There is a dark side to therapy that nobody wants to talk about; even therapists, especially therapists. Its a Catch-22 where emotionally-promiscuous clients quickly fall into dependency with their therapists and problems occur when dependency, instead of the original problem, becomes the main issue. Weaning yourself off your substitute mother/therapist can be like trying to forcibly remove a security blanket from a two-year-old or an attempt to separate the ingredients of a corrupt Hollandaise sauce after the egg has curdled.
Michael G. Conner, Psy.D, author of the internet article, Transference: Are You a Biological Time Machine? gripes that Transference is really difficult to recognize, deal with and understand, but it is incredibly interesting. I tend to avoid people who are “oozing” with transference potential. His attitude is not uncommon as Borderline Personality disordered clients, seen by many as the cane-toads of Therapy World, tend to ooze transference. Seen in another light – dramatic, intense, super-heated, fierce and impassioned, but controlled and regulated thoughts, feelings and behaviours where you have easy access to powerful emotions can be an amazingly vital and life-giving source of art; think Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, Brian Wilson, Patrick Swayze, Marilyn Monroe or Heath Ledger.
Borderlines in therapy are hard work, and their recovery never follows the straight, narrow and linear path from problem to solution in twelve Medicare-covered insurance appointments that the Australian government would like us to believe. It took me fourteen years to learn that the Art of Borderline is in mindfulness, not madness. Its in the knowing, harnessing, concentrating, focusing and sitting in the moment long enough to capture, guide and mold the lingering essence of the raging storm into something creative and constructive. Overweened therapy is not part of this process. When an emotionally intense person gets hooked on therapy, its hard to give up that dependency and become your own person; you just want to get legally adopted by your therapist and walk together hand in hand towards the quintessential sunset. So while those emotions dont just disappear overnight, they do have to go somewhere else.
Here are ten methods I have found helpful.
1. The Perfect Person.
Your therapist is not perfect. But just because she doesnt remember the name of your favourite teddy-bear when you were six years old doesnt mean she doesnt care for you during the therapy hour or even sometimes outside it. Like electricians living in houses with blown light globes, non-working ovens, and live wires hanging out of random walls, dentists with cavity-ridden children or psychologists with badly behaved teenagers (actually they are the worst) and nurses who hate looking after sick family members; your therapist, when she leaves her office for the night does not want to deal with her family, her friends or anyone elses problems, let alone your extra-curricular 3am emails, phone calls or text-messages. She just wants to chill out with a bottle of wine in front of Desperate Housewives or South Park like everyone else and have a long hard bitch about her day.
2. Literal -v- Symbolic
Therapy is role-playing. Your beloved therapist is role-playing your symbolic mother. She is not your biological one. This is a phenomenon Ive had trouble coming to terms with. Therapists get quite frightened and tend to mutter the T word (termination) ominously when this happens. I get angry when she is not available 24/7 but I do have to remember I am not two-years-old and pre-verbal. I am a grown-up woman who can look after herself and her family.
3. Exorcise dependency needs from your therapist.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Ritualize the exorcism if you like. Light a scented candle to symbolize the removal of dependency and transference needs, at the same time building up and retaining the not-so-subtle nuances of the nature, spirit and intense oxygen-giving, red-cell life-blood of being that was once you and her merged in a symbolic relationship, and use that intensity in other areas of your life. Internalize the lessons learned, re-experience the warm, rich, acute brain feelings of those aha moments. Un-enmeshing and un-entwining, but remembering with loving/kindness takes time, patience, motivation and practice. Instead of thinking what my therapist would do in a certain situation, I think what I would do, with the knowledge and power I now possess, thanks to her tender care and kindness.
4. The Internalized Therapist.
I have to remember always what I have learned, in a healthy, healing, mindful manner. That is the embodiment of good emotional-regulation. Sitting in those brain-storm moments of overwhelming feelings, working out what they are, where they came from and finally realizing I do not have to act on them. I can have Grace on one shoulder and Dignity on the other and my Internalized Therapist sitting, Buddha-like, in the middle coalescing and fusing with my highest chakras, harmonizing with what I have learned from her to make me who I am today. I know, in that respect, she will always be with me.
5. Move On.
When you feel as though you have learned everything about yourself and you are wondering if you are just seeing your therapist for coffee and a chat, its time to reassess why you are still going to see him/her. Are there issues you have not dealt with or do you just enjoy a loving, motherly chat? I had to sweep aside with an iron broom the self-deception, repression and ultimate denial as to my reasons for still ringing up and booking those appointments. I sometimes forget I am well now.
6. Keep yourself busy.
Plan your day as best you can. I hate routines and boundaries but they work when I adhere to them. I learned that in a psychiatric hospital. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual busyness can keep your mind off the fact that therapy is no longer available. When Im at work Im finally me, without the lingering therapy-ghost hanging around Drop Dead Fred style. There are plenty of times I no longer feel umbilically attached to someone who is not a huge part of my daily physical life now.
7. Replace therapy with something you love.
I love writing, it gets me into the zone, a space where I can recreate myself, discover my potential and create a vibrant headspace where I fully believe I am ok and fit into the cogs and wheels of a rapidly spinning world. Some people knit, garden, paint, crotchet, make china dolls, play guitar, cook new food recipes, fly model airplanes, get a dog or a cat to pour their love onto (just dont call it by your therapists name). It doesnt matter what you do as long as it gets you into the zone where your mind slows down to a set-point where some form of balance, rationality and stability kicks in. Sometimes for me, cleaning the bathroom and toilet calms me down.
8. Enlighten yourself with education, intellectualism and rationalism.
You dont need to enroll in a psychology degree to educate yourself on the role the amygdala and hippocampus play in your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or permanent hyper-vigilant state. Google search for insightful articles on anything psychologically related, although I guess if you are reading this you have already discovered the power of the internet. Anger, rage and hostility are the biological reactions where stress incites our amygdala to produce copious amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone which can cause us Borderlines to go postal. Falling Down, anyone? I have an overactive amygdala which means when someone gets in my face or thwarts my goal, I channel bunny-boiler Glenn Close and think my head is about to explode. Learn about your brain, educate yourself in alternative behaviours other than smashing a cup or a plate on the floor and watching and feeling the subsequent dissociated, unflinching nothingness as the shattered rippling effect of china shards fly all over the place; followed by a feeling of high justification. I was always mindful enough to use the cheap china. I never once smashed a piece of Wedgwood or Royal Doulton.
9. Forgive yourself for having extremely harsh and protracted emotions.
This is a tough one, especially if you set high standards for yourself. It wouldnt occur to you to need to forgive yourself for diabetes, kidney cancer, a stroke, a heart attack or a broken leg. So forgive and be kind to yourself for having a biological pre-disposition towards unholy emotions but know that there is something you can do about it.
10. Cold Turkey.
When all else fails theres cold turkey. Hot turkey is something I have once a year at Christmas – hot, smelly, dry, and stringy and for some reason has a most repressive and foreboding taste. So you can imagine what cold turkey tastes like. But sometimes it can be a most palatable dish when the alternative is to mainline that infected needle of endless therapy and wait for that warm, nurturing but ultimately self-destructive rush to kick in.