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.

Webinar: Overcoming Depression Using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey

Please join us for this free webinar: Overcoming Depression Using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey

August 13
4:30 – 6:00PM Pacific | 7:30 – 9:00 PM Eastern

  • Are you hopeless and full of despair?
  • Are you low in energy and listless?
  • Do you feel bad about yourself and worthless?
  • Do you feel stuck in your life?
  • Is it hard to face each day?

Image of a person with a Depressed PatternThese feelings and beliefs aren’t true. You aren’t worthless and your life isn’t hopeless. These beliefs are promoted by parts of you that are trying to keep you from feeling childhood pain or taking current life risks which they think are dangerous.

Using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey, you can get to know these parts, heal the exiles they are protecting, and transform them.

In this webinar, I will discuss the nature of depression and how to work with it using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey. You will learn how to develop aliveness and realistic hope.

Click here to register for free.

Feel free to register even if you can’t make that time. A replay of the webinar will be available afterwards.

The InnerCritic and Self-Esteem

Bonnie Weiss, LCSW, and Jay Earley, Ph.D.

Jeanette had low self esteem, all her teachers wondered about this. She was musically talented, but had no confidence in herself. She never tried out for the orchestra or school plays. As she got older, this pattern continued and she ended up with minimal jobs. She just assumed that she wouldn’t amount to anything. Every time she had an inclination to reach out and try something, she got a sinking feeling in her chest and gave up on the idea. She didn’t believe she was worth anything or could amount to anything.

One day a friend was talking about this critical voice the friend had inside her. She was having a very bad day with it! Something clicked inside Jeanette as she realized that she knew the voice her friend was describing.  It lived inside her, too!  It was saying things to her like, “You aren’t any good. You can’t do it. Don’t even try.” She had always just assumed that this was the truth about her. She had never seen it as a separate part of her that was giving her these harmful messages. She remembered how a part of her would want to try out for a play but this voice spoke so forcefully that she didn’t.

This part is commonly called the Inner Critic. Since Jeanette didn’t know about it, she had no way to communicate with this Critic. She couldn’t confront the source of her negative beliefs about herself.

Now that Jeanette became aware of how it was tearing her down and ruining her life, she got very angry at it and wanted to get rid of it. If she had turned to conventional therapy, she might have been encouraged to persuade it to change or simply to overcome it. She would have seen it as the enemy. However, this isn’t very effective. When we battle with the Inner Critic, it can just become more entrenched.

Using the IFS approach, Jeanette explored inside and gradually got to know her Inner Critic. To her amazement, she discovered that this part was actually trying to help her. Even though it was causing hopelessness and depression, it was doing this in a distorted attempt to protect her. It wanted to keep her safe from failure and humiliation, and it figured that the best way to do this was to prevent her from ever trying anything difficult. It accomplished this by constantly judging and discouraging her.

However, once Jeanette realized that her Critic was trying to help her, her anger melted and she began to understand and befriend it. In IFS, you never have to fight with a part or try to get rid of it. You can develop a trusting relationship with it and help it to relate to you more constructively. Through her relationship with her Critic, it softened and became less harsh.

When Jeanette explored further using IFS, she discovered that there was a different part of her that was receiving these messages from the Critic. This part believed these judgments and felt worthless, defeated, and hopeless. We call this part the Criticized Child. Jeanette realized that she could become a friend to this unhappy child and connect with it from a place of love and compassion.

Then using the IFS procedure, she accessed the memories from her childhood of times when she was judged and dismissed and made to feel worthless. The Criticized Child is the part that was hurt by those criticisms. Jeanette could then heal this Child through her love, and help it to release those feelings of shame and worthlessness. As a result, her Critic receded into the background and caused her less trouble.

As a result of this work, Jeanette discovered a helpful aspect of her Self that we call the Inner Champion. It has the capacity to support and encourage us in the face of Inner Critic attacks. Jeanette was able to develop and strengthen this part that cares about her and wants the best for her. Her Inner Champion told her that she has a lot of talent and can accomplish great things in the world. She learned to evoke it when necessary and take in its support.

Her Champion said, “You are OK just the way you are. You can do it. I’m proud of you.” This helped Jeanette to take the risk to develop her musical talent and try out for performing positions. She moved ahead professionally in a career that she really loved. As her Inner Champion took over for her Inner Critic, she became more self-confident and happier in many aspects of her life.

For more information, see our books Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic or Activating Your Inner Champion Instead of Your Inner Critic, Bonnie’s  Course on the Inner Critic, or this link on our website https://www.personal-growth-programs.com/inner-critic-section.