I’m curled up on Bea’s couch in my normal hiding position. I’ve just announced to Bea that Kat has a crush on her new BCBA, Jamie. I’m half looking at Bea, half staring at my toes.
“Yes, that’s what you said on Friday when she was here,” Bea says. She sounds very neutral about this whole thing, not appalled at all. I had told her on Friday, hoping she might help put an end to it. Instead, she had acted like it was fine.
I sigh. “I don’t like it,” I tell her. I think I sound like a bratty child, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. It’s not okay. I stare at my toes when I say this, and never really manage to meet Bea’s eyes again the rest of the session.
Bea is quiet for a moment, maybe thinking, maybe waiting for me to say a little more. “I can see how it could be really hard to watch her have a crush on an adult guy.”
I shake my head. “I didn’t even realize it until Thursday, when he left without telling her goodbye. She melted down.” I proceed to tell Bea how my 4 year old turned 13 during that phone call and flirted with him. I’m sick to my stomach over this. Panicked. I wonder if I can fire Jamie.
“It’s shocking to see that happen. It would shock any parent, but maybe even be triggering for you. It’s developmentally normal. We have talked before about how kids go through this kind of pre- puberty type thing, being interested in boys, flirting, being curious about sexual parts, and it peaks around age 5. Then it all goes underground until puberty. She’ll be 5 in July. She’s right on track developmentally with this. It’s normal. It may not seem normal, but it is perfectly normal,” Bea reassures me.
It’s not okay. This can’t be normal. I don’t say anything, just keep staring at my toes.
“What kinds of feelings did this bring up for you? I imagine it might have brought up a lot,” Bea says thoughtfully.
I resort to hiding my face in my knees and picking at my fingers. They should be sore from the damage I’ve done over the weekend, but they aren’t. I’m numb again, cut off from my body. “I……it’s not okay. I think he needs to go. Can I fire him? I don’t know what I feel. Scared. Worried. Panicked. I haven’t slept since I realized. Then I napped off and on all day Sunday. And haven’t slept again. I can’t do this. It’s just not okay.”
“You can’t fire him. But we can talk about this, work through it. I think we need to separate you from Kat. Kat is safe. Is she alone with him?”
“No, of course not. Amy or me or hubby is always there. She’s not alone with him, not ever.” I answer quickly. How can she think I would leave my child alone with an adult man not her father, and put her in a possibly bad situation? As soon as I think this, I realize Bea doesn’t think that, she is making a point.
“So, she’s not alone with him. You don’t ignore things, and wouldn’t ignore signs of abuse. He comes once a week?” I nod. “He’s only there once a week. It’s normal for her to have a crush. And this may help her tolerate male peers, because of her feelings for him.” Bea tries to reframe it, go the CBT route, changing my thinking, but I can’t.
“No. It doesn’t matter. It’s not okay.” I tell her, stubbornly.
“Does it feel dangerous?” Bea asks.
I think about it. “No…more like not safe.” I get that the two are kind of synonyms, but dangerous and not safe feel different to me. Thankfully, Bea seems to get this.
“What other feelings come up?” Bea asks me gently.
“I don’t know. I can’t find words. I tried. I tried to write, tried to email you. I can’t find the words. It’s just not safe, not okay.” I shake my head. I’m so very frustrated with myself.
“Because it’s more feelings, sensations, not thought. That’s okay, words will come.” She sounds so sure of this. I should trust this more, because words usually do come, eventually, and yet, I doubt it in this moment.
I feel panicky, and sick. I know there is more I should be telling Bea, more to this. But I’m afraid and ashamed. I finally mumble the words. “I got mad on Saturday. I yelled at Kat.” Once the words are out, I want to pull them back, stuff them away. Crap. Oh crap. This is no good. I start crying uncontrollably, and can’t stop myself.
Bea surprises me. When she speaks, there isn’t judgment or upset in her voice. It’s not even neutral. It’s full of sympathy and compassion. “You feel really bad about this. But every parent has yelled at their child. We have all done it. Kat is okay, I’m sure of it.” She pauses for a moment, giving me a chance to speak, but I can’t, and so she continues, “I’m sure I’ve told you some of my worst moments. When I hit my son with a block after he hit me?” I nod. “And even though we all know not to spank, and I’m against sparking, I spanked both my children. I’d be home all day with them, and just reach the end of my rope sometimes.” I nod my head, I remember that, too. “What happened?” She asks gently.
I sniffle, try to control my crying. “We were getting ready to go to the pool. There was a tag bothering her, and it itched. She was whining about it, and the whining was frustrating me. This is not new, it is common occurrence, it doesn’t bother me, I’m actually just glad to know what is bothering her. I went to cut the tag out and she freaked out, whining and screaming and yelling at me not to cut her. So I freaked out, just lost it yelling. I was so mad, over nothing. Just nothing. I’m terrible….” The tears start again and turn into sobs quickly.
“It sounds like some things had been building, and you lost it. We have all done it. Every parent,” Bea says, understandingly, “I want to know about the repair. What happened after you yelled?”
“She ran down to her room, crying. I stayed upstairs….it took me a little bit to go to her.”
“Because you were so mad?” Bea asks.
“No. I was crying, too. I just couldn’t get myself to go. And then I did, and I rocked her and held her and said I was sorry and that I loved her. And we talked. And then we got dressed and went to the pool. And played there, and came home and cuddled and watched a movie.”
“That was a great repair. Kat is fine, I promise,” Bea says firmly. She can be stubborn, too. “You’ve told me you have yelled at her before. What made this time different?”
I shrug. “I hate this. I was mad. For real mad. And before it was like I snapped, I was frustrated, it didn’t upset her like this….I don’t know. This was mad and yelling and awful.” I blink away tears, even though it is pointless, they are falling so fast.
“Sometimes we can be the ones that feel like the abuser when we get mad like that,” Bea says, and she is stating exactly how I have been feeling: abusive, evil, mean.
I don’t say anything. I just keep crying. This sucks. I hate this. I don’t want to feel like this.
“I really think Kat’s crush and your feelings about it are linked to being mad and yelling at her,” Bea says slowly. She’s speaking quietly, maybe trying not to upset me, but this is something I have already figured out.
I nod. “Yeah….maybe.”
“How do you feel towards her, about her having this crush?” Bea questions.
“I don’t know.” It’s automatic, I don’t want to answer how I feel, what I am thinking. Bea waits, though. She is starting to know a difference between my I don’t knows, and that really sucks. “It’s not good. Little girls should not have crushes.”
Bea waits a moment, but when it’s clear I’m done talking, she talks. “You might feel disgusted over her crush. Maybe scared. Maybe like it’s wrong, and dangerous. You might find yourself feeling more distanced from her, or angry with her, or over reacting and being very mad or upset about things. Those feelings would all be normal.”
I am not about to admit I am disgusted with my daughter, that I am shocked and scared and sad and panicked and disgusted by her crush. I can’t do it. So instead, I listen to Bea and feel grateful that she is willing to list out possibilities for me, that she is willing to tell me what is normal, even if I won’t admit to any of it.
Bea continues talking, but she has moved on now, and is discussing how little girls having a crush is normal. “It’s not sexual; it’s like Cinderella and Prince Charming, it’s more sweet, innocent.”
I hug my knees tighter and pick at my fingers more. I want to scream at Bea in that moment. I want to yell at her that of course it’s innocent, but that doesn’t matter. That Kat does not understand. That no little girl understands the ramifications of a crush like this. That is is not safe and he needs to go, be out of our lives. That no good can come from this. But I don’t say I word. I just cry, and hug my knees and pick my fingers.
“It’s developmentally normal. Maybe you had a crush on Kenny, like Prince Charming. That would be normal. You didn’t get to experience it as normal, though, it got twisted and made to be unsafe. But, this, with Kat, is different. She is as safe as she can be. She’s not alone with him. He comes once a week. He is a professional. You are aware.” Bea pauses, and then, in that kind way she has, adds, “and not all men are abusers.”
I shrug. I’m listening, I just don’t have anything to say. I’m sick to my stomach, nauseas, and dizzy. This isn’t safe. I know it. I liked him– Kenny. I liked Kenny. And look what happened. “I can’t do this. I’m not okay.” I finally get out.
“I know. I know it’s hard. I’m really, really glad you were here, in therapy and talking about this stuff. Imagine if you hadn’t been, and you saw Kat have a crush on Jamie. It would have sent you past not okay. It’s hard, it feels impossible to get through at times, but that’s why we talk about it. It’s really common to have reactions to your own child, as they get near the age you were when you were abused, or as they do things you would have done.” Bea is so understanding, I sometimes wonder how any one person can be this understanding, and I’m so thankful to have her as my therapist.
“She’ll be 5 in July. She’ll be 5! I can’t do it. I can’t.” The words come out fast and panicked, high pitched.
“You can. It’s hard, but we will keep talking, making plans and you can do it. Maybe it might be a good idea to talk to hubby about this. You could bring him in, or send him in on his own again. Let him take over the reins a bit where it comes to Jamie. It might be good for hubby to realize that it’s very common for woman to be triggered as their same sex child reaches their age they were abused, and that this is all very triggering and hard for you.” Bea suggests.
“No. No. He can’t know I yelled at her like this. Oh no. No, no.” I’m adamant about not bringing him in on my being triggered by our child. At the time, I didn’t have much of a reason, but now, writing this, I can think of a few. 1) letting him in on a trigger is huge. I’ve never done that before, and that would be letting him closer again. 2) I’m ashamed that I’m triggered by our child 3) if he is told I’m triggered by Kat’s crush on Jaime, that is a good as admitting I had a crush on my abuser. Which is gross. And wrong. And all kinds of bad. And I do not want hubby to know that.
“He wouldn’t have to know about the yelling. But the triggery stuff, yes. I hate to say this, but it will probably only get worse as she gets older. And if he isn’t told he needs to take an active role in the crush, dating, sex stuff…..he might not. A lot of guys don’t. I remember my husband asking me why I was letting my daughter go out on a date. It was like, she’s our daughter, and we can make this choice……geesh. It’s hard under circumstances without triggers. Think about including hubby, so he can help. I think he would want to help.” Bea tells me.
I shake my head at her. “No. I don’t want to talk to him.”
“He can always come see me on his own. Send him in, anytime. When you are ready.” She reminds me, once more, and then drops the subject.
We talk a little more about how I yelled and how I feel like I damaged my daughter. She assures me I didn’t. I tell her I’m afraid it will happen again.
“You’re more aware now. The more aware you are, the less likely it is to trigger you so much and happen again. Identifying triggers and talking through them is big. And knowing when it is happening is big, too, because you can take a break, calm down.”
“I didn’t…I don’t think I can take a break, I didn’t know it was going to happen. I went from not mad to so mad. I don’t know.” I want to tell her I think maybe I found the rage she keeps talking about, but I don’t dare name this anger that, I’m afraid of rage, even more than I’m afraid of anger and mad. I don’t want any of them in me. They all need to go, leave me alone. Life was so much simpler when I was numb.
“Hmmm..yes, okay. Mad can be like that, but now you are aware of it. Saturday you weren’t aware of it. And I think we need to try to separate the feelings out, and separate you from Kat,” Bea says, “I want you to remind yourself the facts: Kat is safe. She isn’t alone with him. He is a professional. She isn’t you. You are aware. She is safe. A crush is normal, it isn’t sexual. Not all men are abusers. And I want you to try to separate the feelings out this week and write them down or email them to me, okay?”
I nod. I think I should have her write the facts down, because even though she has repeated them several times in the session, I will forget them. (And forget a lot of them I did– so I made up new ones, and left out several. Crap.) I’m dissociated, running on no sleep and lots of caffeine and panicky; this is not a good combo.
We wrap up, Bea wants me to come back to being fully grown up me before I leave and head to my appointment with Dr. B.
“Can I ask your opinion on something?” Bea asks me.
“Yeah, sure,” I tell her, still feeling little girl like, and sick with myself.
She gets up and walks to rhe big table that doubles as a desk, and pulls a canvas picture out of a bag. Bea holds it up to the wall across from the couch. “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful.” It is, too. It’s of a lake, on a winter day. You can see ice caps on the waves and snow on the trees framing the lake. I grew up on a lake, though, and love the water, so I’m biased, but I really like the picture.
“Well, I figure people sitting there will be looking at it. I’m thinking of getting two smaller ones to go underneath it.”
“That would be perfect,” I agree.
“You don’t think it’s too depressing? Like if you were depressed, it wouldn’t make you feel worse to be staring at this?” Bea questions. She really does put a lot of thought into everything.
“Well, I’m a lake girl, but I think it’s beautiful. I love it.”
“It was a Valentine’s gift. My husband took it,” she tells me.
“He took this picture?” I ask.
“Yeah. I picked it out, and asked for it for Valentine’s Day.”
“He’s really talented!” I tell her. Photography was never my forte, but I know talent when I see it.
“Thank you.” Bea smiles, and puts the picture back on the desk. “Maybe I’ll get that up before Thursday this week.”
“Hopefully,” I say.
We say good byes after a little more small talk. I’m really not okay, but I feel a little better having told her about the mess in my head that Kat’s crush is causing. At least now when I send her a crazy email, that is messy and unedited, she will understand why.