I open my waiting room door to a slender young woman who looks up at me as though startled. With perfect posture she follows me into my office and sits gingerly on the chair I designate. She stares at me expectantly.
“How can I help you?” I ask, smiling.
“This is all confidential, right?” she asks quietly.
“Yes,” I say, immediately on guard.
“I’ve done something terrible.”
I say nothing, my anxiety increasing.
“Do you want to tell me what that terrible thing was or would you prefer to give me some background information first?” I ask, trying to make us both more comfortable.
“Well, I’m Brenda Masters. I’m 29, a real estate broker. I work in my father’s company. I do pretty well,” she adds, smiling for the first time. “I like it. I did graduate from college because my parents wanted me to, but I kind of always wanted to go into the business. My older brother’s in the business too. My older sister is studying to be a doctor. She was always the brain. I own my condo – my Dad bought it for me – although I’d like to own a house one day. I date, but there’s no one special, not for a while.”
“My life’s pretty good. That’s what makes this all the more strange.”
“Perhaps you need to tell me what “this” is.”
Taking a deep breath, she says, “About a month ago I parked downtown and went to do some shopping. I’m not sure how long I was gone, but when I got back there was a BMW convertible behind me and some fancy Porsche in front. They penned me in. I couldn’t move. Made me mad. I stood there a while hoping one of them would come back. No such luck. Finally I got into my car and tried to more a few inches up and back, up and back. But it was ridiculous. I couldn’t get anywhere.”
little. And then I gave it more gas and before long I was ramming first one car and then the other. Bang! Bang!! Up and back, up and back. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I was obviously damaging my car too, but I didn’t care. I liked the feeling, the power. I liked showing them they couldn’t just push me around!” she says, quite animated at this point. “This time I was the one doing the pushing! And then I was out! I was free! It was a great feeling. I showed them!”
She pauses, seemingly trying to return to her previous calm and controlled state. “I guess I was lucky there weren’t many people around that day, maybe because it was raining. I told my Dad someone messed up my bumper and he had it fixed. No biggie.”
“And does it feel like ‘no biggie?’”
“Well, I guess I felt both thrilled and guilty. I decided not think about it. But I couldn’t. That’s the problem,” she says, lowering her head. “I’ve done it again. More than once. I look for the right place and the right day and I do it again. I know that’s not good. I know it’s wrong. And I know I’ll get in trouble. But it’s become like an obsession. Can you help me?”
“I think so, but first we have to understand why it’s become an obsession, why you feel so stimulated battering someone’s car. Do you have any thoughts?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen myself as an angry person. I was always the good girl. My brother used to tease me for being so good, said it made him look bad.”
“Do you know why you were so good?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because my brother was the boy and my sister was the smart one and I had to do something to distinguish myself, so I was good.”
“And what happened when you felt angry?”
“I didn’t get angry.”
“You never felt angry?”
“I never expressed it.”
“So what did you do with your anger?”
She hesitates. “I didn’t eat. And when that wasn’t okay, I ate and threw up.”
“Do you still do that?”
“Sometimes, but not much.”
“What’s going on in your life today when you eat and throw up.”
“I don’t know. I guess I feel fat.”
“Has your throwing up increased or decreased since you’ve been ramming cars?”
“Hmm. I might not have thrown up since that first time. Wow! You think there’s a connection?”
“Could be. You know, Brenda, you immediately struck me as a person very much in control, holding yourself back, reining yourself in. I wonder if both throwing up and ramming cars is a way for you to let go, to release some of the anger you’ve been sitting on your whole life.”
“But what do I have to feel angry about?”
“I guess that’s one of the things we’ll need to figure out.”