I’ve had my share of therapy.
My mother was a clinical psychologist, and I grew up around the concepts of consciousness and the unconscious, growth and awareness, and “authenticity” even before “authenticity” was a buzzword. . I’m sure she gave me some kind of therapy when I was growing up. I vividly remember his briefcase with the Stanford-Binet IQ test pads. She prepared me at home, at 4 years old, before the tests required for an early entry into kindergarten. She pushed me all my life.
When I was a new practicing doctor, I went to therapy to help me deal with my feelings and thoughts about my relationships with my then-boyfriend and with my mother. Even as an adult, I was expected to have “intimate” conversations with her. Not “intimate” like sexual details or anything, but the innermost thoughts, dreams and opinions. As I write this, it doesn’t sound bad, but it was positively stuffy. Each phone call lasted an hour or more. No superficial chatter about the weather; no, she needed DEEP. I think she was in heaven when my 7 year relationship with my residency idol ended. She didn’t like it and she didn’t want me to ruin the career I (she) had planned for me.
The therapy at that time was helpful. I got help trying to differentiate myself from mom and stand up for myself. When I told her about it, she said bad things about the therapist because she didn’t have a doctorate yet. Looking back now, I can see his narcissism and controlling nature well into my adult life. Because I’ve always admired her and wanted her praise, I didn’t back down.
When I was dating my current husband, she met him while he was on a business trip in his city. What a mistake. She took issue with everything he said and raked him in the coals about his relationships with his siblings. He returned home in shock. Nonetheless, we got married and my mom acted like the quintessential mother of the bride, being social with everyone and acting like a queen.
She came for the births of my two children but didn’t stay long and didn’t really help. She dubbed herself “Grand-Moma,” but she wasn’t the “Happy Grandma” type. As my life became mine, we spoke less and less. She never acknowledged that her grandchildren deserved anything from her. So they got nothing, not even on Christmas or birthdays. We continued to send her cards, but these were summarily dismissed as banal, superficial and inauthentic.
Fast forward several years. Another therapist, this time for my husband and I to work on parenting issues, and this included the children (now 10 and 12) before a planned family trip to Europe. Family vacations had always been nightmarish – arguing and sulking kids pushing each other and our buttons. It was not a vacation; they were trips to beautiful places, with all the frustrations but none of the comforts of home.
This is where I first discovered the Enneagram. I have 3 years. My husband is 6 years old. We also learned a bit about our children and how to align ourselves better in our relationships. Then, after the trip was over, my husband withdrew from the therapy sessions and I continued individual therapy. I learned a lot about myself and my mother’s influence on me.
When she passed away in 2018 and left nothing for me and my children, I made another comeback to therapy. All the feelings of anger, resentment, and grief over the figurative (and now literal) loss of my mother were bubbling and burning inside me. But there was also relief. The fight was over. The struggle to know when to call her, what to say, what to write, what would be received or rejected, like the gift she once returned. And then there was the guilt of relief. Oh man, did I need therapy.
Now that I have several more years and more wisdom, I can be grateful for the things I learned from her and be more objective. But I find myself thinking a lot about the past and its impact on who and what I have become. It was thanks to his encouragement and advice that I became a doctor. As much as I thought I was making my own decisions, I can see that she was shaping (manipulating?) my formative life. It was the time when I didn’t know any better.
So today, after 25 years of marriage, kids in their twenties, burnout, and a pandemic, I recognized a lot of anger, frustration, and constant irritability. On a whim, I decided to try online therapy. My first match was a male therapist, who probably matched me because I clicked “anger management” as one of my issues. At our allotted time, he texted that he had a worker at home and would be delayed. My obedient self hung on for 30 minutes. A sign? I went back to my profile and asked for an older therapist who worked on relationship issues and offered executive/professional coaching. I found a great one.
After our first session, I get a new insight into my marital relationship (not at all how we started), homework, and another date. How is it different from coaching? Not sure yet. I think, ultimately, I’ll want to talk more about my mom. I guess it’s more therapy than coaching. We know that things that have happened to us in the past shape our relationships, our parents, and our place in the world.
As for me, I am excited to start a new growth curve and see how it shapes my life, my relationships and my coaching. They say every coach should have a coach. Right now, that’s the kind of coaching I need.
Beverly Joyce, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and physician coach.
This post appeared on Kevin MD.