Inside/Outside

Monday, February 18, 2013

The State of the Psyche



Kevin settles his lanky frame into the confines of my chair. “Did you see the State of the Union?” he asks immediately?

If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that Kevin is the patient who can’t allow himself to feel, the man who told me he was obsessing endlessly about the Newtown shootings.

Aware of his focus on newsworthy events and wondering what the speech brought up for him, I reply, “Yes, why do you ask?”  

“It was those parents, those parents whose 15 year old daughter was just killed not far from Obama’s home in Chicago. I didn’t get them. How could they have been there? Their daughter had just been killed.”


Watching the State of the Union, I had wondered the same thing. My thoughts led me to imagine that these African-American parents were, unfortunately, accustomed to the horrors of violence and its impact on their lives and had put aside their feelings in an effort to make a strong statement against gun violence. I suspected Kevin experienced it differently.

 “What did it mean to you to see the parents there? How did you feel about it?” I ask.

“I was surprised,” Kevin says. “I don’t understand how they could do that. How they could appear before millions of people and be on display just a week after their daughter was killed.”

“I understand what you’re saying,” I respond, “But I wonder what it brought up for you.”

“At the time I was only surprised, but now that you’re asking me about it, I can tell it goes deeper than that. You think it’s my parents, don’t you.”

“What do you think, Kevin?”

“It seemed so unfeeling. Like it didn’t matter to them. Like they didn’t care. Like it was fine for them if their daughter was dead as long as they got to rub elbows with the first lady and be in the spotlight.”

“So you felt angry,” I reflect. “Like you might be angry with your own parents.”

“Yeah, I guess so, although my father died so I couldn’t be angry with him. But, you know, I’m not sure I really FELT angry. When we’re talking about it now I can see that what I’m saying sounds as though I’m angry. But I’m not sure I really felt it.”

I feel sadness wash over me, my sadness for the abandoned child Kevin was, the abandoned child who cannot allow himself to feel for fear of being overwhelmed by a lifetime of unfelt feelings.

“Maybe this isn’t an appropriate question,” Kevin begins, “But what did you feel?”

“I’ll answer that, but can I ask why you asked that right then?”

“I thought you looked kind of sad and a wondered if you felt bad for the girl who was killed.”

“Right then, Kevin, I actually felt sad for the child who lived – you.”

Kevin looks shocked. “What do you mean?” he asks.

“You experienced such early losses – the death of your father and then the abandonment of your mother – it’s had such a tremendous impact on your life, it’s made it so hard for you to feel.”

“So you feel sad for me?” he asks incredulously.  

“Yes, I do.”

Kevin squirms uncomfortably in the chair. Silence and sadness fills the room. “I don’t know what to say to that,” Kevin finally says. “I don’t know what to feel about it.”

“That’s okay,” I say. “You don’t have to say anything. And you can only feel what you feel. There’s no pressure here for you to be anyone other than who you are.” 

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