Personal growth can be exhausting and over the last 18 months, I have explored enlightenment and ascension from many different perspectives.
Not that long ago, I came to a pivotal time in my life. I was 46 years old, a widow, and had no clue about what it meant to be the authentic me.
With two teenage daughters looking to me to show them how to be an empowered woman, I needed to figure out what that was. Armed with some compassion for perceived personal failure and the support of some great friends, I set out on a journey to discover which of my beliefs and patterns served me and to jettison the rest.
Although not everyone has such a dramatic transition, I have discovered that I am not the only person over the age of 40 who is confused about their past, present and future. Many want to decipher their own code and figure out what is holding them back from their their physical, emotional and spiritual best. I recognized that my own thoughts, the voices in my head, were damaging my overall health and hindering my ability to make progress in my life.
Like every good student of life in the information age, I Googled “voices in my head.” After sorting through all of the links on schizophrenia, and subsequently deleting my browsing history, I made it to a website that detailed the Internal Family Systems Model, or IFS.
This model, introduced by Richard Swartz, Ph.D details how our personalities have distinct parts and their impact and influence in our lives.
The critic, the director, the caretaker, the judge, the chaser, the runner, the organizer, the people pleaser and the abandoned child.
Each of these developed with a purpose. Some evolved to protect other ones. Do any of these sound familiar?
Several of my parts developed to protect my abandoned child. Although there was no abandonment in any dramatic sense of the word, somehow there was a sense of sadness and loneliness about my childhood. To protect myself from abandonment, my people pleaser part took the lead, pasted on a smile and tried to be everything to everyone. This part presented the biggest hurdle in my struggle to be authentic and more powerful.
The goal in IFS is to recognize, acknowledge and heal our parts. At this point in my life, I was clingy in relationships, terrified of change and overwhelmed with resentment for the people that I was constantly trying to appease. I was living as though making people happy would ensure they would not disappear from my life. Logically I knew this was not the truth….my husband did not die because I did not say or do the right things.
As part of the IFS process, I knew I needed to connect with that abandoned child and bring her figuratively into the light to heal, sensing only that would allow the other protective parts to rest.
As part of my process of writing meditation, my grandiose term for journaling, I attempted to reach out to that little girl who was wreaking such havoc in my life. As I typed and emptied my thoughts and emotions onto the page, I was transported back in time to the home where I last felt like a carefree child.
I climb the familiar stairs to my old bedroom, pausing on each one, fearful of what I will find at the end. What if she is not there?
Stairway dark. Door closed.
Feeling fear in the darkness, I stop at the door and strain to hear any sound from the other side. There is a faint whimper, so I rush to open the door, which will not open. Filled with desperation, I try to muscle the door open, pushing hard against it with my shoulder and hip with no success.
I turn my back to the door and slide to the floor, putting my face in my hands as tears stream down my face. Calmed by the release from the tears, my brain and heart start to function in unity again. I call out to the source of the sadness on the other side.
“I want to help you, but I cannot open the door. Tell me how to get to you.”
As soon as the last word is out of my mouth, the door disappears and my hand on the ground is the only thing that keeps me from collapsing into the room.
Somehow the room is exactly the same as it was 38 years ago. Smiling at my easel chalkboard and record player, my attention falls on my beautiful canopy bed with the flower and butterfly comforter, in the middle of which is the source of the mournful sounds. I was small the last time I was whole in this house, but this little shadow is tiny, and withdrawn.
Never hugged or played with…neglected.
She has learned helplessness, so the vocalizations are not for attention. She cries to remind herself that she is still alive deep within a weak body that no longer moves.
Although she is unaware of my presence, I gently brush her long hair back away from the small forehead as her rhythmic moaning continues. There is no response, and I know that I need to get her out of this darkness and into the light.
Leaning over to scoop her up in my arms, I am completely taken aback at how heavy she is…so heavy that I almost fall on top of her, losing my balance. She feels cold cradled close to my heart.
Refusing to focus on the dark emotions that threaten to freeze me here, I concentrate on simply moving forward one step at a time, slowly and with determination. Although the stairway is still dark, somehow my path is dimly illuminated. With the awareness that help is available, somehow my burden feels lighter and lighter as I get closer to the back door.
As I come around the corner into my old living room, I can see the sunshine coming in through the windows of the French doors that lead outside to a place that used to represent freedom and adventure to me when I was a little girl. I can make out the tree house and the swing set where I spent many hours imagining I was in exotic locales on important missions to save friends or even mankind. Moving faster and faster toward the door, the burden encircled in my arms is unbelievably light.
My attention is drawn to a fountain in the middle of the beautiful yard my dad was so proud of, and I kneel down in front of it, cushioned beneath the freshly cut grass. Water has always been a source of healing.
Tenderly, I brush my wet hand across her cheek revealing healthy, pink skin. I continue this cleansing until there is nothing left of the neglect. As I lovingly touch her hair, smoothing it back from her face as I kiss her temple, I see her lashes flutter. As she opens her eyes and smiles at me in sheer joy, I look into eyes identical to mine, and we are at once unified.
Even after this symbolic unification in my head, there are still emotions that trigger an appearance of that abandoned child, and my people pleasing days are not totally behind me. Awareness and compassion come much quicker these days, and my “parts” work much more in unison.
Most of us have voices in our head that, on any given day, can either help us move forward in our lives or keep us frozen in fear or helplessness. Whether we decide to do a formal study of these components of our personality or just attempt to redirect them, the challenge is to recognize the different roles and their purpose. Many are able to shut out these distractions during meditation, but imagine if we had the ability to recognize all the different parts and soothe them to stay in Self more of the time.
A call to action: start thinking of all the aspects of ourselves as allies, albeit misguided sometimes, instead of afflictions. More joy, less suffering.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Editor: Catherine Monkman