Finding words

accurate empathy

Looking for a good place to hide, the small child climbed into a big black leather swivel chair and turned it around to face the wall. She began to tremble. Asked by the therapist whether there was anything she’d like to say, she responded, “I want to scream!”

But she did not scream. She made small muffled noises and squirmed in the chair.

Therapist asks more questions. “Are you alone?”

“No!” Child begins to cry.

“You’re very young,” says the therapist. Therapist asks what child needs. Child has no words, cries and struggles and moans.

“You need help,” says the therapist.

“YES!” says the child, “Yes — I need help!” Sobbing commences.


This, as I learned from Raine D.’s excellent posts about how therapy works, could be called accurate empathy. Last week my therapist found the right words. She gave a child part of me, and the grown-up me, the words we needed.

Yesterday afternoon, my inner glop began to mobilize. I could feel it in my gut. Surprising! A shift. What’s going on? I searched for an explanation. I was able to leave the house without much resistance. What’s changed?

Then I put it together: That child knows I will come back to her. And I know I will too. She knows I won’t forget about her again, or try to dismiss her needs. I have recognized her as part of me. She knows that I have accepted her need for help as my own. I thought I had some kind of agoraphobia, but maybe that was never the reason why I couldn’t go out. It was the clingy child who let me go yesterday. She was ok, she stopped screaming for attention and went to sleep in my pocket, and I had a good time. And now I’m here with her again in the kitchen. See, I came back?

Today I can say it for myself, for both of us, for all of me, “I need help.” You’d think someone who called on a therapist would know that they needed help. Yes, at some level, I did. But I also kept resisting it. Maybe I’m making this up. Maybe I am coddling myself. Why am I spending all this money? Why am I whining my life away? Maybe I should just get a life. How about I just grow up? If I’d stop feeling sorry for myself and focus on making money and having fun, all this insanity would go away.

No! First I need help. And I have help. This is good. We are all on the same page now. The parts of me are aligned. That only took one year of therapy. (Sacrasm! But then I remember, the tortoise wins.) Yesterday I noticed myself thinking, if I need to make more money to continue this therapy, I will find a way to do that. No prob.


Once upon a time, a little girl was staying with her grandmother. Her father and her mother had gone away for a weekend trip, leaving the kids with various relatives.

Grandma was giving the girl a bath in the kitchen sink. Grandma noticed her little granddaughter looking very sad. Grandma started singing the song Tomorrow, from the musical, Annie.

“Again!” the girl said when Grandma finished. Grandma sang it again. “Again!” said the girl. Grandma sang and sang.

As she lifted her out of the sink and was drying her off, Grandma told her, “You are a very brave girl to stay with me and let your Mommy go away. If you have trouble and you need help, you tell me, and Grandma will help you.”

The next day they were going for a walk. The tiny girl stood up in the stroller and turned around and held out her arms. “Grandma help you!” she said. Grandma held her and they walked back to the house. And then her Mommy (that was me) came home.

Grandma, the helper

Today’s post was inspired by Kirstin Vanlierde’s, Under the rug