What Is Required for Unburdening to Succeed

What Is Required for Unburdening to Succeed

When the unburdening ritual is described, many people think:

“Can it really be this easy to change a long-standing pattern of behavior or feeling? I can’t believe that all you have to do is have a fantasy of letting go of the pain. It can’t be that easy.”

And, of course, it’s not. The unburdening ritual doesn’t achieve transformation all by itself; it only caps off the process. All the previous steps in the process are necessary and must be completed before the unburdening ritual will have the desired effect. You must work with the protector(s) to obtain unimpeded access to the exile. You must develop a trusting connection with the exile and witness the original childhood incident. She must feel understood by you. You must reparent her and, if necessary, retrieve her. And the exile must be ready to release the burden. Only after all this has been accomplished can the unburdening ritual work. This ritual is really the culmination of this entire sequence of steps; it solidifies the whole IFS transformation process.

In addition, you must do the entire sequence of healing steps for each exile and each important painful memory. When you carry out the unburdening ritual, it is for a specific memory and the burdens that came from it, not for every burden that exile might be carrying. The exile releases the burdens specific to that memory, which effects a certain amount of transformation. However, if the exile carries other burdens related to other memories, its healing won’t be complete until they are also processed and released. You must go through the healing steps for each important memory the exile carries.

Furthermore, when these are complete, that particular exile will be transformed, but there will be other exiles that must be treated separately. IFS is efficient and powerful, but it isn’t a quick and easy cure-all. You must take the time and energy to do the hard work of witnessing each important memory and healing each exile. You must follow up with the exile over the next few weeks after the session to consolidate the unburdening. It is helpful to check in with the exile every day or so to reaffirm your connection with her. If you don’t do this, the burden may return. Burdens can return for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, in the session after an unburdening, make sure to re-access the exile and check to see if the burden is still gone and the exile has really been transformed. If so, take a moment to enjoy the sense of freedom and the positive qualities of the transformed exile and to celebrate what happened.

If the burden has come back, explore to see why that happened. Usually it is because your internal system wasn’t fully ready for the unburdening. Ask your parts questions to find out why the burden came back; then address that issue in one of the ways you already know. Then do the unburdening again, and it should stick.

Even when an exile is truly unburdened, more is often needed to change a behavior pattern. After unburdening the exile, you must go back to the protector you started with and help it to let go of its protective role. Then your problematic behavior will shift.

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