Noa was sixteen and lived with her mother, thirteen-year-old sister Adi and eleven-year-old brother Shai.
Adi had always been known in the family as a drama queen, throwing spectacular tantrums as a young child and always wanting to be the center of attention. Since hitting adolescence, Adi spent most of her time at home alternately fighting with family members, crying, or shrieking down the phone to her friends.
Shai was autistic. He could become overwhelmed very easily, especially when his routine was disrupted. Shai found Adi and her histrionics particularly difficult to deal with and would walk around with noise-canceling headphones just to avoid dealing with her. Noa’s unofficial role in the family was ‘mini mother’. As the oldest, she felt responsible for helping to keep the peace. She spent a lot of time trying to calm tensions and would often mediate between Adi and Shai when things invariably broke down.
At school, Noa was a perfectionist. She was known for spending more time on assignments than anyone else, and would always sign up for every extra credit option possible. But her teachers noticed that she would respond very badly to perceived criticism.
If a teacher suggested how she could improve a paper, she took that as a sign of total failure. If she received less than a top grade, she looked visibly upset. Some students are always more driven than others, but it got to the point where the school felt that Noa’s sensitivities were actually holding her back and preventing her from reaching her true potential.
Her homeroom teacher suggested to her mother that they reach out to Kav L’Noar.
At the intake meeting with Noa and her mother, Noa’s mother did most of the talking, describing to the therapist how helpful Noa always was, how she never caused any trouble, and how much they all relied on her. Noa smiled and half hugged her mother as she said this.
In their individual meetings, Noa talked extensively to the therapist about how much pressure her mother was under, how she was unfulfilled and unappreciated at work and always walked in the door looking drained and miserable, and how much time she spent researching therapies that might help Shai.
When the therapist asked Noa about her own relationship with her brother, Noa replied with a shrug. “He doesn’t relate to people normally.” You feel like he can’t relate to you?” echoed the therapist. Noa replied, “No it’s not a big deal for me- he’s just my little brother so what’s the difference- but it’s super hard for my mom. She doesn’t get anything back. He can’t relate to her like a regular kid with their mom. She gets all the stress but none of the good parts. Shai doesn’t affect me but I hate seeing how down he makes my mom even though he can’t help it.”
Another time the therapist asked Noa what she did when she was upset. “Well, I make sure I don’t act like my bratty sister does that’s for sure. When she’s upset we all have to hear it. In fact, I think people hear it down the street. She goes on and on and on about how whatever ridiculous misunderstanding with her friends has ruined her life and how she’s never going back to school again and then we all have to live in it all day every day until it blows over.”
The therapist asked again, “So what do you do when you’re upset? “I just tell myself that I won’t still be upset about this in five years' time so it’s stupid to be upset about it now and I move on.” The therapist asked if there was anything that she could remember that she was in fact still upset about five years after it happened. Noa said,
“Yes, lots of things, but I shouldn’t be. It’s stupid of me. I need to let things go. Life is too short, It’s important to be positive and see the best in things. I’m not good at it- actually it’s yet another thing that I’m really bad at- but at least I know that’s what I should be doing- not wallowing in the miserable stuff.”
The therapist could see that it was hard for Noa to understand or accept how much she was affected by her different family members and by life events, and to allow herself space for her own true feelings. It would take them months of work together before Noa even realized that a different perspective was possible and began to appreciate that there were other ways of reacting to things. It took more than a full year of therapy, but eventually, Noa learned to dismiss her feelings less, to question herself when she found herself being self-critical, and to develop a more independent and positive identity.