Feeling Invalidated By My Therapist

Shae-Ra

New Here
When I first started seeing my current therapist I really liked her. I felt comfortable with and validated by her which in turn makes me feel safer to hear corrections and advice. (For some background, I was heavily gaslighted in my worst abusive relationship. On top of which, I have a history of a huge lack of boundaries in my relationships of which I was not aware until I was 34, I think.) However, we had a session where I was very triggered and really opened up about something that's been very hard for me and had to do with my trying to communicate with someone about how I felt like they'd been blaming me for things lately which weren't my fault. They had then responded by shaming me and the more hurt and quiet I became the more they seemed to enjoy it and feel more confident in themselves. (I understand why this is. I'm not judging her for it though I don't excuse it either.) I was trying to explain that I need help setting boundaries and not letting other people cross them because that is so difficult for me at times it seems insurmountable.

She responded by talking to me about working on my communication to be sure I am communicating clearly. She then launched into an explanation of D.E.A.R. M.A.N. and told me to write down everything she was saying. I kept trying to interject but she didn't let me and when I did get a sentence in because she was waiting for me to write something down she wouldn't respond to me. Once it was written down she talked for a while more (we do video sessions, too so she could see me and I know I was visibly dejected and crying). After about 15 minutes of her talking and me feeling more and more like I was going to yell or cry or both, I did interrupt her. I told her that I felt like she was telling me it was my fault that it happened. That if I'd just communicated differently then not only this situation wouldn't have happened but also that my boundaries wouldn't be crossed by people in my life and everything would just be better. She'd been talking about how when we don't communicate properly we can't expect people to be mind-readers and they might reasonably get upset.

I know I have a lot of issues but communication is something I have excelled at for a very long time. It's the thing I'm complimented on the most across the board in my relationships. I'm clear, direct, and thorough. I use "I feel" and "I think" language when it's called for. In fact, I've had it used against me before ("Did you hear yourself when you said, 'I feel'? Your feelings aren't facts." I tried to enjoy the irony of that statement.) I'll come up with multiple ways to explain something until it makes sense to the other person if they don't understand but they actually want to. Regardless, even if I had an issue with communication, I'm still not sure why there was no validation for the pain (invalidation is a HUGE part of my trauma) and the mistreatment and why there was no discussion ever about how I could handle it when things like that happen. When I expressed this to her, I was crying and I did emote but I made sure to keep my voice soft and gentle.

Anyway, she responded simply by letting me know that what she was going to say was that only after I make sure that my communication is solid can I make sure that people respond to me in the best ways and then determine how to move forward with boundaries. I apologized and she ignored that, too. She just went on to start talking about communication and boundaries but I can't remember much of the rest of that session.

Because she had me write it down, I had to move rooms and didn't close my door all the way. Well, my 15-year-old son heard the event in question and said it seemed like that to him, too which partially helped me feel like I wasn't just crazy. Of course, at the same time, I've been told that if they know and love you they're just going to agree with you so it didn't help much.

At any rate, ever since then I've been torn between feeling like that session was not healthy for me but then remembering that I'm "crazy" and the therapist is the "healthy person who knows things". Then I get upset at those thoughts because I know they come from a lot of unhealthy sources, too. I hear of people really letting their feelings go in therapy but I don't feel remotely safe to do that.

I have dreaded therapy ever since. Months into therapy is when we finally started talking about EMDR and not just ways that I can think, act, and feel better about problems in my life. I realized that our sessions had turned into, "How was your week?", "What's new?", etc. We'd spend at least half an hour on that every week and sometimes that took up the whole hour. This was all after I'd already brought up EMDR again even though I'd brought it up in our first session. I also told her in the first session that I need actionable things to do: worksheets, journal prompts, challenges, etc. She has focused on having me hold ice when I have a panic attack or when I'm triggered and that should immediately ground me and that I should build a blanket fort because my inner child wants to play. I finally got some worksheets from her after pushing and they had to be mailed and we talked about how I could really use some emotional processing work. She sent me 7 sheets of which 2 of them are for D.E.A.R. M.A.N. (She never seems to remember what we've talked about or the fact that she had me write it all down.)

She's never told me she thinks I don't communicate well. She's praised me for my communication with my kids and with her. Yet it seems like she's passively-aggressively telling me to work on my communication. It's actually very triggering for me because ever since she's been quite defensive for other people. I try to open up about traumatic or hurtful experiences and her first response almost every time now is to defend them with things like, "Maybe they meant _________ in a good way." or "Maybe they didn't mean _____________ (what they said), maybe the really meant ____________." She's told me she knows a couple of people love me because they've rented their house to me which I know is not her place to be telling me.

Anyway, just a couple of sessions ago, I finally opened up about the worst abusive relationship I was in. While I was still crying she told me she wanted us to use the next session to talk about the green flags in that relationship. I told her I didn't know what those were and she just kept saying that when we got off the video call she wanted me to write down the green flags in that relationship so we could talk about them next time. When we got off the call, I looked them up and now understand that directly after me opening up about the trauma in that relationship she wants me to talk about the good things in that relationship. I just don't feel like that was at all an appropriate time to bring that up and I don't feel like I'm ready to talk about that. Is that standard or helpful?

I'm really struggling to not feel judged and a bit controlled. We don't seem to talk about the things I'm asking for help with which were issues brought up with previous therapists. I think boundaries are probably the most important thing for me and I have tried multiple times to bring that up and ask for help with that. At this point, I just feel like she's subtly hinting to me that I may not have earned my right yet to have boundaries because I don't have the right skills or something. It seems very unfair to me that we spend our time talking about me working on my communication skills and then she tries to justify or interpret what others have said or done.

I've actually really struggled with a lot of therapy. I was in group therapy years ago where we were told things like: "Maybe they meant lazy in a good way" and that comparing yourself to others can really make you feel good. I don't believe in that, though and I know a lot of the psychological field would balk at those things. When we talked about our experiences where people mistreated us we were led to try to explain away their behavior. I'm already aces at that! That's why I've been in so many abusive relationships and why I remained in them. I can blame myself with almost no effort. I don't even demonize my abusers. I never have and I never will. They were pained people and I wish I could hug their damage away but I can't. When the therapist tried to talk us into taking a friend calling us lazy as a good thing I was the only one to pipe up and offer the perspective that maybe they were just projecting and/or having a bad day and as a friend we could let them know that wasn't okay but that if they need to talk about something we're there for them. She reluctantly relented that maybe that could be why but she preferred to look at it as a positive experience. Then she went and checked the handbook out of which she got the exercise and said the handbook did say they meant it negatively.

I just don't feel like many therapists have been helpful to me and I wish I could go back to the ones who were (one does short-term therapy and the other was booked up). Or I wish I could just do worksheets and journaling, give that to a therapist, and have them email me therapy sessions. LOL

So, my questions are:

1. Do you think I'm just being defensive/triggered or do you think there is a problem here?
2. How do you try to ameliorate the therapy messages of "It's not your fault" and the repetitive urging to not take anything other people do as a negative thing?
3. Do you ever get scared that you're just a narcissist who can't take criticism? Or any of the other things abusers often tell us? I feel like that fear has defined my life since I was a child and that's why I am the way I am. I'm so afraid of being a narcissist that I don't feel safe having my own opinions and I gaslight myself constantly.
4. Do you have any other suggestions for me because I am desperate to figure out how to emotionally process my trauma. I've had several therapists tell me that I have excellent intellectual processing skills but I haven't processed things emotionally and that's why I'm stuck. That's why it's so hard with therapists like the one I have because she just keeps focusing on the intellectual processing which is triggering after a while because it feels like gaslighting. I already fact check. I have since I was a child and even then I was better than most adults. I've never thought of my feelings as facts and though I may not be perfect at it I don't think anyone ever can be. We're all only human. Not just those of us who seem to be collecting diagnoses (c-PTSD, GAD, SAD, MDD, ADHD, and probable ASD (I would be low on the spectrum but nobody within 100 miles of where I live does adult testing who takes my insurance anymore so I can't finish testing).

I know this has been a LOT. I will try to post more often so I don't do this anymore. I'm severely distressed at this point, though and I have no idea where else to turn. Sorry it's been very rambly. I don't have much time right now and I'm quite triggered. So, please feel free to ask questions if you have them. If you read and respond to this, you have generosity and patience! Thank you in advance!
 

Eagle3

MyPTSD Pro
Issues like this are why I run like hell from mainstream therapists and found an attachment/trauma specialist with an Eastern philosophical background. I'm ASD as well, I can intellectually process things all day long, but I can't EMOTIONALLY express/process anything. I needed to find a therapist who could help with that. I had to look very far outside the box for one who fit my needs. I've discovered that the insistence on CBT/DBT skills is great for neurotypicals, but those of us who can't process/connect on an emotional level need something more attachment-based and less analytical.

That's a big part of what I'm seeing here. This therapist does not fit your needs at this time. I would be triggered as F if my therapist responded that way, and probably never go back after discussing it and seeing no change. That's unprofessional at best, and re-traumatizing for sure, which is something no therapist should ever do. Personally I wouldn't be able to consider EMDR with a therapist like that!

I'm sorry this T is so invalidating. Hope you can either get it worked out if you want to keep her, or find a better fit.
 

grit

MyPTSD Pro
I do not have solution for you but I can relate to your post. From my experience, finding the right therapist is up there similar to finding the right partner for different purpose. All the best finding a person who can get you enough to help you out.
 

Sues

Confident
There is definitely a problem here. This "therapist" doesn't listen to you. That alone is horrible, but add in the ridiculous fact that they defended your abuser or people who have traumatized you? That is absolutely unacceptable in any situation. You are feeling the red flags and second guessing yourself. You even mentioned it feels like you are being gaslighted. It sounds like it to me. At the very least this therapist is re-traumatizing you, but it sounds like there is so much more negative stuff there. I've had a bad therapist in the past, and I had to work through the stuff they said and did to me because it was very traumatizing. Please take care of yourself. I know we shouldn't have to look out for ourselves in the therapy room. We should be safe, but sometimes we are not safe.
 

Justmehere

Moderator
It is super weird to have the first and primary response to an abusive relationship to be to look at green flags. I can see why you feel invalidated. I have run into a couple of invalidating therapy experiences and it's painful. It's a jarring kind of wtf heaspin. It's really hard to describe - but I've found myself writing things like others heard it and said it was an issue so I know it's not my being crazy... because it feels kinda crazy making. Sometimes it can take a bit of trial and error to find the right therapist and therapy that clicks.


I think boundaries are probably the most important thing for me and I have tried multiple times to bring that up and ask for help with that. At this point, I just feel like she's subtly hinting to m

She then launched into an explanation of D.E.A.R. M.A.N. and told me to write down everything she was saying.
DEAR MAN is a tool to use for setting boundaries. While you and her didn't connect on an emotional attunement level, and that's a big issue, she might have heard something you were saying about needing help with boundaries and was trying to address it. It also seems reasonable that if a client is crying when trying to take in new info, it also might be emailed as a worksheet. Or just emailed if not crying at all... After addressing the crying and pain and working through it. Providing safe validating presence in the pain can be so helpful.
1. Do you think I'm just being defensive/triggered or do you think there is a problem here?
I don't think it's that simple. You have PTSD. Being triggered in therapy is a common part of the process. Working through that effectively is a key part of therapy. It's likely you have legit concerns AND you are triggered. Both. And that's ok.

2. How do you try to ameliorate the therapy messages of "It's not your fault" and the repetitive urging to not take anything other people do as a negative thing?
Can you give an example of the type of thing she would not say to take negatively?

This is a situation where both are possible. Example, I ran into a situation today that triggered me badly. It was a situation that brought to surface trauma where bad things did happen, it wasn't my fault, and I also legit have a hard time not seeing the worst possible interpretation of some fo the behavior of those involved and others in my life today. It's not an either/or, but a bothand.

3. Do you ever get scared that you're just a narcissist who can't take criticism? Or any of the other things abusers often tell us?

This doesn't strike me as the situation that you just can't take criticism.

It also makes sense that yeah, I think a lot of people worry or even believe their abusers were right.

Bur abusers are abusers so they have shit for opinions in my book
4. Do you have any other suggestions for me because I am desperate to figure out how to emotionally process my trauma.

A fair number of people, myself so included, get caught up in talking about the week and putting off trauma processing work. Therapists follow the clients lead or delay for their own reasons.

Finding a way to put a hold on therapy about current life stuff or just talking through things (which might take increasing stability if that's an issue) so that you can engage in sessions just focused on trauma work like EMDR, at the get go, might be a good way to get at some of these issues in a different way. I have found myself that plain old just talking about trauma randomly therapy in the context of the course of my week usually just makes things worse.

That being all said, invalidating therapy where the therapist just didn't click emotionally with the pain (had on therapy laugh at me about my tears when I cried) has really torn me apart.
 

HealingMama

MyPTSD Pro
So I think what can sometimes happen with a CBT oriented therapist, is that they try to help a client see where their interpretation of an event impacts their emotions about it. And it can definitely come across as invalidation. So if I'm interpreting things as negative, as abusive, or as something victimizing me, the T might try to get me to see alternative interpretations to understand how I have the power to shift my experience and reactions based on that.

I do think it's weird they said think about the green flags of an abusive relationship. Only thing that makes sense to me is maybe if you did not describe it as abusive every time you talked about it I can also see how they might be thinking "this client feels victimized by situations that could be interpreted differently and could feel more empowered to set boundaries if they don't see themselves as a victim, could be less distressed if they don't automatically interpret things in this way, and then their narrative for their life will become more empowering over time and they will feel less negatively impacted by other people because they will have the cognitive flexibility to see how their interpretations can help or hurt them" and were guiding you to see more of the gray areas.

If that doesn't feel helpful then it is ok to tell them that.

I think a possible solution to this is to be clear that you don't want to be helped to interpret things differently. You want someone to validate your experience. You want to feel heard that what happened to you was wrong, and you don't want to be taught to see it differently.
 
C

Crowbar1001

First off, you are so sweet. You seem normal to me. Not crazy. I have gaslighting triggers, blame triggers, when you have been through things, fear of these things are normal. Yes, you want to be objective. Healing requires critical observation, that can be hard. But in your post, in sounds like you are doing that yourself. If you aren't being validated by the therapist, find you a new one. Take your time, but don't give up. You seem like you want to heal. You can. Love yourself by giving yourself the caretaker in this you deserve. You deserve to heal. Therapists are just people, unfortunatly. You have to find the one who knows what you need. Maybe that means, you learn a little from one for a while, then a little from another. That's what I had to do. Still doing. But plz don't stay somewhere where you aren't feeling better. Don't gaslight yourself. If this is hurting you, it is.
 

Rumors

MyPTSD Pro
I was trying to explain that I need help setting boundaries and not letting other people cross them because that is so difficult for me at times it seems insurmountable.
You asked her for help in setting boundaries.

She responded by talking to me about working on my communication to be sure I am communicating clearly.
She didn't say you suck at communicating, she responded by giving you tools to use to help, DEAR MAN being one of them. That acronym is too long to remember the specifics of each so she had you take notes.

1. Do you think I'm just being defensive/triggered or do you think there is a problem here?
2. How do you try to ameliorate the therapy messages of "It's not your fault" and the repetitive urging to not take anything other people do as a negative thing?
3. Do you ever get scared that you're just a narcissist who can't take criticism? Or any of the other things abusers often tell us? I feel like that fear has defined my life since I was a child and that's why I am the way I am. I'm so afraid of being a narcissist that I don't feel safe having my own opinions and I gaslight myself constantly.
4. Do you have any other suggestions for me because I am desperate to figure out how to emotionally process my trauma. I've had several therapists tell me that I have excellent intellectual processing skills but I haven't processed things emotionally and that's why I'm stuck. That's why it's so hard with therapists like the one I have because she just keeps focusing on the intellectual processing which is triggering after a while because it feels like gaslighting. I already fact check. I have since I was a child and even then I was better than most adults. I've never thought of my feelings as facts and though I may not be perfect at it I don't think anyone ever can be. We're all only human. Not just those of us who seem to be collecting diagnoses (c-PTSD, GAD, SAD, MDD, ADHD, and probable ASD (I would be low on the spectrum but nobody within 100 miles of where I live does adult testing who takes my insurance anymore so I can't finish testing).
1. Yes I think you are being triggered. You asked her for help, she gave you tools, you didn't like her answer. It's part of PTSD to make it emotional/reactive instead of logical and rational.
2. This is the difference between rational and irrational thinking/ Adult and child thinking. This is part of the healing process to work on the rational thinking and being able to learn how to limit the reactive thinking. It is a process.
3. I am not even going to give this a whole lot of commentary but "no" to all questions. You should really spend some time talking to your therapist about this.
4. I don't necessarily have a suggestion. It feels very much like you have asked for her help in setting boundaries and she gave you a tool but you didn't like how the tool was handed to you. Perhaps this therapist isn't a fit? Maybe you are coming from a younger more emotional place than she understands? Perhaps you need to do some parts work in coordination with the CBT to understand the younger parts that continue to get triggered when you ask a question but don't feel like the answer fits your need? It is all normal by the way. This is a struggle many many many of us deal with daily. For me, I am pretty good with separating the rational and emotional. If I am getting emotional I just say, "this is triggering a more emotional response than I am used to..." Also, I decided a very long time ago that the use of a therapist is really for tools. Although I am incredibly fond of my therapist as a human, I don't take her sole opinion as the only opinion. She has a skillset that if I can find useful in navigating the crap I go through, I use it, if not, I discard it. I even tell her that. We aren't best friends, she isn't my mother, I am not hers to raise. She is good to me in ways no one has ever been, but she is human and can make mistakes. Also, in her humanness I can see her weaknesses as well...things she says or gets hung up on that prove she has her own "-ism's" that likely define her personal life somewhat. Part of PTSD is the black and white thinking with no ability to see that things don't have to be absolute. After 10 years of therapy I have realized that life is absolutely NOT absolute.... there are areas that aren't concrete and are more like sand but I love the beach so I am willing to walk through some sand.
Please know my message is NOT intended to be shitty. It is just a different perspective and maybe one that has been where you have been but had enough time and therapy to work through those same thoughts and issues. I wish you luck and send loads of love and wishes for peace. This endeavor doesn't have to be a life sentence... I finally became sick of the prison to which I found myself and decided I wouldn't spend another day living like that. I have been able to do a lot that has benefited my global wellbeing. I hope you can find that too... Hang in there!
 
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