• Fri, Oct 5 2012

Going To Therapy Makes Me Feel Like An A*shole

I wonder if Lucy would make me feel better about my asshole-ness.

I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was a kid. I first started in second grade when my parents told my sister and I that we were moving from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, and my wee nerves couldn’t handle it. It was a short-lived experience that involved puppets and learning how to deal with the idea of making new friends at a new school. By high school, when my depression really started to kick in, therapy became a fairly consistent component of my life. Since then I haven’t gone more than six months without seeing a therapist.

My relationship with my therapy is one of love and hate. I love that I get to sit there and talk about things in a safe space free of judgement and filtering, but I also hate it because, despite how much it helps, it’s actually narcissistic. You’re paying someone to sit there and listen to your “problems.” What’s more narcissistic than that?

Growing up I was the only one I knew in therapy. Now, as an adult and a New Yorker, I know far more people who are in therapy than those who are not. A lot of us are in it for depression issues, but then there are those who go because they really just enjoy speaking about themselves for a full hour. Granted, everyone’s favorite topic is themselves, but one would think that some quality time talking to yourself in the mirror could pacify that need to be so self-involved. I mean, that’s what I do when I’m not getting enough attention.

When things aren’t going well in my life, I can justify going to therapy but I’m still at odds with it. If you look at my life, I don’t have much over which to be depressed. My depression stems from the chemicals in my brain that are fucked up and not because of some childhood tragedy with which I’ve been forced to face. So even in my darkest moments, as I sit there on my therapist’s couch, I can’t help but feel like an asshole. I easily walk past a dozen or so homeless people in the 33 blocks from my apartment to my therapist’s office, people who are far worse off than I’ll ever be, and there I am pissing and moaning about the trials and tribulations of my upper middle class existence. It really is a struggle for my conscience and one that vocalize to my therapist only so she can tell me that I shouldn’t feel bad.

“Not feel bad?” I’ve often asked. “I just walked past a man sprawled out under some scaffolding on 24th Street with apparent gangrene on his foot and I’m paying you a near-fortune so I can talk about how ‘terrible’ I’m feeling today. When I leave here, he’s still going to be passed out and I’m going to head home to my apartment and probably have champagne and pizza for dinner so I can quit feeling so ‘terrible,’ and nothing about the situation is going to be fair or right!”

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  • Larissa

    I literally had this conversation last month. I was feeling depressed because I occasionally do, and that is a part of my chemical make up and I can’t always help that. But then I felt like such an asshole when I realized it was the anniversary of 9/11 and some people had real shit to be depressed about, and i’m sitting there listing my troubles…hating my job (obviously, since I dick around on here all day when i should be working), how some dumb guy whose name i’ll prob forget in a month anyway was a jerk to me, and oh my gosh I just feel fat so sometimes. I felt like I should just write “First World Problems” on my forehead. I felt like a bad person :( I know it’s all relative, all feelings are legitimate and you can’t deny something you feel because you don’t think it’s as “valid” as somebody else’s feelings. But I can still feel like an asshole when I get depressed in the middle of a life that’s really quite nice, compared to some.

  • Ms. Pants

    *hand raised*

  • Porkchop

    Self-improvement is not selfish.

    Your therapy has probably improved your relationships, or even your ability to be nice to strangers! Everyone is narcissistic, but at least you’re doing something productive with the attention you’re getting.

    I’m also curious to know who gave you this yardstick that measures suffering, and how it determines who deserves help. And I would ask whether these feelings of guilt are helping anyone. I would never say it’s easy to stop having negative thoughts, but how your suffering compares to other peoples’ is something you don’t have to worry about. I mean, you can, but you don’t need to.

  • Renee

    The thing about depression that people don’t always understand is this: it is a mental illness. It means that you don’t have a good connection to reality. Because yes, you can be depressed and not have anything to be depressed about! So I totally get where you are coming from, and I have been there, but the best way to fight depression is to accept that it happens because your brain is not wired correctly/brain chemicals are out of whack, and that it is not your fault. It is bad enough when someone says to a depressed person “What do you have to be so sad about?”, but it is even worse to do to yourself. You just have to keep fighting the good fight! For me, it really helps me get through the depressive spells when I frame them in the context of “this is not reality, it is just my shitty brain throwing a tantrum, and I just need to ride it out”.

    Also, yes, you may have it better(in the traditional, obvious sense) than the homeless guy on the street. But human suffering isn’t a competition. And isn’t that part of the depression? That feeling that you don’t deserve to be happy because there is so much suffering in the world? But that is a logical fallacy. First we make ourselves happy, then we work on trying to help others achieve the same happiness. If you are suffering, it doesn’t make the world a better place!

    But basically, yes, I totally understand and sympathize with what you are feeling.

    • A

      “this is not reality, it is just my shitty brain throwing a tantrum, and I just need to ride it out” I LOVE this! I am a student training to be a therapist and I’m going to have to keep the brain tantrum concept tucked away in my brain. Thanks!

  • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

    Chatel, you took the words right out of my mouth. I feel like this all the time about therapy. Why, just today I thought about not going to my session because really, I’m kind of fine. But not. But fine. So yes. You’re far from alone.

  • caroline

    I feel awful about going to therapy. Often, however, it seems to be the only obligation I am capable of keeping and the therapist is the only company I wish to have when I’m having bad spells. It’s not something I’m used to, nor is it something I consider normal by the standards of my upbringing. It’s like a lot of garbage and somehow not at the same time. The doubts just go away when it’s one of those weeks/months and I’m out of options

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lauren-Elizabeth-Yarbrough/1132279141 Lauren Elizabeth Yarbrough

    So, maybe this is overly simplistic. But (even though depression is rooted in chemical imbalances, not logic), wouldn’t the natural next step here to be cut a little out of your pizza and champagne budget and start supporting the local homeless shelter? Or maybe, when you’re feeling good and like you don’t need therapy, go serve soup and hand out blankets instead of going to do the “narcissistic” thing that makes you feel so bad?

  • Marissa

    “The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating the pain was itself a component and a contributing factor in its essential horror…The depressed person knew perfectly well that it was in fact the $90 an hour which made the therapeutic relationship’s simulacrum of friendship so ideally clean and onesided. And yet she nevertheless found it demeaning to feel that she was spending $1,080 a month to purchase what was in many respects just a fantasy-friend who fulfilled her (i.e., the depressed person’s) infantile fantasies of getting her emotional needs met by an Other without having to empathize with or even
    consider the valid human needs of the Other, an empathy and consideration which the depressed person then tearfully confessed she often despaired of ever
    even having it in her to be able to give. The depressed person had here inserted that she secretly worried constantly that it was her own inability to get outside her needy self-centeredness and to truly emotionally give that had made her attempts at intimate, mutually nurturing relationships with men such a traumatic and agonizing across-the-board failure. And that her resentments about the cost of therapy were in truth less about the actual expense which she freely admitted she could afford-than about the idea of paying for an artificially one-sided relationship…”

  • Sabrina

    I absolutely am not saying this to encourage you to stop going to counseling. I am just posting this to share my experience with the feelings you have described. I started going to counseling again last year to deal with some of my “issues” like, why couldn’t I get over my anger that my boyfriend cheated on me? Why did I have such problems with my family? Why didn’t I feel like myself anymore, why wasn’t I the fun loving, easy going person I had been growing up? I went for about four months. And I often felt worse leaving than going in. I wondered why that was…

    Then I realized one day, um, I can’t get over my anger that my boyfriend cheated on me because well, he cheated on me and never apologized. I have problems with my family because they are all narcissistic assholes (I don’t think you’re a narcissistic asshole, Amanda, just my family, believe me, you would think so too if you met them) who make me be their therapists for free. I wasn’t the fun loving, easy going person I used to be because well, I’m not 16 anymore and life kind of sucks sometimes. And that’s when I stopped going. And since then, I haven’t really looked back or thought about those issues anymore. I did go back to being that fun loving, easy going person because I wasn’t spending an hour a week delving deep into my childhood issues to figure out what was wrong with me. It is still a huge load off my back.

    Again, this is not to encourage anyone to stop their therapy, this was just my personal experience. For me, it was causing more problems than it solved. And I guess this is my roundabout way of saying “Girl, I know how you feel, I’ve been there before” :)

  • Sunshine

    I feel exactly the same way.

  • Rose

    The “guilty about seeking treatment when my problems are comparatively not AS bad as others” mentality is what kept me from seeking the treatment and help that I really needed, for a long time. So I can relate to the feeling.

    But I think what you have to realize is that the human existence is difficult. And that is that. Regardless of your socio-economic background, nationality, ethnicity, birthplace, skillset, appearance, intelligence, you’re going to face hardships. There are so many different varieties of societal, familial, cultural, moral, “moral,” economic, etc. pressures that face us all. So your variety of the shit you have to deal with that adds to your depression is just one version. There are many others. It’s all relative.

    You’re clearly a caring, creative and empathetic person. So it’s in both your best interest, and the communal best interest, to have you living at your best. And if you’re stable and mentally healthy, you’ll be acting at your best, and perhaps be able to help less fortunate people to the best of your ability. Maybe one day you can even figure out a way to help those people you pass by who you feel so much sympathy for.

  • candyflosslikeaboss

    I hate to say this, but if you really feel like your brain is healthy right now and you don’t need the therapy, stop going.
    It will be there if you need it in the future.
    Frankly, it sounds as though your therapist is fleecing you.That is both unethical and unhelpful to patients and clients.

  • Justme

    I had grief counseling after my parents died – one of those ‘legitimate’ problems, some might say, and I still felt like a waste of time. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, counseling didn’t magically make me less afraid, and other people were living in warzones. So, yeah, I don’t think many people feel like saying, “Yes, I am exactly traumatised enough to qualify for therapy.”

    I’d still advise it for anyone, any problem. Sometimes you can get a better handle on things by talking them out, and for that it’s good to have someone who is a) available as a sounding board and b) qualified to not be a judgmental asshole.

  • Andrea

    Most of us are assholes. We are also narcissistic. At least in therapy the only people we subject that to is a paid professional.

  • Mara

    I don’t think that you should quit therapy even though you’re feeling well. Therapy probably *prolongs* your good spells. Your therapist should be able to help you recognize patterns and factors contributing to your improved state, which is by no means a waste. Also, since your depression appears mainly chemical (not circumstantial or trauma-induced), anti-depressants may be more useful to you than therapy is.

  • Allison

    “Saying you shouldn’t feel sad because there are people who are worse off is like saying you shouldn’t feel happy because there are people who are better off.”
    Everybody’s emotions are valid.