This Article by Felipe Garcia is from ITAA’s The Script Newsletter, Vol 36, No. 8, November 2006, “After He Said Hello” series edited by Pam Levin.
“Each of these TA concepts revolutionized the way I view myself and my relationships, whether in my personal life or with my clients.”
I never met Eric Berne personally. I learned about transactional analysis from his writings and followers, from stories about him and the San Francisco seminars, from the culture of support and encouragement for continued development of TA that he fostered through the seminar, from his encouraging professionals to write and publish their ideas, and from my training sessions and ITAA conferences.
As with transactional analysts all over the world, I greatly appreciate Berne’s brilliant, easy-to-understand explanation of complicated concepts and behaviors as seen though the lens of ego states, transactions, strokes, games, and scripts. Each of these concepts revolutionized the way I view myself and my relationships, whether in my personal life or with my clients in clinical, educational, and organizational settings.
As a result of discovering ego states, Berne, his colleagues, and later TA theoreticians and practitioners defined the path to understanding and clarifying the significant difference between facts, opinions, feelings, and fantasies. This led me to learn and to teach others how to think using Adult facts and reality testing, taking feelings and intuition into account, and including moral judgments in making decisions, initiating transactions, and responding to stimuli from others and the environment.
Understanding the difference between Adult facts; Child feelings, wants, and intuition; and Parent values, morals, limits, and “ways of doing things,” I also learned to think about my feelings in order to take better care of myself and to let others know how their behavior impacts me. Before learning to think using all of my ego states, for example, when I felt hurt or offended by someone else’s behavior, I would pout, avoid, withdraw, and “feel bad.” I would either reenforce my beliefs that others were not to be trusted or that there was something wrong with me.
Thinking about a hurtful situation now, I ask myself Adult questions such as:
“How might I have been hurtful to him such that he would act that way toward me?”
“Does this behavior in him represent more about who he is and his circumstances than it does about me?”
“How will I let him know the impact of his behavior on me?”
I use my Nurturing Parent to support my hurt Child.
I check with my Parent and Adult about options for responding.
I take time to think before acting automatically.
I learned from Eric that I have options in behaving and responding for an optimal outcome. This helps me avoid games and advancing either an “I’m not OK” or “He is not OK” existential position. I also learned to use my Adult ego state to evaluate and update my moral judgments, racial and sexist biases, and the Parental styles I learned from my parents and my cultural surroundings. Instead of believing that the way we do things in my family or in the United States or as Christians is always the right, moral, and best way, I allowed myself to notice and learn how other cultures and people from different backgrounds and circumstances do things and live their lives. I learned that there are many viable ways to act and live. My Adult and Little Professor also provide me with opportunities to think about and reevaluate early survival decisions I made during different stages of my development. Thus I have the chance to make new decisions about how to take care of myself while taking others and the reality of the present situation into account.
I was the youngest of five siblings, and my role in our family was to be cute and charming. Even though I was stroked for being smart, with so many older, “more experienced” people in my house, I decided that my opinions were not as valuable as others’ and that I needed to depend on others to do things for me. After transactional analysis therapy, decontaminating my Parent-Child contamination, and making new decisions, I am much more comfortable voicing my opinions and dong things on my own. Transactional analysis proper led the way for me to consider options when initiating requests, resentments, interpretations, and strokes as well as when responding to stimuli from others.
Berne invited me to learn to be autonomous, choosing where to put my psychic energy in order to be most productive and successful. As Berne (1966) wrote, “The transactional patient learns to control his[/her] free energy to a considerable extent, so that he[/she] can shift his[/her] ‘real Self’ from one ego state to another by an act of will” (p. 307).
I also learned from Berne (1961, pp. 31-35) that because of childhood circumstances and experiences, some people have great difficulty “shifting their real Self from one ego state to another by an act of will” because of ego state exclusions, contaminations, lesions, and ridged boundaries. These boundary issues must be addressed therapeutically for shifting energy to be possible.
Berne emphasized that with few exceptions, people have the capacity to use their Adult even while the therapy is taking place. This makes contracting with clients possible and allows them to be cotherapists on their own behalf. With regard to contracting, I have always appreciated Berne’s emphasis on mutual respect between therapist or consultant and client. This reminds me that it is clients who have the power to heal and take charge of their lives by understanding ego state dynamics and other transactional analysis concepts. To deconfuse the Child ego state of the remaining effects of early developmental issues, Berne recommended deeper therapy in order to reach the goals of transactional analysis: spontaneity, autonomy, and intimacy.
The permission and support begun by Eric and fostered by the members of the organization he founded has encouraged me and many others around the world to continue to develop the theory. My particular areas of further development have focused on transactional analysis proper and exploring communication options to minimize games and passivity. I have also found one of the basic assumptions of transactional analysis-“I’m OK, You’re OK, They’re OK”-to be a springboard for exploring theories and methods for building coalitions, winning together, and avoiding violence and war.
I am presently thinking about Berne’s concept of bound, unbound, and free cathexis. This theory has great potential for helping us learn to manage and take charge of the psychic energy that energizes ego states. While being aware of feelings and learning to respond to them effectively is central to maintaining autonomy, sometimes feelings and Parent reactions to stimuli are not useful. When my judgments and feelings are not necessary in the present situation, I find that “decathecting” psychic energy and shifting from free and unbound to bound energy is helpful. This allows me to center myself and either be an observer or to rest, relax, and meditate. I find that “uncathecting” my ego states is a worthwhile goal. This allows me to void myself of opinions, feelings, facts, and actions as much as is possible so as to observe others and the environment or to meditate by clearing my mind of all thoughts and focusing only on my breath.
There is an abundance of what I learned from Eric Berne though his writings, the teachings of his students and colleagues, current theoreticians, and my own intuition, curiosity, and research. I have been excited and “hooked” on transactional analysis since 1973 when I first read I’m OK-You’re OK by Thomas and Amy Harris and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? by Berne. I have attended all but two international transactional analysis conferences in the last 33 years and have stayed active in the ITAA and the USA TA Association. I continue to learn and explore deeper levels of applications of the theory in social interactions, personality development, and organizational and group applications.
I am proud, honored, and joyous to be part of the international community of transactional analysts and greatly appreciate the opportunities to connect and exchange new theory and applications with colleagues from around the world.
I am thankful to Eric Berne, his followers, and to all of us for keeping the power and goal of spontaneity, authenticity, intimacy, and personal responsibility alive.
Felipe Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry. New York: Ballantine Books.
Berne, E. (1966). Group treatment. New York: Grove Press.
Learn more about TA and ego states.
Learn more about how you can feel “proud, honored, and joyous to be part of the international community.”
The following articles are an explanation and then illustrations of ego states at different stages of development, from the Empowerment Systems newsletters by Jonathan and Laurie Weiss.
Contact information and sources for additional materials are listed at the end of the articles.
TOOLS FOR RECOVERY AND GROWTH
An Explanation of TA Ego States
Transactional Analysis (TA) is a set of tools for understanding people and their relationships. In this and other articles, we share some key TA concepts for your use.
The concept of the Inner Child is based on the Child Ego State, first described by Eric Berne in 1961. An Ego State, according to Berne, is a consistent, observable pattern of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors that tend to operate together as a unit. Berne also described two other equally important parts of the personality: the Parent Ego State and the Adult Ego State.
The Child is the part of us that contains the needs, feelings, wishes and emotions that we actually experienced as children. It also contains the decisions and beliefs we made about the world as a result of not getting our childhood needs met. Our Child is the part of us that is capable of joy, love, intimacy, spontaneity and creativity.
The Parent Ego State contains rules, values, controls, prohibitions and directions, much of which is learned in childhood. It is usually modeled after our parents and other powerful adults. Our Parent Ego State can be nurturing, guiding, directing, and can provide safety and appropriate limits (Nurturing Parent), or it can be judging, criticizing, restricting, blaming and shaming (Critical Parent).
The Adult is the part of the personality that is capable of memory, information processing, and rational—as opposed to emotional — thought and decision-making. It can be characterized as a computer, capable of processing information that is given to it, but subject to control by Child wishes or Parent prejudices—or both. Ideally, our Adult is used as a tool to figure out how our Child can get what s/he needs; however, it can also be used as a tool to figure out how to do what our Parent says “should” be done.
Everyone has all three Ego states. We differ from each other in how much we use any particular one, when we use it, what kind of information or experience it contains, and how easily we can get access to it.
Ordinarily, we move rapidly from one Ego State to another; a common example is the way we can switch from being deeply involved in an argument (Parent or Child) to answering the phone (Adult).
We can learn to recognize when we are “in” the different Ego States by the characteristic and identifiable pattern of thoughts, words, facial expressions, voice tones and gestures that go with each one. Recognizing which Ego State we are using at any given moment makes it possible for us to change from that Ego State to another which might produce better results.
Each Ego State is important, but each is only a part of the complete picture. When we have a decision to make, for example, it helps to use the Adult to gather and sort information about alternatives, consequences and resources. Questions that engage the Adult might be: What is likely to happen if I…? Is there another way to achieve the same goal? What kind of help or support will/need if / make that choice? How can I get it?
Our Parent can offer guidance and support, or it can criticize us for whatever we do. But, even in the criticism, there can be potentially useful information about safety and other people’s needs. You can get Parent input by asking: What is the right thing to do? What would Mom or Dad advise in this situation?
Any decision made without the Child’s acceptance is likely to be forgotten or undermined later. Our Child can contribute by answering questions like: What would / really like to do if / could do anything? What would feel the best, the most satisfying, the most enlivening, etc.? What would I do if I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble? What do / need for me in this situation?
These three Ego States are the basis for the TA approach to understanding human interaction. In the next Newsletter, we will show how the patterns of transactions between the Ego States of two people can determine the success or failure of their communications.
CHILD EGO STATES: TODDLER, 2 YEAR OLD, 4 YEAR OLD
I AM JOE’S TODDLER
by Jon Weiss
I don’t have many words; I can get by pretty well with just a few: Yes, No, Wow, and Ugh handle most of what’s important to me. Maybe Look and I want and Ow and Yum, too. I know that other people want to hear all the big words that Joe uses, but I know that most of the big ones just mean the same things mine do. I don’t understand why they have to make it so complicated.
Mostly what I want to do is to see what’s out there: what’s just around the corner, or behind the chair, or what can I see from the top of the next hill. I want to see what’s behind that door and in that closet and in the next room.
I especially like to touch things, to find out what they feel like. When I go into a store, or into somebody’s home, I want to pick up everything I see and hold it and stroke it and see how heavy it is and what the outside feels like and does it make a sound and what does the back of it look like?
Sometimes I want just the opposite; I don’t want to do anything new at all. I want my own bed and my own plate and my own chair and I only want the food I already know and the people I already know. I don’t want to cope with anything new at all, because I don’t feel safe and I think I might come apart if I don’t keep everything just the way I know it’s supposed to be.
Most of the time I like being with people, and most of the time it’s okay for me to go do the things I want to do, but sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I get scared to get close, because I think that the other person will grab me and hold on to me and not let go and not let me do what I want; and sometimes I get scared that, if I let the other person see how close I really want to get that they will go away and leave me alone. Sometimes I get scared that those same things will happen if I go after the things that interest me. Joe’s job is to take care of me, and my job is to remind him how interesting life is.
I AM JOE’S TWO-YEAR-OLD
By Jon Weiss
I am Joe’s two-year-old Inner Child, and I want what I want when I want it! I also want the world to revolve around me, what I want and feel. My favorite word is “No!”
I want to be a separate, autonomous person, with my own boundaries. Since I don’t really understand that I already am separate, I act as if other people are trying to control me. Sometimes I give in to what I think they want — since I think I have no choice. Other times I put energy into refusing to do what I think they want — even if it’s also what I want! A lot of the time I don’t really know what other people want, because I don’t ask them, I just make up my own idea of what it is and react to that.
The hardest (and most important) thing for me to do is to decide to think for myself. I am really scared that, if I actually do think for myself, I won’t be taken care of and that others will not like me. Sometimes I’m scared that, if I try to think for myself, other people will discount me and force me to go along with what they think and want.
I really want everything my way and get mad because the world doesn’t work that way. I can throw a temper tantrum or sulk like you wouldn’t believe! Sometimes, when Joe doesn’t listen to me, I crawl under his desk and pull out the plug to his computer, so he can’t think at all! I’ll teach him to ignore me! The other thing I can do really well is to procrastinate; if there is something that I don’t want to do, and Joe isn’t listening to me about it, I can get him to put it off indefinitely.
I sound like a pain in the neck to have around, but I’m only like that when Joe ignores me and doesn’t listen to what I want. Mostly I just want to be heard and noticed and accepted (not shamed and controlled!); and I really like to be given choices, instead of just forced to do what I’m supposed to do. Is it really that hard to give me a vote?
I am one of the most important of Joe’s Inner Children. I am the one who gives Joe the energy to say what he likes and doesn’t like; I am the one who is responsible for setting boundaries. I am the one who decides whether or not Joe gets to think clearly, and whether he puts his energy into solving problems or just resisting them.
I AM JOE’S 4-YEAR-OLD
by Jon Weiss
Hi! I’m 4 and 1 can do lots of things myself and I have something to say about everything and I have a lot of questions and I have lots of answers already and I don’t know which ones are right but I believe all of them.
I know that if something bad happened I can make it not have happened if I don’t think about it and if something bad is about to happen I can keep it from happening if think the right thoughts and I know I’ll get lots of money if I do my affirmations right and I’ll always get a parking space because I have been good.
I don’t always feel so good because I know I’ve been bad because I had mean thoughts and I know that person fell down because I didn’t like him and there are lots of bad people I don’t like and how come they don’t fall down? I know I have to be careful and not think bad things but sometimes I can’t help it and I’m scared because they will know I was bad and then I’ll be in trouble.
Lots of times I don’t understand what’s going on and I have lots of questions but Joe won’t let me ask them because he thinks they might sound stupid but then he doesn’t get the answers either so I have to make up the answers for both of us.
When other people don’t do nice things I know I made that happen and I should make it better and if it’s not better it’s because I’m not doing it right and if things don’t work it’s my fault but the door is too heavy and the lock won’t work and the car doesn’t go right and the stupid computer keeps not doing what I tell it to and I’m so frustrated I just want to sit down and cry and have someone bring me some milk and cookies –that will fix it!
I know there are scary things out there but it is Joe’s job to protect me from them and take care of me and make sure I’m safe and if he doesn’t do it I can hold very still and be very quiet and invisible and not let the monsters know I’m there –and then I can make a lot of trouble for Joe by doing mean things so he’ll take better care of me next time.
I know that Joe does lots of things because I think they are the right things to do because that’s what I figured out myself — or someone told me, I forget which — and I feel very powerful when I make Joe do things like that but I’m scared that I can’t handle all the grownup things that Joe had to do, but if he doesn’t take care of them then I have to. Sometimes I wish he would take care of the grownup things as a grownup, so he can take care of me, too, instead of the other way around.
Jonathan B. Weiss, Ph.D. and Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. are both Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analysts and long time members of USATAA. They are learning internet marketing in order to make personal and professional growth information based on Transactional Analysis available to more people.
Professional websites for additional articles:
https://www.empowermentsystems.com and https://www.RelationshipHQ.com
Their commercial internet marketing sites for TA related material are
This article describes what one therapist trained in reparenting methods did over the past few years, including a model of short-term regressive therapy developed in a series of twice a year five day workshops with German nuns conducted from 1992 through 2004. I welcome questions, comments and discussion. JohnBHouck@aol.com.
Like many therapists, I have continued to search for powerful therapeutic methods, first for the healing of my own childhood wounds, and then for the healing of those who come to me. I was in training groups and therapy groups with Morris and Natalie Haimowitz for seven years, and then in reparenting training and therapy with Lucie King for three years. I spent four weeks with Bob and Mary Goulding learning their redecision therapy1. I have worked with a residential reparenting community in Birmingham, England, and have long-distance parenting contracts with some of their members. Reparenting leaves a therapist, particularly a male therapist in the United States, open to legal risks that became unacceptable to me. The residential approach of the Birmingham community is difficult enough to finance and defend from attacks in England, but close to impossible to manage in the present health care environment in the U.S. So I began to look for alternative methods for healing early childhood wounds.
I studied the self psychology of Heinz Kohut2, with the emphasis on attunement, at the Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago. I learned about the importance of the mind-body-spirit connection as the director of the Wholistic Health Center of Oak Park and of the Oak Park Biofeedback Center, and about bioenergetics from Genese Liebowitz and Alexander Lowen.3 I learned the importance of systemic thinking at the Family Institute of Chicago. I studied hypnotic methods and the use of metaphors with Earnest Rossi4 and others who had learned from Milton Erickson5. Morton Kelsey6 taught me how to interpret dreams, and his way of integrating science, theology, Jungian psychology and a personal relationship with Jesus. I learned a lot about integrating psychotherapy with spirituality from A Course in Miracles7, which was popularized by Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love8.
I began to develop an integration of spirituality and regressive psychotherapy in my practice in Chicago and in Chile, and used it in workshops in England and in Germany, as well as in conference presentations in Austria, Chile, and Hungary. To illustrate this method of integrating psychotherapy and spirituality, I will present examples of work with two Roman Catholic Sisters in Germany. Sister Helene Wecker helped me develop this method. In 1986 she attended a dreams seminar which I led in Marburg, Germany. As she continued to work with me on her dreams and her childhood issues, this method evolved. When she was appointed director of a German institute for nuns, she became responsible for a ten month training program of theological and psychological renewal for a class of thirty sisters each year. In 1991 we led our first five day retreat for graduates of the institute, and we have been leading such a retreat once or twice a year since then. We have come to call them spiritual-psychotherapeutic retreats, because they include some elements of an Ignatian retreat, along with elements of group psychotherapy.
, In these retreats, we have an hour of worship at seven each morning with dance, body movement, and guided meditation. After breakfast together we meet sitting in a circle from 9-12. After lunch is free time for prayer and meditation, journaling, a nap, or walks in the mountains. We work in a circle from 3:30-6:30, and after supper is again free time. On the first evening we do some community building and contracting to help people get to know one another and to help us all know each person’s goals. Then we share dreams, working with the dream first to find out what it means to the dreamer and then what it means for the group. As the group begins to feel safe, we move more into what they have come to call deep work. The work of one person often triggers the work of another, especially as the participants feel the respect and value accorded to the person who is working, and they see that the person who works gets some important needs met.
I often begin the regressive deep work by asking the client to identify a spirit guide who has power for her. Then I ask her to clarify the presenting problem. When she shows ambivalence about making a change, I work with the ambivalence until it is resolved. Then I ask the client to identify the bodily feeling associated with this problem. I spend some time helping the person get in touch with this feeling, locating the feeling in the body, and if possible finding a metaphor, such as a knot in the stomach, a knife in the heart, etc. Next I invite the person to let that feeling be transformed from an enemy into a friend and guide, who will lead the person back to where the problem first began. This is often with eyes closed and in a state of highly focused internal attention, which could be called guided meditation or a trance state. I ask the person to describe the scene with each of the senses, thus deepening the state and concentrating the attention. Then I invite the person to relive the problematic situation, describing what she sees, hears, and feels as it occurs. When the scene ends, I ask the person what she wants. If it is something that a spirit guide can provide, I invite the person to call the spirit guide. I have had people call many different guides, a grandmother, a two year old boy, an animal, a light, even myself. In my experience, Jesus is usually wiser and more powerful than other spirit guides, but only when there is a relationship of trust with Jesus. I invite the person to call her guide and to describe the guide in detail.
At this point there are two possible problems: (1) Sometimes the guide will not come, usually reflecting ambivalence on the part of the client which needs to be attended to. (2) Sometimes the guide is really the client’s parent masquerading as Jesus or another guide. The parent can usually be discerned through the blaming or other things that the actual parent would do. When this happens, I identify it and keep working with the client until the “real” guide appears. Then I invite a dialogue with the guide and ask the person to tell me what is said and everything that happens. Usually the guide knows just what to do to effect healing. I am often amazed at what comes out, which seems to be far beyond my own wisdom or that of the client.
I sometimes explain that since the past does not exist, what actually happened in childhood cannot affect the person today. Only memories can affect the person today, and the memories can change. The new memory of what happened in therapy can be the person’s new model for life, if that is what the person wants. I use the metaphor of erasing a videotape and recording a new movie on it. When I have seen the person again, as in ongoing therapy or in the twice a year workshops I do in Germany, the person usually reports a permanent change after such deep work. There are usually other problems that surface, but the problem that was worked on is no longer a problem, because the memory has been replaced. Nevertheless, this only happens when the client is not ambivalent about wanting to change and when the client trusts the spirit guide and is confident of his/her wisdom and power. This change also needs to occur in some kind of a trance state for the change to be effective in the person’s unconscious.
A Problem with Father
One Sister knew she had problems with those who were very strong and strict. She feared their criticism. She was given the task of criticizing each of the others in the circle9. This work made it clear to her that she had been projecting the heavy-handed critic in her own head, which came from her father. She recognized that she had never had a real relationship with her father, who was now quite advanced in age.
So, what do you want now?
I want to understand my tough father, and find out what I can do.
What do you want to change in yourself?
I would like to let go of my rejection of my father, and to forgive him.
Close your eyes, breathe deeply and go back slowly into your childhood, to where he first hurt you (watching carefully for bodily signs of a deep state of consciousness, and awareness of a childhood scene). Where are you? How old are you? What do you see?
I’m five. I’m in the kitchen. My father just got off work and is tired and in a bad mood. His name is Oscar. He is washing up for dinner with soap and with Birnstein, because he has been working with animals. I come and watch, speaking fearlessly. My father wants me to shut up and go away. But I just keep on talking. Just as he is about to throw me out, I say to him something I’ve heard people say: “You are fresh like Oscar!” My father becomes enraged. He curses loudly, dries his hands, and reaches for his belt. I know that means that if I don’t get out of there in a hurry, he’s going to whip me. I cut out and hide. My mother sends my brother to fetch me for dinner. I’m afraid at the dinner table. My father says nothing, is closed up. I suffer. I know no resolution for this conflict.
What do you want, or what would you like to have happen?
I want to tell my father that I’m sorry, and I want him to forgive me.
Do you want Jesus to be with you?
Yes I’m asking Jesus to come The kitchen door is opening Jesus is coming in.
Describe him. (This is primarily to lead the person into a deeper state where she is more open to receive Jesus.)
Dark blue pants, light colored shirt, blonde hair, sandals. He watches me with a friendly gaze. He beckons me to come to him. I’m jammed in at the table. I climb under the table to get to him. He takes me in his arms, strokes my head, kisses my forehead, and puts his arm around me. My father is uncertain, perplexed, reserved. Jesus turns me around, touches me on the shoulder, and nudges me toward my father. My father just stands there. I extend my hand and say, “Please forgive me. Be O.K. with me again.” That took a lot to do. I would like to run away. Jesus gives me an encouraging nod.
My father looks at Jesus, then takes me in his arm and strokes my head, and says, “It’s O.K.” I weep. I stay with my father. Jesus withdraws and leaves.
This Sister told us later that she was very happy with the work she had done because she was planning to visit her father on the coming weekend. She was quite anxious about the meeting, feeling that her father might have been living so long, just so they could be reconciled before his death.
Can everyone see Jesus in active imagination?10 Some have difficulty seeing Jesus. This ability depends on many factors. Some see nothing in active imagination; others see with their eyes closed, but can’t see Jesus. Some go deeper into this meditative state than others. Those who go deeper experience and see more. We accept each one as she is, and what Jesus does with her. However, it is occasionally necessary to discern good from evil, and to see that a Critical Parent is masquerading as Jesus.
One participant wanted to see Jesus, and waited a long time in group for him to appear, but paradoxically, it was only after she had given up wanting to see him and was thankful for what she had received without seeing him, that he showed himself, but very differently from what she had expected. Often it was the case that a participant did not see him because she was conflicted about her desire to see him. Jesus appeared only when she wanted him to come with her whole heart. We experienced how Jesus stayed with a participant for a long time through the difficult process of clarifying her ambivalence. In the cases where a participant could not see Jesus, we found other ways to work.
An Example of Sexual Abuse
One of the most difficult problems in psychotherapeutic and spiritual work is sexual abuse. At the same time, this is such a taboo that most abused children have repressed their memories of the abuse. Normally they can recover these memories only through a lengthy psychotherapeutic process. The basic problem, as I see it, is not the sexual act, but the breaking of trust, which is especially traumatic when the abuser is a close relative, and when the victim (or survivor) is not supported by anyone else in the family, as is often the case. The survivor then loses the ability to trust anyone at a deep level, and this makes the formation of an intimate relationship practically impossible. Of course, this also includes the formation of an intimate relationship with God. A closely related problem of large proportions in the USA is sexual abuse by clergy, psychotherapists, teachers, and others who are in a position of trust.
We can see the magnitude of this problem in one of our participants. She was aware of her deep rejection, even hatred, of her father. She had worked on this issue intensively for years, personally and in spiritual direction, even in psychotherapy. She had the suspicion that the root of the problem might have been sexual abuse, but was unable to remember anything specific. In the course of this retreat she was thrown directly into her core problem of trust vs. mistrust. When the group was discussing the issue of trust, she gave us an example from her life.
The next morning she reported that she felt ashamed of having revealed something from her family life. Shame, in this context, means that the parents in her head did not approve of what she had done. So the leaders took the roles of father and mother, respectively, in dialogues with her. The Sister told us that her mother, torn between her loyalty to her husband and her duty to protect her daughter, had decided in favor of loyalty to her husband, leaving her daughter to fend for herself. The co-leader took the role of a “good mother”, who showed that she understood how terribly she had wounded her daughter, expressed her deep contrition, and asked for and received forgiveness. The leader took the role of the father who had had the benefit of twelve years in heaven to think things over. He listened carefully to his daughter and showed her that through his years with God he understood how deeply he had injured his daughter, and that he was deeply sorry, and wanted her forgiveness. She forgave him.
This deep, intensive work moved the other participants so strongly, that they got in touch with similar experiences of their own. They wished that their own parents could have been able to react in such a healthy manner to their abuses of their daughters.
The next morning this Sister brought in the following dream:
It’s dawn. I’m climbing up a wide ladder that leads to a high seat. From this seat I see a wounded, hobbling deer, walking on three legs, doing remarkably well. I climb down. The deer comes trustfully to me, letting me bind its foot with a beautiful, snow-white bandage. Then I see a hedgehog tripping along, and I give it a dish of beautiful, snow-white milk.
What she understood from this dream was that, through yesterday’s role-play she had gained an objective view, represented by the high seat. The deer is herself; though wounded, she could get along quite well. The snow-white bandage meant that a beautiful healing process had begun the day before. The hedgehog was her father, and the beautiful snow-white milk the forgiveness she had given him yesterday. The double emphasis on “beautiful snow-white” meant to her that she felt cleansed by yesterday’s process, that something healing and holy had happened.
Nevertheless her trust issue remained. That same day, when we asked who wanted to work during the next two days, she declined, thinking that she could work out any remaining issues alone with Jesus. We accepted her decision. However, the next morning she gave the following report:
In quiet prayer last evening in the chapel, I was afflicted with a feeling of discontent about my “No,” that it could have been a missed opportunity for healing. As I struggled with the day’s scripture lesson about blind Bartimaeus, it came to me that Bartimaeus had to throw away his cloak and let himself be carried by others to Jesus, in order to be healed. That helped me come to the decision to throw away my protective cloak of shame and embarrassment, and indeed to do my deep work in the group. Last night I had the following dream:
I see a car with four doors, two small ones above and two larger below, divided like the saloon doors in Western movies. The lower two doors are stuck and can’t be opened. Next I see a woman with a child, who seems to be sick or to have something wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong, nor do I know whether I am this child. They go to the car and try to open the doors. Finally I reach through the upper doors and grab the stuck doors from the inside and lift them off their hinges.
In the dream work she could see that the upper doors stood for her consciousness and the lower doors for her unconsciousness. The latter are stuck. The sick child who lacked something represented the sick child in herself. The difficulty in opening the lower doors stood for the difficult, if necessary, therapeutic work she was in line for. She became aware that she was suffering blockages and relationship difficulties from her suspected painful experience of sexual abuse by her father.
Do you want to work on that?
Let yourself go back to the time when this problem first began. How old are you?
I’m four. I’m in the kitchen, sitting on Papa’s lap. I’m anxious and sad. Papa is playing and laughing with me. He has his pajamas on and is unshaven. He’s playing a game with me called “Hoppe, hoppe, rider,” where he bounces me up and down on his lap. Now he’s pulling me hard against his body. I am pushing against him with my hands and leaning back as much as I can. I don’t want this. Even so, he uses his power to force me against him. It’s terrible for me. Now I see Mama coming home from shopping. I’m running to her and saying, “Papa made my pants wet and changed them to clean pants.” She doesn’t answer me at all; she just goes into the living room to my brother and sister. I am left standing there, afraid and quite disturbed.
What are you needing now?
Someone who can protect and comfort me.
Who would you like to do that?
I want Jesus to come to me.
Can you see Jesus? Is he there?
Yes, he’s standing behind me in a bright, radiant garment. He is turning me around and picking me up in his arms. He’s looking at me very tenderly, and my eyes are full of tears. I lay my head on his shoulder and weep. He rocks me back and forth. When I have calmed down, he puts me on the floor. I hold his hand very tightly. I ask him if he will always stay with me. He replies that I need have no fear; he will always be with me. I feel light and warmth
Is there anything else that you want now?
I want Jesus to go with me to Mama in the living room. We are going in. Mama is bent over my brother’s cradle. My sister is sitting on the floor and playing. Mama sees Jesus and me. I am going toward her, and she is picking me up in her arms. I sense that she loves me deeply, even though she hadn’t said so before. Jesus beckons Mama to him and goes out. Now I’m playing with my sister. Papa wasn’t there, and didn’t come later, either.
It should be said that the work with the Sisters did not proceed as one sentence after another, but included many long pauses. The participants quietly and prayerfully supported the Sister who was working. The leader furthered the process through directed comments or questions, only a few of which are recorded here.
Later she added the following:
Now I know why I never talked about anything important with my mother. I spoke with my sister instead, because in this very difficult situation I didn’t get a single word for an answer. I feel freer and lighter after this Jesus therapy. I am happy. This situation had always followed me, and now Jesus has gone into it with me and healed me with his love, his tenderness, and his comfort.
Creating a supportive, protective environment for such a workshop is very important. I use elements I learned from Jack Gibb’s TORI method, (Trust, Openness, Responsibility, Interdependence) and Scott Peck’s Community Building Workshops.11 In an adaptation from TORI, I invite people to form pairs and share something they are uncomfortable about, as well as what led them to come to the retreat. Then I ask the pairs to form groups of four and share what is still uncomfortable, and their goal for the retreat. Then in a total group, they share what they plan to do to achieve their goal. The progression from pairs to the total group, sharing a feeling at each stage, helps the group begin to develop a feeling of trust and intimacy.
Regressive therapy with active imagination does not replace institutional reparenting such as is practiced in the reparenting community in Birmingham, England (THAT Community), for healing deeply traumatized schizophrenics. It is, however, a powerful form of regressive therapy which can be done in an outpatient setting without parenting contracts. By inviting the person to work with her own inner Child, with Jesus or another spirit guide as the healing agent, transference with the therapist is minimized.
Where people have a different understanding of the spiritual, I seek to use terms that are compatible with their experience, such as inner wisdom or guiding spirit. I seek to discover the terms that have meaning to them before I begin the work, so I can stay within their frame of reference.
1 Goulding, M. M., & R. L. (1979). Changing lives through redecision therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
2 Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self, A Systematic Approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York: International Universities.
3 Lowen, A. (1990). The spirituality of the body: Bioenergetics for grace and harmony. New York: Macmillan.
4 Rossi, E. L. (1985). Dreams and the growth of personality. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
5 Erickson, M. H. (1980). The collected papers of Milton H. Erickson on hypnosis. New York: Irvington.
6 Kelsey, M. T. (1974). God, dreams, and revelation. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
7 – (1975). A course in miracles. Glen Ellen, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace.
8 Williamson, M. (1992). A return to love. New York: HarperCollins.
9 I learned this technique of having the person interact with each person in the group from the Haimowitzes.
10 Kelsey, M. T. (1972). Encounter with God (pp. 185-195). Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship.
11 Peck, M. S. (1987). The different drum: Community-making and peace. New York: Simon and Schuster.
John B. Houck, Ph.D.
5236 S. Cornell Avenue
Chicago IL 60615-4212