If you are a sports fan, the only thing you notice in this picture are the rings on Jordan’s hand. Because his failures don’t matter to you.
When I first learned about Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), it immediately resonated with me. I thought, ‘Wow, I already think that way.’ So, off I ran, as usual, to the bookstore to find any books on the subject and educate myself.
IFS is the most difficult form of therapy I’ve used, and the simplest. It is difficult because it gets to the heart of the matter quickly, and it can be extremely painful to dredge up those things. But it’s the easiest because I already thought the way they do this, like I said, so I didn’t have to force myself to conform to some new idea that promised success…if I changed myself.
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to explain IFS to non-imaginative people. That’s not an insult in this case, there are people who will hear about IFS and think that those of us who use it are just excusing our multiple personality disorders. But it is not that at all.
First, IFS is patient. It does not demand you quickly conform to the therapist. It takes its time. It is not expecting you to be healed instantly. It acknowledges that people who have severe mental health problems have them due to severe trauma and that there is no quick fix for that. It also acknowledges that your process never is completely finished. There might still be things that surface years after you are feeling better that you need to deal with, but that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it’s just the way your mind is.
Second, IFS is never harsh and damning and shaming. If you know anything about my experience in therapy, it’s been pretty much like my experience in church; namely, harsh, damning, and shaming. IFS, instead, teaches you to be kind to yourself. It teaches you to get to the root of the issue, the fear, the behavior, whatever it is your struggle is at that moment. Then it teaches you to speak kindly to whatever you find there. Don’t berate yourself, that will only make things worse, it claims. And it’s right.
In short, IFS is the really nice parent no one ever truly has but everyone needs. You look at your stats, like the ones Jordan lists, and you become your own fan, only seeing the rings.
IFS is a new way of speaking to yourself. Everyone talks about positive self-talk, but most of those ideas never deal with the underlying reason you are speaking poorly to yourself in the first place. IFS helps you to find those origins, “talk” to them in a way that does not put them on the defensive.
The end result is that you are not only more kind to yourself, you can be more kind to others. You start to see that everyone around you is as fcked up as you. That they had sht happen to them too. That, as bad as they might be behaving, they might actually be doing the best they can do with the information they have.*
My first few “sessions” were so difficult they put me under for a few days each time. But the more I have worked at it, the easier it has become. The more I try, the more open I am to myself and acknowledging the source of fears and anger. It’s not completely easy, however. It requires humility and the ability to admit to yourself and, worse, others that you have messed up.
But, for me, it has been the fastest route to change in my life.
*It’s great to have compassion on others, to see where they are coming from. But that doesn’t mean you need to be around them if they are dangerous. I can have compassion on a child molester who is acting out of his/her/their own abuse, but I’m not going to be an idiot and let them around my family, or even myself. It’s just a new way of seeing the world that allows you to be more useful when it comes to serious social issues like crime and serious family issues like abuse. Essentially, it answers the question of “why” these things happen so you can move on and hopefully prevent some of them from happening again, even if it’s only in your own sphere of influence.