Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Therapy Spot! I recently spoke about the IFS model of therapy at Google’s week of Inclusion and Diversity. While you may not think that has much to do with your daily life outside of work, the tools you use to relate with others are useful in all sorts of situations. So for this month’s episode of the Therapy Spot, I’d like to talk about how we can use IFS when we have differences with people. This can be family, friends, or a romantic partner — anyone you share an aspect of your life with.
Bumping Into Differences: Ouch!
Have you ever stumbled into a piece of furniture in a dark room? I know I have! It’s sudden, it’s jarring, and it probably hurts a little. You might end up with a bruise or two. We can have a similar reaction — shock and upset — when we “bump into” differences in our relationships.
Some of those differences might be:
- Your boss assigns a project you really don’t want to do
- Someone in your family criticizes you for having a strong reaction
- Your partner doesn’t follow through on a promise
I’m willing to bet that when you bump into furniture, you don’t start running around the room in the dark. In fact, you probably pause for a minute, and slowly walk towards the light switch. For many of us, when we “bump into” a difference in our relationship, we want to act as quickly as possible to make it go away. Today, instead, let’s talk about pausing, and finding the light in that dark room.
What to Do When You Pause
The poet Rumi has a beautiful line I’d like to share with you:
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Think of this “pause” as the beginning of the journey into yourself. It’s an opportunity to connect better with yourself and emerge more open minded towards what’s in front of you. According to the IFS model, we all have lots of parts inside us — different voices in our heads that speak up in different situations. This is normal! When you “pause,” I want you to go inwards with curiosity and self-compassion, and get to know your parts.
- Maybe you don’t want to do the project because you feel like you “failed” at a similar task. A critical part tells you not to even try.
- If you grew up in a family that discouraged emotional expression, you might feel shame around your strong emotions.
- Feeling overlooked or unimportant in your partner’s eyes can activate young, exiled parts of you. This part might say, “What did you expect? People don’t keep their promises.”
Sit quietly with yourself, and see which parts show up. Write them down and name them. Ask them why they’re here, and what they’re feeling.
Going inward like this isn’t always easy. But you’re more than a collection of parts: you are also Self. If you go inwards with the Self qualities — calm, compassion, curiosity, courage, creativity, connection, confidence, and clarity — you can learn more about those parts. When you get to know them, you can speak for them, instead of speaking from them.
Turning On the Light
I’ve written before about “taking a you-turn” in your relationship. That’s when you realize you’re headed in the wrong direction, and you check in with yourself first. I love the you-turn because, just like a U-turn when you’re driving, you need to slow down!
Now that you’ve gone inwards, and you know which of your parts have shown up, it’s time to talk to your partner. When you do this, I want you to stay curious. Curiosity has no judgement, and in this judgement-free zone, we clear the air for something new to happen. After all, that’s what we really need! By going slowly, staying curious, and communicating with clarity, we can find a better connection.
Hopefully, this will give you a “light bulb” moment, where you clearly see what made you stumble.
- Your boss might tell you that they thought you did great work on the previous project, and want to see you strengthen those skills.
- Maybe your family member also feels shame around strong emotions, and you can work together on expressing those feelings with each other in a way that feels safe.
- It’s possible that your partner is struggling with something of their own, and got bogged down in distraction. This is a perfect opportunity for both of you to communicate your needs in a romantic relationship.
I want to return again to the idea of the dark room. Just like you don’t run towards the light switch, I don’t want you to rush into this communication. The people we’re connected to aren’t always exactly like us! When we run into the differences in our relationship, don’t be afraid to move slowly. Take a time out if you think that would be helpful. Get to know yourself better in this difference. You’ll find that when you come out, you have more options for what to do next. Then, you can make choices to bring about better connection, both within yourself and with the person you share your experiences, your work, or your life with.
If you’d like to take the tips from this episode a little further, I encourage you to download my free guided meditation on how to take a you-turn. I’ll be back with another episode in December. Thank you so much for joining me on the Therapy Spot this month!