Hurt People Hurt People - This Is Us, episode 18 Season Finale
This week stressed me out in so many ways. First, one of my eyes ran out of tears because I cried so much during this episode. (It’s ok, I have a tear duct refill appointment next week.) Then, I had to accept that this is a season finale and I’m left with so many questions that won’t be answered for what will feel like 10 years. On top of that, my week became so busy I couldn’t finish this blog post with the quick turnaround I usually shoot for. So where do we start? I mean, did anyone else get choked up and cry during that exhale Kevin led during his speech? Was that exhale that not an exhale for all of us? Also, can we give the writers extra points for nailing Kevin’s “just out of rehab” slightly awkward over-sharing speech? I could hear the groans from other living rooms! Did you cry when Kate asked to marry her Dad? When did you NOT cry during this episode?
Anyway, I think I’d like to use today’s post to comment on pain and what we do with it. If nothing else, This Is Us shows us how many different ways we can interpret and try to cope with our pain. The various choices for how we deal with pain are presented to us as they are - without judgment – and then we connect the dots to the aftermath. We get to see who owns their pain and who doesn’t, and how that plays out in their lives. And to me, Kate and Déjà are perfect examples of both – Kate carries her pain like a heavy cross on her back that only she can bear and Déjà carries her pain like a loaded weapon* ready to be discharged at anyone who comes too close. Either way, it’s all pain.
Kate – The Pain Internalizer
Internalizing pain is common. Very simply put, it is when you take your pain (sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, etc) and make yourself the victim of your own pain. Kate has been internalizing her pain for years. Instead of processing the pain of being made fun of by peers or criticized by her mother, she punished herself. She suffered in silence, beat herself up until her self-esteem was so low she didn’t feel she was worthy of friends and spent much of her time alone. She began an almost ritualistic self-punishing after Jack died, forcing herself to watch videos and engage in painful routines – always alone. We know she and Jack had such a beautiful connection, but her memories served as a way to remind herself that she was not worthy of love from anyone else except a man who no longer lived. We didn’t get to see how much time Kate spent alone wallowing in her pain until she had almost no one to invite to her bachelorette party. Internalizing her pain has caused all kinds of other problems for Kate, perhaps most notably her problematic relationship with eating.
What I think was beautiful about this episode is that Kate finally began to see that her internalizing behaviors are no longer working for her. They are holding her back. They are not helping her heal or progress as a person. It was good that Toby forgot (unconsciously or consciously?) Jack’s t-shirt. It forced Kate to go on a journey through her childhood memories and slowly say goodbye. She had to face the fact that if her beloved ice cream shop had moved on (and some could say was a better version of itself), it might be time for her to move forward and be better as well. She was able to accept that she was punishing herself trying to keep the memory of Jack alive and that to honor him she must let go and “make room for Toby.” She now has space for new memories with a new man who loves her unconditionally, just like her father. It took years for her to get to a place where she could try a new way to cope with her pain, but she got there.
Déjà - The Pain Externalizer
Externalizing pain is also common. The simple explanation here is that you take your pain (sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, etc) and make others the victim of your own pain. Externalizing behaviors are the ones that we fear the most because this is not someone suffering in silence, they bring everyone along with their suffering. And Déjà is suffering. To the viewers, she was saved by the Pearsons, but no matter how you slice it, Déjà was abandoned. Déjà is bright enough to know her mom was making the best choice for her well being and future, but she was wishing her mother would figure out how to be a good enough mother to keep her. What a tidal wave of pain for Déjà to see that her wish for her mom to get herself together would never come true because she gave up.
But Déjà doesn’t admit to the pain, she said she doesn’t care if her mom left her. She didn’t turn the pain on herself, she took her pain and externalized it. Randall and Beth became recipients for her pain. Everything and everyone sucked and she was going to make sure they knew it. When Déjà is told she looks “just like her father” this is the final straw. It was another reminder of her pain of abandonment. And Déjà has found an outlet for her pain – someone she could blame for losing her mother. She would make Randall feel the pain of losing something she loved so dearly.
Quick side note: It’s great that Cousin Zoe could identify and tried to get through to Déjà. She identifies with what Déjà is doing and remembers she too tried to make everyone else’s life miserable. She explains that there is “no sense in hating people who love you.” Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if a 5min talk from Cousin Zoe could instantly heal Déjà’s pain? The truth is, Cousin Zoe only scratched the surface. Déjà’s pain is fresh. She will need time to process just as Cousin Zoe did – and Déjà may take just as ugly a path until her words finally sink in.
Randall & Beth – This is Not a Test
The real question is what are Randall and Beth going to do with all of Déjà’s pain? Are they ready? This is real life, this is not a test. Déjà is externalizing her pain as a cry for help. Will they still be able to love Déjà after her acting out? Will they reject her and try to get rid of her? Here’s what I see: Déjà feels totally unloved and rejected. If the woman who birthed you can decide to give up her rights as a mother, Déjà feels there is no way anyone else would have a reason to love her. So this is Déjà’s way to ask if she is worthy of love. Which will be more important to Randall – his car or her? Is she more valuable than his most prized possession? If they reject her, she will feel justified – of course they didn’t really love her, her mother doesn’t either. It’s self-sabotage, but very common with externalizing – “I hate myself so I’ll give everyone a reason to hate me too.” People who externalize their pain steal, destroy property, get in fights, argue, threaten and more. They often do this instead of crying, instead of self-harm, instead of attempting suicide.
I hope Beth and Randall can see through this destruction of property. I hope they are still up for the task of raising Déjà, loving Déjà, and helping her heal. I hope they seek out therapy for everyone involved, they will need help to manage her pain, and their own.
So, what am I supposed to do now? Is there a petition going to force NBC to air Season 3 next week? If so, I’ll sign it! I need to know what happens!! How is Beth going to react to Cousin Zoe dating Kevin? We all know Beth is not a big fan of The Manny. AND WHAT HAPPENED TO TOBY?? And I will not entertain who Randall and Tess were going to visit in the future.
In the meantime, I will be blogging about new things – films, current events, book reviews and more – all through a psychology lens with a focus on youth and parenting! Hope you'll be back!
*I do recognize the weight of using a reference to guns and gun violence. I also want to encourage a moment to consider that murders committed by school-aged children (in a school or elsewhere) are almost always an example of externalized pain. It is hard to recognize and accept intense pain when it ends up hurting others. But it is pain.