In the last post, we saw that Self builds relationships with parts, and those relationships make it possible to release burdens. Since burdens are the source of so many of our problems, this release can transform our lives for the better. And yet, I don’t believe that Self builds relationships in order to release burdens. I believe that Self builds relationships for their own sake. The real treasure, as they say, is the friends we made along the way.
Techniques for releasing burdens are not yet as widely known as they should be, but there are in fact many such techniques. However, I stick with IFS instead of, or in addition to, everything else because it gives me the ability to explicitly maintain long-term relationships with my parts.
Navigating Everyday Challenges
Maintaining communication between Self and parts allows a person to live in a state called Self-leadership. Others might call this mindful living, because a Self-led person responds mindfully to situations—considering all options and choosing the best one—rather than reacting impulsively out of habit or fear. Self-leadership means that all parts trust the Self enough that, as long as it’s not a true emergency, they’re willing to bring their knowledge and opinions to a sort of inner conference and let Self choose the best course of action. This allows people to avoid both reckless decisions and the painful state of indecision that happens when two parts that disagree both try to take control at the same time.
Avoiding New Burdens
Real threats and losses are, unfortunately, inevitable in life. Just as they burdened your parts in the past, they have the potential to re-burden your parts in the future. In her book Daily Parts Meditation Practice, Michelle Glass describes how this happened to her when she stopped doing IFS after recovering from her trauma. But now that she maintains a daily IFS practice, she’s able to help her parts avoid new burdens even when she goes through difficult phases of life.
I used to think the idea of “self-soothing” was a joke. It didn’t matter how many times I told myself that everything was clearly okay; if I was anxious, I was anxious. This was the first thing IFS changed for me. As soon as I realized that true self-soothing is not about one entity telling itself that things are okay, but rather Self telling a part that things are okay, it clicked. I have no problem soothing a friend who’s scared, comforting a friend who’s sad, or showing love and acceptance to a friend who feels shame. Bringing those skills inside helps me feel that I’m never truly alone.
And this companionship goes both ways. Often, in my first session with a new client, as I guide the client to pay attention to a part, the client reports that the part feels relief and gratitude. The part says something like “Finally, you see me. I’ve wanted this for so long.” This can even happen to clients who had noticed and analyzed the part in the past. Befriending a part is different from thinking about it, and that difference is deeply meaningful.
Unlocking Your Full Potential
A common misconception about IFS is that Self is good and parts are bad. While it’s true that making room for Self to show up in the inner system is the key to deep positive change, that’s not because Self is better than parts. It’s actually because the inner system needs all of its elements, Self and all parts, to take up their rightful roles and work together. And parts do have rightful roles, even though the roles we originally find them in are often problematic.
Unburdening frees parts up to find their natural talents and play their ideal roles in our lives. Not only do they stop creating problems, but they start bringing creativity, passion, playfulness, wisdom, and other wonderful qualities into people’s lives.
One of the first changes I noticed when I started doing IFS, even before I had unburdened any parts, was that I started laughing more. My partner would tease me and I would fully intend to keep a straight face to send the message that despite his joke, I still meant business, but nevertheless, a part would break through with laughter. Okay laughing part, fine, I guess I can stand to have a little more fun along the way!
If we rely on merely coping with parts’ burdens instead of helping parts into these new roles, we lose out on some of what parts have to offer.
Alma’s Happily Ever After
Let’s see what those ideal roles are for Alma’s parts. When they’re unburdened:
- Belle, formerly an exile holding fear and shame, gets back in touch with her childlike wonder. Alma finds herself more able to appreciate beauty in the world, something she always seemed too busy to do before. This turns out to be an asset in Alma’s creative work.
- Clara, formerly a self-doubting protector, transforms her doubt into clarity. She still lets Alma know when she thinks Alma is making a mistake, but her voice isn’t harsh and critical anymore; it’s calm and insightful. Rather than telling Alma her ideas are stupid, she gives Alma suggestions for what might help. She can handle it if Alma doesn’t agree, because she knows Belle is safe either way.
- David, formerly a procrastinating protector, trades in his impulsive need to change the subject for passion. He still has the same intense energy, but instead of using it to take Alma off track, he uses it to show her what she really cares about. By helping Alma see which topics are her favorite, he makes her more focused—the opposite of what he did before!
You may notice that these unburdened roles are reflected in the parts’ names, which is my way of showing that these positive roles are more essential to the parts than their burdened behavior was. Alma didn’t have to teach her parts these talents, just make space for them. You have everything you need inside of you already, and you have so much to gain by getting to know it.