I’m not selling anything. I’m just going to chronicle my experience with something a bit.
When I started seeing a therapist some months ago, I did so because I was tired of fighting myself. My Gynecologist actually suggested it for a couple of years before I made the decision to heed her advice.
The kind of therapy I’m doing is called IFS, Internal Family Systems. The premise is this: we are all, basically, a sum of parts. There is a Self, who you are at your core, and then layers of other “parts” that tend to vie for the spotlight in your everyday life. We tend to label these as emotions, and certainly there are strong emotions intertwined with these parts, but throughout this therapeutic process one learns how to identify the heart of these “subpersonalities” and understand their motivations.
Now, before you start thinking that I have Multiple Personality Disorder and am going to start identifying as Sybil, understand that this is not the same thing at all. The IFS theory applies to everyone, everywhere, and is not a mental disorder. In fact, this therapy was developed in relation to the theories of some of the psychologists that I most enjoyed learning about throughout my fairly recently completion of my Psychology degree.
Therapy is not me, going to a shrink, laying on a couch, and discussing my most recent dreams. It is, instead, more of a guided meditation.
If I haven’t lost you yet, I want to address what I figure a lot of my friends may be thinking.
I am a Christian. My faith is, and always has been, very personal, very complex, and very essential to who I am and how I identify in this world. This type of therapy, though self-focused, is not self-focused in a selfish way. Boy that sounded redundant. But let me explain.
Christians are taught that Christ should be their focus, not themselves. And to a certain extent, I believe this. But modeling the behavior and attributes of Christ is even more important. That puts action to the thought. I can think about Jesus all day long, but if that doesn’t translate into my everyday behavior, then it’s false theology.
Jesus understood who he was, his purpose, and his connection to this world. I do not believe we should aspire to anything less.
That, for me, is the goal of therapy. To become my best self. To understand my own “parts” and where they originate, how I can then recognize when they are being overactive and why.
When I went back to college at almost 30 years old, I had every intention of finishing my Psy degree, and then pursuing a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.
And then I took my first class in that direction, and I. Hated. It.
I could not forsee doing the exercises of that class every day for the rest of my life. It seemed very unnatural, clinical, and forced. But I didn’t really consider just how different it is when it’s actually in practice.
Even though that experience was an intro level class, I see where the basic premises of it have their merits when used in an actual therapy session.
And I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t started undergoing personal therapy. The lesson here: Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if everyone were open to it, we’d have some real metamorphic folks in this world instead of a lot of people who become frustrated, angry, and downright hostile when they aren’t understood or validated.
I’m still one of those people, but not to the extreme that I was 6 months ago. And I’m learning which parts of myself tend to lead most to those types of reactions.
That’s how I know it works.
Those closest to me have been warily eyeing my gradual transformation and for many of them, I get the impression that they aren’t really pleased with the results. That’s sort of the fall-out when you really begin to know yourself and begin working with all of those intermingling parts. The relationships you have with others begins to change and often the result of your increasing autonomy leads to power shifts in the dynamic you have with those around you. I believe it makes you less inclined to be manipulated, and if you have people around you trying to do that, either consciously or subconsciously, and suddenly they can’t, or it’s not as easy as it once was, they begin to have a kind of internal panic. Or they begin to turn away from you altogether.
Another reason that I think this therapeutic process is Christ-like. Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his 30’s, after he became baptized and began externally living his true identity – the Son of God. If you know much about the story of Jesus, you’ll understand that he really didn’t seem to have any enemies until he began to live this identity in full. Those power shifts began happening all around him, and, as a result, he was crucified for it.
I see posts all the time about staying away from toxic people, walking away from those who would incite anxiety, fear, or deliberate manipulation.
When you learn autonomy, you don’t have to avoid anything. Or anyone. They usually avoid you. Or they crucify you in either their own minds or by their behavior towards you.
Perhaps that age-old advice about ignoring those who prey upon us has some merit. But autonomy is about more than avoidance, or pretending things don’t bother you when they do in the hopes that toxic people will leave you alone. Autonomy is being so in-tune with who you are, and how your parts work, that you no longer feel like a victim of others.
This is a bit ironic because learning autonomy feels like it begins in that very place. Understanding HOW other people have hurt and influenced you is a key component to figuring out where some of your parts became who they became. But you are not left there, in a blaming place, saying, “Because I experienced X at the hand of Y, I will always be Z.”
No, you learn how to reach out to those parts of yourself, treat them with curiosity, compassion, and then give them the tools to release their trauma and their pain, making way for healthier behaviors within yourself.
It’s a fascinating process. One that I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have been skeptical of, had I not seen first-hand the beneficial and powerful impact.
A few months ago, I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness at times. I had been off my antidepressant for a couple of years and was fighting like hell to not have to refill it. For some, they have no choice. The physical components of their mental illness so determine that medication is a necessity to even function in daily life. And for others, a combination of medication and therapy works best. For now, I’m finding what I need in therapy alone. And actually feel like I’m making some healing progress instead of only functioning, which is how I felt on medication only.
I feel released, and free to be myself, more and more each day. I think I’ve gone my whole life trying to be whoever everyone else wanted me to be and filling the necessary roles that I thought I needed to fill for them.
It’s liberating to be your true self, and leave the question of whether or not to love and understand you to those with whom the decision actually belongs, others, not Self.