IFS-1

Hi beautiful tribe,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Susan said at the very end of her facebook live yesterday about recognizing the energies of our parts. What she said really resonated with me. I’ve been working for some time on taking a more compassionate stance toward my saboteur and developing a loving, parental relationship with the parts of myself that can try to derail my efforts to manage my food.

If you haven’t heard of parts work (also known as Internal Family Systems), Susan talks a bit about it in this vlog. The simple yet powerful idea that I find really, really helpful is this idea of trying to live and make choices from my highest self, and learning to recognize when my behaviors are driven by one or more of my parts.

I don’t think it’s a secret that my own personal bright lines look pretty different now than they did during the weight loss phase. I’ve taken the essentials of the BLE framework and crafted my program to work for me, with the boundaries and flexibility that I need as a 7 on the susceptibility scale. But figuring out the maintenance dance was (and still is sometimes) a tricky journey to navigate. Mainly because when the safe, sweet surrender of the weight loss phase ends, we are asked to make some decisions about our own food again heading into maintenance, and suddenly all of our parts wake up and try to have an opinion about what we should and shouldn’t be doing with our food, and what experiments we should or shouldn’t run. To navigate that screaming match, the idea of parts and identifying part energies has been soooo helpful.

I wanted to take some time today to map out my parts and share with you how I experience my inner dialogues and parts energies.

I have a pretty small but typical cast of characters when it comes to my food decisions: my food controller, my indulger, and my highest self. Prior to having this lens, I had incessant mental chatter about my own behaviors and a very confusing self-story about what I was or wasn’t doing or what was or wasn’t okay. Now, I can live and act from a place of much greater self-awareness and clarity, because I can imagine my inner parts as a little family inside my mind who are often in dialogue, with a clear authority figure.

The imagery of a family helps me because it helps me keep in mind who is in charge, and it helps me understand my responsibility when it comes to caring for myself. My highest self is the parent or guardian and my food controller and indulger are children, maybe more appropriately they are siblings who are usually fighting. I’m sure you can relate!

As the parent of these parts, it helps me to think of my role and responsibility as their caregiver. My job is not to silence or ignore them, but to do what I would do with a child, listen compassionately to them, acknowledge their needs, and ignore or discipline them as it is appropriate. If my indulger is having a tantrum over not getting something she wants, I know that her tantrum will pass, and she just needs to go to her room for a little while. If she’s really loud, maybe I placate her with something relatively harmless, like black coffee or sparkling water. Sometimes I set a timer for 30 minutes and tell her that she can have what she wants in 30 minutes if she still wants it. She never does, because by then she’s calmed down and is thinking rationally again. If my food controller gets fearful and starts panicking and trying to get me to feel guilt or shame, then I spend some time loving her and assuring her that she is safe and that everything is going to be okay. If the two start fighting with each other, I sit them down and remind them that we’re all on the same team, everyone loves everyone else, that it’s okay to disagree, and that I am going to be making this decision as the authority in this household.

This framework and little internal dialogue sounds silly, but it really does help me make decisions from a sane place in service of my highest good.

The piece that Susan said yesterday that helped me was thinking about what it feels like emotionally and physically when each part is active. When we can recognize the voices, we can respond more effectively and appropriately. Here’s what each part feels like for me.

My Highest Self

Feels Like:

  • Calm
  • Centered
  • Grounded
  • Peaceful
  • Rational
  • Confident
  • Integrity

Sounds Like:

  • “This wasn’t my plan, but this is the most practical thing to do today.”
  • “Oops, I went a little overboard with my lunch out. That’s ok, I won’t make a big story out of it and I’ll resume weighing and measuring my food at dinner tonight.”
  • “I know that (planned exception) won’t derail me, and I am comfortable making this exception today with these boundaries (bounding quantities, extra social support with resume).”
  • “Hmm, I didn’t like how I behaved in that situation and I don’t want to do that again. What’s the lesson and how can I get more support or accountability to change this habit or behavior?”
  • “I am so tired and cranky today, and I really just want to go get Thai Food. I’ll get my normal stir fry and tofu, and I won’t have to cook tonight.”

My Indulger

Feels Like:

  • Excited / Giddy
  • Urgent
  • Naughty
  • Careless
  • Impulsive / Reckless
  • Deprived
  • Spontaneous
  • Uncontrollable

Sounds Like:

  • “It’s a special occasion, I’ll make an exception.”
  • “That looks so good. I didn’t have any interest in that NMF 1 minute ago but now I really, really, really want it.”
  • “I can imagine the taste and texture of that. It would be soooo good. I really want it.”
  • “This wasn’t on plan for today but I could probably handle it.”
  • “Maybe eating that giant piece of NMF could work for me.”
  • “Well I failed already today, so I’ll just eat off plan for dinner too.”

My Food Controller

Feels Like:

  • Anxious
  • Worried
  • Angry / Fearful
  • Powerless
  • Guilt / Shame
  • Urge to compensate with extreme behavior
  • Trying to build the indulger’s ideas into “what I do”
  • Controlling

Sounds Like:

  • “My pants are tight today, I’m on the path to gaining all my weight back”
  • “I’m ugly / fat / unattractive”
  • “I shouldn’t have done that, shame on me, I’m a failure”
  • “Because I overate at lunch I should skip dinner.”
  • “I just won’t tell anybody about that and pretend it didn’t happen”
  • “Ok, so I ate that thing. Maybe I could count it as a fat and a grain and I could still check the box on my nightly checklist. Technically it’s not flour or sugar.”

Simply identifying and recognizing these voices when they come up can be enough to quiet them down and not let them hijack control. Sometimes though, their tantrums can be pretty hard to ignore, in which cases I employ some of the strategies I mentioned earlier in this post.

What do the voices and energies of your parts feel and sound like? What strategies do you use to maintain family harmony?