I travel in pretty geeky circles–renfaire, science fiction conventions, that kind of thing. Over my life I’ve seen geekdom really blossoming from a weird niche interest into something more socially recognized and accepted, so it carries less of a stigma than I think it used to. However, it’s still very much full of people who grew up feeling different and weird and rejected by the communities they grew up in. (*raises hand*)
Some of the people I find it hardest to get along with are people who reacted to those early experiences by becoming defensive, angry, and a little bit paranoid that the world is fundamentally stacked against them. Which, okay, I understand! It usually comes from a super valid place. But what I have trouble with is when this is the universal attitude someone goes through the world with. Everything is an attack, and it’s specifically targeted at them. Unfair bosses, unkind lovers, uncooperative trains, hot coffee, cold butter pats–you name it. And nobody, nobody has it worse than them, ever.
No, that’s not what I have a problem with. It’s what living that way does to a person’s relationships. If you view the entire world as a hostile and threatening place, it becomes impossible to trust that some people might have genuinely good intentions and the capability to carry them out. If being the noblest victim who ever was victimized is core to who you are, you lose the ability to be empathetic or compassionate to other people who are struggling (unless they are exactly like you somehow). There’s no space for gentleness or authentic sharing of self. Everything becomes so harsh and instantly judged.
(Then there is also the fact that when you perceive yourself as helpless, you lose touch with your ability to wield power over other people. Not that you lose the power–though depending on the circumstance you may or may not get any; you just lose your awareness of when you have it or how you’re using it, and you’ve abdicated responsibility for decisions regarding it. This can make people who think of themselves as powerless infinitely more dangerous than those who accept what power they do or don’t have at the moment.)
Anyway, this came to mind when I was reminded of one of the reactions I’m least fond of, when I tell people what I do. (If you meet a therapist socially, and you think that you are being witty and unique by joking “I should be your client!” or “You should write an article about me!”–you really, really aren’t.) And that is the wary, defensive people who say, “I went to a therapist once, but I figured out everything she wanted, so I outwitted her and never went back.”
Trying to outwit your therapist is like putting on a raincoat before you get in the shower, and then bragging that you didn’t get wet. It’s essentially missing the point. The point of therapy is to have a person who is, for the time you are together, entirely dedicated to hearing what you have to say and helping you with your problems. The therapist’s conclusions or observations are ultimately irrelevant compared to what that process is like for you. It’s those actual butt-in-chair hours talking and trying to let someone else understand you that heal. There are often clients whose problems I can call ahead of time from one session in, but it would be absolutely no help at all if I just dumped the cerebral knowledge, “You’re never going to be as good at your work as you want to be, because it’s really a substitute for feeling like a worthy person; eventually you have to embrace that and start getting angry at your parents for neglecting you all your life” on them. It would be the opposite of helpful. They need to process it a little bit at a time, doing most of the work themselves.
So if you’re going to walk in and be entirely closed to that process of forming a bond of trust based on empathy and understanding, uh, congratulations; you have sabotaged your own therapy. What, you realized we therapists want to talk to you about difficult emotions and vulnerable areas and this process might be hard for you? OH NOES OUR SECRETS HAVE BEEN REVEALED. (Except therapy works even if you know how it works, because life’s a bitch that way.)
I do my best, with these little chitchat exchanges, not to let a smart remark fly out of my mouth. Oh, you outwitted your therapist? “I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience,” I say politely, and go check out the vendor booths. Not to mention, when I get drawn into debates about psychology and sociology with this kind of nerd, I tend to pull a Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and not quite realize that I’ve just emotionally gutted my conversational partner until we both become aware of a pool of blood spreading on the floor. (I self-sequester from Nice Guys™ these days.)
I still haven’t found a right imaginary occupation–you know, when you lie and say that you’re an accountant just to stop having the super awkward conversations about your job. (Do accountants have these? Must ask.)