Feeling Stuck?

We are presented with choices in every moment. Some are more straightforward and use up very little energy, while others are more complex and involve a deeper, focused attention. In the latter case, perhaps we may worry about the potential outcomes of our choice. Will they be favourable or detrimental to our sense of wellbeing? If we cannot be assured that a choice will result in a favourable outcome, we may be reluctant to make a choice and attempt to delay for as long as possible. During this period of time, a multiplicity of questions flood our minds, perhaps the most well known category is “What if…?” questions. Nearly all of these questions have a somewhat unpleasant flavour to them. Can you think of a time when some of these questions came up for you? How did you feel in that moment? What emotions were you experiencing? What physical feelings were going on inside of your body? Did you feel calm, connected and clear on what choice to make? Or did you feel confused, disempowered, and stuck? 

If you resonated with feeling stuck, it is likely that one or multiple “parts” of your system were cued and voicing their concerns. The term “parts” refers to the complex system of beliefs, emotions, thoughts and physical feelings that make up your inner world, or psyche. Perhaps you’ve found yourself reflecting on situations and thinking, “A part of me feels led to do this, but another part of me feels led to do that.” It is almost as if there are two entities within you debating the merits of choosing one thing or another. This debate can create a sense of tension that contributes to feeling stuck. In my experience, this is not a very pleasant feeling. I would even venture to say that I feel less like myself when these parts arise. 

The dynamic I just described is the essence of a therapy modality called Internal Family Systems (IFS). The aim of IFS is to open up access to our Self (a.k.a soul, spirit, inner knowing) so that healing and restoration between Self and wounded parts can be facilitated. Frank Anderson describes the Self as, “…our core, our essence, our internal compass that possesses inherent wisdom and healing capacity.” If we continue with the notion of younger parts interacting within our internal systems, we can view the dynamic Self to part relationship as a sort of re-parenting process. Essentially, the Self helps to meet the needs of parts that went unmet long ago. All parts deserve to be embraced with safety, security, love and acceptance. It is their birthright. 

Grief and trauma can arise when the needs (i.e. Connection with Self – authenticity & Connection with trusted others – attachment) of parts go unmet. In his book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” renowned psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk explains that grief and trauma interrupt the plotline of our lives. It is important to note that these interruptions are often no fault of our own, as they can occur at very young ages. What occurs is that parts will fragment off to try to protect us from further harm and ensure our survival. One group of parts, called “Managers,” are proactive in protecting from pain. These parts exhibit behaviours including: caretaking, controlling, judging/criticising, striving, passiveness, pessimism, perfectionism and planning. The other group of parts, called “Firefighters,” are strongly reactive whenever a sense of pain does arise. Common behaviours of Firefighters include: obsession, fantasy, dissociation, over-sleeping, over-working, dieting, exercising, shopping, video games, gambling substance use, bingeing, self-harm, and suicidality. 

The founder of IFS, Dick Schwartz, asserts that there are no bad parts. As human beings, we are often inclined to compartmentalize things into either “good” or “bad” categories, but this runs counter to the ethos of IFS. All parts fill essential roles that have helped to protect the deeply wounded parts (i.e. Exiles) of our systems throughout our lives. Without a connection to Self, though, protective parts will keep doing what they have been programmed to do. When approached by Self, most parts will admit that they are tired and want to do something different, but they do not know what or how. The Self helps to facilitate this process of discovery. It is marked by qualities including: compassion, curiousity, calm, clarity, creativity, courage, confidence and connectedness. The Self’s invitation to parts is to, “Try something different.” This something different is grounded in a sense of being vs. doing; of trying softer vs. trying harder (Kolber). 

With this in mind, take a moment to thank your parts for showing up and doing their best to protect you from pain. They are worthy of love and care, and you have what it takes to meet their needs on this new and hopeful journey. 

#Internal Family Systems #Choices #Feeling Stuck

Photo by Jon Tyson