I will now summarize Caroline's FAMILY BACKGROUND as she has been able to remember it with increasing clarity over the past 4 years:
Caroline desribed her father as cold, aloof and intimidating; she told me he was accustomed to pontificating, not just about educational matters, but about the right way to do everything and anything. Father presented his ideas to Caroline throughout her life, with such authority and selfrighteousness that she felt invalidated, even obliterated by father's reinterpretation of so much of her thoughts and feelings into his psychobabble. She desribed his needing to be the center of attention, she felt she mattered to him only if she reflected well on him, made him look good. She said she felt terrrified of him throughout her childhood; not only did he insist on telling her what to feel and think, he also, regularly erupted in outbursts of anger, occasionally hitting or pushing her. She was convinced that he hated her and wished she had never been born, that there was one too many babies in the family and she was the one too many. During the first year of treatment, Caroline often expressed the belief that her father wished she were dead; She reported feeling that she had robbed him in many ways: first by being born and robbing him of mother's time when little and now in adulthood, robbing him of the admiration and respect he desired. On the one hand, she was afraid of his violent, bullying outbursts, and on the other hand, she felt extremely sorry for him, saw him as pathetic and insecure, and in danger of being injured by her awareness of his limitations.
With her mother, she sensed fragments of love, but could never seem to fully connect with her. Caroline described rare moments such as those shopping for fabric together, when mother would enjoy Caroline's company, but mostly Caroline said it felt like she waited around in vain to be noticed. Frequently, mother turned to Caroline for mothering for herself, Caroline reported, even as the shopping memory revealsfor the goal of shopping was to find fabric for drapes or reupholstery for the mother. Caroline said she felt their relationship was tenuous, threatened by mother's ambitions in work, by mother's commitment to prop up father first and foremost, and by mothers's chronic panic. Mother seems to have suffered from anxiety of severe proportions which focused on a variety of external fears such as nuclear disasters as well as on what must have been essentiallly internal fears that "something was wrong with one of the family." Very early on, Caroline recalls comforting her mother by listening to her mother's worries about the world, about her work, or about her sisters, each of whom had a host of symptoms largely somatic. Caroline had a confusing double experience of her mother; was her mother a cold, amibitious woman, interested only her work and the academic successes of her children? Or was she the depressed, anxietyridden mother who meant well but had so much about which to worry that there wasn't much energy to go around. Her current view involves the integration of both.
Caroline described her sisters2 and 4 yrs older, as extremely smart, pretty, funny and multitalented. The oldest sister was the apple of father's eyeuntil she dropped out of law school in the first semester due to an emotional breakdown, (at which time, her junior year in college, Caroline then had a trial as the father's favorite.) The middle sister, more the runt of the litter, had lots of fears and somatic problems growing up, but has become accomplished in her own right, in academics and as a concert pianist and now composer. Caroline reported a lot of bitter fighting and chronic antagonism between all three sisters in which her parent never intervened to protect any of them. Caroline clarified further that in spite of the fighting, she took on a heavy load of caretaking for her sisters as well as her mother. But because she was afraid of her father and continually avoided him, she was seen by both parents as "the selfish one". She said she felt humiliated and punished by father when she was sent to see a psychiatrist at 5; father wanted her to "learn to like himbetter and to be cured of wanting to be close to her mother." Although mother used Caroline as support, she did not offer Caroline an alliance or any protection against father's temper, rather she presented father to Caroline and to the world as "the catch of the century"; she talked of how handsome he was and how good in bed he was. She had begged him not to leave her when pregnant with Caroline although he was having one of several affairs at the time and debating divorce. Ultimately, her father decided to stay but an air of sacrifice and burdensome responsibility colored the marriage. Caroline reported feeling responsible for her father's misery because he stayed in the marriage and for her parent's unhapiness as well. She felt that the occasional special closeness with her mother was at the expense of her father. And, in addition, that she had served to hold her father in the marriage, but as a consequence felt resented by him, and thus to blame for his rages.
Caroline described herself repeatedly as the emotional cripplethe "screwedup" onethe black sheep of the family. From as early as 3 or so, and into high school, she reported that she had tantrums in response to the family misery, in contrast to her sisters who suffered from a variety of eating and sleeping disorders. She recalls many emotional outbursts, lying on the floor kicking when younger, to throwing things, slamming doors when older. Caroline believed that these symptoms were proof of her "difficult temperament". The process of this treatment has been a slow, chipping away at Caroline's pathogenic beliefs, including the belief that she was too troubled and troublesome a child to be loved. She has wrestled endlessly and poignantly with this confusion about herself and her parents. "Was I a problem child who would have burdened any parents? Or were they just not meant to be parents?" Were they the highfunctioning univeristy president and professor that everyone else saw? or were they the scary, rigid father and distant, catastrophizing mother she experienced at home? Her confusion both then and now has deep roots. Both her parents spoke with powerful authority about her as a problem childin addition to the special authority children normally lend their parents, her father added the authority of his role as highpowered educator as well as the characteristic air of authority endemic to his personality; her mother added a layer of authority in her role as expert in human behavior and yet another layer with her more lovingly anxious personality. In these ways, both parents lent a confusing veneer of intellectualized rationality, and personal conviction to their negative views about her. This has made it harder for her to refute her internalized sense of badness and selfblame than if her parent's limitations had been more visible, or recognizable to the outside world.
To give a wider angle on this family, let me tell you Caroline's report of the rest of the cast:
Father's parents were of wealthy Boston Brahmin stock. Father's father had led a distinguished life in public service and father's mother was accomplished in the world of education. Their marriage sounds much like that of Caroline's parents: a powerful, intimidating husband and an anxious, deferring but professional wife who tolerated his affairs, and left their children unprotected in a number of waysfor example, the daughter, father's sister was molested by a male family friend for 10 yrs, apparently unbeknownst to their parents.
Mother's parents were Irish working class from Boston. There is a history of drinking in the family, but not maternal grandparents who again were a couple with a tyrannical husband and wife with little sense of herself, that's mother's mother, who herself had ambitions early on, but then had the life wrung out of her by many long hard years of caretaking others, including a crazy brother and her own mother. Caroline's mother was the special child who was pushed to succeed and make it out of the working class, which she certainly did, marrying up into a New England family of status and wealth.