Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Re-Posting A Popular Post: The Report Card

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 20, 2012

Betsy, age ten, a patient of mine  since she was six years old, comes into my office with her mom, Gloria.  Betsy and I play catch and talk about her summer. She tells me about the books she is reading, her friends, shesays that she hates camp, and she is nervous about going back to school next month. Given Betsy’s long history of anxiety, poor eye contact, poor social relationships, poor behavior at school, I am  pleased at our relaxed interchange. The appointment winds up with our usual routine. Gloria  and I make the next appointment. Gloria reaches into her purse, and says “here  is Betsy’s report card. It is really good.” Gloria has handed me Betsy’s report cards for years, but this is the first time she announced it in front of Betsy. Dramatically, Betsy became irritable, angry, and rude. She grabbed the envelope out of my hand and said “this is none of your business.” Gloria says, “Betsy, I have given her report cards for years.” Betsy gets more upset. “She is not related to me, so she should not see my report card,” Betsy screams. Gloria responds “but it is a really good report card, what is the problem?” “It is just none of her business,” Betsy screams louder. “Just pay her and let’s go,” Betsy says.

Why did Betsy get so mad about me seeing her report card? I speculated to myself that this is an issue of intimacy. Betsy and I, although we have known each other for many years,  is not comfortable sharing herself with me in that way. As such, she felt violated that her mom exposed a part of herself, her report card, that she was not ready to share. I understood Betsy’s discomfort and I felt bad that I was a party to it. At the same time, at the time of the interaction, I was surprised by her strong reaction. Betsy’s sensitivity helped me understand her relationships. She enjoys interacting with others, but she is also afraid that getting too close to people could result in painful humiliation. Even though her report card was good, she seemed afraid that my reaction would make her feel bad. Betsy’s anger might have protected her from having to suffer from my unsatisfactory response to her school evaluation. In another context, Betsy might be seen as bipolar, or quick to anger, but had this happened, Betsy would have been misunderstood. Her hair-trigger response was not a “manic” experience; rather it was a response which protected her ego. In the end,  Gloria and I felt sad that Betsy was so upset; it was a hard learning experience.

7 Responses to “Re-Posting A Popular Post: The Report Card”

  1. Shelly said

    Maybe Betsy values your opinion highly and doesn’t want you to think badly of her. Her fear manifested itself as anger. Not that she thinks her report card is a private thing and you are “an outsider”, but fear of rejection.

    Aren’t we all like that? Don’t we all strive to maintain the good opinion of others?

  2. Kristin said

    Continuing with Shelly’s idea, maybe she felt that her good report card set a standard that she wouldn’t be able to live up to in future report cards. Or, if the report card is really good, but not perfect, maybe she is embarrassed that her mom would interpret a less-than-perfect report card as “really good.” Maybe she’s afraid that what is “really good” for her and her mom would be seen as only average to you. Or maybe she thinks you’d be able to read between the lines and discover something embarrassing about her (that she’s not in the highest math group, or that an A minus in PE proves that she’s a bad athlete, or something). Or maybe she was filled with shame about the previous report cards that you’d seen when she didn’t know it. Or maybe she had forgotten about the stress of school for a tiny little minute and her mom’s reference to the report card interrupted her moment of peace.

    I don’t blame her for feeling upset. She’s right; report cards are private, even good ones, and she probably felt out of control in learning that her mom was sharing private information about her with you without her knowledge or consent. Obviously, it makes sense that her mom would share the report cards with you because it is valuable and relevant information that you need, but I can understand how a child would react the way she did.

    Could it be that she felt she had an intimate relationship with you independent of her mom, and that she didn’t want her mom interfering with her relationship with you, even to share good news? The image of the two of you playing catch is a nice one; it suggests a balanced pair and maybe she felt like her mom was throwing off that balance, somehow. In other words, maybe it wasn’t the information that she didn’t want to share but she didn’t want her mom to be in the game.

    • Yes, I agree with all of your comments. The issue is that I learned retrospectively. I could not have predicted she would have felt that way. It was a tough lesson, but yes, her sensitivity is understandable.

  3. Suzi said

    What if, Shirah, Betsy needs to please her mum and dad. Her report card is proof of that… see how proud her parents are of her?

    But you are different. I can imagine Betsy’s need of you being terribly and frighteningly threatened by her being ‘Ok’ on her report card. She needs to be ‘Not Ok’ to beable to keep seeing you doesn’t she?

    What if she were more frightened and threatened of loosing you by being seen as Ok?

    Perhaps she needs your relationship with her, more than she knows. I hope this new information doesn’t ruin her future report card scores. I guess time will work things out. Time has a way of doing that – not all the time but mostly.

    Its just a thought. I’ve so much reading to catch up on. I hope you had a lovely break!

    Cheers… Suzi

  4. […] I got the report card image here. […]

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