Week 3: Frances

Paul in bed on sofa bed  with Wendy who has spent the night. The alarm goes off and Paul says she has to go because Max will soon be up. Paul has been awake for some time reading. Paul asks her if she thinks he has a happiness deficit. She asks if it is because of the novel. He looks tired and sad. He asks her again and she kisses him and tries to turn him on but he stops her.


Paul is napping on the couch when Frances arrives and knocks. He gets up slowly, opens the door and Frances comes in.


She tells him she went to see Patricia and told her about seeing Paul. Frances asks if he going to check up on her and he says no. She archly says he believes her? He says he has no intention of talking with Patricia to check.  Paul says she is giving him a choice --  he can call Patricia and Frances will be jealous or not call and she will be angry. She says she is already jealous. She then holds up a scarf of Izzy’s she took from Patricia’s because Izzy is spending a lot of time with her. She is thinking of inviting Patricia to opening night but her sister doesn’t like such things. Frances complains about Patricia hounding her about the genetic test. Paul asks if she told Tricia she had scheduled it. She says yes, she is going having the test and no, she hasn’t told Patricia. Paul says he thinks Frances interprets her sister’s anxiety as aggression. Frances thinks Patricia is trying to punish her. She tells of when her sister was in college and got the lead in a college play and was excited. Frances seems condescending about it. Patricia wanted her to come see the play. Paul asks how it was and she says it was fine. They went to dinner and Patricia told her she had always thought of being an actress and she was thinking she might really try it. She wanted Frances’ opinion. Frances tells her not to do it, that she didn’t have the talent. Patricia was crushed and never did another play. Frances says she could have encouraged her and didn’t. Paul reminds her she had asked for honest opinion. 


Paul observes they had well defined family roles and asked if her mother treated them differently. Frances responds very prickily defending her mother.  Associates to her name -- her mother named her after Frances Farmer who was institutionalized by her mother. Her mother’s defense was that farmer was so beautiful. She says she didn’t look like her mother though people said she did. Mother was obsessed with looks but Frances understands why. She likes to remember her mother when she was beautiful not how she looked in the hospital.. Paul reflects how her mother still wanted to look her best and he says how she wanted to wear her signature lipstick. Frances says she never told him that, that Patricia must have. She clearly is angry. She has barely mentioned her mother, she says.  Paul says maybe she is right. He apologizes. Frances says she does not want to be confused with her sister. She is angry and hurt.  


Then she wants to know Patricia’s version of how it was when their mother died. Frances felt excluded by her sister, pushed away. She saw one morning that Patricia climbed into the bed with their mother and she connects that to what happened after their father died and her mother would come in at night and get Patricia who was 1 and take her to bed with her to sleep. But never Frances - she always chose Patricia. Paul says that must have been painful. Can Frances see how Patricia was cast into the role of caretaker by her mother?  Frances says she was wonderful in that play - Paul says she could still make amends.


Then she wants Paul to do lines with her. He asks if that isn’t what she did with  her former husband. She says he was an asshole. She leans over close to Paul and he says no, this is not a good idea. Frances gets angry and says no one is willing to help her and she leaves. Paul closes the door after her and goes to the window to watch her leave.



To me, the opening scene with Wendy is revealing. Though Paul seemed adamant that Wendy not yet meet Max, she is sleeping in the apartment on the couch with Paul. Neither of them has any idea if Max might have seen or heard them them during the night. In a response to one of the commenters last week, I said I believe Paul’s stated choice not to introduce them was a good one. I support the often given recommendation that a new partner not be introduced to children until the relationship is a committed one that is likely to last. This is because it is hard on kids to form attachments to adults who then leave when the relationship with the parent fails. So I am curious about Paul’s rationale for what he is doing. Wendy seems rather like the typical choice of a man in mid-life crisis and not all that well matched to Paul.


The depth of the competition between Frances and Patricia becomes clearer this week. Frances relied on Paul’s prior relationship with her sister to make the connection with Paul and now she wants him to choose her, as her mother never did. We know now that her father died when she was five and that in her grief, Frances’ mother clung to the baby Patricia for comfort seeming to ignore Frances’ aching need to be chosen also. It may well be that Frances was daddy’s little girl and that his death left her without a champion.  And now, with her own daughter, she is again locked into a competition with her sister for love and attention. Frances’ fears about her fading career make sense in this light because what she has always had is the love and attention of her audience and if she cannot remember her lines, she stands to lose that as well.


When Paul refuses to do lines with her -- an appropriate decision because to do so would be to abandon the therapy for the remaining time in the hour -- wanting instead to explore what that was about, Frances gets angry because she again feels abandoned. The recurring themes of abandonment and of competition for attention and fears about losing what she so desperately wants and needs -- love and attention -- is the center of the work with Frances.


Now about Paul’s lapse in remembering something Patricia had told him as something he heard from Frances. All therapists make mistakes and Paul is certainly no exception. It would fall to Paul to reflect for himself on how and why this lapse occurred because, as I keep saying, such behavior is meaningful. There is another dimension as well. It is said that we fail our patients in the way they unconsciously need us to fail. Certainly this lapse surfaces in a vivid way the competition between Frances and Patricia that dates to their early lives. And it illuminates a bit of what may underlie Frances’ use of Patricia’s prior relationship with Paul. As I consider this, I have in mind Jung’s classic diagram of transference and countertransference:


Jung diagram


Which suggests that these unconscious forces created a field which led to the error.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.