Barbara: I will work with the part that I worked with last time.
Therapist: Yeah, sounds good.
Barbara: I think I will start just by listening to my arm and go from there because I am not sure how to reach this part.
Barbara: My arm says: "I hate people who want to kill your voice and who succeed at killing your voice."
Barbara: That's what my arm says. Hatred is the word that comes all the time. And the arms says: "I want to hit them and I want to kill them."
Barbara: The arms says: "I am really really really not just angry and outraged at them, but I am fed up; I am tired; and I am really really mad at them because that's a terrible thing to do. And the two people who clearly did that are my mother and Alice Miller – my mother certainly more successfully than Alice Miller."
And the arm says, again and again, that the incest would not have happened if I had had a voice. The arm has said this several times now. The arm says: "If you had had a voice, what happened on the ship would not have happened. You would have had even a cabin of your own. Can you imagine, at 16 years old, to travel on a ship in the same cabin with your father?"
My arm is very upset about this. "Were you ASKED?" the arm says to me. (With an angry and raised voice) "Did anybody ASK you if you wanted to sleep in the same cabin with your father?" My arm gets so upset about that!
Barbara: It says: "They didn't even ASK YOU! They didn't ASK YOU! I mean, did you want that? Did you have a voice in anything? The answer is: YOU DIDN'T HAVE A VOICE, Barbara! (Almost screaming) You were not allowed to have a voice! If you had had a voice, you would not have traveled in the same cabin with your father! You would have gladly NOT gone on that trip if you had to sleep in the same cabin with him. But you had to sleep in the same cabin with your father."
So the arm is really angry about this silence, about having to be silent and not being allowed to have a voice. The arm also says that Alice Miller, with all her deceptive writing, is on the same line! It's something, my part says, that I still have great trouble with (crying) because on the one hand, it seems like she was someone who really encouraged my voice. You know, she asked me to write on her website; I answered readers' letters there. You don't ask somebody to do this, and you don't work with somebody doing this for three years, if you don't like her voice. And there were many times when I wrote an answer, and she would write back: good, excellent, wonderful, or stuff like that. So there was somebody who clearly appreciated my voice and thought it was important. So the arms says, for this person to all of a sudden go from "I appreciate your voice" to "fuck you, Barbara, you are an idiot" as if I have nothing worthwhile to say. NOTHING! The arms say: "This is not just bizarre, this is absolutely CRAZY!" (Screaming)
To many parts of me, and to me too in a way, it's so clear how crazy this is. But I think I have parts that still think: if somebody important says this, then it must be true. And I think we worked a little bit with these parts that believe when an authority, or an expert says: "Don't have a voice and shut up! You are stupid!" that then this is true. The arm is angry, but it's also a kind of a powerless anger because, I think, the arm wants the other parts to come along and also be angry. But I don't think they can. I think the other parts are still in some kind of – I don't know if it's shock – but in a kind of quiet resignation? I think that's the right word. I think they are in a state of quiet resignation and say, OK, when she said it, it must be true and we better shut up. And then the arm, it gets so furious; it jumps up and down because it's so angry. That's the best how I can describe what is going on inside of me.
Therapist: That's great.
Barbara: So maybe I need to talk with the quiet resignation first.
Therapist: Yeah, that sounds good.
Barbara: I don't know this part. I don't think that I have met this part. And I want to ask this part to tell me more about itself. Can you do that?
Barbara: This part says that she kind of guided my life. I know that I have two big parts: the perfect oldest daughter and the idealization of my father. I think these were the biggest parts that I had.
Barbara: But this part says that she was also a big part. That her attitude is kind of: "OK, I'm not supposed to have a voice; it's not welcome, it's even dangerous to have a voice because this woman is going to not only hit me and yell at me and criticize me, but maybe kill me." So this part says that she kept my voice – quiet. There were certainly moments when I had feelings about what was going on in my family, and I know, particularly as a teenager, that I was angry and yelled at my father – which I don't remember; but my sisters remember that and told me about it. So I was not just silent all the time. But this part says that she made sure that I really watch what I say, and that I get along where I live. The part says, it was a dangerous world and your voice was not welcome, it was not appreciated. What was appreciated was admiration, looking up to your parents, looking up to your grandparents, idealizing your parents, and your grandparents. The part says: "That was the atmosphere in your family, and that was what was IMPORTANT in your family. Children obeyed, and children were stupid, and children knew nothing, and children were REALLY INFERIOR CREATURES to whom NOBODY LISTENED! Parents didn't even spend time with their children! Maybe an hour a day, or half an hour a day we were "presented." Otherwise, we lived upstairs with our nanny. Children were, the parts says, WORTHLESS. They were not just unimportant, they were worthless. And the part says, what you learned about life in your family was that everything else is more important than having a voice and saying what you think and having an opinion. That was like – I don't know – if that had been garbage on the floor, I don't even know if people would have bothered to pick it up and throw it away. The part says, it was not important; that's not what life was about. Life was about obeying, never contradicting, admiring your parents and grandparents, and thinking that your family is the one and only best thing in the whole world that ever happened to you.
Then the part says about my mother's fanatical religious beliefs, that god came in there too. It's not just your family that wants all that, it's god on top of it too. And god also thinks that you are stupid, and god can see what you do, no matter where you are, even when nobody is around. The parts says it was just like (laughing) a miracle that I am not paranoid. (laughing) Even if you tried to hide in the corner and be nobody – there was still "god" who would certainly find something wrong with you. (laughing) So the part says that it was such a crazy world that "quiet resignation" was the only way to go about it. If you go to a concentration camp or to a prison, my arm can get as angry as it wants to, but it is only going to get us into more trouble. So you better get along and try to survive. And the part says, that's what I did for you, I did not even really kill your voice, but I just kept it like – the image that comes, you know, is when you you anesthetize people in crimes, you have a piece of cotton and put chloroform on it, and then you put it on the person's nose and mouth, and then they kind of go away?
Barbara: The part says," that's what I did; I kept you numb, I kept you silent, I kept you almost unconscious so that you really didn't register what was going on around you, but that you functioned according to the rules of the world you lived in. And in this world, it was not important to have a voice." And then the arm, I mean, the arm goes as if a windmill has a lot of wind and goes around and around and around. The arm is so upset about this that it doesn't even know what to do anymore. It would like to go back and YELL at all these people, standing there, from my parents to my grandparents to my nanny, ignoring these children, silencing these children (crying). My arm gets really, really ANGRY about that, and it would love to go back and yell at them, and hit them and tell them what idiots they are! (with a raised voice) How could they SILENCE ALL THESE CHILDREN, we were six children! I mean, FRIGHTENED, IMPRISONED, BEATEN, TERRIFIED with all sorts of idiotic threats – and NOT EVER ALLOWED TO SAY ONE BEEP of what we SAW and THOUGHT. The part that is in the arm says it was so wrong – it was not just wrong, it was UNFAIR, it was INHUMAN, and it was MAAAAAAAAAD!
The part is outraged and says: "Why DO WE HAVE A VOICE? Why can we TALK? Why do we have a brain? Why are people born like this? Only to then for somebody to declare – FUCK IT ALL; IT'S NOT IMPORTANT; it's only important that you get good grades, be perfect and silent."
The arm just wants to shake them and scream: "WHY WERE THESE CHILDREN BORN WITH BRAINS? WHY WERE THESE CHILDREN BORN WITH THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS? And THEIR OWN MIND? All you did was TAKE IT AWAY FROM THEM, all the time. You made a ROBOT out of Barbara, who walks on the ship and does whatever she is told to. She goes into a cabin with her father, she has sex with her father, she walks off the ship and forgets it all." And quiet resignation says: "I put a lot of chloroform on her after that so that she could function because she believed she was not important, and she believed she was worthless, and she believed that her mind and her thoughts and her experience didn't matter."
My arm is like a raging bull – and then "quiet resignation" comes along and says: "You know, arm, (with a sarcastic laughter) there was nothing you could do about it. You couldn't fight back, you couldn't hit back, you couldn't defend Barbara. I had to work really hard to keep you quiet because you only caused more trouble. It was the only way. One of my sisters got angry and that was really an even harder life than my life. At least quiet resignation was respected." Quiet resignation thinks like that: "Shut up, Barbara, and let's get through this as good as we can. We have no choices; this is a very difficult world and let's see how we get through this without that we get killed or beaten or criticized or hurt even more than we already are."
Quiet resignation says that it was very painful to live there, even without being beaten or threatened. Quiet resignation says that the amount of neglect and ignoring the children was so PAINFUL that really ALL MY ENERGY as a child was devoted to getting any kind of attention. And I wasn't out for bad attention, I was out for good attention, whatever I could get. So I learned to play the piano and I became a rather good student and stuff like that.
The conflict between quiet resignation and the arm – there was not even any doubt who would win that. Quiet resignation said: "This is how we are going to do it, and you, anger, have to go away. You really have to go away. I cannot deal with you and Barbara cannot deal with you, and you have to be quiet."
I want to ask the arm how it felt to be quiet. And the arm says that she wasn't quiet all the time because I have yelled at my father, I did not yell at my mother, but I have yelled at my father, so I did contradict. The arm says, what quiet resignation says is not TRUE. The arm says there were moments when I had a voice, when I spoke up and expressed thoughts and feelings. The arms says, it became really hard when my father also turned against me as a teenager with his misogynist attitude and looked at me as a worthless woman. For some reason, he had some fun with me when I was a child and played the piano well. But when I became a teenager, his hatred of women was terrible to deal with, REALLY TERRIBLE. And the arm says that whatever spirit of contradiction, or expressing my opinion, was left inside, it became very very quiet.
I want to ask both parts who wants to say something now. Maybe I want to say something to both of these parts. I want them to know that I feel really sorry that this was such a difficult battle that they had to be so far away from each other; that they didn't know about each other; that one said, I am going to run things and you have to go away. It makes me very sad (crying) that this happened. I want to thank them both for what they told me because I know that both things are true. I understand the arm, I understand the outrage about people who want to take away your voice because I think that's a TERRIBLE thing to do. And I also understand the quiet resignation that helped me have a place in my family. You know, my place was very clear as the perfect eldest, but also this quiet resignation. I know that I was the one who tried to ease conflicts, who talked with people when they were upset. I tried to keep some kind of harmony going in this family. So I was certainly not loud and upset about things, that was not my way, and that was not my style. I also want these parts to know that I think both things are really not that important for my life now anymore. I don't want to live in quiet resignation, and I don't feel like hitting people over the head anymore. The people I would like to speak up to are dead, my father is dead, my mother has dementia and is beyond anything.
I would like to invite these parts to let go of what we had to do when we lived there and come with me in a way that not only I can enjoy them, but they can enjoy life. If you have to muddle your way through hell in quiet resignation – and in some corner is this poor part who is upset about it and ready to explode at any moment – that's how we had to live then. I understand that. But I don't think that we have to do that anymore. So I want to ask the parts what they think about that. Quiet resignation says that she really is a good observer; she says what she learned to do was to observe people, to observe what is going on between people. So aside from keeping me quiet, she has, from her perspective, abilities that could enhance my life, and have enhanced my life. This part says: "I am a good observer: I observe people, I listen to people, I look at what is happening between them, and I ENJOY THAT!"
So, this part says that this side of her sees things, which will benefit me in my life today, and that I can bring it into my life today. And the arm and the outrage, they say that they WANT me to have A VOICE; that their BIGGEST wish for me was to HAVE A VOICE (crying) and that they are very upset (crying) when people try to kill it. And they were so excited when Alice Miller appreciated my voice. And for her to murder this voice, to attempt to murder this voice, it was really beyond belief. It was like MAAAAAD! When I work with clients, there are often situations that I find totally schizophrenic; you know, parents say: have a voice – and then they do everything to kill the voice. I am sure, you know many many of these situations when parents want one thing – but do the other, and so these children are in total confusion. And this part says, this is one of these schizophrenic situations where somebody says: "I enjoy your voice. I like your voice. I want it to live and to come out." And then, one day, the person says: "Now, I don't want it anymore."
But it's not – I don't want it anymore – no, the person says: " It's worthless. It has no meaning."
Because it came from someone who appreciated my voice, the arm says, it was really HORRIBLE, just HORRIBLE, very discouraging, very stunning, almost breathtaking – I mean, it's like if you walk up a mountain and then you expect on the top to see, to have a nice view, or at least to look into the next valley – suddenly you look into an abyss at the end of the world. I mean, it felt good to have a voice, and it felt good to work with her for a cause that means so much to me – and suddenly, it was so unexpected, like: "Now your voice is worthless." And it's not, "I have no more use for it," or, "I don't agree with you anymore" – it was: "Now it's worthless. It's a stupid voice. I don't want to hear it anymore; and I am going to tell everybody in the whole wide world that Barbara is an idiot, and that her voice doesn't mean anything." And then, you take ALL the letters of Barbara from your website, and you really kill her voice. So the outrage says that what she wanted for me was to have a voice, and that she feels with what Alice Miller has done – giving me a chance to have a voice in something that I care about very deeply – and then to turn against me and my voice in the way she did – I cannot tell you, the arm is REALLY ANGRY about that. And the arm says, this is a CRIME. And I say to the arm, wouldn't it be better if instead of being so angry about it – which I understand, and I am not judging this – but taking this energy and – let's write more stuff! Let's do more stuff! And I have last weekend; for the first time in a long while I have written something, and it's interesting because it starts with the moment in my therapy, you remember, when Alice Miller told me that I had to kick you in the but – that I should get rid of both of my therapists.
Barbara: It starts with this moment
Barbara: because it is a very critical moment in my therapeutic journey. So whatever I am writing – I don't know where it's going. But it starts with this moment (laughing)
Therapist laughing too
Barbara: and with what happened then. I think that is really good, and it's very interesting because I am sitting there, trying to write this, and I don't know what will happen and where it's going. So I want to say to the arm: "Come with me. Give me your energy. Give me your passion. And let's write something where my voice can live again; and it will live in my very own way. I'm not a disciple of Alice Miller, and I'm not a follower of Alice Miller. She has said a lot of things about childhood which are true, but so have other people, so let's just do more with that."
And the arm says that she would really like to do that, she would be relieved to do that. She feels that she has been in a place where she has been very powerless, but that she has a lot of energy and passion that cannot go anywhere, which have been kind of chloroformed by quiet resignation that says, "well, you know, there is not much we can do about it" – but that is how I had to live as a child.
I want to ask both parts if there is anything else they need to tell me. I want to thank them for this conversation because I think it was VERY important and VERY enlightening for me, and I understand them both really well, and I am glad that they came and talked to me and you. And I wonder, if there is anything else they want me to know. And the arm says again: "I ALWAYS wanted you TO HAVE A VOICE. I am VERY PASSIONATE about you expressing what you think, what you feel and what you see. I am relieved that you have the right to do that, and I want to support you to do that." And quiet resignation says that her real intention is to observe. She is a good observer. She watches people, she listens to people, she is very aware of what is going on around me. I think that the arm and its passion are more focused on what is going on inside of me, and what I feel and think about things. The other part is more concerned with what is going on around me, with the environment. So if you use the image of a ship, on one side of the ship is a captain who has this priority – and on the other side of the ship there is a captain who has another priority. But nobody is really steering this ship because they have different priorities of where to go with this ship, what to do with the ship.
I want to tell them that both courses are just fine with me; I think they are both valuable, important and wonderful. I think that there are moments to observe people – and then there are moments to say what you think. And I think if they work together with me, and within me, I think these are both wonderful qualities to have. I have absolutely no problem with both of them. I treasure them. I enjoy them. I love them. I LOVE watching people, and sometimes I really love to say what I think. And I figure out when to do what; or when one of them speaks up clearly, I will listen, and I will give them the opportunity to do what they think is important to do.
They don't have to say anything else. I think they both are very relieved that we listened, very relieved that I understood them and that I hear them, that I appreciate them and see them. They are also really grateful that we had a session today because sometimes in a session, parts can come out freer and clearer than when I work alone. Sometimes it's okay to work alone, and sometimes it's really wonderful to work with you because in a session the parts are not afraid to show me who they really are.
Barbara: I think it's because they know you will understand and will not judge them.
Therapist: That's very true.
Barbara: I want to invite them into the healing light if they want to go there with me. And they are very ready to do that. They both are very relieved to do that. They both feel that they are in places where they are stuck, and they want to change that. Quiet resignation with her cotton with the chloroform in her hand that tries to silence my voice and keep me a good girl – she just drops the cotton. And the healing light makes a real point of putting a lot of light on this cotton and burning it – and it says: "We don't need it anymore. We don't have to chloroform this woman. She is 61 years old, and she has deserved speak up. She has deserved to share her thoughts, and that is what she is really here for. It's terrible that she lived in a world where it was not appreciated – but this world does not exist anymore. It's high time for her to speak up."
So quiet resignation is at first like a very shy girl, who does observe everything very carefully, trying to fit in, trying to please others, trying to not say anything that could upset anybody. As I come and take her hand, we go away from my family, we go away from my grandparents and my parents and from this atmosphere of admiration and obedience, and that children are stupid and have nothing to say. And I take her hand and I ask her, how does it feel to walk away from that. This little girl says that it feels scary because that's what she was used to – but it also feels exciting because she is very curious to experience something different. I tell her that she does not have to be on guard all the time anymore. I go into the light with her, and I ask her what burden she carries.
The burden that she carries is really that her GOOD quality of observing people was turned into having to be on alert all the time. If you have to do something in terror all the time, it's not enjoyable anymore. It's like if you have to sit at the piano and play it 24 hours a day. She has this kind of a coercion to watch what is going on around her so that I am not in danger. She had to make sure that I am not in danger, that I don't say anything that could upset anybody, or could make anybody criticize me. So her ability to observe has been distorted and exploited for protection – but not for her enjoyment. The burden is like a pressure in her head which forces her to be on alert all the time; watch everything; and make sure that I am saying and doing the "right thing" according to the world around her. And it is also in her body a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling that she cannot change this – that she wishes she wouldn't have to do this, but she can't change it. So there is a great hopelessness in her body. There is pressure in her brain, and hopelessness in her body.
I am with this girl and I encourage her in the light: "Let it be dissolved, let it really go away. With me you are safe; you don't have to be afraid all the time. Even if you say, well, maybe, something that somebody else might find 'wrong' or offensive or stupid or whatever else – I will stand up for you. I'll speak up for you. You are not going to be beaten; you are not going to be thrown out of the house; nobody is going to put you into a dark room. Nothing will happen to you and I will speak up for you."
And she just really hugs me, very warmly and very relieved, and even with some joy that she has reason to trust; and – that she has escaped and is away from this world where she had to make sure that I would fit in. I tell her: "You don't have to do this anymore. My life is NOT about fitting in. Really. That's not my life. My life hasn't been about this for a very long time. You are safe with me, and I appreciate your ability to observe people, to listen to people, to be aware of what is going on around me; and you will share it with me. You can say and express whatever you need to say about that – with me and with others. It's just fine."
So, she is with me, holding my hand, and now I am going to my arm, which is – I mean like – this not an arm – that's a fireball of outrage and hatred and protest and indignation. For this arm, it's SO INCONCEIVABLE that not just my parents and grandparents did not want my voice – it's interesting, right now there comes a memory of my grandfather, my mother's father. When I was in England as a teenager for a short time, I wrote letters; I still have a postcard where my grandfather wrote, maybe to my mother, that I was writing like the great ladies of the 19th century, something like that. I also remember how an uncle of mine expressed twice his appreciation for my ability to write. So this appreciation for my voice – there was a little bit of it in my family. And then it came with Alice Miller a little bit. And even my mother expressed appreciation. I remember – I talked a lot with my mother as a teenager – that she said that I have a way of seeing things and explaining them that she found remarkable. And my father appreciated my musical voice.
So the arm says that the experience of people appreciating at least somehow my voice was there in my family. It was just that the atmosphere was so saturated with, you know, all the wrong things (sighing) – that in the end, my voice could not live. There were moments of encouragement and appreciation, there were relationships where there was some encouragement – but it wasn't enough. The arms says: "It was not enough. And Alice Miller was there and gave you encouragement, but it also was not enough because – there was something wrong in her, and in your relationship with her. That has nothing to do with your voice, really. It has something to do with the people and the world and the relationships that you were in."
I ask the arm in the healing light: "What is your burden?"
The arms says: "Powerlessness! This incredible desire to change that, to give Barbara a voice!"
I can't tell you how hard I tried in my family, when I came back from Chicago in 1984, to share what I had learned in therapy and to REACH my brothers and sisters and my mother, and start a little form of open communication. And I was not aggressive, and I was not accusatory. And it was just ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Again, there were little moments with my sisters where they told me truthful childhood memories; I still remember them. Vividly and with a sad longing. There were little openings – but the basic attitude you could not change. So the arm says that the biggest burden in my arm is powerlessness. And that is why my arm tries so hard, and works so hard, and is so upset – because it wants to change that – but it cannot. It wants to FEEL power; and then there are moments when I can have a voice for a little while, when somebody appreciates it – and then it's taken away. And then the arm gets like really big and red, like a cancer, like something that swells and is very sick and inflamed and very upset because it says: "WE HAVE TO CHANGE THIS!" But then – we CANNOT change it. And that is not just quiet resignation, who prevented it – but that was also the environments that I was in. Even with Alice Miller.
That's the big burden – powerlessness. The powerlessness in my arm. And when it gets too big, the arm gets like a big eyesore, something that's inflamed and swollen and very, very ill. The light is kind of holding this arm and saying: " It's OK to have a voice. Barbara can have a voice now. Nobody is going to stop her voice anymore. If people contradict her or have another voice, she can handle it. She REALLY CAN handle it. Nothing like Alice Miller will ever happen again because that was a unique relationship in Barbara's life; and she has learned SO MUCH from it."
The healing light almost appreciates that it happened because it says: "What Barbara has learned from it – even if it was really difficult – is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. And not just for her but for a lot of people who followed Alice Miller very unconditionally and WITH A LOT OF TRUST. So Barbara's voice is really important to be listened to and to come out. Barbara is not powerless – and you don't have to do your job anymore to encourage her voice while being disempowered and frustrated, working so hard to try to encourage her voice – and having to go back to people and trying – but be knocked over. It's different now. I know that it was a difficult lesson, and I appreciate that you encourage her voice – but you don't have to do it in this desperate way anymore. You can just be with her and help her have a voice."
And it's like the arm is relieved to hear that. The arm is strong. It's also a little girl who had a voice, and wants to have a voice – and she can finally come out. And my right arm – that's the one that has been and still is hurting – can HOLD that little girl and bring her along. Now, she can be a part of me, really, be inside of me and become my voice. So the arm and the little girl, and the other girl, they are all with me and saying: "It's OK to have a voice. Just let it live." And the healing light says the same thing. The healing light even says: "That's what you're here for. That's what we all are here for; also Dick is here to have his voice and to say what he thinks, and what he experiences, and what he observes with people. And many voices make a really cool chorus, even if they are all different (laughing). So don't worry too much where or if you fit in. It's OK. We all have the right to have a voice, we all have a different voice, and it makes for a beautiful choir."
So, thank you, Dick, that was good work.
Therapist: It was very good.
Barbara: Yeah, we really got somewhere today.
Therapist: Uh-huh, that's true.
Here you can read other IFS therapy session