IFS Therapy Session Februar 15, 2021
Barbara: There is a level of tension inside of me that is always there. And the word that I have used so many times lately, “Zuversicht,” “looking forward with confidence,” I don’t feel that anymore. And the sadness is there because there is a feeling of loss, the loss of the way of life we knew. It may come back to a certain extent, maybe in a year or two. But then we still have to deal with climate change, and I think that is an even bigger problem than the pandemic.
I am asking the part, what do you want to tell Jeanne and me? What do you want to talk about? Well, it’s what I wrote about two nights ago: the sadness that so many things are over, things that I took for granted; part of it is COVID, the other part is that I am 71 years old now, and certain things I will not experience again. The sense of of entering life and changing your life, like I have done it several times, that I used to have — it is gone. I may change my life one more time, maybe moving outside of town, or back to Europe; but it does not come with a sense of excitement, but rather a sense of resignation: I cannot keep this house going, I want to simplify my life because I am getting old.
So there is this sense of loss, and when I wrote, I just let this part talk about its sadness; there was not even an unburdening because it’s just there, like mourning maybe.
Therapist: Is it the first time it has shown up like this?
Barbara: I mean different parts come up at different times and say different things, but this mourning was about the here and now. There was not much of my past in it, there was just a sense that certain things are over. And that’s true for the pandemic, and for my life. Even if I would teach piano to more students again, I don’t think that I could do it to the extent that I have done it because I feel I have aged a lot in this year. I feel I have less strength, less energy; I feel I have really aged in this year.
There are times when I think I am depressed. But I have never really been depressed, so I don’t know what counts as depression, but something is weighing on me, and really weighing me down, and hurting.
Therapist: It would be good to get to know the part who is weighing you down, to what is its sense of being weighed down.
Barbara: (Pause) The feeling of powerlessness, at least that’s what I hear. It’s like: it’s too much, it’s too difficult, I cannot and don’t want to deal with so many problems. A feeling of being overwhelmed and of not having a clear view of the future, like: when will I see my children again? Will I see my children again? Will the pandemic go away? Will it never go away? What can we do about climate change? The uncertainty is overwhelming and very difficult.
Therapist: So you understand, I imagine, why part of you would feel that way?
Therapist: So let it know that. It is hard to have all that uncertainty.
Barbara: And then there is also the other part, not as loud as last time, the part that wants to ignore it all and just go forward, and it says: ‘You know that’s what we have to deal with, and we will just deal with it.’ It wants to ignore it and push it aside and says: ‘We have to deal with it and cannot dwell on it.’ Something like this. That’s my mother talking: ‘pull yourself together; don’t feel anything and don’t have feelings.’
But I can ask this part to step aside and sit over there in the other chair, and give me the chance to be with the part who is sad and weighed down, really weighed down. I can feel it in my body; there are days when I feel I have lead in my body. There is no life going through my body, but lead really weighing me down.
Therapist: OK, and is this part a reaction to the one that is saying: “get over it”?
Barbara: No, no, that is the part that is suffering.
Therapist: I am asking a different question, but I am not being clear. Is the part that is suffering aware of the part that says: “Come on, get it together?”
Barbara: (long pause) It’s aware, but they don’t have a relationship.
Barbara: They don’t have a relationship; it’s kind of that they are looking at each other — and it’s me who is saying: “Look, this part has been down for a while now, let me help this part. Can you just be over there and let me be with this part?”
And I think that’s OK with the other part; it’s like a quiet echo of my mother — it’s not a big part today. Sometimes it is, but not today. It’s almost like as if this part is feeling defeated, too, because it is realizing that it is not helping me or this part. You know, there are times when this part can help you deal with things. But it’s not working. I can feel a sense of defeat in the part that says: let’s just move on.
It doesn’t work.
Barbara: So now I hear from the suffering part: ‘OK, so not it’s my turn to say something.’ And I say: ‘Yes, it is.’ And my question to this part is: ‘What is weighing you down?’ (Pause) And the part says: ‘I have so much weight on my shoulders. All the problems that you, and everybody, and mankind are facing, they are weighing me down, are making me feel sad and hopeless.’
What I sense in this part is melancholy, a melancholy about what’s going on, what’s happening to mankind, with the republicans and democracy, with the environment and climate change. No matter where you look, there are real big problems. It doesn’t feel like when I was thirty, or forty, and fifty even, and I had “Zuversicht,” when it felt like I was “looking forward with confidence.”
Barbara: All I can say to this part is that I absolutely understand. All these are problems that are weighing many people down, and I admire Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and everybody who works to save democracy and our climate, to keep the government going, to get people vaccinated, to change the laws about using energy. Whatever they do is very meaningful to me. I think that Biden at 78 gives such a sense of optimism and of decisiveness and compassion, of caring and honesty, and ready to change things in a very different way than Obama could. It’s just amazing to this part because the part itself has this feeling that there are no resources inside of me to build that kind of resilience that I see in Joe Biden, for example. I see a resilience, and it seems like I have lost that.
Barbara: And I feel that I have always had that.
Therapist: OK. So can you ask and see if it’s lost, or if it’s covered up?
Barbara: (Pause) The part says: ‘I have done so much to keep it alive, and to get you through life, and now I am tired, and I am overwhelmed, and there are so many problems that I don’t see an answer to, and where I feel that I cannot contribute to create a solution for these problems.’
Barbara: The part says something like: she has kept me going, and she is tired now. She has worked really hard to keep resilience and a sense of optimism going — as you would maybe say in English; but it’s not the same word as “Zuversicht,” to keep going a sense of confidence and trust in life. And now it’s like this part says: ‘I am overwhelmed, now its all just too much. I don’t know how to do it anymore.’
Therapist: What if it wasn’t her job, and it could come from the Self instead?
Barbara: (Long pause) Well, the part goes back to a session we have had lately, where I told you that this part said about me that I radiated something that other people — from my husbands, to my parents and siblings — responded to. It was a part that helped other people build hope, and build confidence, to look forward with confidence and optimism.
I remember the sense of giving other people something that they needed from me and that helped them live.
Barbara: My question to the part would be: ‘We are back to the part that wears the beautiful dress with all the colors, that puts on a certain dress and a certain attitude that people expect from me.’ And now it’s like — she is not able to put on this dress anymore. I could ask: ‘What happened to the dress?’ And the part says what she said before: she is tired, she has no energy, there are too many problems, and (pause) — I am old now.
She doesn’t know where to get this sense of optimism from. She got it from me feeling strong, she got it from me feeling positive about life. Now everything is a problem: my body feels tired, my life is very different, everything is very different.
My question to this part would be: ‘How did you get this job? How did you get to wear this dress and how did you get this task?’ (Long pause) And it’s like the part says: ‘When I smiled at people that was something that people responded to.’
This part once said to my first therapist “The world could go down, and I would still smile at my father.” But there is no longer a father for me to idealize and smile at. And it’s this kind of echo that this part looked for, and could evoke in people, with her smile, with her attitude, by being there for others — that gave ME a sense of strength and confidence. It wasn’t about me — it was about them. I was driven by this sense of: ‘I have to bring optimism to others.’
What is me, or what has been me, what has been essential to me and my identity, is this sense of getting a spark of optimism ignited in others that don’t have it and don’t know how to get there. So the part says that her job was to ignite confidence and optimism in other people. And it was a lot of work, and it was hard work, and she did it also for me so that I would feel good about life and would continue living.
So my question then would be: ‘Were you afraid that if you don’t do this for me, that I would kill myself? Or die? What are you afraid of would happen to me if you were not able to do this anymore right now?’
Therapist: Mhm, mhm.
Barbara: And there comes an image to me that I had when was writing therapy one evening, a few days ago, already with this part. And the feeling is that there is a black swamp and she is sinking into it. She doesn’t know how to get out.
Therapist: Mhm, mhm.
Barbara: She is so used to it. I also think because I have so much less social interaction with people, and I think that’s true for many people. You can’t go out much, you cannot invite a lot of people or go to concerts. So it’s very different, and at times it almost feels like work right now because everybody is down and has problems.
This feeling of going down in a black swamp and not being able to, not having any way to get out of there — I remember when I did the unburdening and went into the light with this part, as I was writing, the light made a path, and I got the part out of the swamp.
But when we talk today, that’s where I see this part again: without this dress and this sense of optimism she is just drowning, she does not know what to do with herself, at all. She doesn’t.
Therapist: Mhm, mhm. OK. So that’s a terrible way to feel, right?
Barbara: Mmh. It’s not just that, it’s like this weighing her down — it’s like her task is to save me. But the reality that she cannot do it is weighing her down — and that is overwhelming for her, that is this black, heavy stuff that is pressing her kind of down, that she is sinking into.
Therapist: How does she feel towards you, Barbara?
Barbara: I mean she has a certain awareness of me, but I think basically she feels very alone, and has always felt very alone. My question to the part would be, if there are like two sides to this part: there is this going under — and in order to avoid it, she put on the dress and said: I have to find a way to live. I think they are connected; they almost belong together.
And when I ask this (long pause) — what I hear from this part is that it has always been a fight, really, between going down or surviving. And surviving meant: I have got to put on this dress and make others feel good. And if I don’t do this, I am in the swamp. So that was not a viable option, to go down in the swamp — so you better put on the dress and do something.
And right now the dress is not available. She cannot find it, she doesn’t know how to put it on.
Therapist: That’s right.
Barbara: I could ask: what happened to the dress? And the answer would be: There is too much swamp now, it’s just too much now. I don’t know how to build hope, I don’t know how to build optimism out of the enormity of the problems. And when I say to the part: but these are really only in part my problems — I mean, even COVID, if I had COVID tomorrow, I don’t think I would go into a hospital and go on a ventilator; I would try to survive at home, and if I have to die, I can die. I feel in many ways very grateful for my life, and very at peace with my life. I wrote something in my writing group last week that made me feel really good, for two days, because it was such a positive evaluation of my life that came out.
But for this part, when I say: most of these problems are not my problems — why do you take on all the other problems?
Therapist: Mhm, mhm
Barbara: And then the part says (crying): I want a good future for my children and grandchildren. Democracy is in danger, the environment is in danger. The part says: It’s not about me, it’s about them. And their future. So I can say: Why do you feel responsible for their future?
Barbara: Well, the part says, I put them into the world, so I am responsible, and it’s also that this part would like to pass on this sense of “Zuversicht,” this sense of optimism and confidence. And it’s like she feels it’s becoming harder and harder to do that. There is almost: I’d rather not see them again because it seems I wouldn’t know how to be the positive Barbara that I used to be.
I want to say to the part that really don’t yet understand. (Long pause) I mean, even if we cannot solve the environmental problem — someone told me a while ago that mankind will eventually disappear — the thought of my grandchildren dying before their time is not a nice thought to live with, it is painful.
Therapist: Yes, it is.
Barbara: And of course even the part knows, although I have a solar system on my house, that I cannot resolve the environmental problems; they are on such a large scale. Somehow this part feels responsible for the future of my children and grandchildren, for their families.
Therapist: I hear that. That’s a lot to feel.
Barbara: Yes, I think so too. I would say to this part that I have a lot of trust in my children and also grandchildren, that they may even contribute to finding solutions to the problems that they may face. And it’s not my place, my time, and my responsibility anymore to be responsible for what happens in 50 years, when I am dead. And maybe I could ask the part: ‘Why do you think I am?’
Therapist: Mhm, mhm
Barbara: It is interesting, Alice Miller comes up, and the sense of how much responsibility she put onto parents as a life-long burden and a life-long consequence for one’s life. So I can only ask: ‘Why does this come up? Why are you thinking about that?’
And this part says that she has this enormous sense of responsibility, and always had, about everything and everybody: from my parents, to my siblings, to my husbands. If my first husband, if anybody, would treat me today for only 2 days the way he treated me for months, even years — I mean the person would be out in a day, I would not accept that. So this endless patience that I have had, this endless desire to save the other person, to help the other person, to make them feel better, to build something (laughing) — I mean, never again. I could not do this anymore.
But this part has a burden, and this burden was a responsibility for the well-being of others, and to ignore what I needed, what I was feeling, what I was even thinking, or wanting, or needing. It was all about them — and it was not about me. Did you see the quote by Amanda Gorman that she shared yesterday? I’ll send it to you. It was about how radical self-love and giving compassion to yourself is revolutionary. As I was reading it, I thought: it’s not such an easy thing to do. You cannot just sit there and say: “I’m going to give myself self-love and compassion.” Particularly if you are dealing with a part that is so involved still in another time, in another frame of mind, really.
One of my grandchildren explained to me yesterday the difference between a “growth mind” and a “fixed mind.” And this part is to me a fixed mind that cannot grow, that has been fixed at a certain time and has not been able to, or empowered, or allowed, to grow. So when I say this, I want to ask the part how does she respond to that. (Pause) And the part says: ‘I cannot look at myself in this way. I have done what I have learned to do, what I have always done, and what felt as the right thing to do.’
And again, the part comes back to saying: ‘It was about survival. Going down in the swamp was not an option, so I had to put on the dress, and reach other people. That was my job.’
And then I really can say: ‘You don’t have to do that anymore.’
Even yesterday, when I my younger son and I shared that we had cried experiencing his music — did I incite a sense of optimism? No, but is was a moment of sharing a sadness that we both probably feel right now. And so I ask this part: ‘How did this feel, or how does that feel to you?’
’Surprising,’ the part says. ‘That is surprising to me because — I could not do that. I could not even tell anybody that I was going down in the swamp. I had to climb out by myself and make sure that you would survive. And that was the only way I could do it.’
So I say to the part again: ‘You don’t have to do it anymore. I’m not going down in a swamp. On the contrary, I am still contributing to life, not like I could when I was 30 or 40. Today, my grandson played piano for me, for over half an hour, and showed me what he is practicing, and played his whole repertoire. And he was happy, and I was happy. That’s a small contribution, but it feels to me wonderful. It’s a very rich experience for me. And I don’t have to bring out a big sense of optimism — I just have to be there, and encourage him, and show him love and appreciation.
And I wonder if this part takes on too much on her shoulders. She thinks she has to do somethings that I — which may be a blessing at 71 — am not responsible for so many people and lives anymore as I used to be. The part says: ‘I haven’t looked at it this way.’
(Laughing) This part has a big sense of responsibility and bringing out something in others that they themselves really don’t have. I mean my parents, as we both know, were very traumatized people. I noticed that on Wednesday, as I watched part of the impeachment trial, seeing trump on video again — something horrible happens to my whole system. You talked about legacy burdens, and for me it’s like the whole Nazi terror on top of the republican terror rises up in my body — then I have to write, and I was really a mess.
Therapist: Yeah, yeah.
Barbara: My parents didn’t have a sense of optimism, and I was their first child. And I told you that I have the names of their mothers: my mother’s mother was called Barbara, and my father’s mother was called Irma. And I am called Irma Barbara. And I have often thought and said that they saw their mothers in me. They didn’t see ME — they needed something from me that I gave them.
And all I can say to this part is: ‘You don’t have to do this anymore, really for anybody. I can build my own sense of optimism, and I can look at life and see what’s difficult, and what’s ok, and where I have to work at something. But this ENORMOUS sense of responsibility to save my life and everybody around me — that’s really a burden you don’t have to carry anymore.
Therapist: Right, right. Yeah. What does she say to that?
Barbara: It’s like, the part says: ‘Well, if I don’t carry it anymore, won’t I drown in the swamp? Because these seemed like the two options: either you take on this responsibility — or you will go down.’
And then I can say: ‘Well, tell me more about going down? What was that about, or how did this feel?’
And that’s the sense of loneliness, that the part talked about when you asked me: does the part notice you? She is aware of me — but she doesn’t feel connected with me. She has an incredible sense of being on her own, and being overwhelmed, and not being able to turn to anybody, to connect with anybody. And that there is nobody to help her.
Barbara: And the part says that it was such a dangerous and scary feeling. Not only because you would not have had a place in your family — but you might have died of something because it was so painful and so hopeless, and so powerless. It was not a place where you could be, or would have wanted to be. It was just too much.
Therapist: Barbara, do you have a sense of how old this part is?
Barbara: I think that’s a very young part; she has done what she has done all my life. And I think that started very, very early. The sense I get from this part is that she was so abandoned in the beginning, by both of my parents, in many ways. Not just as a baby in the crib at night, and all this abandonment that happened then. But also my parents traveled all the time and left us with nannies, I mean for months. And so there is such a deep sense of abandonment, and of NOT being able to connect with them….
Barbara: … that’s very early, that’s the first year: ‘I have to connect with them. I cannot connect with them if I cry, if I am a problem — so I better smile and be there for them in the way that they need me.’
The part goes back to what I said so many years ago: “If the world would go down, I would still smile at my father.” I wouldn’t today; I know I wouldn’t.
Barbara: But then it was what I thought and what I believed.
Therapist: Right. Right.
Barbara: I want to say to this part that it makes me really sad how very difficult life was for her, and how hard she worked to keep me alive. And I want to thank her for keeping me alive, for giving me a place in my family, and for giving me a kind of character trait, almost, that was very empowering for me throughout my life. And I want to ask her if she would like to get rid of this burden, if we could ease her burden, if she would like to release this burden.
And the part says yes, because the burden is too heavy now, it’s too overwhelming. She cannot go to the dress side anymore and just…. And now it’s like the other part from the beginning that has been sitting over there in the other chair — it’s the dress part that says: ‘We have to put on a smile, and we have to put on a nice dress and make them feel good.’
And this part says: ‘I cannot go there anymore.’
Therapist: Yeah. Yeah.
Barbara: ‘I used to be able to just go there, and sit in her place, and be her. And I cannot do that anymore.’
I feel like hugging both parts, holding them both in my arms, and saying that I find it rather tragic that they had to live like that, and that I think we are not meant to live like that; children are not meant to carry so much responsibility for their parents, or their siblings, or for their family….
Therapist: Right. That’s right.
Barbara: …. And that they were put in a very hopeless position. I mean: either you go under — or you do what everyone expects of me. But there was no Barbara left in there to be herSelf, and to think and feel and need and do anything that made her really feel alive. And in a way that helps me understand a little bit this feeling of lead that I have in my body some days, really strong — that this part is just not able to do this anymore. It’s too much. And I cannot go over there and put on the dress. I just can’t.
Therapist: Right. Right.
Barbara: I am just holding both parts because I feel really deep compassion for both parts: for the dress part who went out and did this incredible job, (crying) and did a lot of good with my life — and also for the part that knew that I was not alive, that I was lonely. (Crying) I was not alive, I was drowning. Anything about Barbara was just going away and dying. And overwhelmed. And taken away.
I feel and tell them that I love them both, that I have compassion for them both. (Long pause) I think I need to spend a little time with them, maybe write later about their burdens. If I ask them now — all I hear is that they are relieved to be with me. They are both crying too. (Crying) We are all three crying.
Therapist: So let’s just spend a couple more minutes with them. Does it feel too drastic for me to ask what they would like to be able to take off?
Barbara: Well, the one wants to get out of the swamp, and I can tell her that I am out of the swamp. I am not there.
Therapist: But she is still stuck back in time.
Barbara: No, she wants to get out; she has an awareness that she can get out. And the other part would like to NOT wear the dress anymore, this responsibility. This dress is actually not like a beautiful dress, but an enormous responsibility that she has carried.
Therapist: An enormous weight.
Barbara: Yes, yes, it’s also weighing her down.
Therapist: We have a couple of minutes. See if they can get out of the dress, and out of the swamp.
Barbara: Well, they are here with me. She is not sitting over there anymore — and the other one is not in the swamp. They are WITH ME. So they have kind of already left the places where they were. And I ask them: ‘How does it feel to be with me?’ They say: ‘Surprising.’ And then I say: ‘What shall we do with the dress of responsibility, and the swamp of Barbara dying? What shall we do with that?’
And they say: ‘We have left that, we are with you. We have left that behind.’
And it’s like the dress and the swamp are disappearing further and further and further into the distance, getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And they are both hugging me, we are holding each other. And there is an awareness between them of who I am, but also of who they WERE.
Therapist: Great. Like kind of respect for each other?
Barbara: An awareness, an appreciation, a very deep respect, really for what one had to give up in order not to drown — and what the other one had to do keep me alive. And right now, they just want to be with me. Just be peacefully with me, not wearing a responsibility, not worrying about the swamp.
What I am telling them both is that I HAVE feelings, and I HAVE needs. I have left the swamp long ago; it’s not even part of me anymore. And I have no more big responsibilities in my life at 71, what I have to take care of is myself at this point. And that is also a little surprising for them, but they hear me.
Barbara: They hear me; they hear that.
Therapist: And that makes them feel better?
Barbara: Free. I hear the word that they feel free, that they feel liberated. So I say: ‘If you are liberated, who are you really? What is really inside of you?’
Barbara: And they take like each others hands and what they say is: ‘Aliveness.’ And that unites them. They were kind of split off from each other. But what is their true nature is what you feel when you don’t have lead in your body — when you feel alive.
They are alive, aliveness. They are a big part of my aliveness that I had to sacrifice, that they had to sacrifice for me to survive.
Therapist: That’s right.
Barbara: Thank you, Jeanne.
Therapist: You are welcome.
Barbara: That was a very wonderful session. Thank you.
Therapist: I am really glad, Barbara.