Case Vignette: The Daughter and the Mentee

The reframe freed the client and mentee to love each other as mother and daughter, without delay or guilt.

[What follows is a condensed transcript of prescriptive memory-making with Nancy Gershman in the third and final session, with a reframe emerging as the necessary novelty to launch memory reconsolidation.]

Age: 70+
Profession: clinical psychotherapist

Loss:  Parental alienation
Sessions: in-person (3)
Prescriptive Memory: Imaginal

[Daughter (D), Mentee (M)]





Interviewing & Brainstorming

T: It’s good that you’ve been able to get a little emotional distance from your daughter. On the other hand, there’s real disappointment. Despite all the communities you draw sustenance from, there remains this malaise around motherhood. You’re a mother when you’re helping her through something …
C: Like when she’s freaking out and I calm her down and make her feel safer.  A lot of it is money, too.
T: And when things are good, you’re more like friends than mother-daughter.
C: Yes. When it’s good, we’re playful.

Discovery of the Unmet Need

T: So, what we’re looking for here is some emerging truth, a hard truth that becomes perfectly obvious …
C: Yeah. One example that came up recently was that I had a really bad migraine. I normally can catch it in time with medicine, but I hadn’t been paying attention. I was very sick for the day and I used this as an opportunity to ask D, Can you be there for me? And she said I brought you water yesterday. Okay. And then she says, Probably, which is a no – or she doesn’t know.
T: Let’s look at that. She needs me to be strong and energetic but she doesn’t have the capacity to be there for me.
C: It will always be hard for me to accept that she doesn’t have the capacity because she is smart, beautiful, talented and relates so well to people.
T: But there was this confirmation.
C: Yes, (saddened). It confirmed what I thought and I wasn’t at all surprised but felt sad for a couple of days. But then I settled down in about a day knowing that I’d have people around me. I don’t need her to take care of me.
T: (Laughs) You mean as long as your sisters and friends outlive you?
C: (Laughs) Okay, my niece and nephew I think would be there for me to some degree but I’m not sure. They love me very much.
T: Ah. The younger generation is more likely to be around to take care of you.
C: And even though my stepdaughter – a wonderful golden-hearted person – loves me so much, she’s not the most competent adult.
T: At what level is she? Low? Medium? High? (laughs) So, you look for excellence!
C: Yes, I always strive for excellence. It’s been very hurtful to D. I expect more from her, just like I expect more from me.
T: This sounds like the crux.
C: I set a high standard for myself. When things get hard, I work harder. I don’t give up. That’s my motto in life. I mean, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to learn to surrender. That’s always been one of the hardest things for me to let go of. But I have to say I like myself well enough. I’ve always worked really hard. I deserve to relax a little.
T: I like myself well enough. But not a lot? I sense self-blame….
C: I mean, I’ve tried all my adult life to say, It’s ok, they can do itthey’re all competent people. And everybody always is, like, Relax! We got this! But …
T: This business of trying to say to yourself, It’s okay — does it actually work? Is it okay that suddenly at my age there’s no one to take care of me?
C: No, you’re right. I want to feel better about myself because this fear of never having my needs met by my daughter or anybody else for that matter, is killing me, no matter how much I rationalize.

Positive Excitation

T: How far back would we need to find a time when you felt fulfilled by someone or something?
C: I would say it’s dancing. Free the minute the music starts playing and I start moving. It felt expressive, expansive, breathtaking but the thought of doing it a second time would always be tinged with sadness. Because it was too perfect.
T: Yeah, that’s why we wouldn’t use this memory.  What else?
C: One time I was on at 10-day Vision Quest and I ended up at a waterfall and I love, love waterfalls. When the water was coming at me, I was pushed back against the boulders and realized I could take the force of it. I became part of the Universe …
T: In that moment, you felt free.
C:. I also felt supported to take on a lot of force [metaphor with underlying meaning]. There was a big boulder, so I could take it all on; it wasn’t too much. I was a part of everything.


T: Do you believe you’re going to be taken care of in the afterlife?
C: I don’t really know … I don’t think about that. I don’t. But I worry about dying 
T: You worry about your care here on Earth.
C: That’s what I worry about when I’m ailing. Because if dying is fast, I’m fine. But if it’s slow and I need help I’ll need to feel connected to something bigger. I need intensity between people because I want to feel like I’m part of the continuing history of humans. Two humans, holding each other’s memories.
T: So, if your daughter doesn’t hold your memories, it would be left to your sisters and friends to hold your memories.
C:  Actually, my daughter holds many of my memories, my history. Yeah, and what came up for me now is that the other day I saw a client. I told them about how I’m a mentor to a young girl who wants me so much and she’s not my daughter. But I love her and she loves me and I give her a lot. [novelty]
T: Is there anything holding you back from loving this mentee more fully, like a daughter? What if the universe has given you another daughter? Is she interested in your memories?
C: Yes. We even did a StoryCorps recording together!
T: So, M is interested in your memories. Now, how much is the perfectionist in you saying, “But she’s not my daughter”? Or “flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones,” something I’ve heard you say you learned from your grandmother?
C: That’s been my feeling: that D hasn’t really worked out ….
T: And what if you allowed yourself to think about this using a different framework – for example, the tradition in Buddhism where there’s a “family” you travel with, in each lifespan, but in each lifespan, everyone changes roles.
C: We both had that feeling of “family” the first time we met. We talked, and it was click. That was it!
T: Look how fortunate you are! Then maybe what needs to happen is if you could switch in your head that M is your daughter, and your daughter is your mentee. [the prescriptive memory] This would be really funky for a perfectionist to flip but

Check-in for Purpose

C: I had this beautiful gown – a size 6 – that neither D or I could wear, and I asked my daughter, “Can I get rid of it?” And then I was looking at M one day, and asked, “Are you a size 6 by any chance? Would you like a gown?” And she did, and I gave it to her, and it fit her perfectly. And this month she and I are going to a gala for the organization that introduced us and she’s going to wear it! But I have yet to tell my daughter about it.
T: That’s why you’re telling me this. You know it’s okay.
C: I don’t know how my daughter is going to be okay with it, because when my grandson was only 9
months old, and I had to say He’s a baby because I saw the jealousy in her eyes …
T: What’s happening now? What’s pulling at you that feels like deception from your daughter?
C: I just want to be able to say it’s okay. I couldn’t accept certain things about my daughter’s limitations. Like with certain clients, I ask myself, “Why aren’t they more curious?” I’d like to be ok with my daughter, too.
T: Because it’s especially hard when it’s your daughter, your own flesh and blood. But what if we were to say, screw Flesh of my Flesh, Bones of my Bones and not let that soundtrack maintain disappointment?
C: Somehow that’s how I’ve seen myself. My entire life, having to bounce back from disappointment. [2nd unmet need] Because I’ve had some real difficulties. Physical difficulties. I was raped twice. My ex-husband had brain surgery when I was eight months pregnant. My daddy died when I was 10. My adoptive father had brain surgery a few years later, but then my husband had brain surgery and my sister’s husband died of a sudden heart attack and I have had a terrible depression my whole life. Okay, so there’s been non-stop difficulties.
With all these forces coming at me. I’m still standing. The one person I could count on was me.
T: Right. There’s standing. And then there’s that feeling of the waterfall, of dancing. And pure love: something that organically comes out of you- as simple as that. Maybe it’s time to go with a different flow … That’s what you’re going to do it’s not going to be lies. It’ll simply be boundaries.
C: Boundaries might work. But I keep having flashes of my daughter jealous of my baby grandson. I used to say my stepdaughter could be my daughter, but that’s not really true, either. [1sr check-in for purpose]
T: Nope, you can’t fool yourself any longer because you have high standards for yourself! A perfectionist knows herself all too well! I encourage you to test this out. Say to yourself next time you’re in the shower or wherever you do your best thinking, I love M.
C: She’s 50 years younger than me!
T: So? You’re adopting a kind of past lives/future lives so you can love M. And you’re also taking a professional stance around mentorship, giving unconditional loving regard to your daughter. [2nd check- in for purpose]
C: It’s kind of like, You’ll always be mine but my actual daughter has been making me mean and maybe a little sad because of the expectations of flesh and blood.
T: Yes, so you’ll now have a different soundtrack. In fact, what could be that new soundtrack to finding and loving M?