‘For the love of Heaven, be yourself’


Margaret Little – analyst, writer, poet

What does it mean to be ‘oneself’ – a mixture of the psychological and spiritual – to become the person God intends us to be …

Some of us need therapy to help us find out what ‘myself’ is, so the next few posts are about  the psychoanalyst Margaret Little’s time with different therapists. As with Robert Johnson (see earlier posts) these also date back at least fifty years – so they took place before all the current demands of registration, on-going CPD and such like. Perhaps the work was more at the cutting edge when new theories and ideas were to the fore, and that has both advantages and disadvantages to it. Margaret Little understood that new ideas of theory and technique always aroused profound anxieties with a tendency to defend against developments by denial and strengthening of resistance. Little found herself developing her own ways of working from her time as patient.

She first worked with someone she calls Dr X – three sessions a week for two years and finds she can remember very little from the time with him. The first 3 weeks she was so paralysed by fear that she could not speak or move on to the couch. Dr X pronounced her as being mildly neurotic and recognized her overwhelming tension whilst not pretending to understand it. This tension was ‘eventually released by gently massaging my belly’. Several minor mostly somatic symptoms cleared up, and Little felt she was treated as a rational human being, and could potentially be attractive as a woman which she had never before believed possible. Dr X also encouraged her to train as a psychotherapist (Little was working as a GP at the time – so medically qualified).

One day Dr X remarked that she seemed to be always thinking of other people and apologizing for her existence as if she had no right to be alive. He explained that she did have the right – as she had not been responsible for it.

‘I told him that my earliest memories (aged two) were of being obviously ‘in the way’ and ‘a trouble’ when my siter Ruth and my mother and I all had whooping cough. I was in a cot in the corner of the room where they were in bed together. I coughed and vomited, my mother got up to hold me, and they both started coughing, ‘as if I had made them.’ And later, one day my father came in …finding me coughing and vomiting …said angrily, ‘Can’t you stop that child being sick?’”

Before a Christmas break, Little remembered Dr X wishing her well and adding, ‘For the love of Heaven, be yourself’ (?’Don’t be that vomiting child’) I replied, ‘I don’t know how, I don’t know what myself is.’

The treatment gradually ended though they remained colleagues. Dr X had met Little’s parents socially, saying that he had got on well with her father but he ‘couldn’t stand’ her mother. He felt she needed no more work and could sort things out for herself … but did give her a friendly introduction to Ella Freeman Sharpe a member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society – just in case.