Marie: Is It Okay to Complain in Therapy?

Posted By: on April 06, 2015
photo of a woman with the options of Yes, no, or maybe

Editor’s Note: This is part 19 of Marie’s story.

Today was therapy session day. I came loaded for bear!

I brought a lightweight blanket and a pillow in case I wanted to sit in the corner wrapped up in a blanket . . . or lie on the couch wrapped in a blanket . . . because I am feeling brave enough to [maybe] do those things now. It seems Mark (my former therapist) could never allow space for me to do what I want to do with the blanket during a session. But, I believe Carl would create space for that.

I brought a large framed photo of my mom and dad in case I wanted to look at them as I “talked to them.” I brought a baggie of small photos out of my photo albums . . . they are photos from all stages of my life that have strong emotions attached to them. I figured they would be helpful in the story-telling process.

I brought a penny with the word “connection” written on it . . . in case I decided to leave it in Carl’s office as a token of the emotional connection he and I share. (That feels very strange to write.)

And, of course, I brought my usual assortment of clipboards and paper and pens and phone and billfold and day timer . . . and a book to read while in the waiting room . . .

And, I carried it all in a couple of bags and a milk crate. I figured the milk crate would be useful if I felt like sitting in the corner with the blanket around me . . . my back has been acting up and I’m not sure I could get all the way down to the floor and back up again. I figured I could sit on the crate.

I had so much stuff that Carl had to help carry it up the stairs to his office. I thought he might get concerned about all the stuff, but he said he was very excited that I had brought so many things that could be helpful in our process. He said that even before he knew what it all was for! It didn’t faze him at all, thank goodness! (I’m learning not much does faze him!)

I didn’t know which direction our session would take, but I wanted to be prepared!

Of course, we went through our usual “how are you?” preliminaries and then we got down to business with Carl leading the way . . .


Carl: I read your status report. Thank you for sharing your insight! And, yes, I welcome an emotional connection between us and I would be delighted for you to leave a token of that connection in my office, if you care to.

I was glad to read how your anxiety level was not an issue when we did the exercise with your eyes closed. That is great progress!

I look forward to seeing what all you brought with you, if you choose to share it with me. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to bring it!

I am aware you attached the letters you wrote to your parents to your emailed status report. However, I made a conscious decision to not read what you wrote because I believe the content is better shared in person. I want to be with you in person when I first hear what you have to say so the information I take in is in its purest emotional form. Reading it first may taint the integrity of my understanding. Is that okay with you?

Me: Oh, sure! I wasn’t sure if you would prefer to read it in advance or not. I’m fine with either way.

Carl: Okay, good.

So, do you have a particular place you would like to start today?

Me: It would be helpful to me if I better understood the goal or the intention of what we are doing here. I would like to know the purpose of recalling my experiences with my parents and dredging up all the related emotions. If I knew that, it would help me know if writing letters is helpful. If writing letters is helpful, I would then know what type of material is best included in the letters. I don’t know that it is helpful to recite everything little thing my parents did wrong to me, but I don’t know how much of it I need to look at and when I can stop digging.

Carl: The reason we are looking at what happened to you and at the attached emotions is so you can get the painful parts cleaned out. That means we need to keep going through the hurtful memories until you feel cleaned out. That way, they aren’t continuously rolling around in your memory and causing never-ending pain.

The parts of you that are still living in the context of those hurtful memories are fragmented from the core of you. Our goal is to integrate those parts of you so you can be whole.

Me: Okay. That makes sense. I just wonder if there really is value in spending so much time and energy examining and bitching about every little complaint I have about how my parents raised me. I could spend the next year just doing that.

Carl: I think you were taught that you are not allowed to complain – that you were expected to just keep your mouth shut and to suck it up . . . true?

Me: True.

Carl: Well, in here, your complaining is very welcome. I can’t think of anything else I would rather hear from you right now than complaining and bitching and moaning about all the things that happened to you as a child. I encourage you to complain . . . I really want you to complain.

You see, I don’t see it as complaining and bitching. I see it as you telling your story that you’ve never before been allowed to tell. I see it as a way to relieve the pressure that has been built up inside of you almost your entire life. It’s what I really want you to do. I welcome your complaints. I want to hear them . . . all of them . . . in great detail.

Me: It feels weird to be encouraged to complain. As a kid, if I had a problem, I was expected to be able to describe the problem clearly and succinctly, and to show up with a solution in mind – and that solution had better not require extra effort on my dad’s part because he was already making as many sacrifices for me as he could.

Therefore, I appreciate the space to complain here, with you. Thank you for the encouragement.

So, how do we get started?

To be continued…


Other posts in Marie’s series:

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