I keep being bombarded by politics, the closer we get to our mid-term elections in the U.S. I’ve written about it in the past here. And here. It is so much the same as it was two years ago, maybe worse. Our ability to discourse and listen to each other continues to go down the tubes. I can get caught up in it, because I feel quite strongly about some of the personalities and issues at hand. Frankly, I feel we are at quite a crossroads in this country, and one of two options seems so obviously the wrong way to go, that I have a hard time imagining how the other side can possibly believe in it!
That being said, I am a therapist. And I am trained in parts language. So to reiterate, parts are, simply, the parts of us that hold strong emotion, play certain roles and are not our core Self.
One can tell if one is coming from Self if any or all of the 8 Cs are in evidence:
The model of IFS Therapy categorizes Parts in three types:
- Managers – who are trying to prevent bad things from happening, and often remember past hurts with the mantra of, “Never again!”
- Firefighters – who are into self-soothing, and certainly don’t care what Managers or anyone else thinks. They are in it for short-term gratification. And this is the seat of addictions of all sorts: alcohol, drugs, internet, porn, whatever one uses to self-soothe, some more culturally acceptable than others (phone?)
- Exiles – who are burdened by old hurts and pain.
The Managers and Firefighters are lumped into a larger category, Protectors, because they are in the business of protecting the larger system of You from being thrown into distress and imbalance by the pain of the Exiles. They are really trying to find a balance so the boat doesn’t get rocked to the point of capsizing. Very important work. And extremely tiring, especially with heavier and heavier Exile burdens. The more extreme the Manager and Firefighter behavior is, that is evidence of more extreme underlying Exile burdens. IFS works to heal and unburden the Exiles in order to free up the Protectors from working so hard. And to put Self and C-ful-ness back in the driver’s seat.
So what I’ve been thinking this election season is that we in the U.S., and also in the larger world system, are clearly experiencing the effects of extreme Managers and Firefighters, which indicates there are some extreme Exile burdens.
In individual therapy, one starts with a process of getting to know why the Managers and Firefighters are behaving the way they are. It requires coming from Self, building trust, and opening a dialogue about where these parts are coming from, and why, and what they are so afraid of. Once some trust has been built, then these Protectors will eventually allow access to those potentially boat-tipping Exiles, and then the real work of healing can begin. But it can’t be done without trust.
And it can’t be done by a Manager-Firefighter war.
Which is where I think we are now. In the U.S. and other places, the right and left are SO polarized, into further and further extreme positions, that there seems no commonality in sight.
However, the commonality is that there is Exile Pain underlying the whole system. The commonality is that our larger political system is not being run by Self Energy, but by parts. Parts bludgeoning each other will not solve the issues at hand.
So what will? How do we interact with the parts of such a large system as a country or many countries?
I propose, as in individual therapy, when one begins to be taken over, flooded, or blended with any strong political emotion, aka part, to ask it to give you some space. Then see if you feel more C-ful. If not, ask other parts that may come up to give you space. At the very least, see if you can find some Calm Curiosity. And then find out what is going on underneath the issues at hand. Or even try to imagine what the underlying pain is about.
On a societal level this might require the kinds of organized reconciliation that South Africa post-apartheid went through. How will we do this?
But know, in any case, there is strong pain under strong protective mechanisms.
What might be sources of societal pain in the U.S.? We have much trauma built into the fabric of our country. Historically, there is the trauma of African slavery, and of Native American genocide. There is also European historical trauma, whole groups leaving their only known home for a brand new world because of fear of religious persecution, or because of famine and/or unjust societal structures. In the last 100 years we have experienced the most horrific wars, the most devastating weaponry, amazingly callous genocides, and continued political imbalances and refugee crises all over the globe. Financial instability and desperation is in itself traumatic. Could it be that the whole human race is suffering from a massive case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) that continues down the generations?
Re-traumatizing each other will not help.
It seems to me that Managers who are in the business of “Never again!” might be recalling historical trauma such as holocausts, depressions, wars, financial insecurity, etc., and they are trying really hard to prevent any of those things from happening again.
Firefighter types just want what they want and they want it now. They want soothing and distracting, and they don’t care how socially acceptable it is. Maybe they want off-the-cuff promises of protection from politicians who are all bluster and hot air and no ability to deliver. Maybe they want to be distracted by wealth, celebrity, or make-believe.
In any case, if the Managers and Firefighters are fighting hard, whatever they are fighting over is not the core issue. What is?
The pain. Whatever it is for that person or for that person’s clan and/or ancestors. A person’s individual parts sometimes bring up surprising things even to that individual. I can only imagine what might come up from a clan or a society. There is undoubtedly much. Seeing as how not a day goes by that someone, many someones, are not actively traumatized, the collective whole of pain must be immense.
How do we keep from re-traumatizing and re-hurting each other, and how do we come from Self? How do we heal our Earth-bound Exiles as Americans and as Humans?
Maybe this larger perspective will help.
Maybe individual therapy will help. (I can help with that if you’re in the State of Colorado. Otherwise you can find an IFS Therapist here.)
Is there a way to do societal therapy? I’m not sure we’re at the point yet where there is a will for this. Maybe it’s a case of needing to “hit rock bottom” as an addict (read Firefighter) must, before changing his or her ways. I have parts that worry about what “rock bottom” might look like for the U.S. or for the World as a whole.
Going on with the addict metaphor, if someone is addicted to drugs, say heroin, studies have shown (a major one is discussed here and here) that often their childhoods were so traumatic it put them at risk for this addiction later. An addict’s parts can continue to war between Managers (“Stop it! Just Stop it! You are so weak! You’re a disgrace!”) and Firefighters (“Shut up! I don’t care what you say! I’m going to do what I want and what I want is heroin!”) This is not the way to cure addiction. The way to cure addiction is to safely hear out the stories of the pain, the burdens the Exiles are carrying, and heal them, and then release them. At that point, there is no more need for the soothing and numbing that heroin or any other addiction brings. There is no more need for Managerial bludgeoning. And there is no more need for the addiction. It can end.
So how do we translate this to American politics and beyond?
What kinds of pain might the opposing sides be trying to protect the system from? What kinds of things can be done to hear each other out, build trust, and get to the point that Exile burdens can be healed and released, so that the whole system is more stable, more C-ful, happier, healthier?
One constant that I have experienced in working with my own parts and with those of my clients, is that the minute these parts feel heard, they calm down, even just a little, but we’ll take all the Calm we can get.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to experience American society being more C-ful? Can you imagine it being more Calm, Clear, Compassionate, Confident, Connected, Courageous, Creative, and Curious?
I can, and I want us to go there. I SO want us to go there. I wish I could do this good work of IFS Therapy with all 325 million Americans. Unfortunately it seems impossible to do this work quickly with a lot of people. But maybe I shouldn’t discount that idea too soon.
Listening and Healing is necessary. How do we begin? How can I begin? How can you begin? Let’s continue this discussion.