A couple of years ago I read The Last Asylum, by Barbara Thomas. It’s one of those books that has stayed with me and leads me to think more deeply about the things she writes about — madness, analysis, healing.
Thomas came to analysis wanting her analyst to take care of her, much as she wanted and got friends to take care of her. She wanted him to give her answers, to tell her what to do to feel better. It took a number of years for her to come to the place of accepting that he could not and would not tell her what to do or give her answers or take care of her. What he could do was help her to find her own answers but in order to do that she had to surrender.
This brings to mind a day when my daughter was 4 and had an epic tantrum. The kind of tantrum where I sat on the floor holding her, careful to keep my head out of the way of her flailing and hurling of her own head and let her be in that state, let her cry and yell and flail and just lovingly hold her so that she did not hurt herself or me. Finally she stopped yelling and the storm subsided into tears and then calm. I let go of her and she turned and said ”Mommy, why did I do that?” Just as Thomas railed at her analyst until she finally let go, my little girl had to do the same. Though of course there were many times in her childhood that she got angry with me or her father or brother, many times she felt us thwarting her desires, she found words to express those feelings and there were no more epic tantrums. In a way this is what Thomas describes. She had to go through that long struggle to get her way, to get what she wanted in order to get what she actually needed. She had to reach the point of surrender in order for her to get that.
And isn’t that what happens to many if not most people in analysis or in any other intense intimate relationship? Does there not come a time when to get what we need, we must surrender our insistence on what we want? Because we must learn the difference between want and need. Or as the Rolling Stones put it, “No, you can’t always get what you want But if you try sometime, you just might find You get what you need”. Thomas did not get what she wanted. My daughter didn’t get what she wanted. In my own analysis, I didn’t get what I wanted. But in surrendering that, low and behold, we got what we needed. The same is true in therapy. In order to get what we want, we need to surrender to the process and if we stick with it, we will get what we need.