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IFS (Internal Family Systems)

Here is the blog post some of you have been so looking forward I see the benefits and am getting a better grip on how it works for me, I think I am finally ready to share about it...

Each of us has different parts of ourselves that have been wounded, some parts try to protect us from things that caused harm in the past, and there's parts of us that never got the love and compassion that they needed, especially for trauma and abuse survivors. These parts try to get our attention through emotions, body sensations and body parts hurting; for example, feeling really sad and not knowing why, a tight back, stomach pain, tight shoulders, etc. They are begging for attention. And I won't deny that when you start listening to them and giving them the compassion they deserve, they all seem to start clamoring for attention. So often trauma and abuse survivors hate themselves, their gender, or parts of themselves because of the way our abusers treated us. Especially when it already began in the very young years of childhood. By giving these parts space and allowing them to speak through the adult body through sensations, feelings and giving them words to express themselves and meeting them with the care, compassion and a listening ear that they never had in the past I have found it to be the most healing tool I have yet tried in therapy. I feel like I'm finally going forward towards what I have longed to be and do for some time with my life.

I would like to share about different parts of me and how they are being helped and healed. It is hard and painful at times and other times it just feels so good. I didn't know when I'd feel ready to share about this part of my journey but I think it's time to start putting it in words for others to read, especially after observing myself this morning...

I sit here in my hammock chair in the early morning just as the birds are starting to sing. I've been awake for the last hour. My lower back was hurting and I wanted to sleep because my week was really rough and I'm tired. I finally realized that it seems there's a part of me begging for attention and that I won't be able to go back to sleep because she's begging for my attention. So I got up and instead of picking up my usual china doll I chose one my friend gave to me the other day, one with a long white nightgown on.

You see, mornings have always been rough to some extent. As a child dad would call for us and in 15 minutes we were expected to be out helping with chores. Because of late nights and the stress of a dysfunctional home life where nothing could ever be done good enough or fast enough, I would have nightmares often and when my alarm rang at 6 am (after I left home) I'd have an adrenaline rush through my body which would affect me most of the day. Until one day I discovered accidentally that if I switch my bedtime and waking time by an hour those morning effects and nightmares disappear for the most part.

I sat in my hammock chair and using the doll as the young scared part of me I held her up in front of me. I told her it's ok, she's safe now. I told her I'm sorry she had to be so scared and that I want to care for her now. That she doesn't have to be afraid. I started to cry and as I allowed myself to feel the feelings of fear and despair of that young part of me the tightness in my back disappeared and I feel relaxed again. I felt compassion and care towards her and I wanted her to feel safe. Since we live in the same body she can sense if I like her or if I don't.

This is where a trained professional comes in. In the beginning we are such a mess and it takes someone outside of ourselves to extend the care, compassion and safety our parts need. Depending what parts of me I am dealing with I am not able to extend that to them and if one has rarely had those elements in their life, you have to learn and soak up from other people who extend those elements in order to learn how to extend them to yourself. Just to watch myself be able to extend care and compassion to the younger part of me and to feel the difference in my body, I must say, is quite amazing! case you're wondering...this part of me is anywhere between 6 and 10.

The first time I really connected with a younger part of me it was kinda scary because I didn't know what to expect. With the help of my trained friend I connected with an 8 yr old part of me who was hiding in the barn, too scared of dad to walk out into the daylight. My friend extended compassion and her presence and asked questions "to get the imagination going" which helped that part of me snap out of the fear. It is hard to explain but the most important thing was for that part of me to feel safe. And where would that part of me feel safe?

In a stone house with big stone walls all around. Inside those stone walls would be a beautiful garden filled with beautiful flowers and pathways, but especially roses and ferns. She would have a doll with black hair and blue eyes.

I was encouraged to find ways to let that little 8 yr old part of me express herself through art and play such as drawing a picture of the stone house and garden and playing with dolls. At the end of the session I was asked if the young part of me wanted to be with the adult part of me and I ,as an adult, try to give children space till they are ready to interact with me whenever they feel safe enough, wanted to do the same for that 8 yr old part of me. As silly as it may sound, I had the sensation of that young part of me just running up to me and snuggling close in my arms. I honestly didn't expect it, didn't know what to expect, but it was then that I knew that this style of therapy, even though I was struggling to grasp the concept, was going to take me much further and faster on my healing journey than anything else I had tried to date.

Out of that session, given the idea of finding fun things to do with that 8 yr old part of me; instead of drawing that stone house and garden, it is being made even more realistic by being made into a dollhouse such as that young part of me never had as a child. In it will be the bedroom she would have loved to have as a child as well as a beautiful garden. In it will be things she would've loved to be surrounded with but never had.

Also a few days later I was out thrift shopping and I found a doll with black hair and blue eyes and the most beautiful dress I would have loved to wear as an 8 yr old but being Mennonite such fancy clothes were not allowed. I couldn't leave without her.

A few weeks later I was house sitting for a friend and for one of the first times in my life I made cookies and freely decorated them. About the last time I can remember being allowed to use sprinkles on cookies as a child was between 8 and 10.

I have since been trying to find new things to do that the 8 year old part of me would love to do. One of my favorite things is to take long leisurely walks with a friend in the woods where there aren't many people and to just have the freedom to explore and take pictures of all the beauty I see.

(The next morning)

Last night I did something I never have done before: I tenderly put the young part of me to bed. I don't remember having a doll or teddy bear to sleep with as a child but now she has her own little doll to sleep with. I have no specific bed for her so I put her to sleep in the hammock chair. (Having a doll to use makes it more tangible)

It had been a hard day yesterday as I still have a lot of tension and fear in my body from the latest episode with #thatladydownstairs that I kept myself busy at work and when I got home I didn't spend much time resting before I jumped into the latest creative project that I'm working on. By bedtime I was feeling utterly exhausted and out of sorts and the only thing I could think to do was hold my doll as the young part of me and just hold her close. And then, I thought I'd put her to bed too. It was really a unique experience and I do think it helped me to sleep better and gave the young part of me some comfort and compassion.

Another part I connected with not long ago felt like the preemie part of me. As a preemie, born 11 weeks early at 1 lb. 9 oz. I was in an incubator for most of the first 10 weeks of my life. If I remember correctly, my mom said she was only allowed to hold me for maybe half an hour a day. I do believe that because of the lack of bonding, affection and touch as a preemie I still long for the very things babies thrive on: connection and touch. As an adult I don't talk about it because it just seems really weird to say, "I want a hug. I want to be held. I want somebody to hold me close. "Etc.

(It is hard to look at this picture because of the hand that has inflicted so much pain.)

(I used to get lots of hugs when I was still going to church but since some abusive treatment and lack of support I can no longer attend church. I miss the hugs the most. Now I treasure it even more when I can get hugs from safe people. And now that I've been blessed with a hammock chair it helps too because it feels like I'm being held.)

Since the preemie part of myself is non verbal, I tried to put words to the feelings and sensations of that part of me. At that point of my life it seems as though I already felt hopeless and helpless(which babies are helpless). Something that surprised me was that I had the sensation of big hands turning my body around like I was just an object and they could hurt me however they wanted(I stil have scars on the back of my hands from the IV needles.)

I had to let my friend hold (in imagination) that young part of me and give it the care, compassion and love it needed because I was unable to, was too distraught and enmeshed to. It was amazing to me how when I gave her permission to touch and hold that tiny part of me who was feeling so helpless, alone and scared I could feel my body relax. It felt like a part of me could finally relax and be ok. A part of me that had been clamoring for attention for a long time. It was a relief and felt so good.

Often when starting with a session I check in with my body to see if there's any part that's tense or a feeling or something else that seems to be begging for attention. Then we try to connect with that part and help it feel heard and allow it to express itself.

One time I had only a memory. A horrible memory of once again trying to avoid my dad and getting caught. It was a memory of the moment when I could not escape my dad (I already feared for my life) and I nearly lost my mind, blacked out, had a panic attack or whatever you would call it. I just remember feeling like I was going to go crazy. I remember that he just gave me a big pinch on the arm and somehow I just blindly went and did what I was supposed to.

It was extremely hard for me to try to connect with that part of me as a 14-16 year old. The adult part of me wanted to touch her, hold her close, but I was afraid I'd scare her, and remembering how I felt in that moment, I knew that part of me was to frozen in fear to speak or even comprehend if an outsider would have tried to show compassion and care. My therapist friend just encouraged me to extend feelings of care and compassion and assured me that she can feel it, that sometimes it takes numerous times before that part of me can accept care and compassion. Have you ever seen an animal totally terrified and no matter how much you try to calm, comfort, reassure that animal that they're ok, its almost impossible? That's a little bit how it felt to try to connect to that part of me. No child should have to live with so much terror. It's no wonder I was suicidal most of my teen years.

So, hopefully I have been able to explain to some extent what is the motive/reason behind some of the creative things I've been doing lately as a part of my healing journey. It may seem childish to others but the younger parts of me deserve to express themselves and have a bit of a childhood without fear with my adult self to help and guide and care.

What I find amazing though is that some of the things I do now for the younger parts of myself in trying to give them what they never had(as selfish as it sometimes feels) I see the potential for those things to later be a blessing to others down the road. At this point healing just can't happen fast enough and it's hard to not be impatient...but I'm learning to give myself space and grace because too much in too short of a time would not be a good thing...

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May 10, 2023

I have no words for you. Only a great big smile.

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