Like many other people, I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the condition of society, especially the results of the recent election. There are obviously many different ways to look at what the election results “mean”. Here is one possible interpretation, based on my training in Inner Family Systems theory. See if it resonates with you.
In Inner Family Systems (IFS) we believe that much of our lives are handled by inner “managers”- parts of us that try to control our lives so we aren’t traumatized as we were when we were kids. Therefore, some of us try to be perfect, some try to please others, and others rebel- all so that our inner wounds aren’t jostled or otherwise reminded of sadness, fear, or anger from the past. These manager parts may blind us to the “real world” sometimes, because there are scary, sad, and frightening things happening out there. And these parts know that those things would upset our equilibrium (fragile though it may be at times).
There is another group of inner parts called “firefighters”- so called because they put out the fire of overwhelming emotion once it is ignited. These parts are our addictions and distractors, not really caring about the future, just trying to get us through the present moment without being overwhelmed by emotion. When people say “he seemed like a different person”, they are often talking about a firefighter part. These can be rageful, or sneaky, or manipulative. They cause us to do seemingly crazy things- binge on food or games, take drugs or drink (even when we know that will be harmful in the long run), even turn violent against ourselves or others. These parts don’t care about the future, only relieving present pain.
Both of these groups are trying to protect parts called “exiles”. These are the injured parts of ourselves, the ones that simply couldn’t bear to be embarrassed, or insulted, or moved to tears. When we say things like “suddenly I felt like I was 5 years old” or “ I felt like I was being taken to the principal’s office”, we have gotten in touch with an inner exile.
In some ways the recent election pitted managers against firefighters. . The logical, rational people and institutions, the ones that sometimes (or often) ignore the pain of society, were pitted against the wild, live-in-the-moment people and institutions that were hurting so badly that they threw caution to the winds. The firefighters won- which, as any addict or compulsive person knows, can produce much pain in the aftermath.
So, it seems that society needs therapy. We need to find ways to face, witness and release old burdens that are keeping us tied to the past and not conscious about our current needs and feelings. We need to figure out how to get our “parts” working together- look underneath the managers to the true history and pain, calm the firefighters enough to begin the healing process, put different parts of society in touch with each other and out of the echo chambers they are operating within. And we need to heal the exiles, to lift their burdens bring into the present all the old issues that are still festering and hurting us from the past.
Fortunately, inside of each of us (and society as a whole), there is a core Self. From this Self we can listen to the parts without being overwhelmed, take compassionate action, and even heal old wounds. This has been found to be true with everyone from abusers to victims, from addicts to leaders in business and industry, from arguing couples to warring factions like Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East. All of us have this core Self, which we can find when we listen to the inner parts with compassion and curiosity. A key question in unblending from parts and stepping into Self energy is: “How do I feel toward this part?” If we are in Self we will feel something from this list: clarity, compassion, courage, confidence, curiosity, creativity, calmness and connectedness. .
We can each take a first step toward healing, for ourselves and for society as a whole. The principles are simple but not easy.
I am an emotional healing coach, and also a certified teacher. In this blog I'll talk about emotional challenges and how to survive them using Internal Family Systems concepts and skills..