After my session last Tuesday, my child part, Keira, stayed very present. I decided in my check in call that I’d tell Sienna about Keira’s worry that she wasn’t liked by Sienna.
I told Sienna that Keira had been feeling all floppy and attachment-y this week and was worried about why she triggered negative responses in Sienna.
I explained how adult me totally gets the triggered response stuff but no matter how much I know and understand it… if I am more Keira the 5 year old than Sirena the adult, then I don’t understand why Sienna doesn’t like me sometimes?
I said “ She thinks she’s not likeable and she doesn’t know what to do about it.”
It felt like such a hard conversation to be having for some reason.
Sienna explained once more about the containment we all need – of keeping the work in the session or in pre-arranged places in the weeks, so that we are all working safely.
Sienna said “ We really do want to hear her and I know she’s got a lot to say, she needs a way of getting what she needs and that might be our work to find a way to do that that’s good for all of us.”
Sienna asked if Keira was upset that she couldn’t just text what she wants to say anytime? I told her no, it’s not that. It’s that she doesn’t understand why she has that negative response in someone and it’s quite black and white for her that it’s either like or dislike, there’s no in-between.
Sienna said that it was really good that adult me can articulate that and explain what’s going on for Keira and Keira’s black and white thinking is so typical for a child of that age.
I said “ I think it’s hard for her because she’s so attached to you and she likes you but she thinks you don’t like her so…. But she doesn’t know what to do about that because she has to come to therapy with the rest of the alters and she doesn’t know how to have needs that won’t annoy you.”
Sienna said “ okay. Well, maybe I need to be more specific with her? Maybe she needs me to talk to her directly. Maybe she needs more reassurance that just because people can’t be there immediately for her, it doesn’t mean to say that she’s not liked or…”
I interjected “ It’s not about that though. It’s not about her not getting her needs met immediately. Keira does have that child thing of wanting her needs met quickly, but she’s learned to understand that that can’t always happen. And she’s okay with that because the level of contact I have with you right now it perfect as it is. It’s at the right level.
It’s that she doesn’t understand the nuances of relationships. I totally understand your triggered responses at times you’re busy, and I’m fine with it. But Keira feels like how can you feel that negatively about her, that strongly…. And then pretend to like me in sessions….how can you not like me that much outside of sessions but then like me inside sessions? I don’t know?”
Sienna responded “ It’s difficult for a youngster to understand about transference isn’t it? It’s not about not liking her and it’s not about having a really…. It’s a transferential negative reaction and not an authentic reaction one. So it’s like saying to a child ; I love you but I don’t like your behaviour. So I like and love all your parts but some of the behaviours are difficult for me when I’m not in a contained place and in the right frame of mind because I’m not – I mean, I might be a representative mother figure, but I’m not the Mother who… and actually even a real mother wouldn’t just put up with anything. Mothers put boundaries in and mother’s say, “ENOUGH– you have to wait.” So, it’s not Keira per se, but the behaviour I need to put boundaries on.”
I said “ But what’s the behaviour?”
I felt confused because Keira’s an attach part. Mostly what Keira needs is reassurance and lots of love and unconditional positive regard. Why’s that so hard if Sienna loves her? Wouldn’t that come naturally if she truly liked and loved Keira?
Sienna said “ The neediness or just whatever the transference brings up for me. That reaction might be read as me really not liking her but actually it’s not about that, it’s just the overwhelm that I feel when I’m uncontained and Keira’s need keeps coming and my head’s not in the right place because I’m in another bit of my life, working or busy. Does that make sense?”
It did. To the adult. But Keira was listening and she kind of got it but as a child maybe hasn’t experienced those dual emotions and so it’s hard for her to imagine.
Sienna asked if Keira could maybe do some drawing to help her understand more what she thinks and feels. So that she can start to explain things in a younger language that she will understand.
I agreed. I felt teary and I felt Keira’s pain at “not being liked” by the person she just adores. ( I can hear her now saying it makes me feel lonely.)
I said to Sienna “ It makes her cry.”
Sienna said “ You know, Keira is so important to everybody but she needs to learn that everything doesn’t stop for her that she’s got to work with me and learn to understand that it’s not about me not liking her, it’s about life and circumstances on any given day, it’s about having to learn that this is a different time from the past… when her mummy didn’t have the capacity to see her and look after her in the way she needed or to acknowledge with you that “ Look, this feels awful just now but things will be okay and we are in this together.”
And Keira’s got to know that about you and I – that we are in all this together, nobody is leaving, nobody hates her, nobody doesn’t like her… and we need to find away of getting her to understand that because I don’t think she’s going to be able to settle back into a relationship with me if she can’t mature into that place of understanding that this is a different time and that she can have something different. Because you know, she is really important and she is a beautiful little girl and she’s so artistic and articulate and she’s so brave in coming forwards to talk about this. It’s taken a long time for her to get words to explain it all. She’s so brave to do that because I understand how scared she is.”
I said again how I as an adult totally get it. But Keira doesn’t understand how Sienna how she is in session but “ the angry one” out of session. I told Sienna that Keira is one of the core parts of me, that is, the most separate fully embodied Self.. close to a fully separate personality rather than other parts who are tasked with one job. And Keira feels like she’s encouraged to come to session and to talk but when she does show up and speak (outside of session) the person that means a lot to her has seen her and doesn’t like her or is irritated with her and it’s just sooooo personal.
It hurts my heart everytime I think about it.” I welled up, feeling sorry for Keira but also feeling Keira’s emotions about it – the sad lonely “no one wants me” feelings.
Sienna said “ Yeah I hear you. And it’s about Keira learning that it’s not HER, it’s her behaviour (the neediness) I’m reacting to, and the transference.”
I felt confused because using the word behaviour makes it sound like Keira is playing up or having a tantrum or something. I said to Sienna “ But the behaviour is just wanting to be with you, that’s all.”
Sienna said “ I know, I know, but it’s also the transference, of what the need brings up for me. I think you were spot on when you said before that we were triggering each other. So this is about there being a bit of work for you, a bit of work for me and a bit of work for Keira to find a way to get some core understanding that we can all work from. And for Keira to understand about the need for the work to stay contained to keep us all safe. And I know how painful that is for a little girl who just needs what she needs “RIGHT NOW”. But the work is about getting Keira to mature and have some growth and probably accepting that loss of what she hoped to get, can’t be.
My voice waivered with emotion- Keira’s emotion.
“ But she’s 5. And I see other children get what she wants and needs, I see how they behave to get their needs met and no one thinks it’s bad or “behaviour”….”
Sienna said “ And they might get it because their mum is there, but I’m not a mum and that’s Keira’s loss, she has to go through that bereavement process, the grief and the hurt that comes from not being able to get that and never being able to get that back authentically, because I’m not her mum…..”
OUCH OUCH OUCH!!!! Tears streamed down my face.
Sienna continued “ BUUUT… being able to work through the grief and come out the other side and know that that fact is not going to destroy her. That she can learn that it’s a scar that will heal to a great extent but she can think to herself “ But, I can have a different kind of relationship that is still very worthwhile.” I think the big thing for Keira will be to understand – and I hope she understands if she’s listening – that it’s never about liking or loving somebody, it’s about behaviour.
-She’s really loved. I really like Keira, I really like her.”
I said “ But how can you? I don’t understand how you can if she makes you feel so negative?”
Sienna said “ But only in those moments, when she’s so needy that it triggers me. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t like one behaviour- and it’s not even about not liking it, it’s about the impact it has on other people. The impact I experienced was overwhelming for me. But that doesn’t mean to say… you can’t take that as a whole, that’s not the whole Keira. That’s only one part of Keira’s behaviour, individually having an impact on me. So you could say that 0.01% of Keira and the other 99.9% of her is a little girl who I completely accept and like and love.”
I understood. I asked for reassurance “But you don’t feel like that in sessions? (negatively I meant)
Sienna said “ No, because I’m contained. I’m where I need to be and I’m prepared for whatever comes in sessions. And just like any parent outside, if a parent is having a good day, they can cope with most things. But if a parent’s having a bad day, they’re more likely to be a bit short, a bit grumpy or tell the child “ENOUGH, you will need to wait.”
I laughed slightly at Sienna’s parent voice because it was so authentic.
Then I… Keira…. Asked the BIG question I’ve always wanted to know and I can’t believe i/Keira had the guts to ask.
“ But why do you not WANT to be Keira’s mum?”
Because for me, for all the child parts, we all understand that Sienna can’t be a real parent as in be adopted by her. But we always wonder if she makes that distinction and rejects the child parts notion of her as “mummy” because the idea of it is repulsive for Sienna… that we could never be truly good enough to be her child.
Sienna paused briefly. And then said softly “ Because that wouldn’t be real.”
I said “ What does that mean?”
Sienna said gently in a voice that talked to the child “ Because I can’t be Keira’s mum.
I can’t be your mum Keira. I can be a very close friend but even friends have to put in limits. I can’t be your mum because that wouldn’t be real. And I can’t be a step mum or anything like that because I’m your therapist. And actually Sirena is the parent that you need.
And that’s maybe really hard to hear, but it’s a reality that you might feel upset about or not like to hear but actually it’s me being really real with you and authentic and telling you that I can give you and not make promises or leave things….”
Keira was crying. She interjected and said “ Is it because I’m not good enough?”
Sienna said “ It’s not about you not being good enough, it’s about being a little girl whose had a really difficult mothering experience with her own mum and who’s left desperately needing a replacement.
What we can do is help you hold and support you through the grief that that brings you. And it does get better Keira. And what’s really important now is that you allow yourself to build a more grown up relationship – as you grow past 5 and into 6 and 7, you allow yourself to build relationships with other people that are different but okay and still really rewarding and it’s not because you’re not likeable or loveable or that people don’t like you. It’s because they can’t be your mother.
They can do motherly things, they can be a mother figure in different ways. But this all said from me with a lot of support and love and a hug. I can see how overwhelming that hurts is and I feel that empty space in you for what you didn’t get.
But I want you to imagine my arms around you as a therapist and as a friend and as a person in your life who isn’t going to leave you. And I understand that me saying all of this is going to feel like a push away or an abandonment, but it isn’t. I’m going to be in your life.”
I said quietly. “ I don’t feel abandoned, I just feel like I’m not good enough to be someone’s daughter or for someone to want to be my mother. Why can’t I have that? Why does no one want to be my mum?”
Sienna said that she thought my mum did want to be my mum but she was incapable of being what I needed because of her own stuff. And it’s easy for children to feel like their parent’s incapacity is actually down to their own inadequacy but it isn’t.
Sienna spoke a bit more to Keira about Sirena becoming the mummy she needs and Keira was absolutely not for it.
I HATE when Sienna suggests it. It feels so wrong, so very very wrong. I don’t want to be Keira’s mum. And Keira definitely doesn’t want it either. I don’t know what the word is to describe that feeling when it’s suggest, it’s almost like if someone suggested your Dad is your new boyfriend…. It’s gross and vile and incestuous and just wrong.
I suppose I should tell Sienna that.
The call ended and despite some hard truths, I was okay. Keira was okay too because there was a lot of reassuring love in that call.
I suppose we both get that Sienna can’t truly be our mother because she’s our therapist, that’s her role. And we are learning that it can be something just as rich and rewarding and special as mother/daughter without it being mother/daughter and it can be motherly and supportive and enduring and deeply loving on its own. We don’t need (and can’t have) the tag of Mother/Daughter for our relationship to be something special and permanent.
I guess there’s part of me who still doesn’t understand how it can be loving and motherly and often very like mother and daughter in every way except in name, yet that separation exists. We will never be related.
And worse, I don’t think Sienna wants me like a daughter anyway. I see she managed to skip explicitly saying “ I don’t want you as my daughter.”
It hurts. It hurts a lot. Yet it won’t kill me. I have something else with her. Something deep and meaningful for her as well as me.
I don’t know if it’s enough. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
It’s not that she can’t be my mother in name that hurts, it’s the possibility that the idea repulses her. That she doesn’t want me like that. That she doesn’t feel that way about me, when I hold her in such deep regard and in a very special position in my life.
She isn’t my mother. She can’t be. I know that. But I do see her as a mother of kind. Mother in spirit. A mother I choose. And I wish she could see me as a daughter in spirit if not in name or by birth.
It is what it is I guess.