By P. Berman, A. Hosack, & K. Hecht
You have ruined my life. I will teach you. No waste of space like you will stand in my way!
The nightmare felt so real! Claire couldn’t even recognize herself. The bad mommy was so powerful- like a combination of both her mom and dad. She swung her belt down hard on Davy, cutting him to the bone – like her dad. She left a bleeding, whimpering Davy alone in the basement – calling him a waste of space as she slammed the door shut – just like her mom. No. No. I want to be like the Carsons not them!
Claire was sweating buckets under her clothes- her shirt was clinging to her body like another skin. She was alone in the waiting room. She was having a flash back to her last nightmare. If Mr. Carson was there, he would have held her hand and she would never have re-lived last night’s dream. But…he wasn’t here. She had suddenly told Mr. Carson she didn’t want to waste his time and jumped out of the car at a red light and run the last block into the building. This change in plan worried Mr. Carson. Something was wrong. He parked the car as fast as he could and rushed to the waiting room. Claire’s coat was hanging up. Good she was here but…what was going on?
A few minutes early, Dr. Berman had opened her office door and said, “Good morning Claire, come on in.” Claire had rushed in, too stressed to just walk, but then she sat down and didn’t say anything- what could she say? (2-minute silence). Claire was scratching at her legs and looking miserable.
“Claire, you seem to have something on your mind. We can talk about it (1-minute silence) or, you could just tell me about something that happened this week you feel comfortable sharing.”
I need to tell her about the wagon. No, I can’t tell her about the wagon. I am terrified of myself!
Claire couldn’t tell anyone she had abused Davy but dragging him by this arm and then thrusting him into the wagon. She knew it must have really hurt when his head banged into the metal handle. She knew the bad mommy would win if she didn’t get help but what could she say that wouldn’t make Ms. Alexandra take Davy away from her?
Claire decided. “I lost my temper with Davy in the Park over the weekend. I don’t ever want to do this again.” Claire then stared at Dr. Berman, blinking her eyes quickly trying not to cry.
“Your eyes look so moist Claire, it’s okay to cry in here.”
Five minutes of silence went by with Dr. Berman silently attending to Claire as she cried in the chair and held tightly to Dr. Berman’s tissue box. “We can sit quietly together for the whole session if you want. Or, whenever you are ready, you can tell me more about losing your temper with Davy?” Claire wiped her eyes, “I started out just right,” Claire said desperately. “I told Davy clearly it was time to clean up. I gave him a countdown to three when he wasn’t cleaning up and began to put his toys away for him, ignoring his whining.” (I-minute silence) “He didn’t listen. He threw sand in my eyes and ….” (1-minute silence)
“Sand really hurts when it gets into the eyes Claire. I can understand why something would go wrong after that happened. (I-minute silence) “Can you tell me what went wrong?” “Davy screamed he didn’t love me. He began to take his toys out of the wagon where I had put them. I felt so angry and so hurt I just yelled back really meanly,” Claire whispered. It wasn’t true but maybe it was enough to get the help she needed.
“Claire, you did a lot right with Davy at the park. But, raising children is complicated and Davy is a spunky little boy. He is going to keep testing you, just like he did at the park. Can he be your mom or are you his?” (1- minute silence)
“I am the mom. He is too little to know what is good for him.”
“Absolutely, you know much more about what Davy needs than he does. He needs more control over his ability to focus his attention, so he listens to- most of the time. He needs more control over his feelings- so he can talk about not wanting to stop playing rather than throwing sand – most of the time. He needs more control over his thoughts so that he will stop and think, before making a decision – most of the time.”
“I want him to do those things all the time,” Claire said in despair.
“Davy can’t be a perfect little boy, just like you can’t be a perfect mom. No one can be perfect. We have to aim at a rational middle ground.”
“How do we start, I need to learn fast,” Claire said.
“Step one, is we focus on you. Parents have to have a huge reservoir of extra self-control to stay in charge even when their kids are behaving very badly. Then, we add Davy to the plan.”
Claire sat up in her chair. This plan sounded good. It would strengthen her good mommy so she could keep that bad one pushed down.
“I will get some practice materials ready for you next week. Today, why don’t you take this list of feelings and study it. Notice that there are ten levels of each feeling. We want to recognize our feelings when they are at the low level there. That is when they are easy to recognize and acknowledge while being the patient mom you want to be. It was normal that you would feel angry at Davy when he threw sand in your face. Feeling angry isn’t the problem. It is feeling so angry that you don’t act like the mother you want to be that is the problem.”
To learn more about emotions and how to regulate them go to: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/dbt-emotion-regulation-skills.pdf