During my research into working creatively with fear, I explored some sessions of EMRD (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I used the sessions to look at my claustrophobia, which is marked, but not totally debilitating: anxiety in lifts, on the underground, in airplanes, going into caves or other enclosed places, putting on a balaclava, having my head under the bedclothes, etc. Lots of people have these feelings. I felt, for me, they might be connected to an experience of accidentally almost being smothered by my brother in the backseat of the car when I was 5 years old. He had fallen asleep on top of a pillow that was on top of sleeping me! I was impressed with how working on this memory through EMDR actually significantly reduced my claustrophobia (though not removing it entirely). So I asked the therapist if she felt EMDR could also be used to address my eating issues. She said possibly, so we had a go. What emerged was an image of a huge, hungry Bear who felt it could dominate me whenever it wanted to! This certainly encapsulated the feeling of being taken over described in my previous posting. That was as far as the EMDR process could take me. When I explored it more with Sandra Reeve, the message arising from this was that I needed to “dance with the Bear.” Hmmmm……. Dance with a bear????
Reading Bromberg , who I mentioned in my first posting, offered me a way of viewing the Bear and its effect on me. He asserts that, “most of the symptoms associated with eating disorders can best be understood as an outcome of dissociation.” He describes “a never-ending war between parts of self, each denouncing the other around the issue of appetite and desire ”. He locates “an affectively out-of-control infant within a dissociated self-state that takes on an imperious life of its own”. This last sounded like it could be the Bear. And a “war between parts of self” brought to mind another therapeutic method I had come across in my research into working with fear: Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). It focuses on communicating with parts of self. I contacted an IFS therapist to see if he could help me with the Bear.
I had five sessions altogether and they proved to be both interesting and helpful. The Bear quite quickly turned into a very large Baby that was cut off from me and all of my other “parts” (literally on the other side of a deep trench) – what is known as an “Exile” in IFS terminology. With the therapist’s help, I dialogued with lots of other parts of myself that had a let’s-keep-the-Baby-out-of-the-picture attitude – ostensibly protecting me from this very Bad Baby. These are divided into the “Managers” who organise and control things for me, and the “Firefighters” who react and create little (or big) distracting dramas. They are aspects of myself I easily recognised. I then remembered I had actually encountered the Baby many years ago. It had arisen when I was having Gestalt therapy just before my 40th birthday. I even wrote a little song about it at the time:
BALLAD OF THE BAD BABY
I’ve been the good baby all of my life.
I’ve been the good girl. I’ve been the good wife.
I’ve been the good mother. I’ve been the good friend.
But now I’m afraid that this is gonna end.
For, the bad baby’s waking up.
The bad baby’s waking up.
She’s waking up today,
And there’ll be hell to pay.
Yes, the bad baby’s waking up.
The bad baby wants to fight. The bad baby wants to cry.
The bad baby doesn’t love you, and she will tell you why.
The bad baby’s full of anger. The bad baby’s full of pain.
She knew you wouldn’t love her, that’s why she never came.
I’ve tried to take good care of this bad baby inside me.
I’ve kept her in a glass box, but now I’ve set her free.
So if you think you see something strange behind my eyes,
You’ll know that it will be the bad baby on the rise.
This bad baby isn’t kind. This bad baby isn’t fair.
This bad baby wants to make a mess of everywhere.
She hasn’t learned to love, and she hasn’t learned to care.
But I know that I can’t live as if she isn’t there.
I’m loud and unreasonable. I want to be heard.
I’m not being fair. I’m being absurd.
I know that you are angry, and I know you have a right.
But I no longer can keep this bad baby out of sight.
If you think that you know me, if you think that I’m your friend,
I hope that you can see this change through to the end.
She’s very unattractive, but I think that you can see,
This terrible bad baby is the other half of me.
Help this bad baby to wake up…(Refrain) (written 12.11.1989)
My first marriage did not long survive this awakening – too much of a challenge! But the other dramas of that difficult time pushed my awareness of the Baby back into the unconscious again. I was not as fully aware as perhaps I might have been that her “awakening” actually signaled a slow but steady rise in compulsive desire around food. I was still trying to manage her rather than communicate with her. The IFS process helped me to move the controlling parts of myself, the Managers and Firefighters, back just enough for me to reach out and connect with the Baby. She did not initially want to communicate with me – why should she? Eventually, I was able to cross over the barrier and we seemed to agree to listen to each other more. So now I consciously give her ice cream or chocolate cake at times and I cuddle her (myself) more these days. This feels like some sort of success to me, but still I feel there is more to do in this area of distorted desire. The IFS therapist observed that my use of an intermittent “fasting” routine, which I have done for almost 4 years since I heard Dr Michael Mosley talk about it on TV, might be my way of reproducing the circumstances of my early weeks of life. I think he has a point, but it seems to be the least punishing way I have ever found of controlling my weight – and it has other positive health benefits.
Desire confusion around food is on-going. What I am more able to do now is feel where the desire is coming from. Quite often, my body is saying, “I don’t want” while the Baby is saying, “I want.” And my body is getting a bigger voice in my life than it used to. That voice is slowing strengthening, but I need to remember that the Baby can easily dominate things from behind a screen.
 Bromberg, Philip M (2011) Awakening the Dreamer, Clinical Journeys; Hove, East Sussex, New York; Routledge.
 Schwartz, Richard C (1995) Internal Family Systems Therapy; New York, London: The Guildford Press.
3 thoughts on “The Bad Baby”
Hello Mary. This is very helpful for me. Thank you.
I’m sure you must know ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’ book. There the emphasis is on manners. I suppose ‘manners’ is a kind of parental code for what we’re talking about – not just grabbing the buns or chocolates or whatever.
This war of the parts seems to describe the thing very well. It goes back to the question of whether someone can make us desire something against our wishes. In these terms baby can clearly win sometimes.
What I find is my wish to defend the bad baby. It seems to me, in my own case, that the bad baby deserves as much of a hearing as the pious ‘moderation n everything’ old prig who tries to disarm bad baby at every turn. Of course, our disapproval is all very well if bad baby wants things that hurt him/herself or others. But what if the bad baby just wants fun or sleep or companionship. Then bad baby ought to win regularly, surely? In the face of a dying planet where almost everything is bad for us or someone and besieged by trumpetty trump trump, babies have to be positive, ethical, informed, empathic, generous, compassionate and everything. My baby says ‘fuck this’ and “I” am very sympathetic.
And what happens to saffron babies? Do they have to grow up? Or do they rocked to sleep in other ways?
Thanks for this Mary- an interesting read! It has left me reflecting on my own ‘bad baby’ and the war between my own parts. I’m aware of a powerful protector part- a strong lioness who makes an appearance quite often and a weaker darker creature that resembles some kind of aardvark shape which I associate with spinning, wailing, tantrums …I think this is my ‘bad baby’. It doesn’t like to talk to me often but here’s hoping that one day it may feel safe enough to stop spinning.
I’m really interested in the different types of desire that we all may come across. For me, I’m aware of a desire for challenge. Similarly with your bear, when faced with my desire, I experience other voices that pop up that tell me what I ought to be doing, perhaps to take care of myself e.g. “this could be tough”, “there is a risk of failure” or “you don’t have the resources this time” but interestingly this makes the desire for the challenge all the more appealing! The harder the challenge the better the buzz! I’m in discussions with my parts to find out more about this but suspect it’s something about proving I can do things for myself and not needing anyone. I’m still wondering if the desire is for the sense of achievement on completion of the challenge or for the sense of anticipation for the challenge itself…
I have been researching Jacques Lacan. Pretty dense material! He is supposed to have asserted that all desire is the desire for recognition. Hmmm…… I think a lot of desire might have that underlying motivation – but all desire? I guess it’s how you define desire. I will try to come up with a response to this at some point.