Questions & Answers
by Barry Brody, PhD

A patient tells me “I know it’s my sh-t, but at least when I lay down to go to sleep it keeps me warm”.

Another patient, in what appears to me to be a flash of insightfulness, says “I must sound like a broken record. I always come and talk to you about the same issue–my relationship with my parent”. And then they immediately return to their broken record. It is as if for a moment they were able to open a door, and then full of fright quickly slammed it shut.

With these patients, my experience is that whenever I say anything it is taken as an interruption. Whatever I say or do threatens to stop the broken record from playing. And when I am done, the broken record continues to play. It is as if I am only allowed to be there and hear the broken record. I can’t do anything which might jar the broken record and stop it from playing.

I used to think that this was some kind of resistance on the patient’s part. Perhaps a distraction to make me focus on the broken record so I would not notice anything else.

Lately, I have begun to wonder if the broken record is really a life raft which keeps the patient from drowning. If so, then the broken record must be clutched and held on to for dear sake. It may be the only thing the patient has to hold onto. And letting go may represent an even greater awaiting calamity.

Another patient describes to me that they imagine they are like in those scary movies where the actors are hiding in a safe room to avoid the monster. They have to keep the door shut, because they fear that if they open the door the monster will kill them. So they never open the door. And of course they never discover if the monster is still there or gone.

So maybe the broken record is a life saver and a safe space to hide in from the monsters on the other side of the door.

Perhaps this is a way of viewing some patients that repeatedly and continually complain of their situation, very often what they know is a toxic relationship, and yet they are never able to let go of and leave. They continue to hang on.

Barry Brody, PhD, LMFT is practicing psychotherapist in Florida offering telehealth.