This is a guest post from Kasia Galagus who described working with Protectors. Enjoy!
The human psyche is organised around avoiding pain. It works a bit like a pressure cooker. Imagine, a container that collects all negative emotions that we experienced but not released during our lives. Over the years, the pressure builds up in that container and is kept in check by our Protectors. They shelter us from suffering by managing our day to day lives, keeping us away from the pain of Exiles. This is a hard work and require a lot of energy just to keep the lid on. This energy is taken away from our vitality, our aliveness and our engagement in life. The human psyche is organised around avoiding pain. It works a bit like a pressure cooker. Imagine, a container that collects all negative emotions that we experienced but not released during our lives. Over the years, the pressure builds up in that container and is kept in check by our Protectors. They shelter us from suffering by managing our day to day lives, keeping us away from the pain of Exiles. This is hard work and require a lot of energy just to keep the lid on. This energy is taken away from our vitality, our aliveness and our engagement in life.
To heal and transform our psyche, we need to access, understand, and release pressure of our pain. Working with this Internal Family Systems parts is called "unburdening". However, since our Exiles are guarded by Protectors, we approach Protectors first. They are our safety valve and make sure that the pressure is released in a controlled manner when the system is ready for that step. We never ignore Protectors and never go straight to Exiles. Therefore, the first stage in self-therapy is to get to know Protectors and second is to get their permission to work with our exiled pain.
Respect and get to know Protectors
Getting to know Protectors is important insight as they carry the knowledge of all the life's challenges we experienced and the strategies we learned to deal with them. The earlier our Protectors acquired these strategies, the more likely the blueprint will be immature, and may no longer serve us well in adulthood. Nevertheless, Protectors are working hard to shelter us from pain, and they deserve appreciation for their efforts.
The process described below is designed for a focused work when you make specific arrangements to meet with your internal family system parts. This could be for example your daily or weekly “inner practice”.
Make sure you plan the time when you are not disturbed. Closing your eyes is helpful to keep the visual world around you from distracting you. You could also work with a trusted friend or partner who would witness, assist you with focusing and ask relevant questions.
Below are the steps during the self-therapy journey when working with Protectors based on a book by Jay Earley "Self-Therapy".
Working with Protectors
Step by Step IFS approach in self-therapy:
Step 1 - Access the Target Part
Focus on your inner world. See which Protector is activated or surfaces as a thought, a feeling, a body sensation, or an image. You can also start with an issue you are experiencing in your life right now. Explore thoughts, feelings, body sensations, behaviours, or desires related to this issue. Choose one cue to work with. Your chosen Protector will be your Target Part.
Step 2 - Separate from the Target Part
Check your thoughts and attitudes. If you are charged up with negative emotions or caught up with beliefs and unable to perceive clearly, you are blended (merged) with your Target Part. If you cannot tell what you feel, you may still be blended by confusing or distracting parts.
Try to unblend from this(separate) by:
- asking the Target Part to step aside so you can get to know it
- moving back internally to separate from the part
- bringing an image of the part and positioning it at the distance from you
- drawing the part to gain the perspective
- doing a short grounding meditation
- evoking 8Cs of the Self to bring more of your Self-energy.
If the Target Part does not want to separate despite your attempts above, ask:
- What is it afraid would happen if it did separate?
Reassure it about its fears and explain the value of separating and getting to know it. Explain your intentions and share your appreciation of all the hard work it has been doing for you. Check your thoughts, attitudes, and feelings toward the Target Part again. If you feel calm, compassionate, and curious you are in the Self and can proceed to Step 4.
Step 3 - Unblend from a Concerned Part
However, if you do not display the Self qualities, you might be blended with another part. We call it a Concerned Part. Separate from the Concerned Part following the same enquiries you used for unblending from your Target Part (Step 2).
If your Concerned part steps aside, you can now move on to the next step and discover your Target Part. If the Concerned Part does not want to separate after following the process, make it your Target Part and work with it.
Step 4 - Discover your Protector's role
This is the step when you are getting to know your Target Protector and understand its positive intent for you. Remember? In IFS all parts are well-meaning even if they cause you trouble. Invite the part to tell you its story. The part may talk to you in images, words, bodily sensations, emotions, or direct knowing.
Keep checking if you are in the Self and are curious, calm, and compassionate. It may help to ask the part, the following questions:
- What is your role in helping me manage my daily life and interact with the world?
- What are you trying to protect me from?
- What is your positive intent?
- What are your concerns?
- What are you afraid would happen if you did not do this?
Step 5 - Develop a trusting relationship with your Protector
You can encourage trust between you and the Part by appreciating the efforts of your Protector. You can say the following to make sure it feels heard and noticed:
- I understand why you do your role.
- I appreciate your efforts on my behalf.
- I know you have been working very hard.
Ask Protectors for permission to work with your Exiled Pain
Now that you have got to know the Protector and have developed a trusting relationship, you have made a progress towards helping him relax and let go of its guard. It may be ready to let you move on. Ask permission to work with the Exile it is guarding and continue to next step which is healing that child part.
Until the Exile is unburdened, we cannot work on transforming the Protector as it still has a role as a guardian. That is why the Protector will be transformed the last.
These next steps in the self-therapy process will be discussed in another post.