I took an unplanned hiatus from writing because I just couldn’t do this blog anymore. Everything was too complicated, too tiring, too much work. I would chastise myself for being lazy, but laziness has its perks according to Bill Gates:
“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
If you need a reminder, I write letters on this blog to my younger self and she writes back so we can heal the past. However, writing letters to myself at 10, 13, 15, 20, 22.5, 23, 24… It was just too much to keep track of. I can’t even remember who I was back then. Trying to speak from the past has just made me paint caricatures of who I used to be. It puts my past selves in a box, keeps them from becoming more than rough sketches, and doesn’t give them room to heal.
My new approach: Internal Family Systems.
I learned this therapy method while I was in eating disorder treatment. I don’t even know how to begin summarizing it, but I need to, both for you and for me. This blog cannot get out of control like last time (I was seriously considering 23.0, 23.33, and 23.66 because that was such a momentous year – never again). If I can explain it simply here, maybe I can do better this time.
Let’s start with its name. Internal Family Systems (IFS) gets its name because it uses a family therapy approach to dealing with the different parts of you that have dysfunctional relationships.
It gets a bit complicated from there – we all have 3 kinds of parts: 1. exiles that hurt, 2. managers that protect them, and 3. firefighters that rush in to put out whatever fires have started from all the mishandling of everything.
An (extremely simplified) example that resulted in bulimia:
An exile part of me was hurt – I didn’t feel like I was good enough (parents, brother, etc). A manager part stepped up to take away that hurt – by binge eating to bring comfort. A firefighter part then rushed in to take away the damage caused by binge eating (weight gain, shame, etc) – by making me throw up.
The result: a viscous cycle of bulimia that didn’t help the victim and only made everything worse. The parts were furious with each other. If the other would just behave, then everything would be OK.
So, I know I have these parts and that they are fighting, but that doesn’t really solve anything. Where do I go from here?
What this family of parts needs is a mediator.
The great thing about IFS is that YOU can be your own mediator. A therapist is great to have on hand, but you can do a lot on your own once you get the hang of it. The key to becoming your own mediator is to step back into your True Self. This Self is identified by its 8 characteristics (that all start with C): compassion, curiosity, clarity, connected, courageous, calm, creativity, confidence. If you ever don’t feel that way, then you’re “in a part” rather than “in Self.”
So, now you’ve got your True Self. What now?
The one thing all parts have in common is their goal: to take care of the Family, particularly the victims that have been hurt. The problem is how they go about achieving this goal and how these methods clash with each other. No matter how their actions appear, deep down, their goal is to help. Even suicide has a benevolent intention: to end suffering indefinitely. The key is to get parts talking, working together, and coordinating their efforts to achieve this common goal.
Rather than shame, punish, and control parts, the objective is to get them all on the same side.
Use gratitude and thank them for their hard work.
Feel compassion for how hard they’ve worked. Feel curious about their actions and ask questions. Feel clarity as you get answers. Feel even more connected to your parts as you learn about how much they care about you. Feel courageous to push into dark territory. Feel calm despite the chaos you encounter in your inner world. Feel creative as you search together for new solutions. Feel confidence that you can and will bring about healthy change that finally helps you all heal rather than push away that which hurts.
So for right now, I just want everyone to talk.
We’ll figure out where to go from there, I guess.