Sue (S) came to me (T) saying she was seriously depressed—including having suicidal thoughts. So we began.
T: Ever had suicidal thoughts before? Hm. I thought so. Now, imagine taking an emotional string and tracing it back to the very first time you felt that way.
S: Well, I must’ve been nine years old in Chile, kneeling on my bed looking out the window to the Andes mountains when I had my first plan. My stepmother told me not to breathe stove gas fumes because that could kill me. So that’s what I decided to do.
T: Wow! What were you feeling that made you decide that?
S: That nobody loved me, nobody cared about me, I was not important. Dad was rarely around and my stepmother hit me every day no matter how much I tried to be good.
T: Well, I’m glad you didn’t kill yourself—you’re still here. So then what changed?
S: We came back to the States, I went to school, made friends and did well. So I felt better about myself. And I wasn’t alone—even though my parents never cared about my grades.
T: Let’s skip to today. BTW, the ACE study revealed that childhood neglect and abuse (that’syou) make a person vulnerable to a lifetime of depression. So, frankly, I’m not surprised that you’re depressed again. Tell me what happened recently that brought up those feelings.
S: Well, Covid happened. I was isolated with no work and no close friends. And no Zoom. I was alone. Then a few weeks ago my elderly sister visited from Peru. She was going to a class reunion nearby and staying with me. I was so excited! I ordered a gift for her, planned dinners and special outings. I let her choose items from among my special things: jewelry, a jacket, scarves. But she was indifferent about everything I’d planned and offered! Never a word of appreciation, never a word of thanks. Nothing!
T: How did that make your feel?
S: Same old story. I’m unloved; I don’t matter. BTW, I’m still really depressed. Oh, I guess I’m also very angry. But I can’t talk about it—or tell her. It’s not Christian to express negative feelings.
T: May I quote from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”? “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the oer-fraught heart and bids it break.” Sue,Is your heart breaking?
S: (Sobbing) I guess so.
T: Thankfully, you are speaking now; you’re talking to me. How does that make you feel?
S: That I’m not alone. But I’m still angry! And depressed.
T: You know, anger is often at the bottom of depression. So that feels like progress. What would you think of emailing your sister and telling her how you feel? Even if you don’t press SEND?
S: Ok. Yes, I MIGHT try that.
T: And I’ll put you down for an appointment next week. Call if you need to.
T: Thank you for coming. Did you decide to email your sister? And how was that?
S: Yes, I did. And pressed SEND. Yes, well, I’m somewhat relieved. But she never answered!!!
T: And what did that mean for you? Where did you go from there?
S: I thought and thought and thought. My sister’s husband of 40 years died abt 5 months ago. So she was still in grief. And, she’s 83 years old! Plus now I wonder if she was ever taught how important it is to express appreciation.
You know, I finally got to thinking about my own life, my own responses. I never showed appreciation for all the kindness that my foster mother showed me when I was growing up. She sewed me beautiful clothes. She gave me a party when I graduated. She brought wonderful food all the way from Ohio for my wedding reception. And I have no memory of ever thanking her! She’s dead now—and I’m so ashamed. (Sobbing)
T: It is my belief that the dead are still alive—they’re just invisible. Most of us can’t see them (except the people who see ghosts). But my experience and research indicate that we can talk to people who have died—and that they can hear us. And answer. May I share a little exercise that I’ve used? I’ll make it specific for you.
S: Please! Anything that might help. I’m in so much pain
T: Here it is—from Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
- Visualize your foster mother sitting in front of you exactly as you knew her. Then visualize her in her new state of awareness—and openness—totally willing to share honestly with you.
- Feel deeply what you want to say to her—maybe even write it down. Then tell her exactly what you’re feeling: all the regret, hurt, shame—anything you never felt free or didn’t know enough to say before. Be specific.
- When you’ve finished, immediately begin to write what she might say to you in response—in her new state of awareness and openness. Don’t think, just write what comes spontaneously into your mind and heart.
- Then search if there’s anything you’ve forgotten to say. Maybe write it down and, again, tell her what’s on your heart and listen to her response—until there’s nothing more for either of you to say.
- Conclude by forgiving yourself—you did the best you could with the awareness you had then. And ask for her forgiveness. Express your love and appreciation
- Visualize her turning and leaving. Even though you let go of her, keep her love and warm memories in your heart.
Sue, note that I’ve modified this exercise specifically to address the regret and shame you feel around how you failed to appreciate your foster mother.
Now, you’re very smart. What would you think of doing the same exercise with your sister who is alive and lives far away? Visualizing her and telling her how she failed to respond to you and how that made you feel: sharing all the anger and depression and sense of being unloved and unappreciated (that goes all the way back to childhood). And then listening to her response, the response she might give from her deepest (and unconscious) awareness. So, what do you think? Are you willing to give it a go and see what happens?
S: This exercise is very, very interesting. I don’t know if I entirely believe that the dead can hear and respond to me. Or that my alive sister can. But, hey, what’s there to lose? So, I’ll try that.
T: Great! I’m eager to see you next week and find out what you experienced. BTW, you know we’re not done, and we didn’t do any EFT on your distress so we can do that also if you’d like to. Good luck! Until then…
D’Anne Olsen, EFT Master Practitioner