Do it yourself: Liberation from emotional serfdom

“Mental serfdom”
Is it the result of centuries of oppression?

We all know emotional dependency in the family and at work, which shows clear parallels to serfdom. Hence one could also call it mentally serfdom.
In my new book “Ober sticht Unter” I represent and justify the view that the widespread symbiosis pattern and the tendency to obedience are not innate, but acquired, more precisely trained.
Humans are the only species that own and use their equals like domestic animals.

For centuries, the rural population in Europe had no rights and was unfree. They were serfs of the landowners: only nobility and clergy were allowed to own land! So the people were forced to do this, through poverty, violence, and above all through targeted “education” (conditioning), which led people to serve “with joy” – and to endure suffering.

The church has benefited from serfdom along with the nobility and has allowed itself to be used for this purpose. These educational program are still in use today. In addition to individual traumatic experiences of loss and violence, it is a decisive factor in the development of the symbiosis pattern.

In the following I describe this spiritual serfdom by using the relationships of real serfdom, as it existed for centuries in Europe, as a model. In order to find a gender-fair yet legible form, I use the feminine form for serfs and the masculine form for landowner. This also corresponds to the patriarchal power imbalance:

The serf owns a space (or territory) that could be her property. But she has learned that this room belongs to someone else: the landowner. The Lord therefore has the right to enter and dispose of the serfs’ room. Since the serf believes that she has no right to own her space and to protect it against the master, the part of her person who could have this right (her self) becomes superfluous, even dangerous because it is undesirable: she learns to suppress her SELF, to split off. Without her self and without self-esteem, she now orientates herself according to the views and needs of the master, instead of according to her self. In this way the Lord becomes an “introject” (1). The value of the serf is determined by how useful it is to the master. The serfs have no right to orient themselves according to their own needs and interests. On the contrary, she makes herself guilty and can be punished for it. As if that weren’t enough, she can also be used for service in the territory of the Lord. In this way she learns to feel responsible in the (actually strange) room of the Landowner.

The elements of this model are the distinction

  • between own and foreign space, resp.
  • between one’s own and another’s identity,
  • between own and other responsibility, and the question,
  • whether the own room is occupied by a stranger (the “master”), or
  • whether the “self” can take possession of its space and protect the limits of its space from the “master”.

This model can be used to examine the relationship with an authority figure through a system constellation. It is also suitable for checking whether you have internalized an “introject” (see below). If conditioning to self-alienation and obedience becomes visible and conscious, then this conditioning can be worked on and resolved.

Instructions for liberation through Do it Yourself

For this you need: a second person as a helper, three stacks (!) – chairs, a meditation cushion, a scarf or a rope.

1. You choose representatives for yourself – e.g. a chair with a round meditation cushion and a chair for the authority person with whom you want to clarify your relationship, e.g. the father.

2. You position yourself and the two representatives as you feel. The picture shows you whether and to what extent you pay more attention to your father than to your self.

3. If you are convinced that your father does not belong in your room, then you can use a scarf to indicate the boundary of your room and place your father on the other side of the boundary. How does that feel to you? Are you relieved – or are you missing something? Or maybe both? Do you feel more attention to yourself now?

4. Leave your room and stand in your father’s place, so to speak, in his “room”. How do you feel there? Does that feel familiar? Did you feel responsible here? You can double-check whether this is part of your identity here and now – or not. If not, you go back to your room and say the clarifying sentences to him: “You are you – and I am me. You live your life – and I live mine. And your life can be very different from what I imagine, and I respect that. And my life can be very different from what you imagine it to be, whether you respect it or not. “
How does that feel to you?

5. Take your father back into your room (as an “introject”). Did you put him on a “pedestal”? Then place two stacking chairs on top of each other. How does that feel? Maybe it gives you a feeling of closeness and security? Or do you feel small and inferior yourself, and does that make you dislike? Or both (ambivalence). If you recognize that your father is like an alien energy that occupies your space and prevents you from being yourself, then “revolution” would be the order of the day. And you can “take possession” of your own space – with all due respect! – remove him from your room for good. “Father you don’t belong in my room, and certainly not in the place of myself!“

6. Now get in touch with your self, “that has its value regardless of whether it is needed or whether it achieves something. Like a rose that has its value simply because it is there.“

7. Maybe it seems strange or “forbidden” to you? Maybe it was rejected by your family, by your father, and you adopted his point of view – his “glasses” – in order to survive? Then symbolically take off your father’s “glasses” and look at yourself with your own eyes. Is there really anything wrong with you? And see how it feels when you merge with yourself – instead of with your father.

8. In order to improve the connection with your self, you can use your strength for yourself – instead of against you as before – by symbolically “protecting” the border of your space against the father, with physical effort!
Now the assistant represents the father and comes up to you so that you can stop him at the border.
How does that feel? Maybe forbidden? (“Prohibition of demarcation”)
You have the strength to do so and you have the right to do so, this is something like a healthy defending reflex. Then you always know who you are – and who you are not! Where you are responsible – and where not!

9. “Counter-demarcation”. So far you may have felt “responsible” in your father’s “room” – because you were brought up to do so. Now you can experience that you are not responsible because the assistent stops you at the border.

How does that feel? If you’ve been raised to be there for others, it may feel like rejection and it can be very offensive. However, when you realize that this is normal
between adults, that it is the prerequisite for an encounter “on an equal footing”, then it gradually loses the aspect of hurt.

10. Counter-demarcation on the timeline.
Are you aware that you keep giving space and energy to old topics, injuries or mistakes? Imagine that you symbolically go back on a timeline into the past, and there you are stopped three times – by your helper – each time with the sentence: “There is no going back! What’s over is over!”, “And it won’t come back!”, “What is dead as a doornail will never be alive again!”
It can be painful, like saying goodbye. But that is a healthy pain, and when you walk through it, the door opens to the “here and now”.

11. Now check again how the connection with your self feels – represented by the meditation cushion. And how are you feeling now with your counterpart?
In the same way, you can check the relationship with other authority figures (teachers, supervisors).

Ero Langlotz, Munich August 30, 2017 (updated: September 11, 2017)


(1) The Hungarian psychoanalyst Ferenczy created this term to describe the internalization of a loved one. Later he also used it to internalize a destructive person, e.g. a perpetrator.


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