This week, Veniamin continues to be dragged through the briar-patch of therapy, kicking and screaming.
Dr. Mabel Watney tilted her head and looked at him in a mixture of disbelief and exasperation; it was a universal matronly expression that silently screamed “What did you just say to me?” Veniamin smiled to himself, glad that at least he was able to provoke a reaction out of her.
“Listen, it’s…just the stuff you see in my line of work can be pretty upsetting to people who aren’t used to it. Even if I could talk to you about it, I probably wouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to offend your sensibilities.” Veniamin leaned back in his chair, trying not to appear self-satisfied. He failed.
“Mr. Kovalenko, you don’t need to worry about my sensibilities. And since I’m more offended by dishonesty, allow me to be straight with you. I believe you’re more frightened of being open with me than I am of whatever it is you have to say. This…posturing is something I’ve seen before, and almost always it’s a mask to cover some deep trauma.
“We both know you wouldn’t be here if you had healthy coping mechanisms or, frankly, any coping mechanisms at all. Ignoring the psychological damage you’ve sustained in your work is not the same as coping with it. Neither is burying your feelings under alcohol or food. The only way to deal with what you’re going through is by facing it.” Dr. Watney folded her hands over her notebook and leaned forward. “And until you do, I’m afraid I can’t sign this form showing the courts that I feel you’re not liable to assault someone else.”
“I didn’t assault him!” Veniamin sat up in his chair before he could stop himself. “He was a prick who got what was coming to him.”
Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure he would say the same thing about you, Mr. Kovalenko. Why are you right, and he’s wrong?”
“Because I’m not the one who kept provoking other people. I’m not the entitled rich prick who thinks less of other people because they don’t have any money.”
“Do you wish you had more money, Mr. Kovalenko?” Dr. Watney pounced on the statement like she was waiting for it.
Veniamin paused, looking at her with a surprised, almost frightened expression. “I do all right. That’s not the point.”
“The point is you felt he was disrespecting you.”
“Because you didn’t have as much money as he did.”
“How do you think he knew how much money you made?”
Veniamin shook his head. “He doesn’t. He assumed.”
“Because of the way you look?”
“Do you find that happens to you often, Mr. Kovalenko?”
“What, being judged based on how I look?” Veniamin saw Dr. Watney nod in response. “I don’t know. I guess so.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know!” Veniamin couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice. “Most people don’t actually see who other people really are. Just the things they want to see.”
“What do you want other people to see in you, Mr. Kovalenko?”
Veniamin thought about this. It may have been the first time in his life he had ever been asked this question. “I…I don’t know. I don’t really care, I guess.”
“But you were upset with this gentleman for making assumptions about you based on how you looked.”
“Yes.” Veniamin shifted in his seat. “But it wasn’t because of what he saw. It was because he thought he was better than what he saw.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, it seems like you think you’re better than him.”
“Because I don’t go around being an asshole to other folks I just met? Yeah, I’d say so.”
Dr. Watney smiled and leaned back in her chair. “Do you think it’s possible he saw some kind of…hostility in you that made him react to you the way he did?”
Veniamin shook his head, though by now his brain was turning that over. He hated the fact that she had gotten to him. “I can be gruff, and I can be blunt. That’s all.”
“You work with people often enough to know that some don’t respond well to that. How do you navigate these…different personality types in your line of work?” Dr. Watney tilted her head and steeped her fingers under her chin.
“I don’t.” Veniamin sighed. “What you see is what you get. You can take it or leave it.”
“This gentleman clearly wanted to leave it.”
“Well, he wasn’t in that position.”
“Do you see how that might make him a bit uncomfortable? What do you tend to do in uncomfortable situations?”
Veniamin felt a flash of anger as he realized he had been backed into a corner. She was right, of course she was. But that shouldn’t let the man who put him here off the hook; why wasn’t he wasting a perfectly good afternoon talking to some nosy woman trying to get him to talk about his business?
“Mr. Kovalenko, I understand why you feel upset. No one likes realizing their behavior has been inconsistent with the way they see themselves. But this is an opportunity to align your actions with your principles.”
“How do you know what my principles are?” Veniamin said, immediately embarrassed about how peevish he seemed.
“I don’t. I just know that there’s some cognitive dissonance between the way you acted and the way you think. Let’s discuss that further.”
Veniamin slouched. The hour had to have been up by now, right?