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On the other hand, this—right here, right now, between you and me— isn’t therapy, but a story about therapy: how we heal and where it leads us. Like in those National Geographic Channel shows that capture the embryonic development and birth of rare crocodiles, I want to capture the process in which humans, struggling to evolve.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Book by Lori Gottlieb
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Push against their shells until they quietly (but sometimes loudly) and slowly (but sometimes suddenly) crack open. So while the image of me with mascara running down my tear-streaked face between sessions may be uncomfortable to contemplate, that’s where this story about the handful of struggling humans you are about to meet begins—with my own humanity.
Therapists, of course, deal with the daily challenges of living just like everyone else. This familiarity, in fact, is at the root of the connection we forge with strangers who trust us with their most delicate stories and secrets. Our training has taught us theories and tools and techniques, but whirring beneath our hard-earned expertise is the fact that we know just how hard it is to be a person.
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Which is to say, we still come to work each day as ourselves—with our own sets of vulnerabilities, our own longings and insecurities, and our own histories. Of all my credentials as a therapist, my most significant is that I’m a card-carrying member of the human race. But revealing this humanity is another matter.
One colleague told me that when her doctor called with the news that her pregnancy wasn’t viable, she was standing in a Starbucks, and she burst into tears. A patient happened to see her, canceled her next appointment, and never came back. I remember hearing the writer Andrew Solomon tell a story about a married couple he’d met at a conference.
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During the course of the day, he said, each spouse had confessed independently to him to taking antidepressants but didn’t want the other to know. It turned out that they were hiding the same medication in the same house. No matter how open we as a society are about formerly private matters, the stigma around our emotional struggles remains formidable.
We’ll talk with almost anyone about our physical health (can anyone imagine spouses hiding their reflux medication from each other?), even our sex lives, but bring up anxiety or depression or an intractable sense of grief, and the expression on the face looking back at you will probably read, Get me out of this conversation, pronto.
He’ll also leave love notes on your desk, hold your hand and open doors, and never complain about being dragged to family events because he genuinely enjoys hanging out with your relatives, even the nosy or elderly ones. For no reason at all, he’ll send you Amazon packages full of books (books being the equivalent of flowers to you. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Book
And at night you’ll both curl up and read passages from them aloud to each other, pausing only to make out. While you’re binge-watching Netflix, he’ll rub that spot on your back where you have mild scoliosis, and when he stops, and you nudge him, he’ll continue rubbing for exactly sixty more delicious seconds before he tries to weasel out without your noticing (you’ll pretend not to notice.
He’ll let you finish his sandwiches and sentences and sunscreen and listen so attentively to the details of your day that, like your personal biographer, he’ll remember more about your life than you will. If this portrait sounds skewed, it is. There are many ways to tell a story, and if I’ve learned anything as a therapist, it’s that most people are what therapists call “unreliable narrators.”
That’s not to say that they purposely mislead. It’s more that every story has multiple threads, and they tend to leave out the strands that don’t jibe with their perspectives. Most of what patients tell me is absolutely true—from their current points of view. Ask about somebody’s spouse while they’re both still in love, then ask about that same spouse post-divorce, and each time, you’ll get only half the story. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Book
What you just heard about Boyfriend? That was the good half. And now for the bad: It’s ten o’clock on a weeknight. We’re in bed, talking, and we’ve just decided which movie tickets to preorder for the weekend when Boyfriend goes strangely silent. “You tired?” I ask. We’re both working single parents in our mid-forties, so ordinarily an exhausted silence would mean nothing.
Even when we aren’t exhausted, sitting in silence together feels peaceful, relaxing. But if silence can be heard, tonight’s silence sounds different. If you’ve ever been in love, you know the kind of silence I’m talking about: silence on a frequency only your significant other can perceive. “No,” he says. It’s one syllable but his voice shakes subtly, followed by more unsettling silence. I look over at him. He looks back.
An interesting paradox of the therapy process: In order to do their job, therapists try to see patients as they really are, which means noticing their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles. Patients, of course, want to be helped, but they also want to be liked and admired. In other words, they want to hide their vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns and struggles. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Book
That’s not to say that therapists don’t look for a patient’s strengths and try to build on those. We do. But while we aim to discover what’s not working, patients try to keep the illusion going to avoid shame— to seem more together than they really are. Both parties have the well-being of the patient in mind but often work at cross-purposes in the service of a mutual goal.
As calmly as possible, I begin to tell Wendell the Boyfriend story, but almost immediately, my dignity’s gone and I’m sobbing. I go through the entire story play-by-play and by the time I’m done, my hands are covering my face, my body is shaking, and I think about what Jen said on the phone when she called to check on me yesterday: “You need to find a place where you’re not being a therapist.”
I’m definitely not being a therapist right now. I’m making the case for why Boyfriend must be blamed for all of this: If he hadn’t been so avoidant ( Jen’s diagnosis), I wouldn’t have been so blindsided. And, I add, he must be a sociopath (again quoting Jen; this is exactly the reason therapists can’t see their friends for therapy), because I had no idea that he felt this way— he was such a good actor! Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Book
And even if he’s not a certifiable sociopath, he’s clearly missing a few marbles, because who keeps something this big to himself for God knows how long? After all, I know what normal communication looks like, especially because I see so many couples in my practice, and besides . . . I look up and I think I see Wendell suppress a smile (I imagine his thought bubble.
This wacko’s a therapist . . . who treats couples?) but it’s hard to tell because I can’t see very well. It’s like looking through the windshield of a car without its wipers on during a rainstorm. “Not knowing is a good place to start,” he says, and this feels like a revelation. I spend so much time trying to figure things out, chasing the answer, but it’s okay to not know.
We’re both quiet for a while, then I get up and move farther away, about midway between positions A and B. I can breathe again. I think of a Flannery O’Connor quote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” What am I protecting myself from? What do I not want Wendell to see? Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Download
All along, I’d been telling Wendell that I didn’t wish ill upon Boyfriend —like having his next girlfriend blindside him—I just wanted our relationship back. I said with a straight face that I didn’t want revenge, that I didn’t hate Boyfriend, that I wasn’t angry, just confused. Wendell listened but said he wasn’t buying it.
Obviously, I did want revenge, I did hate Boyfriend, I was furious. “Your feelings don’t have to mesh with what you think they should be,” he explained. “They’ll be there regardless, so you might as well welcome them because they hold important clues.” How many times had I said something similar to my own patients? But here I feel as if I’m hearing this for the first time.
Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth. My friends, my family—like me, they’ve had trouble considering the possibility that Boyfriend is a decent guy who was confused and conflicted. Instead, he was either selfish or a liar. They’ve also never considered that, even though Boyfriend told himself that he couldn’t live with a kid, maybe he also couldn’t live with me. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Download
Maybe, in ways he didn’t realize, I reminded him too much of his parents or ex-wife or the woman he once mentioned who had hurt him deeply in graduate school. “I made a decision never to go through anything like that again,” he had said early in our relationship. I’d asked him to explain more, but he didn’t want to talk about it, and I, colluding with his avoidance, didn’t push it.
Wendell, though, has been asking me to look at the ways we avoided each other by hiding behind romance and banter and plans for our future. And now I’m in pain and creating my own suffering—and my therapist is literally trying to kick some sense into me. He switches his crossed legs from right over left to left over right, something therapists do when their legs start to fall asleep.
His striped socks match his striped cardigan today, as if they came as a set. Dara would look at her husband, Julie said, and think, He’s an amazing father to our son, but she couldn’t help contemplate the amazing father he would have been to a child who could fully interact with him. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Download
She couldn’t help the sadness that would descend when she let herself think about the kinds of experiences they wouldn’t be able to have with their child, ever. Dara felt selfish and guilty for her sadness, because she wished most of all that her son’s life could be easier for his sake, that he could live a fulfilling life, one with friends and lovers and work.
She felt enveloped by both pain and envy when she saw other moms playing with their four-yearolds at the park, knowing that in that situation, her son would likely lose control and be asked to leave. That her son would continue to be shunned as he grew older, and so would she. The looks she got from the other moms, the ones who had typical kids with typical problems, added to her sense of isolation.
Dara phoned Julie often that year, each call more hopeless than the previous one. Depleted financially, emotionally, and practically, she and her husband decided not to add a sibling to the mix—how could they afford and have time for another, and what if that child also had autism? She’d already stopped working in order to manage their son’s life while her husband took on an extra job, and she didn’t know how to cope. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Free
Until one day she came across “Welcome to Holland” and realized that she would have to not only cope in this strange land but find joy there where she could. There were still pleasures to be had, if she could let them in. In Holland, Dara found friends who understood her family’s situation. She found ways to connect with her son, to enjoy him and love him for who he was and not focus on who he wasn’t.
She found ways to stop obsessing about what she did and did not know about tuna and soy and chemicals in cosmetics during her pregnancy that might have harmed her developing baby. She got care for her son so that she could care for herself and do meaningful part-time work and have meaningful downtime too.
She and her husband found each other and their marriage again while also struggling with the challenges they couldn’t change. Instead of sitting in their hotel room the whole trip, they decided to venture out and see the country. Now Dara was inviting Julie to do the same, to look at the tulips and Rembrandts. And after Julie’s anger about “Welcome to Holland.” Maybe You Should Talk to Someone PDF Free