Weary and dispirited, we bravely, or cautiously, carry on. We adapt, adjust and step up. It is taking its toll. We are only human.
Political leaders argue over which restrictions work and where they should be put in place. This is captured by cameras and reporters eager for us to witness these verbal fights. Like parents and family members arguing and fighting in front of children, acrimonious discord amongst authority figures, be they parents, employers or world leaders, evokes unrest, insecurity and anxiety in the people around.
Our country, like our families, is split. Set into different regulations and ways of behaving. Forced into different habits, routines and accepted norms.
We can expect this to have an impact on our internal world. It may encourage us into positive action, calling upon our resilience and resolve. Or it may weaken us, render us helpless, confused and anxious. Our earlier experiences of the world around us will in some part dictate which reaction is ours now.
This hierarchical system is a good model for exploring our relationship to the world. How we experience this dynamic impacts our psychological state.
When what is going on in our environment parallels our past and internalised psychological state, it can set off old, outdated and unhelpful reactions and behaviours.
I am not saying we should collude and be passive. Our adult, rational selves should be able to engage in an appropriate debate. These issues affect us all.
At the same time, we should be able to step back from our angry, insecure, defiant and argumentative stances. Our rational selves should be able to consider whether or not what we are doing is appropriate. Is it serving us? Or those around us?
In therapy this is our work. We look at our behaviours, patterns and the way we are in this world and in our relationships. At the point of seeking therapy, our familiar way of being is usually no longer working for us. We are ready to find new ways of being, to move on from old feelings of depression, anxiety, anger and pain.
Engaging in this inner exploration in therapy brings self-soothing, anxiety-reducing, depression-relieving, healing change. Discovering why we developed behaviours and defence mechanisms by reflecting on our past, we gain empathy for the parts of ourselves who were wounded, abused, bullied, neglected, humiliated, abandoned.
Bringing understanding, compassion and support to these damaged parts allows strengthening, development and greater use of these significant elements of our internal world.
This is a common process in therapy. Different theoretical models refer to the process using their own distinctive labels:
Psychosynthesis calls our different facets ‘Subpersonalities’
Internal Family Systems (IFS) identify the different aspects of ourselves as ‘Parts’
Jungian psychotherapy uses the term ‘Persona’
Transactional Analysis centres around the primary states of Parent, Adult and Child
To give you a glimpse into this therapeutic process, I invite you to engage in the following line of thought and reflection
I use the IFS term ‘Parts’ for ease and clarity.
- Think of a time you have felt really strongly about something. A time when you have responded with anger or distress. When your reaction has caught your attention. When you have responded out loud to a news item, or perhaps to something someone has said to you. A time when you have known your reaction has come from a place that feels very deeply.
- Just for a moment, consider that response. Was it reacting to something? Was that angry or upset or indignant reaction coming from a Part in you that felt threatened, attacked or insulted? Maybe the response was defensive or protective. It may have been something from some time ago, something that was left feeling frustrated, ignored, unpacified. Take a moment to track this back to its origin.
- I invite you to stop for a moment and just consider the Part of you that reacted. Give it some time, some thought.
- Can you imagine what might be going on beneath that angry, upset or frustrated expression? Without judging or criticising, without interpreting or justifying, just consider that feeling and see if it might be speaking from an earlier time when it felt evoked. Take a moment. See what you notice. Is your anger rising or your mood altering? Is your heart-rate increasing or decreasing? Are you feeling hot, uncomfortable? Is it hard to stay with your feelings? Just notice and be curious. Do you feel sad? Angry? Does anything come to mind? Does this feel familiar at all?
- If you could give this Part of you that spoke out a response, what would it be? Can you consider giving it some acknowledgment, some respect for speaking out? Can you be curious about what made it speak out? Might you be able to offer it a response, something that might speak to the place from which the original expression came? Can you hear it and allow it to be there?
- Offer this Part some compassion if you can. Consider where it comes from, what hurt it, what does it represent? It didn’t come out of nowhere. Something created it. It had a purpose. Like anything that has been hurt, it deserves a compassionate response. It hasn’t done anything wrong. It is just hurting.
- Note down anything that comes up that you might want to follow-up later.
Entering into dialogue with these Parts of ourselves is a key element of therapy and healing. Offering these ‘exiled’ or judged, ignored, abandoned Parts of ourselves a tolerant, compassionate, respectful response can lead us into a deeper place of acceptance, peace, comfort.
Like any child desperate for the soothing, loving response from a parent, this process can bring release from the burden, discomfort and dysregulation known and held within. The longing for ‘It’s okay to feel that’, ‘I understand’, ‘I’m sorry’ can be given from our own Adult Part: we can take responsibility for tending to our neglected Parts.
From this place we can soothe, regulate, build.
Internally and externally, we need to connect with ourselves and others compassionately
When we are overwhelmed, weary or fragmented, going within, listening to the Parts of us that are taking centre stage and paying them attention, giving them an audience, validation and compassion, we gain stability, strength and greater robustness. An attentive, compassionate, validating parent can make a child feel seen, heard, loved – it’s actually that simple. When we apply that respectful, compassionate response to ourselves we are better able to deal with whatever we are faced with. Global pandemics. Family crisis. Personal emergence.
These uncertain and threatening times are a challenge. Being denied physical contact with your loved ones, living with real threat to your livelihood and physical health, separation from familiar support systems … all of these can be expected to trigger human emotional reactions and deserve a compassionate response.
Whether we are able to do this in therapy, in an intimate, safe relationship or within ourselves, the potential is there to give ourselves the attention and support we need to maintain a healthy level of emotional balance. I wholeheartedly encourage you to listen to the Parts of you needing to be heard; I wholeheartedly encourage you to treat yourself kindly.
If you are interested in finding out more about IFS and exploring your inner world, Lissa Rankin is running a 4 part workshop from 2nd November 2020 ‘Alchemizing Uncertain Times Through Writing‘