Thank you to Thrive Global for publishing my article, “Ready for Better Relations? GROUP has the answers! ”
Women in America often ask themselves, “When will it be enough?” and perhaps more importantly, “When will I be enough?” In Christie Tate’s memoir, Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, she shares her shift from believing she will never be enough to having her dreams come true.
At first, she believes she is not a good enough student although she is #1 in her law school class. She believes she is not allowed to say no to a friend, a family member or a sexual encounter. She does not believe in herself or her abilities.
She finds herself drawn to group therapy and there she practices being her authentic self in relation to others. She says no, she gets mad, she breaks dishes and she gets her needs met.
Life is messy and Tate describes her evolution in her eating habits, her boyfriends, as well as her work and family relationships.
We first meet Tate when she describes dreaming about dying. She tells us: “I wish someone would shoot me in the head…If I died, I wouldn’t have to fill the remaining forty-eight hours of this weekend or Wednesday’s holiday or the weekend after that. I wouldn’t have to endure the hours of hot, heavy loneliness that stretched before me—hours that would turn into days, months, years.”
She believes that she is defective and her heart is not ready for real attachment. But she meets “Dr. Rosen who issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.” She is marginal to her Republican Texan family who are all coupled up and she is “a misfit. The deep secret I carried was that I didn’t belong.” Tate attempts to control her feelings by “obsessing about food and my body and the weird shit I did to control both, and [by] trying to outrun my loneliness with academic achievement.”
I absolutely loved Tate’s writing, especially when she shared her feelings with examples like: “They nicked the bone of the longing, but they didn’t reach the marrow of my despair.” And “my future gleamed before me like Grandma’s polished silver.”
She tells Dr. Rosen that: “Every family has a fuckup.” He asks her: how it is possible that she is “Valedictorian of your law school class, and you’re a fuckup?” She is terrified that she will always be alone and her desired to be real and in relation to others won’t happen.
In group therapy, Tate finds: “disclosures… and feedback. There was looking, seeing, and being seen. There were no answers…[and she] wanted answers.” Tate believes that in order to be a good friend, a good employee and a good girlfriend, she has to say YES to every request. Dr. Rosen asks, “When was the last time you told someone that you weren’t ready for what they were asking you to do?” I appreciated their discussion about the costs of never setting limits and the importance of saying no. Dr. Rosen tells her, “If you can’t say no in relationships, then you can’t be intimate.”
One of my favorite scenes is between Christie and Max when she is whining about how she is nothing and he tells her:
“You’re this brilliant attorney who’s working at one of the most high-powered firms in the city. You’ve graduated to this advanced group. You’re working hard to figure out how you’re fucked up and what you should do about it. You’re not pathetic—you’re pissed that you haven’t gotten all the things you’re working hard for, which is better than this ‘poor me’ thing you do.” Standing up to him in anger and listening to him shows her how far she has already traveled. In group therapy, Tate practices the skills she needs to be in relation to others.
I highly recommend this book which I loved and read all in one day. I felt like I was right there with her on the bad dates, in the group therapy sessions and I wanted to go grab some plates from my kitchen and break them when she broke hers.
During COVID when we have been forced to change our lives due to the virus, many of us are thinking and rethinking about our needs, our relationships and our priorities. I loved peeking into Tate’s group therapy experience and learning with her about setting strong boundaries in order to improve intimate relationships. I hope you find the space to feel all your feelings better and that when we can meet again in person, you have taken the risks to make your dreams come true.