"Sitting there looking at this crushed girl, I really started to hate this guy."by Anna Blundy / May 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
It was as though he was sitting in the consulting room with us, a golden figure of male beauty, intelligent sensitivity, sparkling wit and an endless capacity for good. This was established by my patient as a stark contrast to all her multitudinous failings. “I don’t deserve him,” she said, twisting a tissue in her bitten fingers, legs tucked meekly under her chair. She began (again) to detail her repulsiveness and stupidity.
She met this Adonis at university where he excelled at everything. Bafflingly, he liked her and they began a relationship that made her feel inadequate. “He’s just so good socially. Really funny and chatty,” she explained. “I know people look at us and wonder why he’s with me,” she added.
I was supposed to nod and understand that it must be very painful to be so ugly and crap while he is so perfect. Did I mention that he is multilingual and that his strong eco-credentials will, sooner rather than later, save the world? Sitting there looking at this crushed girl, I really started to hate this guy. “He says he can’t put up with my depression much longer. He says it’s embarrassing.” Our Adonis was constantly going to Norway for long stretches. “There was a girl who liked him, but nothing happened,” she said, eyes pleading.
Two years into our once weekly sessions, my patient looks very different. She meets my gaze, smiles, is dressed less like a five-year-old and more like a 30-year-old, and is struggling with her now husband. “He’s such a show off. He steamrolls conversations so nobody else can say anything,” she tells me, describing an excruciating evening at an Indian restaurant. She is exasperated by his bullying at home, always shouting about her incompetent recycling, her use of the central heating and her not switching lights off (when she is actually in the room). While her job in publishing is going well, he is currently out of work, the eco-start up thing that he was involved with didn’t start up.
I won’t go into detail about her psychotherapy journey, but she is a favourite in my supervision group because she is funny and insightful, desperate to get out of depression, initially to please her Adonis, but ultimately for herself. She’d chosen someone she felt was her superior in order to prove her lack of self-worth and was re-enacting a miserable childhood in which she was always ignored in favour of (and also by) a golden brother.
But now what? I’ve often heard anti-therapy types complain that therapists turn couples against each other, that if one party is in therapy the marriage is doomed. I suspect this is often true—an unhappy person is often unhappy specifically in their relationship. But this relationship was based purely on fantasy. My patient had ludicrously idealised an ordinary guy and he liked it (as it fed his narcissism). She was unable to know the real bloke, seeing only the glittering fantasy that revealed her own worthlessness. Once she’d recovered her reality-testing, withdrawn her colossal projections of perfection into him, and was more able to see the world as it is, the rose-coloured veil slipped away and she is left with a man as flawed as any other: as flawed as herself.
Since she didn’t choose him clear-sightedly, she didn’t choose him at all. She chose a fantasy. Though reality has allowed her to accept herself, she’s now going to have to accept or reject him, without the auriferous sheen.