Negotiating with Protectors for Healthy Behavior

Self-Therapy-Vol-2Negotiating with Protectors for Healthy Behavior is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 2, which describes this process in detail. I also teach about it in my Advanced IFS Classes.

In the standard IFS procedure, once you have gotten to know a protector and have developed a trusting relationship with it, you ask its permission to work with the exile or exiles it is protecting and then go through the series of healing steps with the exile, and then you return to the protector to see if it now can let go of its protective role.

However, there are situations in which it may take quite a while to heal the exile being protected. If you have an important situation coming up soon in your life in which that protector may act out, it can be very helpful to find a way to get that protector to relax even before all its exiles have been healed. This can sometimes be done by explaining to the protector how it is safe for it to let go of its role and allow you (in Self) to behave in a healthy manner in that situation.

Let’s consider the point in the IFS process when you have gotten to know a protector and have developed a trusting relationship with it. When a situation arises that activates this protector—such as meeting a new person, going out on a date, or interviewing for a job—the protector usually takes over and performs its extreme role. For example, it might make you withdraw, get angry, shut down emotionally, or please people. If it is an Inner Critic Part, it might start pushing and attacking you.

The protector performs its role because it is afraid of what would happen if it didn’t. For example, it may be afraid that you will be judged, shamed, rejected, or betrayed if it doesn’t do something. These fears come from childhood, when you actually were hurt in one of these ways. However, in the current situation in your life, it isn’t as likely that you will be hurt in the way the protector fears, so you can explain this to the protector and ask it to relax.

Ask the protector what it is afraid will happen in the upcoming life situation. When you learn what it is afraid of, explain that the current situation is different. The people you are dealing with today won’t hurt you the way your parents (or other people) did back then. In addition, you were under the power of adults when you were a child, but you aren’t under anyone’s power now. Therefore, the protector doesn’t need to perform its role. Explain to the protector that you can make good decisions and handle the situation successfully from Self. Describe the healthy way you plan to handle situation and the advantages of doing that. Ask the protector if it would be willing to relax and allow you to handle that situation from Self when it arises.