By Angela Z. Wu, MFT
Lisa is a 32-year-old single Chinese woman living in Shanghai who has been seeing me for six months via Zoom (online chat like Skype). Two years ago, she discovered that both of her parents were having affairs. Soon after, her periods ceased and she began to get headaches.
Lisa’s parents treated her like a boy, and this angered her, as the little girl inside her yearned to be loved and treated like a girl. In therapy, we did a lot of active imagination so that Lisa could take care of that little girl; love and mother her. She also met a trustworthy man — her acupuncturist – who played a role in her recovery.
Lisa plays the guzheng (classical Chinese string instrument) well, and wants to study violin. During therapy, she cut off contact with her parents. She also ended an uncomfortable romantic relationship, quit her data analyst job, and made plans to study violin in Europe.
Lisa reported that although she was not menstruating, she felt more “woman juice” flowing out of her, and felt her body get warm. However, the headaches remained.
Using The Pain Map, (Drs. Eric and Lori Greenleaf, 1997), she drew all of her pain (physical, emotional and spiritual) on one map, and all of her resources on another. Then, in her imagination, she applied a particular resource to a specific pain.
Lisa: My headache became closer, heavier. I see an angry face: a child, but it is my father. Father’s angry face is replacing the headache. [pauses] Now the angry face is getting closer and clearer. I don’t feel much headache.
Angela Wu: What does the child want — to be angry, or not? [pauses],
L: He doesn’t know what to do; he only knows anger.
AW: Suppose the child gets comfort from someone?
L: I feel my acupuncturist is touching the child’s head to calm him. The child is getting quiet and calm. [After a long pause, Lisa begins to cry.]
AW: I see the tears; they are real, and my heart gets tender when I see tears. [pauses] Often tears are sacred; they remind us to grieve or to know joy. It is a strong, real emotion. It shows us real life, with all kinds of feelings. When I see your tears, I feel you are so real.
L: I’m crying as I see the angry boy calm down. He said, “I am sorry” to me.
AW: Very nice hearing, “I am sorry.”
L: I see a little girl come out. That was me at 12.
AW: Welcome. How is she?
L: Finally, she can come out. She was so scared by that angry boy.
AW: What does she want? [long pause]
L: She wants to have her period.
AW: That is right. She wants to have her period. Suppose you help her to prepare for her period: read her books, get her sanitary pads, cute underwear, nail polish, or a promise of her favorite ice-cream when the period is over. [Lisa smiles and nods.]
L: The little girl wants to perform music. Her parents always told her that she was not good enough; now she wants to perform. But she is shy, not sure if she can.
AW: Suppose the girl gets dressed in a beautiful Chinese qipao [form-fitting dress]; sets up her guzheng in her room; prepares two seats for her parents. Then she can play and record the saddest melody, and mail it to her parents, as if you are mailing your bad headache to your parents.
L: That is a good idea. I will do that. I am more comfortable playing in my own apartment. And I will mail them my sadness and my bad headache.
AW: One more thing. I do not know about you, but for me, two or three days before my period I often have bad headaches. When I feel that headache, I know I will prepare myself.
Two weeks later:
Lisa felt overwhelmed when she played the guzheng, and she stopped. She didn’t record or send the music to her parents.
Before our next session, she sent me a link to a classical Chinese violin piece called, “So Long.” She said, “When I hear it, I feel gentleness, unconditional love, separation, and sadness. I may want to hear it during the session. Let’s be prepared.”
L: I don’t feel the headache. I started to feel a mother’s unconditional love, but it is not my mom.
AW: If now you use your body as the map, where do you feel the love?
L: In my feet, and my hands.
AW: What is the sensation when your feet and hands feel love?
L: It is freedom to move around.
AW: Good. Focus on that freedom — your feet and hands. Does that feeling stay still or move around?
L: It is moving up, coming to my hands. I feel very gentle and warm, like a baby’s skin. Now it’s moving to my belly button. [pauses]
AW: What is happening there?
L: The little belly button wants to say something.
AW: Before a baby’s born, she is connected with mother through the cord. The baby gets food; feels mother’s heartbeat. In this way baby communicates with mom, so of course the belly button wants to say something. [pauses]
L: The belly button feels mom’s love. She was held in big hands; warm and gentle. The little belly button feels mom’s gentle touch, gentle kisses. [Lisa nods, and begins to cry; long pause.]
Then, the little belly button grew up. Mom starts to say she is not good enough, and is very harsh to her. She didn’t want to talk. She is so scared all the time; scared, sad, and hurt. She is afraid of talking; felt something stuck in her throat.
AW: Let’s start with a long, deep breath; breathing out first. Really clear out all the fear, all the worries and sadness inside of her. Then breathe in all the fresh air and oxygen that she needs. That’s right; just breathe, breath by breath. She is growing up, she is still good. The little belly is still good.
Now she is an adult, and she can open a new file for her life. She is going to put the people she likes and loves; the loving memories, in her new file. She knows she has unconditional love with her; right on her feet, right on her hands. She just needs to feel it. [pauses]
L: The little belly walked to a door. It is oval; a glass door. She is nervous, scared.
AW: Where does the door take her to? [pauses]
L: The other side of the door is the womb.
AW: Does little belly want to go there?
L: She is nervous and scared…even with unconditional love. It is dark over there.
AW: Can little belly put a flashlight in her pocket?
L: Yes, a flashlight will be useful.
AW: If you like, you can take me with you. You can hold my hand.
L: Yes, let’s do that. I am shining the flashlight and holding your hand. I’m walking in. [tears; long pause] I saw an old friend.
AW: What does the old friend look and feel like?
L: It is round, soft, sticky. It is red.
AW: Very good. Say, “Hi” to this old friend. Tell her, “I missed you, and I’m so happy to see you. I know you’re here, so today I came. We are old friends. I know I’ll always see you.”
L: I started to feel warm. I started to feel the blood running through my body. Now it’s time to play the music.
AW: [I push the button and music plays.] Yes, you are saying good-bye to the fear, to the worries. Now feel the blood and the freedom. Feel and enjoy the love. [pauses]
Ten days later, Lisa sent me a message saying that her periods resumed.
The session after her period:
Before the session, Lisa sent me another violin solo called, “Raise Me Up,” to play as background music for the session. She still gets a headache from time to time, but isn’t bothered by it. She remembered that she often had a headache around her period. She began to remember her grandfather, who loved her very much.
L: I feel that I need to walk home and become a mature woman. I feel lonely. I am scared to be with the old friend; to be a normal woman.
AW: Now you’re telling me, so you’re not lonely anymore. You’re walking towards your home; not a little girl going to her parents’ home.
L: I feel the love was buried by hate for so long. Now I have to go through the pain to find it. [crying] I haven’t been crying like this.
AW: This is good. When the love is opening up and meeting the pain, two strong energies meet, and it can be overwhelming.
L: I see so many things: I see grandfather; I see me on the stage as a grown, beautiful woman playing violin; I see a man that I want to love — only his back, not his face yet.
AW: These are beautiful things. They are somewhere — awaiting. And now I know you can go there. You have met your old friend, and you will meet many new friends.
L: [still crying] I know. I am walking home. My home.
We decided to do a monthly checkup, and eventually terminate the therapy. Lisa is now looking into studying music in Europe and has started to date men.
Eric Greenleaf, PhD
Relationships shape therapy, and the language used represents human experience. The patient often speaks in symptom language: a headache, amenorrhea, or anxiety. Ericksonian therapists speak in image, metaphor, and a common language: “the little girl,” “an oval door,” “the old friend.” Angela Wu’s gentle, healing touch and patient inquiry formed a relationship that drew healing from the patient’s inner life resources. And, hand-in-hand, both therapist and client shone a light together into the frightening darkness — and they created beautiful music.