Sessions with Nancy

On my first visit to Nancy’s office, her comfy colorful space struck me as easy for soul searching and her curvy sage velvet couch where I sit felt like a refuge.

I can get used to coming here, I remember thinking.

As I began retelling my familiar story, Nancy gently interrupted with a question that ultimately pushed me onto a new path.

“How have you managed to avoid the very first thing that’s usually done in therapy?,” she asked.

“What’s that?”

“Separate from your mom,” she said.

Oh that. This wasn’t the reason why I came to Nancy’s office that day, but over the next few years of seeing her I slowly began to realize that this very thing, separating from my mom which I thought I was achieving with previous therapists, has been the very thing needed to unknot and set myself free to achieve my personal and career goals.

I started therapy as a college freshman in 1972, and I’m still in it decades later. I’m an advocate for therapy as it’s been my wellspring for emotional good health. Sometimes I cover my embarrassment at the years, and money, spent in therapy with my growing repertoire of jokes about it, such as: By now, I should be grand mothered into the field, and my New Year’s wish is for a cap ‘n gown so I can graduate already.

Of all my therapists (if you lined them up I’d have my own “Chorus Line”), Nancy has that je ne sais quo that has finally helped me face my personal resistance to separating from my mother and facing the truth about myself.

Why has separation taken me decades? I’m a second generation American from a traditional Jewish family that instilled closeness to my multi-generational family and obligation to respect our elders with such emphasis that I never talked back (even during my teens) and the idea of moving further away from my nuclear family was never acceptable. I am glad for the traditional values they’ve instilled, but the one element – self expression – encouraging me to express my feelings and thoughts – was not encouraged (I was raised with the philosophy children should be seen but not heard), and so it’s been a challenge for me to hear my inner thoughts, identify what I’m feeling, and be self directed.

I used to only praise my mom to my therapists. I felt disloyal otherwise. Instead I’d criticize myself. I didn’t feel good enough to gain her praise or the praise of others (my boss, for instance). When therapists pointed out my mom is overly critical of me, I’d deny it. (My mom’s thinking is if she didn’t love me, she wouldn’t want to help me improve myself). In a gentle way Nancy has helped me see inside myself and the emotional burden and self-inflicted pain my constant self criticism causes. It’s been my own form of self abuse leading to depression. My negative thinking has been an emotional burden that I’ve carried too well and for too long, and it costs me too dearly to continue it.

When I was 10, I had an epiphany. I decided I wanted a life of happiness, a happy marriage, happy family. That’s why I initially entered therapy. While “happily ever after” is for fairytales, I am these days happier for longer periods of time than I have ever been. For that reason, I’m sticking with Nancy. I may be a late bloomer but I do believe the best is always yet to come – that and a cap ‘n gown.