This is an excerpt from a transcript of module 1 of Integrative Systemic Coaching training. Clarification is one of the first steps of our approach, relatively simple and beginner-friendly, but still quite effective.
ANNA: I felt some resistance in the last exercise. It was about the relationship between me, my mother, and her sister. When I was born, my mother was left in the hospital for the next two weeks, and I came home with my father and my aunt, my mother’s sister. For those first two weeks the aunt was my mother, she was mothering me instead of my mother. Since I can remember, since I was about five years old, I remember that my aunt was more important to me than my mother. My mother was very jealous of the relationship between me and her sister, so she was very controlling, she was even using some force, while my aunt was very supportive. During clarification, I resisted, I refused putting my mother in the place where she should be, because that place was already occupied by my aunt.
KOSJENKA: Ok, great. Maybe we could do a demo with you if you agree, Anna?
Clarification can be difficult to systematize and describe, because it depends so much of what your client tells you, and that could be just about anything. Let’s see what comes up with Anna and then we’ll learn more about what we can do with it. Anna, imagine to see your mother, where is she in your family map?
ANNA: She’s walking around me.
KOSJENKA: That sounds like there is some confusion about her. Sometimes when you are not quite sure where to start, or as a relatively easy introduction to clarification for a client, you could ask, „What would you like to say to this family member, that you never said or never had a chance to say?” Anna, is there something that you would spontaneously like to say to your mother that you would like your mother to know?
ANNA: I would like to tell her to cut me some slack, leave me alone, let me be.
KOSJENKA: This can also be a part of clarification. Clarification is not just about a formula, although we are working towards, let’s say, an end formula: You are my mother – I am your daughter. Especially if a relationship is difficult, let clients say whatever they want to say at first. You can think of clarification as a conversation in which everything that needs to be brought to the light is brought to the light, with the end goal of coming to an agreement of who is who in a healthy relationship. Anna, go ahead and say to your mother, “Leave me alone.”
ANNA: Leave me alone.
KOSJENKA: Check how would mother spontaneously respond.
ANNA: She’s a bit surprised now. She doesn’t say a thing but she’s showing me her fist, she’s shaking her fist.
KOSJENKA: Maybe you could explain to your mother what bothered you, what was disturbing to you in her behavior.
ANNA: She would shout at me, she would beat me up, she would read my diaries, she would check what kinds of books I was reading to censor them.
KOSJENKA: How would mother react if you’d explain this to her?
ANNA: She says that you have to keep your kids on a short leash. Otherwise they don’t have respect for anyone.
KOSJENKA: A few decades ago it was a common idea that you have to control your children quite harshly, otherwise you’d spoil them. People often don’t seem to see much between one extreme and the other. Anna, ask your mother, „Who taught you that?”
ANNA: She said it was school. My mother was a teacher.
KOSJENKA: So she had to discipline a big group of unruly kids.
ANNA: She was also teaching me, and I remember when she would take me out of the classroom and to the teacher’s room and then would beat me with a cable.
KOSJENKA: Leaving physical abuse aside for now, please say to your mother, „You are not my teacher, you are my mother. I need you to love me like a mother loves her child, not just discipline me like a teacher disciplines a student”. How does mother respond?
ANNA: She’s like frozen.
KOSJENKA: Imagine to step into mother’s place. If that is uncomfortable, you don’t have to feel too strongly what is going on in your mother, just enough to get some information. Imagine to be your mother and to be frozen when your child asks you to love her as a mother loves her daughter. If you are the mother, why are you frozen?
ANNA: (As the mother) I cannot even see that child. My first thought, my first concern is how I look like when I’m frozen this way.
KOSJENKA: Sounds like the mother is very concerned with what people might say. That’s quite often the case when a parent is a teacher; what would people say about their children. Anna, if you are your mother, who taught you to feel all that fear of what people would say?
ANNA: I see mother.
KOSJENKA: Mother’s mother?
KOSJENKA: That’s very normal, and it’s also very common in clarification that sometimes you need to clarify with another family member before you can continue working with the first one. Where stands grandmother in relation to mother, Anna?
ANNA: Just in front of me.
KOSJENKA: What would mother spontaneously like to say to her mother, your grandmother?
ANNA: I’m sick and I cannot work, I’m not able to work, I’m sick.
KOSJENKA: Can you give us some more context? Mother was sick and grandma forced her to work when she was young?
ANNA: I don’t know about my mother’s childhood, but when she was a young woman she got pregnant and the child died, and in some complications she got some heart muscle inflammation and she has had heart problems since then. As they were living in a village, the parents expected their children to help them with work. My mother couldn’t really help much because of the heart problem. When I was young, since I was 12, 14 years old, I was also sent there to help my grandparents.
KOSJENKA: What would grandmother say to mother’s words, “I’m sick, don’t make me work so much”?
ANNA: She approves of it, she accepts it, but on the other hand she also says that we have to pray a lot, we have to pray hard.
KOSJENKA: How is that for mother?
ANNA: Mother feels it was too easy, she doesn’t really feel too much about that. She feels happy about it but not very happy.
KOSJENKA: I would imagine that the key problem is somewhere further in her childhood but we don’t have to know all the details right now. Anna, as mother, what would you really like from your mother? How does the mother want grandmother to love her?
ANNA (in the role of her mother): I want to say that she was not changing my diapers.
KOSJENKA: Even that is clarification. How would grandmother respond to this?
ANNA: Grandma ran away. She’s running away from this.
KOSJENKA: Please say to grandma, “Please don’t run away, I need you.” What says grandma?
ANNA: Grandmother has stopped running, but she’s holding her head in her hand and she’s crying terribly.
KOSJENKA: Ask grandmother, “Why are you crying?”
ANNA: Grandma says that it was a big shame.
KOSJENKA: What was the big shame?
ANNA: To have a child.
KOSJENKA: Was it an unplanned pregnancy or something?
ANNA: Grandma is crying and she says that she’s not going to say it to anyone.
KOSJENKA: Go back into yourself, be Anna again. Say to grandmother, “I’m sorry you suffered that shame. People can be cruel sometimes.” What says grandmother?
ANNA: Grandma says, you know nothing and you cannot know anything about it.
KOSJENKA: Say to grandma, “Ok, I don’t know anything about it and I’m sorry that people were cruel to you.” What says grandmother?
ANNA: Grandma has changed, she’s curled inside herself now and she is shaped like an embryo.
KOSJENKA: Maybe we need to talk to her mother. What would great-grandmother say to this whole situation?
ANNA: Great-grandmother is angry, she’s furious right now.
KOSJENKA: Ask great-grandmother what makes her so angry.
ANNA: It’s about the shame her daughter is going to bring to her.
KOSJENKA: Say to great-grandmother, „People are cruel sometimes. Cruelty is the true shame.” But by now the society has changed. What would great-grandmother say about what is possible now, what wasn’t possible then?
ANNA: Great-grandmother would let it go, she can let this emotion go now, and I can see a lot of light around her, and she says she believes me.
KOSJENKA: Beautiful. Ask your great-grandmother to recognize how much pain her daughter is carrying. Perhaps grandmother fell in love with somebody, felt full of love and was maybe hoping that if she feels so good, nothing can go wrong.
ANNA: No, I don’t think so because it was the time of the war, it was 1941. It’s possible that my grandma was raped but I don’t know that.
KOSJENKA: Please ask great-grandmother not to hurt her daughter on top of the hurt she’s already suffered.
ANNA: Great-grandma is crying.
KOSJENKA: Ask great-grandmother to support her daughter, to help her, to love her.
ANNA: She understands it and she says that she is trying, she wants to.
KOSJENKA: Is grandmother willing to accept her mother’s help?
ANNA: The grandmother is now opening from that embryo position. She doesn’t say much now but she is ready to accept.
KOSJENKA: Great. Watch grandmother accepting her mother’s support and love. Maybe she could relax, maybe she could feel better about herself, maybe she could feel better about her daughter, maybe she could learn about how to support a child even against what the world might say.
ANNA: She looks young, she is like 20 something years old girl and she is beautiful. She feels so right.
KOSJENKA: Great. Tell her that one day she will have a beautiful daughter and her daughter will need her to love her. What would grandmother say?
ANNA: She touched her belly and she smiled at me.
KOSJENKA: Tell her that all children are chaotic sometimes, they need to make mistakes, they need to explore. Tell her that it’s important to be patient and kind, for the future of her daughter and for the future of the next generations, too.
ANNA: She is accepting it, she’s happy about it, she’s touching her belly, patting her belly, she’s wearing a polka dot dress and standing somewhere in the fields.
KOSJENKA: Great. Imagine to show her your mother in the future, her child, and ask her to support her, to love her as a mother loves her daughter. To be kind to her, to be patient, to be loving. What happens?
ANNA: Grandmother told her now that she’s a mature woman, and my mother stopped paying attention to her clothes, to how they look like, she’s looking at my grandma and I can see some sort of connection between them, like they see each other.
KOSJENKA: Say to your grandmother again, Please love your daughter like a mother loves her child.
ANNA: She says so, she says that she loves her with no problem.
KOSJENKA: How is this for mother now?
ANNA: She looks like she’s lost.
KOSJENKA: Maybe she needs some time to get used to it?
KOSJENKA: Give her some time to get used to it. By the way, do you have somebody snoring over there? (Note: it was an online training.)
ANNA: Sorry. I have two English bulldogs.
KOSJENKA: I didn’t know they could snore.
ANNA: I sleep with them every night.
KOSJENKA: Lucky you, you don’t have such sensitive ears as I.
ANNA: I say to myself that those are alpha waves and I just have to get tuned into that.
KOSJENKA: That’s a good way to comfort yourself.
So, how is your mother feeling now?
ANNA: She’s straightened up, her head is high and she looks happy, content.
KOSJENKA: Great. Now imagine grandmother tells her, „Please love Anna, your daughter.”
ANNA: Mother responds, „Well, when she earns it.”
KOSJENKA: What would grandmother say to that now?
ANNA: Grandmother says, “Just love her”.
KOSJENKA: How is that for mother?
ANNA: Mom can see me, but she doesn’t really do much, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t make any gestures, but she’s looking at me closely.
KOSJENKA: Anna, imagine again to be your mother. Imagine two generations of loving and supportive mothers behind you.
ANNA: I felt this, I really felt this, I even straightened up my back. It feels good, it feels like something supporting me.
KOSJENKA: Great. Now, as the mother, look at your daughter, look at Anna closely. What do you see?
ANNA (as mother): I see a five year old. She’s very fragile.
KOSJENKA: What do you feel for your daughter?
ANNA: I think she needs me and I could try to support her.
KOSJENKA: Back to Anna, please say to your mother how would you like her to love you and support you.
ANNA (as herself): I would like her to give me some space and let me create.
KOSJENKA: How would your mother respond if you told her that?
ANNA: She kind of wants it, but on the other hand she feels some sort of fear that I might get into trouble myself, that I might have problems because of that.
KOSJENKA: What would you tell her about that?
ANNA: That this is my life and it would be just my trouble and problems.
KOSJENKA: Maybe also tell her that sometimes children need some trouble to learn from it. Sometimes experiencing trouble can help children learn to deal with trouble or to avoid it. Better to learn early from small troubles, than later from worse ones. How would mother feel about that?
ANNA: She feels good. Earlier she was not really clear, like there was not best resolution in that image of her, but now it feels like she’s got more pixels, the resolution is better.
KOSJENKA: Great. What do you feel, what would your mother like to say to you now?
ANNA: “Ok then, go.”
KOSJENKA: Imagine little Anna can have more space, more freedom. How would that be?
ANNA: It feels great, I’m jumping into a huge aquarium with coral reef, which was always my dream.
KOSJENKA: While the child is playing in the coral reef I’ll comment about a few things. Sometimes you can simply ask the client what would they like to say, or what would they like to comment about what is going on. You don’t have to guide the client all the time. Sometimes a client can feel what would be the most appropriate clarification better than you. It’s like a dance with the client, you listen to their responses, rather than trying to fit the process into some sort of frame as quickly as possible. Whatever needs to be resolved before the next step could be done, resolve it. We never push anything, we never force anything, otherwise we’ll just make the work longer and more difficult. Whatever we skip, we will have to go back to it some time or another. Anna, do you think you are ready now to say to your mother, “You are my mother”?
KOSJENKA: Say to her, „You are my mother; I am your daughter. I wish we weren’t separated at a time when we needed to connect the most.” How does mother respond?
ANNA: She doesn’t say much, she doesn’t do much, but her face is softer. She is looking at me with care and love.
KOSJENKA: Say to her, “I wish we could have had a better connection, and I know you wanted that too.” What says mother?
ANNA: She confirms it and it looks like she would like to hug me but she’s a little bit afraid.
KOSJENKA: Would you like her to hug you?
KOSJENKA: Say to mother, „Let’s try, let’s see what happens.”
ANNA: We’re taking baby steps now towards each other. Now we’re hugging.
KOSJENKA: Great. You can be as slow and as careful as you wish. Just give it time and notice how it feels.
ANNA: … We stopped hugging and right now we are leaning on each other’s backs. Our backs are touching.
KOSJENKA: Great. Ask your mother to stand behind your left shoulder and put her arm on your shoulder.
ANNA: That’s what happened, my mother did that and there was no resistance and I feel like everything is in its place, like there is an order to it.
ANNA: Great. This sounds like a good time to stop for now. Some clarification with the aunt would be a good idea next, maybe between mother and aunt, just to clarify who is mother and who is aunt, maybe mother would be angry at the aunt for taking her place. Who knows what else has happened with mother, perhaps there are some traumas to resolve, but that’s a topic for another time. This is a good demonstration, I think, to show how complex a clarification can be. This is perfectly normal, most sessions won’t be straightforward and easy. Thank you, Anna.
ANNA: Thank you.
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