I thought I would tell you the story of a young mother that used to yell at her kids so loudly that she wouldn’t be able to talk for hours afterwards. Her throat would burn and her head would throb like a beating drum. She would put her children in their rooms and sit in the hallway sobbing as she forced herself to not go in and throw them against the wall, over and over again. She would shiver and shake and cry until her clothes were soaked through, all the while visioning the violence. When she went to classes to get help, either no one believed her or they told her it was all her fault and she should just stop. Everywhere she went people said that anyone who hurts a child was a monster and should be locked up forever. But she didn’t feel like a monster all the time, just some of the time. The rest of the time she was a fun and caring mother that would take her kids to the park and make Thomas the Tank Engine characters out of construction paper. She didn’t know if she was really a monster inside or if she was really good inside; which was her true self?
If I was telling you this story I would tell you that one Tuesday afternoon this young mother put her kids down for a nap and turned on CityLine. There was a therapist on, Joe Rich, talking to Marilyn Denis about perfectionism and what it looks like and how harmful it is. It looked like drawings of her were coming out of his mouth, swirling around the stage, the TV, and then around her. She called her husband and her parents and asked if it was true.
“Of course you are.”
“You’ve always been that way.”
“It’s just the way you are.”
The young mother sat on the cold tile floor in the kitchen and cried. It was a different cry than her usual sobbing. Finally she understood why she was so awful. Finally she had hope that maybe the monster wasn’t her true self. She wanted to change forever right then but change is much harder than that. But day by day she worked on it. And day by day she got a little bit better. And one day she went to bed and realized that she hadn’t been angry at all that day. Another day she was able to be compassionate instead of angry when something spilled on the floor. And slowly she shrunk the monster. It will always be there, but thanks to that one Tuesday afternoon, the monster only comes out once in a while. At least that’s the way it would end if I was telling you the story.