When Clara told her mother she was pregnant, her mother did not respond with joy, instead she replied, “Don’t ask me to babysit.” Clara said she wouldn’t dream of it.
When she was growing up Clara had never gotten much help from her mother; now she no longer wanted it. From early childhood Clara had vowed to be different, not like her mother, and she began psychotherapy to help her become who she wanted to be. We worked together, with a partnership based on listening, understanding the past, and feeling the present with wise hearts, easing Clara’s path to a more satisfying life.
Unlike her mother, I took delight in Clara’s accomplishments. She was professionally quite advanced. She was satisfied with her marriage. She was a lovely woman, very shy, but at the same time, ready to offer help to others—although it was hard for her to accept help for herself, until she slowly learned that she was worthwhile too.
Much of our work centered on anxiety, depression, rage, and feelings of worthlessness, from which she mostly recovered. When it was time for her to end treatment, we said goodbyes, each of us feeling both regretful and fulfilled. Our relationship had been warm and full. Clara was satisfied with her life and her considerable achievements, and I was proud of all she had done.
Often people need to consolidate their therapeutic gains, and then return, if they want, when their situation changes, or when they feel they would like to renew their explorations at a deeper level. “The door is always open,” I like to say.
When she was pregnant Clara decided to come back to therapy because she didn’t want history to repeat itself—she didn’t want her relationship with her daughter to be like her relationship with her mother, or like her mother’s relationship with Clara’s grandmother. They fought all the time; instead of helping each other, they tore each other down.
Clara had been able to leave treatment and return when she needed, on her timetable, a sign of her growing maturity; she didn’t run away and she didn’t cling, either. Our mutual empathy was a different kind of connection than her intense controlling, demanding, rejecting mother was able to offer. She often told Clara, “They gave me the wrong child in the hospital” while clinging to Clara and demanding that Clara perform exactly as she was told. Clara spent much of her life trying to please a hostile and envious mother.
Clara knew her mother and grandmother hadn’t liked each other very much; she could see how trauma can be passed down from one generation to the next. She dreamed of protecting her child from her family’s sad legacy—that’s what the second chapter of our work was about: helping Clara establish a new, healthier style of parenting, that would not be defined by old nightmares.
© Copyright 2011 by By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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