Working with a Stubborn Protector in IFS

Suppose you are trying to get permission from a protector to work with and heal its exile.

The Stubborn Protector

What do you do if you’ve tried everything and the protector is so stubborn that it still won’t budge? Sometimes you have a protector that is strongly resistant to allowing you to access the exile because it doesn’t trust that you will be careful or it doesn’t feel respected by you. It is afraid that you will try to push past it or sneak around it to get to the exile. It believes that its protective role is essential and must not be violated. With a protector like this, it can be helpful to reassure it that it is in charge of whether or not you work with the exile. Let it know that you respect its need to protect, and you won’t do anything without its permission. This is actually true.

Getting Permission

The way IFS operates is that we never work with an exile without getting permission from all protectors that might object, no matter how long this takes. We only work in a cooperative manner. Let the part know that you won’t try to take away its power. You will only move ahead if it agrees to do so. (Of course, you have to mean it.) If you make this very clear to the protector, this will help it to trust you. It is likely to listen to you because it realizes that you want to cooperate with it, not fight it. And once it is willing to listen, you will be able to reassure it about its fears and gain its permission.

Additional Approach to Gaining Permission

Here is an additional approach to gaining permission that can be effective. Offer the protector hope. Protectors are often tired of their jobs, even though they hold tightly to them because they believe they are necessary. A protector’s role often requires it to do distasteful things like being shut down or judgmental. Furthermore, this role often doesn’t work very well— the exile gets hurt anyway. It’s been a long, hard road, and the protector gets little or no appreciation; in fact, other parts often judge the protector for doing its job. If you ask a protector how it feels about its role, many will tell you that they are very tired of it and would love to give it up, but they don’t think that is possible. If you let them know that, once you heal the exile, the protector can let go of its role, it is likely to give you permission.