Questioning and poetry – Margaret Little’s inner world part 3

After Margaret Little’s stay in the mental hospital during her summer break in analysis with Donald Winnicott the treatment moved towards termination. During this time Winnicott gave her the helpful interpretation about her fear of annihilation. It belonged to an annihilation that had already happened; ‘I had been annihilated psychically, but had in fact survived bodily, and was now emotionally reliving the past experience … it was some time before I could assimilate this and use it. Even now I tend to forget it in times of stress, but as soon as I recall that interpretation the anxiety is relieved.’

She had not been a person in her own right, only an appendage of someone else. The last verse of Little’s poem The Goldfish, goes:

How can I leave the enclosing bowl?

How learn to live where I must breathe,

To move among strange things,

Distortion gone,

All altered, all things new?

And I, alone, a child again,

Bewildered and confused.

The character of the sessions in the analysis changed after so much grief and pain and anger had been worked through so creativity and play could take its place and the relationship develop. Winnicott ‘believed in the value of a relationship which could also be encouraging and enjoyable’.

‘Jokes, stories and nonsense … bits of gossip, information and serious discussion about analysis. But these things were not used to defend against anxiety, to ward off anger and excitement, or to deflect pain or unhappiness by making me laugh. Being human was the all-important thing and play as an essential part of human life at any age… Above all, D.W. became a real living person with whom I had a relationship born years earlier and no longer based only on transference.’

Ending analysis in 1955 Little returned once a week for about eighteen months in 1957, ‘at the end of which he told me plainly that it was time I took over my own responsibilities and got on with my life – “be yourself”, but now for me, not for him.’ After that Little continued in self-analysis, for she writes that of course ambivalence and anxiety remained, but her overriding feeling was ‘one of deep and lasting gratitude for D. W. enabled me to find and free my “true self”, my spontaneity, creativeness and ability to play; he restored my sanity without leaving me “only sane.”’

Taken from a poem written in 1949 and then reworked in 1966 called Relationship:

So, you and I, by natures long determinate,

And circumstance,

Meet with each other, and can do

That we can do;

Bring to each other what we have,

We can do no more.


But where we meet, fuse, and are satisfied,

(or part in wrath, with bitter words and blows,

Failure of love, or cold indifference),

From action, interaction, and reaction,

New forces spring and flow;

New fire is born, laughter and tears,

Birth and creation new.


Let us go on then

Together, and apart;

Not seeking fear, nor yet denying it,

But travel through our fears and pains

To Zion – Babylon- World’s End.