Friday, May 29, 2009

Speaking of D-constructing D

Therapy is not for sissies. Well, I guess you could go to a therapist and complete ignore your problem or the "hard truths" that come with self-examination, but it would be a waste of money and I would hazard that it would border on malpractice on the part of your psychologist.

In any event, I go to therapy and talk for a bit and then listen to a man tell me about myself. He tells me things about myself I already know and am happy about, things I already know and I'm not happy about, things I ought to know but don't, and things I hadn't a clue of. And yes, sometimes it's hard when someone tells you what your friends won't. I realize that we all have bad behaviors, but when isn't it hard to listen to someone tell you yours? But, I listen carefully when Bill talks because I know he isn't interested in embarassing me or shaming me into behaving differently--he simply wants to give me the tools I need to get what I want out of life.

Today he did a lot of talking.

Psychologist Bill is pretty good. He doesn't let me control the session. We don't waste time. I'm comfortable opening up about my life (at least this situation, anyway). I am confident he will not take advantage of my weaknesses. I feel pretty good about the rapport. He seems to have crafted a program designed to capitalize on my strengths. I like to do things. He gives me things to do. I feel like an active participant in my therapy.

Last week, my assignment was to describe the problem I was having with my advisor, to articulate why it was a problem for me, and to establish end goals by which I would consider the problem resolved. What was missing from this assignment was the hard part...the actual "how to" of resolving it. The act of remembering these interactions and crafting a narrative about them had two effects. Foremost, it made me angry to think about the interactions again (I realize that I detest being the object of injustice--I just get incensed), but it also made me anxious to think about the problem and STILL have no idea how to get from Point A (the unprovoked attacks on my character) to Point B (making the attacks stop). The thinking about it, dwelling on it, and having it still be unresolved caused me to become anxious. When I feel anxious, I engage in repetitive behaviors to calm myself. In this case, I rewrote and recrafted the written assignment in an 8-hour marathon in which I didn't move from the couch. It lasted until 5 am when I finally emailed the assignment to Bill to render further revisions pointless. The fact that my repetitive behaviors have absolutely no direct bearing to the problem doesn't seem to matter. As Bill told me when I sought some relief for a particularly acute attack of the OCs in the past (that's obsessive-compulsives for you newbies), "if you could make yourself stop by telling yourself the behavior was pointless, you would have stopped already." It's not that I don't recognize the OC behavior, it's that I can't seem to stop engaging in it. And when it is really bad, I have to make deals with myself that I won't let it interfere with major life activities. I'll tell myself that I can spend 4 hours writing a 2-paragraph email, but I have to quit at 2 and go to class. And if I didn't make these deals, sleep, work, friends, and dogs would all have to wait until my anxiety was fully pacified. I guess it's better than kicking the dog. I'm really not doing much more harm than wasting my time.

Bill seems intent on making my get in touch with my feelings. Sometimes I think I've never been properly introduced to my feelings. Bill claims I start every sentence with "I think...." =] In any event, today we had a discussion about identifying feelings. Bill says that anxiety iand anger are responses to fear. So that me, being both angry and anxious, must be experiencing fear. I maintain that anger and anxiety are a response to frustration. There is quite a bit of distance between fear and frustration I think. Either that or Bill and I have quite different ideas about fear. I am not afraid to tackle this problem. I am not prevented from acting by fear of my advisor or the consequences. I am angry because I am frustrated that I have to tackle this problem at all. Because in reality, I'm not the problem. And I think I am anxious because this is a tricky problem and it demands skills that aren't very well practiced in me: patience, calmness, and political awareness.

In other words, I'm not crippled by a fear of the interaction. I am anxious because there is another person in this who can respond to my approach by crying, becoming angry, becoming belligerent, and possibly making my life more of a living hell. I am anxious because I find myself having to tell a person lacking in self-esteem that they are behaving like a major league butthead. It wasn't obvious to me, but seems obvious to others that my advisor is somewhat intimidated by me. I mean seriously, I didn't see it. But if that is true, how much worse is it going to be to have the person who intimidates you force you to deal with your bad behavior?


But I will address it. And I think after today and talking with Bill, I might just be able to handle it well. I have to remain calm. I have to remain calm no matter how off topic she goes, no matter how she tries to poo-poo it, no matter how much she yells or tries to deflect this back on me. The thing that I'm actually afraid of here is that she won't change and I'll have to tolerate this behavior until I finish. Or that our relationship will be strained because of it. Or that it will escalate because I dared to call her on it. Because any of those scenarios would truly make my remaining time here unpleasant.


  1. Bill might still be right about responses to fear. You're not afraid of the confrontation itself (in the process of getting to Point B), but you end your post with a laundry list of potential consequences of that confrontation, which you do fear.

  2. Exactly what I was thinking.

    Also, I think (heh, there's that clause) that you also might be afraid of what these various problems say about you. In our various conversations, while you maintain a pretty high level of self-assuredness, you occasionally ask how you got where you are, if you should've made the decisions you made, etc. etc. I mean, maybe this is pure projection, but I know that if I were in your shoes, I would have a slight nagging but unavoidable background worry that maybe she was right, and that I was doing something unprofessional myself to provoke her unprofessional attacks.

    But maybe that isn't the case for you. I do feel pretty sure, though, that you have some fear that the road you've taken is not the one you should've taken, and Dr. T'weed does all she can to confirm it. You worry that you won't finish, that you'll have a tough time finding a future place in academia, etc. etc. Maybe all these things don't rise to the level of "fear" -- or maybe they're not the primary sources of your frustration and anger -- but it seems to me that a recurring theme of your frustration & anger is the fear that you're in a situation you can't control or resolve, and that it might block you from achieving what you want. It's a valid fear, but it does also seem like something to be aware of and consciously address.

    I think. =]

  3. If I am doing something unprofessional toward her, I can't imagine what it is, because I have spent as little time with her as possible since she volunteered that I'd be a shitty high school teacher earlier in the year. If certain people didn't read my blogs, they would be blissfully unaware of the issues between us. So I'm not walking around complaining about her to every sympathetic ear. In fact, I've been a much better lab worker and researcher in exact time that she has begun picking on me. Honestly, all I've done is to come into the lab and work. I don't talk to her unless I actually need something, which isn't often.

    After the teaching slam, my initial thought was that must have been precipitated by discussions we've had about teaching experiences. I've told her stories about how kids try to pull the wool over my eyes and I don't budge. I thought she must think I'm too hard-nosed while I think there is something to be gained by forcing college students to adhere to the rules. I assumed that her comments meant she thought that teaching discipline wasn't going to go over well with high school students. Of course, she didn't allow that I might adjust my teaching approach with younger children--a fact I also found disturbing. BUT, while I think there is room for us both within the realm of acceptable and effective teaching techniques, apparently she doesn't share my liberal view on the subject.

    Funny thing is...just today I read over the evaluations I handed out to the kids in my lab this year. I created almost every lab exercise we did from scratch. I found videos to watch. I created activities for us to do. I did the research, preparation, presentation, instruction, homework assigning and grading. It was a lot of work but I had a blast doing it. Every one of the evaluations was positive about the content and a handful even mentioned how excited I seemed about the material and how refreshing that was. I don't think her comments about my teaching have merit. Kid after kid explained how much more they learned in this lab than in than "normal labs". Several mentioned about how they found the information we went over creeping into their conversations with their peers. I mean, that is EXACTLY the kind of impact you want to have on kids. I think she and I disagree on teaching, but disagreeing with her means you aren't any good at your job. These kids TOLD me that I was good at my job. I am much more apt to listen to the kids who took my course than the advisor who has never seen me teach.

    This business about me not being able to keep my hands off a black co-worker is false witness, plain and simple. She has absolutely NO basis for this charge. None whatsoever. None. And it is because her accusation is so potentially devestating to my career that I have decided this is the issue I am going to talk to her about. How would you feel if your advisor had told you that he couldn't hire a woman because you'd be unable to leave them alone? I swear, every time I think of that, I almost start to cry. That is so patently unfair.

    I have never behaved improperly with any of my peers, supervisors, or students. I have never behaved improperly with any person regardless of race. If I had done something wrong--something so serious as to warrant such a remarkably damaging accusation--if I was in fact the sexual predator that she makes me out to be--I'm pretty sure that I'd have been hauled into someone's office for a formal administrative hearing. I mean this ia pretty serious accusation and she is just pulling this out of her ass. Why is anyone's guess.

    I think if I had done something to piss her off that badly, I'd have heard about it. I am perfectly secure in my professionalism. I've been in the work world for 30 years now and I damn well know how to act like a professional. So no, I do not doubt my professionalism.

  4. Point made. =] You don't seem to doubt your professionalism.

    Nothing you said covered the doubts over decisions/situations you can't control making your career tough for you -- DESPITE your extreme professionalism.

    You may indeed be completely right that fear is not the ultimate source. When I had my diversity training at P&G, one of the key components we learned was looking at 2 kinds of negative feelings: what you feel most commonly, and what you most commonly slide into to avoid that negative feeling, because you think it's more socially acceptable, or a lesser weakness, or whatever. For example, my prime negative feeling is sadness, but I move it into anger to cover it often.

    Anyway. I'm not your therapist, and your therapist isn't you, so I'm confident that you'll address what ya need to and not what you don't, and it's not for me to determine which is what.

  5. Anger is more socially acceptable than sadness? Anyway, I have no idea what my primary or secondary negative emotion is.

    As I said, me and emotions haven't really been properly introduced.