IFS and Learning to Visualize

Last week, I did some first-time IFS with someone whose experience reminded me a lot of mine when I first got started. I used to be one of those people who said I had trouble visualizing. I don’t think I quite said that I couldn’t visualize, but it seemed hard to do so. When other people described stable, vivid imagery I couldn’t relate. I found forward digit span much easier than backward, because I could use auditory memory for the former and not easily for the latter. I used to experience something like writing things on a mental blackboard and having them fade very quickly.

Now, I would say that I can visualize just fine. My husband has much more vivid imagery than mine, still. Often, I get to the end of books and still don’t have clear pictures of the characters in my head. My dreams are sometimes vivid and sometimes not. But my visualizations are clearer, more stable, and much easier to access.

I attribute some of the change in my ability to doing a lot of IFS.

The guy I worked with last week had a very similar shift after working together. He reported that at the end of the session he was getting clear, vivid, and stable visual memories. Trying to figure out whether his subjective experience matched my own, I asked him whether it felt as though the images had been there all along or not.

He reported that he thought they were there, but fleetingly because he had been dismissing them. That’s just about exactly how I would have described it!

I used to have brief flashes of mental pictures, but it was as though I had a subconscious attitude that they weren’t important, or that they weren’t the real deal. Looking back, I would say something like “huh, I didn’t realize I was supposed to care about those old things!”

Visualization skill is a funny thing, and it still seems like a bit of a mystery to me, but it does seem as though sometimes something can get hooked up pretty quickly. There’s a flash of insight where the person realizes what to look for and then can build on that. My experience has been that once this awareness clicks into place, imagery gets better over time, but that this thing is almost binary.

This page (the author is kind of a strange guy, but definitely insightful) has more to say on the same subject.

If you are a self-described non-visualizer and want to be different, you can likely change. I might be able to help. A few people now have told me I’ve done so for them.

(I’ve had at least one experience with a non-visualizer than wasn’t straightforwardly successful. I’m still not sure what’s going on with him, but my best guess is that it’s mostly a semantic issue.)