Wednesday. I get to Bea’s office right on time, despite not sleeping well the night before and waking up late. I feel steadier than I have in weeks. Things don’t feel repaired, and I’m still unsure of Bea, but I don’t feel like the ground is falling away under my feet anymore.
When I walk in, we chat a little, just normal stuff, nothing serious or deep. This feels normal, familar. It’s me and Bea talking about regular, boring life stuff, and it feels like an oasis from the storm we have been in for weeks. I start to realx, and feel like Bea is really here and herself.
Before long, though, we are discussing teen stuff, in a weird random way. It starts with a conversation about clothing, which seems beign and random. We’d been discussing small town life and ideals as compared to the larger area Bea I live in now.
“I never worried about having the *right* clothes growing up. My mom always just knew the popular brands and that’s what she bought.” I shrug. It’s not strange to me, it’s just how things were.
“Did you ever want to wear something different?” She’s curious.
I think. Did I? I’m really not sure. “I don’t think so. I was so….I mean, Ms. Perfect was just so in charge back then, and that’s what I was. Blonde. Cheerleader. I looked and dressed like everyone else who was……I don’t know. Popular.” I could say well off, or in the in crowd, or something else. But it boils down to popularity. All of our parents were friends. We all went to the same church, were members of the same country club, had vacation houses in the same small touristy towns on small lakes, we all participated in the same activities, we had known each other since we were in diapers. It was also very clear what was expected of me, and I performed perfectly. There wasn’t really a wants or needs about it. I was who and what I was expected to be.
“No part of you wanted something different?” She asks again. This time, I’m sure that she is going somewhere with this, or looking for some sort of information. It’s the slight change in her voice, maybe.
“Well, no. I don’t think so. I’m not sure there was another option, anyway. Once, my brother tried to shop….what is that store, the more edgy punk store….”
“Hot topic?” Bea asks.
“Yes! He wanted to shop there. My mom threw out his clothes he had bought and replaced them with her choices from the gap, banana republic, j crew, the buckle. He was not going to look anything but perfect.”
“That seems extreme to me, to control your teen’s wardrobe like that.”
“Really?” I’m surprised. “It’s just how it was. Part of the presentation of how we looked. You know, that sort of thing matters to her. I don’t know.”
“Yes, I can see it mattered. I guess I just didn’t realize that your mom’s need to control things and present a pretty picture extended that much.” Bea says slowly.
“Once I had light pink streaks put in my hair,” I tell her.
“How did that go over?” She asks. She is back to being curious again.
“Not well. But it was acceptable. I was still mostly blonde and the streaks were little and baby pink, so it was a girly choice, so it was tolerated.”
“Why did you put streaks in hair?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug. Now, as I write this, I think I wanted something that was just mine, not something my mother chose for me. But wheh Bea asked, it was just a thing I did.
“Teens usually havs reasons for doing what they do. Especially with hair.” She pushes a bit, maybe trying to see if I am willing to dig underneath.
“I really don’t know. It was just something I did.” Thinking about it now, my mom wasn’t at the salon with me that day, so when I went for my usual highlights, it wasn’t a big deal to add pink.
“And your mom was okay with it in the end?”
“Well, it washed out quick enough. So then, it was fine. I mean, she just liked things to be how she liked them.” I feel sort of odd. Not far away, just sort of, going through the motions of this conversation.
“Like what?” Bea asks.
“I don’t know. How we behaved, what we did, what we wore. She just wanted things to be normal, I guess. She doesn’t deal with things outside of that box of normal very well.”
“No, she really doesn’t.” It’s an agreement, but maybe something more, a question or a prompt to keep talking.
“She would just….ugh…I don’t know, ignore me if I didn’t behave how she liked. Everything from not picking up my room to I don’t know what.” I sigh. I’m in a weird mood. “You know that she would just ignore me if I was talking too much, just literally walk away. She didn’t like feelings either. Some feelings weren’t allowed. Well, it wasn’t really a rule, not something spelled out, but I knew…..she made it clear. I suppose now I would say she dissociated.”
“Really?” Bea sounds surprised and, in my mind that surprise means she doesn’t agree with me, so I backtrack quickly.
“Well, maybe not, maybe that is the wrong word. I was just thinking like, if I was crying, so upset, she would just sort of check out until I stopped. She just wasn’t there. It was so obvious that certain things wouldn’t be tolerated. Sad, tears, mad, hurt, anxiety, she would just zone out.”
“Not be there, not really interact with you? Just be sort of robotic, spaced out?” Bea asks.
“Yeah.” I nod.
“I would call that dissociated,” she says. “So you knew when she was not there, and that was a signal you were being too much?”
“Yeah. Or she would just tell me, you know, I’m a drama queen, I’m overly sensitive. I don’t know. She would send me to my room until I could behave appropriately.” I blink back tears. Even now, this stings.
“It’s such a shame that being sensitive it seen so negatively, instead of helping kids understand they are sensitive, and that is okay.” Bea says.
“But it was okay, mostly, because I knew what was and wasn’t allowed and so things were okay. I didn’t get sent away very much. I knew how to behave right.”
“That makes me sad for the girl who had to hide her feelings to be able to fit what her mom needed her to be.”
“Buf then she didn’t go away or send me away, and it wasn’t so bad. I mean, it just….ugh. I don’t know.”
“So the teen never got to express herself for fear of being unacceptable.” Bea’s voice is sad.
“I guess. But I knew how to be what I was supposed to be. So it was okay, my mom didn’t….” my voice trails off. I was about to sound so melodramatic, I can’t believe it.
“Didn’t what?” Bea prompts.
“Didn’t have to get away from me.” Now I am really blinking back tears as I hide my face. “Can I have the blanket please?”
Bea covers me up, and I cry.
“Can I say something that might be a little shrinky?” She asks.
“I guess.” I’m wary. This tentative okay-ness between us feels like the smallest thing could shatter it.
“When we talk about attachment, and being securely attached, I always had this….well, it doesn’t matter. The more you are telling me about your mom and how she interacted with you, her expectations and her reactions when they weren’t met, I’m wondering if Ms. Perfect was around before Kenny. If maybe she was what some mignt refer to as a false self.”
“I wrote about parts like you asked. I wrote about Ms. Perfect…maybe you should just read it.” I get out my notebook and hand it to her.
When I wrote about Ms. Perfect, I wrote that she was maybe a little girl at first, a little girl when I was a little girl, and she just grew up with me, excpet I still think she is an older teen. I’d written that Ms. Perfect was the one my mom always liked, even loved.
“So, what I am thinking is a bit like what you wrote. I’m thinking that Ms. Perfect was…. created to be this part that your mom could accept. Ms. Perfect was the part that was able to be securely attached because she was what your mom could accept.” Bea is speaking very cautiously, very carefully.
Writing this now, I think Bea is right, my mom couldn’t accept any part except Ms. Perfect, and it’s Ms. Perfect that is securely attached. I wonder if Ms. Perfect has controlled things at times when I would have acted out with Bea, because, well, she didn’t want to have Bea go away or send me away. I need to think on this more. My thoughts are muddled right now.
“Okay….that makes sense,” I agree.
“And that leaves the rest of the parts…well, with more of an insecure attachment. Which is why we have this teen part with the borderline rage acting out when it feels like you were too much and I am leaving.”
“Because the rest of me didn’t get secure attachment because the real me wasn’t acceptable to my mom? So then I had to be Ms. Perfect so that she would….accept me?”
“Well….in a nutshell, yes. Having Ms. Perfect run the show meant that you could get your needs met. The real you, or even the parts couldn’t get attachment needs met because your mom had very specific things she could handle and stay emotionally present for.” Bea says gently.
I don’t say anything. I’m struggling to wrap my head around this. There must be some secure attachment for the real me because of my grandparents. I don’t know.
“This is all separate from the kenny piece. This is all developmental trauma stuff. Of course, already being capable of separating things and having this false self to run the show and be accepted would have made it even easier for him to take advantage. But this development attachment trauma stuff, talking about this now, I can see so many parallels between my behavior that bad Wednesday and your mom.”
“That’s what you mean by it being about the past?”
“In part, yes. We react to things that may be happening in the present, but it triggers old hurts, old beliefs, and we react like those old things are true, even if they are true of the present situation.”
“What parallels?” I ask.
“Well, your mom went away when your feelings were too intense for her to cope with, or accept. You came here that bad Wednesday feeling pretty triggered, and I wasn’t really here. And then in our email when I told you that I was making a choice to avoid the emotional piece, that mirrored your mom, too.” (I think there were other parallels she drew, but I can’t remember now.)
I don’t think I said more, and can’t remember what else Bea said. I was busy thinking what it means if parts of me are insecurely attached, and Ms. Perfect is securely attached. Where does that leave the whole of me? I have no idea.
We wrap up the session by looking at our calendars and scheduling an extra session for Thursday. Wednesday is July 4, so next week would have been a one session week otherwise. Bea’s schedule is tricky, she doesn’t have mornings open on Thurdays or Fridays, but I decide to take an afternoon appointments and ask a friend to watch Kat. When I text my friend, she tells me that she would be happy to take Kat that day and that she is glad I finally took her up on her offer to help.