Asking an emotional part of you to “stand down”

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.


This entry was posted in Gestalt, Healing, Internal Family Systems, Trauma. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Asking an emotional part of you to “stand down”

  1. I also think Internal Family Systems is the best overall model I’ve seen. And the concept of blending and how to separate from parts is a big part of it. The one thing I think is troublesome though is that a lot of people who use it forget that even Schwartz himself makes very very clear that the internal part was not meant to become the only focus. Each client’s issue has to be dealt with at whichever level is most relevant. Sometimes that is internal work, sometimes it requires dealing with the family or the community around them. Sometimes a combination.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about external work being important also. I look at IFS as helping a person to do their internal work so they can relate to themselves and the external world in a better way, where additional healing will occur. Of course, our internal and external worlds affect each other reciprocally, but addressing trauma first does allow one to move out into the external world without living out a negative self-fullfilling prophecy.

      I liked your page of IFS. For those interested, click here.

  2. Thanks for the kind words David. I agree that internal work can bring the awareness necessary to then handle the external world in a better way. It’s just important, I think, that the client not get the message, even unspoken, that the root of their problem is necessary in the arrangement of their parts alone. Even when their parts are in an optimal arrangement, outside systems can still create great difficulties if not addressed. The various levels need to be addressed as interdependent.

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