“I finally went to dinner at my parent’s,” 19 year old Bethany says dejectedly. “It was pretty bad. They just won’t let up. ‘I can’t believe you lied to us, going to the Women’s March on Washington without even telling us. If we hadn’t called and talked to your roommate we would never have known. What if something had happened to you? We didn’t even know you were gone.’ Blah, blah, blah. As if that was the issue. I bet if I went to the Trump Inaugural they would have been thrilled – even if I hadn’t told them. It’s such bullshit. They did do a bit of, ‘How could you be our child and believe those people have a right to marry.’ Or, ‘Didn’t we teach you that every life is sacred, especially the unborn, those most vulnerable?’ I thought I’d puke. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.” Pause. “I suppose you’re thinking, ‘I told you you should have told them.’”
“I don’t remember telling you you should have told them,” I say, surprised.
“You asked me why I didn’t tell them, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but that was a question meant to help you look at why you do or don’t do whatever.”
“Well, the answer’s pretty obvious. If I tell them I get all this shit. Just like I did.”
“And what did you say when you got all this shit?”
“Yeah. What am I going to say? You can’t argue with them. I just sit there, trying to tune them out, hoping they’ll stop sooner than later.”
“And why do you feel you can’t argue with them?”
She raises her eyebrows and snorts. “I don’t mean to be nasty, but how long has it been since you were 19?”
I smile inwardly. Although it’s been quite a while since I was 19, I do clearly remember the arguments I had with my parents, most especially my father. Not about politics. There are values were pretty similar, but often about psychology and science. My father was angry, dogmatic and unrelenting. For years, I argued and argued with him about dreams, about the cause of mental illness, about the unconscious, until I finally gave up. Then I was like Bethany, sitting at the table saying nothing, hoping he’d stop sooner than later. On the other hand, I never, ever stopped battling my father’s vicious temper, trying to put a clear limit how he could treat me. I bring myself back to my patient. “I get that it can be difficult to argue with your parents when you’re 19, but I’d like to understand specifically why YOU can’t argue with your parents, even at 19.”
She sighs. “First, they have the money. If they get mad enough, there goes college, plus whatever else.”
“Would they do that? They sound pretty determined for you to get an education, pretty invested in it.”
“They are.” Pause. “Especially my Dad. But sometimes I think my Mom believes I’m being corrupted by college, too liberal you know. And, I don’t know. This may sound weird, but I’m not sure that my Mom really wants me to succeed, like maybe she’s jealous or something. Like she never went to college, so why should I.”
“So are you saying you’re afraid your mother might undermine you?”
“I never thought of it that way, but I guess so. If I gave her any ammunition. Like the Women’s March.”
“I need to ask you something. What did you think about the Women’s March?”
“I’ll answer that in a minute, Bethany, but first I want to ask you something. Why did you ask that question right at this moment?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it and just felt I had to ask.”
“Well, I have a thought as to why you had to ask right then. You were talking about your mother feeling threatening, dangerous and I wonder if you suddenly felt I might be dangerous too and had to check that out.”
“Are you?” she says quietly.
“No, Bethany, I’m not dangerous.” I could tell Bethany I was at the Women’s March too, but decide that might too greatly diminish the tension around the issue of whether difference between two people, perhaps especially two women, is inherently dangerous. “I suspect that our politics might be pretty similar, but even if it wasn’t, I’d still be on your side, still wanting you to have your own voice and make your own way in the world.”
This was fantastic. Shows how the therapist can be psychoanalytic and humanistic and available in the best possible way for her patient. I love your blogs.
Thank you so much, Sheila.
I love having you as a fan!
Linda, I think you are most skilled and sensitive- you have an excellent understanding of the transference and capacity to understand unconscious conflicts
Thanks so much, Charlotte. I very much appreciate your comment.
This is fantastic, Linda. I have been struggling as of late which how much to share and disclose politically. Excellent food for thought!
Thank you so much Lauren. I appreciate your feedback and am glad my blog was helpful to you.
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