Can’t Help Falling in Love
Nan Goldstein, MS
Abstract: This paper is a case presentation of my work with an extremely anxious young woman who came to therapy shortly after her mother’s attempted suicide. This being just one of several attempts made by her mother over the course of my patient’s life. The first attempt occurred when my patient was just 18-months old and resulted in her mother leaving for six months. Winnicott in his paper Mind and its Relationship to the Psyche-Soma writes, “Certain kinds of failure on the part of the mother, especially erratic behavior, produce overactivity of the mental functioning. In the overgrowth of the mental function reactive to erratic mothering, we see that there can develop an opposition between the mind and the psyche-soma… mental functioning become[s] a thing in itself, practically replacing the good mother and making her unnecessary”…This, as Winnicott goes on to say, “is a most uncomfortable state of affairs, especially because the psyche of the individual gets ‘seduced’ away into this mind from the intimate relationship which the psyche originally had with the soma.” This way of coping ultimately becomes the trauma itself.
Months into my first year of training, I felt overwhelmed to say the least. Not just afraid I would be unable to help my patient because of my lack of experience, I feared working with me might make her worse. My paper goes on to describe my slow and careful work with this patient which enabled me to face my own insecurities as a new analyst as well as confront hers. My patient grew up without a maternal figure to help her regulate affects. Her experience of being uncontained, unregulated, as well as overstimulated created a sense of life as dangerous. In his paper, Primitive Emotional Development, Winnicott writes, “To be known means to feel integrated at least in the person who knows one. This is the ordinary stuff of infant life, and an infant who has had no one person to gather his bits together starts with a handicap in his own self-integrating task.” Because of her mother’s mental health issues, my patient never had anyone to help her regulate and integrate impulses.
My history prepared me to work with this patient; I grew up being a calming influence in my anxious father’s life. My training as a yoga Nidra teacher also came to bear in the treatment of this patient, introducing her to the practice of yoga Nidra helped her learn to regulate her nervous system by stilling her mind and going into her body.
Incredibly powerful forces were at work throughout this treatment, on both me and my patient. So whatever self-doubts I had along the way, I’m confident in retrospect in the progression of the patient’s treatment. My stillness and acceptance of her and willingness stay with her in each moment meant everything.