The Abundant Womb

Yesterday I wrote about what people do in case of emergency, and most particularly about what I do when my survival seems threatened. I mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, and also that others, such as Arizona State University psychology professor Douglas Kenrick, have taken issue with Maslow’s pyramid and revised it (or even dismissed it).

Kendrick is an interesting person whose work I respect because it has added a great deal to the psychological literature and is also thought provoking. His bio on the Psychology Today web site illustrates how a person can weave his misbegotten past into a presently successful life. Those of us who have college transcripts (or even rap sheets) to live down can take note, as his humor is self-effacing but artful at the same time. He’s a sharp fellow.

Have a look at Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs pyramid and compare it with Kenrick’s theoretical model below:

The article I referenced notes that many disagree with Kenrick’s assertion that parenting, not self-actualization, is at the pinnacle of human psychological development. One thinker went so far as to suggest that grandparenting might be at the pinnacle–an idea I liked, being a grandmother myself and calling to mind a proverb that says, “a children’s children are a crown to the aged” (Proverbs 17:6).

What interested me about Kenrick’s revised pyramid is the idea that mate acquisition, mate retention, and parenting would supplant self-realization as the pre-eminent evolutionary goals of the human being. Certainly, from an evolutionary standpoint one has to agree that producing offspring is demanded of anyone who hopes in a genetic future. Still, the pyramid stands here like a gate swinging open into a walled garden, beckoning “come in, come in.”

Four Things That Never Say ‘Enough’

During my work in the child welfare and adoption field, I had occasion to work with many couples who found themselves unable to have children. I can’t even estimate how many thousands of women I’ve talked to, corresponded or consulted with, or counseled who were anguished over their inability to produce a child. The abuses I’ve encountered in adoption work almost always stemmed from greed, perhaps equally arising from the agency or attorney greed for money and the adoptive parent greed for a child. Thus it is that another proverb says there are four things that are never satisfied and can never say ‘enough’: the grave, the barren womb, parched earth, and fire (Proverbs 30:16). The only satisfaction for the barren womb, the psalmist says, is a child. I have known many infertile adoptive mothers whose wombs were forever dissatisfied even after they adopted a child, whose wombs continued to wail.

Is Kenrick correct, then? Is parenthood the epitome of human success? I don’t think so. From the perspective of biological evolution, one might argue that he is correct, and the most developed human beings are those who are able to acquire, retain, and reproduce with a mate. I’m not so sure why mate retention is necessary, though, considering that having babies will ensure genetic advancement and therefore the most psychologically advanced among us must be those people who are having more children more quickly and often than anyone else. This puts Niger at the top of the list worldwide as the place to go for evolutionary enlightenment.

The Wandering Waif

What gave me pause yesterday when I looked at Kenrick’s pyramid was the rightness of it from the perspective of a person who has no mate or no children and feels these lacks as a personal failure. There certainly is an undeniable prejudice in most cultures against the single, childless person. The single parent has at least proved that s/he can mate and produce a child; the married but childless couple has at least proved that they can mate. But the single, childless person is often looked upon with pity or even disdain in our culture. Get to age 40 and be childless and without a spouse, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Being alone in any culture makes a person feel like a failure, and tends to cause others to judge one as a failure. A childless person without a mate had better be a mystic, priest, poet, artist, or other inspired type to ward off societal judgments.

This state of affairs suggests just how shallow we can be. We put so much store in biological advancement and so little on spiritual that we will applaud a person for marrying and having a child while judging another for doing neither. We will judge the car mechanic for his shoddy work, but not the bad parents for theirs. Every kind of mediocrity and benign neglect are supported as long as one has a spouse or partner and is producing children.

It is quite clear to anyone who has been married and raised children to adulthood that neither marriage nor childrearing will save you. Spouses and children do not satisfy the need for spiritual and psychological advancement, and often times we realize later that all the love we lavished upon our children was as much about us as it was about them. I know few enlightened parents, but many selfish ones, and the reason why counseling continues to be a booming profession is because people who have no business becoming parents have children anyway, and these children grow up and need fixing. Such fixing is very hard to come by.

Spouses and children are millstones around the necks of those who seek enlightenment, and so it is that the world’s greatest religious leaders, teachers, gurus, and saints were, by and large, single and childless. Saint Paul said that it is better to remain unmarried, because the married have the cares of the world on their mind–how to please the spouse, how to provide, how to raise the children. The person who chooses to remain single and childless can devote him- or herself to God.

We all know people who should never have become parents but did, and whose only gift to the world was to send a neurotic, unhappy child out into it. This adult child wanders the world, forever searching for a new mother and father in every other person or community, only to be rejected and disappointed and to therefore repeat the psychological wound. Our world is full of such people, raised by wolves, unparented, unwanted, and unloved, inflicting themselves on others and producing babies who are well dressed and perhaps even well-educated, but merely higher functioning facsimiles of their own orphan-hearted parents. This is exactly why the middle- and upper-middle class families who look so good on the outside inevitably produce an addict or disordered person of some kind, for there is always a truth bearer who testifies of the truth through intransigent symptoms.

The Abundant Womb

The abundant womb is the spirit producing love and light. It nurtures, contains, and sustains life. A person who can stand in the face of cultural judgments and choose a simple, single, childless life, or consciously choose childlessness in favor of an evolution of the self, or even selfless service, is a great person. Every person among us is destined for death and each of us dies alone. Our two possessions are our own births and deaths, and no matter what we tell ourelves or how we are received on either side of life, we go it alone. One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to begin with the end in mind. If each of us began every day with the idea of our own deaths in the front of our minds, I wonder how different the world would be? Just as medieval nuns attached carved skulls to their rosaries and meditated hourly on death, so too we ought to consider reality.

I spoke a few weeks ago with a long-time friend who is a fine mother and grandmother. Her mothering and grandmothering are so fine, in fact, that none of her children know that sometimes her mothering and grandmothering wear her to the bone. We talked at length about how the ‘Good Mother’ is an icon we sacrifice to but loathe at times, for she demands everything and gives nothing in return. Every conscious grandmother I know has expressed a similar feeling to me, namely that we do our duties with love and often joy, but that we all long to be alone and quiet and still and rarely get to be these, because we are always serving and caretaking someone. We can never escape from being wives and mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters. We caretake the world and often have gone into professions as caretakers, too, in service to the Good Mother. Many women never get to be alone until they are on their death beds, and the lack of aloneness all their previous lives has made them ill equipped to grow old and die.

Men, too, serve an idol. In my household, we call this archetypal figure “Mr. Fix-It.” He is the handyman, the honeydew, who does everything. He gets up and goes to work every day and comes home and mows the lawn. He changes the oil and drives the kids to the park. He pleases his boss and tries to please his wife and then has to put up with hearing about what a failure he is in spite of his efforts. He is like a pack mule at times, and other times like the handyman one hires for ten bucks an hour. When he was young, he longed for adventure and had a daring gleam in his eye, but the fire has given way to duty and before he knows it he’s old and his life is over. “I never really even lived my life!” he says with bewilderment.

For all these reasons and more, I think that those of us who have mates and children and grandchildren ought to be as honest about the difficulties and demands of these relationships as we are eager to update our Facebook pages with brags and photos about this so-called great life we lead. The fact is, this great life is exhausting, but we can throw ourselves into carpooling, school programs, volunteerism, and back-to-school shopping with abandon because these do not demand real selves or enlightenment or any kind of personal development of us. We can be the succubi and incubi of the universe, or we can be life-givers like Eve, but we can’t be both. When people confuse life-giving with childbirth, they are sorely misguided and in danger of doing the rest of us a terrible disservice by producing more unfit children in a world already teeming with unfit human beings and all too few enlightened communities.

I hope that we will honor and cherish those among us who are single by choice and childless by choice. I hope we’ll thank them for being conscious human beings and for having the courage to say, “I will not have children.” I admire Oprah Winfrey because she knew she could only be excellent at her career or at mothering, but not both. She was called to be who she is and she fulfilled her calling, and in my book that makes for a great woman. Few of us are called to entertain or improve the world on the Oprah scale, but each of us is called to do what Maslow suggested, which is to be the best we can be at who we are–with or without spouses or children, and many times in spite of them.

Post Game

Though it’s taken a good two months to do it, I’m finished with Patricia’s case study; this post may be considered a sort of post-game wrap-up, a terminal staffing of Patricia’s case. Although Patricia is a composite, she is a reliable composite of real clients. I never worked with a birth mother who surrendered her child who wasn’t devastated afterward, who didn’t drawing03 by you.regret it, and who didn’t long for her lost baby every day thereafter. Though some turned to addictions to numb their pain and thus mask it, the pain was always there. Though Patricia runs, she can never run far enough away from what she has done.

I had several clients like Patricia, clients who would never have given their children up for adoption had they been healthy people, for when they gave up their babies they sealed themselves in a special kind of purgatory reserved for birth mothers. They made sure that they would be punished for the rest of their lives for being who they were, for the choices they had made.

By this, I don’t mean to say that no mother should ever outsource her parenting to another couple or that a birth mother’s pain must be eternal and unending. I am all in favor of adoption when parents won’t get their acts together. Babies and small children get one childhood, and that childhood is short. If they don’t have healthy parents, children will be psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally maimed. All of us will pay the price. This is why, I think, the Old Testament states that the father’s sins are revisited by the third and fourth generations. In family therapy, when we do a genogram, we can see how patterns are, in fact, continued through three or four generations. Absent a healing, wounds are transmitted as surely as DNA. And I know for certain that every person alive is able to receive healing, able to be saved, eminently redeemable. I don’t mean to say that adoption is bad, that it causes an incurable wound.

What I do mean to say is that adoption and having one’s children removed to foster care occur as the result of a terrible fracture in the bones of a family. Breaks in relationship are symptoms. What caused the adoption or state intervention cannot possibly be a good thing. After having children themselves, even adult adoptees raised by the best possible adoptive parents will say that they can’t imagine giving their own child away. They say they would do whatever it takes to keep their children, and they do.

it’s not about adoption

But Patricia’s story is not merely about adoption. It would be easy to dismiss her study because adoption isn’t part of our lives. We’re not so wounded that we’ve cast away our own drawing05 by you.flesh and blood, we’ll say. We’re better off than that.

I think we should not be so hasty to pat ourselves on the back, because to whatever extent you or I were wounded, complexed, tied up in knots (as  Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh would put it), to that extent we too need healing and we too have passed on our wounds to our children. You will always see it when your children grow up, find partners, marry, have children and careers. You’ll see it in their friendships or lack of them, their mishaps, the conflicts they have with others, in what they do with their success.

One of the best examples of applied case history I’ve written was in “Talisman,” where I showed how Amanda’s wound, “Trailer Trash,” manifested itself in her life despite her extensive efforts to do other than what her parents had done. In middle age, she is very much like her parents were. The addictions have been cleaned up and are socially acceptable, and the chaos she creates in her life is chaos in the name of Good (work, helping others, etc.), but the effects are the same. There is no peace, no place of security or safety in her household, no order, very little nurture, no time to slow down, no insight or wisdom, no true spirituality.

I could give you a hundred examples, for I’ve seen it in every life of every walking wounded I know, including in my own life. We do it until we’re free, as I wrote in “Talisman.” It can be as obvious as the adult child of the alcoholic marrying an alcoholic. It can be as subtle as the survivor of sexual abuse growing up and appearing to be the picture of mental health, yet choosing to raise her own children in a neighborhood where the highest number of registered sex offenders live within a square mile of her home. It can be as subtle as the social worker who rationalizes her inhuman work schedule by saying she’s doing necessary work, helping the needy, while ignoring the fact that her own children see her no more often than she saw her own parents, and are no more known by her as a mother than she was by her own largely emotionally (if not physically) absent mother.

the good enough family

Sometimes people whose families looked good enough from the outside, and who had average or above-average opportunities but impoverished relationships fare the worst. Stan and Anita grew up in such families. Each had a high-functioning addict or personality-disordered parent; each parent divorced and remarried one or more times, using all the energy that drawing04 by you.should have been given to the children for the new romance. Each went to summer camp, lived in nice homes. They attended private schools and good universities, were members of fraternal societies and religious clubs. They were the pictures of success and ripe potential until they married. Then, though each continued to exhibit outward success–good careers, nice home, good cars–they and their marriage fell apart.

Like many upwardly mobile, intelligent young people, they sought good help and received it, spending thousands of hours and dollars on therapy. They improved and became better. But as soon as they decided to have children, they each compulsively began to re-create the very picture of disonnectedness and relational poverty with which they were raised. Like the sexual abuse survivor who moved to the nice town house in the midst of an area rife with sex offenders, they moved to a neighborhood surrounded by ghetto. In their one square mile radius were three halfway houses for addicts, nine bars, and numerous prostitutes and drug dealers. Their historic neighborhood was beautiful, but it was surrounded by a virtual war zone. They had chosen for their children a picture that was, in effect, exactly what had been given them by their own parents: the appearance of plenty surrounded by constant threats, impoverishment, and disconnectedness from intimate, supportive, and nurturing family relationships. They scorned the typical suburban neighborhoods their peers and family members chose because “normal” and “typical” had no appeal for their deepest, still impoverished selves. That part of themselves had not yet been called from the tomb; its stink was inevitable.

unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies

This is what we do. We get enough health to feel better, look better, and function better. But we do not heal the wound, because the wound is never healed until we die. We can die metaphorically, as Jesus and Buddha said we must, or we can die physically after living an entire lifetime unhealed and unwhole. But die we must. We know we’re not dead when we fight for our lives over things, when we cannot yield, when we just know we’re right and the other person is wrong, when we must have our own way.

drawing02 by you.I don’t believe in trying to stop people who are in the throes of a compulsion. Just as Liz tried to help Patricia become conscious to what she was doing to herself, and to how she was re-creating patterns, we can warn people. In fact, I believe that when we see others endangering themselves we’re spiritually obliged to try to warn them off. This is not easy to do in friendships or family relationships, and it’s not easy to do even when you’re a healer being paid to help others heal. But warn we must, with fear and trembling, looking to ourselves first lest we throw our own garbage onto our neighbor’s lawn. We must stop short of complusion in our insistence.

“If the unbelieving one wants to leave, let him leave,” Saint Paul wrote. If others must give in to their compulsions, then we must let them do it wholeheartedly until they are finished living their wounds. This is what Patricia did, and it’s what nearly every client does, at first. They do it at major milestones in the most reliable ways. Only a fortunate and stubborn few come back for more healing and eventually make it through to wholeness. This may be what Jesus meant when He said that the road to life was narrow, and few, very few, are those who are on it. The way to destruction is broad, and very, very many are on it. That’s what He said. He said we are statistically unlikely to avoid the wrong road.

love yields

I believe that one reason why Christians–and indeed all who live in religious communities–are taught to live in community and to avoid schisms is because it’s impossible to avoid schisms without dying to oneself. We all want our own way. We must have it. We cannot yield when under compulsion, when controlled by forces bigger to us than God. Even God yields. So it was that Saint Paul said, “All things are lawful to me, but I will not be controlled by anything.” When we see our children, our friends, ourselves compulsively enter marriages that others warn against, compulsively move away, compulsively insist that they will do this, do that, buy this, take that risk, and have their way, this is when we know that it is no longer love at work, but law. Love yields, suffers long, is patient and kind. Love can give the other person his turn first. There is no substitute for real love. Once you know it, you can never be fooled by a forgery.

The problem is that all too many people have never seen real love. They don’t know it, so they are fooled by forgeries. I’ve heard that when law enforcement agents are taught how to lautrec2 by you.recognize counterfeit bills, they are given real bills to handle and smell first. Sadly, though, to the person who was raised with counterfeits, the counterfeit always feels right. Counterfeits feel more comfortable after you’ve lived with them for over 20 years. If even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, we can be pretty sure that lesser compulsions will disguise themselves in pretty packages, too. They may seem and feel right; we may be able to get others to agree with us that what’s wrong is, in fact, right.

Before going ahead, though, we should ask what our healers, our shamans, our priests and confessors advise. Are peace and joy leading us forth, as the Prophet Isaiah said they would?  Or are we like Patricia, determined to do what we must?

Patricia: Part 6

Liz thoughtfully sipped her tea and thought about the progress her client, Patricia, had made over the past few months. Before getting to know Patricia, she would probably never have believed that she would find in her such a willing and able client. Patricia’s gutsiness and her agile mind combined to make her very determined, indeed. Still, several of her characteristics as a client were troubling, and tempered Liz’s admiration for Patricia with a more sober underlying assessment.

Patricia was as avoidant as she was determined, which combined to retard her progress and make it doubtful that she would complete therapy. Their closeness as partners in therapy seemd at times to make Patricia giddy, and when too much progress occurred, Liz could be sure that Patricia would later cancel appointments, bounce a check, or have some crisis that would delay one or more sessions.

And just in case a crisis or missed appointment wasn’t in order, Patricia made sure she was busy all the time. Though now nearing the end of her pregancy, her life was full of endless errands, projects, work-related tasks, parenting, and other activity that left her little time (if any) to reflect or to work on issues that had been raised in therapy. As a result of her compulsively busy lifestyle, Liz knew that it was unlikely that Patricia would make much progress at really reversing the destructive habits built during her crippled childhood.

“She’s still an orphan at heart,” Liz mused to herself, “a lost girl who never got what she needed–and is still paying for it–and perpetuating it.” If only Patricia would make healing her priority! Liz grinned wryly and said out loud, “Liz, now you sound like a therapist!”

Liz looked at her watch again and realized that Patricia was already 10 minutes late. She walked out of her office and asked the receptionist, Ashley, if there had been any calls. “No calls, Dr. Evans,” Ashley replied. “And no cancellations of any kind.”

Liz frowned. Not again. Patricia made time for what she wanted to do, whether it was PTA meetings or watching American Idol with friends. It was becoming increasingly clear that their therapeutic relationship wasn’t a priority, maybe because Patricia had received just enough help to begin to feel better about herself and her ability to give her children a better life than the one she’d had. After all, Patricia wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t keep addicts and alcoholics in her life; that made her a better parent than the ones she’d had.

This was the problem that many clients had: they got just enough help and relieved just enough emotional pain that they thought they didn’t need anything or anyone else. After only one or two months (or even years) of therapy or even self-help, they considered themselves finished. Rather than plumbing the depths and fixing what was truly broken, they did a slap-dash remodel job, made things look better on the surface–“like a home staging you see on a remodeling show!” Liz exclaimed to herself–and then they quit therapy and quit doing the deep work they so needed. They raised their children with the appearance of ‘normal,’ but because real health was lacking and so much was repressed and projected, usually the selfsame problems that had occurred in the family of origin resurfaced in the next generation. Even if Patricia managed to keep drunks and enablers out of her own life, she was almost certain to have a child who developed an addiction or who needed to enable an addict, because Patricia’s unhealed, rejected parts would demand reparation and finally become manifest in the very children she sought to save.

Carl Jung admonished more than once that those destined to fall into a pit ought to prepare themselves for it rather than falling into it backwards. “Everyone goes into the pit of self-discovery,” Liz mused, “but most don’t go there voluntarily.” Yet how much better it would be if they did!

celtic05 by you.

Liz picked up her desk phone and dialed Patricia’s work number. This was a young woman who could do this–she could make it! She could do something different than her parents and grandparents had done, if only she would stick with the grueling psychological work. But Patricia wasn’t at work, the receptionist said.

Liz called Patricia’s home phone and was surprised when a young child answered. “Is Patricia there?” Liz asked, and was answered with heavy breathing and the sound of little feet pattering along the floor. “IT’S FOR MOMMY!” the child’s voice cried, and after a moment a woman’s voice asked “Who’s this?”

“This is Liz Evans calling for Patricia,” Liz repeated. “Is she home? We had an appointment today.”

“Oh, this is her neighbor, Karen. But she’s not here. She went to the hospital this morning, she’s having the baby. Want me to give her a message?”

Liz’s heart sank. The baby? Already? She still had two weeks to go! Now what would happen?

“Yes, please tell her that Liz Evans called and that I’m hoping the best for her and the baby, and to give me a call when she feels like it.”

Dismay washed over Liz as she replaced the phone. Patricia was on her way to realizing that she could be a good person, and that she needed to heal and could heal. If Patricia stuck with her decision to give her baby up for adoption, she couldn’t possibly feel good afterward. On some level she might believe she was doing the best thing, but another fractured part of herself would also be a mother longing for her baby. Patricia would have to bury yet another part of herself, making it even less likely that she would be able to integrate all the disparate parts and find a cohesive whole in them, a Self.

Liz sighed, knowing she might never hear from Patricia again and knowing that whatever choice Patricia made about her baby boy would set into motion a lifelong chain of events. Liz had worked with enough families separated by foster care and adoption to know that, if Patricia chose adoption, it would not be as simple a solution for Patricia as she seemed to think it would be. And yet, if she kept her son, life would be even more difficult than it already was. Patricia was just as likely to have her healing thwarted by keeping the baby as she was by giving it up.

“Time will tell,” Liz said. “Time will tell.”

Patricia: Part 3

Liz was recording her thoughts about the session she’d just completed with a couple grieving the loss of their stillborn child when the ring of the telephone interrupted her. She hurriedly finished her thought and paused the tape recorder.”Yes?” she inquired.

dali10 by you.“Dr. Evans, Patricia Williams just called to reschedule tomorrow’s session for next week instead,” the receptionist, Ashley, explained. “But next week is that conference, so I didn’t know if you’d be available or not.”

Liz felt a rush of irritation. In the past six weeks of seeing Patricia, who was planning an adoptive placement for her unborn son, she’d had to rearrange two appointments to accommodate her client. Patricia was making progress at problem solving the immediate problems  in her life, and seemed able and willing to go deeper. But the therapeutic process had been demanding, too. Liz hesitated before answering Ashely’s question.

“No…, no, I’m not available at all next week. Though I’ll be back Friday morning, I hadn’t planned to come in to the office at all that day. I guess you’ll just have to cancel tomorrow’s appointment and set her up for the week after next,” she replied.

Liz returned to the work at hand, but felt distracted. She worried that Patricia would be reluctant to come in after two missed appointments, and fretfully questioned whether or not she should call Patricia herself. She began to feel helpless as her thoughts ran in circles. What to do? What to do?

It’s not as though she’s suicidal or as though there’s some emergency, Liz, she told herself. So what’s the problem here?

“What’s the problem, indeed,” she murmured to herself. “Time to call Doctor Vee, just what I need before heading off to a conference, anyway!” Liz picked up the phone and called her own analyst for an appointment; a reality check was needed.

calling doctor vargas

As part of her training as a psychotherapist, Liz had been required to undergo personal analysis. Her analyst, Michael Vargas, was a Zurich-trained Jungian who was nevertheless quite dali9 by about other schools of thought. A big admirer of Freud and other pioneers such as Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, and Carl Rogers, Doctor Vee, as she fondly called him, often said, “Different tools for different jobs; whatever theoretical approach works for a client works for me!”

She had been Dr. Vee’s analysand for nine years now, and felt a fond affection for the man, mixed with a healthy dose of respect. He had worked full-time as an analyst for 40 years and was still as vibrant and intellectually alive at age 80 as he had no doubt been at in his thirties. Seeing him would do her good.

Liz had already seen Dr. Vee once about issues that arose after she’d seen Patricia for the first time. Her idle musings about possible associations between adoption and base chakra functions had provided the fuel for a lively exchange in an enlightening session with Dr. Vee. But, lacking any significant emotional reactions to Patricia’s adoption plan, Liz could rest assured that she wasn’t herself complexed–emotionally knotted up–about adoption as an issue. Her work with Patricia since consulting Dr. Vee the first time had progressed, and Liz had been satisfied with the pace of therapy and the rapport she had continued to build with Patricia.

Now, however, she’d had a moderately strong emotional reaction against Patricia. During her training as a therapist, Dr. Vee had told her on more than one occasion that irritability can be an enlightened person’s most faithful companion, indicating where one is complexed or has unconscious drives operating. As she waited for Dr. Vee to answer his phone, Liz smiled. Going to see Vee had come to feel like a visit to her grandparents had felt when she was a child, and he was very much the wise old man figure in her life today.

the analyst sees an analyst

Four hours later, Liz sank into the buttery-soft leather sofa in Dr. Vargas’s office, kicking her shoes onto the floor. “Aaaah,” she smiled, “I’m so glad to be here, Vee! Bless you for seeing me on such short notice!”

dali8 by you.Dr. Vargas peered over his glasses at her through bushy white eyebrows and smiled. “It’s not every day that you call and say, ‘I’m aggravated and I need to see you!'” Liz chuckled. This was true. Liz’s usual air was that of the cool, polished professional woman whose act was decidedly together. No complexes left in this girl! But clearly that wasn’t the case today.

“Tell me what’s gone on,” Dr. Vargas invited, settling deeper into his chair and folding his hands over his Santa-like belly.

Liz lay down on the couch and closed her eyes, recalling the scene that had prompted her feelings of irritation. As she recounted the story, though, she began to feel foolish and silly for being in Vee’s office over something so trivial. She faltered during her story-telling and a sentence trailed off.

“Go on,” Vee gently prodded, “what happened next?”

Suddenly Liz drew a blank. What happened next? She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. Nothing. Her mind was as blank as the dali7 by you.white ceiling. The table lamp cast a circle of light above her, and she idly traced its circumference. Nothing. Her mind was simply blank. “God, I don’t know!” she exclaimed. “I’m drawing a total blank!”

Dr. Vargas leaned forward and removed his glasses, punctuating his next question, “Where are you, Liz? What’s going on?”

Liz sat up on the sofa and began to wring her hands. “I don’t know! I feel like a fool suddenly! I’m just so… so damn frustrated with this client!” Liz’s recent frustrations with Patricia’s demeanor and take-charge attitude poured out of her, culminating with her complaints about Patricia’s demands that she keep changing her appointments. “I’m afraid of losing her as a client, because I know I can help her, but I’m not willing to give up my needs to do it,” she explained.

A wave of helplessness overcame Liz and she practically wailed, “I don’t know what to do! I just want to give up and let her have her way, give her the Friday appointment and give up what I’d hoped would be an exciting conference week followed by a come-back-to-reality relaxed weekend of processing. But now I don’t know what to do!”

“I really felt I needed the entire week off, but this client is expecting to give her child up for adoption, for heaven’s sake. She’s having a baby and all I want is a pedicure! What if she terminates therapy? What if she thinks I don’t care?”

Vee’s eyebrows shot up as Liz’s explanations became laments, and his normally level-headed, sophisticated client and colleague took on the appearance of a helpless victim. The look on his face brought her to her senses.

“I’m… I’m going the wrong way, aren’t I?” Liz asked, sitting up.

dali2 by you.Dr. Vargas chuckled. “Yes, Liz, you’re going the wrong way!”

She chuckled, too, knowing that they were sharing a favorite line from the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Liz recalled the relevant scene: Unbeknownst to them, the two main characters in the movie, played by Steve Martin and John Candy, have taken a wrong turn and are headed down a one-way street going the wrong direction. A motorist driving parallel to them rolls down his window and begins to shout, “You’re going the wrong way!”

“What’s he saying?” Martin asks of Candy. “Oh, I dunno,” Candy replies, “he’s drunk! He says we’re going the wrong way.”

“The wrong way?” Martin asks, “How the hell does he know where we’re going?”

“Yeah!” exclaims Candy, dismissively mocking the other motorist by tipping an imaginary bottle at him. “He can’t possibly know where we’re going!”

By this time, the couple in the other car are frantically gesturing and shouting, “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG DIRECTION!” And about this time, of course, Martin and Candy realize their predicament as a huge truck comes barreling down the highway straight at them.

Liz was going the wrong direction with an energy flow that wanted to externalize her problem. The problem wasn’t only with Patricia; at this point, it was also Liz’s problem.

irritation as a clue

“Your irritation was the clue,” Vee pointed out, “that brought you to me. It is very good of you to notice this uncharacteristic mood in yourself. Your vigilance is what makes you such dante3 by effective helper, and keeps your clients safe. Your vigilance makes it you worthy of their trust.” Liz began to calm down, feeling comforted by Vee’s warm smile and supportive words. It seemed he always knew the right thing to say. And he was right; part of being an effective therapist was taking responsibility for one’s own “stuff.” She had done that, and could be proud of her integrity. She felt better already.

“I hardly need to remind you,” Dr. Vargas began, “about the helpful work of irritation, do I?”

Liz smiled and shook her head. “No, but I want to hear it from you anyway.” Sometimes her sessions with Dr. Vee were more like story-telling around a fire than they were like analysis. But, then, good analysis involved story-telling and the stuff of legends, anyway. She relaxed against the back of the sofa as Dr. Vargas leaned forward in his chair. She almost expected him to begin, “Once upon a time…”

“Irritation,” Dr. Vargas explained, “is like any other outburst of energy, affect, bad moods, sexual excitement, and the like–anything that is emotive and disorients a person’s conscious condition, eh?” Liz nodded her agreement. “Thus another person or even symbolic beings such as an angel–as Jung suggested–can be a personified transmitter of unconscious contents that are seeking expression.”

“Something within you finally was stirred to the point of irritation,” Dr. Vargas continued. ” Your work with Patricia has had only good results thus far. You are closer, you have gained her trust, you have facilitated many insights. You have solved problems together as you ought; and just last week she brought you a dream for the first time. Her unconscious contents manifest themselves and suddenly, soon afterward, there is a crisis. Suddenly she must change her appointments. Suddenly you feel an irritation and then a helplessness that are not characteristic.”

dante4 by you.“But fortunately you are aware of your irritation, and so you come to see me. You explain yourself, under the watchful eye of a faithful friend, and then suddenly we see your emotion. I witness a transformation. In an instant, I see in front of me a competent, intelligent, highly trained and experienced professional suddenly dissolve into a helpless hand-wringer.”

Dr. Vargas pointed to Liz’s hands, which were twisting in her lap.

enter the hand-wringer, stage right

Liz looked at her hands with surprise. It was as if they didn’t even belong to her!

“Who is the hand-wringer in this picture?” Dr. Vee asked. Because an immediate answer didn’t spring into Liz’s conscious mind, she began to list all her personal associations to hand-wringing and hand-wringers, ending with a litany of the events of the past two weeks, seeking whatever could be found that would trigger her bout of irascibility. Nothing came to mind until she suddenly realized that there was an invisible hand-wringer in her life.

“Oh my!” Liz exclaimed, “It’s Patricia’s mother! She’s the hand-wringer!”

“Ah!” Dr. Vee intoned, “the ever-present Ghost Mother. You’ve found her.”

Liz nodded her head sadly. “Yes, I walked right into it, didn’t I? The old transference, counter-transference dance. I can’t believe I did it.”

“Explain,” urged Dr. Vargas. “What do you see?”

“It’s as you said,” Liz replied, “we had made all this progress and of course once a client begins to dig deep and really trust you, any big complexes they have are likely to become manifest. The client will probably then use defense mechanisms to protect herself from the unwanted complex or emotional knot–defenses such as projection or transference. And this is exactly what happened.”

“Patricia needed to prove my trustworthiness, and more-or-less drove me into a situation in which I might be as dante5 by you.weak and ineffective as her mother was, forcing Patricia to take charge even though she’s the one who needs the care. Her mother was the parent, and Patricia the child, just as I am the therapist and she the client. Sadly for Patricia, her mother didn’t fulfill her role of guide and protector, so Patricia had to take care of herself. Similarly, if I begin to helplessly wring my hands and give up my responsibility to actually be the therapist, she’ll know that she can’t trust me. I will in effect have become her mother. She can’t heal if I can’t represent to her what Klein called ‘the good breast.'”

Dr. Vargas slowly nodded his head in agreement, then arched a quizzical brow at Liz. “So, what now, Dr. Evans? Have you made any mis-steps that need correcting, any blunders that need attending to?”

Only the murmur of the traffic outside could be heard as Liz considered Dr. Vargas’s question for several minutes. “I think I almost certainly would have blundered if I hadn’t known enough to call you and come in,” she began, “because by having our receptionist return Patricia’s call rather than calling her myself, though I bought some time to think about things, I also acted uncharacteristically. I can see now that if I don’t call Patricia personally, I may be acting very much as her mother did in her life, letting other people take charge or handle my problems while remaining passive.”

“And what will you do about that?” Dr. Vargas asked.

“Call her myself, of course!” Liz exclaimed as she reached for her shoes.

dali1 by you.

Patricia: Part 2

Patricia was a 28-year-old single mother of two planning adoption for her unborn child, a son she said was conceived as the result of a date rape. After contacting an adoption agency and completing an intake interview with a social worker, she was referred to an independent counselor for pre-placement counseling. Her counselor, Liz, specialized in treating clients picasso10 by you.with grief and childbearing loss issues including problems or challenges presented by adoption.As Liz waited for Patricia to arrive for their afternoon meeting, she reviewed the file that had been given her by the adoption agency social worker, Jeanette Sizemore. Jeanette had taken detailed notes, describing the neat double-wide trailer Patricia and her daughters occupied, and including two Polaroid photos she had taken during her intake interview at Patricia’s home. The first photo was of Patricia, standing in her kitchen behind a Formica-clad island. She was an attractive brunette with a determined set to her jaw.

The second photo was of Patricia and her two daughters, cute little girls with dark brown hair like their mother’s. The girls looked to be around four and two years old. Liz shuffled through Jeanette’s paperwork, searching for the girls’ ages and names, and found that the older girl was almost five years old, and the younger almost three. Oddly, Jeanette had not written the girls’ names in the social history, but had used the initials “B” and “M” for their names. “Interesting,” Liz thought, “that she’d use only initials and that they happened to be ‘BM.'”

Liz idly wondered if there was any meaning to Jeanette’s method of notation, or if it was a social work or adoption practice convention to identify children merely by their initials. Or perhaps she had her own association to adoption as excrement, something she would have to consider later as she did her own inner work. Liz opened her personal journal and made a note reminding herself to ask Jeanette about the use of initials in her report, and whether this was standard practice for the adoption agency. She also placed an association exercise on her to-do list; she would need to discover what personal associations she had to adoption and to other elements of Patricia’s file.  

“A good analytical psychologist is regularly checking the rearview mirror,” she reminded herself, then smiled wryly over her choice of the word “rearview.”

That’s two base chakra associations in as many thoughts, she told herself. You’d better go ahead and call your own analyst and keep yourself an honest woman.

client and counselor meet

The chime on Liz’s telephone rang once, notifying her that her client had arrived. Liz stood and took a reflective breath before opening her door to greet Patricia. As Liz entered the waiting room, Patricia stood awkwardly and gave her a tentative smile. They introduced themselves and entered the office, with Patricia picasso13 by you.choosing a chair directly opposite Liz’s desk, placing the desk as a barrier between them rather than choosing the sofa or a chair in the less formal sitting area of the office. Liz made mental note of Patricia’s choice and recalled that she had been standing behind a counter in the Polaroid photo the social worker had taken. Liz wondered if her new client had a pattern of placing barriers between herself and other women. Other women were likely to carry her feminine archetype projections and symbolize or carry Patricia’s complexes–her emotional knots. Liz wondered what she symbolized to Patricia, and looked forward to finding out.

After giving Patricia a few minutes to get settled and acclimate herself to this new environment, Liz began to orient Patricia to herself as a counselor. Although Liz had a decidedly Jungian bent, her training and education had been boilerplate Marriage, Child, and Family Therapist fare. Any training in depth psychology, she’d had to receive on her own–and she had. After thanking Patricia for coming, she explained her views and asked Patricia about her expectations and hopes.

“I’m here because the social worker said it was part of the agency’s services, and because I’ve been thinking having some therapy would be good for me. But I’m very sure about my decision about giving up the baby, so I don’t want to get into anything like you trying to talk me out of it. I have my hands full with the girls as it is.” Patricia sat back in her chair and picasso07 by you.crossed her arms as if defying Liz to disagree.

Liz nodded sympathetically and told Patricia that her only aim was to support Patricia in her path. “If we were in high school,” Liz explained, “you would be the football team and I’d be the pep club, supporting you as you get through this season.”

Patricia grinned. “That’s funny,” she said, “because I was pep club president in high school, until things at home got so bad that I had to quit. Now the tables are turned and I get a chance to be supported.” The two shared a smile and Liz knew things were off to a good start; Liz had intuitively chosen a metaphor that was meaningful to Patricia. “Thank you,” Liz prayed, returning Patricia’s smile.


“You mentioned your daughters, Patricia,” Liz began, “so tell me about them and about what your life is like at the moment.”

“Oh, they’re great!” Patricia exclaimed. “I couldn’t ask for better kids, but being on my own makes it hard, naturally. I don’t think with only us three picasso05 by you.girls together now that bringing a boy into the mix, with all the drama of his background, would be a good idea. I already spent my childhood protecting my little brother from a drunk and I just need to get as far away from my past as possible. I want this baby boy to have a chance that he won’t get with me.”

Liz nodded sympathetically and was about to ask what Patricia believed she had done to get away from her background when she realized she didn’t know the girls’ names. “I notice that Ms. Sizemore only included your daughters’ initials in her notes. What are the girls’ names?”

“Brandy and Margarita,” Patricia answered proudly as she fished her billfold out of her purse and showed Liz a couple of wallet photos of the girls. Liz smoothly covered her surprise upon hearing the girls’ names–both the names of alcoholic drinks–as she admired the photos Patricia offered. “Oh, they’re beautiful!” Liz commented, “Do their names have any special meaning to you?”

“Not really,” Patricia replied, “I just liked that old song ‘Brandy’ because my mom used to sing it all the time. And I think Margarita is a Spanish form of Mary, and around the time she was born I used to always buy those Virgin Mary candles at the grocery store, and light them and think good thoughts about being a mom. . . even though I’m not Catholic!”picasso03 by you.

Liz nodded supportively as Patricia spoke, noticing her own inner amazement over Patricia’s oblivion to the legacy she had given her daughters. The daughter of a violent drunk whose entire aim was to escape her past and not repeat it with her own children had in fact named her children with names of alcoholic origin. That she was unconscious to this indicated that she was probably habitually inviting and encountering her father’s energy and legacy into her life.

“Truth really is stranger than fiction,” Liz said to herself. “I couldn’t make this stuff up.” She would ask Patricia about the connection with alcohol at a later session, after they had established better rapport. Liz nodded attentively at Patricia as she explained her relationship to Brandy and Margarita’s father. The 45 minutes seemed to fly by, and at the session’s end it was clear that the two had hit it off.

Patricia was articulate, warm, determined, and smart. She was also apparently unconscious to some  of her major motivations. Liz was looking forward to working with Patricia and hopefully witnessing her awakening. “Let it be so,” she prayed inwardly as she arranged for their next session.

map13 by you.

This entry is 8th my series on Leave-Taking:

  1. Leaving Home
  2. The Old Queen
  3. Container
  4. Great Mother
  5. The Karma of Leaving
  6. Case Studies
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