With his grandmother, 9 Year old Jimmy came for a session to my office. I was the last therapist to try before they would put Jimmy on medication for ADHD and hyperactivity. Grandma was the caretaker for Jimmy and his sister because their parents were divorced and unable to take care of their children. Grandma spoke very negatively about her ex-daughter in law. “She‘s a horrible mother, a drug addict. She’s not even paying child-support.” Jimmy looked away while she spoke. For me the task was to elicit some empathy from grandmother for Jimmy’s mother, who was seemingly immersed in her own problems. Being addicted to drugs never occurs because of happy reasons. Grandma was not open to hear any other vision than her own.
I asked Jimmy to “map his family” with colored footprints he would choose from, and to put them in the open space on the floor that we call “the field”. Spontaneously he put the footprints wherever he felt like. He chose a pair of footprints for himself, his mother, father, sister and grand- parents. We added the dog too. I asked Jimmy to put shapes that are representing feelings next to the footprints , where ever he would feel comfortable . Those feelings would then be seen as belonging to the footprints of that person. Jimmy put next to everyone “love” but not for himself. He put “sadness” to his mother’s footprints and also to his own. He put “anger” next to his father’s prints.
The mapping shows the inner picture of how Jimmy perceives his family and ultimately his world. He was obviously feeling lonely, disconnected from his parents, but supported by grandparents, and had no love for himself (!).
The way he positioned his own feet showed a deep longing for his mother. It became clear how he was connected to his mother, which was with sadness and pain. He peeked from the corners of his eyes to his grandmother, almost afraid of what she would think from all this and he saw that she was tearing up. This picture made her realize that it is detrimental for the boy when she speaks negatively about his mother. His feelings need to be respected. Even a troubled mother wants to be loved by the child, and deserves respect for wherever and whatever she is going through. Most importantly, regardless of the situation, the child will love his mother. The child needs to have positive feelings about his parents., which can be very difficult and conflicting. Tearing natural family ties apart can cause restlessness and depression. It is our judging that can hurt others so much. One session seemed to be enough to have Jimmy‘s behavior change. The need for medication was gone.
The green footprints are from Jimmy, yellow and blue the grandparents, dark pink the dad (left corner beneath), yellow in the upper left corner; the mom. The pink circles symbolize “love”, the purple circles “sadness”. Red square: anger