by Dr Jim Byrne
This is a work in
progress. It is the third attempt to package a lot of material which has been on my mind for a few years now.
This book offers you a seat on a journey; a journey through models of mind, and emotion, and childhood suffering: Through
a collage of stories, images and facts. Down a long, winding corridor that leads to a hopeful resolution to more than
sixty years of emotional confusion and personal striving towards wholeness.
"Let us go then, you and
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through
certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells".
This is a book for therapists; and counsellors; and social workers; and other professionals who deal with
the pain of squashed emotions in childhood.
The impetus for the current shape of this work, and some new ideas and elaborations,
extensions, etc., came from attending the first evening of the piano festival in Hebden Bridge, on Friday 19th
April, 2013. On that evening, Anthony Goldstone performed Mussorgsky's ‘Pictures from an Exhibition', going back
to the composer's original manuscript (which contains significant Russian peasant influences), instead of the more popular
re-arrangement by Rimsky Korsakov (which is more bourgeois, and thus overly ‘sweetened').
The performer explained
at the beginning of the session, after the intermission, that this work by Mussorgsky contained an element of tribute to the
composer's dead friend, Hartmann. For some inexplicable reason, this musical performance brought back emotional memories
of my father, who died almost thirty years ago; and who I had symbolically kicked to death a thousand times (in the therapy
room) for the cruel way he raised me.
About this book's structure
What is this book
about? What is its structure; and who has approved its shape and form? It is essentially a book about childhood
suffering, and how to resolve it; how to complete it; using a narrative approach. If emotions are ‘narrative emplotments',
as claimed by Sarbin, then emotions can be transformed by transforming those narratives which give rise to them in the course
of our childhood experiences.
But is this also in some sense a novel? Or a memoir? With non-fictional elements
added? Perhaps that is the best way to understand the structure.
Some critics have suggested that I should either
write a novel; or a memoir; or a work of non-fiction. But why? Why must I write a novel? Or a memoir?
Or any other formal structure of writing? Why can't I just invent my own structure?
I am with Virginia Woolf,
where she said, "I have acquired a little philosophy. It amounts to a sense of freedom. I write what I like
writing and there's an end on it". (Diary, page 44).
Isn't it enough that I care sufficiently to want to speak directly to you? You who do not know yourself.
You who do not love yourself. You who have never for a moment dreamt that I could care so much.
I could retire
to the beach, and stare out to sea. I have, after all, done more than enough work for one lifetime. I could insist
that the world neither deserves nor desires to hear from me: That I am already forgotten by those few people, over more than
sixty years, who accidentally met me.
I could choose to be a good Stoic; a good Buddhist; and go to my grave tight-lipped.
I certainly know how to do that. And that would be fine, and wholly acceptable to history. Indeed, is it not the
case that no words of mine could ever change one thing on this miserable planet? If I scream into the silence, will
it leave a mark?
And yet I insist upon speaking to you: You who judge me so harshly.
I would like to cut your
heart with my words and images - such as they are - and watch it bleed - so you could feel the pain that was my childhood.
I could heal your wounds, and many more, with the salty tears that are locked up, unexpressed, in the basement of my mind.
just to demonstrate that I am not being hopelessly gloomy, let me say that I have seen some lovely sights, even during my
dreadful childhood: Warm sunny fields of daisies and buttercups, with bees buzzing; a Red Admiral or a Cabbage White fluttering
near my hand; and golden, pregnant, bulbous cowslips.
So I am not ‘awfulizing' about the pain of my childhood.
I am simply facing up to some suffering in my past. Why must we keep these things secret? So they can be repeated
The cool, academic structure
And, of course, I know how to present this
kind of childhood material coolly and soberly. For example, in a paper on my relationship with my mother, I began with this quotation:
"Whoever inquires about our childhood
wants to know something about our soul. If the question is not just a rhetorical one and the questioner has the patience
to listen, (s)he will come to realize that we love with horror and hate with an inexplicable love whatever caused us our greatest
pain and difficulty".
Erika Burkart, quoted in Miller (1983)
I then went on to write:
"My mother and I were never close - and the situation with
my father was no different. All of my subsequent relationships with women were affected by this central fact of my early
life: Just as my relationships with men were affected by my poor bond with my father. In Cognitive Emotive Narrative
Therapy (CENT) we maintain, in harmony with Freudian psychoanalysis and the Object Relations School, that the earliest family
relationships form the non-conscious, mental templates for all subsequent relationships; and that problems in those earliest
family relationships need to be corrected as we proceed through life, if we are to achieve reasonable relationships with others.
We also maintain that human beings are essentially emotional beings, and that our reason and thinking skills are overlaid
upon a bed of emotional wiring. Thus our earliest emotional experiences are formative, and set certain limits to what
can be done, thought and felt in later life: unless and until we digest those experiences, drain them of their emotive charge,
and file them away in inactive stores in background memory."
If individuals are to clear up the traumatic experiences
that many of them experienced in early childhood, then they are going to have to complete their experience of those events;
to fully acknowledge the hurt emotions; to complete them by digesting them and allowing them to be stored away in inactive
This book is intended to help with that process; and especially to sensitize therapists to childhood suffering,
and to provide insights into how to help clients to overcome traumatic childhood experiences.
An important caveat on
the process of completing your experience of something from the past is this: You must also ‘reframe it', so that it
loses its sting. So there are two processes: completion and re-framing. This is how I have commented upon those
"However, these two processes cannot be totally separated. Humans are interpreting-beings.
We cannot see our experience directly, and we cannot complete our experience of some kind of ‘objective reality'.
In fact, when we are trying to complete an experience, we either see it through an ‘empowering lens' or a ‘depowering
lens'. Therefore, we must never fail to engage in empowering processes of reframing our experience, as we are
An example of reframing would be to go from thinking: "My mother was cruel towards me, and
that tarnished my life"; to: "My mother (who was very young and uneducated) acted in cruel ways towards me, probably
reflecting how her peasant mother related to her; and while it hurt me at the time, I choose to come to terms with that pain,
instead of resisting it".
An echo of leaving my mother
Do not judge me before
you know something about my mother, and my relationship to her. Here's a brief insight - not of the childhood difficulties
- but some after-effects:
"It is just a short while since I completed CENT Paper No.9, in which I explored the
nature of "the individual" and its social roots. When I had finished it, I passed it to my wife, Renata, to
read. We sat in our living room, on separate armchairs. As she was reading it, I got in touch with some grief
about my mother. I had never been able to feel anything for or against my mother. (This is only true because my
memories of my mother do not stretch back into the first seven years of my life!) She seemed (in my later memories)
to be a matter of complete indifference to me: A ‘quite strong' indifference; which is clearly a contradiction
"But now here I was gently sobbing, right down in my guts. Fat tears running down my cheeks.
It lasted for a couple of minutes only, but that was at least something: in fact a major breakthrough in contacting some emotion
about her - about Maureen, which is how I normally think of her. Always Maureen: never Mum, or Mammy, or Mother."
it should be said, she has been a long time dead.
"The day I left home, at the age of 18 years, never to return, my mother went out ‘to get her hair done' (which she had never done before!), and was not present when I left.
My father had gone to work, or somewhere. None of my siblings approached me, nor I them. I said goodbye to nobody,
and nobody said goodbye to me. I went to the railway station on my own, and on to the seaport, and on to the boat to
England. Nobody waved; nobody spoke; nobody was present. I went alone; a kind of aloneness that had hung around
me, like a shroud, for as long as I could recall.
"During that night, as I lay on the deck of the boat, looking
up at the stars, I cried. I had no idea why. No thoughts or ideas came into my mind. I cried in much the
way a cat might cry when it has a sore paw. We do not infer any conscious thoughts to the injured cat; nor do I to this
injured ‘me' lying on the foredeck, looking skyward." (From The Story of Relationship, Byrne 2010)
My childhood was filled with fear. A fear that pointed to my lack of feeling grounded, or connected to people who cared!
It was also the fear of physical beatings, by my mother and father. Fear of scolding, and loud shouting, pushing and
pulling, and rough handling. This generalized to a fear of powerlessness in a cruel world.
to my father: But something has gone wrong here. Goldstone's piano playing brought up images of my father, and feelings
about my love/hatred for him. But the illustrations given above were all of my problematical relationship with my mother.
I mainy worked on my relationship with my father through experiential Gestalt-like exercises, and mainly worked on my relationship
with my mother through the medium of writing therapy. I think I should now try to finish off my unfinished business
with my father using writing therapy; and thus there will be a chapter on my relationship with my father in this book.
it seems, the fear has drained out of my veins, as I approach the final bend in the long, tiring road of my life. A
door has opened in my mind, out of which has stepped a dangerous part of me - a silenced member of the community of ‘myself'.
Learning how to love, fearlessly
I do not wish to write of ‘squalor and sublimity',
to the exclusions of the passions of the human heart, which Virginia Woolf thought Milton had done. However, I do have
(or mainly have had) more in common with Milton than Woolf, when it comes to matters of the heart - or emotional intelligence.
For most of my life, I knew nothing of love.
This is nothing new. Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Therapy
(REBT), made it to the grand old age of 88 years before he achieved ‘basic security' with a woman. And yet he
presented himself, throughout much of his life, as ‘an expert on relationships'. His rationality was a denial
of tender emotion; and in that sense it was actually irrational.
In my own life, squalor I knew aplenty - the squalor
of poverty and cultural deprivation. So deprived was I that I did not even have the few paltry words needed to express
my numbed and void wordlessness: A wordlessness that robbed me of ‘pity, sympathy and intuition', to steal a line from
In this book, I will review some aspects of the childhoods of three individuals: Daniel O'Beeve,
Albert Ellis, and myself. There will be most of Daniel, a good deal of Ellis, and a little of me. There will be
more of me at the end than at the beginning. There will also be expositions of the theory of CENT therapeutic narrativology:
including the status of autobiographical narratives in Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT); how to analyze autobiographical
narratives in CENT; analytical commentary on biographical stories; and resolution of some core narratives.
In the process
I will be looking to reconnect therapy and love.
The three pillars of the foundation of this book
only was it necessary for Anthony Goldstone to sit at his piano and to pound out the body-shaking beat of Mussorgsky's tribute
to Hartmann, and for me to connect that to an unknown longing for connection to my long-dead father; but two other conditions
were necessary to make this book possible.
The first was this: That I have already found the ‘happy ending'
without which no work of art deserves to see the light of day. It is necessary to scramble up the sharp rocks of our
life's trials and frustrations: To fight and defend; to strive and fail; and to laugh and cry along the way. But it is equally
necessary to be assured that there is a ledge up there, somewhere, that awaits us. Not an easy rescue; not a cop out; but
a fighting chance of winning the battle to create meaning in a difficult life, as Dr Carl Jung would put it.
condition was this: Daniel O'Beeve had already written a memoir of the first eighteen years of his life which echoes my own
in the way a great orchestra is echoed imperfectly in the wrong kind of concert hall. But the match is sufficient for
the truth to hold: this is how it was played! This is a close approximation to what was happening on the main stage.
hard labour was essential. I could never have done the work he did. I could never have looked into the ugly face
of my childhood the brave way Daniel did, in so much detail; and with such fortitude and good humour.
In this book
I will present some of Daniel's chapters; summarise some of the excluded material; and link that material to some elements
of the other two stories mentioned above (namely Ellis and myself).
About twenty years ago, a poem popped into my mind
unbidden, which startled me. I had been unaware of having any significant, unresolved childhood problems up to that
time. Suddenly I had these lines resounding in my mind, which spoke indirectly of pain. They went something like this:
saddle up your horse
And ride your wagon down
Through streets of squealing pain
And casual acts of routine
To that elusive spot, upon the plain,
Where a boy may sleep in peace
And hope of future possibilities:
being loved; and liked; and cared for.
I had no idea what this meant,
or what to do with it. I was numb as a gum filled with Novocain. If, at that moment, you had held a gun to my
head and said: ‘Write the story of your life, or I will kill you', I could have done the job in only one format: this
twelve line statement of little beauty:
Weighed down by what feels
Like a ton of water
base of a perverse
Waterfall of social hierarchy;
Gasping for breath and
Striving to muster what little
I can find in my
I struggle on to my
Skinny knees - facing my school peers -
stare into a hostile
Lord, let me die soon!
Daniel tells his story so much
more eloquently; and better illustrates the suffering of a childhood spent with cruel, damaged, insensitive mothers (and fathers).
What follows is Chapter 1 of his memoir:
To review this chapter, please go to: Chapter 1: A very poor beginning.***
 Elliot, T.S. (2002) The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock, in The Waste Land and Other
Writings. New York: The Modern Library.
 Woolf, V. (2012/1953) A Writer's Diary: Being extracts from the diary of Virginia Woolf. Edited by Leonard
Woolf. London: Persephone Books.
 Byrne, J. (2010) The Story of Relationship: Or coming to terms with my mother (and father). CENT Paper No.10.
Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id202.html
 Miller, A. (1983) For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence. London: Faber
 Byrne, J. (2011) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions. CENT Paper No.13.
Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id344.html.
 (Apart from a brief stay [of one week] some four years later; and then for a few weeks some five years after my original
departure [when my mother had already left my father and moved away, becoming uncontactable]).