Conscious Blending

When an exile is in a lot of pain or suffering from trauma, it is important to unblend from it so that you can work with conscious blendingthe exile safely, without the danger of being overwhelmed by pain or re-traumatized. However, there is an exception to the need for unblending. Sometimes it is all right to feel an exile’s pain. If you don’t feel thrown off by the experience and it doesn’t keep you from being grounded, you can allow yourself to experience it. In fact, sometimes it will feel right to you to sense this pain. And the exile may want you to experience her pain directly because this helps her to feel fully witnessed by you.

Experiencing the exile’s pain in this way means that you are simultaneously in Self and consciously blended with the exile. The exile is showing you her emotion by having you feel it. That is fine as long as you can tolerate this experience and you remain centered and able to be there for the exile, and as long as this doesn’t trigger any protectors. Often it is all right to experience the exile’s suffering up to a certain limit. Let it know if it gets to be too much, and ask the exile to contain the rest.

In some cases, you may be able to feel the pain fully and even express it. You will know how far you can go in this direction. This approach is similar to some cathartic therapy methods. However, in IFS, we only move in this direction if it is both safe and productive.

I call this conscious blending because you are aware that you are blended and are purposely choosing to allow it. This is very different from being blended without realizing it or being overwhelmed emotionally. By blending consciously, you know that, even while you experience the exile’s emotions, you are grounded in a presence (Self) that is much larger and stronger than she. This gives you the opportunity to tolerate how much of her pain you take on.

If you check inside, you will know whether conscious blending is the right thing to do—whether to unblend from an exile’s pain or allow yourself to feel it. The main criterion is whether or not you can tolerate the pain. The more fully you are in Self and the more compassion you feel for the exile, the more likely it is that conscious blending will be possible.

SElf-TherapyThis article is an excerpt from my book, Self-Therapy.

 

Disowned Anger

In IFS, we sometimes encounter parts that have been disowned or exiled because their feelings or behavior are seeDisowned Angern as unacceptable. Because a part wasn’t acceptable in childhood, other parts of you banished it, and this dynamic has carried forward into the present.

A Disowned Part

I call these disowned parts. A disowned part can be a protector, an exile, or a healthy part. Anger is probably the most common type of disowned part. If you have disowned your anger, you tend to lack assertiveness or strength. You may even be passive, pleasing, self-effacing, or lacking in self-confidence and drive. This is because your strength (healthy aggression) has become disowned along with your anger.

Let’s look at an example:

Donna’s parents were judgmental and shaming whenever she got angry. They gave her the message that she was supposed to be a nice girl and not make waves or be aggressive. As a result, her anger was disowned, and this was enforced by managers who believed her anger was bad. Donna became meek and quiet, and had a hard time asserting herself.

If you have disowned your anger, you may occasionally have angry outbursts, due to the Angry Part breaking through. This anger is usually extreme and inappropriate to the context. You may feel ashamed of these incidents and believe they prove that you have an anger problem. However, the real problem is that your anger has been disowned.

Disowned Anger can come from a protector, an exile, or even a healthy part. When it comes from an exile or a healthy part, the part is just responding in a naturally aggressive way to childhood insults or deprivations. However, this anger can become extreme because it has been disowned. The Angry Part reacts to being disowned by becoming increasingly and irrationally angry.

Working with Disowned Anger

When working with Disowned Anger, your goal is to gain access to the disowned Angry Part and welcome it back into your internal family of parts and into your conscious life, where it can live and express itself. It is helpful to welcome even anger that is extreme, though it shouldn’t be acted out. Witness the part’s anger and encourage it to express the anger in whatever way it wants in a session. This is often a great relief since the anger has been repressed for so long.

When anger is disowned, there is a positive quality that gets disowned along with the anger, which I call the Strength. Strength means healthy aggression, aliveness, personal power, and the ability to assert yourself and establish healthy boundaries. It includes the ability to be firm, take risks, adopt a powerful stance in the world, and feel a zest for life. When our Strength is activated, anger is rarely necessary because we can call on our healthy sense of power, forcefulness, and limit setting to handle these situations. We can be strong and assertive without frightening or harming other people. However, when we exile our anger, we also exile our Strength, not because we intend to but rather because of the way the human psyche operates.

By welcoming back Disowned Anger, we take a step toward reclaiming our Strength. This is especially true if we welcome back the anger in an embodied way that includes feeling the anger fully and perhaps even expressing it. This helps us to embody our Strength and personal power.

This article is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 3. It is one of the topics covered in my Advanced IFS Classes.

Depressing Protectors

Depression can come from either an IFS protector or exile. Let’s look at depressing protectors here.

Protectors That Block Hope

One common cause of depression is having a protector that doesn’t want you to feel hopeful. Such a protector doesn’t actually feel hopeless. It makes you feel hopeless in order to keep you from feeling hopeful and then suffering the disappointment of not getting what you were hoping for. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it a Depressing Protector rather than a Depressed Protector. It is afraid of your feeling devastated if you are disappointed. It believes that if you are hopeful and your hopes don’t work out, or if you fail at what you are trying to accomplish, you will be devastated. It isn’t just worried about your being disappointed; it is afraid you will be devastated in such a severe way that you couldn’t handle it.

Protectors That Depress Your Energy

A Depressing Protector may squash your energy so that you can’t feel the underlying pain or trauma of your exiles. This protector believes that you can’t tolerate this pain. It is stuck at a point in your childhood when you didn’t have the internal or external support to handle such pain. So it keeps your energy low to prevent this pain from coming to the surface.

Inner Critic Parts

Inner Critic Parts, which are protectors, can also create or add to your depression by attacking you so harshly and mercilessly that you feel bad about yourself. These Inner Critic attacks trigger exiles who already feel inadequate or worthless, and the attacks make the exiles feel even worse, which contributes to depression.

This is an excerpt from my book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 3

The IFS View of the Human Psyche

IFS provides a new and startling view of the human psyche. It sees human beings as complex systems of interacting “parts,” which are natural divisions of the personality. Suppose one part of you is trying to lose weight, and another part wants to wolf down a ton of sweets. When you crave that piece of cake late at night, it isn’t just a desire that comes up from time to time. There is an entity inside you that repeatedly needs a sense of sweet fullness. It has reasons why it feels it must have that dessert. It might need to push down anger or fill an unbearable sensation of emptiness. This part has memories that drive these needs—for example, feeling emotionally hungry as a child.

You may hear a different inner voice saying “Eat a piece of celery instead,” or “You should be a shamed of how you gorged yourself!” You may think of these as just thoughts that pop up, but they come from another part of you whose job is to control your eating. It could be concerned with your waistline or your health. It might believe that you won’t be loved if you aren’t thin. And it may have memories of being ridiculed for being overweight in grade school.

But these are simple concepts that only begin to touch on the richness and complexity of our inner life. Our inner family may include a lonely baby, a wise mentor, an angry child, a stern mother, a calm meditator, a magician, a happy animal, a closed-off protector, and so on.

The IFS View of the Human Psyche

These parts inside us are frequently shifting and changing. One of them takes over for a while, and we act and feel a certain way. Then we enter a new situation, and another character comes to the fore. Usually we view these changes as no more than slight shifts in mood or perspective, but, in fact, each shift marks the emergence of an entirely new subpersonality.

Each part gets activated at certain times. When I am in a large group of strangers, a part of me feels shy and wants to withdraw. When a supervisor criticizes you, a part of you may be thrown off balance and feel utterly incompetent. When Jill’s husband acts arrogant, a part of her wants to strangle him. When you get rejected by a lover, a part of you may feel devastated, like an abandoned child. When you feel threatened by a powerful person, a headache may come on because a part is clamping down on the muscles in your head to defend against terror. Any feeling reaction, thought sequence, behavior pattern, or body sensation can indicate the presence of a part.

Some of our parts are in pain, and others want to protect us from feeling that pain. Some try to manage how we interact with people. Some are locked in battles with each other. And all this is going on largely outside our awareness. All we know is that sometimes we feel content and sometimes we are anxious, depressed, frustrated, or confused, and we don’t know why.

Underlying this cast of characters, every human being has a true Self that is wise, deep, open, and loving. This is who we truly are when we aren’t being hijacked by painful or defensive voices. The Self is the key to healing and integrating our disparate parts through its compassion, curiosity, and connectedness. It is also the natural leader of our inner family, a guide through the adventures of life.

IFS can help you access your Self, and from that place of strength and love you can connect with your troubled parts and heal them. Your parts are naturally endowed with qualities such as joy, freedom, perceptiveness, and creativity, but these have been lost because of childhood wounds. The Self can help heal these wounds and allow these parts to reclaim their natural strengths and goodness. They can come to trust you to lead, if you do it from Self. They can learn to work together with each other as a harmonious inner family that supports your flowering in the world.

When you really understand this view of the psyche, you see yourself in a whole new light. You perceive your depth and beauty. You reclaim your true nature as a garden of healthy, effective, vital plants growing in the deep, rich soil of the Self.

 

The Seat of Consciousness in IFS

We each have a place in our psyche that determines our identity, choices, feelings, and perceptions. Using IFS terminology, this seat can be occupied by Self or by a part. Whoever resides in the seat of consciousness at any given moment is in charge of our psyche at that time. Whether it is a part or the Self, the occupant of the seat determines how we feel, what our intentions are, how we perceive other people, how we relate to them, and what our choices and actions will be. At any given moment, all activated parts have some influence over you, but the occupant of the seat of consciousness has the overriding influence. It determines your dominant emotion and your actions.

We aren’t necessarily aware of the occupant of our seat of consciousness at any given time. In fact, it tends to be invisible to us because it is the one who looks at other things. The occupant of the seat of consciousness is the one who is aware or conscious. We take it to be ourselves. It is the observer, or witness, and it wields the flashlight of consciousness. We are conscious of whichever part is illuminated by this flashlight, but it rarely gets pointed back toward the one who holds it. So we tend not to be aware of the witness. The witness sees but is not seen.

Ideally the Self is the occupant of the seat of consciousness.

The Self is the natural occupant of the seat of consciousness because it is who we truly are. It is our essential nature, our spiritual center. This means that the Self occupies the seat of consciousness unless a part takes over the seat and pushes the Self into the background. Then that part is in charge of your psyche for a while. This can happen in an instant and usually without our realizing it. However, as you will learn later, if you pay close attention, you can notice the shift and work with it. If the part steps aside, the Self will automatically occupy the seat of consciousness again.

At any given moment, you are identified with the occupant of the seat of consciousness. If the Self is in the seat, you are identified with Self. If a part has taken over the seat, you are identified with that part; that is who you take yourself to be in that moment. We don’t usually notice these shifts in identity; we think we are always the same unitary personality. However, they happen all the time, and IFS will help you become aware of them.

Self-Therapy

 

This is an excerpt from my book Self-Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reasons to Stay with your Original Target Part in IFS

Let’s suppose that, in your IFS work, you have chosen a protector to work on, called your target part.

As you are getting to know it, another part may emerge. You want to make a choice about whether to ask it to step aside so you can continue with your original target part or whether to switch and make the new part your target part.

You Want to Finish with the Target Part

Sometimes, at the beginning of your therapy, it can be useful to get to know many different parts and understand their positive intent for you. However, once you start working with a part, it is usually best to finish the IFS procedure for healing and transforming it. For example, Dillon started working with a certain target part, a Depressed Part, and it is important for him to overcome his depression. So when another part arose, he asked it to step aside so he could keep working with his Depressed Part. He wanted to continue the IFS process with his Depressed Part by accessing the exile it was protecting so he could transform the Depressed Part and his depression would lift. This was especially important to him because he had worked with his Depressed Part before and not completed the work. Now he wanted to get results.

You Haven’t Finished with Any Parts

If you are still in the early stages of your IFS work and you haven’t yet completed work with any of your parts, your inner system won’t realize what is possible. Your parts won’t realize that exiles can be unburdened and that protectors can let go of their roles. Your protectors may be skeptical about your ability to heal your parts until they see it happen. Your parts may feel hopeless about change and, because of this, may try to keep you from engaging in IFS work or keep you away from your exiles. Therefore, it is important to complete at least one unburdening without waiting too long. The more your parts realize that profound change is really possible, the more they will cooperate with you.

The Target Part Feels Ignored by You

Some parts don’t trust you at first. They don’t expect you to really pay attention to them—perhaps because you haven’t paid attention to them your whole life. Now that you are learning IFS, you can give them the attention they want. If your target part is upset with you for not paying attention to it, it wouldn’t be wise to switch to a different target part. This would only increase the mistrust of the original target part. Stay with it so it can experience your interest in it. This will help the part trust you.

This article is an excerpt from my book Self-Therapy, Vol. 2.

 

Updating Protectors about Your Capacities

The following is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 2. 

Updating Protectors about Your CapacitiesUpdating is a standard IFS technique which is used to help a protector to trust you so it will step aside or give you permission to work with an exile.

Our protectors are stuck in the past; they believe that we are little children who are vulnerable and have few internal or external resources for handling problematic situations. This is how we all were as children. Another way to say this is that the protector is protecting a young, vulnerable exile, and it thinks that you are the exile. It doesn’t realize that you have a Self with many more resources than when you were a child.

When you are preparing to do the process of updating, ask the protector how old it thinks you are. If it thinks that you are a child, tell the protector how old you actually are. Show the protector a series of scenes from your life that include growing up, maturing, accomplishing things, handling difficulties, and reaching your current age. This updates the protector as to your current capacities.

When you were young, you were vulnerable and under your parents’ power. However, now you are autonomous and in charge of your own life. In childhood, you didn’t have a mature Self present to help, so your protectors often had to handle painful situations on their own. Now that you are an adult, you have a competent, perceptive Self to help in difficult circumstances.

In addition, you probably have many strengths and capacities as an adult that you didn’t have as a child. For example, you are probably more grounded and centered. You may be more assertive, more perceptive about interpersonal situations, better able to support yourself financially, and so on. You have probably accomplished things in your life and overcome obstacles. You are an adult with much greater ability to handle yourself.

As part of the updating process, you can also show the protector your current life arrangements and the various people who will support you when needed. You probably have friends, family, maybe a spouse or lover, perhaps a community you belong to, or a support group you can rely on.

Even if you haven’t had much access to Self in the past, your Self is probably starting to become available because of your IFS work. However, the protector may not realize that your Self is now available to help, so you need to make this clear to the protector so it will be willing to cooperate with you.

Overcoming Depression with IFS

In studying how to work with depression using IFS, I have seen that a depressed part can be either a protector or an exile. In this article, I’ll just look at protectors.Overcoming Depression

Protectors That Block Hope 

One common cause of depression is having a protector that doesn’t want you to feel hopeful. Such a protector doesn’t actually feel hopeless. It makes you feel hopeless in order to keep you from feeling hopeful and then suffering the disappointment of not getting what you were hoping for. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it a Depressing Protector rather than a Depressed Protector. It is afraid of your feeling devastated if you are disappointed. It believes that if you are hopeful and your hopes don’t work out, or if you fail at what you are trying to accomplish, you will be devastated. It isn’t just worried about your being disappointed; it is afraid you will be devastated in such a severe way that you couldn’t handle it. Its fear probably goes back to times in childhood when you were hopeful and then your hopes were dashed and you were devastated.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your hopelessness is realistic or that your Depressing Protector feels hopeless. It is purposely trying to make you feel hopeless to protect you from devastation. However, even though it is causing your depression, its heart is in the right place; your Depressing Protector is trying to protect you from pain. So you can get to know it and connect with it.

Of course, the pain this Depressing Protector causes you is far greater that the actual disappointment you might feel if your hopes failed to materialize. But your protector doesn’t realize that.

Protectors That Depress Your Energy

A Depressing Protector may squash your energy so that you can’t feel the underlying pain or trauma of your exiles. This protector believes that you can’t tolerate this pain. It is stuck at a point in your childhood when you didn’t have the internal or external support to handle such pain. So it keeps your energy low to prevent this pain from coming to the surface.

A Depressing Protector might also suppress your energy so you won’t assert yourself or take risks, which the protector believes will lead to failure or trouble. It thinks that if you took a risk and failed, you couldn’t handle the disappointment. Or it may believe that if you asserted yourself, you might be attacked or abandoned.

In most cases, the depression that such a protector causes is much more painful than what would happen if it allowed you to feel an exile’s pain or if it allowed you to assert yourself in the world, but the Depressing Protector doesn’t know this. It believes that it must make you depressed to protect you from overwhelming pain or from the negative consequences of being powerful and visible in the world.

Inner Critic Parts

Inner Critic Parts, which are protectors, can also create or add to your depression by attacking you so harshly and mercilessly that you feel bad about yourself. These Inner Critic attacks trigger exiles who already feel inadequate or worthless, and the attacks make the exiles feel even worse, which contributes to depression.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This article is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

Interactions Between Parts in Conflicts in Love Relationships

When a couples gets into a repeated intractable conflict in their relationships, it is usually because they are triggering each other’s protectors and exiles.

In fact, if you focus on the most frequent type of argument you have with your partner, you can map out the sequence of transactions that happens in which you trigger one of your partner’s parts, he or she reacts in a way that triggers yours, then you react again, and so on. IFS has an insightful way of explaining how these sequences happen, and I can make this even clearer using the Pattern System, a way of understanding personality that is oriented toward personal growth.

Let’s look at an example. Jean becomes upset at her husband, Todd, because she feels that he hasn’t been sensitive to her. She has been feeling despondent over her struggles at work, and Todd hasn’t been very supportive or attentive to her feelings. As a result, her Not-Seen Wound (a type of exile in the Pattern System) has been triggered. This wound comes from not being seen as who she truly was as a child.

However, it is rare that people interact directly from their exiles. Often they aren’t even aware that an exile has been triggered. Instead, people react from a protector that defends against the pain of the wound. So Jean says to Todd, “You are so cold! You never care about my feelings.” Jean has led with a judgmental protector (Judgmental Pattern), which reacts to pain by being critical of other people. This serves two functions. It tries to protect her from feeling her wound, and it is a misguided attempt to get Todd to be more attentive and caring.

Communicating from a protector (a pattern in the Pattern System) usually backfires. When Jean blames Todd in this way, it triggers his Judgment Wound, which comes from having been judged as a child, making him feel bad about himself. However, Todd isn’t aware of this wound and doesn’t show it. Instead, he withdraws from Jean and closes down his heart, which prevents him from feeling the pain of this wound and keeps him away from Jean so he won’t get hurt further. This is his Distancing Pattern.

Conflicts in Relationships

Todd’s withdrawal triggers a second wound in Jean; she feels abandoned by him (Abandonment Wound). Jean defends against this wound by criticizing Todd for withdrawing (Judgmental Pattern), which activates his Judgment Wound again. He reacts to this with more Distancing, so the cycle repeats itself. They often go around this cycle multiple times, escalating their level of anger and hurt in the process.

By exploring and understanding sequences like this in your relationship, and possibly working with the parts involved, you can break these vicious cycles.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3

This is an excerpt from my book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

Anger and Disowned Anger in IFS

AngryAnger is an emotion that is problematic for many of us.

With other emotions, the main question is usually whether or not to feel or show the emotion. With anger, the situation is more complicated because anger can be harmful and destructive when acted out.

Therefore, many of us have conflicting attitudes about anger. We live in a violent society, surrounded by examples of the destructive effects of anger, and some of us have been victims of it. Anger and violence are sometimes also celebrated—in war, gangs, sports, and criminal TV shows. Working with anger in therapy is therefore tricky and complex.

It is too easy to just assume that anger is always bad and disown it completely, while it actually has a positive role to play in our lives.

Anger can arise in various ways in IFS work, depending on which part holds the anger, what function the anger serves, and whether the anger is disowned. Each situation requires a different approach.

Protector anger that is acted out in your life needs to be understood so you can heal the exile being protected and the protector can let go. Expressing such anger is usually not a good idea. Instead, it is useful to learn how to express it in a skillful manner that isn’t likely to cause problems.

Suppressed anger needs to worked with in a similar way to anger being acted out, except that you must first work with the protector that is suppressing it.

Exile anger, on the other hand, needs to be welcomed and expressed in sessions in order to fully witness the exile and also as a way of helping the exile feel protected and safe from harm.

Disowned anger also needs to be expressed in sessions as a way of accessing and developing your strength and healthy aggression.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This is an excerpt from Self-Therapy Vol 3.