Tuesday, June 28, 2016


“I won’t be here next week,” Mona begins. “I’m going fishing with my parents.”

I feel disappointed for Mona. I’ve been seeing her for a little under a year, working on her need to separate from her parents. A 30 year old paralegal, Mona works in the law firm where her mother was once senior partner and lives in a house her extremely successful father bought for her. Although Mona was raised by a series of nannies during her early years - her parents busy building a business and developing a career – they now crave her time and attention.   

“I know,” she continues. “We’ve talked about it and talked about it. No, I don’t really want to go. No, I don’t like to fish. Yes, it’s awful being stuck on a boat with my folks for a week. Yes, I wanted to save my vacation time so I could go to Europe.” Pause. “And I’m going fishing.” 

“Do you have a sense of why you made that decision?”

“The consequences of not going are too great.”

“And those consequences are?”

“My house. My job. Little things like that.”

“Do you think your parents would take away your house or your job if you said you didn’t want to go fishing with them?”

“It’s important to them. If I can make them happy, why not?”

“What about what makes you happy?”

“Oh yes. There is that I suppose.”

“What would make you happy, Mona?”

“Being on a desert island somewhere, all by myself.”

“Is that true?” I ask.

“Yes and no I guess. In some ways it would feel like I felt as a kid – alone and adrift – surrounded by my books instead of water. There were times that felt welcoming, peaceful. Other times I felt so, so lonely. All I wanted was Mommy or Daddy to come home and be with me. But even when they were home they weren’t with me. And that was worse.”

“So now Mommy and Daddy have come home to be with you.”

“I suppose.”


“You know, I’m not sure that’s true,” Mona says. “I mean, yes, they’re always there. I can’t get rid of them. But I’m the Mommy and the Daddy. I have to take care of them.”

“So you’re still not getting what you need. And you’re certainly not getting what you needed as a child.”

“That’s for sure.”

“But I wonder, Mona, if you keep trying, if you keep trying to get what needed from them. If you keep trying to get them to take care of you as you hadn’t felt taken care of as a child.”

“No doubt. Look what I chose as a profession, a paralegal. Not putting paralegals down or anything, but I know I’m smart, I know I could have been anything I wanted to be – a doctor, a lawyer, CEO of a corporation. But, no, I’m a paralegal and Mommy and Daddy get to take care of me forever.”

“That’s really sad, Mona. You’re saying that you kept yourself from realizing your full potential in your attempt to get what you never got from your parents in the past.”

“It’s worse than that. Because what I get from them now are the same things I was able to get from them as a kid – material things. I never wanted for anything materially. But what I wanted was their time and attention. And, yeah, I suppose I do get that now, but it’s really all about them. I don’t even know why I keep trying.”

“I think you do know why, Mona. You keep trying because inside you there’s a needy dependent little girl who yearns for Mommy and Daddy to be home taking care of you.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“The problem is that you can never make up for that, Mona. The past is past and however much you as that little girl might long for and deserve to have loving, attentive parents, there’s no way to redo that.”

“That’s charming. So what do I do?”

“You - and we - have to work on helping you to mourn that which you never had. It’s hard. It means feeling sad and angry, sad and angry, sad and angry, until you can get to a place of acceptance.”

“Doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“No, it’s a long, difficult process.”

“Meanwhile it will have to wait. I’m going fishing.”   


Unknown said...

As always, Linda, your column gives me plenty of food for thought. One question that arises about this case is: who is paying for her therapy? And what were her goals initially for her to seek treatment?

I have in my practice the mirror image of this situation: my patient, in her 60's, enmeshed with her two grown, still single, daughters. Because she feels guilty that her divorce from her father (his decision) scarred them psychologically, she is compelled to help support them financially while she herself goes without. I continue to interpret to her that she is enabling them to remain in a less-than-adult role, and that her behavior is self-sacrificing and masochistic. Her therapy is being paid for by her (second) husband's insurance and soon by Medicare. She herself would never choose to spend money out of pocket for her own sessions. And so the work continues...

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

Hi Sylvia,

It's good to hear from you. I hope that you are doing well.

I know that you knew - although certainly may have forgotten - that the patients in my blogs are fictionalized, although I always try to remain true to who I am and to what I think I would have thought, felt or said in the imagined scenario.

That having been said, I have seen many patients over the years who are similar to the patient I describe, as well as to the patient you describe. In my patient, the parents invariably pay for the treatment, even though I always give the bill to the patient and even if the patient writes the check. But the patient is always reimbursed by the parents who pay for most of her expenses anyway. The presenting problem is usually that the patient wants a fuller, more satisfying life, although she might also say that she wants more autonomy from her parents. But, as we know, just because a patient says that she wants something, doesn't mean that she won't fight it with every ounce of her being.

I've also had patients like yours, although often they're quite wealthy, so it's not a question of them depriving themselves to pay for their daughter or son. Clearly, as you say, your patient feels guilty. I guess the question might be, does she really feel guilty only about what she says she feels guilty about, or are there underlining issues and guilts that she hasn't yet spoken about.

And, as you said, the work continues.

Thanks for commenting.


Anonymous said...

Linda, Your narrative reminds me of Alice Miller and the drama of the gifted child who neglected fails to evolve through the developmental stages essential for autonomous functioning. Your patient it appears lacks the motivation and skills essential for an independent life. Simply talking in secondary process conversations will not facilitate her independence. Rather,as you well know she requires 'hatching'with you. Good luck! and best wishes, Sid

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

"Hatching with me." I like that Sid. thanks for commenting.