Psychological Doomscrolling

I may be toward the end of this stint in therapy. It’s a little hard to tell because, when doesn’t one need to feel heard? When doesn’t one need to hear themselves more clearly? But, I also don’t want to always be examining tendencies and unraveling patterns. There are times to just cut through.

I was lightly startled awake a few weeks ago, when a conversation with my son turned nostalgic and he said, “Mom, I’m sorry but you’re talking to me like your therapist.” Which may sound mean, but isn’t in our context actually, because he knows I like to catch myself. It was a gentle nudge, a loving “Look and see.”

There’s still such a strong tendency in me, to believe that if I can just draw out a clear enough map to how we got ‘here’, it would be possible to make a convincing case for fixing <insert issue>, re-writing the script. Especially, I want to own my own part of things, as though if sufficiently aware and remorseful, the previous possible timeline I’d envisioned many moons ago would be available again. It seems a relic of childhood experience, where a child makes their parent feel better and then is allowed to go to the party, or have the thing. As an adult, however, I’m not willing to be bought in this way. I want to be truthful, and I want others to be truthful, just as my son was in this instance.

Rather than feeling slighted or dismissed by him, I felt thankful. In that moment I recognized a false idea I’d been carrying around, that my grown kids still need me to re-explain where things went awry between their parents. Each is going to have different interpretations, and when they ask, I’ll be happy to attempt to answer. I just don’t need to keep figuring it out. Figuring out can largely go on without me because it isn’t as though their dad is asking those questions or having these discussions with us. It isn’t as though I need to write a book about family dynamics, etc.

Would I love to be able to articulate my “side of things” once and for all? Who wouldn’t! But is that what’s happening in therapy? Not really. And actually I’m always learning, so my impression of what have helped or could have been different, is always being revised. The big things are pretty obvious, and although their effects can still pop up, catch me off guard, recovery is usually swift. As a friend would say, I do bounce!

Therapy is my eye in the storm, but the storm is rather predictable now. I have more supplies and a steadier plan. My therapist is a lovely woman I can imagine being a good friend with outside of the therapy context, who often shows acceptance I couldn’t find from either the family I was born into, or the one I married into, and who takes my side. She also catches me mid self-condemnation and exaggeration–psychological doomscrolling–to ask “But is that true?” “Is that really your fault?” “Could you have foreseen that?”

Does it help to doomscroll? What good can come of this?

The first therapist I went to see, in about 1994, ended one session asking me to consider why I think everything is my fault. I dismissed her question out of hand because I reasoned, “What good does it do to see the situation as someone else’s fault?” I couldn’t change or convince anyone, also didn’t want to … didn’t want to manipulate the way I’d been manipulated. But her question stayed with me, and would come up at the oddest times until I had to pay attention. She was right that I leaned that way and was willing to absorb blame just to have peace. She was right that I found it hard to trust others to do the work of self-reflection as well. My current therapist is also right that the tendency has remained, even with so much more space around it.

That being so, it might be time for a more surgical strategy.


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