I'm a worry wart
Sally entered the therapy room with hands in pockets, like a teenage boy. But this was a mature woman; tall, slim and attractive; 27 years old, married for three years, with a toddler. As we chatted she was pleasant and cheerful.
When it came time for me to inquire what I could do for her she slowly pulled her hands from her pockets and placed them on her lap. “You see these?” showing me literally a handful warts.
I counted thirty-two. Most were larger than ordinary warts I had seen before.
“I am so embarrassed by them that I am afraid to go get a manicure or even shake hands with people. I know they are not infectious, but what would other people think? I have tried everything, from over-the-counter drugstore remedies to even surgery. I had them surgically removed last year but they all came back. Worse, they are bigger than before.”
I had her place her hands on a cushion so that I could examine the warts closely. They were rather unsightly, I had to agree. “Right, let’s see what we can do to help you. Tell me when you first noticed the warts.”
As I offered Sally my customary cup of hot tea, she was beginning to relax. She had met her husband while attending undergraduate school in Dallas. She came from a wealthy Protestant family on the east coast. Her husband was of Mexican descent and Catholic. His family was middle class and valued education. She chose Dallas due to a specific degree program. Which accounts for them both attending the same expensive, private Catholic University. They fell in love and, despite some challenges and roadblocks from both families, married soon after graduation.
Life as a couple began in a small apartment. Before long she was in the family way and they had their first child. Sally elected to stay home with the baby. She went from having parents pay for everything to being a housewife dependent on her newly graduated husband’s paycheck. They were barely making it, paying expenses on time, but just.
Sally found herself constantly worrying about making ends meet. She was adjusting to a novel life situation; new wife and first-time mother in a cramped living arrangement.
Since mother-in-law lived in the same town, she visited frequently, dispensing suggestions and advice on home care and child rearing. Though well-intentioned, Sally found that such suggestions evinced a lack of self-confidence in her new roles.
Since she was a new resident in the apartment complex, she had not made any friends there yet. So, during the day, while her husband was at work, she was alone with her infant. Although she appreciated assistance from the mother-in-law, she could not help but feel incompetent each time she accepted it, feeling that if she were competent enough such assistance would not be necessary. In time she experienced anxiety whenever mother-in-law visited, worrying that yet another weakness would be revealed. Concluding this line of thought, she said. “I became a worry wart!”
As she listened to those words herself, the underlying problem revealed itself, “I did this didn’t I? I created all these warts. I did not have them until after we moved. They have worsened over time. The more I worried about things, the more warts I get. Oh my goodness, I created these warts!” she cried, almost in terror.
I allowed her to remark at her own discovery for a while, while refreshing her tea. “Well, that was some discovery wasn’t it?” She nodded in response as she wiped away tears and sipped her tea. “The good news is that you found the source of your problem. The better news is I know how to teach you to un-create it.”
“Yes, and we don’t need any medicine, or needles or surgery.”
“No way! That is incredible!”
“Sally, imagine that if I were to tell you just now that you can make 32 warts grow on your hands. You would never believe me, would you.” She shook her head. “And yet, you have accomplished this rather outrageous feat. Now, if your mind directed these warts to grow, even though you had no idea it was happening, you can definitely direct them to go away. Only, this time it will be easier because you KNOW what you want.”
Sally had relaxed into the chair by now. I could see her face change. She managed a smile of hope. “Do you really think this can work?”
“You know, Sally, I cannot promise you results. I can only facilitate your success. You have to want it and you have to believe that it can happen. Then and only then will it happen for you. Understand?” She nodded in agreement.
To start, I guided Sally into trance. While in trance I asked her to name each wart after an item she worried about. In each case I guided her to flip the energy of that specific worry into a positive intention.
I followed that with a reminder that “To worry is to put a lot of energy into expecting a negative outcome. So, if we can turn that negative expectation into a positive one; in other words, turn a worry into an exciting expectation; there is no more use for that wart on her hand.”
One by one we continued to turn each worry into a positive expectation. It took a few sessions to get through all 32 warts. During following sessions, I taught Sally how to politely tell her mother-in-law to respect her child-rearing style. She rehearsed doing it with honesty and respect, expressing how she felt. She started a notebook and wrote in it every day, reflecting on how to constructively deal with her concerns instead of worrying.
Sally learned how to ask for help when she needed it and decline graciously when she had tasks well in hand. I suggested she go to the library to meet young mothers like herself and make new friends in the process.
Life enhancements skills, effective communication and active honesty helped Sally develop a new sense of confidence and her competence as a mother improved as well. She discovered that being a stay-at-home mom did not mean she had to give up her identity.
While working with me, I provide a blank journal and require clients to write three pages a day. Briefly, these ‘Morning Pages’ serve as a kind of subconscious download, being therefore stream-of-consciousness writing. Sally, having completed her degree in English, loved to write and was quite good at it. I encouraged her to engage in even more creative writing projects; also to read more to create an ongoing intellectual challenge.
She had earlier told me of a woman at the apartment complex with a similar toddler. This woman had invited Sally over for coffee but she was too self-conscious about her warts to accept. I taught her how to respond honestly about her warts if anyone should ask, with the understanding that it was an issue only on her part since nobody had ever asked her about them. We role-played and practiced until she felt comfortable.
I then tasked her to accept and develop a friendship with this woman. The first visit turned out surprisingly well. This woman had the same problem, as she had moved recently as well and had no friends. They formed a comfortable friendship, arranged frequent play-groups for their children, and babysat each others children to provide respite.
Sally’s life blossomed. Radical honestly, tempered with tact, brought her closer to her husband. She learned how to ask for help without depleting her self-respect. She made more friends. She developed a better relationship with her mother-in-law, asking her for advice when she needed it. Her mother-in-law learned to respect Sally’s boundaries.
After three sessions, Sally was left to manage on her own with new skills and a positive sense of self. In addition to the benefits and skills mentioned above, she used self-hypnosis to imagine the warts simply dissolving away. Three months later, Sally visited my clinical class to show my students that her hands were completely free of warts.
When asked what was the best thing she got out of the sessions, she explained, “I came here to get rid of my warts. I did that. What was even better, I learned how to live a better life and I know the warts will never come back. Thank you for giving me a whole new life.”
Names and specific circumstances have been revised to protect the confidentiality of the client.