Dealing with Overwhelm in IFS Work

 

Dealing with Overwhelm in IFS

Your inner world can be a garden of riches, but at any moment it can also erupt in a chaotic confusion of intense feelings. Sometimes when a loaded issue gets triggered, instead of parts appearing one at a time, which would be more workable, they all become triggered at once, vying for control and attention, and fighting with each other.

Let’s look at an example.

You hear your lover threatening to leave, and many parts come up at the same time. You feel terrified, defensive, self-judging, angry, ashamed, and abandoned, all in one intense moment. At first, you may not be able to distinguish these individual feelings; you may just experience inner confusion, conflict, or chaos. You might feel overwhelmed and flooded with emotion.

In IFS, we want to welcome all our parts, but we don’t want to be overwhelmed by them. A good way to handle this is to slow down, take a deep breath, and feel your belly and legs. This will help to ground you. Then take your time and pay attention to one emotion (and therefore one part) at a time. Even if you are feeling them all at once, focus on just one emotion or experience at a time, just enough to recognize the part and access it.

For example, you single out the defensive feeling and hear that part say it wants to defend you against your partner’s accusations. Then you access the part that is terrified of being alone. Then you hear from the self-judging part, and so on. Give each one the microphone and let it speak. You don’t have to spend much time with each part—just enough to access it and get a sense of what it feels.

Once you have accessed all the parts, you will have an overall perspective on what is happening, and it will feel less chaotic. At this point, you can choose one target part and proceed to get to know it. If the other parts keep jumping in, listen to them but then ask them to step aside. This way you can avoid being overwhelmed and stay focused on a productive track of discovery and healing.

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