For Heaven’s Sake – Be yourself: 2

Margaret Little in therapy with Ella Freeman Sharpe

Ella Sharpe

When Margaret Little first met with Ella Freeman Sharpe, she ‘saw’ her in a kind of grey mist, like a spider in a web. Little knew this was Sharpe’s hair, but given this delusion she decided not to begin treatment, but changed her mind a year or so later after becoming over involved with one of her own patients, and realising that she needed help.

Little saw psychoanalysis as meaning total annihilation, and when she first lay on the couch and Sharpe was silent, Margaret Little began to scream – the whole thing felt like a nightmare. Sharpe at the end of the session told Little to sit up and said that her fear was ‘castration anxiety’, everything was to do with infantile sexuality and with repressed phantasies about her parents which had to be recovered via the transference neurosis. Little knew that the panic was deeper than that and to do with the expectation of being destroyed.

Inevtiably then there was a great deal of ambivalence between them. It’s strange to read that Sharpe was completely altered towards Little off the couch – where she was warm and kind – somewhat inevitably re-enacting the confusion and ambivalence that Little had experienced with her mother. So, at the level of a psychotic transference, Sharpe became identical with Little’s mother, unable to provide a safe environment. Sharpe aimed to make it an environment where it was safe to be sexual or hostile, but Little was defiant and it didn’t feel safe, so she became compliant. During this seven-year analysis Little began training as an analyst at the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

One of the stranger things Margaret Little describes in this analysis was how at every session Sharpe insisted on dragging the heavy couch from one end of the room to the other – Little was not allowed to help, but as medically trained she could observe all the symptoms of heart disease in the much older woman. Mentioning this Sharpe made no reply – Little felt in making ‘a personal comment’ she was somehow being ‘rude’.

The week after Little’s father’s sudden death she was expected to read her qualifying paper. She wanted to postpone, but Sharpe would not hear of it and so Little went ahead and it was a success. Her unwillingness to read it so soon after her bereavement was interpreted as ‘due to guilt about my envy of her [Sharpe’s] ability to write and present papers, transferred from my parents in their sexual relationship and creativity, and fear of retribution if I dared to assert myself or to challenge her in any way.’

After seven years they agreed to terminate the analysis after the summer term: “There is no point in going on analysing for the sake of analysing” Sharpe said but a month later Sharpe  suddenly died.