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This article has been reviewed for accuracy by John Cottrell, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Medical Disclaimer: The information and recommendations on our site do not constitute a medical consultation. See a certified medical professional for diagnosis.
The therapeutic relationship is instrumental to successful therapy. However, it’s not the easiest relationship to manage, and sometimes, you may find yourself pushing your therapist away or even disliking them altogether. Whether you’re doing it consciously or subconsciously, this doesn’t happen by chance.
You may push your therapist away due to fears of vulnerability, judgment, abandonment, and becoming overly dependent on them. It can also happen because you don’t like your therapist or because you don’t trust them.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the above potential explanations for why people push their therapist away to help you understand what applies to your case.
You’re Experiencing Fear of Vulnerability
Therapy can sometimes expose feelings that you previously weren’t capable of experiencing or processing due to your mental condition. More often than not, this happens deep into the therapeutic relationship when you and your therapist start working on some of the core issues.
It’s natural to want to put up your defenses when working through difficult issues. Part of your defense mechanism may be to push away anyone who disturbs whatever methods you use to cope with adversity.
The reasons you may feel vulnerable during therapy will depend on your condition. Take a client with trauma, for instance. Generally, individuals with this mental condition will either feel too much or too little. In some cases, the patient may not feel anything at all, be it pain or pleasure (AKA, going “numb”).
When a person who has “gone numb” starts to experience their full range of emotions as part of their recovery process, everything they’ve been keeping bottled up may come out.
Without their coping mechanism to lean on, they’ll have to face their feelings head-on and learn to process them healthily. The range of emotions experienced during this all-important step in the recovery process can be overwhelming and sometimes make the client feel too vulnerable.
For someone who’s not used to it, being vulnerable in therapy can be a scary experience. This fear can sometimes cause you to push the therapist away, hoping that they’ll eventually terminate your appointments and you won’t have to go through it in future sessions.
You’re Afraid of Abandonment
Another probable explanation for why you’re pushing your therapist away is the fear that they’ll not be there for you in the long run.
It’s likely the case if you’ve formed a close relationship with your therapist and have started to notice some progress in your mental condition. The rationale is that you’re feeling better and are afraid that you won’t be able to sustain it long-term if you lose the person you credit for getting you there.
Maybe you’ve realized that you’re getting close with your therapist and believe that the stronger the bond you two form, the harder it’ll be to move on when they leave. So, instead of waiting for what you believe is an inevitable abandonment, you push them away as a means to minimize the hurt.
Your specific mental condition can also cause fear of abandonment. Borderline personality disorder, for instance, causes hypersensitivity to potential abandonment and rejection, among other effects. People with this condition fear abandonment and rejection, partly because they never want to be alone.
If you have such a condition, you may push the people close to you away as a means to relieve your fear of abandonment. It’s not because you don’t love or treasure them or feel like they don’t care for you. It’s just that you’re scared that they’ll leave you, so you take care of it for them before they even get a chance to leave (and hurt) you.
You’re Afraid You’ll Become Overly Dependent on Your Therapist
Consciously or subconsciously, the belief that your therapist is entirely responsible for any progress you may be making in therapy can sometimes cause you to feel like the fate of your mental well-being rests firmly on their hands. You may even hate the fact that you need your therapist to navigate some aspects of life in the first place.
Knowing that someone has this kind of power over you can be terrifying. It can cause fears that you’re becoming overly dependent on this person and may end up suffering if they’re not there to rescue you when things get grim. When this fear sets in, you may start pushing your therapist away as a means to prevent yourself from becoming too reliant on them.
You Don’t Trust Your Therapist
While having a therapist who’s nice to you, supportive, and empathetic is essential for your progress, you can sometimes misinterpret these qualities if you have unresolved trust or intimacy issues. In your mind, it might seem like your therapist isn’t being genuinely friendly and supportive; there’s some hidden agenda to it.
Maybe you think they’re that way because it’s part of their job or because they’re after your money (i.e., they’re trying to win you over so you can keep coming back).
In extreme cases, you may even mistake your therapist’s genuine empathy, compassion, and supportiveness for sexual advances merely because you can’t understand why anyone would be this nice to you without any hidden motivation.
Whatever reasons may be behind your trust issues, it can make intimacy difficult in a therapeutic relationship because when you can’t bring yourself to put down your guards and trust your therapist, you’ll likely start pushing them away.
You’re Afraid Your Therapist Will Judge You
The fear of judgment adds to our sizable list of reasons why you may be pushing your therapist away.
When you open up about things that you’re not necessarily proud of, there’s always a sense that the person listening is judging you, whether they care to admit it or not. While therapists aren’t supposed to judge their clients, sometimes, you just can’t help but think that they do.
When you start suspecting that your therapist is judging you, your defenses will likely go up, and you may stop opening up to them (especially about difficult issues). While it may feel like putting up defenses against your therapist protects you from feeling judged, it also pushes them away, where they may not be able to help you sort out your issues.
You Don’t Like Your Therapist
Not everyone likes their therapist. Even those who do may experience moments in the psychotherapy process where their admiration for their therapist waxes and wanes.
This can be due to several factors such as the amount of stress you or your therapist are under, the difficulty/type of issues you’re tackling in a particular stage of therapy, or something entirely different.
While periodical changes in how you feel about your therapist are normal and part of the therapeutic process, they can sometimes cause you to pull away from your therapist, albeit temporarily.
Even though the occasional dislike for your therapist is perfectly fine, you should be concerned if it’s permanent. It’s crucial that you genuinely like your therapist and feel loved in return because therapy is a more complicated form of a close, caring, intimate relationship. It’s in our nature to only connect with people we feel positively about, and your therapist is no exception.
If you don’t feel like you’ll ever come to like your therapist, have an honest discussion with them about it. They’ll understand your feelings towards them and may even refer you to another professional who’s a better fit for your therapeutic needs.
If you’re getting treatment through teletherapy, chances are, the platform you’re using doesn’t have the best client-therapy matching process, and it may be time to look for another one that does. Betterhelp and Talkspace are reliable options in this regard.
That does it for today’s post. As we’ve seen throughout our discussion, there are several potential explanations for why you may be pushing your therapist away.
Regardless of why you’re doing it, understand that this tendency is a normal part of the therapeutic process, especially if it’s temporary. If you’re worried it may end up affecting your progress, talk to your therapist about it so you can jointly work out a way forward.
John Cottrell, Ph.D., is a yoga instructor and certified yoga therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. He has been teaching yoga since 2000. John is originally from Oakland, California, earning his Master of Science and Ph.D. from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, California. His clinical practice led him to child and adolescent psychotherapy, drug and alcohol treatment, psychological and neuropsychological testing, and group/couples therapy. John continues his devotion to sharing health and well-being through his business, mbody. He offers private and group yoga classes, yoga therapy, workshops, retreats, written yoga articles, and a men’s yoga clothing line.
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- Quora: How important is it for your therapist to like you for the treatment to be effective? I used to think it wasn’t important, but now I want to be in therapy with someone who does like me as a person.