Session 1. Getting to know my internal family

After more than a year on the waiting list, I finally started therapy and I am extremely impressed by the person who is working with me as a “client”. We only have twelve sessions together and I am scared that this won’t be enough. And so, I decided to make the most of each session by writing up my experience. I think that sharing it with other people could also be useful so here goes…

My therapist specialises in “IFS” therapy and “EMDR” therapy. During our first session, we focused on “IFS” which stands for “internal family systems”. It’s a school of therapy established by a guy called Richard Schwartz and it provides a model of the psyche that makes a great deal of sense to me. I might add something about that later on but for now I will focus on describing what happened during the session.

The therapist asked me to get in touch with the part of myself which suppresses my fear in situations where my trauma is being triggered and then encouraged me to do various things such as describing the physical sensations I feel in that state, talking about how I feel about that part of myself and relating to it in a more compassionate way.

All of that was a useful way to start connecting with that part of myself but the two most important aspects of the session were 1) actually speaking directly from that part of myself and 2) being supported by the therapist as I did that. It feels as though that part of myself has been trapped in a box and too scared to come out of hiding.

As I started to speak from that part of myself, I could feel a new sensation arising from it. Rather than just feeling the usual terror, I could feel a mix of joy with deep sadness coming up. The reason for the joy was that I am not used to anyone really allowing me to express that part of myself and it felt good.

The reason for the sadness was that I was suddenly able to sense how lonely it has felt for that part of myself to have been trapped in that box all these years. As I spoke from that very scared part of myself, I started to cry and the words just started coming out: “Nobody cares about what I’m going through, nobody gives a sh*t”. Of course, the child-like parts of ourselves have a tendency to see things in a somewhat “black’n’white” way but there is definitely some truth to what it was saying.

I became very aware of how I had grown up having to hide that part of myself from everybody because people always reacted to any sign of my emotional difficulties with irritation and judgment. They just did not want to know. I also became very aware of how I had internalised other people’s reactions to my fear by reacting in much the same way, as if I was used to saying “Look, I just don’t want to know” to it and pushing it away.

I had learned to hide my fear and push it away to some extent. It felt good to connect with the part of myself which suppressed fear but of course it was much easier to do so in the presence of a supportive therapist. The hard part is connecting with that part of myself just as compassionately on my own, which I will certainly try to do.

That evening after my session I felt a lot more fear because I was not suppressing it as much. I sat with it as best as I could but it was fairly overwhelming. However, after a few hours in that state, I was able to connect with the sensations of the fear more mindfully. I was still afraid but not terrified and I was able to explore the sensations of feeling frozen with more openness and curiosity.

It felt rather like being encased in stone but I was able to move around inside it very slowly by flexing some of my semi-frozen nerves and breathing through the tension. The terror would occasionally come back but I was at least sometimes able to move out of it and back into that mindful state.

And so, there was definitely a significant shift even though I was still struggling and perhaps even more than usual. Needless to say, I am very curious to see what the next session will bring…

This post is from the therapy diary.

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2 thoughts on “Session 1. Getting to know my internal family”

  1. That’s amazing! I’m still begging for some talk.

    I hope IFS helps you love all your parts – including what may currently be that part you term your ‘inner critic’. Rooting for you and I hope therapy helps you see that all of our parts have a positive intent for us.

    I think you needed to cry – in that safe space.

  2. Don’t you just “hate” the word client? I guess it’s better than patient and service user.

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