“We have made some good progress so far.”, exclaimed the Therapist.
“It looks like we have. You know, I used to feel these knots in my stomach and chest that have started to untangle. It’s almost as if some of the burdens have been lifted.”
“That’s a sign that what we’re doing here is working. When we don’t process our emotions or give them an outlet, emotions get stored in our bodies and show up in different ways. Often people have stomach aches, digestion issues, tightness in the chest, anxiety, headaches, unexplainable pain, etc. Sometimes the reasons are physical but sometimes they are emotional.”
“Yes. I have read about that. I think I had gotten so used to having some of these symptoms that I never thought it could be any other way. E.g., I have been having this severe backache for a few weeks where it came to a point that I could not perform any day-to-day activities. I originally thought that it was only because of my past injury but now when I think about it, my backache seems to increase every time I am under stress. Sometimes, I am also not able to speak clearly and sometimes I start to forget things when I am under stress.”, she expressed surprised by these realizations.
“You’ve got it right. Our body and mind always indicate whenever there is something that needs our attention. But we get so busy with our day-to-day lives, that we don’t pay enough attention to these signals unless they become intolerable. Medications and physical therapy can help at such times but if the reason is emotional, they would only provide temporary relief and will recur when a similar situation arises in the future. Meditation can help bring our awareness back to our bodies so that we’re aware of what part of our body requires attention before the situation becomes worse. But it all requires continuous effort on our part to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body. That’s where therapy helps.
I am glad that you’ve decided to work with yourself and are already seeing the results.”
“Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect when I started coming to therapy. I definitely didn’t think that I’ll come to a point where I will be able to recognize any of the emotions that I experience.
Our last therapy session, in particular, has helped me a lot to take a deeper look into myself and some of my self-sabotaging behaviors.”
The Therapist leaned back in her chair, “I would love to know more about that.”
“Okay, to start with, I started to see how I never fully took the accountability for my role in that situation. The issue itself started with something that I was going through. This person had little or nothing to do with what I was feeling yet tried to do what they could do as a friend. It was my struggle with my feelings that started all the mess in the first place. If anything, they were the best friend that I needed at that time.
Another important realization for me was what I kept telling myself was a “betrayal” was this person doing the best they could given the circumstances. Yes, they made a mistake but that was all it was. We were trying so hard to not hurt one another that we ended up hurting each other anyway. When my actions hurt them, they didn’t tell me until later how much they had impacted them. I chose to not to tell this person how difficult my experiences had been for me because I thought that was me protecting them. And whenever I tried, I was so far gone that I couldn’t even think or communicate clearly. Frankly, when I think about it, it would have been easier for this person to break off this connection earlier but they chose to work through it which shows that my perceptions were wrong.
Finally, I realized how I had always thought that I was good at communication. But I can see that I have a lot to learn. Every time I tried to reach out to this person, it was based on my need to fix the situation. I never asked them what they wanted.”
“You said you wanted to protect this person. From what?”
“I am not sure. Initially, I thought I was protecting them from feeling any guilt because of what I was feeling. So I kept pretending that everything was fine and that I was able to manage everything.
When things took a weird turn, I thought I was protecting them by not telling them what I was experiencing. I told myself that it was because that it would be too much for them to deal with. But now when I think about it, that wasn’t true.”
“What was the reason?”
“I didn’t tell them anything initially because I was scared for myself. I was scared of someone telling me what I feared the most – that I had lost my mind. I was scared of being abandoned. In a way, I was trying to protect myself. I also felt that it would be the final blow to what looked to me was the end of a friendship.
I never accepted this but I think I also wanted to protect them from me.”
“And why is that?”
“I had started to see how much trouble I was causing to this person’s life but could not bring myself to accept it. They were fine before I met them. Initially, we were fine too and, then, all I brought to them was pain. I had started to feel guilty for causing them all those troubles. Sometimes, I wonder that may be they would have been better off had they not met me.
A few days back, I realized that they made the right decision by cutting me off. If I was still their best friend, I would have asked them to do the same. That’s not to say that we couldn’t have worked it out but that that was a choice they made and I can’t blame them for that choice.
The fact is, I was a horrible friend and I have come to accept that now. Even now, my unwillingness to let it go and still talking about what happened, shows that they made the right decision. What can be more unhealthy than being obsessed with the past? I think I was just too scared to accept it.”
“When we care for someone, sometimes we unconsciously do things that don’t align with our core values. When we start to hide what we feel, these emotions show up in ways that are not manageable and become unhealthy. When any relationship ends, the unknowing makes it more challenging to accept reality. Tell me this, this person hurt you too, do you think that their actions make them a horrible friend?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever believe that they were. On the contrary, some of the lessons that I learned with their support have helped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. E.g., I have started to be more open about who I am. That’s something I could never have imagined doing.”
“So this person offered you their love and support. They also made some mistakes. Sounds to me like any other human being.”
“Now, tell me is there anything good that you’ve done for them?”
“Haha. From our last one-sided conversation, it doesn’t look like I did anything good for them. Whatever I did because I cared for them was misconstrued as me having this ulterior motive. I was just a source of pain and trouble.”
“Do you think that’s true?”
“I hope not.”
“Can you think of a few examples that show that you were good friend?”
“Yes. But after that initial incident, whatever I did came cross as something else. Like I had a hidden motive behind everything that I was doing. I tried to explain that wasn’t true but I couldn’t get through to them.”
“Did you have a hidden motive?”
“No. I was just being a friend. If trying to save a friendship is a hidden motive, then, yes.”
“If you were to be your advocate, would you say that you were a horrible friend?”
“This is like be your best friend, isn’t it? I don’t think so. I can see that I was just being me and that I was a good friend most of the time except when I was acting out of my insecurities. If I was an unbiased party in this situation who knew both of us, I would say we were both idiots who couldn’t understand how to manage the entire situation and worked as a team to sabotage something meaningful.
I think it just hurts that I could never clarify some of the misconceptions.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I was too hurt at that point and was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It had taken every remaining strength I had to reach out to them. That’s saying a lot because I could hardly perform the needful activities in my waking life. When I received that communication, I had started drafting a response explaining myself but, then, stopped because I could see how they just wanted it to end. I also thought that whatever I said at that point might only create more misunderstandings because whatever I would have said might have come out of my guilt, hurt or anger. I was tired of hurting this person and getting hurt. They had told me their decision and I wanted to respect it. I didn’t think my explanations would have mattered.”
“You were going through an inexplainable experience. It’s sad that it coincided with what you were going through with this person. But can you try to be compassionate with yourself for what you went through?”
“I can try.”
“What have you done since then to process what happened?”
“The list won’t stop. I started therapy. I tried to blog but all I could write about initially was how angry and hurt I was. Then, when the anger subsided, I realized that I wasn’t angry with them but with how the things transpired. Then, I started to write about my side of the story in private blogs which initially helped but knowing that no one was listening made it feel even worse, and I stopped.
I tried to distract myself by indulging in activities, making friends, picking up hobbies, doing meditation, yoga, etc. I tried everything and nothing worked. I kept being reminded of the past in some or the other way. My emotional health just kept getting worse and the other experiences didn’t help.”
“Seems to me that you didn’t want to be stuck in that situation but could not find a way out. Does that sound to you like someone who is obsessed or someone who is trying to find a way out?”
“I love it how you challenge my thought patterns.”
The Therapist smiled, “That’s my job. Not every problem requires a solution. When nothing else works, sometimes the best way is to let certain things be. You’ve tried to not let the past impact you and you’ve done everything a therapist would have asked you to do. This experience clearly had a major impact on you and might take some time to completely process. Is there anything else that you can do?”
“Nothing. I have thought of trying and contacting this person but I don’t think they’ll like that. So I never do.”
“Why do you think so?”
“They made it clear that there were certain things that they wanted for us to be in contact again. Though I could understand why they said that, I found it unfair to me and, for a change, I wanted to be true to myself. Further, I don’t even know if they care anymore.”
“Sounds like a dead-end. Then, you know that there is nothing more that you can do. Why not do just that – nothing?”
“How would that be any different from what’s happening today?”
“It can be different in the way you’re dealing with these emotions. You can stop trying to understand why any of it happened or trying to find the answers. You can choose to be compassionate with yourself everytime the feeling of guilt or thoughts of self-doubt comes up. It can also mean not fighting the thoughts and emotions that come up. Not questioning why you have them but also not getting lost in them.”
“I can try that. There is just this one thought that keeps bringing me back.”
“What if that was it? What if I am never able to do anything about it? What if I lost a best friend to my insecurities or misconceptions or to things that I can’t even explain? Then, I feel confused about what would I even say to them? I have embarassed myself enough.
I sometimes feel like they’ll loathe me when they see me. I think my anger was helping me not imagine it.”
“What if is a dangerous question. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. How can you control something that has not even happened and how can you predict how someone else would act in a situation. Would it be so bad if you never speak to this person again?”
“I’ll never forgive myself.”
“If I could have done something that I didn’t do, that’s on me.”
“Is there anything left for you to do?”
“Then what’s the benefit of assuming the worst case or getting lost in different scenarios. If you were, in fact, as close as you’re telling me, do you think this person won’t be wondering the same?”
“I don’t know. I hope they still care.”
“Then why not let them decide for themselves? Can you see how you blaming yourself for everything that has transpired has impacted your ability to trust yourself?”
“I can. I never said all this out aloud so never realized it. I can see now that it doesn’t matter whether I consciously accept something. If I am subconsciously thinking something, it will have an impact on me”
“That’s correct. What we’re doing here is trying to uncover these unconscious thoughts and emotions that play a role in our lives. Bringing them to the surface and acknowledging them for what they are, help us break these patterns. Is there an alternate thought that you can tell yourself that could help you?”
“I have tried and nothing worked. I don’t know what to do anymore so I’ll do nothing. At least that way, I won’t further sabotage anything – This thought feels like failing though.”
“That’s one way to look at it. Another way can be to realize that you’ve accepted your mistakes, this person’s mistakes, the past and have forgiven both of you. Realizing our mistakes in a situation does not have to mean that we were entirely at fault. Like you said, the circumstances were not easy to deal with. Had you known better, would you have still done what you did or would this person still have done what they did?”
“Would someone else in your situation have a better way to deal with what happened?”
“I am not sure. This seems to be a one-of-a-kind experience.”
“Then, you can’t know whether your actions will always sabotage something because you won’t intentionally want to hurt this person. There is also no way to know what the right thing to do was in this situation. We never come to this world with a user manual. We encounter situations, make the best of it and, then, deal with the outcome.
You told me that you’ve tried everything in your power to process the emotions that this situation brought up. If a similar situation happens in the future, would you still take the same actions?”
“No. In fact, I recently proved that I have changed more in the past few months than I have realized.”
“That shows that your way of dealing with this situation was to work on yourself and heal yourself. Tell me, would you expect something else out of your best friend who was in your position?”
“No. I would just give her a hug and tell her that everything will be fine.”
“Why don’t you do just that?”, the Therapist smiled.
The session went on for another 30 minutes where she and the Therapist came up with more ways to help her recognize unhelpful thought patterns, ways to allow her mind and body to release stuck emotions, and introduce small behavioral changes that would help her in her day-to-day activities.
“When will I start to heal?”
“You’ve already started to heal. All that remains now is continuing the work that you’ve already started.”