Keeping Up Appearances: Life is a Competition

Carrie came in for her session and began by saying: “All my life, I have never looked the way I wanted to.”

Carrie went on to say, “I was even fat as a baby, and I didn’t walk until I was 15 months old. I remember my mother telling someone how every kid on the block had started walking before I did. She said I must be something wrong with me because I was so heavy. The other parents were so proud of their kids, and she felt so badly that I was so slow. I felt badly, too, as if it were my fault.”

Therapist: “Why do you suppose that you remembered that story from so far back in your childhood?”

Carrie: “I don’t know. It sure doesn’t make me feel good about myself.”

Therapist: “Perhaps that’s why you remember it, to remind yourself not to feel too good.”

Carrie: “Why would I want to do that to myself?”

Therapist: “It’s not that you want to. Put it this way; does a fat baby who disappoints her mother deserve to feel good? Of course not. She is ‘guilty’ of failing to please her mother. Guilty people “deserve” to feel badly, and you do!”

Carrie: “I sure do. I have felt bad all my life. But I’m not sure I see the connection between that early recollection and feeling depressed 25 years later.”

Therapist: “We will have to find out how that recollection made you feel about yourself. What did that experience teach you about life?”

Carrie: “I’m not sure.”

Therapist: “Perhaps it taught you that life was a competition, and that you have gotten off on the wrong foot?”

Carrie: “Yes, I have always felt like a loser, but I never knew why.”

Therapist: “If we feel like a loser, we have to avoid winning because that would be inconsistent with losing.”

Carrie: “I never feel like I’ve had a chance to win. But what else did it teach me?”

Therapist: “It taught you that your mother was very concerned with what others thought of her, and that includes her child.”

Carrie: “What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t we care about others?”

Therapist: “Some of us care too much about the wrong things and not enough about the right things. For instance, did you get the feeling from your mother that other people were more important to her than you were?”

Carrie: “Yes. I knew I was a disappointment to her. I felt that I could never do anything right. I felt worthless and unimportant.”

Therapist: “There is still another lesson that you learned from your mother’s comments. You learned that it was important to put up a good appearance and that failure to do so resulted disappointment and discouragement.”

Carrie: “Well, isn’t it important to keep up appearances? I always try to look nice, not like my younger sister. She’s a mess.”

Therapist: “She must work at it. She is going to the other extreme, trying to prove how much she doesn’t care about appearances by rebelling and avoiding any effort to attend to her looks”

Carrie: ”It’s kind of absurd when you put it that way. It must be very important to her to prove how unimportant her appearance is.”

Therapist: “Both of you are reacting to your mother’s exaggerated importance towards appearances.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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