Hello, Friends! In this episode, I answer a single listener question that has two parts. The first tackles the break-up of a relationship and working through this alone, while the second part takes a look at confidentiality in the world of therapy and finding a therapist that suits you.
I have two questions for the podcast. First, I am going through the breakup of an on-again, off-again relationship of eight years. He was and still is married. I don’t want to dwell on the ethics, but he wrote a lot of metaphorical checks he couldn’t or wouldn’t cash. The first time he told me he would get a divorce was only six months in.Now that I’m finally ripping off the band aid, the wave of emotion from so many broken promises and realization that my past self had way too much tolerance for his BS is hitting me hard. I would love to get into therapy, but I can’t afford it yet. I didn’t tell many friends he was married, so I can’t really talk about the details of the breakup with them, either. How can I start to process this on my own?Secondly, I work in full-service sex work. It’s not always a walk in the park, but I love my job. Honestly, practicing setting emotional boundaries and saying no to men at work was part of what helped me realize I have to break up with this guy. I worry about a therapist reporting me to law enforcement or fixating on my job as a symptom of deeper mental illness or a problem I have to solve. How can I find a therapist who meets my needs when I can afford it?
I’m sorry you’re going through this. Getting into the ethics of the relationship isn’t necessary either. Every situation is different. But you’ve clearly been mistreated and strung along. I know it can be hard to deal with the self-judgments in a situation that probably looks like an obvious bad idea from the outside. It can sometimes be the case that you construct sort of a house of cards around yourself and the situation. You can’t admit to yourself that something is wrong or the whole elaborate structure comes crashing down.
It sounds like you’re in a place where you’ve recognized that it’s not worth it to be treated the way you are and so now that house of cards is crashing down. Which is why it feels like all the past things you let go are suddenly surging in. I would encourage you to be honest with yourself about the mistakes that you have made, but also try to have some compassion for yourself. You’re not a dumb person. You were obviously having some need met, but you were also taken advantage of and strung alone because you had that need. I have to imagine that he got a lot of benefits from this arrangement and as long as he kept saying that he would do something about the situation and kicking the can down the road, he could still get what he wanted.
You might consider writing some letters to your past self. To the you right at the beginning of the relationship, to the you in the middle of it, and maybe even to you right now. What do you wish you had known? What do you wish you could remind yourself of? How would you treat this situation and provide comfort it if were a friend that were going through the same thing? Plus, journaling journaling journaling. You know how I feel about this. Write until your hand falls off and move through the emotions rather than away from them. If writing about it gets boring or repetitive, GOOD! That means that it doesn’t have the same sting and power over you.
I’m sorry that you don’t have the funds for therapy right now. That’s tough. There are some things to consider with that. There are sliding scale therapists, cheaper options like Better Help, universities, or even peer support directly/in groups. You didn’t tell friends that he was married, but is there a reason you can’t tell them now that it’s over? Keeping it to yourself can be super tough. Or maybe you can tell them that there are details that you can’t share that would violate his privacy but still give them the vibe that you were strung along, that he chose someone else, etc. There is no perfect way to process this on your own, but I just want to encourage you to be active about it. Use resources like journaling, talking to trusted loved ones, making art or diving into a project, reading books or articles that are relevant etc.
Thank you for being honest about your job. Sex work is real work. I can absolutely see how being in control of boundary setting, consent etc. is a way to claim your power and advocate for yourself. But I know that the world at large isn’t on the same page about sex work, so I understand your concern.
In the US, here’s how confidentiality works: We cannot share information about you and violate your confidentiality unless it is related to safety. Breaking the law is not something that we can report. Basically, if you are an imminent danger to yourself or to others, that’s where we could report. Or if you talked about elder or child abuse. So even if you murdered someone, as long as it was in the past, it’s not reportable. So your job is not something that they can report to the authorities as long as it doesn’t involve plans to harm someone. Even if there was abuse talked about, that’s not reportable unless it’s involving a kid, elder, or disabled adult.
As to the concern of them focusing on it as a treatment issue, that’s something that you can screen for a bit when choosing a therapist. Look at their profiles and see if you can find someone that has info in there that indicates that may be a safe person/ally. For instance in the last line of my Psychology Today bio, I have LGBTQ+, Kink, Polyam friendly. That doesn’t explicitly mention sex work, but I have to imagine you would be more inclined to reach out to me vs someone who emphasizes that they do Christian counseling.
You can also use your skills from work to set expectations and boundaries with the therapist. Talking about therapy itself and the therapeutic relationship in session is super useful. So you could let them know that you don’t want to focus on your work as a treatment issue, but it’s just context you want them to understand.
So those are my thoughts for you. I hope that things start to move in a positive direction for you!
This episode of Hardcore Self Help is sponsored by Bulldog Online.
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