Compassion|by Linda Sherby, Ph. D, ABPP

02/18/2020 4:17 PM | Anonymous

"Compassion" addresses the difficulty a therapist has moving her patient beyond self-hatred to a place of compassion where she can mourn the mother she always wanted but never had.

“You don’t understand!” Morgan screams at me through clenched teeth, hitting the sides of her head with her fists. “I hate myself! I hate myself! I’m stupid and ugly and awful. Bad! Bad! Bad!”

“Stop it, Morgan,” I say raising my voice. “You know you’re not allowed to hurt yourself in my office. Stop and try to calm down.”

Morgan brings her fists in front of her eyes and bursts into tears. I silently breathe a sigh of relief. She continues to sob.

“I’m here, Morgan,” I say gently.

She nods, still crying. 

“She’s such a bitch,” Morgan manages to say through her tears. “But why am I such a mess? I should know it by now. She’s the golden child. Everything good comes to her. And me? I’m just bad and deserve everything I get.”

“Morgan, is there even a little part of you that knows that’s not true, that knows you were a small, helpless child who deserved to be cherished, not beaten?”

“Nope! You just said it. I was small and helpless, by definition that made me bad.”

“But all children are small and helpless, Morgan.”

“But not all children are illegitimate.”

“That was hardly your doing.”

“Tell that to my mother. I was born, ergo it’s my fault. And then Prince Charming comes into the picture and the golden child is born and I’m even more worthless than before. And now not only does Mom get to beat up on me, but my sister does too. You should have heard her gloating. Gloating! I mean I get it. She’s happy she’s pregnant. I should be happy for her. But gloating. Like it was a contest. I can’t even get a relationship and she and Rob are going to be the ‘happiest people in the world. You’ll know what I mean when it happens to you.’ Gag! I thought I’d throw up. But that’s because I’m bad. Because I can’t love my sister, because I can’t be happy for her.”

“It’s very hard to be happy for someone who smiled sweetly after she got you in trouble and watched you be beaten.”

“But I deserved it! I did pull her hair, or steal her doll, or punch her. I hated her! I still do. And that makes me really, really bad.”

“Does it?”

“Doesn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to love your sister? Aren’t you supposed to turn the other cheek?”

“Your rage at your mother had to go somewhere.”

“See, that’s exactly what I mean. I was a rageful brat. And if I couldn’t rage at my mother, I turned it on my sister. Charming!” 

I sigh. “I always feel as though I’m arguing with you, Morgan, always trying to convince you that you need to have compassion for yourself…”

Morgan interrupts me, snorting her disdain. I continue talking.

“…that you need to have compassion for yourself as the scared, helpless child you were and understanding for yourself as the angry adult who keeps turning that anger on yourself.”

“Compassion doesn’t exist is my vocabulary, let alone in my experience.”

“If you read about a child who was beaten with a belt, who was locked in a closet, who was repeatedly sent to bed without food, wouldn’t you feel compassion for that child?”

“Maybe. But for me, for me I feel only hatred. I was bad. My mother was trying to beat the badness out of me. If my mother was bad she would have beaten my sister too. But it was only me, only me who needed to be beaten.”

“I do understand, Morgan, that you have to hold on to the belief that you were the bad one because as long as you’re the bad one you still have hope you can be different and win your mother’s love. But if she can never love you – perhaps because of the circumstances of your birth, perhaps because you reminded her too much of her – then the hope of her loving you is gone and you’re left in mourning, without the only mother you ever had. And that’s sad, Morgan. Very sad. And you need to find compassion for yourself.”

“There’s that word again. You don’t get it. There’s no word like that for me. It’s as though you were speaking Chinese.”

“I do understand that compassion feels entirely foreign to you. But you need to find your compassion for yourself, perhaps by first taking in my compassion for you. Your life has been terribly painful and unfair and you need to be able to feel sad for you.”


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