Therapy #6: The Inability to Feel Love Is PTSD
I finally put my new waterproof make-up to the test during Therapy #6. As my therapist deftly wielded a screwdriver to fix a wobbly office chair, he began the session with his usual, “So, how ya’ doin’ today?”
And I burst into tears.
“I’ve never cried in front of you before,” I sobbed, hating the fact that my eyes were getting puffy and my nose turning red.
“I own stock in Kleenex,” he quipped, dryly.
That made me giggle, in spite of myself.
There’s something magical about someone who just listens to you. My therapist didn’t say a lot. He didn’t have to. I just needed someone who wasn’t emotionally involved with me to just…listen. It was so nice just to be listened to without being judged, shamed, lectured, fixed, rescued, co-depented-ed, etc.
The Danger of Communication
They say good communication is the key to good relationships. I beg to differ. If you’re involved with a narcissist nothing is more dangerous than communication. I learned this growing up the hard way.
How many times…oh, it must’ve been hundreds…did I make the same ol’ mistake of sharing my true, negative emotions!? Although met with a semblance of empathy, sooner or later the narcissists attempted to rescue, change, brainwash, fix and co-dependent me to be happy, happy, happy…so they could feel good again. Only positive, happy emotions were allowed. Negative emotions were bad. They tried to lecture me out of them. When that didn’t work, sometimes I was punished.
So yeah…why the Hell would I want to communicate with anyone…ever…about anything?!? It’s dangerous.
A good therapist makes it safe to talk about anything. The nice thing is, because he’s not emotionally involved with you, or as he puts it “I’ve got no skin in the game,” nothing you say can hurt him.
Suddenly, communication becomes safe.
Welcoming Emotions as Guests
“I hate how I’m feeling, Doc,” I sobbed, angrily. “I’m so angry. It’s wrong to be angry.”
“I would argue that no emotion is inherently bad or evil,” he responded, leisurely putting his feet up on the now un-wobbly chair. “They just are. They happen. Try to think of them of house-guests.”
“How would you treat a house-guest?” he continued. “You’d welcome them in and listen to what they have to say without judging.”
“But, but, I was taught that anger is wrong.”
“Isn’t there a story,” he queried, “where Jesus got angry and drove the money changers out of the Temple?”
“Doc, was I born screwed up or did I become screwed up?” I sniffled. “I was a very angry baby!”
“Babies are not naturally angry,” he responded. “If you were angry as a baby, then you were merely responding to your environment.”
That helped. After a lifetime of being told what an angry, cantankerous baby I was, it’s nice to finally know: it wasn’t me. I wasn’t a bad baby. I was merely responding to my environment.
Unable to Feel
“But, doc,” I said, leaning forward intensely. “I can’t feel anything except anger. I don’t know I’m upset til I begin acting angrily. That’s my clue that I’m hurting. I can’t feel, doc.”
It seemed a lightbulb went off, as he pulled a book from the shelf.
“I haven’t been able to feel love or joy or much of anything except pain and anger since I was fourteen years old!” I sobbed.
“Here,” he handed me a book. “Read this.”
And there it was in black-and-white. The symptom of being unable to feel love, joy and other emotions was coolly staring back at me from the DSM manual, as if butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth.
“That’s PTSD,” he said softly.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I wasn’t surprised. I knew at age sixteen that I had become “shell-shocked,” the World War I term for what we now call PTSD. But I thought of PTSD as merely the hyper-vigilance I found so irritating about my mother…and the jumpiness my friends find so hilarious about me.
It seems PTSD is much more than that.
Last year, I interviewed a woman with PTSD for the local newspaper. She shared about how a specific event, i.e. the shock of discovering sexual abuse in her family, had triggered PTSD. Virtually a prisoner in her own home, she was seeking to raise awareness of PTSD.
Her story triggered me. Intensely. Deeply. I came away from that interview feeling deeply, deeply disturbed. That night my husband shook me awake as I thrashed and kicked in the grip of a nightmare.
The article wrote itself, but I tore it up telling my editor that writing about PTSD was a conflict-of-interest for me.
Now, I know why.
Talking More Than Listening
For the first time, I talked more than I listened in therapy. I’d been keeping quiet ’til now. Seeking to wring out every drop of information I could glean from my therapist and “get my money’s worth.”
Then it occurred to me…
I needed to talk. I need to give him something to work with. Letting it all hang out might be just as cathartic as listening.
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So in Therapy #6 I talked. I expressed my pain, my rage. The air was blue with the kind of language the narcissists never allowed me to use. I was allowed to express anger with a polite, restrained, Winnie-the-Poohish, “Oh bother.” Small wonder then that the f-bombs were flying now.
“Sorry,” I said, “my language is atrocious.”
“That’s okay,” he replied, coolly. “I don’t give a fuck about your language.”
That made it all okay! It also made me double-over with laughter! Damn! he’s a good therapist.
$15 Down the Drain
I came away from Therapy #6 feeling much, much better. But also disgusted. $15 for “water-proof” mascara and “water-proof” eyeliner. Water-proof…my ass! What a waste!
I’d lost my make-up (and vanity!)…but also my pain and rage. Left it all behind in a mound of Kleenex® in my therapist’s wastebasket.
Thompson, L. (2016). Therapy #6: The Inability to Feel Love Is PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2016/09/therapy-6-the-inability-to-feel-love-is-ptsd/