Q. I’ve been with a therapist for three years, and have noticed improvements in nearly every facet of my life. But lately (the past 2-3 months) I’ve only found myself feeling more and more inferior to him (and therefore worse about myself) after each session. I’ve brought this up, and he keeps telling me that I’m working through the fears and desires that are associated with feeling close to someone. We recently took two weeks off, and I felt great. When I returned for our next session, I felt pitifully inferior within minutes of talking to him.
Idealizing one’s therapist seems like it might be a common plight, but shouldn’t I have passed that stage by now? If the overwhelming feeling I have upon looking at the guy is that he is so perfect that he could only look at someone like me with a mixture of hope and pity, is it time to move on? Has something gone awry if I feel worse after each session, not better?
I know that my answer to this question may seem counterintuitive but this problem may have little or nothing to do with your therapist. You said that you feel inferior to him. Please understand that these are your feelings. Unless he directly told you that he views you as inferior these are not his feelings about you, they’re yours. The feeling of inferiority emanates from you. All feelings, positive or negative can only be produced by you. This is true for all individuals.
You said that in the last few months, you have found yourself feeling increasingly inferior to him. You referred to him as “perfect.” You wondered how he (“Mr. Perfect” according to you) could look at someone like you in anyway other than with a “mixture of hope and pity.” You seem to be viewing your therapist as someone who is very superior to you and when compared to him, you deem yourself as a lesser person. This seems clear from your letter.
You took two weeks off from therapy and said you felt great. During these two weeks, you probably felt better because you didn’t have the opportunity to compare yourself to your therapist. Understandably, you concluded that he is the problem. But this is most likely not the case.
This problem has likely more to do with your level of self esteem than with how your therapist perceives you. What may be going on is that you feel inferior to him. When you compare yourself to him, as you probably have been doing during each session, you leave with the feeling that you don’t “match up” or that he is somehow better than you. This could explain why you felt better when you took a two week break.
There is an alternative rationale for your feelings. You said that you began to notice your negative feelings regarding the sessions only within the past two or three months. You talked with your therapist and he reasoned that you may have been feeling this way as of late because you’re working through your “fears and desires.” I take this to mean that you’re working through very difficult and challenging issues, some of which may be at the heart of why you began therapy. Under this explanation, you’re feeling negativity towards your therapist because he is helping you face these extremely sensitive challenges, some of which may be emotionally painful and thus causing you to resent him.
I can only speculate as to why you’re feeling negativity towards your therapist. I have offered a few explanations but with such little information my understanding of the situation may be incorrect.
What I can say with certainty is that you seem to have developed a solid and long-standing relationship with a therapist who has truly helped you. It would be foolish to end this relationship without being absolutely positive that you have assessed this situation correctly and objectively. As I discussed above, this issue may have more to do with your level of self esteem than with your therapist’s feelings concerning you. Good relationships can often experience misunderstandings and “rough patches” but with honesty and open discussion these problems can be resolved.
My advice is this: Don’t give up on this relationship so easily. By your own admission, he has helped you grow and change. Be open to the fact that you may have misunderstood your own negative feelings. Be honest with your therapist (as you have) and most likely, this problem can be resolved.
Also remember that though your therapist has many positive qualities and abilities that you may not posses, you undoubtedly have many other qualities and abilities that he likely does not. You are focusing on psychological issues and that is his forte. In the wider scope of life you most assuredly have skills and abilities that he does not. You know so little about the totality of his life where as your life has been an open book focused on all of the weaknesses that are causing you to be in his office. Let me know how things develop.