Drop your attention in your body and notice, how do you know you’re struggling right now?
When we’re triggered; when hard things happen, most of us tend to focus on fixing the situation, and eliminating the trigger. This is often VERY useful and it’s certainly helpful at work, and in being accountable with your life. Stressed because you’re spending more money than you have? Working more and spending less is an adaptive response. Trigger management is useful, but it isn’t the only way to work with our pain.
When we look at trigger management as the main way to interact with emotional pain we end up with about 3 ways managing our pain:
Fixing triggers - problem solving, planning, controlling, DOING something
Avoiding - avoid topics, people, tasks, situations that leave us feeling bad
Numbing - the big two strategies for this are alcohol and drugs, but there are many ways to numb TV, shopping, eating, sex, reading, obsessing, and many other names this strategy goes by, compartmentalizing, dissociating, fantasizing.
Before we move on I want to be unequivocal. None of these things are inherently bad or fundamentally problematic. None. What makes these things a problem is not engaging in them, but engaging them compulsively. All of these things can be helpful at the right times. What’s problematic is when we can’t help but engage them, even when we know they’re not useful or when we know they actually harmful. Yes even the drug one. I’m so grateful for the pain medication that numbed me when I had surgery.
The IFS process doesn’t force us to either use these strategies or leave them behind. The IFS process asks us to turn inside and engage with what’s already in us. We (along with our parts) will decide when or if we will use these strategies in a choiceful way.
And that process begins with a “You-Turn”
The 4th option: The You-Turn
How it works: First we’ve gotta wake up to the discomfort. Often we get so focused on doing something, and those do-something strategies have been so effective and reinforced, that we don’t even notice we are struggling or in pain. So we’ve got to get to know how we know we’re in pain. [there’s room for an article here about learning pain signals - like if I leave the room, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m in pain even if I don’t feel it yet]. Sometimes we notice in the moment, sometime we notice hours or days later.
Play the situation out in your mind. Look at what happened or what’s happening and then notice your reaction to it. Watch yourself in your mind’s eye almost like you’re watching a friend go through something. This is the You-Turn: With as much curiosity as you can muster, drop your attention into your body and notice what’s already happening in, on, and around your body.
Notice what’s already happening your face. Your jaw. Your throat. Your shoulders. Your chest. Your gut. What’s already happening there?
Notice your heart, is it beating fast or slow?
Notice your breathing, is it deep or shallow, high in your chest or low in your belly, easy to get a full breath or constricted?
Is your jaw clenched or relaxed?
Belly calm or tight? Butterflies? Swirling? Hollow?
Is what your experiencing closer to a fight response? Flight? Freeze? Trust your answer whatever it is, and then just notice, how are sensing the difference?
As you place your attention on these different body parts the sensations may move or change or they may stay the same. Both outcomes are totally okay. Just let your attention follow them as they move or stay.
What we’re aiming to do here is have a whole brain experience. The mind is part of the body an as we get in contact with the body we get deeper contact with the mind. The more aware of what the body is doing, the better. If the above questions get you there, stick with that. If that’s not quite enough don’t worry, we’ll just keep at it. For those of us raised in emotionally neglectful households or emotion rejecting cultures it can take some practice to wake up to your body. Here are some more things to notice to try expanding your curiosity.
Notice your emotions - Are you mad? Sad? Scared? Embarrassed? Now notice how do you know you’re mad? What body sensations go with a mad feeling? What body sensations go we sad? Scared? Embarrassed? Trust your sense of how you feel and then notice how you know.
Is it in your chest? What's the sensation? Heavy? Tight? Stabbing? Aching? Clenching? Sore? What else let’s you know what emotion you’re experiencing?
Notice your posture, your body movements, and where or how your body WANTS to move even if you don’t let yourself act. Do you want to change where you are, how you’re standing or sitting? Do you have the sudden urge to be someplace else. Someplace not here?
Notice your voice, how it sounds, what you say, what you want to say, what you stop yourself from saying, what you wish you didn’t or hadn’t said.
Notice what you tell yourself about that situation. Notice the voices in and the tone of those voices in your head. Notice if these are familiar. Are all the thoughts different? Or do they seem to recycle after a while? Is there a pattern to that recycle? Do you get images with those thoughts? Little movies of the past (memories) or movies about possible futures (working out strategies or imagining worst-case-scenarios).
Even if you aren’t able to locate it, notice if you have a sense of anything.
Notice how so much of what’s happening inside is almost happening on it’s own. Many of the reactions you’re noticing are knee jerk. Our job here isn’t to control the reactions any more than you already are. Our job here is to bring awareness and curiosity to these reactions.
[Why is everyone so interested in body sensation? potential link to another article here]
FOCUS ON IT/FLESH IT OUT
• Is it okay to notice these feelings and sensations. Is it okay to linger there for a minute? Send it your acknowledgment. I see you.
• What emotion do you most associate with this sensation?
• Look for other pieces to this part. If you have sensation look for urge, if you have urge look for an image or a sensation in the body. You want to fill out as much of the aspects of the part as possible
§ Thoughts or Thought Patterns
• What does this part wish you knew or understood about it?
• Does that make sense to you? If so,… let it know, “I get you. I understand.” And let this part see your eyes. You of all people on planet earth really get this part.
• Just kind of hang out with it and see what it wants you to know in this moment
§ Hang out until it can trust you a little bit. Let it get to know you a little bit. See if it wants to know you.
• What do you notice about it? What kind of sadness is this? What kind of sensation is this in the body? What's the nature/quality of the sensation?
• Let's see if we can
§ just be with this part [repeat whatever was said]
• Every time an emotion comes up… can you be with that?
• Stay with that _____ [whatever was said last]. See if you can…
§ feel into this part
§ Get any sense of this emotion _____ in your body. Just see how you experience that
§ Notice where you feel this in your body
§ Be with that place __________ [location in body]
§ Describe it to me. What kind of sensations
§ Texture, color weight
§ Describe it as heavy or light. What's the quality of sensation
§ Dark, very, light, bright,
§ Notice if there are any feelings or emotions connected to this ____________ [emotion]
§ Notice if there's a part connected with the emotion _______
§ What kind of sensation: texture, color
§ Notice if that part is
§ Younger, older or familiar?
§ What feelings are connected to this sensation?
§ If this were a part, what part would it be?
§ Notice where you feel in body
§ What do you notice?
§ Notice the sensation
§ Notice the quality of the sensation
§ Big, little, middle
§ How does the person know the part is there? How do you sense this part? Is it
§ Visual - do you see him?
§ Kinesthetic - do you sense/feel him?
§ Auditory - do you hear him?
WHAT EMOTION DO YOU ASSOCIATE WITH THIS:
Reflect it back in parts language.
i. "As you look at all these parts. Notice which part do you feel curious about? Which part do you want to know more about?"
ii. "Perfect. Just drop your attention in your body and notice when happens inside when you think about that."
2. Find the part in or around the body - drop your attention into your body
i. Cultivate Curiosity
ii. Build a sequence
iii. You-Turn - You're standing there in the kitchen, he makes a face, and you start to feel bad. How do you know you feel bad. I believe you… I just want to come along. What happens in your body that helps you know you feel bad?
LOCATING A TRAILHEAD
An IFS session generally begins with someone telling a story about a time they felt triggered. The story may be important for you or the person to tell, but what we’re most interested in is the person’s RESPONSE to the trigger. How did they feel, what did they do or want to do, what thoughts did they think? how did their body move or change?
As they’re talking (or as you’re free writing if you’re doing this on your own) start listening/looking for a conflict. Maybe a split between what the person wants and what the person thinks they should be doing, or what they think others expect. Listen for:
Self-evaluations: “I hate that about me, why do I do that?”
Should or shouldn’t statements,
Catastrophizing, vs reality
Negative attributions from others: “She thinks/says I’m _____ (overt or implied that actually I’m different than she thinks)”
“I want to be in a different place, feel differently than I do.“
A sense of struggle between choices,
Linguistic juxtaposition indicators: “but,” “on the other hand,” “part of me wants x," part y,”
Two different I/ego states:
Commitments or solemn vow to never experience something ever again no matter what. “I decided I would never let that happen again, never feel so trapped as I felt as a young person.” (overt or implied but I need to do that or something bad will happen)
Commitment or solemn vow to never ever perpetrate against another what has been perpetrated against oneself. “I will never be like my mother.” (overt or implied but I need to do that or something bad will happen).
Begin by just having a conversation in which you reflect back to your client what they said and felt using parts language and see how it lands. "Sounds like a part of you was really angry and another part was sad. Am I understanding?"
Do you want to change the way this ____ part takes over?
So I'm wondering if you'd be willing to try something, an experiment. Let’s see if we can get to know this _______ (feeling)
would it be okay if we went inside and got to know that part?
"How about if you close your eyes, and bring your attention to your body." [Using INVITE language]
"Would you be willing to take a moment and go inside and see if you can find the part that is sad and grieving. See if you can find that sadness in our body. Now bring your attention to it."
It sounds like a part of you wants this, but another part is frightened.
What do you say to yourself?
Part of you says ___ Do you ever argue with this part?
Where on or in your body do you carry this feeling or thought?
Further questions you might ask:
Can you remember a moment recently that this was very present?
How do you feel as you talk about this right now? How is it for you say these things aloud.
Focus on the body sensations and I want you to notice if there is an image associated with it.
Focus on that thought (feelings or phrases) 'we're not connected,' 'we're not connected.' Keep focusing on that thought.
And now I want you to, as you focus on that phrase, notice what happens in your body.
And just report it out as you notice.
So you're noticing [repeat it all back].
Good so now I want to you focus on the body sensations (list them all again) and I want you to notice if there's an image associated with it OR
Imagine that you can take the part of you that feels (list them all again) and lift them up and out of your body and then set them next to you.
What do you see?
How do you feel towards this part of you?
When working with clients I think in terms of
WHAT vs HOW
CONTENT vs PROCESS.
The following series of questions is my scaffolding for tracking process/how in an IFS session. Almost no IFS session will simply run through these question in exactly this order. We will take several side trips as we get to know whatever parts show up. After each side trip, I return to my scaffolding.
What’s the story of the situation?
There’s a door here to go deeper and learn about your system. Do you want this door? Or is there something more important you’d like to focus on?
FOCUS (in your body)
What's the first moment you realize that you're struggling?
Now drop your attention in your body and notice: How do you know you're struggling? What's happening inside that you know something's up?
Location: Face, Jaw, Throat, Shoulders, Chest, Belly
Sensation: Heavy, Tight, Hollow, Twisting, Piercing, Aching
Is this okay to feel? Or is it too much?
FRIEND - A PROTECTOR (usually first)
As this is the most common side trip in IFS, I’m including it here. Once in a great while (and more and more as you work with your system) you will get immediate access to an exile (tender/vulnerable emotions), if that happens you can skip down to FRIEND - AN EXILE. Otherwise:
Turn your attention towards those sensations and SEE if you can welcome them. Is it okay to let this touch your nervous system?
Notice how this part responds to your welcoming.
Is it okay? Skeptical, rejecting, wary, angry, glad, relieved, confused,
Notice how you feel towards this part.
+ Irritated, scared, sad, embarrassed?
+ Warm, expansive, peaceful, loving?
If you're feeling anything other than warm, expansive, peaceful, loving, OR curious. See if those other parts are willing to step back so you can get a really good connection with the first part.
IF those parts won't step back, maybe they need to warn us about being in contact with these parts or sensations. We want to hear every single detail of that warning. We never ever gatecrash parts. This is hands down the most common (and necessary) side trip.
FRIEND - AN EXILE
It can take several sessions to get here, so be patient. We never ever want to gatecrash protectors. Protectors take up their posts for good reason (even if those reasons are far away in the past) and they are fiercely loyal. Our first priority is to HONOR and validate those reasons as real (even if we don’t know what they are yet) and work to EARN (not demand) the trust of the protectors. Protectors will step back when they’re ready. That’s when we get access to the exile.
When the protector relaxes or steps aside, notice what you find.
The goal of exile work:
I'm not trying to fix, or change, or give myself a new experience.
I'm not trying to change my emotions.
I'm not trying to get happy or okay.
I'm simply here to love whatever I find.
When I love whatever I find, the system relaxes and the evolutionary wisdom baked into emotion begins to run its course and metabolize whatever experience I have already had. In this culture we tell people to "let it go." My lived experience is that when we are warm and gentle, present and open to whatever discomfort shows up, emotions and pain and
PARTS LET US GO.
The body/mind returns ITSELF to calm.
Whatever you find, notice if you are able to
Make “inner” eye contact with that?
Move closer to that?
Let that touch your nervous system?
And notice (this is important) if the part can take in
Your Eye contact
Or if this part is skeptical or wary
Once you have a connection, ask this part
Is there anything you wish I understood or knew about you? about your experience? about your job?
Is there anything/any part of your life or your experience in me, you'd like witnessed?
Keep beaming your love and offering your much bigger nervous system to the part, “I didn't understand before, but I do now. You've been down here so long and you don't have to be alone anymore. I'm here now. I'm with you.”
References: Find, Focus, Friend, Flesh Out are terms introduced in IFS 1 training.