Working through Conflict in an Interactive/IFS Group

IFS/Interactive GroupOne of the big challenges for many people in an Interactive Group is the expression of “negative” feelings. It is valuable to express all of your feelings, not just good feelings. It is important to say when something bothers you or to express annoyance, disagreement, hurt, or discomfort. It’s also useful to express stronger feelings such as fear, anger, and jealousy.

Some people find it hard to believe that expressing negative feelings of any kind will be helpful to anyone. They say:

“It will just hurt him unnecessarily, and it’s not a big deal anyway.”
“It’s probably just my own material. I should just work it out myself.”
“It’s not something she can change. Why make her feel bad?”

This is because they are afraid of hurting the other person and feeling guilty about it, or because they are afraid of the person being angry or rejecting them.

In the Interactive/IFS Groups, we work on expressing a feeling by speaking for the part rather than as the part. When you speak as a part, it means that the part has blended with you. You have become the part, so if you were angry at someone, you might just blast them, “I hate you. You are so mean to me.” On the other hand, when you speak for a part, it means that you are in Self and you are describing the feelings of the part, “There is a part of me that is angry at you because it believes that you have been mean to me.” By speaking for our parts, we are owning our reactions to other people. We aren’t attacking them; we are letting them know how our parts are reacting to them. This is good practice for communicating in life, and it also makes the group safer. It is OK for you to express negative feelings toward others as long as you speak for your parts.

In fact, there are a number of good reasons for expressing negative feelings. It gives you a chance to practice asserting yourself. Many people are afraid to bring up difficult reactions, and this is an ideal way to learn how to do it. It gives you a chance to learn how to work through hard feelings that come up by doing this. It also gives the other person useful feedback about how they affect others. When you react to someone, it’s usually not all their fault, and it’s usually not all your fault either. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but the reaction often comes from a part of the other person and a part of you. So both of you have something to learn from the interaction.

For example, Carole says,

“Jan, when you had that interaction with Max last week, a part of me didn’t like the way you treated him. It felt you were being defensive and controlling. You didn’t really give him a chance to explain himself before you attacked him.”

I ask Carole if she is feeling protective of Max.

“Maybe a little, but I was more just scared for myself. I wouldn’t want Jan to do that to me.” Jan responds, “I don’t see what was wrong with what I did. I was just standing up for myself.”

I explore with Jan how she is reacting to Carole, and Jan discovers that a part of her is feeling defensive. She even realizes that she is responding to Carole the same way she did to Max. This helps Jan to recognize a part of her that gets defensive, and she decides she’d like to change it.

In the midst of this, I ask how Carole is reacting emotionally to Jan. She discovers that a part of her feels frightened of Jan’s anger. I check this out with Jan and discover that a part of Jan is indeed feeling a little angry at Carole. But a different part of her appreciates Carole for taking the chance to confront Jan because it gave Jan an opportunity to learn something about herself. So Carole a chance to deal with her fear of other people’s anger. Carole discovers that she can tolerate Jan being a little angry at her.

Sometimes two people have an extended interaction to work through a conflict between them where there may be hurt and anger. I provide extensive facilitation to ensure safety, help the two people resolve their conflict, and also to help them learn from it. They learn what parts of them get triggered, what exiles are being protected, and how to communicate clearly, assertively, and with vulnerability. The rest of group members support both people rather than taking sides, and this makes it much easier to resolve any bad feelings between the people. In fact, often their relationship emerges stronger as a result of this kind of interaction.