New Perspectives on IFS

I did some IFS with a friend last night around his nail-biting, an area where he hadn’t gotten much traction working on his own.

Early in the process, when he expressed some judgements about the nail biting, I clarified that I wasn’t interested in getting him to stop biting his nails if we couldn’t first find a better way to meet whatever need was currently being met by nail biting.

I assumed the nail biting was serving an important purpose.

Assuming that neurotic-seeming behaviors may be serving important purposes is part of the IFS instructions, so I’ve been saying stuff like that since I’ve started doing IFS. But saying it used to feel more like going through the motions. I’m not quite sure what I mean, because I really didn’t want to get rid of or change parts without their consent. It feels different now, though.

I trust that people’s internal ecosystems make quite a lot of sense.

On a related note, I haven’t had much desire to do IFS on myself recently. Or to have others do it on me. Mostly because I assume that I’ve internalized these processes enough that if things haven’t found a way to shift on their own in IFS-y ways, there’s a good reason they haven’t.

I’m still very open to conversations where I explore my psychology around a thing, but I want them to feel more organic.

I’m also more inclined to just try to give myself what I want instead of changing what I want, even if I sense that I want it in part because I’m hurt in some way. The example that came up most recently was thinking about how I often get angry after we hire cleaners, since they don’t do it exactly how I’d want them to. I think the getting angry is a bit of my own craziness, but these days I’m somewhat more inclined to actually get what I want anyway, instead of “healing” it.

This shift fits pretty well with the idea that paradigms work best as scaffolds instead of permanent structures. So, my IFS scaffold is pretty dismantled by now.

Probably not my clearest post ever, but I’ll leave it at that.

Musings on Nihilism and Metaphysics

Today’s post will be a bit weirder than the usual fare. Ever since a fun discussion at Ephemerisle, I’ve had a bunch of things on my mind related to many worlds, the simulation hypothesis, and anthropics in general. I don’t understand anthropics. As far as I can tell, no one does.

In the narrative of my relationship with others, they’re the one who are nihilistic, not me. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. We all have nihilistic parts. Mine is somewhat in shadow, mostly because of my judgments that it isn’t useful and that some of its conclusions are embarrassing or not prosocial enough.

I’ll explain how mine works. In fact, I’ll let my nihilistic part write a whole bit from its perspective. Here’s what it has to say:

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Still on Vacation, Self-leadership

The usual personal-growthy stuff is less on my mind than usual (despite having gotten some good related reading done), since I’m still in Maine on vacation with my family, and I once again didn’t get around to writing my usual Monday post. 

I’ll just throw out a brief story from my life.

I wrote a longish description of what “Self-leadership” means in IFS terms, but it bored me to reread it. Basically, it’s acting from your own best judgement, in a way that feels right and natural, devoid of “should” affect.

One of my historical patterns is getting upset to the point of crying when there’s something that seems important to me that I want from someone and am afraid I won’t get, particularly if I can’t “justify” the want. Unlike anger, sadness has been on my list of emotions to welcome and express for many years now now, which is one reason I’ve gotten a bunch of mileage out of using this pattern to short circuit angry feelings.

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I’ve Been Resisting Unblending

There’s been a pattern going on in my own life recently that I’m going to try to articulate, mostly in hopes that doing so will help something shift.

There’s a sense in which I can always unblend from my current trigger, go into Self, get some more perspective, laugh at myself, and get into a good mood. But I don’t always want to. There’s something that feels newish about this way of being, and something that feels much older. I used to be much less emotionally aware, and I didn’t take the data from my emotions seriously. That changed in a big way a few years ago.

I am interested in the progression, even though I suspect it ultimately won’t inform my current situation that much. I think I used to be very practiced at stepping out of my emotions and saying something more aligned with my verbal loop goals and beliefs. Though it was also uneven. I was much more reactive and prone to emotional displays with my family than I ever was with my friends, and I remember knowing it was that way and wondering about it at least by the time I was 12 or 13. 

Then, I leveled up in things like NVC, IFS, and rationality, and I made a huge push to try to use those tools in difficult situations when I was feeling triggered.

I think I’m better than ever at those skills, since I still practice, but I’m also feeling a yearning, that I’m pretty sure has in fact been there all along to let my more triggered, vulnerable, reactive parts have more of a role in my life. But then, I have a decent amount of tension around this desire because intellectually I’m actually not all that convinced of the value of doing so, except in some more abstract sense that I’ve decided over the years to take my yearnings and intuitions more seriously.

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Do You Feel Like an Adult?

I was doing some IFS with an old friend yesterday, and when I told her to imagine what her adult self would say to her ten-year-old child self, she said that her problem was that she didn’t feel like an adult.

I primed the pump with some wisdom I’ve heard from her over the years, and she mostly took it from there. Still, it was an interesting situation for me. I think one nugget of IFS theory that I’ve heard is that if the subject of the process doesn’t have a strong enough “Self”, the facilitator can lend his. That advice has largely informed how I’ve dealt with similar situations as well.

But, at least in her case, the problem wasn’t that she didn’t have an adult self to draw on, it was that she wasn’t in touch with it–she was too blended with the child.

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Conscious Judging, Mourning, and Self-Forgiveness

One day, maybe I’ll write a post about how “judgement” (like “belief”), is one of those words that is overloaded to the point where using it at all is likely to interfere with precise communication.

But today, I’ll just use the word “judgement” as best I can.

While I was working with someone the other day, it came to our attention thats he had a bunch of unresolved, quasi-specific judgements about herself.

When I say quasi-specific, I mean that they were somewhere between “I’m not good enough” and “I would have had a more fun evening if I’d remembered to download Game of Thrones a few hours earlier.”

Judgements like these can be quite suffering-inducing because (as usual) it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of resisting them.

One solution is to take a step back and not only noticed the judgements but make space for them, hear them out, decide whether they’re true and how you’d like to change your behavior in the future. Once you’ve done that, you can mourn the past, forgive yourself, and move on.

I’ll give an example below, using a judgment that still somewhat lands for me, that “I’m lazy.”

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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.

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Feeling Overwhelmed While Working?

After our recent productivity webinar, I did some one-on-one IFS work, and I (again) ran into what I think is actually a pretty common not-so-uselful belief:

“Until I’m finished, I can’t feel okay.”

I used to think this way too, that I had to feel overwhelmed and guilty until I got all my important things done. I distinctly remember the IFS I did on myself to address this issue. If you notice yourself running into the problem where you feel bad and overwhelmed even when you’re actually in the middle of doing work, I’d recommend reading on and seeing if anything I say clicks with you.

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“Did I Cause That?” Usually Comes from a Young Place

Last week, I had a very useful conversation with my own IFS therapist. She helped me sort through a whole mess of confusing thoughts I had been having and get back to a grounded place. In the course of this process, one of the thoughts that came up for me was along the lines of “Did I cause this?”

She shared one of her heuristics with me, which is that thoughts about whether we’ve caused something, or whether something is “our fault” usually come from very young parts of our psyche. 

Obviously, this isn’t to say that there aren’t true questions to be asked and answered about what role we played in a particular outcome. We can ask where our intentionality was pointed. We can look at the various contributing factors and wonder whether what happened was overdetermined or not. 

We can certainly look at our actions and determine whether they were in line with our values and what we would and wouldn’t do again.

But it’s also important to know that the visceral “is this my fault” feeling is most likely something leftover from being much younger.

Things IFS Teaches

A while back, I made a list of things that I think people tend to learn from engaging with the IFS process, so I thought I would post it here. (There are obviously tons of other ways to learn these things, and many people will already know a bunch of them.) These are in no particular order.

  • Curiosity and compassion are very useful for doing introspection.
  • Emotional/behavior/thought patterns can often be modified by interacting with specific memories.
  • The mind isn’t unitary. It’s very normal to have conflicting thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
  • Leaning into painful sensations is often a really good idea.
  • We (humans) mostly see what we’re expecting to see.
  • It’s possible to end long-running arguments with yourself.
  • It’s possible to look back at memories that were once very painful and be at peace with them.
  • Intense “negative” emotions aren’t always subjectively unpleasant.
  • Often emotions will go away once you’ve heard what they’re trying to tell you.
People have also reported greater awareness of the physical experience of feeling emotions and recalling memories, and more vivid visualizations.
IFS can give people heuristics for recognizing confabulation.
Leading others through the IFS process also seems to promote enhanced social awareness, and increased curiosity about others, at least in certain contexts.