Expressing Disappointment: Experiencing Relief
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 13, 2013
Carrie, seventy, does not like that I sometimes cross my arms as I listen to her. “I feel like you are being judgmental,” she says, about my body language. “Gee, I did not know that I was making you feel judged,” I respond with surprise and concern. The next session, Carrie tells me, uncharacteristically, that she was very much looking forward to seeing me today. “Is that because you told me how I upset you and I was able to hear that?” I ask, thinking that perhaps she feels relief, as she seemed afraid that giving me negative feedback would make me feel defensive and not concerned. Her predicted outcome did not happen, and as such, she felt closer to me. “I suppose that in your life, you have never had the experience of expressing disappointment, or pain, and then receiving more curiosity, as opposed to anger and defensiveness.” I say, knowing that Carrie comes from a family in which only positive things can be said, and negative ideas are thought to reflect poorly on the person feeling negativity. The idea that a negative idea could be heard was a novel experience for her; one that made her relax and hopeful that she no longer had to live a life of pretend where everyone always made her happy. Honesty and authenticity bring positive feelings, when they can be heard and understood, even if the honest and authentic feelings are unpleasant. This is one of the many nuances of psychotherapy. Expressing oneself is grist for the therapeutic mill, and even after Carrie’s many decades of existence, she can still experience life, and relationships, in a new way, with a new outcome. She is a poster child for the value of late-life psychotherapy. Suddenly, she looked so much younger. The anxiety of holding in negativity aged her, and in kind, expressing herself honestly seemed to return her to a youthful appearance. Relief is a marvelous feeling.