One of the ways people get to know themselves better is to follow their associations. One thought leads to another, and if a person is alert to where the mind wanders and is curious about why this thought followed the one before, self-understanding may deepen. Visiting with my 10 month old grandchild reminds me of my own son when he was new, which reminds me of how upsetting it was to hear his cries of distress. This then reminds me of how my father, when visiting our new family, noticed my anxious race to my wailing baby, who had just woken from his nap. He looked surprised. He asked me why I was in such a hurry. “Slow down,” he said. “You don’t need to rush; he’s ok.” Then my mind goes to a photograph I keep of my father, smiling at me as he stood with my then much older son, and I realize how much I miss my father, gone for nearly 15 years. Three generations were with my grandson this weekend.
As a lifelong reader of fiction and poetry, many of my associations are to what I have read. I love these parallel rich lives. Often when I listen to patients, I will be reminded of something I have read. For example, a young woman complained to me about her new husband’s annoying habits, and how she had never anticipated having to deal with such thoughtlessness. Her distress reminded me of a well-known marriage, that of David Copperfield and Dora. After their much opposed engagement and marriage, he mused, “Sometimes of an evening, when I looked up from my writing, and saw her seated opposite, I would lean back in my chair, and think how queer it was that there we were, alone together as a matter of course – nobody’s business any more – all the romance of our engagement put away upon a shelf, to rust – no one to please but one another – one another to please, for life.” (Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, Chapter 42.)
Alone together, they have to get to know each other. Ultimately, neither David nor Dora could truly please the other. David had fallen headlong into love with a young woman who reminded him, probably unconsciously, of his doting yet hopelessly dependent mother. I shift my attention, now reminded of this other marriage, back to my patient’s distress. Are the marriages similar? No. Are my patient’s hopes and disappointments similar? Perhaps.