Thursday, May 2, 2019

Are Two Therapists Better Than One?

Are two therapists better than one? Ah, yes, that is the question that pops into mind upon reading therapist Lori Gottlieb’s advice to a therapist whose boyfriend’s mother is evidently a harridan.

The therapist with the boyfriend has applied her extensive knowledge of human psychology to her situation. In truth, it makes her sound like a fool. She thinks that the woman who might well become her future mother-in-law is narcissistic and histrionic. She throws tantrums. This piece of pseudo wisdom allows her to ignore the larger question of the woman’s character, and her over-the-top abusive behavior. The woman in question is a single mother of an only child, and she is using this fact to abuse her son and his current girlfriend.

Her son sides with his mother over his girlfriend. Which tells us that he is, as the saying goes, whipped. If he cannot stand up to his mother now, he will never do so. If he has no sense of loyalty to his girlfriend and refuses to protect her from his mother’s outrageous rants, the solution is clear: she should leave.

By the way, did I tell you that this loving couple is about to move in together and that boyfriend’s Mom will be living in a cottage on their property. This tells us that he is a man of some means, which might tell us what girlfriend finds so attractive about him. We note that the letter writer is in San Francisco, meaning that if boyfriend owns a lot of property in one of the nation's most expensive property markets, he must have some serious means.

At that point, this therapist should understand that the boyfriend’s mother will be an integral part of her everyday life… forever. Whatever is she waiting for? Time to go.

Here is the letter:

I am in a wonderful, loving, and dynamic relationship with my boyfriend of three years. He’s an only child of a single mother, and though I know this structure is often rife with challenges, I recognized some uniquely difficult aspects of his mother’s personality early on. I’m a therapist, and though I try to avoid armchair diagnoses, I couldn’t help but notice her traits of narcissism and histrionic personality disorder.

As you can imagine, we haven’t gotten along well. She can read the judgment on my face when I can’t handle her self-aggrandizing monologues. All my usual go-to tools when in conflict (reflective listening, nonviolent communication, emphasizing my own shortcomings and vulnerabilities) have fallen on deaf ears. When I’ve expressed some semblance of displeasure, I’ve been met with temper tantrums—tears, blame, self-pity, name-calling—that I recognize as narcissistic rage.

My boyfriend decided long ago to accept his mother for who she is, choosing gratitude and graciousness, despite her more disturbing behaviors (overly sexualized comments, decades of financial recklessness, dramatic self-pity). I admire him for this. He appreciates her struggles and how hard she worked to be able to provide for him, and has concluded that the best route is one of empathic placation. Research on narcissistic personality disorder would somewhat support this strategy.

I find myself, however, drowning in internal protestations of “I deserve to be treated better.” A central challenge is that my boyfriend bristles at my pathologizing of his mom, understandably. He gets defensive of her and reminds me of how upset I might be were he to talk about my family this way. I have always been quite sensitive, so the grievances that his mother and I express tend to sound eerily similar. I want my boyfriend to be able to enjoy the time that he has left with his mother, and I wonder whether a less sensitive woman might be able to just shrug off at least some of what I get all riled up about.

If we stay together, our future will involve living in a house on property he bought, which currently has a granny unit that she’s living in. I’m in my mid-30s and want to have children, so it’s on my mind that if my relationship with my boyfriend is unsustainable, it would be best ended sooner rather than later.

How can I do a better job of being around her? Or should I leave?


The woman throws temper tantrums and her son does not defend his girlfriend. But, seriously, the question, which Gottlieb will miss entirely, is whether or not she should stay with the relationship.

So, Gottlieb responds by suggesting that Anonymous might have some obnoxious family members. It’s good therapy speak, but it completely misses the mark. And it is absurd to defend the witch of a woman by speculating about the letter writer’s family”

If his mother is pushing your buttons to this degree, it could be that there’s a historical fight going on here too—one that didn’t originate with her.

She continues:

For instance, instead of adopting your boyfriend’s tack of not taking his mother’s behavior personally and letting it go, you “judge” her for her boastful monologues that aren’t personal attacks on you at all. Meanwhile, you confront her with your “displeasure,” even though intellectually you know that she’s probably not capable of taking in another’s feelings of injury without feeling injured herself. Despite understanding her limitations, you still try to get her to see you and understand you. And you want your boyfriend to see his mother’s behavior the way you do. Could it be that this is a familiar scenario, something you’ve experienced with people in your past?

Ah yes, don’t deal with the present situation. Pretend that it’s really a revenant from some unanalyzed past conflict. This is bad advice, the kind of advice that causes people to bury their heads in the sand and to assume that, with the right attitude, the right mental adjustment, they can change reality. In particular, they can change the behavior of the woman in question.

So, the truth is that we should encourage this woman to examine the present situation on its own terms. And that points to an end to the relationship. Besides, have you considered that the mother in question does not like her son’s therapist girlfriend. And that her bad behavior is a way of warning her son off of the woman. We do not know anything more about this couple except that they seem to be a happy couple. We do not know anything about cultural background, ethnicity or age. But, we do know that she is a therapist, and perhaps that is sufficiently obnoxious in and of itself.

In any case, the boyfriend should have shown a minimum amount of loyalty to his girlfriend. Since he seems incapable of doing so, the only real solution, as the letter writer recognizes, is to cut her losses. Gottlieb never considers this possibility, so we will have to accept on this occasion that she has missed the point.


whitney said...

She said she has a dynamic relationship with her fiance. What does that mean? Can you imagine describing your relationship is dynamic? how stupid.

Anonymous said...

High heels are like hooves. Imagine the sicko that invented high heels just so women could sound like authoritarian cloven-hoofed cattle as they strut around.

Sam L. said...

She should RUN, not walk, to the nearest exit, leaving NO forwarding address and changing her phone number. I suspect the mom won't change, or like ANY woman her son is dating, and it looks like the son won't stand up to her, or for himself.

Anonymous said...

A french guy