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Alhanati, S. (2004). To Die and So to Grow. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(6):759-778.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(6):759-778

To Die and So to Grow

Shelley Alhanati

When I was a little girl, I went through a time when I was mute. I was five years old, and my family had just moved from New York City to Athens, Greece. I went from spending my days primarily with my grandmother, who was unusually sensitive and attuned to me, to being in the midst of a huge crowd of family and friends. The atmosphere went from being quiet, contemplative, and connected, to one of a boisterous and exuberant party. I would usually hide under a table or behind a big tree that we had in the living room.

I was reacting to the dramatic shift in the type and level of consciousness around me. Mostly, people dealt with me by trying to cajole me into talking. One day, an uncle came over to meet me for the first time, and he did something different. We were staying in a hotel, there were a lot of people around, and the mood was loud and boisterous as usual. I was hiding from everyone behind a tree in the balcony, as usual. He came over, sat down near me, picked up a toy bird, played with it silently, and then went home without ever having said a word to me.

For a long time after that, I would talk only to him.

I instinctively knew, by the quality of his presence, that he would find me through the interior of his own heart. Paradoxically, the message I got by his silence was that he would value my words. So I felt safe to speak. Neither of us could have articulated what the problem was, why I wasn't talking, but on another level, in an invisible, silent way, we were understanding each other.

I consider that my first experience with analysis.


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