Endless Despair| by Linda Sherby, Ph. D, ABPP

06/08/2021 9:02 PM | Anonymous

Endless Despair, a therapist attempts to help her patient understand how her tie to her critical mother fuels her recurring feelings of sadness and depression.


 “I don’t understand,” Amber wails over the phone. “I was doing fine. I had a good day. I took my dog for a long walk. And then with one phone call I’m a wreck. I can’t stop crying. I feel as though I want to beat my head against the wall,” she says sobbing.

“Can you tell me what happened during the phone call?”

“Nothing! I mean nothing that would lead me to feel awful. I don’t understand. Why doesn’t it stop? Why do I always, always feel so awful?”

Having seen Amber for several years, I realize nothing I say at this point is likely to be of help. Still, I reply, “You don’t always feel awful. You were just telling me you were having a really good day.”

“But it always comes back! Why does it always come back?”

“Part of the problem for you is that when you feel awful, the feeling takes you over completely and you can’t remember that you felt really good yesterday or the day before.”

“But why does it always come back?”

“What’s the ‘it’ that always comes back?”

“The bad feelings. They always come back.”

“You know, that’s a really good question. Why do your bad feelings always come back? Like today, you said you didn’t think the phone call should have triggered your bad feelings, but it did. And perhaps I should ask what specifically you mean by bad feelings.”

“Sad feelings. Depression. Feeling everything’s pointless.”

“Okay. So why do your sad, depressed feelings always come back?”

“I don’t know!”

“Well, what did happen on the phone call?”

“My boss told me I did a really good job on the marketing project. She had a few minor corrections, but basically complimented me on a job well done.”

“And you felt how about that?”

“While I was on the phone with her I felt good, pleased. But then, I don’t know. It just washed over me and I felt like shit.”

“What washed over you?”

“Despair. Like what does it matter anyway. It’s just a stupid marketing job, for some stupid liquor company that’s just going to turn people into alcoholics.”

“Whose voice is that, Amber?”

“It’s mine.”

“Yes, but isn’t it also someone else’s voice? You’ve certainly told me that your mother was always critical of you, always telling you what a failure you were, how you couldn’t do anything right.”

She sighs. “Yup. That’s my mother.”

“So when you were talking to your boss you could take in your her voice, you could take in the compliment. But when you got off the phone, your mother’s voice returned with a vengeance.”

“I guess so.” Pause. “But why?”

“What are your thoughts?”

“I certainly heard her voice a lot longer. It’s louder, telling me how stupid I was and that I’d never amount to anything. And she still does. Why did I go into marketing? Why couldn’t at least have been a teacher? Why aren’t I married? Why am I such a bad daughter, etc., etc.”

“Yes, her voice is louder. And I also wonder if you’re invested in staying attached to your mother’s negative voice.”

“Why?”

“If you move away from your mother’s voice, maybe it’s like moving away from her, leaving her behind. And she is, after all, the only mother you ever had.”

Amber starts sobbing. “I can’t leave her. I can’t. I’d feel way too guilty.”

“Plus, if you take in more positive voices and leave your mother behind, you’d also have to mourn never having the mother you wanted or deserved, not as a child and not as an adult.”

Amber continues sobbing. “I can’t! I can’t! You can’t make me! Oh my God, I’m being swallowed up by those bad feelings again!”

“No, Amber, I can’t make you. I neither could nor would force you to do anything. But I think you can see how terrifying the thought is for you, the thought of moving away from your mother, of mourning who she isn’t and wasn’t.”

More sobbing. “But maybe she’s right. Maybe I am bad and stupid and incompetent, maybe that’s why she couldn’t be nice to me.”

Softly I say, “I understand that it feels safer to take the badness inside you, to take it away from your mother, so that as long as it’s inside you you can hold onto the hope that if only you were different she would treat you differently, would love you more.”

“Wouldn’t she?”

“Only you can answer that, Amber, but from what you’ve said, it sounds as though your mother was rejecting of you from the moment you were born, for her own reasons, stemming from her own problems, but extraordinarily destructive and painful for you.”

“I can’t. I just can’t.”

“I understand. You can only do what you can do. And we’ll keep working, working at a pace that you can tolerate, that isn’t unbearable to you.”


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