I remember a fall afternoon when I was 14. Only my younger sister Debra and I were at home. I was working on a sewing project. I had told my mom I wanted to make myself a bathrobe. She said I should make it out of fabric we already had, and she gave me a green polyester fabric that I didn’t like at all. It was hard to sew on too, so I was getting frustrated. Then at one point, I just lost it and had a long, noisy temper tantrum in front of my very surprised sister. I was surprised myself–emotional explosions were very unlike me even then.
I described this to E in last week’s therapy session, and she thought it could be a useful to look more closely at what was going on then. So the Wise Woman (that is, my wisest self) started a conversation with the 14-year-old self.
WW: Hello, 14. Can we sit out on the porch and talk? The weather is so nice this afternoon.
14: I guess.
WW: You know, I saw the other day when you were so upset over the sewing project.
WW: I was thinking that maybe it wasn’t just about the sewing project.
14: Of course it was about the sewing project. I hate that project. I can’t believe that ugly fabric. It’s not even worth the work.
WW: Yeah, it is pretty ugly. And the wrong color.
WW: Plus it doesn’t even feel nice. Even if it was made perfectly, it’s not soft or nice.
14: So you see what I mean.
WW: Still, I know there are a lot of things uglier or more annoying. And you don’t usually end up yelling and crying. In fact, that’s very unusual for you.
14: (shrugs) I guess I just had enough.
WW: I guess so.
WW: Would it be okay if I tell you what I think may have contributed to it?
14: (eyebrows raised skeptically) I guess so.
WW: I could be wrong, but I think there are a lot of things in your life right now that make you angry. You don’t really have an opportunity to talk about them, and so you hold them in. It’s very hard to hold in strong emotions. They want to be expressed. So when something else really irritates you, they grab that opportunity to come bursting out of you. They are the reason you were crying and yelling.
14: I wasn’t really yelling.
WW: You weren’t?
14: Okay, I was. It’s embarrassing though.
WW: It’s interesting that you feel strong emotions are embarrassing. You want to act like that afternoon didn’t really happen.
14: I wish it didn’t. I should control myself better.
WW: It’s okay to have strong feelings. It’s even okay to express them.
14: Not in this house.
WW: Right, not in this house. At least not in front of your mom and Leo.
14: (frowns, but says nothing)
WW: (waits a little to see if 14 will say anything)
14: I kind of wish my sister didn’t see it. I think I scared her. She just watched me like I was crazy.
WW: Well, you were feeling crazy just then. Crazy frustrated. Crazy mad.
14: Yeah, I was.
WW: I wonder if at some level you needed a witness to how upset you were, and Debra was a safe witness.
14: What do you mean, safe?
WW: She won’t tell your mom and Leo.
14: That’s true. She won’t get me in trouble.
WW: Do you know what you were so mad about?
14: Maybe that Leo is so mean?
WW: Tell me more about that.
14: About how mean he is? It’s so obvious. He says mean stuff to us all the time. He always says we are doing things wrong. He thinks we make too much noise. He is never friendly. He never says anything good about us. He says we aren’t allowed to touch any of his stuff, even though he can touch ours. He talks in a very negative tone of voice too, like we did a lot of bad things and need to be told because we are too stupid to know. And he talks to my mom like that too.
WW: Does that bother you, the way he talks to your mom?
14: Well, yes. I mean, they haven’t even been married a year. I thought they were supposed to be in love. Is that how you talk to someone you are in love with?
WW: What do you think?
14: Well, it seems harsh, but I don’t know. It’s not very romantic.
WW: No, it’s not. You were saying he is also mean to all four of you kids.
14: Yes, and he grounds us. Mom never used to do that. And she doesn’t say anything. She just lets him punish us and say mean stuff to us, and she never says, “stop being so rude to them.” She is afraid to make him mad, I guess.
WW: And that makes you mad.
14: No, I mean, sort of, but I feel sorry for her too. But shouldn’t she stand up for us? But maybe she can’t. I don’t know.
WW: Seems like you have some conflicted feelings about her response to him.
14: Huh, yeah, I guess.
WW: What was that? I mean, you were talking to me about the issue, but then when it came to conflicted feelings about your mom, you withdrew and became suddenly sort of apathetic.
14: Maybe I just don’t care.
WW: I don’t believe that. I think you care a lot.
14: What’s the point?
WW: What’s the point of caring? I don’t know if there is a point. You can have feelings without there being a point to them.
14: If you can’t do anything about it, then there’s no point in having an opinion. It will just make you upset.
WW: Like you were the other day?
14: The sewing machine incident? That was different.
WW: I don’t know, was it? From my perspective, it seems to me like it was an opportunity for your real opinion and feelings to come out and show themselves. I’m wondering if part of what is making you really mad is the Leo is mean, and your mom is letting him get away with it.
14: (says nothing)
WW: Maybe you feel like she is betraying you?
14: No, she wouldn’t do that. She is our mom. She loves us.
WW: She might love you and still, in a way, betray you. Do you think that’s possible?
14: No, no way. She’s a good mom. She wouldn’t betray us.
WW: So what do you think is going on then?
14: Leo is making her.
WW: I know I’m pushing you a bit, but isn’t she a grown-up? He’s not going to beat her up if she says something, is he?
14: Um, no. I don’t think so. No. Probably yell a lot and then maybe not speak to her. Make her cry.
WW: So if she’s your mom and loves you and wants to protect you, do you think she should be so afraid of his yelling that she just lets him do whatever?
14: Shut up.
WW: I am saying what I suspect you are feeling but aren’t saying.
14: I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
WW: All right. I know I’m pushing on you, and I can understand that you don’t like it. I care about you and want to help you figure out what you are feeling and what you need.
14: I don’t need anything.
WW: I believe that is what you have been telling yourself. But I don’t think it’s true.
14: Go away.
WW: I will, for now. We can put this away for the time being. I’ll come back and check on you later. If you feel like you want to talk before then though, just let me know. I’m right nearby.
I don’t know if the Wise Woman should talk like that to the 14-year-old. Maybe it’s just her job to be supportive? At the same time, how am I going to get anywhere if I allow all the parts to keep on retelling the same old stories?
Hey WW: You’re a damn good shrink, you know! My 14 year old was hoarding pills for her first suicide attempt and we sure could have used you. Love to you and Q! TS
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What? Recently? Is she okay? Are you?
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OH, yes, Q, so sorry to have scared you. My 14 year old was me, 14 years ago. We are still fighting, as teenagers and adults who love each other greatly do, but, as you, know, we are doing well! Thank you so much for your ever-present warmth and understanding. TS
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woops 60 years ago. xo TS
Wow, Q. Your Wise Woman is good. I think I’m experiencing some of the apathy that your 14 year old feels around the conflicting feelings about your mother. I get that with hating my parents for what they did to me and also not wanting to hate them because that’s scary because they took care of me and I depended on them….so my kid parts get really conflicted and apathetic and maybe that’s a part of my anxiety around MT anger right now.
That was supposed to be my anger and I wasn’t done yet and I hit send by mistake.
I think it’s okay for your wise woman to talk to your 14 year old like that. It’s really how we would talk to a struggling teenager. I could have used some adult talking to me like that when I was 14. You’re being pretty non-judgmental, but trying to get to the bottom of what’s really going on and bring it out in the light.
I was touched in reading this. And I just love your creative writing. It is so captivating. I think it is okay to challenge the 14 year old’s beliefs. In a compassionate way, which I hear you doing. It wasn’t her fault, and still isn’t her fault that she has a hard time really grasping what happened. These types of knowings take years to really undo and re-form.
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I think the way you write is so brilliant and I have found myself trying to write from those perspectives of my inner self too.
It is a testament to how hard you are working that the wisest part of you can safely challenge the 14 yr olds POV. It’s compassionate, creative, and utterly enthralling.
Oooh, thank you, I am glowing from your praise.
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I love this and the idea of having conversations with our younger selves. My own therapist recently introduced this and I find it very effective. I too to this very day, am sacred of big emotions. I feel ashamed almost to express them. So much emotional restraint goes into hiding secrets that you become afraid of letting anything out. When I was about 17 I took a load of pills, as a cry for help, and I told my mother and she laughed it off like I had eaten too many chocolate bars. You are doing great work! And are an inspiration!
You’re challenging her because you love her, too much to accept her pretending that she doesn’t feel hurt or betrayed by her mom (and implicitly reinforcing the message her mom had no choice by not questioning it). She’s going to get mad, because she’s 14 and she needs her mom and maybe if you make her acknowledge that she wishes her mom would protect her, she’ll have nobody. I feel a lot of care for her. It sounds like she tries so hard even though inside she’s unhappy (I originally wrote “dying”, but maybe that’s too strong).
I know you’re having a career transition – ever thought of being a therapist? I’m mostly joking, but I do honestly think you’d be a great one.
I like the dialogue between the WW & the 14 year old- it feels like an alliance, with the WW knowing how to help heal the 14 year old, with a sense of hope in there. If it were me, I’d feel proud of myself.
[…] throw things and break things. I never felt like that before, crazy and destructive. I threw a total fit in front of Debra. I feel like I can’t help it; I’m just mad most of the time. And I hate everything. I […]