Monday, October 30, 2006

The Poster Score

When I was still wet behind the ears, back in 1983, I saw a patient, a kid that I really liked, maybe she was 20. Right, I was maybe 10 years older.

We were talking about the way her family treated her, how it was common for them (not just the parents, but the kids, too) to pick on every possible insecurity, any obvious open wound.

Maybe I told her that one of the reasons some people shy away from intimacy, why they don't self-disclose to just anyone, is that they've learned from experience not to show any weakness. They either fear exposure, being "found out," or they fear rejection or abandonment.

Maybe we talked about how when people who experience this kind of maltreatment in childhood they're a little on the sensitive side. Having been bullied, some become bullies, too. Bullies can be thin-skinned as well, but they're less overtly sensitive. They've figured it out that if they're aggressive then people will be less likely to insult them.

The best defense is a good offence? Something like that.

On with the story.

So anyway, she came to see me regularly. One day she brought out a brown paper bag from her knapsack and told me it was a present for me. Immediately I said, No, no, we don't do that here. Can't take presents. Unprofessional.

She said that it was too late to return it and opened the bag. Inside was a poster rolled up with a rubber band, an unusually sized poster. She was an artist so I thought it was a drawing perhaps, but it wasn't.

That year an anti-child abuse organization had been running a poster campaign on the Chicago busses and trains. The poster showed a really cute little blond-headed boy, about 4-5 years old, with the saddest expression on his face and a big tear rolling down his cheek.

It was in black and white. She gave me it to me.
The caption read, "Words hit as hard as a fist. Watch what you say."
She had ripped it off one of the busses and brought it to me as a present.

I felt guilty keeping it, honestly, but I LOVED it and I just couldn't bring myself to turn it in. I know, I know, I'm in trouble. But they only ran the campaign a short while, then probably ran out of money, so the posters might have ended up in the garbage any way.

And think about it. This one has been in my various offices, has survived every one of my moves since 1983.

It's stapled to the wall, and on occasion captures the attention of a certain type of individual who will wait for exactly the right moment in therapy to point up to the kid and say, in so many different ways, "That's so true."

Packs a different kind of wallop, right?

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Holly Schwendiman said...

I've seen one where a person's mouth has sharp knives coming out with a similar reminder that words can be cutting. Just this morning I went through my worn out routine with my 9 year old about how family should be at the top - not the bottom - of your "treat nicely" list. I feel like a broken record, but I'm a real stinker about this. Too often we treat strangers better than members of our own family. Home is and should be our one safe place - save haven - from the world. I know my kids get tired of the constant reminders but it's too important not to vigilant about!

Holly's Corner

therapydoc said...

Right. I tell couples to treat their spouses with the same kind of respect, talk to them with the same reservation that they would use to speak with an employer.

You can always up the intimacy part. It's the conflictual, negative message that needs to be qualified, well thought out, not knee jerk say it cause I feel it garbage. It's not always good to say exactly what we feel.

Anonymous said...

All too often we forget about the power of words. But words stay with us for a long time.

And you are right about the silence that often occurs when people are maltreated. Everyone wants to be strong... and now show weakness. So it's easier to suffer in silence.

But is this the picture you're talking about?

therapydoc said...

Why YES. Although that link didn't quite work, this one hopefully will. What a great blog you have there!

2006_06_01_archive.html folks, if you want to see my little guy.

To me therapy's all about not having to be strong, letting down the guard.

Anyway, now tell me, what do the letters in your comment mean (Chinese? Mandarin?)

Margo said...

I never knew the story behind that poster! But that kid's face is a memory I can pull up like THAT.
The poster, and the brown bear = Mom's office.

Anonymous said...

The reason the link didn't work is that I had to put a space in it. Otherwise it cut off the end of the address any ways. I found that picture in one of my psychology text books and have hung onto it ever since.

It's so easy to tell someone else to let down their guard and not as easy to do in your own life... to practice what you preach so to speak. I'm getting better at it and admitting that it's not weakness but past hurt.

That is a picture of the tattoo on my back. The letters are Chinese and it means Chaos & Order. I got it done to represent the constant struggle for balance.

therapydoc said...


Anonymous said...

That... is soooo true...