A Little Enlightenment

School is finished for the term, but my usual frantic activity has not begun. Typically, I spend my breaks working long hours on projects here at the house. This break I have not.

About two months ago, I hesitantly began a journey into Internal Family Systems Therapy. IFS requires a lot of internal thinking that I really thought I already did, but that was not the case at all. What I was doing was not internal thinking, it was internal control. That control was accomplished in the usual way most of us are taught, a lot of berating.

IFS is not based on controlling our inner thoughts in the way traditional therapy or religion or society teaches. Instead, it is the polar opposite. In IFS, you do not talk back to your inner critic, you do not view your inner critic as a demon, nor do you ignore your inner critic and attempt to shut it out or overpower it. In IFS, you find out what your inner critic is really trying to say to you. You listen to its concerns. You acknowledge its voice. You talk with it and assure it. Then this weird thing happens that doesn’t happen in all the other teachings, the critic chills.

It was in discussion with one of these parts (IFS wording) that I was forced to consider the benefit of things I have previously done to survive. Was the frantic activity worth it? Was it still going to silence the noise in my head? Had it ever silenced the noise in my head or had it only shut it out and ignored the pounding on the door?

In IFS, a person does not do things because if they don’t it means they are a bad person. IFS does not practice the shaming that is so deeply ingrained across all cultures. When a person who is working through IFS does things after a part is healed or is being healed, it can be for positive reasons. I don’t clean off the patio because I will be a bad parent if I don’t give my kids a place to play outside, I do it because it brings a sense of peace.

Most chores we do are done out of shame. Maybe we think we hear our mother’s voice if we don’t clean the baseboards with a toothbrush. Maybe we think we hear society’s voice when we run out of milk and can’t get to the grocery store. ¿Tiene Ud. suficiente leche? (Milk council “Got Milk” ad for Spanish speakers.) As a result, we beat ourselves up, which is exactly what those social norms are meant to do. Because, apparently, dirty baseboards and a few hours without milk in the house will bring about an end of civilization as we know it.

Of course, now we know that the end of civilization as we know it has nothing to do with baseboards or milk. And now, maybe those of us who are willing, and who have time during this pandemic, can begin to reexamine why the hell we were so caught up in the pressure of these very stupid little things.

Now, it’s not wrong to clean your baseboards with a toothbrush. I mean, if that truly brings you joy then you should do it. The point is, if you don’t, if it doesn’t bring you joy and you say “screw this” and do something else, you just don’t beat yourself up over it.

When those voices start, IFS guides the person to have that conversation, as hard as it might be, and ask the part why it’s attacking you. There is always a good reason, usually it has developed this method because it thinks that this will protect you somehow. If it berates you for your dirty baseboards and lack of milk in the fridge and you acquiesce to it and clean and stock up, then your mother won’t b*tch at you when she comes over for a visit. Valid reason.

We know, of course, that I told my mother to take her abusive arse for a hike about 15 years ago. So maybe that’s an easier one for me. I mean, my part doesn’t have to worry about my mother. And that brings me to the next part of IFS discussion with your parts.

The critic often has no idea that things have changed. The mental attacks are more habit than necessity. I mean, my mother is never going to set foot in my house again, so why is my brain still yelling at me like she did? Once the critic understands the change in the situation, it makes it easier to let go of that language.

In case you are wondering, the opposite yields opposite dilemmas. When the problem won’t go away, like my ex coming for visitation as well as constantly holding homelessness over my head (yes, this pandemic has made it worse, surprise), then it is a little harder to convince the parts that react to him that everything is going to be alright. That is a part I am working on, how to deal with ongoing issues, and, of course, the fear that as I get myself into a better situation psychologically, there will be such serious push-back and it will possibly escalate into a dangerous situation like the one I fled five years ago.

That is a bridge I will have to cross when I come to it. The only thing I can do now is try to make it easier on myself by making myself mentally fit to deal with everything else in the world.

In working to that end, I realized that the things I was doing to squelch the voices inside were just making things worse. The frantic activity during the break, even my writing, were shutting out the very things I should have been listening to. That doesn’t mean that I stop cleaning or writing, it just means that I do them for different reasons. They are not coping mechanisms; they are just a part of me; they are just things I do.