Like all therapists, when I do my job well, people stop coming to see me. The clients ideally feel better than when they first walked in because of our work together. This work may consist of changing their relationship with themselves (i.e. not listening to the inner critic as much) seeing aspects of their lives from a different perspective, healing old wounds or life-changing insights (e.g. understanding that their grandmother didn’t abandon them, she was not allowed to come to see them following a nasty custody battle).
It’s amazing to watch people change and grow, “graduate” from the therapeutic bubble and go out and live life on life’s terms with a new skill set.
That said, recently, I had an experience that surprised me.
My client, Heidi, who had been doing some amazing introspective work in my Relationship Insight group, made some drastic changes in her life: she busted through her “shoulds” and realized that she wanted to live from her more authentic self.
Normally, this is like music to my ears! Watching someone stop saying yes when she meant no; then literally letting her hair down and embracing her power; and ultimately, living a little bit further out of her comfort zone.
What I didn’t anticipate was my sadness and even a sense of guilt when she told me that, as part of uncovering her true self, she was leaving her husband of fifteen years.
Why was I shocked? Grief stricken? Protesting? I am a divorce therapist and I see this happen every day.
The conclusion I came to was this: The goal this woman had when she originally came to see me had not revolved around her marriage (she wanted to increase her confidence at work) so I didn’t anticipate that a split was even in the cards for her. Perhaps she didn’t either.
Of course, when one part of the system changes, the entire system changes so it’s not unusual to see ripples of transformation across a client’s life when they are immersed in doing inner work. I’ve even heard of people avoid going to therapy because they know they will have to change!
Heidi’s relationship insights helped her to see that her husband didn’t want her to have her own voice or her own opinion. After attempting some marriage counseling and giving the marriage about another year’s worth of “chance to change,” Heidi realized that she no longer wanted to be married to a man who made her feel small, who only looked out for number one, and who had cheated on her a number of times. It was too much of a contrast to go to work feeling better and being more assertive only to come home and shrink again.
Given her multi-level transformations and his unwillingness to make any significant changes, there was only one clear path for her.
She has since filed the paperwork to dissolve the marriage and she gets visibly stronger every time I see her.
Of course, therapists don’t try to break up relationships but it can be a side effect of getting healthier. Perhaps we should have a disclaimer for clients:
WARNING: DOING SIGNIFICANT, MEANINGFUL AND DEEP INNER WORK MAY CAUSE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO BE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN.