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Removed|by Linda Sherby, Ph.D, ABPP

11/14/2019 8:07 PM | Anonymous

Removed, a patient's difficulty in connecting to others is unsurprisingly replicated in the therapeutic relationship.

“I’m thinking of breaking up with the girl I’ve been dating,” Andrew begins. 

If I’m not mistaken, this is the third woman he’s broken up with in the several months I’ve been seeing him. Tall, with curly brown hair, 35 year old Andrew could be described as a handsome man, except that he feels too flat, too disengaged.  

“I know,” he continues, “I just said I thought she might be the one. I don’t know, we just don’t seem to click. I mean, we’re okay sexually, it’s not that. Maybe she’s too eager, too needy. I need her to back off. But that’s pretty crazy,” he says, half laughing at himself. “You’d think with my parents being so disconnected, I’d be dying to have a woman who’s really into me.”

“Can you say what she does that makes you feel she’s too needy and what goes on inside you?”

“I don’t know. Well, like she’s constantly texting me.” Pause. “But that’s not really true. She might text me in the morning and then once maybe after she’s done teaching for the day.”

“But it feels like a lot.”

“Yeah, that’s right. It feels like she’s always there.” 

“And when you’re actually with her?”

“I know this sounds bad, but I kind of want us to do whatever we’re going to do – go out to eat, go to the movies, whatever – go back to my place, have sex, and then have her leave. That’s enough for me.”

“While you’re with her, do you feel connected to her? You know, I just realized we’re both talking about ‘her,’ not using her name.”

“Her name’s Paula. And no, I don’t feel connected to her.” Pause. “I’m not sure I feel connected to anyone.”

“No one?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I get along with people, I know what to say, how to act. But I wouldn’t say I feel connected. I tell my parents I love them. I hug my sister and my nieces. But it’s more that I know I’m supposed to do those things.” 

“Do you feel connected to me?”

“To you?” he asks, surprised.

I nod.

“No. We have a professional relationship. I pay you to listen to me and then I leave. I can’t imagine feeling connected to you.”

Kind of like what he wants from Paula, I think. What I say is, “Can you imagine feeling connected to anyone?”

“I guess my wife when I have one. And my kids, whenever that happens.”

“And not feeling connected, how does that make you feel?”

“I don’t know. Normal, I guess. Normal for me anyway. It’s how I’ve always felt.” 

“Do you ever feel lonely?”

“Lonely? I don’t know. I like being alone. I’ve always felt alone.”

“You know, Andrew, as I listen to you, I feel sad for you. You seem so alone, so cut off, so removed, both from others, as well as from your own feelings.”

He shrugs.

“And you did come into therapy. I think you said you wanted to figure out why you weren’t able to stay in a relationship with a woman. Sounds like we need to figure out why you can’t be in a relationship with anyone.”

“I guess.”

“Andrew, do you remember what you felt when you were little and your parents left you with one of your nannies and went away on business for months at a time.”

“That’s just how it was.”

“But how did you feel? How did you feel as that little boy?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Can you imagine doing that with your child some day?”

“Oh no! No, I couldn’t imagine ever doing that.”

“You seem to have more feelings about imagining leaving a child you still don’t have, leaving that imaginary child alone, than you’ve had about anything else we’ve talked about today.”

“I guess that’s true. But what does that mean?”

“That you’re that imaginary child; that buried deep inside you are lots of feelings about being left, sad feelings and scared feelings and angry feelings.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So why don’t I feel them?”

“I imagine you locked those feelings away a long time ago and that opening that door feels overwhelmingly scary.”   

“And how’s that related to my not staying in relationships?”

“I think that when you start to get close to someone or if someone starts to get close to you, the possibility of needing or relying on that person brings you way too close to the scared, vulnerable, needy feelings you had as a child and you immediately close off and run away.”

“I guess that makes sense, but what do I do about it?”

“We start by carefully looking at your feelings as you go about relating to people in your life, including me, and seeing if we can find when you start to get scared and start pulling away.”

“Sounds like a long process.”

“I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

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