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Weird Feelings Towards Therapist

Question:

I don’t fall in love with my therapists, I just always want them to adopt me and be the perfect parent. I’ve been through several and I always see them as perfect and wonderful and like the good dad I never had. I feel very obsessive about them and think about them constantly. I was sexually abused all through childhood and always imagined what it’d be like to have a perfect good father to protect me and take care of me. And now I see it in every therapist I see and just want each one to take me home and let me be their child. I feel so silly about it. Some of my therapists have been younger than me yet I still imagined them as the perfect father who would protect me. And I cannot see a female therapist as I feel so angry with my mother for not protecting me that I refuse to have any female doctors for any medical or mental health reasons. I see women as stupid even though I am female. I try to act normal in front of each different therapist I’ve had yet secretly I just want to be with that person all the time and become his daughter. I feel so crazy. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for several years now and he’s been a lot of help. I worry you’ll say I shouldn’t have needed to be in therapy for so long but some of my therapists in the past weren’t so good and I ended up more screwed up than before I met them. But this man is good and has helped me. I’ve told him about my good father fantasy but then I feel so disappointed that he can’t/won’t do anything to help me feel better about not having that good dad. I want him to fix it all and fix me. I’m over 30, married, several children, career yet I still want my therapist to adopt me and treat me as his child. And it hurts every time I see him and he doesn’t. I feel so stupid and crazy. What’s wrong with me and how do I fix this? And at the same time some part of me thinks if my therapist really liked me he’d sexually abuse me. But he doesn’t do anything in the least bit inappropriate and it makes me sad, while yet the adult part of me knows that can’t happen and knows that’s a good thing. I feel so crazy for having such screwed up feelings.

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Answer:

There is so much to comment about in your letter. Without a single real question to answer what I can offer you are my thoughts about where you are at with regard to your therapy, and what you might consider focusing on as you move forward.

The first thing that leaps out at me is how judgmental you are. You are hard at work in your letter judging yourself, your therapists, and all female health professionals. Your traumatic childhood (repeated child sexual abuse counts as a trauma in my book) helps us understand why you might have formed this way. You are angry (you state) with regard to your mother not protecting you, and hungry for male parental attention (even if that attention is warped and dangerous). You are smart enough to know that fantasizing about being abused is not healthy, and perhaps you feel ashamed about this fantasy and others like it. And perhaps you’re just a cranky, judgmental sort of person. It happens. Not all adult problems can be blamed on parents. You have justification for being upset about what has happened to you historically. This much is not in question. What is in question is, do you think it is a good idea to go forwards in your life being so judgmental and angry and upset all the time. Is this state of being helping you in your adult life? Are you really condemned to feel this way all the time or do you simply believe that this is the case (when it really many not be the case at all).

The second thing I’m noting is the strong presence of transference and the presence of strong and highly idealized and demonized fantasies in your current life. You are not just angry at what happened in the past. You are acting out that anger in the present with people who remind you of those who perpetrated abuse on you in the past. This is the case for both the positive fantasies of being taken care of by an impossibly idealized and perfect father, and the negative fantasies that all female therapists are stupid and will allow you to be harmed.

The term Transference refers to what you are doing by projecting your past relationships with father and mother onto current adults who are nothing like your father and mother except for superficially (e.g., they are female, they are male). Transference is a rather normal thing to do, by the way (lest you beat yourself up about it). Most people engage in transference from time to time. What is striking and useful about your transferences here is that they are very energized – you’ve got a lot invested in them and they help keep your emotions close to the surface. You don’t just remember feeling angry at your father, for example; you feel it again each time you interact with your less than ideal therapist. This can be a good thing because when you can feel, you also have the potential to learn (or in your case re-learn).

Your craving for the good father you never had is very powerful, but also very idealized and polarized. Probably because your actual father was abusive, you developed a fantasy of a father who was never abusive. In doing so, you created a fantasy that cannot exist in reality. No actual human being could ever match up to such a fantasy. Even non-abusive fathers fall down on the job sometimes. I want to call your attention to the idealized nature of your fantasy because to the extent that you insist that it be fulfilled, you will be disappointed. This much is inevitable. It is impossible to realize something that doesn’t exist. The same goes for your angry attitudes towards women, who are not as stupid as you believe them to be. You may be blaming yourself for not having been able to escape your abuse and feeling that you must be defective because of that reality. But there are really victims in this world. Some people become victims no matter how hard they try. Part of growing up into a truly adult maturity involves realizing that we are all limited and imperfect and often not very ideal, and accepting that this state of affairs, crappy though it is, is okay.

If you are asking me, your issues at this time seem to have less to do with the fact that you were badly abused, and more to do with self- and other-acceptance; learning how to be okay with the fact that you and those around you cannot and don’t live up to idealized standards. Your abuse memories will never go away, but you can work on ceasing to let them run your life. You will never actually have the daddy you so crave, but you can learn to appreciate what you do have, which sounds pretty good to me (e.g., a family, a career, and a therapist you think well of, who is safe, and who you think is helping you).

The next time you experience strong feelings related to all of this stuff, try not to judge those feelings. Try not to say to yourself, "I’m stupid for having this feeling", and instead just hang back and become a witness. Watch the feeling like it is a movie, and take notes. Watch the interactions you have around these feelings – the transference – and try to notice what is good in the situation that you’re ignoring because you are so entranced by your fantasy. Don’t judge the feelings. Instead, let them be what they need to be, watch them and learn from them.

You are obviously bright and verbal and have the raw capacity to come to better grips with this painful stuff. These sorts of things never get completely solved, but you may find that as you become better at accepting yourself in spite of the fact that you’ve been traumatized, that the painful memories and unfulfilled fantasies become increasingly irrelevant after a while. Good luck in working this all through.

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