Imagine this. A therapist begins to see a client.

The therapist finds the client extremely frustrating. The client seems in her own way and is attached to her stories of being hurt. She seems to enjoy being a victim.

The therapist feels the impulse to express anger and frustration with her. She feels like jumping out of her seat while listening.

The therapist goes to her supervisor and says, “it would be so much better if my colleague C. saw this person. C. is kind and compassionate and I am so frustrated - I am not helping my client at all.”

Surprisingly, her supervisor responds, “your client wouldn’t stay another session if she saw C. She wouldn’t be able to tolerate their compassion - she doesn’t know anything about compassion like that. Your sadism is crucial to helping your client. It is your ability to hold it and work with it that is the key to this therapy.”

And so it continues, the therapist holding her sadism the best she can, learning about herself, and finding her compassion at the same time - doing what her client has never had done for her. Despite the client’s intense efforts to elicit a cruel response the therapist does not give in.

There are a lot of layers and angles to this story.

I am thinking about this today: this is a way of understanding why we repeat patterns over and over.

The friend, boss, colleague, or lover who is too available is often too much for us. It takes time, work, unfolding understanding to be able to sustain a loving relationship. Especially if we have not been cherished right from the start.

And how does this client know she has found her therapist?

She absorbs it in her cells. Through choice of words, slight movements of the therapist’s body, the blinking of an eye… she picks up the idea that she is difficult. She knows this feeling well - it is, to her, the feeling of family.

Our attractions are to a pattern of familiarity. Our health is in choosing the friend, lover, or therapist who not perfect but is “good enough”. If we can do this then the pattern will of course repeat with this new person but not in a dead way but in a way that allows for mourning of the past and working through. In a way that is meaningful.

So the good enough therapist does not reflexively express her dislike and tell the client “this is all your fault”. She thinks “this is all your fault” and she wonders about it and she struggles with herself. And she allows herself to remain open in each moment and thus also appreciates the client’s perseverance in the face of very difficult circumstances. And so she allows herself both sides of her feelings about her client thus opening the door for the client to feel both sides of her feelings - victimhood and strength.

It doesn’t always go in a healthy direction of course. Some of us repeat pain over and over without any of these dynamics coming to light.

So words like “fit”, “likability”, “trust”, “attraction” - these words are layered. And our feelings in these areas worth exploring.

And we can remember that we have choice. That our difficult and disturbed areas can be of good use to ourselves and to others and that our choice is always in the moment. We are not out of the game because we have problems. It is the use of our problems that makes the difference.

To support my work, please share it with someone.

Change, TherapyAlison