'She made herself indispensable, enabling her family's worlds to run smoothly. All she asked for in return was adoration'

Once upon a time, there was a coquettish, little princess of a girl who was utterly the apple of her father's eye. As she grew older, she met her prince, for whom she similarly became the object of desire. They married, had two children, and the little princess excelled in her capacity to be adored. She made herself indispensable in the way so many good women do, by enabling her husband's and children's worlds to run smoothly. All she asked for in return was adoration. And for a while, this pattern of being mortar between the bricks in order to feel loved seemed to work flawlessly.

Once upon a time, there was a coquettish, little princess of a girl who was utterly the apple of her father's eye. As she grew older, she met her prince, for whom she similarly became the object of desire. They married, had two children, and the little princess excelled in her capacity to be adored. She made herself indispensable in the way so many good women do, by enabling her husband's and children's worlds to run smoothly. All she asked for in return was adoration. And for a while, this pattern of being mortar between the bricks in order to feel loved seemed to work flawlessly.

Then one day, as if a terrible spell had been cast upon the marriage, everything felt out of joint. Her children were growing up and no longer willing to shower her with adoration, and her one-time prince now responded with barely concealed irritation to her plaintive demands for adoration. The little princess was filled with a terrible insecurity. No longer needed by others, she felt worthless and empty. She sank into a depression; she started drinking too much; she flew into rages. But nothing that she did brought back the security of feeling that she was the apple of someone's eye. Then one terrible day, her world fell apart. Her prince found another princess. Her castle became a prison and she was trapped inside.

At the heart of this story rests one of the most frequent wounds brought by women to therapy. Learned by so many little girls so early on, it is the wound of narcissistic naïvety. Needy of being loved, it's as if an unspoken agreement happens early on in the lives of many women, in which they unconsciously agree to hand over their power to men, in return for feeling adored.

"If I promise to make you feel strong and powerful by staying weak and helpless," the unconscious message goes, "will you, in return, promise to adore me and so make me feel secure?" Often, such women are "daddy's girls" - daughters who learnt the art of coquettish helplessness very early on in life. In an unhealthy imbalance of the masculine/ feminine qualities that exist within us all, such women shape their feminine traits into a seductive neediness, and instead of developing their more masculine attributes, project these on to the psyche of their man.

Sadly, it is often not until the castle has come tumbling down that I get to meet such women in therapy. The fairy tale is over, the prince has gone, and the emptiness that has entered their lives is painful and poignant. "What did I do to deserve this?" asked one woman recently. "I gave him so much for so many years."

In this woman's case, what she did do unwittingly for so many years was remain naïve and undeveloped. It is the hardest thing of all to take some responsibility for the way things are, especially when grief and rage are dominant. It was about a year down the therapeutic road that this woman was able to accept her own part in the way things had fallen out. As so often happens, her unconscious literally gave her a helping hand in the form of a dream: "I am back in my old childhood house, and although I am myself as I am now, I am also a little girl of about 10. There is a knock at my door, and when I open it a boy is there, a bit neglected and unkempt. He holds out his hand for me to take, and I realise I need to go on a journey with him."

Psyche never ceases to amaze me. Its capacity to show us who we are and what we need is ceaseless. Here, in a nutshell of a dream-gift, was an image for this woman of the aspect of herself she had neglected for so long, and now needed to make a journey with.

So, who was the neglected and unkempt boy in her dream? Images of young boys are frequent in women's dreams. For Jung, they are expressions of the animus - the inner and undeveloped masculine in a woman. If listened to and acted upon, such images can facilitate the integration of positive masculine qualities that have lain dormant for too long.

Following the dream came recognition of her own part in her marriage's deterioration. "Looking back, I suppose I had the helpless-little-girl role down to a fine art, very much as my mother had, and could wrap everyone round my little finger with it. Until they, perhaps understandably, got fed up."

For this woman, exploration and integration of her own power and curiosity lead, at long last, to a loosening of dependence upon the outside world to dish out her emotional needs. And this gradual discovery of her own untapped strength was, at the very least, a strong silver lining to the cloud of her marriage having tumbled down.

Elizabeth Meakins is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice. None of the clinical material above refers to specific cases

elizabeth.meakins@blueyonder.co.uk

Comments