Last week, I mentioned that Dr. C—the Dayton psychiatrist—had said four startling things. One was that I was the angriest client he’d ever had. In today’s post I’ll share the other three.
At one point, I was describing my feelings about two friends. He said, “Dee, I’m no judge of spiritual maturity. What I do know is that you’re physically and intellectually mature. But emotionally you stopped growing at about thirteen.”
I was thirty-one at the time.
I asked how he could tell and he explained that the jealousy I expressed about my friends welcoming others into their circle sounded like a young teenager. I felt threatened when they befriended anyone else, as if they didn’t have enough love to expend beyond me. Also of course was my great fear of being abandoned.
Two years later, when I left Dayton, Dr. C kindly said, “Dee, you’re twenty-one now.” As he looked at me, his lips twitching with suppressed laughter, I grinned like the teenager he’d once thought me and felt a warm surge of gratitude to the man who’d helped me amass eight whole years of emotional maturity.
A second thing he said also had to do with emotional maturity. “Clearly I’m not enough for my friends,” I said. “They keep meeting new people. What if they like them better than me?”
He placed two sheets of paper on his desk and drew a set of circles on one—circles surrounded by other circles with their circumferences touching or overlapping a little. Each had a center point.
“These,” he said, “are healthy relationships. We are all the center of our own existence. But our lives touch other lives and sometimes we share a great deal. That’s the overlapping.”
Then he drew a second set of circles, much like the first. But the circumference of one circle overlapped many others and passed through several center points.
“Now here,” he said, “is how you want to relate. You want to be the center of other people’s existence. You feel secure only when you think that you are at the center of their being. You want them to be thinking of you all the time. Making decisions with you in mind. That’s emotionally immature. It’s why you have to perform when you’re in a group of people. To feel secure, you need to be the center of attention.”
Even though I acknowledged the truth of this insight, it saddened me. I took home the two sheets of paper on which he’d produced the visuals and pinned them on a corkboard. Daily, they reminded me of an emotional pattern I wanted to change.
One final comment refashioned my idea of what to do with my life. One afternoon, I announced buoyantly, “I’m going to join the Peace Corps!”
Why? Wasn’t it evident? I quickly listed the reasons: I’d had a good life—a home, food, education, love. I’d been a teacher. I could go to another country and teach. I could share with others the gifts I’d been given.
He sat silent for a few moments. Then, “Dee, you just gave nearly ten years of your life to service. You practiced poverty. You taught. You gave to others.”
“That was then; this is now.”
“Look, Dee, you’ve gone through your twenties without having the normal things young people have. You haven’t bought a house. You don't have a car. No savings. The truth is you're about ten years behind other women your age. You need to stay right here in the States and catch up.”
“But people in other countries need help. I’ve been given so much. I want to share it.”
“Why don’t you give some other people a chance to share for once? Why do you need to do it all?”
I didn’t join the Peace Corps, but I did begin to understand that my need to be loved revealed itself in many subtle ways.
You know, I just remembered another gem of wisdom Dr. C shared with me. Next week, I’ll write about it.