Language of the Gaps

ImageI have been working with a patient whose way of talking reminds me of the way Morse messages  were sent. (Or so my father told me. He used morse regularly as a part of his work.) One sent a morse message in a block of “text”. This was “translated” and the next block arrived. And so on until the complete message was received. Then an acknowledgement was sent that the message had arrived safely. 

My patient tells me their story in a similar way. A block of text is sent to me. This is then left with me to  try  and understand and make sense of. I will offer a reply or a comment for him to consider and process. Then the next block of information is sent to me. And the process goes on throughout the session. Sometimes the blocks are longer, sometimes shorter. Sometimes I hear correctly. Sometimes I need the message sent to me again.

My patient’s way of telling me his story reminds me of the work of Wilfred Bion, a psychoanalyst, who made a connection between linking and thinking-and on the processes that could damage these links. What is noticeable with this patient is his difficulty in holding on to a narrative of himself. He struggles to make a connection between the various parts of himself. And struggles even more to tell me a story about himself. Or, more accurately, he finds it very hard to give me an affective story.I am only slowly learning to find the feelings that he has deliberately banished to a mythical “far land”. (And even that statement needs qualifying! I am slowly learning to ask the questions which help us both to discover the whereabout of this far away land. The work is now to go to this land and explore it, finding out what he has hidden there.)

What is also interesting is to learn how to be a mother for him. The young baby is held together at many levels by its’ mother in particular. Her holding gives the baby a sense of continuity. The mother holds the baby’s ego-both physically and emotionally. She receives its’ communication and responds. Be that communication the need for a feed. A dirty nappy that needs changing. The need for a cuddle. All these messages are heard by the attentive mother and slowly taken back by the baby. Out of this process we create a sense of self. We learn to recognise that certain feelings, sensations etc have a meaning. And that we should and can make some response to these messages. In my patient’s case a number of traumas went un- addressed, leaving him feeling unheard, unheld and fragmented.

As a counsellor, part of my task is to help him make some links so that he can re-connect his disparate parts.(Theseus finding his way out of the minotaur’s labyrinth comes to mind. He needed a reliable guide to find his freedom and to have a life thereafter.) The work is slow and careful. Many of our sessions have been about us learning together that he does have an inner life. But that we have to construct a vocabulary of the gaps. And, as I have written before, music is made in the intervals between notes. Not just the notes themselves. Or, to change the image, our work is to create a chain without broken links. One which will anchor him and give him that “still point in the turning world” of which Eliot wrote.


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