Keeping Track of Your Thread in an IFS Session

Do you know how to keep track of your thread in an IFS Session?

The human psyche is a complicated weave of many colored threads of material. It is easy to get pushed and pulled from one thread to another as they are activated. For example, suppose your lover threatens to leave you, and you have a strong reaction of insecurity. You begin to explore your reaction, and you discover a defensive part that wants to prove to your lover that it’s not your fault that he wants to leave. You switch to that part, but before you have gotten very far in getting to know it, you become aware of a feeling of terror coming from a different part. You begin to explore this terrified part and discover that it is frightened about being alone if your lover leaves.

Before long, a loud inner voice starts telling you that it is all your fault that this is happening. This is a self-judging part that insists on being heard, so you switch your attention to it and begin to listen to what it has to say. It starts telling you all the things you have done wrong in the relationship, so no wonder your partner is fed up with you. You get curious about why the self-judging part feels a need to berate you so strongly. In the middle of this exploration, you notice an intense feeling of shame coming from a part that is being impacted by this self-judgment. The self-criticism is making this part feel worthless and unlovable.

Through all this, your attention is constantly being pulled to the part that has the strongest feeling at any moment. You haven’t been able to stick with any one part long enough to understand it or connect with it.  Your attention is a soccer ball on a field being booted around by a team of players. And by the time all these parts have come up, it is easy to forget the part you originally wanted to work with.

It can be useful to access all parts as they arise, because this gives them a chance to be heard, but in the scenario I outlined above, the parts jumped in on each other so fast that none of them really got much attention. And you couldn’t progress toward healing because you kept getting derailed. IFS provides a way to follow one thread at a time through the tapestry of your psyche until you have unraveled it and healed the part it represents. Plan to stay with the target part you have chosen unless you have a good reason to switch to a different target part. Ask the other parts to step aside. Let them know that they will have a turn to be heard, and ask them to let you proceed with the one you picked. You might want to take notes so you can keep track of all the parts that have come up.

For example, suppose you decide to focus on the defensive part and then the self-judging part comes up. Let the self-judging part know that you will take time to listen to it later, but you need to get to know the defensive part now. Ask the self-judging part to wait. If it can’t wait, encourage it to tell you about its judgments, and take some time to hear what it has to say with curiosity and compassion. Once the self-judging part feels heard, ask it to allow you to proceed with the defensive part. It is likely to do that now, which allows you to stay on track.

If any other parts jump in while you are listening to the self-judging part, ask them to step aside, too. And let them know that you will get to know them in the future. Keep track of all the parts that come up and need to be heard so you can keep your promise to listen to them later. This procedure allows you to stay on track with your work without ignoring or dismissing any parts. If they feel dismissed, they might resent you and resist you later.

Self-Therapy A Step-by-StepThis is an excerpt from my book Self-Therapy.

An Excerpt From The Book Taking Action: Nancy’s Inner Conflict Around Procrastination

Jay Earley, Ph.D

This story shows how you can have an inner conflict around procrastination and how to work it through. 

Nancy had a business making jewelry. Because her business was so successful, she had many orders to fill every day, and her Taskmaster, which she called the Work Ethic Part, was concerned about her working hard enough. It said, “You have to fulfill all the orders you get without too much delay and also take care of all the other aspects of your business. You have to keep your customers happy. I’m really worried about your livelihood given the state of the economy.” 

However, Nancy found herself slacking off and not really working efficiently. She ended up daydreaming when she was supposed to be working and getting tired and sleepy some of the time. She would stop and wander around her yard for a while instead of getting work done. 

At first she didn’t know why this was happening, but when she began to explore herself using the Pattern System and IFS, she learned that the slacking off came from her Procrastinator Part. It said, “I feel completely stifled by all this work. I need time for relaxation and creativity. Your life of constant work feels very dull and boring.” It wasn’t simply a Procrastinator-it was also her artistic and fun-loving part.  [Read more…]

The Dimensions of the Pattern System

by Jay Earley, Ph.D

The Interpersonal Dimensions

The Intimacy Dimension is just one of ten interpersonal dimensions in the Pattern System. The following are brief descriptions of some of them:

Conflict. How do you deal with differences of opinion as well as desires, disagreements, judgment, anger, and fights? Do you use avoidance tactics? Do you become angry, blaming, or defensive? Can you communicate your concerns without judgment and own your part in a problem? Do you become frightened or feel bad about yourself? Can you bring up conflicts and set limits on attacks?

Social. How do you relate to people socially? Are you outgoing or shy, scared or confident in reaching out to people or making conversation? Are you self-effacing or charming, attention seeking or avoiding? Are you overly oriented toward performance in the way you relate to others, or are you more genuine?

Care. How do you balance your needs vs. other people’s needs? Do you end up taking care of others rather than yourself? Do people tell you that you don’t show enough care or concern for them? [Read more…]