The primary tool I use to help people who struggle with internal conflict is known as Internal Family Systems (IFS). It has nothing to do with family therapy. More accurately, it’s not unlike being a wildlife observer. A really good one. Who has also read Clan of the Cave Bear. You’ll understand it all in a moment.
First, imagine a wildlife observer sitting down in a field, taking notes in his journal. He’s intent on learning more about the animal kingdom. After sitting still for a few hours, he notices a small squirrel innocently wandering around, looking for nuts. Without warning, a lion suddenly pounces out of the bushes in an attempt to eat the squirrel.
With a rush of adrenaline, The Poor Wildlife Observer immediately reacts. In a flash, he jumps up and tosses his clipboard and papers in the air as he rushes towards the lion in a panic. He waves frantically and yells at the top of his voice: “Bad lion! Shoo! Shoo! Go away!” He’s desperately trying to save the poor innocent squirrel. Startled by all of the commotion, the lion hesitates, and reluctantly backs off. The Poor Wildlife Observer picks up the little squirrel, cradles it in his arms and gives it a gentle caress as if to say that everything is going to be all right.
This is not the right approach to self awareness.
Compare this with the behavior of The Good Wildlife Observer. He notices the squirrel and sees the lion pounce. However with this encounter, he does not react to what he sees. Instead, he allows the entire interaction to take place. Undeterred by the protests of the innocent little squirrel, the lion proceeds with his midday snack. The Good Wildlife Observer simply nods, picks up his clipboard, and with slow, deliberate action begins to write: “Lion exhibits squirrel-eating behavior. Interesting,” and shrugs.
The difference between the two wildlife observers is that one reacts, while the other one reflects. When we react to our thoughts and emotions, we don’t really notice what’s truly going on deep inside of ourselves. Reflection allows us to notice, observe and accept what is. You can’t change what you don’t notice, and over time, you’ll be able to choose to act rather than react. Acceptance and curiosity allows us to access a deeper, more complete picture of our emotional landscape.
This is one of the essential components in Internal Family Systems (IFS).
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a type of therapy that helps people understand and and manage their complex emotions, thoughts and beliefs. An essential component of this is that each person is made up of different “parts”, all of whom may have different goals, objectives and motivations. Understanding how they work and not working against them is the first step towards healing emotional wounds.
All About this IFS “Part” Nonsense
A client once expressed her concern over exploring her various “parts”. She didn’t want to buy in to this “touchy feely nonsense” without some understanding of how it works. Which is perfect, as I love it when clients want to understand how to use these tools better.
I suggested that she look at it like the situation with Ayla doing mathematics in Clan of the Cave Bear. For Ayla, learning to count was simple; in fact, she could count past ten even though she only had ten fingers. Her peers were dumbfounded; they were still stuck on the literal concept of not comprehending what fingers had to do with numbers. However, Ayla knew that her fingers were representative of a concept, specifically mathematics.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether or not we actually have different “parts” of ourselves or if we’re just using this as a way to represent our conflicting feelings and thoughts. It’s effective and incredibly illuminating to understand ourselves in this new light.