Foreword by Richard C. Schwartz, PhD
Humans are unique among animals in the length of our dependence on our parents. As attachment theorists have demonstrated, this lengthy vulnerability gives one or both parents the ability to powerfully shape our internal world for our lifetime. A violently abusive parent will create inner polarizations between aspects of us that were terrified and enraged, versus aspects that desperately longed for the parent’s love, clung to the tender moments, excused or minimized the abuse, or blamed ourselves.
If they don’t work to heal, most survivors of such abuse become dominated by one or the other set of extreme emotions and live accordingly. That is, they either become loners, swearing never again to be so vulnerable, or they plunge into a series of abusive relationships that resemble the one with the abusive parent as they search for a parent surrogate who will love them the way the parent didn’t.
The death of an abusive parent will expose these conflicts in a hurricane of confusing emotions. Because the parent is no longer a threat, the loner’s terror may suddenly abate, the rage may relax, and the needy emotions that had been exiled rush forward. With that shift comes intense grief and hopelessness — while the parent was living, there was always the chance to get from him or her what was needed. Now that can never happen.
Most people are not this clear about what they are experiencing. All they know is that suddenly they are in intense pain. Most run from this turmoil, finding ways to numb or distract themselves until the storm blows over.
Those people are missing a huge opportunity for healing. Their inner fortress has cracked open, and they have a chance to become acquainted with and unburden the highly vulnerable emotions that were contained within it. They can also listen to the fear and anger without being triggered by the parent’s existence and can help those extreme emotions relax for good.
When her father was dying, Kira Freed had the courage to take the healing path. Her carefully and beautifully documented journey provides a model for anyone who might consider this difficult route. She embraces the emotions that we all want to escape and, in doing so, releases the extreme beliefs that had constrained her life for so long. By immersing ourselves in her experience, we see that such healing is possible and are inspired to relate in a similar way to aspects of ourselves that we fear. As we develop a new relationship with those aspects, we come to a sense of peace beyond what we ever suspected was possible.
Richard C. Schwartz, PhD, is the developer of the Internal Family Systems Model and author or coauthor of seven books, including the most widely read family therapy text, and over sixty professional articles.
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