“Madison moved out,” she continues.
I’m surprised. Her daughter Madison is only 16.
“She had one of her to-dos with her father. I don’t know why this happens again and again.”
Although I say nothing, I think: Because your husband is a narcissistic control freak who your daughter rebels against.
“Frank was driving Madison and her friend Amy back from the movies. He started to speed and she asked him to slow down. She says he just looked at her and went faster. She says she was getting scared and started to scream at him to stop. He says she was getting fresh and that if she wanted him to stop, he’d stop. So he screeched to a halt and told them to get out of the car. By this time I guess they were both crying, but they got out and stood there. Of course he came back for them and then he says that Madison called him an asshole and that he pulled over and slapped her across the mouth screaming telling her not to talk to him that way.
“When they got home Madison and Amy went straight to her room. Next thing I know she’s packed a suitcase and tells me she’s moving in with Amy, that Amy’s Mom said it was okay. So now Frank is screaming that she’s not going anywhere and I’m trying to figure out what happened.”
As Jennifer relays her story, I feel my stomach tighten and realize that I’m clenching my hands, a familiar reaction for me when Jennifer describes these scenarios between Madison and her father. Although my father was never physical, he had a hair-trigger explosive temper. I was always afraid of him, but I always fought back. And I know what’s coming next in her story, the dynamics in my patient’s family being an uncanny duplicate of mine.
“I told Madison she was too young to go anywhere and that she had to be more understanding of her father, that he was under a lot of pressure and that he just needed to let off steam, that he didn’t mean anything by it.”
I knew it, I think, just what my mother said to me. I feel my anger rise and wonder how I am going to respond to Jennifer as my patient, rather than as my mother.
She continues. “So she left. I’ve spoken to her each day, but she’s determined not to come home. I’m going to have to talk to Amy’s mother. It’s embarrassing. Meanwhile Frank’s being a bear. He says he doesn’t care and that she can stay where she is, but you can tell he’s hurting.
“How can you tell?” I ask, immediately regretting my question that’s coming from an angry place in me.
“Well, he’s angry, barely talking to me, going around slamming doors, grumbling around the house.”
“And how do you feel when he does that?” I ask, wondering if my question wasn’t so off base.
“I understand,” she says. “He’s upset.”
I want to scream. Instead I ask, “But how do you feel?”
She shrugs. “Nothing, I guess. I’m just worried about Madison.”
This isn’t getting us anywhere. “And how do you think Madison feels?”
She shrugs again, “I don’t know. She says she’s all right.”
“Do you think she might feel hurt or scared?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Although my mother was an incredible denier, she wasn’t as out of touch with her feelings. My mother and Jennifer feel different now, making it easier for me to remain in my role as therapist. “You know, Jennifer, it occurs to me that it’s difficult for you to know much about feelings – your own or others – except for Frank’s. His feelings are so out there, although they’re usually expressed as anger, you can’t help but be aware of them.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true.”
“Do you think that’s one of the reasons your relationship with Frank works for you. He expresses the feelings you can’t.”
“That makes sense,” she says nodding.
“I wonder what would happen, Jennifer, if you started to get more in touch with your own feelings, if you could know when you’re angry or scared or hurt.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know. That seems like I’d have to be a different person. And right now I have to figure out what to do about Madison.”
“I understand, Jennifer,” I say, realizing both that she’s frightened and that the present crisis takes precedence. “Let’s talk more about the situation with Madison, but perhaps we can also keep in mind looking at how you feel.”