Sunday, August 23, 2009

The pre-verbal client - Part 2**

Self soothing and pre-verbal clients.

Sara says:

“I do want to hear what self-soothing means not as a bunch of activities, but on a more basic level.”(end quote)

You are right, self soothing in the way I am using the term is related to attachment theory. Yes one can soothe self by having a bath or with music or with some other pleasant experience. That would be included with what I am saying but only be 10% of it

The soothing I am talking about is much more intertwined with relationship, security, and the soother must be content as well. The soother can’t fake it. The look on mother’s face in this picture is just as important as the child’s because soothing in this context is a relational experience for both parties. The child experiences its own soothing and it also experiences mother feeling soothed as well by it. Which of course is even more soothing for the child!

If this happens many times the child of course incorporates this and introjects it into its own Parent ego state. If as an adult it is feeling anxiety or depression it can then call on the sensory and somatic experience of feeling soothed but it also recalls mothers face as being happy and soothed by it as well and hence has a relational experience or understanding of soothing. Obviously a warm bath, or pleasant music can’t provide such relational experiences.

The thing is however, is that it wears off. Say that child got good parenting and soothing from its parents and then at age 20 leaves home. It can then use those early life experiences to self soothe when it is feeling distressed. But its not enough. As adults we continue to need soothing relational contact to keep filling up the bucket. We need ongoing relational contact with others where we feel soothed and we see in the others face that they are feeling soothed by us as well. If we don’t get such relational contact in adulthood then the bucket runs dry I’m afraid.

However the type and degree of refills required in adulthood is different depending on early life experiences. For instance that baby in the picture is getting pre-verbal soothing experiences. If one never got these then the refills in the adulthood bucket are needed much more and have less soothing effect.

The self soothing of oral needs in adulthood.

But will it be enough?

The adult needs to some how get such pre-verbal soothing relational experiences. If she does then those fill up the bottom of the bucket and the subsequent adulthood refills are more effective in soothing the adult with unpleasant emotions.

However this raises an interesting notion. As I said before a mother soothing a child can’t fake it. If an adult person seeks a therapist to get some of these pre-verbal relational soothing experiences then the therapist cannot fake it!. So the therapist needs to have some sort of their own personal emotional investment in the client which the client can soothe in some form.

Thus one is left with a very fine line for the therapist to walk. The mother in the picture is using the child to meet her own emotional and relational needs just as much as the child is using the mother. Mother has needs and wants to ‘nest’, have babies, be a part of a family, be ‘clucky’ and nurture the infant. She has maternal instincts that she wants to be met. If she gets that then she feels her needs are met and is soothed herself. That is why she can’t fake it.

A child learning how to self soothe oral needs

A therapist has to be very careful about using a client to meet his or her own emotional needs and to use the client in such a self soothing way. However if the therapist views the client in a very clinical way and has no emotional investment in them then such relational soothing experiences will not happen for the client. The therapist can’t fake it. If a therapist is going to work with clients pre-verbal (or quite young child) issues then they have to walk the fine line just described.

On the other hand most people would get many of their adult fill ups from their partner. This is fine and is a good way to achieve such a thing. They can’t get their pre-verbal fill ups from their partner. If that begins to happen then your partner stops being your partner and starts becoming your therapist and that usually equals divorce at a later point.



  1. Self soothe - hmm, i think i play with my hair, i rub my fingers together, rub my feet before i go to sleep. I've just noticed that i tough people lots. I fiddle with the hem of my shirt or napkin or what ever is available for me to fiddle with. I kind of draw palm trees on my thumb with my fingers, i tear paper or cardboard till it looks like confetti. I either talk incessently or don't say anything at all.

    I've noticed the past few years that when a loved one becomes frightening i freeze. Not so long ago i would never have imagined that someone who loves me could ever be so frightening. There are somethings that are true whether we can imagine them or not.

    I don't agree with your statement about the partner and pre-verbal thing. Why did we choose them as a partner in the first place? Isn't a lot about pre-verbal stuff? Or have i been reading too much psych 'stuff'?

    I have assessments comming out my ears. *Visualise* yeah... its messy!

    Have a lovely week won't you?

  2. I mean't to say " I've just noticed that i touch people lots." I think i do touch people without thinking, but i know when i don't. Its a definate decision not to.

    Nitey night...

  3. Well Roses it is very unwise for a person to try and work though their issues pre-verbal or otherwise, with a partner.

    Of course we all do it but as long as it does not get too intense that is OK. If a woman puts her father's face on her husband then she will begin to respond to him in irrational or not "Here and now" ways. It would be advised that she tries to do that as little as possible as the husband does not need or deserve that.

    If a client puts their father's face on me I actively encourage it as they then have an opportunity to resolve those issues, BUT I also do not have to live with it day in and day out.


  4. Yes. That would be quite a load for a person to be burdened with 24/7. Oh Tony! That would be a terrible thing to do to a partner! I had not seen it quite in that light before.

    So that's transference?

  5. Yes that is transference Roses,

    A sure fire way to destroy a marriage if it is allowed to develop too much.



  6. Oh my goodness! I think i do that to everyone i meet! Oh Tony - so that means when ever i put my fathers face onto my hubby, he'd feel like the happiest guy in the world. BUT - and as usual it's a huge BUT - when I (and i usually do) put my mothers face on my hubby, he's dumped into a living nightmare!

    But that's not fair!

    I'm not doing that anymore. I understand that i won't beable to stop all together right now but i'm starting to stop that transference right now.

    You really have no clue how wonderful you are do you?

  7. I think I have a couple of clues Roses

    No its not fair to put a parents face onto a spouse but it happens that is for sure.

    So there we have our ambivalence again Roses! Fa face is good - Ma face is bad.

    Roses the contradiction


  8. I am really glad Sara asked you the question that prompted this post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  9. Ma face is not bad. I love ma's face - she's so beautiful! Its just that i can never touch it, its always just out there - beyond my reach. That just drives me to distraction!

    A bit like suduko but that's just a game and when i've had enough i can just put it down and walk away.

    It appears that i am a contradiction to you. But you're not seeing what i write in the context in which it is written. When you say something, in my reply, i'm hopping all over the time line of my memories. I can't seem to learn something that i haven't yet experienced for some reason. Everything you say I tend to relate to something i can understand - and i don't understand much! Because i don't understand much, i then use my imagination but that's not the same as experience.

    I am now wondering how i'm perceived. I don't think i ever think of that - if i do, its not very often.

    I didn't hand in my assignment on time yesterday so i have to go finish it and hand it in a day late. Bumma! *Holds up finger and thumb a centermeter apart* Missed it by that much!

  10. I think no one can fake soothing Tony. And that is why I disslike the idea or act of mothers going to work and leaving their infants with some one else, whoever that person might be. The infant barely experiences mother's affection in my point of view, and I do not think that is healthy for the infant.

  11. Its good to get some soothing Maryam thats for sure. Perhaps less guenuine nuturing styles are better than none at all. The difference between quality and quantity of nurting is an interesting subject.


  12. Yes - i have not as yet had a late assessment and Yes - this is my first female subject coordinator.

    Yes - i noticed that yesterday.

    Happy Wednesday

  13. Tony?

    I told my hubby last night what i'd been doing to him all these years - about the transference thing - and he thought all the way home (we'd been out to dinner with a bunch of very loud friends and family). Then last night we had a chat (mini argument on my part - defensive move on his) and he was thinking again so i explained that that had nothing to do with my parents and all to do with him and I.

    I won't allow him to hide from the truth behind the tiny little bit of information i'd shared in a 10 minute trip from dinner to home again. Now i have to let him know who i'm going off at when ever i get annoyed! At least until i get this transference thing out of my shoe and into my pocket.

    It's the best way for me to learn what's going on and why. It will enevitably be a handy thing for him to know as well - i think.

    That 'transference' thing is a huge thing and wouldn't it be good if every one could understand about it too? Its nice to not have any shame or guilt about the way we behaved in the past too isn't it? Now he knows that i've found another error (I told him that i want to not put mum and dad's mask on him anymore) and now we are both aware of what might be happening at any given time.

    I don't undersand why it took so long for me to grasp the transference concept but i think i'm beginning to get a bit of a clue now. I have to stop transfering on to you too. That's not a nice thing to do and you don't deserve it either. Are you able to give me a little time to get better at it? I hope so.


  14. Hi Ken,

    It is like saying negative strokes is better than no stroke.
    Just to let you additionally know how amazingly mind/brain works, I never got pregnant for a whole year of trying with my ex. I was all healthy. All the lab and test results were fine and it was a question because I already had gotten pregnant twice before that time, in whichs I, we, decided to have abortions.
    Guess what? The thought or imagination of having a baby looking a like my, now, ex was so disgusting to me that I never wanted the baby. So it never happened.that is amazing

    best, Maryam.

  15. We're just about to leave. The TA mini conference is on tomorrow. I'm so excited (scared-excited-scared-excited). Hope i don't do the whole 'transference' thing at anyone! I really don't like that anymore.

    Have a lovely weekend.

  16. Hi Maryam, I think there is a continuum of strokes described by Berne as
    Positive Unconditional strokes (warm fuzzies)

    Positive conditional strokes
    Negative Coditional strokes and
    Negative Unconditional ones.

    It doesnt matter where you one gets the strokes from, just that one gets them.


  17. I hope you have your assignment in by now Roses,

    You certainly are a contradiction and an ambivalence my friend


  18. I think you make a good point Maryam about fake soothing.

    Perhaps when a child is pre-verbal one can't confuse it with words which are easy to say but it maybe harder to fake body language which of course is the languauge sucha child speaks


  19. Hope you don't do the transference thing Roses?

    I am afraid that is just about impossible my studious friend.

    Hope the confernce is good


  20. Oh my goodness! Tony!

    The conference was so great! I wish you could have been there - i think you would have loved it too! Lots of people there - all different - all beautiful and.. oh so clever too! The workshops were so fun and the speakers... well, i wish i had have taken my little camera thingy and recorded it! I learned so much but i think most of it went way (like WAY) over my head.

    Guess what we had for lunch?? Huh? I bet you can't!

    There was a big fruit salad and (oh my goodness) a ceaser salad!! *drool drool* And there was some (i think it was) chicken and a noodle dish too.

    I wanted to run around and hug absolutely everyone (even people who wouldn't or couldn't do that) but i didn't. I was so under control! I hugged one lady before i left. But i had to show my appreciation to someone.

    Ohh! The sun was so warm and the dog so helpful, the water filtered and sweet and the venue the best!

  21. My essay? I didn't read up on all my emails and announsements in my interact and so didn't know it was due in a week later (yesterday) and not on the 24th. So instead of being a day late i did it a week early. Though i rushed it and could have studied a little more on it, i'm so glad that I wasn't toiling over it last night.

    Our teacher was so appologetic about it but i was so happy. Gosh she's lovely.

    I have to go and do the psych assignment now. Its not due till the 9th but it felt so good not stressing about the phil one that i want the same thing to happen for this one too.

    Gosh I hope you have a happy day. It actually does matter you know. Oh and by the way - are you drinking lots of water? Its good for you.

  22. That is grand Roses,

    That the conference was so fun for you. I can imagine you running around and hugging everyone. That isn't being ambivalent at all!

    That was a pleasant surprise. Thinking your assignment was one day late only to find that it was one week early!

    Cheers to you my friend


  23. Well i would have wanted to not be ambivalent and instead hugged everyone but i was kind of afraid all day, so i just did the 'control' thing. Well, as best i could. Tony, really, i think i did pretty good for me. I wasn't too excited - gosh! I nearly exploded from the pressure a couple of times - eww, real messy thought!

    You can imagine me not being ambivalent? Wow! Your imagination must be a good one!

    A couple of times i had some awkward feelings with some people but i did as best as i could and i don't think i put the masks on them (the transference thing). Well, maybe i did simply because of the awkward feelings? But i'm sure i didn't do anything too emotional.

    And the stairs Tony! What a great idea! Sitting around and chatting, eating and sipping on beverages - just a quick climb of the stairs got the blood pumping just that little bit - you know? I don't like stairs usually but they were great this time.

    Then we arrived home late that night and my sister called asking if i wanted to go visit my parents that live a couple of hours away. So we traveled down there on the Saturday and... gosh i love them. It was nice to hug them again.

    You have been busy? I hope you take care.

  24. I am so glad that you had such a good time at the conference Roses,

    It does sound like you really had a good time. Great!

    No I can't imagine you without your ambivalence Roses. It is something that always goes together in my mind = Roses & ambivalence


  25. I'll explain something to you today Tony and then i will not mention it again if that is your wish.

    I've been reading and following the "Jon Gabriel Method". Its a book about *whispers* diet, but without the 'dieting' factor - using it as a 'text book to my health' type thing. This morning i was sitting in the sun (mmm, so nice!) and read the part about emotional obesity where he explains that there can be traumatic stuff that happens that causes us to create a 'safety barrier' around us to deter danger from pursuing us.

    I was so afraid the other day. I remember being so frightened sometimes that i wanted to grab the someone or something as a shield against it. I also remember heading toward the door to get to the car to go home and waved good bye to someone in a room.

    I practically freaked out! Its been so long since i've had that emotional (fear) explosion. I fumbled with the door couldn't grasp the door knob to open the door to quickly get out of there and i felt as though something was chasing me and i panicked... oh my goodness Tony it was so terrible! My hands are tingling right now and there are tears in my eyes as I type.

    I'm so glad that happened and, as it was deliberate, i realise how grateful i am for the display.

    Before that happened, i was eating to feed my body (nutritionally) and feeling so 'alive' which makes any sweet or junky food look so yucky and if you eat it, the reaction is uncomfortable and yucky. But since i've arrived home i've been craving and eating junk - chocolate, icecream, chippies, just junk.

    I have to deal with the fear. I think i understand a few places in my life where such a terror of certain people have begun. Most men are wonderful people - well the ones that i've met - but some make all my insides disappear and leave a great big gaping hole that is volnerable - i'm standing there feeling totally and utterly, volnerable.

    I will learn to not allow myself to use the masks (transference) to make me afraid of that specific fear again. I am strong a person and now i kind of know what i'm deal with i can advance forward in not being afraid of that anymore.

    I was so afraid of spiders and bugs once that i couldn't enter aroom with one in sight. But then i imagined that i had a pet baby huntsman and i kept it in my pocket. I fed it and it would pop out and we would play together - imagined remember. I can be in the room with a spider now, and though i am unwilling to pick one up with my hands (at the moment), i am able to pop one on some cardboard or paper and carry it out side where it can find a home somewhere.

    Tony, i believe i can do this, and am so very grateful to the person who frightened the bags out of me last Friday.

    Ok, it's said and done. I will (if i remember) not bring the conference up again.

    Thank you for being here. You have no clue.

  26. Roses,

    You can bring up the conference when ever you like. It sounds like you got a great deal out of it not only education wise but also personally.

    I find your statement above quite moving roses. Your willingness to experience the fear explosion sounds positive to me. My suggestion would be not to try and get away from it but go into it and through it. you seem to have the mental toughness to do that as well.

    And your comment about the transference and masks with certain men is right on the botton.

    Good stuff my friend


  27. One day Tony, i'm going to be just like you.

  28. Its kind of weird being a transitional relational object for clients Tony. Its hard, its joyous, its sad, surprising and rewarding. Did I say spontaneous and exciting?


  29. Hello kenoath,

    yes it is weird and it also sounds funny. Like at an AA meeting I would stand up and say:

    "I am Tony and I am a transitional relational object"


  30. Hello Roses,

    I will look forward to that day Roses when you are just like me.

    Let me know when you are and then when I look at you, I will see me!

    Enjoy your day. It is raining here now