Here one might hold forth on the necessity for trial and error in children’s lives. They want to try things, they form little habits for a day, a week, a month which they discard after a while; they try out words and phrases, playing with them and then pass on to a new experiment. They are insatiable seekers of experience, untiring in their quest for experiment,—and they learn thereby. Not every mickle grows into a muckle, and the supplanting of habits, the discarding of them as unsatisfactory, is as marked a phenomenon as the formation of habits.
So our patient allowed nothing for imperfections, experimental stages, developing tastes in her children. She was, however, hardest on herself, self-critical, scolded herself constantly because her house was never perfect, her work never done. She never had time to go out; she had become a veritable slave to a conscience that prodded her every time she read a book, took a nap, or went to a picture show.
It was not at first obvious either to her or her husband that her own ideal of cleanliness and perfection was responsible for her neurasthenia. If her “stomach was out of order ought she not have some stomach remedy; if her nerves were out of order would the doctor not prescribe a nerve tonic or a sedative?” The idea of a medicine for everything is still strong in the community and especially amongst dwellers in small towns, and represents a latent belief in magic.
In addition to such medicines as I thought the situation demanded, and to such advice as bore on her attitude to work and play, I hinted that dressing more fashionably might be of value. For the poorly dressed always have a feeling of inferiority in the presence of the better dressed, and this feeling is seriously disagreeable. To raise the ego-feeling one must remove feelings of inferiority, and here was a relatively simple situation. This woman really cared about clothes, admired them, but had got it into her head early in life that it was sinful to be vain about one’s looks. Though she had discarded the sin idea the notion lingered in the form of “unworthy of a sensible woman”, “extravagance”, etc. As she was painfully self-conscious in the presence of others as a result, this was a hidden reason for sticking to her home.
This woman had a really fine intelligence, wanted to be well and made a gallant effort to change her attitude. In this she succeeded, became as she put it more “careless of her things and more careful of her people.” Of course one cannot expect her ever to be anything but a fine housekeeper but she manages to be comfortable and has conquered an over-zealous conscience.
OTHER TYPICAL CASES
Case VII. The ambitious woman discontented with her husband’s ability.