BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL:
FOCUSING WITH EARLY TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Bart Santen, Psychotherapeutisch Centrum De Mark, Breda, The Netherlands
Satan, being thus confined to a vagabond, wandering, unsettled condition, is without any certain abode; for though he has, in consequence of his angelic nature, a kind of empire in the liquid waste of air, yet this is certainly part of his punishment, that he is ... without any fixed place, or space, allowed him to rest the sole of his foot upon.
Daniel Defoe (cited in Rushdie, 1988)
Shortly before he died in 1924, Franz Kafka (1985b) wrote a note. It said: “Let the bad be bad, otherwise it will get worse.” Kafka must have been painfully aware of what he was writing about. During his whole life, this man who was said to behave like a saint has been caught in struggling with his insistent inner demons and suicidal wishes. They had brought him to the brink of insanity. Somehow he had not been able to do what he intuitively sensed as a possibility to get out of this cage. “Is it possible,” Kafka once wrote, "to think something inconsolable, without the trail of consolation? There might be a way out because of the fact, that acknowledgement as such is consolation. So you could think: You must dispose of yourself, and yet - without counterfeiting this statement - stand your ground, being aware of having acknowledged that. That would really mean having pulled yourself out of the moor by your own hair. That which is ridiculous in the physical world is possible in the mental world" (Kafka, cited in Santen-Post, 1986). It is this kind of acknowledgement that I want to explore here.
The children and adolescents described in these pages all mentioned feeling caged-in. Like Kafka, they were caught in the trap of encapsulating their feelings. However, these children turned out to be able to “pull themselves out of the moor” in the way Kafka described. In order to be able to do this, they needed the presence of someone who could just keep them company in an accepting way, refraining from interfering with their process. I will describe some of these processes, and the way I guided these children to facilitate their development.
Two of the three children presented here have been psychiatrically diagnosed as suffering from a borderline syndrome. Elsewhere I gave a description of this syndrome and presented in detail a focusing therapy with a borderline adolescent (Santen, 1988). I now want to go beyond that, and ask attention for an underlying mechanism operating in many severely disturbed children: The presence of an early trauma, which triggered unmanageable anger and fear. Consequently, these children vigorously repressed their feelings. They got caught in an inner conflict, causing them in a way to strike against life. I will illustrate pan of this mechanism and make some remarks on how to get out of it. I will try to show. that the framework of the focusing method can help these children to find a way of dealing with their trauma and the consequent intense feelings, so that they can give up inner repressing and become more acceptant of themselves.
THE FOCUSING METHOD
Gendlin learned from Rogers, that “if every bit of a client’s self-expression is taken in by the therapist, checked, verified, and then left to stand as is, without editing, without adding, without ‘correcting’ and ‘improving’ and ‘interpreting,’ then this inner relief and space lets more and more come from inside until a self-propelled change process rises in the clients (Gendlin, 1986). In my work as a client-centered/ experiential therapist I found out, that this is not only true for solid grown ups, but also for the shaky children and adolescents I met, with whom almost anything was very touchy.
Gendlin dedicated his life to develop this insight further and to refine a method, by which we can help another person to go beyond rationalizing and inner attacking, to sense directly the vague complexity of what is going on inside, without us interfering with their process. Gendlin calls this way of inner attending focusing (Gendlin, 1981; Santen & Gendlin, 1985). Instead of giving a technical description of this focusing method, I shall try to clarify how this process can be furthered by presenting some therapy fragments. Before going into that, however, I shall point out the importance of malting a space and finding a way to deal with the inner critic.
CLEARING A SPACE
Clearing a space is the first focusing step. When we guide someone in doing this, we ask him to silently direct his attention to-the middle of his body and to see what comes up there if he asks himself if he can feel totally fine. If something comes up which is in the way of feeling fine, we ask the client not to work on it, but to make some space between himself and that. Then he is asked to find out what else is bothering him. This is done until each troublesome experience has got its place for that moment. This is done without denying the weight of what has emerged. It is just welcome to be there.
Over the years this first focusing step has turned out to be of major importance (Gendlin, 1982a; Grindler, 1982; McGuire, 1982; Coffeng, 1984); when clients have learned to develop this new stance towards their blockages, the rest of the focusing process unfolds relatively easily.
In our case-examples, we find confirmation of how essential this change in the way of self-relating is. Initially, these children seemed to be nothing but their overwhelming problems. Gendlin calls this way of experiencing structure-bound (Gendlin, 1964); certain cues tend to evoke, over and over, the same feelings and thoughts, which withdraw from the influence of the current situation. In our traumatized children, this structure-boundness was extreme. Their experiences not only repeated themselves, but they were also perceived as unowned. Experience just intruded upon them. They seemed to look at their own movies with empty hands, without a felt conceitedness, without experiencing a sense of self. As we shall see, a distance that fits is needed as a first step to get out of this trap and get a felt process going.
Depestele (1983) has studied the underlying mechanisms involved in making space. As he says, in this way a “me” can become differentiated by a new relationship with several “its.” Instead of just being all this, the client can sense the “its: An experiential difference gets installed. What the client just was and repeated incessantly, he now can sense as a distinct person. As a consequence, an active and observing ego can gradually develop. Also because of this act of separating out, ego-boundaries can be restored.
THE INNER CRITIC
We all have to deal with our inner critic. It tells us not to be so oversensitive. and calls us bad and silly if we feel or think something it dislikes or cannot stand. Especially the traumatized children we talk about; all have their painful history with this harshly attacking inner voice. which stands for the Good and fights the Evil. It prevents them from getting in touch with the multicoloredness, and especially the dark sides, of their inner world.
Gendlin ( 1 982b, 1984), commenting on the influence of this belittling force, noticed that this voice, which originates from the criticizing attitudes of the parents, not only has become introjected, but has also become meaner and more demanding than the parents ever have been.
The children we talk about desperately tried to be perfect, but meanwhile bad behavior escaped from their hands; it was if the chased forces strangled the hunter (Kafka, 1 985a). As a result, they felt worthless and helpless. They were observing an incessant inner fight between Good and Evil incessant because their inner critic refused to acknowledge the right of existence of the opponent, which fought back -in a destructive way. Because they did not allow themselves to want to steal, they found their hands stealing. Disgusted with their dirty body and their sexuality, they were obsessed with sexual themes.
The question is how to deal with these forces therapeutically.
In answering this, we must realize that in the original traumatic situation which triggered the described mechanism, this was a way to cope in order to make a frightening situation bearable. Extreme fear of retaliation and loss of love may have forced the child into a preventive operation. Better censor and repress part of your own feelings and needs yourself than to have to deal with the expected rejection of those you depend on.
Though a crippling solution, it was a solution anyway, and it is still experienced that way when the child enters therapy. The structure-bound child experiences the therapist as another person, ready to retaliate if he really knew how bad the child is somewhere inside. So not only is inner attacking going on, experienced as attacking “at me,” but somehow also an attack from the therapist is feared. For this reason we should not implicitly take the side of the inner critic by allowing it to dominate the whole field and smother. We must implicitly detach a little from it, to allow the child "to experience the directly sensed difference between these super-ego attitudes and the client’s own body-center coming from himself" (Gendlin, 1982b). However, we should not approach the inner critic in its own style either. We must acknowledge that it is there, and has good reasons to be there. We approach it as someone who is for some good reason constantly negative, and just ask it to step aside for a while to give the smothered inner voice a bit of air. If we succeed in respecting the inner critic, we may find out that behind its hard front there are underlying feelings of scare, anger or hurt which may open up. If all the forces are acknowledged by the child and by us, these fears may prove unnecessary, and an integrating feeling-process may occur.
TREATING THE EFFECTS OF EARLY TRAUMATIZATION THREE CASE-HISTORIES
At this point, I will present fragments of three therapies. Each one is meant to stress a somewhat different aspect. With the beginning of +Fe therapy of Patsy I shall illustrate how a focusing process can be guided. The therapy of Hester illustrates the mechanism of inner censorship. Besides, it shows how the struggle between Good and Evil can be brought to awareness. Finally, the therapy of Ronald is presented to clarify that the development of space can be essential for a therapeutic process to occur.
Patsy was born in Pakistan. Shortly after birth she was abandoned by her mother. After three years spent in an orphanage, she was adopted and flown to the Netherlands.
Just like her parents, Patsy did her very best. she tried to be remarkably good and grateful, in order not to get banned again. But Patsy stole money at home. Her envy made her spoil the atmosphere. When she tried to make steps forward, as a rule, almost as many steps backwards followed. Patsy had suicidal fantasies. Every now and then she ran away.
Patsy seemed to put lots of energy in encapsulating her hardly bearable feelings of hurt and anger at being deserted. It left her with an inner chaos, which made her contact transient. It was hard to make contact with her.
At age 14, Patsy came to our clinic. Her ego-boundaries seemed to be weak. she made overwhelming contact with some people she idealized, and rejected others; she considered people to be either Good or Bad.
Patsy seemed to show a relatively positive development. She became somewhat more self-accepting and gained some introspection instead of being mainly the product of her strong conflicting emotions. However the people working with her were constantly puzzled at the extent of Patsy’s authenticity. She was highly talented in showing off, as a strategy to keep control.
In our clinic, I was Patsy’s third individual therapist. The first two therapies had to be broken off for different reasons.
When Patsy and I met for the first sessions (back then she was fifteen years old), she was quite willing to talk about personal matters, and showed some insight. However, this knowledge did not seem to help her. In some way it led off-track. For this reason, I suggested that I could teach her focusing when, during the fifth session, she mentioned
that it bothered her that she never felt cheerful.
Patsy sat in a chair. She looked at the bench at the other side of the room. and imagined that the lacking cheerfulness was over there. I asked her to find out what interfered with cheerfulness, step by step. Two packages came up: not-belonging anywhere/feeling alone and feeling inferior. She wrote this down on two pieces of paper, and put them on the floor, somewhere where it felt right to put it for a while. Then she chose to focus on the first feeling mentioned.
To prevent Patsy from going back into her head again, I let her be in touch with her feeling by finger-painting As soon as she began to paint, the encapsulation of her feeling became visualized. A Rat painted dark spot appeared with some sharply edged belts around it.
I asked Patsy to take a few steps back. she went back and forth: Alternatively, she looked at the painting and attended to the middle of her body. she awaited her bodily reactions to see if words would loom up referring to the felt quality of not belonging. Words pointing to feeling encaged came up:
"Terribly rotten ..., deserted .. it is sad in my stomach, like something big I can’t ever get out of it ... a big cage.”
Sadness was growing. We sat with it for a while. The next session, I asked Patsy to paint "the heart” of last week’s painting. The dark pink turned into blue. When she focused on it, she felt the encagedness again. But while she referred to this “circle you never get out of,” it already shifted a bit. Something moved, though she did not yet have words for it. “It does say something, she murmured, “I don’t know why you do this, because it makes me feel sad... but it does help.”
A week later the ice melted some more. The painting was brushed more vividly and aggressively. The edges of the belts were more fluid now. Patsy stepped back and focused on the vague complexity of all this. Again something moved inside. When she referred to feeling, it was done on a higher experiential level and less absolute than before.
“It is so unclear ... It looks like a crossword-puzzle ... It is sad in a way, it is difficult to make it out... Grrr ..., I hate this.”
In the next painting, Patsy made a spot in the middle. This spot contained The Good, she explained. Several roads in different colors were leading up to it. But when she stepped back and focused, she felt it did not really fit. Her feeling shifted. Red hate was brushed in all over, and wiped out the words (The Good) she had written. Instead of that she wrote: “The H(ate) crosses the roads.”
When she looked at it from some distance and resonated, new aspects of meaning came up, connected to her ambivalence and fear. From the particular stance she had developed, Patsy had become able to contact very intense feelings in such a way that she could get in touch with them somehow without drowning into them. she concentrated quietly, and was rather peaceful while all this was going on. When she resonated, she commented: "The road looks frightening... It is the hate that blocks everything ... Much pleasure in your hate, but it is also a nuisance ... It is a misty road."
The next session the hate streamed down like lava. Patsy experienced how rage was in the way of being good:
“The lava makes a sad sound... a kind of hate ... that sad sound makes it frightening, it blocks almost everything... it’s like something that never leaves... It blocks the good. The sound of the lava is a part of my anger, a kind of rage, and the fuzzy good has trouble getting through the lava.. . It is a sad, softly crying sound.”
While Patsy mentioned the never ending blockage, she noticed some change. By directly referring to it, it had already shifted: “It stops the good... There is nothing to be seen... by the way it is coming: Behind it there is a piece of good that is growing.” Patsy spontaneously began to whistle softly. She added some yellow paint behind the big red stream. I asked Patsy to sing her sad lava-sound in the tape-recorder. She kept it in her pocket during the week, just to be with it sometimes. The next week she painted her sound. She sang the nagging sound again. This time, she spontaneously added a tune. When she stepped back and turned inward, for the first time, she directly touched her pain, and hunt: Painful sadness... Madmaking pain all over the upper pan of my body.” A few seconds later the pain got located in her stomach and her head. I asked Patsy to silently go back and forth between both pans of her body. “It really hurts,” she said, though in her head it was stronger than in her stomach. While a process of grief had begun, there was "more relief" all the same. Patsy yawned.
I just presented these focusing sessions to show how gradually different shades of strongly repressed feelings could become sensed. Touching the unbearable had become possible by providing Patsy the opportunity to take the right stance. Though involved in a deeply felt process of acknowledgement, she still could stand her ground.
Hester was an unplanned child. Her birth blocked her mother’s plans to study architecture. Right from the beginning there seemed to be ambivalence between mother and daughter. Hester’s mother was uncertain, overprotective and controlling.
From the time she was nine months old, Hester was dependent on insuline-injections because of diabetes. Her mother injected her. Hester resisted, but could not prevent the intrusions.
Later on, Hester’s mother told her that she had wished a second child, but that she had given up that wish because of the trouble concerning Hester’s diabetes. Hester felt guilty.
When Hester came to the clinic, she was described as troublesome and manipulative. She stole and endangered her hearth by sabotaging her diet; an auto-destructive medium, apparently directed towards her introjected mother.
Therapy started when Hester was fourteen years old. she had a somewhat theatrical appearance: a “cheerful way of making easy-going contact, while in fact she was hiding a lot behind that facade. Initially Hester talked a lot about personal matters: The alienation and aggressive escalations between herself and her mother, her feelings of guilt, and her longing to improve that relationship.
After about ten sessions, Hester became more silent. Then she gave an indication of how she had frozen part of her feelings: She complained, that for a couple of days she had a "stone" in her head. I asked her to draw that stone. Hester described it as “dark territories" with some small roads, light spots, small eyes, an orange stoplight and a flashing light. She commented: flit looks like a kind of labyrinth... Paths should come into it, but I can’t yet enter.” As I described elsewhere (Santen, 1986b), I suggested her to focus on that stone by means of imagery.
Hester visualized the stone in front of her. she imagined herself putting it at a distance that somehow felt right. Then she attended inwardly, and asked herself if she could feel fine when she thought of everything that had to do with that stone in front of her. Some feelings came up. After resonating several times from the image to the feeling in her body, the image changed. Some liveliness evidenced the beginning of a feeling process. The stone became a bit lighter. Little flowers appeared around the edge. The image got a more affective undertone; it gradually developed into “an island, surrounded by boiling tar ... a whirling mass.” We took some time to receive what had come up.
A few minutes later Hester imagined the stone in front of her again. She asked inside how it felt to see it. she said: “It’s a bit like me... the warmth. But there is also a difference. It is also something which doesn’t belong.” When Hester had said this, she felt fear growing inside. She needed to put a wall around the imagined stone. She went back and forth: Looked at the wall, behind which the stone was hidden, and turned inside. Now she got in touch with her fear of intrusion:
From the outside, as a residue of all those times when her mother disrespected her boundaries, but also from the inside, as fear of the breaking through of her own anger which she had frozen so fiercefully up to now. "He is angry,” she said, “he wants to jump over the wall and penetrate into me to do evil there.” Fighting at two fronts, she had needed to raise walls both against her own aggressive tendencies and against the aggressive outside world. The two “arch-enemies” were still fused into one.
Hester began to realize that she had been angry at this “arch-enemy”, as she called it herself, for some time. she had “kicked him out,” but it didn’t really work. Sometimes, she said, he succeeded in penetrating, and that scared her.
Some awareness was dawning in Hester that she had trouble expressing her feelings, especially when the expression of anger was involved. She, who initially just felt a stone, now verbalized - on a higher experiential level - that in her “heart” sometimes “problems are clotting together,” especially when she had had a quarrel and had not talked herself out.
During the next sessions it became clear that Hester had a fruitless struggle going on between her angel-like part that rigorously tried to deny and suppress everything she experienced as bad in herself, and her bad part which reacted destructively to being denied. She played this out on three chairs: In the first one she talked as Good Hester, in the second as Bad Hester's and in the third Observing Hester could follow the battle going on. Here I will just present one fragment, evidencing the harshness of the Good part, and the nagging of the Bad part, to which any acknowledgement was refused:
BH: “I want to obstruct, to smuggle, steal, be a nuisance to everybody quarrel and oppose to you ... You have no power over that...”
GH: “Okay, you’re in power, but I will use all my power to suppress you
... I want to go to the right side.
BH: "You’re not firm enough for that, because you are far too good for this world; you want to help everybody with everything, and that’s no good. I won’t give you a chance. I just like to embitter everybody’s lives, and then it’s okay for me if they are sad because of me. If anything sociable goes on, you intend to behave well, but not me: I just gobble up all the food, and if anybody asks how that is possible, I let you pay for that. Sickening is my hobby. I want to perform badly at school, smuggle and overdose on my insuline.*’
GH: “I’m against that. I don’t want to hurt my parents. I would like them to see the good inside of me. I am good. I do my best to be with them in a good way, and I don’t want you to get in the way of that."
The fruitless struggle went on. Bad Hester said that she felt alone. She kept trying to connect with Good Hester, but in a destructive way. Good Hester, however, just wanted to split:
GH: "Anyway, you can try to avoid me and I can try to avoid you. If I know where you are I can take care never to come there, and if you know where I am you must do the same. We must simply learn to split, because the way it is now doesn’t work.”
Bad Hester kept stressing that she would miss Good Hester, because she needed to nag someone. But Good Hester denied feeling attached. Finally she expelled Bad Hester into space. Once again, Satan was without any abode.
Hester sat in the Bad chair. She felt alone, inconsolable and deserted. She said she wanted to be consoled by her father. She would have liked him to touch her shoulders and be close to her. When she allowed me to take his place, she grew very sad.
During the following months Hester became more self-accepting. The maternal introjection seemed to fade away, enabling her to unify and repair her boundaries. She began to talk about the affective qualities she missed in her mother. She felt her mother constrained her, and took away her freedom. She told her parents that she doubted whether they really loved her. During the therapy sessions, Hester, who formerly had expelled parts of herself, fantasized about expelling her mother: She stressed that physically she did not look like her. If she had been able to choose between several mothers now, she said she would not choose her own. It took a long time before she could become more accepting of her mother again.
Generally speaking, Hester tuned in more with her own feelings and needs. Two years after the first session on the chairs, she looked back and commented: “It is strange, realizing that you really... you find it out afterwards; formerly you didn’t notice it so much... That you really had two different opinions: One that was more the opinion of my parents, that yet I listened to and which in fact I wanted then, and myself. My parents had just crammed it in so much, that I didn’t know of anything else anymore. But I didn’t realize, back then, that it was my parents, more or less, who were speaking inside me. Then the good one was in fact the things my mother wanted, and the bad one - so “me” - who completely opposed to it... And now it is somewhere in between ... Then there was a clear line between those two things, and now those two in fact have melted into one. Sometimes the one predominates, and sometimes the other. It does differ sometimes, but yes, it can always happen with somebody that one has inner struggles in oneself, that one doesn’t totally agree concerning oneself. But certainly it’s much less than before.”
As we see, inner conflict was still there, but basically there seemed to be one Hester now, who was able to sense her own needs and could relate better to the world from that perspective. A Hester who was more self-accepting, and could even accept her moments of inner conflict, without being tangled up in it.
Ronald was described to me as solitary, and hardly able to bear proximity. As a small child his boundaries had been violated rudely. He had been battered. He had been forced to watch his mother’s work as a prostitute. Also, he had been locked in regularly as a punishment.
Fear colored Ronald’s life. Reality had become too frightening and unmanageable for him. Gradually he had withdrawn into bizarre behavior and a fairy-like world of fantasies. He preferred to relate to objects instead of people, as could be seen in his stereotyped activities and preoccupations. Sometimes he was said to be psychotic.
Ronald tried to behave well. He inhibited the expression of his strong aggressive feelings. He either directed aggression towards himself, or showed moments of sadistic behavior. Sometimes he charged into a temper tantrum. He was very fearful of punishment.
Verbalizing feeling was difficult for Ronald. He did not seem to grasp the emotional value of words. Things were just “nice" as opposed to "not nice.”
Ronald was too obsessed to be flexible. He had no distance. His play was repetitive: When he built a tower, and something went wrong, he just tried the same way again.
In the clinic, it was hard to get close to Ronald. He never talked about his former experiences. He was obsessed with mischief and satisfying his feelings of lust; meanwhile he strongly opposed his persistent needs. Ronald was disgusted with himself. He punished himself to prevent the punishment of God.
Generally speaking, Ronald was too aroused and obsessed to reflect on his behavior and his underlying needs.
When Ronald and I met for the first time (he was then twelve years old) he had a permanently twisted smile. He was restless and agitated. He called me a “spy” and tried to humiliate me.
When I asked him something, he stressed that it was “private”; on the other hand he was evidently searching for contact. Again and again he hid himself and then wanted me to find him. When I found him he indicated his lack of boundaries. "Then I am lost,” he said. "I allow you to do anything you like with me.”
In his play, Ronald indicated that we might scan the darkness of his repressed past under my guidance. He crept into a wheeled box and blinded himself; then I had to drive him through the playroom. Each time we stopped, he searched with his hands to find out where we were.
During the fifth session, Ronald told me that thoughts flashed through his mind which immediately were chased away. He himself called the two involved instances “the devil" and "the angel.”
Meanwhile, during his play it became evident that Ronald’s suppressed need to behave badly beated all his efforts to behave well. Just when he declared that he always listened to the angel, his hands shot out to prove the opposite.
At that time, Ronald did not yet experience his behavior as originating from himself. His need was externalized, like a devilish overwhelming force, which makes one act defenselessly against one’s own will.
At this point, I decided to teach Ronald a way of making space. I asked him to write a story called “the devil and the angel.” At that moment and also later, I did not try to influence in any way what he recorder. We silently listened to his story. In this way, I tried to help him create an experiential difference between himself as a person and all he had symbolized in his writing about devils and angels.
After listening we had our play-therapy session. The story was preserved on tape.
During the following months we began each session in the same way. We listened to the tape together. Then Ronald was asked to make a new story. Except for the first time, I did not suggest any titles. Each story was put on tape after the former. Gradually, a series of thematically connected stories originated without any comment of mine concerning their contents. This turned out to be a vehicle which considerably facilitated Ronald’s experiential process. The first story was just a string of single sentences, written down excitedly and fearfully. Doing this was almost unbearable for Ronald. Distance was lacking Repeatedly, Ronald had to interrupt his writing by releasing mischievous behavior. All the sentences went like this: "The devil wants to cheat me: ‘You must be mischievous,’ and the angel says: ‘You must be sweet.’ ‘You must kick a child,’ the devil says. ‘Don’t do it,’ says the angel.”
As we see, there is not yet any dialogue between these struggling forces from outside. Also there is no reference to Ronald’s own needs. Besides, Ronald did not mention any feelings.
As the developing stories showed, this adapted focusing exercise enabled Ronald to experience new aspects of meaning. In his first few stories he took his first step: He sorted out the aggressive outer world from his own aggressive needs. Also he began to refer increasingly to his own reality.
The second story seemed to refer to Ronald’s fear of me. In this story. called “the vicious man,” an untrustworthy man seduced a boy. He imprisoned and kicked the child. Both victim and aggressor had facades in the story, hiding their true motivations and feelings. His structure-bound experiencing of me also colored the next story, in which a policeman was hired by “a strange woman” to lock in the bad boy. I just silently let him have that feeling and kept him company. The theme of trustworthiness was also a central aspect in the play-therapy sessions of those weeks. In the stories, it faded away.
The series became longer. Each time, by listening to the former stories. Ronald let the sentences he had symbolized resonate from some, distance with his current feeling, to see if it fitted. Consequently his feeling changed and got more differentiated.
In the next story, Ronald’s distrust directed towards where it seemingly originated. The mother-figure became a cruel ugly witch, with a friendly seducing facade. But after he had been able to express this fantasied exaggeration of how frightening and cruel the mother-figure was, his next story became more realistic and showed growing insight in the multi-leveledness of relating:
Once there was a girl, who was mischievous. The mother was sad. The girl didn’t give a damn about that. what a queer child you are.” "That is not true,” says the girl, “because I do regret what I have done.“ “Is that really true?”, mama says. And she behaves well forever.
As we can see the child in the story did like to cause mother pain. The “bad” own needs were realized and fully accepted. Pretense was maintained only to the outside world; the child “behaves well forever,-but her heart is not in it.
Ronald was changing. He became more relaxed when writing, began to type his stories on the typewriter, and from the distance he developed, he became interested in the esthetic aspects of the stories. During the play-sessions he began to set new limits. He asked me to
stop the tape-recorder and explained why. He feared that if people heard the tape, they might think he was a fool or might punish him. He also played a dialogue between the devil and the angel. Both appeared to have feelings and expressed them towards each other.
Ronald openly began to disobey me; at the same time his need to be mischievous tended to cease. At the end of one of these sessions he said: “Do you know that joke of the devil? ... he was an angel!”
At this point a considerable change took place in the themes of Ronald’s stories. He began to express feelings of trust: Trusting yourself to an expert, who really turns out to be able to help, with a healing effect. He wrote:
Once there was a boy who walked through the wood. He heard something moving... It was a deer. “Help,” the boy screamed. But the deer was a bit ill and couldn’t get up. “I guess the deer must be ill,” the boy thought. He took him to the forest-keeper. Within two days he will be cured." “Thank goodness,” the boy said. The boy got a reward.
Increasingly tender feelings came in. The appearance of flowers and plants in Ronald’s stories gave evidence to his fresh way of sensing new aspects of life. Ronald became increasingly cheerful and relaxed. Now that he became more open about his feelings, and trusted me more than before, he told me directly when his trust became shaky. He was learning to stand his ground. When I once raised my voice, he just let me know that he was not a dog.
At this point where his self-acceptance had grown, Ronald dared to open his cage in a new way. His repressed rage suddenly broke its way out. one day, shortly after a visit to his father, he wrote:
A boy walked outside. But how it began to blow. It looked like windforce twelve. The boy was startled by the wind. The boy went inside. Here I am safe.
Immediately afterwards he symbolized his dilemma. He told a frightening joke about a man who could choose between three hells: One with barbed wire and blood, a second with nails and glass, and a third in the shit. “OK,” the man decided, “I’ll take the third choice.”
Ronald finally dared to face his frightening shit. He ran to the play-room and just let some of his frozen rage out. With tremendous power, he knocked over the big steel cabinet, and for several hours he tried to destroy whatever he would get his hands on. Though it was hard to guide this, and we even had to isolate him for a while together with someone else who kept him company, the feared retaliation did not take place. As usual, the next session we just listened to the tape. That same session again a newly sensed aspect came in. Ronald crept into the steel cabinet. I had to close its door. From the dark inside I heard him use the voice of a scary little child. When he asked me to let him out, he stepped out cheerfully. This had been evidently a corrective, emotional experience for him, to overcome the feelings that he formerly related to being locked in. Ronald’s ability to enjoy was growing fastly now. He sought bodily contact. Sunny feelings and cosyness colored the new stories. Friends began to enter. His growing self-acceptance was symbolized by acceptance of "the way nature is.”
Once there was a boy who got a flower. He was very pleased with the flower. He walked with it the whole day. But the flower dried up. The boy felt it was a pity. But that’s the way nature is.
A few weeks later the series dried up. All of his own, Ronald began to talk about his traumatic experiences as a young child, and the feelings they had evoked in him. He improved in daily life in the clinic, at home and in school.
One year after Ronald’s first story, we listened to the tape again. I asked him to write once more, and gave him the same title he had started with. Ronald wrote:
The devil and the angel
I never feel a need for that anymore. That never keeps me busy anymore. Formerly that was important. I do know better. Ronald himself determines what happens in my life. Ronald simply does everything himself and does it well. Devil and angel are fairies and fables.
By just letting him have what came up, good and bad, in a caring way, a person in his own right had emerged.
To end with, I want to stress one more point. For this, I invite you to go back to Franz Kafka. On one of his walks with Gustav Janouch, Kafka was told a Chinese story: "The heart is a house with two sleeping rooms. In one of the rooms lives sadness, in the other lives cheerfulness. You may never laugh too loudly, otherwise you’ll wake up the sadness in the other room.” But, discussing this, it was concluded that the cheerfulness is dull of hearing. It doesn’t hear the sadness in the other room. "That’s the reason why we often just pretend to be cheerful,” Kafka said, “ we plug our ears with the wax of cheerfulness (...). I pretend cheerfulness to hide behind it. My laughter is a wall of concrete (...) against myself.- Janouch was amazed. In his opinion the wall they talked about was directed outside. But Kafka stressed: “The grip of the world is (...) always a grip inside (...) the inside and the outside belong together. If they are separated from each other, they are the two confusing aspects of one secret under which are all bowing down, but that we cannot solve" (Janouch, 1965).
As you may have noticed, during the therapy fragments presented here, I did not comment on these children’s twisted cheerfulness. I refrained from talking about what happened in the relationship. We did not work directly on the walls these children needed to erect against me. I just took it as something they needed, and guided them to get in touch with their inner walls and work on that. When the inner walls melted down, their outer walls almost automatically melted too. Hester and Ronald began to talk spontaneously, in a more authentic way than before. At that point, it was early enough to start commenting on things happening in our relationship. I think we drive people back too often into their strategies by wanting to go too fast.
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