Kids’ mind is a puzzle. Working with kids for so many years (and with grownups who used to be kids), I am amazed by what demons they carry with them and how they use naive conclusions to navigate their life. The more clients I see, the more I am convinced there is no way to predict how kids will interpret their young life and what they will make of it later on in life. The kid’s mind puzzle becomes an adult’s mind puzzle that is even harder to solve. Trish’s story is a wonderful way to get some insight into how this happens.
Trish came to my life coaching deck with her partner. Ben, her partner and the father of their child, had said she needed help but he had no idea how to get it. Trish had not contacted me, had not completed the session preparations and had not even talked to me before coming, so this was an unusual session.
Trish was a beautiful young woman. Her hair was tied back and she looked tired, as if she had spent weeks crying. She was 27 years old and was preparing for her wedding. She had a one-year-old boy, a great job and … a demon.
“Hi, Trish. Thank you for coming. What brings you here?” I asked.
She looked at Ben and started crying. I gave her the tissue box and waited. She tried very hard to stop. Every time she started saying something, tears started again and she choked. Ben held her hand and whispered, “You can do it”. She looked at him and looked at me for a while before she finally started telling me her story.
After her son was born, memories of a childhood trauma had come to life. In-between sobs, she said, “At first, I thought it was a dream, but then I realized I see the same scene over and over again even when I’m awake”.
“Can you please tell me what you see?” I asked.
“It is very vague… I think it had something to do with my dad… I can see myself at the age of 6 or 7 playing with another girl… She was my neighbor and we played a lot together. I think someone did something to both of us… I can see my dad screaming and having a fight with her dad… I think my dad raped both of us”, she managed to say.
“Do you remember your dad doing something to you?” I asked.
“No”, she said.
I asked many questions and joined some pieces of this puzzle. At the age of 7, Trish’s mother left her father. Trish and her 14-year-old sister Kelly went to live with their mom and her 12-year-old brother Sean stayed with their dad. “I miss Sean a lot”, Trish said.
“Wow, it’s been 20 years since then. When was the last time you’ve seen your brother?” I asked and she started crying. Ben held her hand and after a long silence, he said, “She hasn’t seen him since”. Trish never knew why her mom had decided to leave her dad. Her mom had re-married, divorced and never kept contact with her son or her ex-husband, so both the girls did not know where he was. “When we asked Mom, she said that with dad like him, it’s better to consider him dead”.
“Do you remember your dad?” I asked her.
“I kept a photo of him and Sean that I took from one of Mom’s boxes, but I have vague memoires of him. I remember that time with the neighbor’s daughter, my dad was screaming and holding my hand and I remember I was scared of him. I do remember playing with Sean”.
Trish left home with her mom and her older sister Kelly. Mom re-married and divorced again and after her sister moved out, Trish counted the days until she finished high school and drove with 2 other girls from her high school to another state.
“All my life, I felt like an orphan”, she said, “I see Mom and my sister once a year and talk to them twice a year”.
When I asked some questions about the relationship between them, I felt a bit confused. Trish talked about Kelly fondly, but expressed a lot of anger towards her mom. When I asked about the relationship between her mom and her sister, she said, “Kelly hates the whole world. She is a sad and angry woman. When you talk to her, you always think she is hiding something. I can’t stand it”.
Trish left home at the age of 17. “I learned to count on myself. When you don’t have anyone to help you, you discover you can do many things on your own. I found a job in a law firm and I was so good they sent me to study and were very kind to me”.
For ten years after leaving home, life smiled at Trish, until she gave birth to her first child…
“Suddenly, being an orphan was not OK. Kids need both of their parents”, she cried. Ben kept holding her hand and supporting her. “I wanted to share with my family the joy of having a child and I couldn’t. Mom and my sister have never seen our son and I was angry with my dad. I wanted to know where he was. I missed Sean and I searched all my memories and only this incident came up. No matter how hard I searched, this memory kept coming up”.
At one stage, Ben said he would go to the car and be back shortly. They both looked at each other as if they had agreed he would leave her on her own. When he left, she said, “I think this memory is ruining my life. I love Ben very much. We have been together for 4 years and I avoid having sex with him now”, she said.
I realized this was even more sensitive than I thought at first and added one more piece to the puzzle.
“Has anything happened between you and Ben since your son was born?” I asked.
“Oh, no, nothing. Ben is wonderful. Since our son was born, I love him even more, but I can’t stop thinking about this. I feel invaded. I cry all day. Some days, I can’t go to work. I think I’m losing my mind. We were planning to get married in two months and I’m not sure I can go through with it”.
One more piece of the puzzle.
I explained to Trish that what she was experiencing was similar to anxiety. While anxiety is being possessed by a horrible imaginary future, Trish was possessed by a vague imaginary past. Trish was tortured. She wanted to know the truth but was afraid of that truth. It was like waiting for the phone to ring to hear some bad news.
Amazingly, most clients who face difficulties know what they have to do, they only need a little help to build up the courage to do it. I asked Trish over and over again, “What do you want?” At first, she said she did not want to remember it, she did not want to feel invaded, she did not want to reject Ben and she did not want to feel like an orphan, but in the end, she said, “I want to know what happened. I have to know what happened”.
She had the right to know what had happened and by the time she left, I knew she would do anything to find out what had really happened. “I’ll ask my sister. She was 14 when it happened, so she’ll remember”, she said.
Two weeks later, Trish came for another session, this time by herself. I could swear she looked different. She had some make up on and her hair was loose. She looked sexy. She smiled and said, “I didn’t need to come, but I wanted to thank you”.
It had taken Trish 3 days to call her sister. Every time Ben had asked if she had called, she had said she would do it later. On the 3rd evening, he had said, “What do you want?” and she had picked up the phone, taken a deep breath and dialed her sister’s phone number.
“Kelly was surprised to hear my voice. As soon as I heard her voice, I started crying… She sounded worried and said in panic, ‘Trish, what happened?’ Between sobs, I said to her, ‘Remember just before Dad left something happened with the neighbor when his daughter and I were playing together? Do you know what happened there?'”
Trish had a 3-hour conversation with her sister, in which she discovered the missing pieces of her life’s puzzle. While Trish was trying hard to remember, her sister spent all her life trying to forget. Trish and the neighbor’s girl were very good friends and often played at each other’s house. One day, the neighbor’s daughter came to Trish’s house and while playing, she said her dad had been touching her and telling her it was their secret and she should never tell anyone.
Trish’s dad heard the girls talking and stormed out of the house. “Dad said he was going kill the neighbor”, Kelly said. Trish’s mom tried to stop him, but with no success. Everyone came out of the house while the two men were yelling at each other on the street. Trish’s friend stood there screaming, her father grabbed her by the hand and said she was not allowed to come over to Trish’s house ever again. Trish stood there and cried. Her dad grabbed her by the hand, pulled her back into the house and said she was not allowed to go over to her friend’s house.
Trish never forgave her dad for not keeping it a secret and for being the reason she had lost her best friend. Not long after, her dad found out her mom was having an affair with the same neighbor. They had constant fights until one day, her mom took the two girls and left home.
“Why the two girls?” I asked. I felt the whole thing was taken out of a movie.
“Kelly said Sean was the one who saw her with the neighbor. One day at dinnertime, he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer and said to Mom, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I wish you were dead’. Dad was angry with him and followed him to his room to ask him to come down and apologize. When he came out of Sean’s room, he was angry. He took his car keys and left the house. Mom knew Sean would never come with her”.
At first, her dad tried to contact the girls, but Trish was convinced the whole thing had something to do with the incident with the neighbor and was so angry with her dad she refused to talk to him. One day, she told him on the phone, “I hate you. I wish you were dead”, and he stopped calling.
I listened to her story and thought of her sister, “Why didn’t she tell you what happened?” I asked, not sure it was my place to ask, but thinking that not knowing would drive me mad.
“She was angry with my friend for not keeping the secret, she was angry with Dad for revealing the girl’s secret, she was angry with Sean for not keeping the secret of Mom and the neighbor, so she figured none of this would’ve happened if we all knew how to keep a secret…”
My heart sank. I could imagine the demons in Kelly’s mind torturing her with the thought that it is better to keep things to yourself than to let them out and handle them. It reminded me of the movie The Butterfly Affect, in which every time Evan tires to fix a problem in his life, something worse happens. As a 14-year-old girl, Kelly concluded that revealing secrets would ruin her life. I tried to think of keeping a secret for 20 years. The thought of it was exhausting.
It made me realize that kids do not understand secrets. As soon as you say the word “secret”, you allow demons to take over their mind and torture them for years. I looked at Trish. She had taken all the right facts and had come up with a totally different story, which made me think, “You never know what conclusions kids draw from their (painful) experiences”.
Trish told me she was very busy arranging things for their wedding. “On our wedding night, Ben and I are going to get a room in a hotel in the city and Kelly is going to spend the night with our son”. I realized it would be the first time Kelly would see her little nephew.
When you coach someone, you never know how far the ripple of positive change will reach. From my point of view, Kelly was the victim, the real orphan chased by secret demons of a child trying to make sense of a family chaos. “This could easily be a script for a movie”, I thought to myself.
Trish left and I finished writing notes in my folder and though I would keep it a secret for a few years and then tell the whole world.
Two months later, I got an email from Ben, “Kelly flew over and spent 10 days with us helping with preparations for the wedding. She was wonderful. I’ve never seen Trish so happy. Thank you!”
I think this puzzle is solved.
Have a great day,
* The names and some details have been changed to keep the privacy of the people in this story
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance