Have any of you ever come across the work of Robert Firestone? When I was living in Cambridge I came across his book Combatting Destructive Thought Processes in a bookshop. It was very expensive so, sadly I didn’t buy it but going back to read it day after day it connected so many pieces of the puzzle of suicidal ideation and depression for me that I almost jumped for joy.
Yesterday at my meeting the subject Easy Does It was set as one of the topics and I started my share with a reading from Hope for Today. It was about how painful it can be for us to receive love or support when we actually have had so little experience of that in childhood. It said how the prospect of kindness or empathy can trigger all our hurt and pain and actually make us feel sad at a deep level for all that we missed and longed for in childhood that was thwarted, but in many ways when we open to this pain we are opening beyond our defences, if only we don’t allow destructive voices to block that process. Read On for more about that!
I cried myself after reading the reading to the group and it reminded me of what RF wrote in one of his books that intimacy brings up all our past defences and awakens destructive attacking critical voices that try to prevent us truly opening our hearts and connecting if we have been fed lies which have made us believe untruths about our intrinsic value, beauty, strength or worth.
I did buy Robert’s book a few years later second hand which he co wrote with Joyce Catlett called Fear of Intimacy and I have just re-read through a lot of it. What I read reminded me of his central idea that defences formed in childhood can be triggered when we try to connect with others and we end up suffering internalised voice attacks from hostile energies within that ostensibly form both to keep us safe from a parent’s past criticism and or abuse, insensitivity or hostility. Such voices in difficult cases can also often urge us to commit suicide. They are composed of critical things we took in childhood or may have had to develop due to false beliefs instilled in us by a parent or parents’ unconscious hostility to our vibrancy and life energy, but in the end they are kept in place by fear and the inner critic which can becomes self protective to the point of destruction.
Reading those chapters today made me cry again. The sadness is real because I am being reminded of the many times I have wanted to connect with someone and the voice has besieged such attempts at connection. Getting a handle on this has taken me a lot of time. I was very grateful to get to a meeting on Tuesday and be able to come across this reading, because I do believe those of us who resort to addictions are often trying on some level to shut these voices out, they may have such power or control over us that they lead us to self damage or self neglect. How sad is it that we came to believe there is something so wrong with ourselves or others that it is just too risky to connect?
In his therapeutic work Robert helps couples in particular to externalise critical attacks from within, a similar technique that is used by the author of Soul Without Shame. We then learn to disempower the strengths of such criticisms, perhaps getting a reality check with those who help us to disentangle from them. I myself at critical times of depression heard voices telling me to end my life and at one time a piece of writing I did engaged with this demonic figure who wanted me dead and said how from the age of 6 it had been trying to shut me down. That experience was a kind of turning point for me.
I still often hear the voice of this energy but these days I try not to take it as seriously. I no longer want it to cut me off from love both within and without. I deserve better and so do you, for on the brink of connection is when such voices of separation step in As Robert point out they are an anti-force, one that is anti love and must not be taken seriously. Robert reminds us in the book that when we take the risk of breaking the power of these voices we go through a period of intense anxiety and fear. We need positive ego strength and support to navigate this new terrain for we are taking the risk to change old patterns that open up our vulnerability, a vulnerability that we must bear with if we truly want to open our hearts and change old patterns in order to open ourselves to the fullness of life.
The alternative is to stay safe but alone behind a prison of defences that look as though they are protecting us but are truly not.
Footnote : Robert Firestone’s latest book is now called : Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation : a collection of stories that eloquently capture the transformative processes of psychotherapy working with true clients and their own inner voices.