Celia Walden

Gets caught out psy­cho-bab­bling to an old friend

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Celia Walden -

Ther­apy-speak and psy­cho-lingo have soaked through ev­ery­thing on both sides of the pond, per­me­at­ing our souls with a gloopy em­pa­thy that’s more ir­ri­tat­ing than use­ful

As I hand over a Kleenex to stem the fresh tide of Kirstie’s tears, two clear but con­fict­ing thoughts lodge them­selves in my brain. The frst is: ‘I would do any­thing in the world right now to make you feel bet­ter.’ And the sec­ond: ‘Please God let you be so dis­tracted, so wild with grief, that you didn’t reg­is­ter what I just said.’ Too late. Even as she’s pulling the cur­tains of her hair a lit­tle closer around her face (the most ef­cient cam­o­ufage for ev­ery Fe­male Cry­ing in Public) I see a lip curl form­ing. ‘“Free up some headspace?”’ she says, dry-eyed all of a sud­den and scru­ti­n­is­ing my face closely, as though try­ing to lo­cate some­thing – any­thing – there that might loosely re­sem­ble the girl she grew up with. ‘What’s with all the ther­a­pis­ing?’

Un­til that mo­ment, un­til I heard my­self re­spond in a sooth­ing mono­tone that it was ‘quite nor­mal’ for Kirstie ‘to be lash­ing out at me’ in her grief – ‘and quite hon­estly de­fec­tion is a healthy re­ac­tion’ – I had thought I had it un­der con­trol. Af­ter all, it was a cou­ple of months ago now that my hus­band frst pulled me up on my habit of ask­ing him how he was feel­ing, (‘re­ally feel­ing’) more fre­quently than was nec­es­sary – and nod­ding as fre­net­i­cally as the Churchill bull­dog through­out his re­sponse. That, my in­sis­tence on us­ing peo­ple’s Chris­tian names at least once in ev­ery sen­tence, an­swer­ing a ques­tion with a ques­tion, and the sin­gle oc­ca­sion we’ve agreed never to men­tion again when I ac­tu­ally said the words ‘let’s bring it back into the room’ (and wasn’t re­fer­ring to ei­ther an inan­i­mate ob­ject or a house­hold pet) had be­come an is­sue. I’d see a ther­a­pist about it, only that would be like a com­pul­sive eater en­list­ing in choux-pas­try-mak­ing classes.

Now clearly I’m go­ing to blame LA for all this, although I’m not en­tirely sure that’s fair. Be­cause ther­apy-speak and psy­cho-lingo have soaked through ev­ery­thing on both sides of the pond, per­me­at­ing all of our souls with a gloopy em­pa­thy that’s more ir­ri­tat­ing than use­ful to any­one you’re try­ing to help. The prob­lem is that it feels great. And I mean eight-handed-hot-stone­mas­sage great, with a bit of cra­nial os­teopa­thy thrown in. There you are, this all-know­ing, all-un­der­stand­ing Elysian be­ing, en­cour­ag­ing those around you to confde freely (or give up the juice, as I’m se­cretly think­ing), be­fore scat­ter­ing some of your heal­ing dust (phrases like ‘your in­ner critic is sab­o­tag­ing again’) on their bowed heads – and ta-da! That’s them fxed and you re­stored to your right­ful po­si­tion as one of the world’s most vir­tu­ous hu­man be­ings.

Of course it took Kirstie ex­plain­ing all this for me to fnally un­der­stand what my grotesquely self-serv­ing mo­ti­va­tions were. ‘You don’t think you’re pro­ject­ing?’ I fing back limply. ‘Nope,’ she re­sponds frmly. ‘But I would like us to “open a di­a­logue” about just how much more of your cretinous im­ported be­hav­iour we’re all go­ing to have to deal with.’ And I think that might have helped our re­la­tion­ship grow, but sadly our time was up.

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