and more demands until you got to a place where you could again feel unloved and unchosen.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Good question. Why would you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I suspect you unconsciously want to be rejected so that you can stay connected to your rejecting mother and aunt who walk around in your head. If you take in the good, the caring in the present, then – here’s my script again - you have to mourn what you didn’t get in the past. You have to give up the hope of getting the love you needed and deserved as a child from the people in your life who were supposed to care for you but never came through.”
“That sounds way too hard.”
“I wonder if it’s any harder than repeatedly demanding love from people in the present in such a way that you insure you’ll never get it.”