One of the most useful tools I have encountered for getting perspective on the different sides of me is Voice Dialogue or “parts work.” It inspired me to imagine this conversation between my right and left sides (see December 1 post).
R: So why are you always so uptight?
L: Well, maybe it’s because you are always so weak and unsupportive; I have to do all the work of holding things together
R: What exactly do you have to hold together?
L: Well, there are lots of things in Bettye’s life to be controlled and managed. I keep her on the alert for any weakness she might show and keep her working hard to be all that she can be. And, I may say without bragging, I have been doing this for over fifty years now! When she was a little girl she took care of herself when her mother couldn't cope. She was nothing if not independent. And just what have you done all these years?? You are the lazy side, the underachiever!
R: Hey, all those years she had to work so hard to take care of herself, I provided relief. I helped her relax, take it easy, acknowledge how hard it was just to function with so little mothering. I encouraged her to escape into reading and daydreaming to keep her spirit alive. You would just be work, work, work all day! Why couldn’t you just relax?
L: Because, what would happen if she relaxed? It’s scary to think about it! All the hurt and anger could just flow out and make other people feel bad. She would be critical of her mother, she would be -- worst of all possible things -- selfish!
R: That does sound scary, all right; I wouldn’t like it either. I guess that was also what kept me in the more passive mode, distracting Bettye and always taking the easier path, not wanting to risk making a big effort and failing.
L: Yes! Without that, she might have begun to think critically about the situation. She might have stood up for herself much earlier than she did instead of rebelling secretly and self-destructively with her mediocrity in school and her smoking, drinking and partying in high school and sleeping around in college.
R: Well, she was just so unhappy. I mean, starting with the move to a new city in the middle of sixth grade, it seemed like she was always carrying the weight of her parents’ unhappiness—her mom’s depression and dad’s alcoholism. Remember that chiropractor who did the kinesthetic diagnosis on Bettye’s shoulder – on you! – and named the underlying emotion as grief for her father at the age of sixteen?
L: Yes, I remember that, of course
R: What I’m beginning to think is that “shouldering” their pain was your way of keeping Bettye from feeling all the hurt and anger from their failure to parent her fully. They were too caught up in their personal dramas to pay attention in the way a child needs. So you got her caught up in their drama as well, to explain and justify what was really very hurtful. She took on “the tragedy” of their lives as she used to call it. In fact, she became more and more consumed by it as her own life was most miserable, in her college years, when her parents seemed most out of it in relation to her unhappiness at being where she was. Remember how her dad even accused her of being selfish for trying to transfer, because she wouldn’t be able to go home every weekend like she was doing??
L: Oh, god, I remember that only too well. But look, what was your role then? Maybe she would have actually gotten into one of those other schools if she had gotten straight As that first year. But no, she only did well in the courses she liked that were easy for her. And she spent all those hours in the butt room playing bridge. Then, after stupidly giving up the chance to go abroad for junior year so she could do the honors program, she procrastinated and bombed her junior honors paper and abandoned it altogether. So the whole underachiever thing just followed us through the entire time. What a mess! Not that anyone but us even cared by that time, or perhaps ever did!
R: Hey, don’t get so discouraged. This is the past we’re talking about, right?
L: You’re right. Now, if Ijust learn to relax more and you suck it up and pull your weight, we will all be in great shape!
R: There you go again, Miss Uptight.