When I woke up Friday morning I checked my phone and noticed a preview of a text which included the words, “you are lying to me.” I assumed someone must have been drunk texting the wrong number. “This should be fun,” I thought.
So I began reading the text and realized it was in fact, meant for me. Immediately, my body tensed and my conscious attention became laser-focused on the text message.
Someone I recently met misinterpreted something I said. Rather than checking it out with me to clear it up, they assumed that I had malicious intent. This person had apparently been offended by something I said and had been stewing on it. Their message was packed with venom.
As I read through the text a second time, I immediately began to formulate a plan to permanently cancel my relationship with the sender.
Over the next minute or two my mind traveled to how I could block them on my phone. Then I considered how I might respond with a text message of my own. I wondered if there was any truth to what I was being accused of. I searched the memory of our conversations to find a clue as to how they may had been offended. I imagined defending myself. I wanted to help them understand so they could feel better. I thought about how to set clear boundaries.
I imagined the offended person telling my friends what I had done to them. My mind traveled to the free support groups I had invited this person to and I thought about how to prevent them from joining in the future.
I continued to process the text. I saw them in my mind and imagined how much they must be suffering to strike out in the way they had. I remembered just a couple of weeks earlier when the texter had publicly acknowledged me for being kind and patient.
Then I thought about the parts of me that were reacting to the texted words and noticed how familiar this experience was. I felt curious about what was happening in my mind and in my body. The moment I focused on my internal process, my body relaxed.
When I read the text Friday morning, a cascade of internal reactions automatically occurred energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
My conscious attention was almost entirely on the text. My energy spiked, my muscles tightened, and my mind raced. I felt hurt, angry, sad, and scared.
The emotions of this automatic internal reaction were unpleasant and I automatically considered all the options for restoring a sense of safety and calm.
I was introduced about four years ago to Internal Family Systems (IFS) which taught me there are parts of me that react to the circumstances of my life. I learned that rather than trying to control those reactions, I can get curious about them. Since then, I’ve gotten to know and understand myself in a way that I never had before.
IFS (www.IFS-Institute.com) is a therapy model that helps me work with automatic internal reactions that influence or control how I show up in the world. I’ve learned that these internal influences are responding to current circumstances based on incomplete, unresolved, painful experiences from the past. Until these past experiences are completed and healed, I automatically react to circumstances that trigger my unresolved pain.
The emotions I felt as I read the text were from unresolved, painful past circumstances from my childhood. Each of my thoughts were strategies to corral the emotions. The activation of these emotions and thoughts altered me physically as I prepared for a phantom threat.
The offended texter lives across the country and had sent the text two hours before I read it. There was no actual threat.
If I hadn’t been learning about myself and healing with the help of an IFS therapist, reading that text would have been the beginning of a dramatic series of reactions that may have played out over days, weeks, or months.
My reactions to triggering events create the dysfunctional patterns of my life. Understanding that I, as my True Self, am capable of internal leadership through awareness, curiosity, and compassion breaks up dysfunctional patterns.
Healing, completion, resolution, and inner harmony are possible when developing a relationship between Self (as IFS refers to the True Self) and my parts. Developing this relationship updates the parts of me that have been devoted to holding the energetic pain of the past as well as the parts of me that have been so busy managing that pain.
When life provides a triggering event, my unhealed parts get activated. Until four years ago, I was not aware that I could interrupt these automatic reactions. Now that I know that I am greater than the sum of my parts, I can shift my focus from the triggering external event to my internal family. Once I shift, I am able to bring curiosity and compassion to the parts of me that need my attention and break out of the automatic re-creation of past events.
I have been using IFS to help complete my past for a few years now. I sometimes remember how hard I had to work in my life before I began to heal. I remember my jealousies, resentments, judgments, hurts, biases, reactions, shame, embarrassment, depression, and anxiety. I am infinitely grateful for how easy life has gotten now that I know who I truly am.
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