Oldie but goodie, this post was originally written by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D in her Psychology Today blog, the Dance of Connection:
Finding your voice in an unequal power arrangement-especially when the more powerful person (a teacher, doctor, boss) is shaming you-takes a great amount of courage.
Consider my therapy client Margot, whom I first met when she was a high school senior, full of talent and energy and a huge gift for empathy and connection. She also was vulnerable to deep depression and would later be diagnosed with manic-depressive illness. During her freshman year of college, she made a suicide attempt after a boyfriend broke up with her. Needless to say, it was the year from hell for Margot, and terrifying for her family who loved her.
When Margot returned home over spring break, she visited her favorite teacher in high school, a man who had mentored her and believed in her promise. After some catch-up conversation, the teacher said, “I was so sorry to hear about your suicide attempt, Margot. To be frank, I felt very disappointed. I didn’t see you as the sort of person who would do such a thing.” When they parted, the teacher gave her a hearty pat on the back and said, “I miss the old Margot. I know that strong gal is still in there somewhere!”
Margot had suffered enough, and was struggling mightily in her brief therapy with me to keep sight of her competence and strengths. She felt flattened by these words from a teacher who had once showed her the greatest attention and respect. Now, as he shamed her for her apparent “weakness,” he invited Margot to see herself as “the sort of person who would do such a thing.” What sort of person is that? And what did he mean by “such a thing”? Plus, there was no “old” or “new” Margot. There was only Margot. She felt like a truck had hit her.