The letter below is an example of a CAT letter to the fictional character of Cinderella. This was written and shared by Alison Jenaway. A diagram, or CAT map, is also included at the bottom of the post to show how the patterns described in the letter might be mapped in a visual way.
This letter is my attempt to summarise what we have learned so far about your problems. Please let me know if there is anything that needs changing, or adding. Then it, and your reply, can become our shared understanding of what you want to get out of the therapy.
You came for therapy feeling angry and hurt about your husband’s affair with another woman. You feel that you have tried to give him everything he wanted over the years, and keep him happy. However when you started expressing your own needs and opinions, he did not like it. Over the last year, you feel that he has rejected you and found someone else who is more willing to please him. Being rich and famous as Prince Charming, it is perhaps easy for him to find a new partner.
Your childhood was very difficult. Your mother died when you were very young and you have no real memories of her. People told you that she loved you very much and that she was a wonderful person, always loving and giving. You grew up with your father, who can be quite difficult and demanding at times. It felt important to you to be kind like your mother, and you vowed to be like her – always caring and helping out, never thinking about yourself or your own needs.
When your father remarried and your stepmother came to live with you, bringing her two daughters, you continued this same pattern. You spent every moment trying to please them and do what they wanted, hoping that they would love you like your mother did.
At first, they seemed grateful to you for all the work that you did around the house, but gradually they began to expect it and take advantage of your good nature. The girls wanted a bedroom each, so you were made to give up your room and sleep down in the kitchen. You did not tell your father when they began to call you names and treat you like a servant. He was busy at work and you did not want to bother him.
The more they shouted at you and blamed you for anything which was not done perfectly, the more you felt guilty. You felt you had let both yourself, and your real mother, down. At these times you would punish yourself by not eating and not washing, wearing dirty rags instead of clean clothes. The more you punished yourself, the more critical and blaming they became and the more they demanded of you, so a vicious circle was created.
Feeling not worthy and not good enough, meant that you did not look after yourself well. Instead you still tried desperately to please your family. They took advantage of this and made you feel even less worthy, pushing back down to the bottom of the diagram we drew together. We called this the “what more can I do for you” cycle.
You always dreamed that if only your mother was still alive, things would have been different. So when a fairy godmother appeared one day, you felt that your dream had come true. She helped you go to the royal ball where you met your husband. He seemed to adore you from the start and you were incredibly close, doing everything together. His lifestyle was very glamorous and you enjoyed dressing up and going out with him. This felt like the “ideal relationship” that you have always longed for, like a fairy tale.
Looking back now, you realise that you felt so lucky to be loved and cared for that you never spoke up about what you thought or what you wanted to do, you just agreed with him. That was what you were used to, doing everything to please the other. But sometimes, when he wanted to go out to a party, you preferred to stay at home and have a quiet night in. Although you were much happier, you were still in a kind of one-way relationship. You were doing all the giving and your husband all the taking.
Once you had your two children, these feelings became stronger. You wanted to spend time with them and be a proper family. You knew what it was like not to have this in your childhood and you wanted to give them what you missed out on. Unfortunately, the Prince wanted to carry on the party lifestyle and leave the children with a nanny. He even wanted you to leave them and go on long trips abroad.
You wanted to be a good mum and so you read a lot of parenting books. Learning about being a good parent meant that you had to set limits with the children and not give them everything they wanted. This was such an eye-opener for you. You started to see that your husband was a bit like a spoilt child and you began to resent that.
For the first time in your life, you started to say “no”. Perhaps it was easier to do this on behalf of your children than for yourself? Anyway, it was a shock to the Prince and caused arguments. Good for you that you stuck to your decision not to go abroad with him. Instead, you stayed behind with the children, but you have since found out that he met another woman during this trip and had an affair.
You are now confused about what you want to happen. Having spent so long looking after other people’s needs, you have never really known what you want or enjoy. You feel as if you do not really know who you are if you are not pleasing others.
Perhaps this therapy can be the start of you getting to know yourself and what you want. It might help you learn how to be as kind and compassionate towards yourself as you try to be towards others. Perhaps you can become the parent that you needed as a child growing up. Perhaps then you can start to express that to others and learn to build healthy, two way relationships.
These are my thoughts and I am sure that you will have some of your own. It would be really helpful if you would write back to me with your responses to this letter.
Best wishes, Alison Jenaway
Dr Alison Jenaway is a Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy in the Liaison Psychiatry Service in Cambridge. She is a CAT therapist and supervisor and has been using CAT for around 20 years. She is a past chair, and currently a trustee of the national Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy.