Steps for Working with an Exile

IFS Exiles STEPS

  1. Getting permission to work with exile
  2. Getting to know exile
    E1: Accessing exile
    E2: Unblending exile
    E3: Unblending concerned part
    E4: Finding out about exile
    E5: Developing trusting relationship with exile
  1. Accessing and witnessing childhood memories
  2. Reparenting exile
  3. Retrieving exile
  4. Unburdening exile
  5. Transforming protector

 

2: GETTING PERMISSION TO WORK WITH AN EXILE

Principles
Whenever there is a protector, there are always one or more exiles that it is protecting.
You never work with an exile until you have permission from all the protectors who might object.

When you are working with a protector,

  1. An exile might become apparent through feeling it or hearing its voice. In some cases, you may think it is still the protector, but it may be the exile.
  2. You may become aware of what exile is being protected, especially when the protector tells you what it is afraid would happen if it didn’t do its role.
  3. You may have an image of the exile behind or below the protector.
  4. When appropriate you can ask the protector to show you the part it is protecting.

Ask permission from the protector to get to know the exile. If the protector doesn’t give permission, ask it what its concerns are or what it is afraid would happen if you contacted the exile.

Common fears of protectors and how to deal with them:

1. The exile has too much pain, or it is black hole of chaos and overwhelm.
Explain that you will stay in Self and get to know the exile, not dive into its pain.

2. There isn’t any point in going into the pain. The exile can’t change. The past is the past.
Explain that you can heal the exile. IFS knows how to do that.

3. The protector will have no role and therefore be eliminated or lose power.
Explain that the protector can choose a new role in your psyche.

4. The protector doesn’t trust you.
Ask why and work on that issue.

3: GETTING TO KNOW AN EXILE

Much of this is similar to working with a protector. Here are some differences:

E2: Unblending an Exile

Problem. Exiles want to be heard and healed. The only way they know how to do this is to flood you with their feelings and stories. This can be frightening and traumatizing, so protectors keep this from happening.

Solution. Stay in Self (unblended) and witness the exile’s pain and story. If the exile were a lake, instead of diving into the lake, you sit beside it and look in the water.

Reasons why it is necessary to be separate from an exile

  1. You aren’t retraumatized
  2. You aren’t flooded with too much pain
  3. Firefighters and managers don’t get triggered
  4. You can to there to witness the exile’s pain and story
  5. You can be an agent of healing for the exile
  6. You can facilitate your work successfully

Ways to Unblend

  • Consciously separate from the exile and return to Self
  • Ask the exile to contain its feelings so that you can be there for it
  • Get an image of the exile at a distance from you. Ask it to not overwhelm you if you move closer to it.
  • Put the exile in a room with a window in it, where you can see the exile through the window
  • Centering/grounding induction

If the exile won’t contain its feelings:
Ask it why it doesn’t want to. Commonly, it is afraid that it won’t be heard, or that it will be exiled again
Explain that if it contains its feelings, that means you can safely be there for it.
Explain that you really want to hear its feelings and witness what happened to it, but you need to be separate to do that.

Conscious Blending
Sometimes it is OK to feel the exile’s pain. If you are solidly in Self, you may be able to allow the exile to show you its pain by having you feel it. This is fine as long as you remain centered and able to be there for it. You can even feel the pain fully and express it as long as you are in Self while this is happening. Look at the 6 reasons for being separate above. If they are all true while you are feeling the exile’s pain, then you are still in Self so it is OK.

E3: Unblending Concerned Part

This is the same as with protectors, except that the fears of the concerned part may be different:

1. It is afraid of your getting overwhelmed by the exile’s pain or the exile taking over.
Explain that you will stay in Self and not give the exile power.

2. It doesn’t think they/you can take care of the exile, because you don’t have the capacity or the exile’s needs are too much.
Explain that (a) Self has unlimited capacity for caring and compassion, (b) an exile doesn’t need a whole lot of your time and energy even if it looks that way, and (c) it feels like a joy to give to them, not a burden.

E4: Finding out about an Exile

Ask many of the same questions you would ask a protector, except don’t ask questions related to a protective role.
Also ask: How old are you?

E5: Developing a Trusting Relationship with an Exile

This is not so much a separate step as something that happens during the various other steps of working with an exile. It happens partly through negotiating about unblending and letting the exile know that you want to hear its story.
As you are getting to know an exile, communicate to it that you feel compassion, caring, etc. toward it
Check to see if the exile can sense you there and how it is responding to your compassion.
If it can’t sense you or isn’t taking in your caring, ask why and work with that.
After witnessing, check to see if the exile trusts that you understand how bad it was

If there seems to be a problem at any point, ask the exile if it trusts you and work with that.
A common thing exiles say is that they don’t trust you because you haven’t been there for them in the past. It is helpful to apologize for this and promise to be there for them in the future

4: ACCESSING AND WITNESSING CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Once you have gotten to know an exile and developed some trust with it, you can access the childhood origins of the burden (extreme feelings or beliefs) it has taken on. Sometimes this happens spontaneously when the exile shows up as a child in a situation from your past. If this doesn’t happen, you ask the exile to show you the origins, by asking such questions as:
“Please show me an image or a memory of when you learned to feel this way when you were a child.”
“Please show me a time when you first took on this role in childhood.”

Images and Memories. It is not important that the part shows you a conscious memory of a specific incident. There are three reasons why this may not happen:

  1. The memory might be preverbal, when you were too young to have conscious memory. This is called implicit memory. It comes in the form of a body or emotional sensing or an image that doesn’t correspond to any conscious memory you have.
  2. It might not be one incident, but a particular family interaction that happened hundreds or thousands of times. In this case, there might be one conscious memory that represents all these, or there might be an image or other less clear sensing that represents them all.
  3. The memory might not be available in conscious form, but it will show up as an image or other form of implicit memory.

Once the exile shows you an image/memory, ask it to fill in the details as much as it wants to, especially what happened and how this made the part feel. You are there as a compassionate, caring witness. If the part shows you a series of memories that are all related to one feeling or issue, that is fine. However, when you move on to the next steps, it is best to focus on one of these memories.

Before you go on to the next steps, make sure the part has shown you everything it wants to, and that it feels that you understand how bad it was.

5: REPARENTING AN EXILE

Once you have accessed and witnessed the childhood origins of an exile’s pain, you can reparent the exile–heal the exile through your relationship with it. You can supply caring, relatedness, and other things that the exile needed at the time of the original wounding or things that are healing for the wound.

Bring yourself (as Self) into the childhood situation and ask the exile what it needs from you in that situation. It may need caring, being seen, approval, protection from harm, understanding, love, support, or other things. It may need to be reassured that it isn’t bad, that whatever happened wasn’t its fault. When you find out what the exile needs from you, give it to the exile through your internal imagination, including visual, body sensing, emotional, and verbal modalities. The original situation can end differently because of your intervention, if that is what the exile needs.

Don’t try to make the exile change in any way, to feel differently or think about itself differently. This will result from what you give it and from the next step of unburdening, but don’t focus on that now.

As you are giving the exile what it needs, check to see if it can sense you. Then check to see how it is responding to what you are giving. Is it taking it in? Take time to feel the experience of giving (the love, support, compassion, etc.) and especially how it feels in your body. Then take time for the exile to bask in the good feelings that result, and feel this in its body.

Perspective. Though the exile thinks it is in the past, in that childhood situation, it actually exists in you now. So, when you bring yourself into the childhood situation, you are really relating to the part inside you now, not just imagining something in the past. You aren’t pretending that something in the past happened differently. You are developing a new relationship with the part now and laying down a new healing experience.

6: RETRIEVING AN EXILE

One of the things the exile may need is to be taken out of the childhood situation, especially if the situation is one in which it is being harmed or feels threatened, trapped, or responsible. It may not think of this, so if appropriate, ask if it would like to be taken out of that situation and brought to a safe, comfortable place that it would enjoy. You can bring it into some place in the present, such as a room in your home. You can bring it into your heart, or into an imaginary place where the exile will feel safe, cared for, or whatever else it needs. Since the exile is not actually in that past situation, retrieving the exile brings it closer to reality.

7: UNBURDENING AN EXILE

Once you have accessed and witnessed the childhood origins of an exile’s pain, and you have reparented and retrieved the exile (if appropriate), the next major step in unburdening. This is an internal ritual of healing

Definition: Burden. A burden is an extreme feeling, energy, or belief about yourself or about the world that a part has taken on as a result of a childhood trauma, incident, relationship, or other painful situation. The burden is not natural to the part and therefore can be released.

Once you have clearly identified the burden(s) associated with the situation you have been witnessing, you ask the part if it wants to give up or release the burden.

Unburdening is just the final step in a long path toward healing. All the preceding steps are just as important.

When the part is ready, ask the part how it carries the burden in or on its body. This can be done visually or kinesthetically, preferably both. Ask the part what it would like to release the burden to. It can be released to light, washed away by water, blown away by wind, put in the earth, burned up in fire, or anything else that feels right.

Arrange the situation so the part can release the burden in the way it wants, and allow as much time as is needed for this. Feel the burden leaving the part’s body as it is released. After the part is finished, check its body to see if there is anything else that does not belong to it that it needs to release.

Positive Qualities. Once the burden is unloaded, the part is free to become more of what it truly is. Notice what positive qualities or feelings arise in the part once the burden is gone. People often feel joy, strength, playfulness, freedom, love, or other qualities. Take some time to really enjoy these experiences and to feel how they manifest in your body.

8: INTEGRATION AND UNBURDENING PROTECTORS

Once you have unburdened an exile, it is important to integrate this work with the rest of your internal system, especially those protectors that have been protecting against this exile. They may already be aware of the work that has been done, but they may not.

For each protector, ask if it is aware of the work you have done with the exile. If not, introduce the transformed exile to the protector. See if it now realizes that its protective role is no longer necessary. Its role may still be seen as necessary because it may also protect other exiles that haven’t been unburdened yet. In this case, you must unburden them before the protector will let go.

If it isn’t ready to let go of its role, ask what it is afraid would happen if it did. This may uncover other exiles or other protectors it is polarized with. Or other fears it has. Work with these. If the protector is afraid that the change won’t last, let it know that you (Self) will take care of that if necessary.

New Role. Let the protector know that it can choose a new role in your psyche. Its role may be an non-extreme version of the role it had, it may be the opposite of its previous role, or some entirely different. It may want to establish a new relationship with the exile.

Check for Problems. Ask if there are any parts that are upset by the work you have done and the change that has happened. For example, if the work has released love, spontaneity, or strength, there might be parts that are threatened by this. Then reassure them about their fears or plan to work with them next. Otherwise they may sabotage the work.

Testing. After all this work, it is a good idea to test the results against the original trailhead that activated the protector. For example, if the original protector was a part that tries to please authority figures, it would be useful to imagine yourself in a situation with an authority figure in your life now, and then notice what parts get activated (if any). This will give you an idea if the exile and protector have been truly unburdened and if there are other parts that may also be reacting to this situation. This prepares you for facing that situation and lets you know what further work you may have.

Follow-up. It’s a good idea to check in periodically with the exiles that have been unburdened to see how they are. Check in briefly every day for 2-4 weeks, and anytime the part is activated.