Internal Family Systems

We are not one-dimensional, and our multiple dimensions are not static. Just as our bodies are made of many parts that form a dynamic, interwoven system that works together, so it is with our psyches. We are more awake, alive, and complex than we know.” ― Ralph De La Rosa

Today I had one of the most impactful therapy sessions of my life. In my session with my therapist, we visited a part of me that has stayed in the darkness for a long time, hiding from the world, unseen, too scared of all the pain it had experienced, and feeling too alone in the dark. This part of me was a little girl hiding in a dark room, crying for years and waiting for me to come and rescue her. When I asked her what she needed from me, she hugged me and asked me for love. She, then, showed me the place I was born, letting me know she was just 3 when she went into that dark room. Since, then, she has been hiding, afraid of the dark and too alone to feel safe. As soon as I realized her age, I started to cry uncontrollably realizing how long the pain has stayed in my body. She, then, took me to another room, this one filled with light. When I asked her if she could let off some of that pain, she told me that she was afraid that I will forget her. I told her I wouldn’t and held her hand to reassure her. Still sensing her hesitation, I asked her how old she thought I was, and she said I was 9. When I told her I was 30, she put some of that pain in my hand which looked like a black blob, telling me that she could trust an adult. When I asked her what she wanted to do with that black blob, she asked me to burn it and let it leave. After we burnt it, she hugged me again. When my therapist asked me what that experience felt like, I told her I felt like I was a mother to this little girl and that’s all that little girl needed – for me to be my mother.

Last year, I had a similar experience with my Shamanic teacher who had taken me to my childhood and helped me recall parts of my life that I had completely forgotten. Today, when my therapist did something similar, I asked her how she knew how to do it since she is not a spiritual therapist. She told me that the practice is based on Internal Family Systems and has proved to be extremely beneficial in helping people heal.

IFS was developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz. In his work as a family therapist, Schwartz began to observe patterns in how people described their inner lives. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self. (Source: Internal Family Systems Therapy)

With today’s session, I didn’t just bring that little girl to light but also realized something about my own psyche. Since the last year, when I first experienced my spiritual emergence, a shift had happened in the way I dream. There have been several dreams where I could see a lot of people talking about me, advising me on how to tackle a challenge. Some were criticizing me, some were shaming me, some were protecting me and some were loving me. It almost feels like a debate is held on what’s best for me while I get to decide what I go along with. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. I see some friends who help me decipher what’s going on with my life and body, acting like guides and companions especially when the dreams would otherwise scare me. I see my mother as two very distinct personalities – a mother who tries to protect me by asking me to hide parts of me and a mother who cares for me and tells me how much she cares for me by allowing me to be my whole self. While I always tend to run away from the former, I tend to phase out the noise of my dream with the latter and listen to every word she says, intuitively knowing that I can trust her.

In spiritual practices, the Mother is a Goddess of the Universe, the creator, and the nurturer. Last year, I told my Shamanic teacher how I had started to see a woman in my visions who told me she was Mother. Every time I asked him to do a Shamanic journey for me, he told me that Mother was with me for some reason. While he didn’t know why and I didn’t ask him to clarify, I could not understand what that meant to me. Until today, when I experienced and embodied that energy unintentionally.

Outside of my very interesting dreams, last year I also experienced something that blew my mind – I could place the origin of different thoughts in different parts of my body and brain. Each thought had a different tone, a different associated emotion, and a different message. Thanks to some research done by the University of Wisconsin on meditation practices, I could understand that this is something that meditation can sometimes result in – creating separation from our thoughts and emotions. IFS helps in identifying and connecting with these parts, understanding them better, recognizing the role they play in our psychological development, and helping us integrate these parts in a way that helps us heal and grow.

I still don’t know what all this means and I am still trying to figure out how my brain works, how my body works, or how my spirituality works. However, I again realized today that it’s all interconnected somehow. That Mother energy/archetype/Goddess/part of my psyche helped me release some pain and bring me some much-needed peace.

I think it will never cease to amaze me how much wisdom exists out there in the world and how connected spirituality, science, and psychology are. At the end of the day, we all have the answers and support we need within us, accessible all the time. We just need to try and trust ourselves to bring ourselves into the light.

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