A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: Melodrama and wanting to feel special in psychotherapy.                    


For years now I have thought about how my psychotherapist sees me. I guess maybe it was some imagined fantasy or something. You see, I was thinking that he never SAID I was special, but he thought it. And that has always been very important to me. Very, very important. . . .

Anyway, when I asked him if he would come to my graduation, I fully expected him to say no. . . . But when he turned me down, it was totally different. Totally. What he said was, “I don’t attend any of my clients’ celebrations.”

I am telling you this because I feel, after finally realizing my role, that it is time I begin to separate from him. I mean, when I think about it, how stupid of me to even think of clinging to him. Of course I am only a client. A very needy one. And somehow I have invented all these false meanings from absolutely nothing. I feel dumb. But more than that, when I was thinking about it all, I realized that I spoke so openly (for me anyway) because I was speaking on the premise of a more complicated relationship. I was speaking as a friend/student/client/and—if I have to be honest—a Priest-like mentor. . . .

I wish he knew how sorry I am for all of this. I mean, he NEVER said or did anything deliberately to make me think otherwise. As I said, it was all an elaborate fantasy of my own making. Now that reality is here, I just feel like I have changed. I have grown up. And unfortunately, I know that I wasted so much of his time. And I really, really regret it. . . .

I don’t really know what to do from here. I mean . . . it feels like wasting more of his time. I just think maybe I have to mend on my own. In my own way. It kind of feels like when my dad died of alcoholism. (How’s that for dramatic? But the feeling is very similar to me.) I was trying to think of anything that I would regret not saying to him if I didn’t keep our next appointment, and I can’t think of anything. In fact, the regrets I have are from talking, not things left unsaid.

So . . . let me know what you think is best.

The one word that stands out the most in your question is “dramatic.” It reminds me of how some clients try to make psychotherapy into a sort of melodrama: “I took an overdose, and my therapist came to my apartment with the police, broke the door down, and rescued me!” It’s all quite similar to a heroine who, after being bound, gagged, and tied to railroad tracks by the dark villain, is rescued just in time by the hero.

Now, although sensational rescues were a commonly recurring theme of silent movies of the past, the psychological appeal of such theatricality derives from the preverbal stage of infancy. At this stage of life, an infant is completely helpless and depends on a parent to rescue it from its basic physiological needs. At first, the mother assumes the most importance—especially for feeding and emotional bonding—and then, as the infant develops socially, the father takes on more importance as a protector who can guide the child into the social world.

If the parents perform their tasks adequately, the child will develop the verbal communication skills necessary for proper social functioning.

For many persons, however, because of the family dysfunction in which they grew up as children, communication wasn’t so much communication as an entangled mass of innuendoes, lies, secrets, and betrayals. And underneath all those innuendoes, lies, secrets, and betrayals that have bound and gagged you psychologically can be found an unspoken desire to be understood without having to say anything. It’s a desire to be rescued from the dark villain—who symbolizes the missing father—by a fantasy heroic father who, in his intuitive perception of your needs, will make you feel loved—that is, special.

Therefore, having suffered from family dysfunction as a child, you now seek healing from your emotional pain through psychotherapy. Yes, the healing process of psychotherapy is a sort of rescue from dysfunction, but it is an unpretentious process based on learning the honest communication you failed to learn as a child.

In fact, your seeing the fantasy you created about your psychotherapist is genuine progress, because it makes things more simple and less melodramatic. Once you let go of the desire to be “special,” you allow simple, honest, non-dramatic human communication to develop. But as long as you cling to the hope of being special, you actually obstruct the psychotherapy and prevent any real psychological change. Why? Because your fantasy of being special only hides your emotional pain—the pain of a child trying to rescue a father from his alcoholism—behind a dream of recovering the mentor, the real father, who never was.

Your desire to make a dramatic spectacle by throwing yourself on the sacrificial pyre, as if that is the only fitting punishment for “wasting” your psychotherapist’s time, is really an unconscious expression of a desire to punish yourself for wasting your own time trying to make your father get sober. So, instead of staying tangled in masochistic self-punishment, put the pain into language. Communicate it to your psychotherapist, and, through him, to your conscious mind. Stay with the process. Your healing is, simply, about you, not another person; your healing is about you being freed from melodrama.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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