Working Through Conflicts in an Interactive/IFS Group

Sharon tended to avoid bringing up difficulties with her friends, but then she would withdraw from them because her negative feelings festered. This was directly tied to her fear of vulnerability. As long as she was holding back negative feelings toward someone, she didn’t have to reach out or get in touch with her vulnerable exile. She felt justified in keeping the person at a distance or even writing them off. She was also afraid of the person’s reactions if she confronted them.

When Sharon brought up this issue in a group consult with me, I suggested that she work on confronting people in group directly, and this terrified her. She was afraid that the other person would get hurt, and then they would abandon her or get angry at her. I encouraged Sharon to get feedback from the group members about this, and when she did, only one person expressed fear of Sharon’s confrontations. The rest of the group welcomed them.

After this, she began to bring out her negative feelings toward people in group, and in the process she learned more about how her judgments were a protection against wanting contact. This also got her judgments out in the open so they didn’t fester inside and get in the way of her connecting with people. Sharon found that when she did challenge someone in a soft way about something they were doing that she didn’t like, the person would often reveal the reason behind their behavior and be willing to try to change. This encouraged Sharon’s own openness. Conflict became a way of becoming closer to people.

For example, Patti joined the group about 9 months after it started and Sharon didn’t feel very receptive to her. Sharon describes it as follows:

“I had a part with the attitude of ‘I’m in the in-crowd and I’ve got something that you don’t. You can’t come in.’ This protector felt this way toward some people. They had to prove that they were willing to be open and loving, that they were scared and vulnerable, and they had to appreciate me and let me know that. Once they did that, then I could trust them. I was very scared to confront Patti, especially because it was something that was part of her character and couldn’t be changed.

When I mentioned that in a consultation, Jay encouraged me to work on it with her because both of us could benefit from it. That gave me the idea that my response to someone could be appropriate and helpful to them. So he gave me the courage to do it.”

Even though at first Sharon didn’t say anything about her judgmental response, Patti sensed it, and, after a couple of months, she questioned Sharon about it. This gave Sharon an opening to do the work. She acknowledged that she had a tendency to make people prove themselves before she would accept them, and that she was feeling that way toward Patti. Patti asked her why, and Sharon said it was because she didn’t sense warmth from Patti toward herself or toward other people in the group.

“This was very scary. If I would ever talk back or challenge my mother in any way she would be so wounded. She could dish it out but she couldn’t take it! I felt tremendous guilt at hurting her. In my family, I had all this training that you can’t disagree, or argue, or confront in any way. I had already worked on that in individual therapy, so in the group I was ready to try it out and break old habits.”

Patti felt hurt by Sharon’s statement, but she also acknowledged that she did have a part that was guarded at first with people for fear of not being accepted. Patti was feeling shaky about not being accepted in the group, and I encouraged her to explore this rather than defending herself. It was difficult for Patti to make herself this vulnerable, but with encouragement and reassurance from me and from the group, she was able to do some very courageous work. As she explored this issue, it led back to an exile with deep pain about not being accepted in her family of origin, and Patti opened herself and expressed the pain in a vulnerable, appealing way.

Sharon’s attitude toward Patti changed right in the moment. She melted and felt genuine caring and respect for her. She realized that Patti had warmth, but that she expressed it in a different way than Sharon. They continued to work on this issue and other differences between them as the group progressed, and they grew closer over time. In addition, because of this work, Sharon saw the possibility of being more receptive to other new people whose style of relating might be different from hers.

I lead four Interactive/IFS Groups, some of which have openings now. Click here for more information about them.

 

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.

Interactive Group: Speaking for Your Parts

Interactive Group - Speaking for Your PartsOne of the big challenges for many people in an Interactive Group, and in life, is the expression of “negative” feelings.

It is valuable in an Interactive Group 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.

You might find it hard to believe that expressing negative feelings of any kind will be helpful to anyone. You might think:

“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 you are afraid of hurting the other person and feeling guilty about it, or because you are afraid of the person becoming angry or rejecting toward you.

In the Interactive 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 others, we are letting them know how our parts are reacting to them.

This is good practice for communicating in life, and it also makes an Interactive Group safer. It is OK for you to express negative feelings toward others as long as you speak for your parts.