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Ask Dr. DombeckAsk Dr. Dombeck:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

How To Become Empathic

Tue, Dec 25th 2001

After having spent many years with different therapists, and the past 2 years in intensive psychoanalysis after 3 years of weekly therapy with the same therapist, we keep coming back to the same problem behavior (that I learned at my mother's knee): I've isolated myself from relationships with people (because relationships are too scary, my ego's too fragile, I have no empathy for others, I don't see the point, people don't really matter, etc.), and will subsequently always be unhappy and chronically dissatisfied. Today she raised the idea that I seem to "rent" people to talk to, complain to, etc. to keep from having "real relationships" with others or make any real changes other than just going through the motions. I've probably sensed this for a long time, but never wanted to face it, and now the only solution I can see to my addiction would be to go "cold turkey." My therapist suggested that we could talk about setting some sort of time limit to therapy, while continuing to work on these issues. I'm so frightened and desperate at the prospect of going without (especially after all these years of dependency), especially now that I've just returned to school (after so many years away) to get a graduate degree (which I expressed to her). It all seems like such a Catch-22 situation - how does one really learn to care about relationships and subsequently learn to be less self-absorbed, have more empathy for others, feel less neutral about everything? I feel like such an incredible failure after all of these years of "talking." Thanks for your help.

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