You’re poised, hand on the doorknob, about to enter a challenging situation.
Inside are people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions will impact you.
Your heart’s racing, your head’s throbbing, your jaw is clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face is a shifting map of anxiety.
Right then, do you wish you’d made time for some emotional preparedness, or are you fine with that same old charge-in-and-deal-with-the consequences mode?
Some of us go through our whole lives charging about and dealing with the emotional fall-out. But sometimes, after one emotional blitzkrieg too many, it occurs to us that maybe there’s another way.
We left Holly right here last week as she was about to attend a niece’s birthday. There, at yet another family gathering with her four married siblings and their flock of offspring, she would typically experience herself as being pitied and gossiped about. All traces of her strong, professional and capable self would be replaced by a self-doubting, fumbling and emotionally labile alter-ego. It could have felt, yet again, like a no-win situation.
This time however, things were very different.
Holly had had enough of the cross-her-fingers-drink-too-much-and-hope-things-won’t-be-too-awful approach to relationships with her family.
- She’d recognized how she could be strong-yet-compassionate in most places, yet weak and whiny around her family. Hummm… so there was more than one version of herself.
- She’d seen how these weak and whiny Parts of her seemed to show up in familiar ways, and how she’d behave as if she was being run by a much younger vulnerable and reckless version of herself.
- She’d learned how to notice these shifts – to be both the one with the emotions and the one noticing herself emoting.
- And she’d had some experiences lately where she was able to notice the younger, emotional Parts of herself and interview them as if they were separate people. She could attend to those Parts and find out what they believed and feared.
- And, most important for today’s post, she’d learned how to bring compassionate leadership to these inner Parts.
She’d started down the life-long path toward Self-leadership.
We left off last week wondering about Self-leadership.
SELF ~ I described Self as that which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.
If you meditate, this might be a familiar concept.
Meditation, like encountering your Self, brings perspective and freedom. The moment you notice your mind as it thinks, chatters, forms and shares opinions, fosters fears and tells tales – then you are not your mind. You are your mind + an observer. So, who is the observer?
“You” – some separate “You” – is noticing the drama, which means that you are not the drama.
There are loads of advantages to spending time connecting to this centered place (here are 20-scientific-reasons-to-start-meditating)
But inviting this centered “You” to be a Leader for your inner world expands upon the benefits of normal meditating in an astonishingly helpful way.
The WHAT ~ SELF-LEADERSHIP describes a state where your inner, loving, wise Self brings a healing combination of genuine curiosity and loving compassion to all your inner Parts such that they can tell their story, feel heard, release their extreme positions and let go of untrue limiting beliefs so they can trust You, your Self, to lead the way. It really is a leadership thing.
I’ll break this down using Holly’s situation. (See here is you missed meeting Holly last week).
Remember, Holly is already practicing 4 important things:
- She recognizes there’s not just one Holly; that she has a variety of inner Parts;
- She notices how these Parts interact and have a purposeful relationship with one another;
- She is so aware of her rich inner family of Parts that she can actually speak FOR these different Parts; e.g., “Part of me is dreading this family gathering, as usual. But another Part’s excited to try something different.”
- And, she is finally coming to believe she doesn’t have to be a victim of her moods and frightened young Parts. She is ready to cultivate ~
The HOW ~ SELF-LEADERSHIP
To teach something, I think it helps to break it into clear steps. However, over time this way of bringing your full compassionate Self into any given moment can happen instantly.
Know too that initially it helps to put some time and effort into this sort of self-reflection, before you encounter a tough situation. Holly chose to work with me for a few sessions to make sure she was on the right path. But this work can be done alone – which is why I am excited to share it with you here.
Here’s the process ~
1. ROLL CALL ~ Identify the Parts who might get triggered by a specific event.*
It helps to get an image in your mind’s eye and treat each Part as an intact person, with feelings and needs. Here are the five Parts Holly identified.
- Her inner recluse
- Her no-nonsense task-master
- Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married
- Her devil-may-care
- Her yearning-to-connect
* This can be hard so don’t beat yourself up if you are only aware of 1 or 2 Parts of you. If you are interested in getting better at this visit here for an IFS therapist in your area. A couple of sessions with a professional who is trained in helping you discover these Parts can make a big difference. Or drop me a line (email@example.com) and I’ll give you some pointers.
2. CHECK-IN ~ One at a time, check in with each Part.
Keep it simple. Just ask ~
- What are you afraid will happen?
- What do you need from me to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Here’s Holly and her Recluse demonstrating.
Holly So I hear you’re worried about an upcoming family birthday. I’d love to know what you’re worried about.
Recluse I’m worried it’s going to be so noisy and chaotic and I’ll feel trapped in there with everyone thinking I’m going to freak out!
Holly Yes, I know that feeling and it sucks! What do you need this time to feel less trapped?
Recluse Well, I guess I’d feel better if I could give myself permission to take a break when things get too loud. Maybe I could just let Sally know I’m going to take the dog around the block for 20 minutes, which might help a lot.
3. MAKE A PLAN ~ Take each fear seriously, and make a plan.
Stay compassionate with all these Parts of yourself. Chances are they are young and they need you to take their concerns seriously. Imagine a little fellow in his footie PJs is frightened the under-the-bed monster is back. He just needs you to take a peek and let him know if it’s all clear. Then he can feel safe. Would you do that for him? Same difference here.
Does this seem too simple?
Here’s what is going under this simple façade ~
1. You’ve gathered great data. By focusing not only on what’s “out there” in the external world of people, you’ve also focused “in here”, on your internal family of Parts.
2. You’ve taken stock, assessed potential dangers and identified potential allies. You’re forewarned.
3. You’ve taken charge. When you feel a situation is heading south (which you can do easily now since you’re in communication with those Parts of you on the emotional front lines) you are in a position to check-in with all the Parts who are triggered; weigh their possibly conflicting needs; review the pre-planned solutions; make a decision and lead your inner family of Parts in a way that is as good as possible for the all of you.
Remember how it was before you knew this stuff?
You were poised, about to enter a challenging situation. Inside were people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions would impact you.
Your heart was racing, your head throbbing, your jaw clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face was a shifting map of anxiety.
You had no control over anything. Talk about a vulnerable place to be!
And, now that you have some skills?
Same challenging situation behind those doors.
Same possibility that the words, deeds, whispers and decisions of the people inside might impact you.
But this time, you’re not alone.
You’ve invited your wise Self along.
Your younger Parts have been encouraged to share their concerns. They feel much less anxious now they’ve been heard.
You’ve got a plan.
Your Self has your back.
That’s Self Leadership.
FIRST TIME HERE?
This is the seventh article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”
Click the box for the full list → → →
If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to previous articles, with #1 being the first and #6 the article before this.
- My Top 12 Relationship Skills
- Part of Me Wants . . .
- Little Miss Sunshine
- The Purpose Driven Life
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.
My friend Hannah and I love to swap good quotes. One of her favorites is from Eeyore, who comments to Pooh one day
“Not all of us can. And some of us don’t.”
That is of course true for lots of things, including this sort of inner work. Sometimes, try as we might, we can’t bring our Self to have enough authority to lead our pack of inner Parts.
Try as we might, we get triggered by things our partner, boss, child, in-laws or friends say to us. Next week I’m gong to talk about what you can do then, when you feel you’ll be forever held hostage by your highly emotional Parts. Because, I suppose, the opposite of Eeyore’s statement would be ~
“Not all of us can’t, and some of us do.”
You might enjoy this.
The Brain’s Ability to Look Within: A Secret to Self-Mastery
The author makes a great case for the benefits of tuning into our inner selves.