banner image

Internal Family Systems and Valentines Day

For a “holiday” that emphasizes giving and receiving love, I have found that grief of some kind is often residing in the shadows on and around Valentine’s Day. It is hard not to notice the reams of candy and cards that populate the aisles wherever we go. Sure, there is room joy on this day to celebrate the love we have in and around us. And, I think there should also be room for grief. Too often love is accentuated and esteemed ahead of grief. I have discovered that the two are actually very close companions. Grief reminds us of the depth of love that we have for someone or something that we have lost. In time, though, our capacity grows and we find that the weight of grief is not as heavy as it once was. We may also discover that grief creates a space within us for a new sense of love to be invited in. This is the transformative dynamic of grief.

It seems to me that we may benefit from learning to hold both love and grief together. As we do so, our love for ourselves and for others can deepen. This is no easy task, but the growth and transformation that slowly emerge from this process helps to spur us on. You may be asking, “What can I do to help facilitate this process?” In your respective journeys you may have learned about, and perhaps benefited from, the practice of self compassion. It is something that has had a profound effect in my life and in the lives of those I support on a regularly basis. One counseling modality that emphasizes this approach is called Internal Family Systems (IFS). IFS views the psyche as composed of many different parts (i.e. thoughts, emotions, beliefs) that may or may not be working harmoniously together. The intent of IFS is to gain access to our Core Self – that space within us that is untouched by trauma and grief - so that the wounded parts of our internal systems may experience the healing and transformation they so long for. As Self energy is beamed to parts, they start to soften and learn to sing in harmony with each other. In this, we see how IFS promotes Self Compassion vs. self compassion.

Perhaps your parts are in need of some Self Compassion as we approach a day that does not always evoke great feelings within us. I would invite you to take a few deep breaths and beam whatever amount of compassion and curiousity that comes up to the parts that you are aware of. This is a simple gesture that can have profound results. It is one that extends both vertically (deepening relationship with Self) and horizontally (deepening relationship between Self and parts) throughout our internal systems. I’ll leave you with the words of a peculiar priest and a profound poet as you consider the possibilities of Self Compassion for your own internal system.

“…in solitude we can pay attention to the inner self. This has nothing to do with egocentrism or unhealthy introspection because in the words of [Rainer Maria] Rilke, “what is going on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.”

-Henri J.M. Nouwen


Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash