St. Andrew’s Cross and Thistle, Flower of Scotland

From the beginning, my therapist has made it clear to me that one of her tasks is to help me fill in some developmental gaps.  So when I looked at my stat page the other day and saw the search query “My therapist read a children’s book to me. . .,” I suspected that whoever typed that term into Google and found his or her way to my blog has a therapist who is trying to help a client recover from inadequate and/or traumatic parenting.  My therapist has read children’s books to me, books I have brought to her.  In my case, the few times she has done this, memories of my mother reading to me were interwoven with memories of my mother stiffening and threatening to send me to my room when I wriggled and didn’t pay attention.  The fact that my therapist tried to help me by reading, however, was healing in itself because she showed me that she cared.  Also, by not reading to me when I told her that my memories made me sad, she showed respect for my wishes–and respect for my wishes was something my parents did not have!  

First off, what are developmental gaps?  As I understand the term from reading and talking to my therapist, the term refers to the glitches or blank spaces in a child’s development when that child does not get the parenting he or she needs.  When a human infant is born, that little person’s brain is wired to expect certain things.  The neural receptors are set to expect and respond to maternal touches and cuddling, the warmth of the caregiver’s body at feeding times, smiles and loving looks on the caregiver’s face, and so forth–all the interactions that take place between loving, devoted parents and their babies.  When the parents do not respond to their baby in a normal, natural way, and when they do not interact in ways that meet the baby’s needs, then those neural receptors wither and lie dormant, causing the baby to have a gap in his or her development.  Fortunately, as science has discovered, those receptors can be re-awakened later in life–sometimes much, much later, in fact, as in my case at age 74.

As I have worked with my therapist these past three-plus years, I have identified a few ways in which my therapist is trying to fill in some developmental gaps.  For one thing, my therapist serves as a mirror to my emotions or mood.  If I am upset about something when I arrive to see her, she immediately becomes an intent listener, and she maintains that role.  When my mood shifts, she goes along with my mood and does not ignore my feelings or minimize them.  When I was a child, this did not happen!  More often than not, my mother told me to go to my room if she did not like the mood I was in.  Many times, when I cried, she or my father told me to go get a milk bottle and fill it with my tears, and then my parents taunted me for the way I looked when I cried.  In other words, my parents did not accept me as I was; they accepted me only when I was the way they wanted me to be.  Luckily, I had enough ego strength to maintain my determination to live!  

Another indication that my therapist is attempting to help me fill in developmental gaps is her emotional support.  I know, for example, that she is on my side.  I am not alone in my journey.  Did my parents show me the same support?  I spent the early years of my childhood trying to answer this question.  Finally, when I was about eight, I gave up trying to see my parents as being supportive and decided that I had no allies in life, especially not my parents!  I was on one side, and everyone else in the world was on the other side–against me.  After all, if my own parents were not supportive, why would anyone else be supportive?  (For one example of parental lack of support, please read the essay “Shadow Girl” on the following link:  Despite the huge burden of feeling as if I was the only person in the world on my side, I was determined to live.  For some people, the feeling of such extreme isolation has been fatal.

 In contrast to my parents, my therapist accepts me as I am, whatever my mood, and is allied with me as I do my work.  I feel secure in believing that whatever she does, she does with my best interests in mind.  Her emotional support is, indeed, filling in a huge developmental gap!

What difference has all this gap-filling made?  Interesting question!  The answer is that I feel a subtle but definite improvement in my basic sense of emotional well-being.  In addition, I also feel an increased sense of self worth. When I began seeing my present therapist three-plus years ago, I was an emotional wreck–wracked by PTSD symptoms and not wanting to live.  After all, why would anyone want to go through daily life experiencing the horrible flashbacks, dissociative episodes, numbing, derealization, depersonalization associated with trauma damage?  Life like that had worn me down, and after a really nasty experience with an inept therapist, I was ready to give up.  But, being the stubborn and persevering person I am,  I gave therapy one more try, and now that I have learned how to manage my symptoms and alleviate them, I am beginning to know what life must be like for the fortunate people who have never been victims of child abuse and neglect and who have never been involved in an abusive marital relationship.  Now I believe that life truly is worth living–not just for other people but for me, too.

Also, thanks to my improved sense of well-being and increased sense of self-worth, I have more self-confidence and increased motivation to shape my life into the most satisfying life possible.  Furthermore, I believe I am living proof that the brain is capable of retaining the plasticity needed for change even into the later years of life, much longer than had been believed when I was a young person.  There is now substantial hope for anyone at any age who wants to relieve trauma damage and improve the quality of his or her life.  With commitment and diligent effort on the parts of therapist and client, a person can undo much of the psychic damage caused by the damaging behavior of other people and reclaim his or her life!  

As people have told me, the best revenge is to have a good life.  By helping me fill in some important developmental gaps, my therapist is supporting me in my efforts to get my “revenge”–to have a good life.  When I look back on this struggle, my battle to reclaim the parts of my life taken from me by others, I remember that I come from a long line of tough people, Scottish coal miners who survived the hell of coal-mining during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, a time when going down into the mines was much the same as descending into the pits of hell. If they could summon the strength to do their work, the least I can do to honor my Scottish ancestors and myself–now that I feel I am worth honoring!–is to do my work!  

For that is the mark of the Scots of all classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation.  Robert Louis Stevenson