I really like the Grandfather I never knew.
I wanted to share this transcript of my therapy session for a couple of reasons. One, it was an unusually powerful session for me, partially because I followed the positive feelings. Usually I tend to ignore the positive emotions I enter a session with, and go right to “looking for the problems” that I want to work on. I know as a therapist, often times when my clients come in feeling good, it can trigger a subtle, fearful part. They feel good? Well then, what am I supposed to do? I don’t have any use, they don’t need me anymore. I’ll lose this client. Then my money protectors join in. Meanwhile, I’ve disconnected from my client and a tremendous opportunity to explore some really important feelings and parts.
Instead, in this session, we focused on the positive feelings, opening up a lot of Self energy. (For those not familiar with IFS jargon, Self energy represents the core energies of Compassion, Curiosity, and authentic Caring) Soon after other parts came in, asking for loving attention. Which is a very different context to set up a therapy session. In the old version, I would have started out from a “problem hunter” protector, looking for something to fix. Then I would have dragged out that part, perhaps a bit against its will. Then we’d ask, how do you feel towards that part? Suddenly we’re supposed to casually shift from “problem hunting” to compassion.
But in this version, we start by focusing on the positive energy that is already present. From that place, other parts come forward, asking for healing and attention. What a different landscape to work from: it creates a safe space of giving and nurturing. The result was a truly heart centered session, filled with joyful and painful tears. The session went very deep, deeper than my average session.
The second reason I want to share this session is to highlight and explore how trans-generational healing works. This session focuses on my grandfather, who I never had a loving connection with in real life. I had always carried the pain of that disconnection.
I started this session feeling content and happy. I had no idea it would end up with me having a beautiful, loving, spiritual connection to my grandfather. A man I know now as wonderful and loving, though I never quite got to experience him like that in the flesh. Through the magic of IFS, I was able to connect to him like that through the spirit.
I hope you enjoy the session. I will put commentary in bold.
Therapist: How’re your parts today?
Frank: Feeling positive today, really happy. I think I’d like to explore this. It’s something I’ve been doing with my clients, following positive parts and exploring them.
T: So go ahead and follow that.
F: This is a funny reaction, but it feels like I how I used to feel when I took a bunch of Vicodin. I mean, I feel good. (laughter) All around my stomach. My eyes. Feels like a young part of me. This little kid who feels really taken care of. He feels safe to play. He’s really happy.
We spend some time just with me quietly sitting with the happy child, as he plays and shows me how grateful he is that I have done so much healing work to help him be safe. And soon enough, other parts show up, because they long for the same kind of safety.
F: a part showed up that’s been concerned since yesterday. It wants some of this attention. It’s a part that promotes my practice — sometimes out of excitement, sometimes fear. I got some pushback from someone yesterday about it. They put up a boundary and seemed to feel that I had over stepped a line. I thought, “oh no, what did I do?”
My parts are feeling fearful. There’s part that’s says, “I fucked up again.” He feels he fucks up a lot. Parts are concerned about the part that promotes too much. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach connected to the fear.
There’s a subtle shift that happens in here, where I move from experiencing the fear of the part, to a place of caring for it in my higher Self.
I feel caring towards the fear. I’m seeing if it’s aware of me and my caring. This part is saying, “it’s scary out there. It’s a mine field and I stepped on a mine. I didn’t realize I did something wrong and now I’m scared of the consequences.” It says this happens once in awhile and he doesn’t know what to do. He wishes it didn’t have to be this way, wishes he didn’t have to step on landmines. I’m saying to it, “we will always make mistakes, they just don’t have to feel like landmines, and the feeling around the landmine is something wounded that we need to take care of.” So, I’m asking what’s under that. What’s the landmine that it’s trying to protect me from.
To follow the scorecard at home, there’s a protector here that is concerned about my promoter part. It seems its job is to avoid mines — things blowing up with other people. Normally I might have to spend a lot more time with the protector to understand it and what exile it is protecting, but because I was so clued into my body sensations, I could just feel the exile underneath, and was able to connect to it rather seamlessly, without a lot of discussion with the protector. This is not always, or even usually, the case.
F: I’m moving into the feeling, a sinking vulnerable feeling in my chest. The words I hear are, “no one likes me.”
This is the exile. It carries the burdened belief, “no one likes me.”
F: Protectors come forward, “ooohh this part, this one’s a doozy.” They’re not stopping me but they are letting me know they are concerned about this part. It carries a heavy burden, and they want me to be careful and mindful. My therapist parts are saying, “Make sure you get it to agree to not take you over.”
As you can see, my managers are very familiar with Self and trusting of that energy. They know how the process works and they function in good harmony: They don’t take over; they step in, offer guidance, step back and let the Self lead. This trust and fluidity between Self and managers simply comes from doing a lot of IFS sessions.
F: I’m asking the part if it would agree to that. It says, “you don’t like me either.” I am reassuring him: I like him and I love him and I want to be with him. That’s how much I like him — I want to be with him.
T: How’s he respond?
F: He’s a little confused. He’s not used to that. “You don’t like me. You can’t like me,” he says. “How come I can’t like you?” I ask. “Because I’m not likeable.”
I found this little conversation very touching, and it completely endeared me to this part of myself. It breaks my heart in a loving way when my little kid says, “you can’t like me because I’m not likeable.”
F: I ask, is that your job? To tell me I’m not likeable, is that what you do?
I was a little concerned in this moment that my therapist parts were pushing the “job” question too hard. Sometimes my parts do not like or understand that question and need me to ask it in other ways. But the part is able to reflect on it.
F: “I never really thought of it as a job,” he says. “It’s just what I do, because it’s true. I’m not likeable.” Now I have a part that is concerned that I’m directing all this work too much.
T: I’m here.
F: Yeah. It’s trusting that if you’re not saying anything, it’s because I’m doing alright with the parts.
Interesting aspect of this session. It was a little more self-directed than usual. My parts just wanted to check out that I was doing alright.
F: So now I’m asking, what happened that made him believe that he’s not likeable?
Everything, he says. I’m getting a series of short scenes I’ve worked on before but not in this context. Being around my cousins and the feeling, they don’t like me. And my older cousins. Same feeling. They don’t like me.
These scenes carry the message but no emotion comes forward. They don’t feel burdened, likely because I’ve healed these scenes in other therapy sessions, and through creative writing.
F: Now there’s some strong emotion coming up around my grandparents on my dad’s side. I can see my grandfather. And my grandmother. And me as a kid. The kid feels like they don’t like him. They don’t want to engage with him. They ignore him. They were really cold, very very cold people. (crying)
Now we’re in the scene where the exile was wounded. I was very present to it.
I’m sensing my dad here. I’m with dad and his parents, and the little kid. I can feel how cold they are.
This moment is interesting because it’s not quite an actual scene that happened. My father wasn’t there, but he shows up energetically into the scene as my parts begin to connect what I was feeling to what his childhood must have been like.
Something is connecting to my dad. Like, those are his parents, if that’s how they were to me, that’s how they were to him. I just feel like…compassion for him right now, not like I totally understand or get it totally, but he must have been ignored like that too. Then when he got older and he started getting involved with people in the street, they were like family. And they were violent, but they probably were warmer to him than his family was. (tears) I feel so sorry for him.
My little kid is so sweet. He was such a caretaker at that age: he’s coming over to me, rubbing my back, saying, “It’s ok, it didn’t really bother me, I didn’t care, you don’t have to worry about me.” Of course, that’s his protector speaking.
I’ve always found it strange how my father attached so deeply to his “street friends” when they were so violent and dangerous. This connection to my exile gave me profound insight and a loving feeling of connection and compassion for my father. In the past, I’d had a difficult relationship with him, particularly in regards to his rage and tendency towards emotional violence. This was very healing to really feel like I could empathize and understand the exiles he’s protecting, even if he doesn’t have the insight in “real life” to speak to that.
F: (strong tears) So I’ve got my little kid here who was there at my grandparents, and I’m trying to get an idea of what part is crying right now.
T: Notice where you feel it in your body.
F: I think it’s something that wants a better connection with my dad. It’s saying, “I want my dad,” (tears)
F: Now I’m having a nice memory of being at grandfather’s house. My dad went out and left me with my grandparents. They didn’t pay much attention to me, so I’m just waiting for him to come home. And then when he does come home later in the night, we’d watch music videos and we would cuddle on the couch. He was really excited to spend time with me, when he was there, he was really happy. He wasn’t distracted or anything. He was just really loving, the kid longed for those times, they were so few and far between, so a lot of parts were suffering because of that, but that’s what they were longing for, was this connection.
It is my burgeoning theory that there are positive feeling exiles which have been disconnected from Self just as much as the wounded exiles. This very tender moment, (actually a series of moments, it happened more than once) where my father would come home late at night and watch television with me, had been exiled from my consciousness, and through this exploration, that connection comes back, and all that loving sense is reconnected to my body.
F: A Part just showed up, that was concerned, shoot, if you have a closer connection with your father, are you going to talk with him about your perception of how he abused you? This part is concerned about that and doesn’t want to go there. I’m letting it know, we don’t have to talk about that if we don’t want to, it’s separate from just being here.
This is a common protector fear, that what is worked on in therapy must be addressed to the person in the outside world. Of course this could create a potential mountain of trouble for the system and the family system in general. However, the healing happens internally and we do not need to tell anyone about it for it to have a lasting positive impact for the client. We simply need to reassure the managers that it doesn’t need to worry about that.
F: There’s another part present that’s like, it really wants me to remember that what I’m experiencing is partially because I followed the positive feeling. I’ve worked with clients doing retrievals of positive parts. This parts wants me to follow that and be aware of that. It says, “if you just went to the problems, you wouldn’t have had this connection, it opens up more heart space.”
So glad that part showed up and spoke! We did remember that, which is why I’m writing this.
F: I’m back at my grandfather’s house, my heart feels really open and warm. I’m still there as me. The kid is there who felt like no one liked him. The kid who had the good times with dad is there too, and he says, “Dad really liked us.” The other kid is taking that in, and says, pointing to his grandparents, “but they didn’t like us, why didn’t they like us?”
Very interesting and unique little dialogue between the wounded exile and the happy exile. I’ve never had that kind of interaction before.
T: What do you want to tell them?
F: One part of me wants to work with his feelings. There’s another part that could explain protectors to him. He seems very interested in the thing about the protectors. He’s like, “wait wait, what was that thing about protectors?’ So, I’m going to show him. I’m going to show him that my grandparents had these wounded parts.
(tears) It’s like these little kids that are cowering in the corner. They are shaking.
T: Whose little kids are those?
F: My grandparents’.
Scorecard time: the little kids are my grandparent’s exiles that their cold managers are protecting. Now they are present in the scene.
F: It’s like, my little kid is here and he’s looking. He sees my grandfather and his protector and my grandmother and her protector, and he sees the kids in the corners, and he’s saying, “Why are they in the corner? What’s going on? Why are they so scared?” I’m telling him, “they are waiting to be healed. They’re just being protected until they can be healed.”
T: What’s he saying to that?
F: He’s taking it in. He’s starting to realize it wasn’t about him, they weren’t even aware of him. It wasn’t about him, it was about them. So now he wants me to heal his feelings, and then he wants me to help them, if I can.
I really like this moment. My younger self, who had no understanding of emotions and protectors, is now understanding what was happening. He’s gaining the clarity that my adult therapist self has. He also naturally cares about his grandparents’ exiles just as much as himself.
T: Ask what he wants from you to heal him.
F: He wants me to get what it felt like.
T: Does he want you to enter his body?
My exiles often what me to see and feel the scene from their perspective.
Yeah. He’s so small, my grandparents look so big. I can really remember playing on the floor with G.I. Joes. I was playing with my grandmother’s stocking, using it like a net for the gi joes. It’s not coming so clear this part of the memory, but the feeling is that one of them got upset with me for playing with the stocking or shawl or whatever it was. I was playing with the cat, kind of flicking the cat food at the cat, and my grandfather yelled at me. It wasn’t that he yelled at me, it was like, he just seemed so annoyed that I was there. He wasn’t even mad at me for doing something wrong. “Why are you doing that?” He wouldn’t even look at me. I could tell he just wished I wasn’t there. I wrote about this once, and the line I wrote came back to me just now. I remember sitting across from my grandmother. She’s smoking, and the phrase, “she treated me like a grown-up that she didn’t like.” It was so clear how she felt towards me. There’s a pain for this part, maybe it’s an older part. My dad has a part where he puts his parents on some weird pedestal. In the past when I’ve tried to talk to him about how not loving they were or how painful it was to be around them, he says, no, they were saints. To him, they could do no wrong. My father took on all the blame on himself. (tears)
I witnessed a lot of different feelings and perceptions when I dropped into the exile. That whole memory about the GI Joes and the cat had been long lost. My therapist did a good job not getting lost with all that and simply guided me back with a simple question.
T: How does it want you to help it heal?
F: He doesn’t want to feel unlikable anymore. He feels like if he got the repair, what he would like to be different, is to have grandparents that really liked him.
T: Can you do that?
F: It’s happening. My grandfather is talking to him. The cold grandfather is still here, but it’s not him talking. It’s this other version, like his spirit. He’s telling him he’s proud of him. He’s proud that I’m his grandson. That it makes him feel good to see me, that I’m a good looking boy. He’s got some disdain for my father in a loving way, he’s like, “ah, you’re gonna be smarter than your father. Don’t let him bother you too much, he’s just a hot head.” (tears)
I could not believe what I was experiencing. I had never known this version of my grandfather: loving, strong, a bit disdainful towards my father’s antics, protective of me, but not in a mean way. This was a grandfather I was proud of. The grandfather that I didn’t get to know, but now was getting to be loved by.
F: I had a flash of desire to see his grave. Picturing it now, realizing I never cared about that. I’m there now. The parts that didn’t care about his grave feel sorry and they want to apologize, they know they were reacting to my grandfather’s cold part, they are sorry for closing their heart to him.
Again, this is all so surprising to me. At this point, I’m just going along for the beautiful ride. Most of what you’re reading was spoken through joyful tears.
T: How does he respond?
F: My grandfather is really loving. It’s interesting, the cold part is over there, he’s not healed, he’s still over there in the corner. But the spirit of my grandfather is just so loving. “ It’s ok, you just had to do what you had to do. That guy? (pointing to the cold one in the corner.) Don’t worry about him. He’s taking care of the scared kid in the corner the best he knows how. He’s just not available for you. Don’t worry about that, don’t worry about him, just leave it alone, that’s adult stuff. You just be a kid.” (tears) I really like him, you know? He’s saying, “and tell your damn old man to stop running around the streets and spend more time with you, will you? Ah, what am I going to do with him?”
T: He’s a good Italian grandfather.
F: Yeah. (tears for a while.) I have a part showing up, saying, “I don’t know how much more I can take!” (some laughter) But I want to take my grandfather with me.
And he’s with me now. He’s behind me as I type, chewing his cigar. He’s very proud of his grandson. And for the first time in my life, I’m proud to be his, too.