Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been digging into a three-post blog series on self-care. And no, we’re not talking bubble baths, essential oils, and booking an appointment with your hair stylist (though, by all means, you should do those things for yourself, too!). We talked about how to really take care of yourself this year and how to embrace who you are and say “no” well in the context of self-care.
Sometimes, self care requires turning toward the hardest, messiest parts of ourselves and handling it with the kindness and compassion we’d offer a good friend. Sometimes it means owning up to our limitations and saying “no” for our own wellbeing, even to family members we love (and love to care for).
Which brings me to today’s blog post, the third installment in our series: how to make sense of your complex inner world, heal your wounded parts, and restore balance. I’d like to share a bit about an approach to therapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS) that can help with this work on your inner self.
Here’s how Psychology Today describes Internal Family Systems therapy:
“[IFS]…identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.”
Internal Family Systems can help us understand how we all have childhood wounds. Because of these wounds, we have parts of ourselves (sub-personalities) that sometimes come out in ways that we don’t understand or expect.
In the context of self-care, IFS can help you become more aware of what’s going on in your inner world. It can help you understand the tantruming toddler that comes out of yourself, unannounced — and helps you treat that part of you with empathy and gentleness, not shame or self-criticism.
It invites you to ask yourself, “I wonder why I feel the need to do this. What is it that triggers me to think and act like this?”
Turn toward that part of yourself that needs to be loud and angry and seen. As a mature self, look at that raging little self, and begin to soothe that part of yourself.
As IFS teaches, there are No Bad Parts. We’ve all been wounded. Not a soul on this Earth can get through their childhood and teen years without some wound. The problem arises when those wounds get you stuck in a pattern.
I’ve done some digging in my own life with regards to IFS. In my last post, I talked about how I want to always give, give, give, and care for everyone but myself.
Where does that need to care for people so deeply come from? My early childhood.
As a child, I never really knew where we were going to land as a family, so I had to be happy. I had to keep myself happy. I morphed into this peacemaker, making everybody feel good about themselves and everything around them. I could smooth over troubled waters like it was my job. I felt like I had to take care of everyone in my family to keep everyone together.
Well, as it turns out, that didn’t end well, despite my best efforts. My parents got divorced.
Little five-year-old wanted so much to make everyone happy. I can see that clear as day now. The more I’m aware of this, the more my adult self can say, “I hear you, I know you want to keep everyone happy and moving in the right direction without any bumps, but that’s not realistic. People are going to have disagreements and hurt one another. You don’t need to fix it all. That’s a huge burden to carry all by yourself.”
And it’s true! Over the last few years, with so much division and strife, I’ve been reminded again and again that it’s not healthy for me or others to try to keep everyone else happy. That’s unrealistic.
Maybe, like me, you find that there are similar parts to yourself. Maybe there’s a part of yourself that raises its head, and you think, “oooooh, boy, that’s sideways.” It doesn’t help you. It doesn’t present who you are as an adult person. If that sounds like you, that’s the work to take to counseling, and we’re here to help.
I also love Colleen West’s book We all have Parts: An Illustrated Guide to Healing Trauma With Internal Family Systems which includes worksheets about your behavior and the way you show up in the world.
The more you do this work, the less often you’ll have those moments when you don’t know what’s happening. You’ll be able to process your experiences and move into your prefrontal cortex and self-soothing faster. The more you become aware, the faster the system will turn around, and the faster you’ll feel even-keel.
For more about the hierarchy of the brain and how that relates to trauma, our childhoods, and the adults we’ve become, I recommend What Happened to You by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry.
It helps to be able to process this sort of work with someone else — a counselor, coach, spiritual director, or mentor.
Contact us today to get connected with a therapist who can guide you and support you through this important work. It’s alright to ask for help, and it’s good to say yes to yourself. That’s real self-care. You’ve got this, and we can help.