By K. Hecht, A. Hosack & P. Berman
What did I do? She is yelling at me. She sounds so like my mother. I must keep it together!
Claire was having a very stressful day at work. Nothing she is doing is working like she has come to expect but she is trying to act professionally despite that. She has been cleaning a seven- year- old boy’s teeth- they were very dirty. She was doing her normal thing, trying to be friendly by talking to his teeth as if they were alive. She said to them, “dear teeth, you need to ask the toothbrush to brush up and down for a least five seconds or you might get a cavity.” Usually, the child would laugh and tell her that teeth couldn’t talk, or something like that. Then, she would demonstrate the best way to brush teeth.
This time was different. Claire had been brushing gently up and down with her toothbrush, to show the child how to clean his teeth. The little boy suddenly screamed out, “mommy come quick the lady is hurting me.” When his mother rushed in, she should have seen that Claire was trying to talk to her son to find out what was wrong.
The mother never asked Claire what was going on. Instead, she just started yelling, telling Claire she had better stop hurting her son. By this time, the little boy was crying. Claire tried to take deep breaths to keep calm. She tried to explain that she was just trying to teach the little boy how to brush his teeth more effectively.
Nothing worked, the mother was yelling, and the dentist came rushing in to find out what was going on. The mother didn’t give Claire a chance to say anything. She just told the dentist that Claire had hurt her son and clearly knew nothing about working with children and should be fired. Claire stood there frozen. She was back in her home hearing her mother yelling at her about everything she did wrong- telling her she was worthless, a waste of space.
I can’t do anything right. I belong in the garbage. I am a waste of space.
The dentist tried to ask Claire a question, but she didn’t hear it; she was reliving past memories of abuse. The dentist examined the little boy and explained to the mother that she believed there was a deep cavity in the tooth that had caused the pain. She said that x-rays were needed to determine this. At these words, the mother started screaming again, saying this proved Claire was incompetent, why was she brushing a tooth that had a cavity!
I am fired. I will never get another job. The Carsons will be so disappointed with me.
Claire didn’t hear anything her boss and the mother said. Her head was full of negative thoughts that would once again lead her to hear her mother speaking “you’re just a waste of space.” The next thing Claire was aware of, she was in the small kitchen area where everyone often had lunch. The dentist was handing her a cup of coffee. She looked up at the dentist and whispered, “am I fired.” (dentist sighs)
“Claire, I am so sorry you had to go through that experience. This is a new family to my practice. I had no idea how difficult they would be. That child has a mouth full of cavities. But, still, given how gentle you are with children, I don’t see why this would have caused so much pain. (Claire starts crying). You didn’t do anything wrong. That child could be in pain from the cavities, could have some underlying medical condition that has given him very sensitive teeth, or….(dentist sighs again) he may not be in pain but not want his teeth cleaned. (1-minute silence)
“So, you aren’t firing me?” Claire whispered. “Of course not, anyone would have had difficulty with that family. I am more worried about you. Are you alright?”
I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to talk. I feel as if I am breaking. But I can’t break. I have to take care of my Davy!
Claire was pale and visibly upset. She had come a long way since she lived with her parents but her self-esteem was still fragile from experiencing years of emotional abuse. She couldn’t crack but she felt like she was cracking apart with blood slowly saturating her clothing. No. She couldn’t be like this. She had to fight it.
The dentist had no idea what Claire was going through. She thought Claire was probably one of those naive young women who just hadn’t experienced a lot of stress in their lives. While feeling that Claire was overreacting to being yelled at, she had confidence that Claire would learn to deal with this sort of patient with more experience. It was just a fact of work life that not all patients were polite, kind, or appreciative. For now, the dentist needed to get back to her patient. She gently pushed Claire into a chair, encouraged her to take some time to drink her coffee and then asked her to try and get back to work in a few minutes as there were other patients waiting.
No one wants to be yelled at when they are trying to do their best. Does anyone ever want to be yelled at?
To read about reasons people yell and its potential effects consider reading the following: