I spend the next four evenings wading through the files. It’s dispiriting and a depressing read. The trauma of his early life and facts of his adolescent years are challenging enough but what really cuts me to the quick, is how little help my profession has been able to offer him over the years.
Occasionally there was a glimmer of hope, when it seemed like someone might have started to make progress, but abruptly the therapist was changed. It’s not always possible for me to tell whether this was by my client’s wishes, or the therapist’s. And there have been, quite literally, a dozen of them. Since the age of four.
The only therapies that really seem to have made a difference were the ones initiated either by my client or his family: having a younger sibling to shower with unconditional affection; playing the piano; kick-boxing, to a lesser extent; and, of course, the initiation into BDSM relationships.
Whereas the first three provided a method of allowing my client to express some of his feelings, the latter drove his emotions inwards and appear to have exacerbated the intensity of his apparent self-loathing. And it’s clear he’s kept these contractual relationships a closely guarded secret from his family – from everyone. It’s evident that this lifestyle, whilst once a mechanism for coping, has become less satisfying for him. Perhaps that’s why, after so many failed and pointless interventions, he is still looking for help. That alone is encouraging: you have to want to change to effect change.
And, I have to say, from a professional point of view, I’m consumed with curiosity. The psychopathology is fascinating: haphephobia; the night terrors of his parasomnia; the morbid self abhorrence and feelings of personal worthlessness. His high intelligence coupled with poor empathetic skills and lack of emotional intelligence will be both refreshing and challenging. I’m looking forward to our next encounter.
“Mr Grey. Do come in. Please, take a seat.”
He stalks into my consulting rooms, his expression wary, his body language defensive.
“You’ve read the files.”
“And my comments are the same to you today as they were last week: for Solution Focused Brief Therapy to be of use, we need to discuss your personal goals.”
“You want some fucking goals?”
I nod, not intimidated by his threatening tone.
“I want to stop having the same fucking nightmares. I want to stop waking up bathed in sweat.”
He glares at me, refusing to speak.
“What about your issues of being touched?”
“There is no issue.”
“I don’t let anyone touch me. Situation resolved. No issue.”
“Not a very satisfactory or permanent resolution, I would suggest.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what if you were to wish to have children, for example. Wouldn’t you want them to be able to touch you?” I’m pushing him deliberately.
“What the fuck would I want with children?”
“Many people do,” I offer gently.
“No. No children.”
“Well, what if you were to meet a woman whom you wished to be with, and she wanted to have children?”
“I’ve told you: no children. I don’t like to repeat myself, Dr Flynn.”
“Well, Mr Grey, with the best will in the world, the only 100% effective contraceptive is abstention. What if one of your contractual relationships were to become pregnant?”
“That won’t happen.”
“She’d get rid of it.”
“What if she didn’t want to?”
“She’d do as I told her.”
I try another tack. “So, you foresee no occasion when your fear of being touched would be a problem?”
“I make sure it isn’t.”
“So you are able to control every situation around you.”
He pauses. “I try to. I like to be in control.”
“Naturally, because it panders to your refusal to address the issue.”
His eyes blaze at me with fury.
“There. Is. No. Issue.”
“With all due respect, Mr Grey, that’s nonsense, and you know it.”
He blinks, then leans back on my couch, his mouth closed in a hard line.
“None of us can control 100% of our environment 100% of the time. Your wealth enables you to predict and control far more of your surroundings than most people. But there must be times when that’s not possible. To use a technical term: shit happens. I’m curious, what happens in a social situation if, for example, the wife of a business associate tries to kiss you or hug you – which are social norms, of course.”
“I’m pretty good at reading body language, Dr Flynn; I can see when a woman is… about to pounce. I simply control the situation before that happens.”
“Pounce? Is that what women do?”
He raises an eyebrow. “It has been known.”
From what I’ve read, he’s referring back to his initiation into the BDSM lifestyle.
“So your intuition never fails you?”
“Not so far.”
“You’re an expert in body language? People never surprise you?”
“What do you know about the BDSM lifestyle, Dr Flynn?”
“What I’ve read.”
“Then let me explain. I study women, I have to. I need to know how far I can take them; what their breaking point is; what turns them on; how their minds work. My contractual relationships are based on trust: women trust me to know their bodies better than they know them themselves. So, yes, I am an expert in body language. And no, people rarely surprise me.”
“Well, you’re a lucky man, Mr Grey: people never cease to surprise me. Their ability to adapt to circumstances, to change when necessary.”
“I know what you’re doing, Dr Flynn,” he says acidly.
“I’m delighted to hear it: it will save so much time for us to be on the same page,” I say evenly.
I can see he’s suppressing a smile.
“Mr Grey, you have come to me because there are things about yourself that you wish to change – and because you’ve run through most of the other therapists in Seattle.” His eyes are alight with amusement, so I take the opportunity to move the conversation on. “I am willing to help you achieve your stated personal goal, provided you are willing to entertain the idea that goals – your goals – are a moveable feast, shall we say.”
“Are you challenging me, Dr Flynn?”
“Of course, Mr Grey.”
“Very well then. Until next time.”
“Indeed. Let battle commence.”
He stands, shakes my hand and stalks out of the office.
Yes, we have made progress.