Internal Family Systems Therapy

My therapist recommended IFS or Internal Family Systems therapy to me several months ago. The idea behind the therapy is that a person is made up parts and sometimes those parts do more harm than good.

We all have parts. We talk about them often. “There’s a part of me that’s happy this happened but another part that is nervous.” For some of us, our parts are in conflict that can cause us mental anguish.

The point of IFS is learning to engage with those parts as if they are individuals within a “family”, asking them their thoughts and about their actions. Tim Ferris had IFS developer Richard Schwartz on his podcast recently and they go through an IFS session live. It’s amazing and worth a listen. It’s linked here.

I tweeted recently that I dissociate sometimes. Lately I notice it happens when I am feeling happy and confident. I get this overwhelming feeling that I am being fake. Like I’m putting on a performance. It’s similar to how I feel when I drink; like I’m a passenger in my own mind. It’s called depersonalization.

When I talked to my therapist about it she said next time it happens I need to engage with that part and ask it what is so bad about being happy and confident.

The answer I got back was not surprising. Being happy and confident means I won’t be ready if something bad happens. That makes sense, however my follow up question is why this depersonalization? Why is this the way this “part” deals with the happy confident feeling?

That answer came a little while later. The part said being happy and confident isn’t real. There’s nothing to be happy and confident about. I must be faking it.

What I need to do is try to convince that part that happiness and confidence are good things. I can still be ready for potential bad things. Being happy about a new vase and flower arrangement is good. It’s progress. It’s not bad.

It’s important to know where this comes from. My early childhood was rough. Homelessness, poverty, neglect, parents ill-equipped to emotionally support their children. My later childhood was more stable but I still had a big lack of emotional supports from my parents.

It’s no wonder I feel like a fraud when a moment of happiness or confidence comes. But times are different. Those coping mechanisms that were so important to protect me as a child are no longer necessary. I just need to work on convincing that “part”.

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