Crystal greets me with a big smile as I open my waiting room door. A slender, 35 year old woman, dressed in casual black clothes, her hair pulled up in a bun, she looks like the yoga instructor she is.
“It’s been quite a week,” she begins. “We’re going into the New Year and, hopefully, I’m going into my new life.” She laughs. “Maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But I feel I’ve suddenly shed my old self. I was totally miserable when I left here last week. I couldn’t stop crying. I even canceled my classes. I know you’ve been saying it for years, but I never really got it, not really. But last week I really felt for me as that little girl, that little girl whose parents were so wrapped up in each other they didn’t even know I existed. It always felt so unfair. It was unfair. It’s not that they were struggling to make ends meet. It’s not that they couldn’t pay attention, they just couldn’t be bothered. And I kept hoping, hoping that I could make them be different. As a kid. As an adult. But I couldn’t. And I got angrier and angrier. And the angrier I got, the more I messed up my life. I was valedictorian of my high school class and I never even graduated from college. How sad is that? I guess I figured if they didn’t care, why should I?”
I’m pleased. This is one of those moments therapists wait a long time to experience. “Wow, Crystal. I’m impressed. It certainly sounds like something coalesced for you in a very different way last week.”
“It’s what you said about mourning – not that you haven’t said that a million times before too. And you brought up that movie again, “Inside/Out.” So I watched it again. Especially that scene about the elephant. I sobbed my way through it and then I realized that letting go of the elephant as an imaginary friend was a metaphor for letting go of childhood, letting go of the past and that even though it’s very sad, there’s really no other choice if you want to move forward in your life. I can be mad at my parents forever. I can long for their love and attention, but it’s just never going happen. So I have to stop being a baby, let go and move on.”
“I was feeling so pleased for you, Crystal, but that last sentence raised a red flag for me. When you say ‘I have to stop being a baby,’ you’re now rejecting the hurt, vulnerable child in you just as your parents did.”
“Hmm,” she says thoughtfully. “What should I have said?”
“It’s not a question of what you should have said, but rather what you do feel for that child part of yourself.”
“I guess I don’t like her a lot. At least not this week. I want her gone.” She pauses. “You know, I don’t think I get how I could like that part of me and still move forward. I decided after my epiphany this week that I’m going to go back to college and then on to graduate school, although I don’t know if that would be in business or film or dance. I know, I’m covering the spectrum there.”
Although I wonder if Crystal is pushing herself into activity to get away from her internal sadness, I say, “That’s great, but you raise a very important issue when you say you’re not sure how to be kind to the sad, vulnerable part of yourself while going on with your life.”
“Well, you sometimes talk about your neighbor’s little girl. Suppose one day you saw her crying because a friend of hers hurt her feelings or because someone pushed her and she fell. What would you do?”
“I guess I’d hold her and reassure her until she stopped crying and felt comfortable to go back to playing.”
I smile. “Well?” I say.
Crystal smiles back at me. “I guess you’re saying I should treat myself like I’d treat her.” Pause. “You know, that’s not so easy. It’s like either I have to push myself forward and forget about the sadness or get stuck wallowing in it.” Another pause. “Well, I guess you don’t get rid of me yet. We still have work to do.”
I’m startled as I realize the meaning behind Crystal’s statement. “Crystal, allowing yourself to move forward, to do the things you want to do in your life, doesn’t mean you have to stop seeing me. There isn’t this strict demarcation between childhood and adulthood where adults don’t need love and caring and connection. You can go out into the world and see me for as long as you want or need.”
Crystal’s eyes fill with tears. “You’re amazing. I’m afraid I’ll never want to leave you.”
“That might be a fear of yours,” I say. “And we’ll deal with it.”