At the beginning of the analysis, it became clear that J resided in a very dark place, well hidden from any form of aliveness. Their attachment to me felt parasitical and searching for aliveness in me, but the result was the opposite: I often felt blanked out, deadened. It was as if I had been infected with a tranquiliser, rendering me paralysed and unable to stay (conscious) or leave (act freely). The room at times felt airless with an insufferable stench of something dead and decaying forever. It soon resembled their home, hoarded rubbish and living amongst rotten food. Dead and rotting though this space was, it nevertheless provided a perverse form of safety and a psychic retreat from continued failure in a litany of broken relationships. This is as mentioned a perverse form of safety for most patients when entering analysis. The key to this ‘psychic retreat’ is to entre it with care and gentleness but to live it with the patient. This is to know the patient.
As I look back at the early consultations there was a hungry and aggressive edge to them. My thinking at this time was that J’s inner world was finally ‘being seen’ and felt in a way previously unknown to her. There was an intense hunger to J that often seemed overwhelming and suffocating, causing me to retreat into states of literal comatose and unconsciousness, redolent of her mother whom J reported as ‘emotionally dead, untouchable and unreachable’. In referring to such deadness in The Dead Mother Complex, Andre Green skilfully describes this paralysing dynamic: “an image which has been constituted in the child’s mind following maternal depression, brutally transforming a living object, which was a source of vitality for the child, into a distant figure, toneless, practically inanimate, deeply impregnating the cathexes of certain patients…and weighing on the destiny of their object-libidinal and narcissistic future..[The] dead mother … is a mother which remains alive but who is, so to speak, psychically dead in the eyes of the young child in her care” (Green A, 1986 P142)