In the midst of changing a lot in our lives right now – which is quite stressful – I know it is important not to ignore what is happening inside. Whether we realize it or not, our psyche is really a collection of parts, different personalities that can border on feeling like we are different people at different times.
Yesterday I was clever,
so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise,
so I am changing myself
Many academics and clinicians (Freud included) have explored and written about this idea, but one of my favorite conceptualizations is from Richard Schwartz who developed Internal Family Systems Therapy. In short, he believes we all have a core Self containing many crucial leadership qualities such as perspective, confidence, compassion, and acceptance. This core self is very powerful except during times when other extreme parts take control, often when we are stressed. These other parts he calls managers, firefighters and exiles.
Managers are just like they sound. They run around managing aspects of our life in an attempt to keep us safe and control our world. They may appear helpful on the surface, but often they act out of fear and thus do more harm than good in the long run.
Firefighters are those parts that jump in and rescue us when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. And while they get the job done, unfortunately it comes at the price of overeating, addictions, compulsive behaviors, and anything that takes us out of our bodies so we don’t have to feel overwhelmed anymore.
Exiles are child parts that have been hurt, humiliated, frightened or shamed and hide in our inner closets. We all have these parts which come out from time to time to play, but often get ushered back into a closet by a manager who does not want a child part to get hurt again.
If this is all a little strange I understand, it was when I was first introduced to the model. But if you reflect on it for a while you will discover it holds great truth! The key is realizing that the core self is really in charge. It has the ability to override the other parts and lead from the heart. But for it to do this you must first understand your own family inside!