Today I saw a client who exemplifies why I became a therapist. His life is filled with traumatic stories involving drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and abandonment, yet he is amazingly well-adjusted–on the outside, at least. He’s never had a chance to tell his story. In fact, he’s been coming to the counseling center for almost 2 years, but there’s very little in his chart about his family history.
Not all my motives are altruistic, however. It’s gratifying to give someone what you wish you had received. It feels good to be important to someone. And in all honesty, when you work with clients like him, you are changed just as much in the process. I know it’s cliche to say that I get more out of it than they do, but it’s true.
Not coincidentally, he bears an eerie similarity to my first husband. It’s unfortunate that the compassion that helps me to be an effective therapist has not served me well in my romantic relationships.
I understand why. With my client, I can be there for him, but he doesn’t have to be there for me. Nor should he be. In a romantic relationship, it needs to be closer to 50/50. But when you are in a relationship with someone who has been traumatized, their needs always seem to trump yours.
Some people see the red flags right away and steer clear of these kinds of relationships. But to me, they look like those orange flags that the ground crew at airports wave to direct you to the gate. They are more like a signal to move in closer than a warning sign of imminent danger.
I haven’t yet figured out what to do with my empathy in red flag relationships. How do I ignore someone’s cries for help when every part of me tells me to go to them, comfort them, and help them feel better? Their pain is my pain, and I don’t want to be in pain.
One of the advantages of being alone is that there is finally room for me to register my own feelings. It turns out that I’m not as needy as I thought I was. But I wish I had someone who can do for me what I do for other people. Today, I wish I had someone to come home to so that I could tell him about my day. Blogging about it helps, but it’s not the same.
I am still hopeful that I can find a relationship where someone can be there for me. But for now, I’ll try to limit my rescue efforts to my clients, my family, my friends, and myself.