Thursday, February 11, 2010


Remember Kimberly, the cake-making YANA client who had so much to tell us about Liz's evil sister? Well, Kimberly herself is turning out to be more than a handful. She starts off upbeat and enthusiastic about her latest adventures; then, when she gets the usual YANA response of enthusiasm and approval, she rapidly becomes louder, more aggressive, more profane. It isn't long before she's flying around the room like a rickety but triumphant little World War I fighter plane, engine rumbling, spraying us all with equal parts contempt and self congratulation. If she's talking to someone like me, the contempt is in the intonation. If she's talking to another client, she can pretty much take leave of reality.

One time she found a client's coat slipping off the back of a chair. She picked it up and made a comment about straightening up someone else's clothes. There is a lot of doing small things for each other at YANA and then wanting, really needing, to be thanked. The other client thanked her. That was the first, modest little loop of the spiral. Then Kimberly expounded on the negligence of the slipped coat and explained she wasn't anyone's maid. Another crooked loop or two of Kimberly chasing her good deed and the other woman's failure, and suddenly Kimberly was off in the ozone, machine guns firing, loudly playing the part of the outraged mother, telling another middle aged woman that when she was in her own home she could make her own rules, but until she got her own home. . . etc. Thankfully, the woman being berated chose to ignore her.

On another day, when we were especially busy, Kimberly brought her nephew to YANA and then prepared to leave him while she ran an errand. I told her that under no circumstances could she leave a child unattended at YANA. After a little argument and what seemed like genuine disappointment, Kimberly agreed. I foolishly walked off to attend to the two or three other claims on my attention, and walked back in to discover the boy sitting alone, Kimberly nowhere in sight. She had walked off under the nose of a very good YANA volunteer, having coolly led her to believe that she had permission to do so. She did return in 45 minutes or so and listened politely as I explained that she was banned from YANA for the 10 days. Later I found out that she had first assailed another client for not having done enough to take care of the boy.

Although Sid approved -- very highly, in fact -- of the temporary YANA ban, I really don't know how to deal with Kimberly. YANA is a place where we encourage people. It's where we try to help women with a long, long history of abuse begin to feel good about themselves again. But when we show Kimberly approval, or warmth, or even basic respect, she takes it as permission to behave badly. Contain, repress, "take that woman down a peg," just isn't the way we do things at YANA. And I can't think of any client we've had who's been quite like this one.

Thinking about her more, though, I wonder why not. It would seem to me that grandiosity would be a natural enough counterbalance to shame, and shame is a constant theme in our clients' lives.

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