Working Through Avoidance of IFS Work

You might decide that you want to do an exercise in my Self-Therapy book or you might want to do an IFS session on yourself, but you don’t follow through.

If you are stuck in this way, it would be helpful to explore what is going on inside you. Why might you want to do something and then not carry through?

Often this happens because a hidden protector doesn’t really want to do the exercise or session. In other words, even though a part of you has decided that working on yourself would be beneficial, another part of you is balking. This might be a protector that is afraid that if you follow through with an exercise, you will encounter strong emotions that you can’t handle. Or it might be a protector that doesn’t think you will benefit from this work and so doesn’t want to bother.

This avoidant protector is clearly in control (since you aren’t doing the exercises), even though it may be unconscious.

The best way to handle this situation is to commit to doing a session in which you work with this avoidant protector. In this session, check inside for a felt sense of not wanting to do the exercises.

You may even feel resistant to the session you are engaged in right now.

You might want to get up and leave, or you might tell yourself that you don’t have time, or you might feel generally uncomfortable.

Tune in to that feeling of resistance. It might feel like stubbornness or annoyance or defiance. You might sense apathy or anxiety. Whatever it is, this feeling will give you access to the avoidant part. Then continue through the IFS steps to get to know this part.

See what you can discover about why this part doesn’t want you to do the work and what it is afraid would happen if it allowed you to. Then see if you can reassure this protector that its fears won’t come true, just like you might reassure a concerned part. For example, you might explain that you aren’t going to dive into overwhelmingly painful emotions, and you won’t allow any dangerous parts to take over. Assure it that you will stay in Self while you become acquainted with your parts.

For this reassurance to be effective, you may need to develop a trusting relationship with the avoidant protector.

However, even one short session with an avoidant protector can make a big difference in your willingness to do the work. If you do such a session but your avoidance doesn’t change, it is possible that there is more than one avoidant protector.

Do another session in which you check for others and work with them. Since you are avoiding doing sessions, it may be difficult to do even this session on the avoidant protector. You might keep making excuses instead of doing it.

One way to make this session happen is to schedule it with a partner. If someone else is counting on you to be there, it makes it harder to avoid. Or you could do this session with an IFS therapist, who might help you get at deeper issues behind your avoidance.

Self-Therapy

 

Advanced IFS Classes: New Monday Class

A new Monday Class is starting f0r my Advanced IFS Classes where you learn intermediate to advanced techniques and understandings that go beyond what I teach in the Basic IFS Course. Therapists also have a chance for advanced training and consultation on IFS. I have taught these classes for many years and they have been very successful.

Format. The classes meet twice a month for two hours by video-conference. Each class includes teaching, lots of sharing and discussion, demonstration IFS sessions where I work with a volunteer from the class, and experiential group exercises. You pair up with each other between classes to practice doing IFS sessions with each other. This is a very important part of the class, and people tell me how much they get from working with each other.

Click here for more information on the Advanced IFS Classes.

Each class is limited to 8 participants, so we have a small cohesive group (especially since we can see each other by video-conference), where people feel safe to be vulnerable. The texts for the classes are my books Self-TherapySelf-Therapy, Vol. 2 and Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

Professionals. Some classes are for therapists and coaches (and other helping professionals) and some are for everyone. These classes are approved by the Center for Self-Leadership for IFS CE credit.

Prerequisite. In order to qualify for the class, you must have taken my Basic IFS Course or equivalent, and I recommend that you also have taken my IFS Exiles Course or equivalent.

New Class
Second and Fourth Mondays of each month
4:30-6:30 pm pacific time (7:30-9:30 pm eastern)

Click here to learn about the other Advanced Classes.

To enroll, email me at earley.jay@gmail.com to set up a short call.

The Exile Is in Charge of Reparenting and Retrieval

In the IFS model, in both the reparenting and retrieval steps, we always check to see what the exile needs or wants. This guides us in deciding exactly how to do the reparenting or retrieval. Exile in Charge of Reparenting

It isn’t a good idea to assume that you know what she needs. You can suggest options to the exile that she might not think of, but don’t you decide what she needs without checking with her.

She knows best. You may be very surprised to discover what she wants. The exile can sense more truly than you what would be most healing for her.

In addition, it is healing for the exile to be in charge of what happens to her. In the original childhood situation, it was just the opposite. She had no say in how she was treated, even though it caused her considerable pain.

This leads most exiles to feel powerless and helpless.

Now you can redress this by having her be in control. This will empower her and help her feel safe.

 

After You Have Obtained Permission to Work with an Exile

When you want to work with an exile, the first thing you do is to obtain permission from the target protector, are you free to work with the exile?

That depends on whether there are other protectors that feel this exile is dangerous. Often you can simply move on to working with the exile, but it would be wise to deal with any additional resistance now. Otherwise, these protectors will repeatedly interrupt your work with the exile.

Therefore, if it seems called for, ask if there are any other protectors that don’t want you to access the exile. Usually they will step forward, and you can ask about their fears and reassure them, just as you did with the primary protector. This will usually clear the way for uninterrupted work with the exile.

However, sometimes protectors pop up later. While you are working with the exile, if a protector feels threatened by the pain that is coming up from the exile, it may reactivate to block that pain. You may get sleepy or distracted. You may go into your head or get angry. Use your parts-detecting ability to recognize when such a protector has been triggered. If it is the same protector that has already given you permission, ask what happened in your work with the exile to make it change its mind. Usually it’s because the pain of the exile started to emerge in an intense way. Find out what it is afraid of now and reassure it about that fear.

If it is a new protector that you haven’t gotten permission from or haven’t worked with before, you may need to spend some time with this protector, getting to know it and its positive intent. Then ask its permission to go on with your work with the exile.

Sometimes, if an exile’s pain is threatening to overwhelm you, a protector will keep jumping in to stop this from happening, and no amount of reassurance will work. Then you must negotiate with the exile about unblending even before you ask the protector for permission. Once the protector sees that the exile has agreed not to flood you, it will probably give the go-ahead.

Metabolizing Childhood Experiences

Whenever you endure a painful or difficult experience, it must be fully processed and metabolized for your psyche to stay healthy. You must fully feel the experience, make sense of it, and integrate it into your notion of who you are in a way that doesn’t leave you with a negative, inaccurate view of yourself. Even experiences in adult life must be metabolized in this way. For example, suppose you lose your spouse to cancer. You need to feel the grief and other emotions that it brings up, think it through, discuss it with friends, and work through any guilt or self-blame that you feel. This will occur repeatedly over many months until you have come to terms with it.

Experiences

Threatening or Traumatic Experience

A threatening or traumatic experience puts your body into a fight-or-flight stress reaction. For example, suppose you are threatened with a gun by a robber. Your body goes into hyper-alertness and fear. Later, when you talk through what happened and feel the fear, this will help your body to complete its physiological response and return to a normal relaxed state.

Difficult Experience

A difficult experience can also make you feel bad about yourself or mistrust people. For example, suppose you are fired from your job for poor work performance. This makes you feel incompetent and, after stewing over it for a while, you come to believe that the world is unfair. You need to take the time to think this through with outside support and figure out what, if anything, you did poorly and how much of this resulted from office politics. This will help you integrate the experience into your psyche and sense of self, and learn from your mistakes without taking on a negative view of yourself.

Problematic Experience

When you have a problematic experience as an adult, you usually have the resources to metabolize it properly. You know how to articulate the problem, you are intellectually and emotionally mature, and you may have support from friends, family, or a therapist. As a child, you often don’t have the resources to metabolize difficult incidents. You can’t do it on your own, so you need a great deal of sensitive support from your parents or other adults. The more painful and traumatic an experience, the more you need support to be able to metabolize it. And this support often isn’t available, either because your parents don’t realize you need it or because they don’t have the capacity to provide it. Or, worst of all, because your parents were the source of the traumatic incident.

Burden for the Exile

An experience that isn’t metabolized creates a burden for the exile that experienced it. In order to heal that child part and help release its burden, the memory must be re-experienced and processed to completion. Having the experience witnessed by the Self is an important aspect of this.

Names for Parts in IFS

It can be useful to have names for your parts when doing IFS.

Since your goal is to develop a relationship with each part, giving it a name enables you to keep track of it over time. The name can be a descriptive phrase, such as the Controlling Part or the Sooty Demon. It could be a person’s name, such as Walter. It could be the name of a character, such as the Tin Man; a famous person, such as the Buddha; or a mythical being, such as Athena.

Instead of imposing a name on a part, let it name itself. That way, the name will reflect how the part sees itself rather than how you see it. For example, you might see a part as the Monster, while it might see itself as the Warrior. If you keep referring to it as the Monster, it may feel judged and close down its communication with you. It is best to get to know a part as it understands itself because your view of it may be biased by your judgment of it, and therefore you won’t learn what the part is trying to do for you. You goal is to understand the part from its perspective.

Sometimes the name of a part will change over time as you get to know it better, just like the image. Allow this to happen. Let the name change anytime that feels right so the name reflects your new understanding of the part or how the part has transformed.

For example, suppose the sad little girl in gray started out being called the Resigned Part. After she transforms to the older girl in the sparkling jumpsuit, she might be called Jazzy Girl.

Blending in IFS

A part is blended with you and has taken over your seat of consciousness when any of the following is true:
Blending in IFS

  1. You are flooded with the part’s emotions to such a degree that you aren’t grounded. You are lost in those feelings. For example, if the part feels resentment, you are fully caught up in its anger without having any reflective distance.
  2. You are caught up in the beliefs of the part so that you lose perspective on the situation. You see the world through the distorted perception of the part. In addition, you aren’t able to recognize that this is one of many perspectives—you simply see it as the truth. If the part believes that the world is dangerous, that is the way you see the world, without any thought that you might be projecting your own beliefs onto the world.
  3. You don’t feel enough of your Self. You don’t have enough access to a place in you that is separate from the part from which to witness it and understand it. You have no center or ground.

Blending an Extreme form of Activation

Blending is a more extreme form of activation. Even when a part is activated to the degree that you feel its emotions and it influences you, you may still feel separate from it. You may be able to see that your emotional response is exaggerated or that your perspective is skewed.

Imagine a scenario in which your boss tells you that you have to rewrite a report you submitted. You feel inadequate and a little depressed, but you still have enough perspective to recognize that this is a passing reaction. You have thought about the supervisor’s criticism, and you understand what happened and can think through what to do in the future.

Your inadequate part is activated, but you have some distance from it. It isn’t completely blended with you. Your Self is still occupying the seat of consciousness, which allows you to see that you are basically competent. Even though you feel down, you know it will pass.

SElf-Therapy

 

All Parts Have Positive Intent

Experience with IFS shows that every part has a positive intent for you.

It may want to protect you from harm or help you feel good about yourself. It may want to keep you from feeling pain or make other people like you. Every part of you is trying to help you feel good and avoid pain. This is how we are constructed biologically, and our psyches work the same way.

Since some parts keep us stuck in negative patterns and have a destructive impact on our lives, it may be hard to imagine how they could be trying to help. The answer is that despite their best intentions, these parts don’t always act wisely; they take extreme stances or behave in clumsy and primitive ways. However, if you look under the surface, you discover that they are always doing what they think is best for you. They may have a distorted perception of situations and an exaggerated sense of danger, but their intent is always positive.

For example, Joe has a part that makes him close his heart and lose interest in women whenever a relationship turns intimate and moves toward commitment.

At first, he didn’t approve of this Closed-Hearted Part of himself and wanted to get rid of it because it was preventing him from finding love.

However, when he looked deeper through IFS therapy, Joe found that this part was trying to look out for him. It was terrified that he would be taken over by a woman and lose himself, which is exactly what happened with his mother. When he was a child, being close to a female meant being controlled by her. So this part protected him in the only way it knew how, by withdrawing.

It said,

“I just want to keep you safe. I don’t want this to happen to you again.”

Joe’s Closed-Hearted Part shut him down because it saw danger that wasn’t there. It distorted the present based on the past.

Power of Parts

Power of Parts in IFSThe concept of parts in IFS corresponds to ideas from other forms of psychotherapy—for example, defenses, psychic forces, self-images, introjects, and schemas. However, these concepts are normally seen as just mechanical or biological descriptions of how the psyche operates. Parts, or subpersonalities, may operate in similar ways, but they are alive and personal. They do what they do for reasons of their own, and they have relationships with you and with each other. For example, suppose you are using the defense of repression, which makes a certain memory unconscious. IFS recognizes that a protective part is purposely excluding that memory from your awareness for a reason. Perhaps it is afraid that the memory would cause you to be overwhelmed by pain.

Parts Are Entities of Their Own

Parts are entities of their own, with their own feelings, beliefs, motivations, and memories. It is especially important to understand that parts have motivations for everything they do. Nothing is just done out of habit. Nothing is just a pattern of thinking or behavior you learned. Everything (except for purely physiological reactions) is done by a part for a reason, even though that reason may be unconscious. For example, if you get distracted at a certain point while exploring yourself in therapy, this is probably not an accident. A part wants to distract you because it is seeking to avoid something.

Understanding the psyche in this way gives you a great deal of power to change your inner world for the better. Since parts are like little people inside you, you can make contact with them, get to know them, negotiate with them, encourage them to trust you, help them communicate with each other, and give them what they need to heal. When you do, you will have an enormously increased capacity for understanding and transforming your psyche—for achieving wholeness.

You may treat the idea of subpersonalities as simply a useful metaphor for viewing the psyche, which it is, but it is much more than that. If you treat the components of your psyche as real entities that you can interact with, they will respond to you in that way, which gives you tremendous power for transformation. Are they actually real? I believe so, but I invite you to read this book, do the exercises, and make up your own mind.

IFS Latest In Therapy Methods

IFS is the latest in a long line of therapy methods that work with subpersonalities. Early methods were Jungian analysis, Psychosynthesis, Transactional Analysis, and Gestalt therapy. More recent approaches are hypnotherapy, inner child work, Voice Dialogue, Ego State Therapy, John Rowan’s work, and others. IFS is the latest and most sophisticated of these methods. And many forms of therapy that don’t explicitly work with subpersonalities nevertheless use concepts that are quite similar, such as “schemas” in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

IFS Recognizes Power and Importance of Self

IFS represents an advance over these other methods in a number of ways. It recognizes the power and importance of the Self and bases the therapy on relating to your parts from Self.

The IFS method takes you deep inside yourself while still remaining alert and in charge during a session. It doesn’t just work with parts in isolation; it has a sophisticated understanding of the relationships between parts that guides the therapy method.

As you will see, the most important relationship is between those parts that protect us from pain and those child parts that are in pain. The problems that occur within the human psyche are largely structured around the need to protect ourselves from pain. Since the IFS approach is organized around this, we can have respectful sensitivity to our pain and defenses while pinpointing our work with laser-like efficiency.

SElf-Therapy

 

 

Unblending from Judgmental Protectors

What Is Required for Unburdening to SucceedIn order to get to know an exile successfully, it is important for you to be in Self, just as with protectors.

To check for this, notice how you are feeling toward the exile.

  • If you are feeling curious, accepting, connected, or compassionate, you are in Self and can proceed.
  • If you are feeling judgmental, angry, or scared of the exile, or if you want it to go away, you aren’t in Self.

You are blended with a concerned part, which is a protector that is worried about your working with the exile. You have already obtained permission to work with it from the protector that was your original target part, but there may be other protectors that don’t think it is safe to open up to the exile. This concerned part is one of these. Ask the concerned part to step aside so you can be in a position to help transform the exile. Often that will be enough for it to relax and let you return to Self. Then you can go on to get to know the exile.

Sometimes a protector isn’t afraid of your working with an exile, but it has negative feelings toward the exile, which blocks your ability to listen to it from a caring place. Here are the two most common reasons for this, and how to respond to the protector so it will step aside.

  1. The protector may be upset with the exile because it has caused problems in your life. For example, the exile’s fears have kept you from taking risks to move ahead. Or the exile’s feelings of worthlessness have made you depressed. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that there would be a protector that doesn’t like the exile and wants to eliminate it in order to solve this problem. However, this attitude will not lead to healing. Explain to the protector that you won’t let the exile take over. Your goal is to help the exile unburden itself of the fear or insecurity she carries so that she won’t disrupt your life anymore. Ask the protector to step aside and allow you to relate to the exile from a loving place so this unburdening can happen. Since this responds directly to the protector’s concern with the exile, it is likely to agree.
  2. The protector might feel judgmental towards the exile because she is scared or insecure or weak, or just because she is too emotional. These judgments usually mirror the attitudes your parents had toward you when you were young, since protectors sometimes model themselves after your parents. (In psychotherapy, this is called internalization.) Explore with the protector where it got these judgments so it realizes that they aren’t actual truths about the exile but rather parental attitudes it took on. You can also explain that the exile is only feeling scared or insecure because of what happened to it when you were young and vulnerable, so it isn’t really the exile’s fault. This may also help the protector to relax its judgments. Then ask it to step aside so you can heal the exile.