Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Narcissus Was Here Part I

“I don't care what you think unless it is about me.” 
~Kurt Cobain

Dear Diary:

Year 6  Naive intentions for guiding people towards solutions to their problems degenerating rapidly into simply holding space while they explore depraved fantasies and describe their unappetizing tendencies and behaviors. Apparently, my input is not of much importance since most people do not heed the common sense advice and go on to do whatever they damn well please, then sheepishly report it all back to me at our next session. Also, I seem to have more credibility when I wear mascara.

It’s been said that if you do something fairly well, you will be expected to do that thing at least 10,000 times. At the beginning of the process, that projection doesn’t mean very much since the theory hasn’t actually gelled into a grim reality yet, so you go about your business with a smile on your face until someone asks you how many sessions you think you've done in fourteen years and you astound yourself with some quick calculations that lead you to a staggering five-digit number. This would certainly explain the compassion fatigue.

There is some compelling evidence pointing to the fact that narcissists are attracted to Empaths like fire ants to a Twinkie. Our kind hearts and desire to help can easily be abused by folks who think only of themselves and what they can get out of others. In this job, I have been challenged continually to establish and maintain substantial boundaries, but even with that awareness, a few energy vampires have managed to sneak through the holes in the screen door.

Monkey business

A new client arrives to our appointment fifteen minutes late wearing a too-tight Planet of the Apes t-shirt and complaining about the long line of hipsters at Starbucks. When I ask him to sit down so we can begin our session, he stares at the chair for a few moments and then in a concerned tone says, "You know, chairs were invented by dictators who wanted to control the populace."

Since I am not certain if he's joking, I sit in a chair to demonstrate the relative safety of the furniture, but he pretentiously re-positions a small footstool and is determined to use this as his perch for the next hour rather than conform to the sinister plot of government-controlled seating.

(Dear God, please help me to squelch the urge to roll my eyes, snicker or verbally castrate the assclown sitting across from me.)

Flying on a high-octane venti Caramel Macchiato and possibly amphetamines, he immediately plunges into the deep end with questions about his recent break-up and the importance of finding a new partner who is into open-minded sexual experimentation, but thanks to his choice of low-quality simian apparel, all I can picture is two impassioned chimps and a tire swing. It is explained to me that humans are not naturally monogamous and that when we force ourselves into the moral constraints of committed relationships, our mental well-being will, inevitably suffer.

Save it for the faculty lounge, Dr. Zaius.

We march on through more smug diatribe peppered by the occasional questions he appears to already know the answers to, and at last, it's time to bring our session to a close. As I begin to wrap up our conversation, he interjects from the footstool, “Let’s both close our eyes in order to join forces during an intention ceremony.” In a moment of end-of-session relief, I play along and close my eyes as he begins to call in "spirits from the unseen dimensions" to bless each of us today. When I open one eye to look at the clock, I am horrified to find him massaging his crotch (over the Dockers, thank God) and immediately terminate his masturbation meditation by standing up and announcing that we are finished. Without any sense of shame, he apologizes for being so forward and asks if I want to get coffee and become better acquainted "as friends". First of all (and perhaps most importantly), I don’t drink coffee. Never have, except for a hellish stint as a breakfast waitress at a diner along the Interstate when I was nineteen years old, and even then, I had to load it up with so much milk and sugar that it was nothing more than melted coffee ice cream. Secondly, exactly how is that "casual" conversation going to go after what just happened?

I make a jokey comment about how my husband frowns upon the notion of me dating other men (which is purely speculation. I know for sure that my first husband was not pleased with my extracurricular social life at the end of our marriage, but have not yet tested my current husband's tolerance levels. I am certain that if I did, however, it wouldn't be with this schmuck) and am beyond relieved when he shrugs his shoulders and heads for the door.

I think it's time to raise my rates.

Mid-life madness

A client I haven't seen in several years calls to make an appointment and finds a way to shoehorn in the important news about his recent separation from his wife which triggers an avalanche of sobbing, clueless questions about why she left. This is the main reason why I never answer the phone between sessions, but "Joe" has caught me at a weak moment and is determined to turn a scheduling call into his therapy hour.

When he arrives for his appointment a week later, Joe has pulled himself together and struts through the door a changed man; a man who is aggressively embracing his newfound single status by wearing three hundred dollar jeans and a fedora. I see that he has also traded in his sensible Prius for a red Camaro (is there any other acceptable color for a mid-life crisis vehicle?) and I cringe through the stench of his cologne at the cliché he has become in record time.

We begin talking and I quickly understand that this session is not going to be about Joe's desire to learn why his marriage failed or how he might become a better, wiser person because of the experience. No, today's conversation will be Joe's forum for a self-absorbed, pontificating monologue, the focus of which is refining (with my "help") the wording of his Plenty of Fish and Match.com profiles. Also, I will be shown several recent selfies and will be expected to determine which angle of his fifty-three year old physique in tight shorts will attract the most interest.

I glance over his profile and caution him against opening with demands that applicants be under thirty years old with large breasts and a love of walking on the beach. Suddenly I am a copy editor correcting his grammar with a red pen and pulling out the thesaurus to find alternate words for "lonely" and "horny".

When I reach the part of his profile that lists his typical Friday night activities as polishing his African tribal mask collection while whipping up some coq au vin and stargazing, I make a quick downward glance to see if Joe has grown cloven hooves since our last session. What was once a quiet, mousy accountant with a comb-over has morphed into a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Joe is listening intently to my suggestions and scribbling notes in what appears to be an old address book. When we reach a stopping point with the dating profile, I make the rookie mistake of asking him what happened with his wife and their marriage of twenty one years, which is all he needs to launch into a marathon filibuster. On and on he rambles about "not getting his needs met" and "not being a priority" until it occurs to me that this is no longer a session, but a hostage situation. To amuse myself, I keep a running mental tally of how often he says "long story short" which works out to eleven times in fifteen minutes.

I only heard from Joe one other time after that encounter. He emailed me to report that he had found the love of his life, a twenty year old "hottie" (his words) named "Destiny" whose primary objective was to get a leading role on General Hospital. Of course he was going to finance her rise to stardom, and in turn, she was going to be his fashion consultant because he had decided to get into modeling.

Other session tidbits:

~Client named "Brad" who thinks of himself as an untouchable, magical demigod refers to himself in third person for the entire session: "Brad would like to record our conversation." "Brad wonders what the outcome will be to his company's merger."

~ Client in his twenties is eager to discuss a potential investment opportunity that was emailed to him: it seems the Prince of Ghana has recently fallen on hard times and needs our help to reestablish his investment holdings. "This is legit, dude! We could get super rich from this, right?"

~Forty year old client is troubled by the fact that his accidentally-pregnant girlfriend has demanded that he pay for the cost of an abortion. The main question is whether or not he is the father of the baby, and when I tell him that it appears as though he is, he sits back in the chair, pensively nodding his head while looking out the window. A moment later, he has made a decision about his financial responsibility and declares that he will split it with her because "half the roll, half the toll".

Flattery can really turn a girl's head. Here are some of the more charming comments bestowed upon me by male clients over the years:

~"I think it would be fun to have sex with you because you can communicate with extra terrestrials."

~"You're really just a cheap therapist, aren't you?"

~"I’m not giving up bread, beer, sugar or Vicodin. Can’t you just put a spell on me to make me feel better?"

~"I don’t need you…I was just curious about what you would say."

~"How often do you think about me? Can I pay you in advance to tell me if you dream about me?"

~"Can you do a psychic prostate exam on me today?"

“To be most effective, flattery is always best applied with a trowel.” 
~Alan Bradley