This man brought in a story worthy of Charles Dickens.* As a boy, he and his mother lived in abject conditions in the mountains of Appalachia. The father had abandoned the family early on and the mother and her son lived in a tarpaper shack. Calling the conditions ‘extreme poverty’ would be an understatement. They had no heat in the winter, lived on food stamps and the kindness of a neighbor. A Pentecostal church brought them a basket of food at Thanksgiving and Christmas along with some clothes. They made out.

He wept as the told me his story. His mother fantasized about being rich and, upon occasion, scraped up enough money to buy a lottery ticket. She never won. Going to school as a kid was humiliating, but he wanted to fulfill his mom’s dream.

Sam won scholarships for college and grad school and learned everything he could about the world of finance. His mother died while he was still in school. “Shortly thereafter, I married a woman who looks like my mother.”  After he became a professor, he used his knowledge to accrue money which he carefully used to accrue more capital. Investment followed investment until he was like the winner of a Monopoly game who owned Park Place and Broadway.  In his mid-sixties now, the man was very wealthy.
Sam was also quite sad. He brought his wife to one session. Being as kind as I can be, she appeared to be a shriveled survivor of a mountain hollow in Eastern Kentucky weighing, perhaps, ninety pounds. I fantasized that her original family made their living on moonshine with their favorite delicacy being barbecued possum.  She sported eight  large diamond rings on her fingers (this is absolutely true,) was in elegant (but saggy) clothes, and had little facility with the English Language.  Her teeth showed no gaps.
This scene has marked (perhaps haunted) my mind for over thirty years. When Sam showed up for therapy,  he had begun to realize what he’d done with his life. He ruminated: “I can’t leave her; that would by like my father.” “She’d be wealthy, but she is so helpless.” “She’s good-hearted.” “Will you tell me what to do?”
No. That is not my job. If he were younger, I’d have him get in touch with his feelings, search back into his past to find out the truly happy days he had as a kid, discover what he wanted down deep inside and help him re-build his life around what he considered joyous and worth doing.  Freud thought that a person should not be awakened late in life. The reader knows that lifespan has been extended by the miracles of modern medicine. It may well be that Sam had another thirty or more years left. Still, it would have been rough.
As it was, I kept rather silent and let him figure it out.
Before long he quit therapy, not because I, like Jesus with the rich young ruler, insisted that he sell everything and give his money to the poor. Not at all. He quit because he would have to admit that his life had been fear-driven, that his motivation, energy and time had been spent solving a little boy and mom issue that didn‘t make sense anymore.  For anyone waking up from Script, that admittance is a heavy load. The only visual that matches the awakening is the colonel in The Bridge Over the River Kwai who suddenly realizes that his bridge helps the enemy: “What have I done?”
Now let’s interrupt that story with several  philosophical reflections: When is honesty with a person’s history ill-advised?  After all, rationalization worked well for Sam most of his entire adult life. He thought himself free. He provided a ton of jobs for others during his money quest. Sam didn’t hurt others as he accrued money like Scrooge McDuck. He was a good teacher and managed people quite well. 
Therapy relies upon questions and even questions can reveal a therapist’s private values. Consider the difference of the following questions in terms of Sam. “What is the responsible thing to do?”  “What would your mother have you do?” OR “Aside from the poverty, what did you really enjoy doing when you were a kid?”  “If you really could live the way you really want to live, what would your life be?”
 With the first two questions, Sam will gear in and take a more parental option. After all, one of his Script themes is to provide for a woman. The second set of  questions leads him in the direction of deep feelings so he can fully live prior to his eventual demise.
   Choices.      Dammit.      Choices. 
Luckily for me, most of my clients were in the range of 25 to 55.
What path would you have taken with Sam?

*Remember that the person unconsciously tells her/his life script in the first session.  Or, for those still dating, on the first date.  If you date someone who says that his young life was one given to arguing with his mother, you might put in your mind that your future married life will be arguing with you. That’s called Transference. You’ll become mama.

And, if you have fantasies about healing this poor benighted man who suffered so badly from his mean old mother,  hahahahahahahahahaha            fuhgetaboutit.