This is the continuation of yesterday's post about my therapy session on Tuesday. Read the prior post first or this won't make sense to you.
To be continued . . .
CARL: Tell me what you remembered.
DENNIS: (Complies – verbatim. I tell him everything as I remembered it.)
CARL: Can you talk from the anger?
DENNIS: (Sounding puzzled.) Anger?
CARL: Yes. You must have been very angry – being treated that way by your mother when you were so sick and needed her love and comfort.
DENNIS: It wasn’t just when I was sick that I needed her. When I needed her most, she was physically and emotionally unavailable. She was as insubstantial as air – like a ghost.
CARL: When was that? When was it that you needed her most – that she was like a ghost?
DENNIS: (Struggling to hold back the tears – tearing and twisting a tissue. Long pause.) The beatings. (Pause.) When he’d beat me and scream at me. She did nothing to stop him. She made excuses for him. She justified his insanity.
CARL: (Stares at me.)
DENNIS: She turned her back on me.
CARL: So tell me how this relates to being sick and the way your mother cared for you? How do these feel connected or related?
DENNIS: Well . . . I can’t help thinking about how when I was sick, one minute my mom would be crazed with anger over having to take care of me, and the next minute she’d be saying all of the “right” words – comforting words, and would seem like she cared or at lest would be doing things suggesting she cared. I don’t know. I could never tell with her.
CARL: I see.
DENNIS: And that’s sort of the problem I guess . . . that I was getting a very mixed message. One second she’s being a bitch and the next minute she’s being “mom-like.” It was impossible to know which of those two women was really my mom. Letting her love me and take care of me felt so so risky and so unsafe – like I couldn’t trust her.
CARL: You couldn’t.
DENNIS: I know!
CARL: And then when you’d find yourself in a “truly” life threatening situation, her true colors would always be shown.
CARL: She never failed to disappoint you. She consistently never came to your side.
DENNIS: (Says nothing.)
CARL: And then when you were sick and suddenly she seemed to care, you couldn’t help but wonder if it was genuine, because after all, if she really loved you and really cared for your well being, then she should have thrown her body between you and your father and “saved” you from his wrath each time, right?
CARL: So, in all likelihood, your anger response to “caretaking” gestures, like being offered a cup of coffee, is all about feeling unsafe, because you’re used to being confused about the intent of the so-called caretaker, right?
DENNIS: Yeah. Like when Beth offered me the coffee, I felt angry and confused, because I didn’t know what she meant by that gesture.
CARL: That’s exactly my point. In your mind, it couldn’t just be that she was offering you a cup of coffee. The gesture had to mean something more than that, and it couldn’t possibly mean, in your mind, that you just looked like you needed a cup and she felt like doing something nice for you.
CARL: Because who would want to do something nice for you – someone whose own mother couldn’t even love him or protect him from a spiritual death.
DENNIS: (Quietly.) Yeah.
CARL: But what do we really know about your mother’s situation? Truthfully.
DENNIS: That she was really just as much a victim of my father’s rage as I was and just as powerless to do anything about it because of her own issues and complexes that would be activated by his rage.
CARL: Exactly. And what about her anger towards you when you were sick?
DENNIS: That was just her acting out how her own mother treated her when she was sick as a kid, and really had nothing to do with, because, um . . . my being sick was just a trigger for her that would activate her response to her own complex?
CARL: You’ve been paying attention all these weeks! You’re a wonderful student.
DENNIS: Thanks. But that doesn’t change how I feel. I still react badly when someone tries to take care of me.
CARL: And you probably will for some time. But remember. And I’ve told you this many times. Awareness of a complex is the first step towards healing that complex. You have to learn to recognize it; what triggers it; what the reactions look and feel like; how long it lasts; and a dozen other things, before you can begin to be the master of your mind when you’re activated. Most people have difficulty just acknowledging and accepting that they even have a complex.
DENNIS: GOD! This work is so difficult and demanding sometimes.
CARL: But it’s worth it. You know how much of a difference it’s made in your life already.
DENNIS: Don’t worry. I won’t stop. I’ll keep working on me.
CARL: Well, for today we’re going to have to. We’re out of time.
I get up and walk over to Carl’s desk and lay my check on top of his day-timer. We exchange further pleasantries and then end our session as we always do – with a big hug.
It looks like we’ll be working on the mother complex issue for a while. So stay tuned.