As I continue to explore Internal Family Systems, much to the benefit of myself and my clients, occasionally an aspect of managing ones emotional life comes into sharp focus. One thing that I have particularly liked recently has been the awareness that at times we need to ask an emotional part of us to “stand down.”
What do I mean by that? One of the tenets of IFS (internal family systems) is that we have parts of ourselves that act like they have a life of their own. We also have a “core” self, who is more stable than our reactive emotional parts and who needs to guide us as a person. Hopefully, our more core self is in the “driver seat” of our life at any moment, but typically our emotional parts crowd their way in and influence us when they become concerned or agitated. This can upset the apple cart.
When that happens we can “ask” the part of us who is being reactive to stand down so that we can “hear” its concerns. It’s like asking a very upset friend to calm down so that they can tell us what is wrong. It’s not to deny our feelings or disrespect them, but to get some space from them so that we can respond to them from our more calm self. Of course, then we do need to respond to them, and there can be some complications to that, but it’s definitely a skill one can learn over time.
I find this to be a very helpful concept. There’s a difference between “having” our feelings and “being” them…i.e., lost in them. Jay Earley’s very readable book, Self Therapy, describes this process well. The overall IFS way of working with oneself is by far the best I have ever found. Read Earley’s book or look for a therapist that utilizes IFS in their practice. If you find someone who is a good therapist in general, then the IFS emphasis will make them even better.
One note: IFS gets its name from the discovery that techniques often used in family therapy work in individuals. It is a way of working that is typically done in individual therapy. Don’t be put off by its name.