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A few words about psychoanalysis:

July 29, 2010

Well, not real psychoanalysis. I have a friend who was, as they say, “analyzed”–he likened it to having a massage several times a week, and only stopped the process (one wants to type “process”–god it’s hard to take the shrinky lingo seriously, isn’t it? The one exception, to me, is the expression “well defended.” I could go around saying people are well defended all day long) when his elder child began to attend private school, thus depleting monies formerly set aside for Freud’s disciples.

The practitioner of mental massage I have seen, off and on, since the bell began to toll for my marriage, is the very person an astute children’s author would invent if she wanted to have a psychiatrist as one of her minor characters. She has a Roald-Dahlesque name (as does her husband, whom she met her first day of medical school, and whom she frequently mentions) and an absolutely charming, antique demeanor. She wears cardigans and sensible shoes and below-the-knee skirts over lisle stockings, even in summer. Her graying hair is drawn up in a post-Victorian–shall we say Edwardian?–topknot, and her office décor is what I can only describe as mid-century Bugs Bunny modern, as imagined by Chuck Jones. Orange wall-to-wall carpet, paneled walls. Low ceilings. “I am always so surprised that the magazines in the waiting room are current,” said a friend of mine who also sees her.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have more occasion to talk about her, and I’m procrastinating dreadfully right now, so allow me to cut to the chase: I have gone to see her twice in the last month; before that, it had been a year since my last confession, er, visit. She had seen my ex-husband for a while, too, back before we were separated and then through those gruesome early days, so she knows him, and there was plenty to talk about. By the second session we were mostly caught up.

Which meant I was ready to talk about the fucking cottage.

“I want to let go of this, I really hate being this stuck, it’s some kind of cathexis, I think,” I said, sagely using the term one of you commenters tipped me off about. My psychiatrist laughed. (She’s admirably well defended, but she has a wonderful sense of humor. Making her laugh is one of my favorite parts of seeing her.) “I can’t stand being bitter and negative, you’ve got to give me some new way to think about all of this,” I said.

She smiled, and folded her hands in her lap. “Let me put it this way,” she said. (That phrase is one of her favorites. Another is “I’m just going to make fun of you a little bit.” Both usually precede something brilliant.) “Your ex-husband was very angry when he had to move out of your house. But he moved anyway, because that was what was best for you and for the children. And you have felt very guilty about that ever since. So in a way, you took away his favorite house, and it has haunted both of you.

“But now you gave him your favorite house. You found it, and you gave it to him. So you’re even. You don’t need to feel guilty, and you don’t need to feel angry. Your debt is fully discharged.”

I drove home grinning like an idiot. And the thought or sight or mention of that perfect little cottage hasn’t bothered me since.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 12:14 am

    WOW. I love the amazing, light-bulb insights that a great therapist can uncover. How do they do it? Is it a special intelligence, a way of seeing people and situations extra clearly? Is it something that can be learned, or is it an inborn talent? In any case, it’s wonderful you’ve found one of the good ones. And I’m so glad you’re feeling resolved about the cottage. How nice to have that weight off your shoulders.

  2. July 30, 2010 3:08 am

    Fucking brilliant.

  3. July 30, 2010 4:51 am

    In most un-British fashion, I now have two therapists: one to help me stay sane, and one to help me stay married. Love, love, love ’em both.

    I shall add your greying Edwardian to my canon of counselling heros! So happy she has shooed your cloud away from the sun.

  4. July 30, 2010 5:37 am

    I so want to be that woman when I grow up! Damn she’s good.

    And HOORAY for not caring about “that place” anymore. What a relief it must be.

  5. July 30, 2010 7:46 am

    “Bugs Bunny modern, as imagined by Chuck Jones” – my mind’s eye is rolling about like a pig in muck, so it is.

    Let me put it this way, indeed. What an intelligent AND practical woman. Grin on, my friend.

  6. July 30, 2010 9:03 am

    Bravo! I love that your therapist gives you fair warning when she’s about to make fun of you. That really says something about the rapport she’s built with you. It takes a special person to be able to make “making fun” actually FUN.

  7. cbrks12 permalink
    July 30, 2010 10:22 am

    Amazing insight…so liberating!

  8. July 30, 2010 1:33 pm

    That is so awesome!

  9. minoti permalink
    July 30, 2010 1:54 pm

    that is an amazing and wonderful way to put it. so happy you are able to now really get past all this. what an astute and actually helpful psychiatrist she must be.

  10. July 30, 2010 3:00 pm

    That is SO insightful, it totally makes sense. I agree, how do therapists do that??

    Sorry that us, the commenters, couldn’t have been more helpful, lol. 🙂 But thanks for sharing the insight from the therapist with us!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      July 30, 2010 3:22 pm

      Oh, no, you commenters were completely helpful. But she had the whole picture, from start to finish, and two points of view, and knew how angry he’d been to move out, and how guilty I’d felt about asking him to. And somehow ditching the guilt made my bitchiness and pettiness evaporate.

      Also, while I was whining to her about everything, I spouted a bunch of lines I’d stolen from you guys. They must have pointed her in a certain direction, don’t you think? So you did help. Immensely.

  11. Lisame permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:40 pm

    I feel stupid for thinking of that myself.

  12. Lisame permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:44 pm

    NOT thinking of that!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      July 30, 2010 3:53 pm

      That Guy From Vienna called your original comment a Certain Kind of Slip…

      And I feel stupid for not thinking of it, too. Seems so obvious now. But this is how analysts earn their bread and butter.

  13. MEP permalink
    July 30, 2010 4:23 pm

    I like how she focused on how you could feel better, not on how to make your feelings make sense to you. Bravo!

  14. Celeste permalink
    July 30, 2010 8:03 pm

    For the love of God refer me to her! I need help getting off a roller coaster I’ve somehow strapped myself into. She sounds like she’s got just the right brand of DW-40 to get me unstuck.

  15. July 31, 2010 4:55 am

    Very pleased the books have been balanced. Feel rather thick though as have no idea what “well defended” means which no doubt is the result of being typically Britishly averse to therapy (no doubt to the detriment of my own sanity).

  16. Take 5 permalink
    July 31, 2010 12:38 pm

    The Enchanted Cottage is your liberation. Thanks for filling us in on the insightful and intensely personal events leading to your grinning like an idiot. Love reading your wit and clearly your shrink loves to hear it.

  17. August 1, 2010 1:48 am

    The cottage was just what you needed – just not in the way you expected. Amazing.

    The best therapist I ever had was named Dr. Payne (pronounced “pain). No joke. I enjoyed her name immensely.

  18. Linda permalink
    August 3, 2010 8:16 am

    I’m so happy for you! I had to take a quick break from my vacation to tell you so, that’s how happy I am for you.

  19. Jemy permalink
    August 3, 2010 1:25 pm

    I am a subscriber to the Frankl “man’s search for meaning” method of psychology, and this was a perfect example. Brilliant.

  20. August 8, 2010 5:46 pm

    She is brilliant. You are lucky to have her. I’d snatch her for myself if it were at all possible.

  21. EKL permalink
    December 13, 2010 3:43 pm

    I am a late arrival to your blog, and am just catching up to the present date.

    I thought about this before, in one of your earlier posts, but didn’t say anything when I read it. But now… Isn’t it unprofessional of her to see you both? In this case it seems to have helped, certainly, but I’ve been told before by one therapist or another that they could not be a therapist to me and my SO separately…


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