“If I am sexually available to him I will be able to hold onto him.” The seventeen-year-old girl confessed on our first visit.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard these exact words from a teenage girl. As a therapist of adolescent girls I must be very careful. First, I must invest time into a trusting relationship before I challenge their thinking. If this had not been our first meeting I might have been able to help her find the truth, but not yet. For now, I must refrain from challenging her. She must learn to trust me as much or more than that creepy guy who has her in his spell. This may take many months of weekly therapy sessions.
I am concerned because I know parents lose patience after a month or two, but untangling the web of power and control this young man has over her is time intensive and I must take it slow. I have lost my share of clients by pushing too soon or to impatient parents. I hope this time we get it right.
In a perfect world, I wait until the girl herself raises the red flags. The conversation might go something like this:
Girl: “The other day he called me a slut in front of all of my friends.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “That is devastating. That must have really hurt you.”
Girl: “Yes! I am so embarrassed.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “What did you do?”
Girl: “I acted like I didn’t mind.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “Do you remember several weeks ago we talked about standing in your truth? It doesn’t seem like pretending you don’t mind being called a derogatory name is standing in your truth. What could you have done that would have been more truthful?”
Girl: “I couldn’t have done anything else. (Red Flag) 🚩 If I would have said anything he would have embarrassed me more or he may have yelled at me in private and accused me of being oversensitive.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “It sounds to me like he doesn’t want you to stand in your truth. Is that the kind of person you want to be with?”
Girl: “I don’t know. I’m confused.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “You feel confused.”
Girl: “Yes, what do you think? Is he the kind of man I want in my life?”
Me: “You are the best one to determine that. How does it make you feel to be called names, embarrassed in front of your friends, yelled at in private and accused of being too sensitive? Does this give you permission to feel powerful and be yourself?”
Girl: “No. but I really like him.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “You have strong feelings for him.”
Me: “What I think I hear you saying is that even though this young man insults you, socially isolates you and verbally assaults you, you are attached to him.”
Girl: “Yes.” (Red Flag) 🚩
Me: “Can you help me understand that?”
Girl: “I can’t.” (Ah, she sees the Red Flags.) 🚩
Me: “Hm. How can I support you? It seems that you are in a dilemma. On one hand you like him and feel that you need him and on the other hand he is sort of abusing you.”
Girl: Crying now. “What should I do?”
And this is the way of it. She doesn’t know how to get out. She feels stuck. She is emotionally invested in an abusive relationship. Over the course of their relationship, he has not only called her names, he has dictated to her what she can wear, physically threatened her and convinced her she is too fat and ugly for any other man. He tells her she is lucky to have him. This is how he has taken power and control over her. She feels powerless. It is easier for her to give in than to get out.
Her parents feel helpless. Even though they have worked hard to teach her good values and instill in her self-confidence they have been blind-sided by this silky tongued creep. If they push her too hard they will push her right into his arms. They ask themselves, “Did we do something wrong?”
No, they didn’t do anything wrong, they just forgot one vital piece of information. They forgot to teach her that while there are a lot of really good men in the world there are some who are creepy. Along with self-confidence and strong values, mom and dad needed to teach her about her Creepy Guy Detector. Every woman has one, we just need to be taught to notice it and pay attention to it and talk about it.
The Creepy Guy Detector is the sense a girl or woman gets when she detects there is something off about someone. We call it a “felt” sense. The felt sense is a manifestation in her body. The creepy guy detector is a subtle repulsive feeling. It is sometimes felt in the gut. She will notice her nose curl up a little as if something smells “fishy.” She must learn to pay attention to these subtleties.
When I was a little girl we had a family friend who was a creepy guy. I actually knew he was creepy. I could feel it but no one ever taught me that the feeling I was having was my creepy guy detector. No one ever told me that it was okay for me to tell someone when I felt and heard my creepy guy detector screaming at me. And that is how I became one of his first victims. Don’t wait! Teach your girls about their Creepy Guy Detector.
(Creepy Guy Detector is the brilliant contribution of Mindy Lundgreen, LCSW.)
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Aneladee Milne, CMHC Intern, has been working with women and adolescent girls for over 10 years. She specializes in working with those that struggle with anxiety and depression and the often unwanted behaviors that are associated with those mental health concerns.