That Time I Was Going to Lie to My Therapist and Then Fortunately Didn't
“OK, so, I was totally going to lie to you because I was afraid you’d get mad, but I’m not. I’m going to tell you the truth.”
Months ago, that was what I said when I walked into my therapist’s office.
You might think of all people to be honest with, you’d be straight up with your mental health professional, the one giving you psychiatric medication.
But you know, my previous therapist, the one I chose because he took my insurance, he made me feel bad. I’d go in and talk to him, and I’d immediately feel like I wasn’t doing the right thing. I was doing something wrong or I wouldn’t be depressed.
He didn’t make me feel like we could figure it out together. No. He made me feel like a loser.
I needed help feeling like less of a loser. Or a not-loser. I didn’t want to pay someone to feel like more of one.
Here’s the thing. I am a firstborn rule follower. I am a people pleaser.
I don’t want to upset. I don’t want to disappoint. I am terrified of getting in trouble.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I was raised to respect and even fear authority. Certainly not to question it. I didn’t know that was an option.
As an adult, I was once visiting my parents, and my dad called from another room, “Lisa, could you come in here please?”
I flinched. “Am I in trouble?”
He said, “What? No. Lisa. You’re 25.”
Sometimes my husband Nick has a tone. I think, “I’m in trouble.” My body goes into fight-or-flight mode.
I’m not kidding. I don’t think it ever completely goes away.
When I was a kid, I was so truthful. If I did something wrong and was asked about it, I owned it, even if it meant getting a punishment. Often I confessed before being asked. I was grounded a lot.
I don’t remember my transgressions. I do remember the fear.
As I got older, things got more nuanced. I knew my dad wasn’t always right. His rules didn’t necessarily make sense. But he expected me to do as he said. He expected me to agree.
I never challenged my teachers or the school administrators. If you were in a position of authority, your word was law.
Then one day in 11th grade my dear friend Kristin said, “I just agree with people and then do whatever I want.”
You know what? This worked.
Disagreeing never worked. Fighting didn’t work. Sometimes very carefully and thoughtfully articulated opposing arguments worked. I did this, in letter form, I think twice.
But this! This subversive strategy was so much more expedient. And less stressful!
Sometimes me actually doing whatever my dad was expecting didn’t even seem to matter. The agreement, the “Yes, Dad,” was what mattered.
You could agree with something you thought didn’t make sense, and then quietly go about your business.
If you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, despite your best intentions… you could just kind of… not exactly tell the truth to the person in charge. And then you wouldn’t have a disagreement and you wouldn’t get in trouble.
Unless you were caught. But that didn’t happen much.
So. My therapist’s office.
A couple months prior, I’d gone off my meds and had bad results.
And then I had this long-standing therapist appointment. To check in and talk about my medication. The medication I’d quit so cavalierly, without so much as an email to him.
My plan, of course, was to walk in and pretend that everything was fine. That I hadn’t deviated from the course he set out for me. Because that would be not following the rules. And he might get angry. Or be disappointed.
I might get in trouble.
The day before my appointment, I saw a good friend, who asked about my upcoming appointment. I told her I was just going to say everything was fine.
And she basically said, “Look. This is someone you pay to help you. This is his profession, so he knows what he’s talking about. And his only role in your life is to help you feel better. He’s not going to get mad, and he’s not going to judge.”
“You’re right. I know you are.”
“So let him help you.”
I knew she was right. I did. But still, I was so nervous. I hadn’t followed instructions. I’d broken the rules. I had to keep telling myself, “He’s not your dad. He’s not going to get mad. You’re paying him to help you.”
And I walked in, took a deep breath, and confessed.
It came out in a rush.
“OK, so, I was totally going to lie to you, because I was afraid you’d get mad, but I’m not. I’m going to tell you the truth…”
I went on for a while. I told him everything.
That I was afraid he’d get mad. That I’d be in trouble. That I’d gone off my meds. That I had to be reminded he wasn’t my dad and wouldn’t get mad at me. That I recognized that I’d hired him specifically to help me with the very types of medication I’d been planning to lie about.
You know what he did? He chuckled at my confession. He said he understood how I’d quit and not checked in with him. He didn’t chastise me.
He commended me for being truthful. For recognizing his role is to find solutions, not to judge.
And then we talked it all through. And made a new plan.
He did exactly what I pay him for.
He helped me. And he made me feel better.
I’d love to pretend that with that, I learned my lesson. That I have gotten rid of this automatic response. That I do not react when Nick has a tone. That I do not keep my doctors on a need-to-know basis, with me deciding what they need to know.
But that would be a lie.
The truth is, I’m working on it.
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