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When I was in my 30s I got a therapist I was pretty sure could fix me, because he was expensive.
Within the first month of seeing him he told me I had borderline personality disorder and also that my family was super fucked up.
I read about borderline personality disorder. “I don’t think I have that,” I said to him. “It sounds very extreme. Additionally, my family is not that fucked up. I did live with them for 18 years and found much of it to be fine and even pleasant.”
One time I wore a red velvet miniskirt to a session and he said this was an inappropriate thing to wear and somehow related to borderline personality disorder. I think he thought I wore the miniskirt to flirt with him? It was so embarrassing, but it was also enraging. I walked out. But then — I went back. It seemed like if it felt bad it might be working.
I don’t think about him a lot. But last night I had a dream about him, not him, in particular, but I had a dream that I was going on a vacation with him and his whole family, a big family, like his children and nieces and nephews. (I know very little about his family, these people were invented in my mind and he himself wasn’t even in the dream.)
(In the dream), I was apprehensive about the trip, but felt it was something I needed to do. Also, it was a perfectly planned trip. Someone (a dream trip coordinator?) sent me a bunch of tickets for every leg of the trip, in a folder. There was a ticket for the train to the airport, a voucher for lunch at the airport, a ticket for some kind of trolley that took me from the airport lunch to the airplane, in addition to the airplane ticket.
My former therapist’s family and I were all seated in first class, but the seating was like theater in the round, not regular rows. Champagne was poured, in coupes. I prefer flutes or just white wine glasses. “It’s not great Champagne but whatever,” one of the passengers said to her companion, who nodded and accepted a glass.
The dream ends there.
I don’t believe in dream analysis and even if I did I would never admit it. However, If I were to analyze this dream, I’d say it was about how I thought therapy with this person was going to take me to some special place and there was the illusion and promise of movement because of the transaction of money and the showing up for appointments but in the end all I had was a fistful of tickets and receipts but no actual product.
I used to really think my therapist was a huge asshole and I still think that sometimes. But I also think like most of the people in that job he was trained to look at the individual and then at their family and very little “you’re alive in this world, at this time, yikes.”
“The family” is probably just not the best place for everyone to grow up and flourish but I don’t blame my parents for having had one or think they were unnaturally bad at it. Considering that we were four people forced to live together for 18 years as two of us worked full time and the other two were training to work full-time one day but forced to pretend that we were doing something called “learning,” our family could have been truly terrible, it was only terrible sometimes. Also everyone is my immediate family is funny and generally on time for things, which puts us ahead of a lot of families/people.
As for borderline personality disorder, here are some symptoms: fear of abandonment or instability, difficulty tolerating being alone, inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings. This doesn’t sound like everyone I know, but it does sound like maybe 1/3 - 1/2 of the people I know, and certainly like every woman worth being friends with.
I am not anti-therapy. It can make people happier and more interesting. It can also make them feel like they have to fix themselves in ways that will probably be impossible because the main thing wrong with them is that they are alive. Again, not against it. But it deserves some critical analysis, and this is especially true because most therapists treat their patients like a vacuum who grew up inside another vacuum.
I regret going to therapy for that long (two years? more? lol GOD) with that therapist. He did tell me once that I should write things and then try and sell them instead of pitching, and that turned out to be true, though I didn’t do it until years later. But I wish he had just leveled with me and told me that we were living in the waning years of the American empire, and that the idea that happiness is an individual choice was not only a lot to ask, it was cruel. But he couldn’t tell me that, because he didn’t know, and probably still doesn’t. Where would he have found this out? Not from journal articles about dysfunctional families. Not from the New York Times. Maybe from a patient, but he probably would have just thought they were crazy.