This week's blog illustrates a therapist's frustration with a patient who is both unaware of her own anger and unable to see how she provokes anger in others.
“You sound less than excited about the invitation.”“My neighbor invited me for Thanksgiving,” Marnie says without enthusiasm.
I remain silent.
“It’s her family.” Pause. “It’s not my family. I won’t know anyone. Except her husband and I don’t like him much.” Pause. “I don’t see why my sister couldn’t have invited me. Or my daughter.”
“I thought your sister was going on a cruise.”
“She is. But she didn’t have to. And I know, I told my daughter I didn’t want to travel all the way to Seattle, but she could have insisted.”
I find Marnie maddening. Nothing is ever good enough for her. I try, yet again, to provide some insight into her behavior.
“You notice, Marnie, that you’ve again set up a situation where you can’t be satisfied. Your neighbor invites you to her house, but you’re unhappy because it’s not your family. You expect your sister to not go on her cruise because she should be here to invite you for Thanksgiving…”
“What’s so wrong about that?” she asks, interrupting me.
Responses flit through my mind from ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ to ‘would you have canceled your cruise for the sister you rarely speak well of?’ Instead I take a breath and pause. “Marnie, I know that you grew up in a hostile, unloving home. I know that your parents were too involved in their own battles to care about their young daughter who had the misfortune to be born just when they were considering divorce. I know you didn’t get enough love, enough nurturing, enough care. But by finding fault with everyone, by demanding that everyone always think of you first, you’re insuring that you will never feel as though anyone cares about you.”
Marnie’s head droops. Tears fall silently from her eyes. I can anticipate what’s coming next and, unfortunately, Marnie doesn’t disappoint me. “So you’ve turned against me too,” she says, whining.
I want to scream. I suspect my anger is not only mine, but also a projection of the anger Marnie keeps buried inside herself. “Marnie, can you tell me what you’d like from me right now?”
“I’d like you to understand how much pain I’m in and support me.”
“And your pain is about never feeling loved?”
“And you feel angry about never being loved?”
“I guess.” Pause. “You know anger wasn’t allowed in my house. Not as a child. I don’t like to feel angry.”
“But it would make sense for you to feel angry about never being loved, right?”
“I guess,” Marcie responds reluctantly.
“So you weren’t allowed to feel anger as a child and you’re not comfortable feeling angry now.”
“Would you consider the possibility that you bring all that stored up anger into the present and behave in ways that both expresses your anger and probably leads people to be angry with you?”
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone be angry with me?”
I consider whether I should answer that question in the here and now about Marnie and my relationship, and decide a bit more distance might be preferable. “Well, let’s consider the invitation from your neighbor. If in accepting the invitation…”
She interrupts me. “I didn’t accept, I told her I’d let her know.”
In my mind, I think, ‘well that certainly illustrates my point.’ I continue, “I wonder if your not immediately accepting the invitation is an expression of your anger. It’s like saying the invitation isn’t good enough. It’s possible your neighbor might have felt hurt or insulted about your not accepting and might be less likely to invite you in the future which would lead you to again feeling rejected.”
“But I’m not sure I do want to go to someone else’s family.”
“I wonder if you realize, Marnie, that you do the same thing to others as was done to you – you’re not good enough so I won’t love you.”
“So do I have to accept whatever anyone offers me?”
“Good question.” I pause. “I guess I’d say it would be important for you to consider why you’re rejecting an offer. Like, would you really prefer to be alone for Thanksgiving? Do you want to be alone so that your sister feels bad for you? So that your daughter feels bad for you?”
“What’s wrong with wanting them to feel bad for me?”
“”Because you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. And because you don’t realize that wanting them to feel bad for you is an expression of your anger.”
“I don’t understand that at all.”
“And you’re angry with me right now, correct?”
Pause. “I don’t think so. I’m just confused.”
‘Foiled again,’ I think. “Well, it’s time for us to stop, but we’ll continue next week."