"She is someone who fought hard to escape an appalling background, and the day she finished her Master’s at Oxford her husband gave her a necklace in a Tiffany box. “I felt like a fairy tale princess,” she tells me, looking down to avoid my imagined disdain. "by Anna Blundy / April 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
Recently a patient brought in her own takeaway coffee and I was considering making some crass interpretation about needing to sustain herself during an upcoming two-week break from therapy. Then I thought, perhaps she’s mirroring me, demonstrating a connection between us. (Obviously, I’m aware that she is also just bringing a coffee to a morning session, my own drink a tacit permission, but there is always another level. Or two).
In the preceding session she’d struggled with a word she found difficult to translate into English. “You assume I won’t understand if you say it in your native language,” I said. She laughed. “English people never speak any languages! No offence.”
I do, in fact, speak her native language, though she has no way of knowing that. On the other hand, it was odd that she was so offensively sure I wouldn’t. “You’re cross because nobody can really understand every-thing you say?” I tried. “You feel like the only person in the world.” (She has said this herself). She seemed to relax a bit after that and then today here she was with her coffee.
But before I could comment she was talking about a Tiffany bracelet she’d bought. She was proud to have made a guilt-free purchase (she’s usually racked by guilt and terrified of the imagined envy and hatred of others) and spoke of how important the brand is to her. “I’m ashamed of this,” she said, hesitant. She is someone who fought hard to escape an appalling background, and the day she finished her Master’s at Oxford her husband gave her a necklace in a Tiffany box. “I felt like a fairy tale princess,” she tells me, looking down to avoid my imagined disdain.
“You seem to think I’ll be scornful,” I said.
“Well. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” she laughed, contemptuous herself.
I didn’t think so. I went round Tiffany with my dad when I was little and hoped that one day someone would present me with an eggshell blue box and everything would be safe and wonderful. In my case no such luck, so, though I was deeply moved by her deserved triumph, she was right to expect the small pang of the other’s envy. But my envy underlined my understanding of her fantasy—our shared fantasy.
She went on to ask me if it’s normal to mourn the loss of a book when it’s finished. “It’s worse than ever at the moment,” she declared. “I’ve just finished…” and she named my favourite novel. It’s a foreign classic and, though hardly obscure, I’m surprised when I meet someone who has read it. Now I was stunned.
Of course, we can all find things in common with someone over a year of weekly conversations, but in therapy these uncanny little things in common seem to crop up when the therapeutic relationship is very firmly established, when the therapist’s and patient’s minds are really working together.
Having feared that I might not understand her at all in the previous session, that she might be, in fact, incomprehensible, she now brought material that united us profoundly.
“Do you want to see it?” she said at the end, and rolled up her sleeve to show me the Tiffany bracelet. I smiled.