When parts of us need healing: IFS and trauma
Updated: Oct 11
We are excited to share this post on IFS therapy from Lisa Marston, LICSW, TREC DC associate & IFS therapist
When a Part of You Tries Too Hard to Protect
When I was nine years old, my mother would occasionally send me on errands outside of our military base, which was not an unusual occurrence in Japan. One day, I was waiting at a crosswalk when an older teen accosted me and asked where I was going. I hesitantly told him I was on the way to the local department store. He told me to follow him as he headed down an alley. Even though I didn’t want to, I started to follow him. A lady who had been waiting at the crosswalk with me, called out after me and said that the light had changed green. “It’s time to walk across the road!” I turned from the teen and ran to the crosswalk following her across the street. I was incredibly grateful to this stranger who recognized a potentially dangerous situation and intervened. However, my relief was short-lived because soon after I got to the store, I was greeted by the teenager—he had come to find me and had brought along a friend. Fortunately, when their attention was somewhere else, I was able to run home. I was really lucky, but that experience and other frightening childhood encounters made me fearful.
When I became a mother, I was determined to protect my children from potential dangers. I kept a close eye on my kids in public. Even when she was old enough to do so, I didn’t let my daughter walk down the street to her friend’s house, which was only five minutes away, because I was afraid something bad could happen to her. When we were on the playground or at the store, I would constantly look around for suspicious people. I was doing what I could to keep my children safe and felt proud for being a hypervigilant parent.
When a Part of You Takes Over
Yet, before I realized it, a part of me I’ll call my “Mother Hen” was working overdrive. This protective behavior in parents is not wrong, but it becomes problematic when it takes on an extreme role or, worse, takes over your life. This part started out with the purpose of self-preservation and transitioned to protect family members. When I was viewing life through the lens of my Mother Hen part, even seemingly harmless situations looked scary. Not only was I looking for danger around every corner, moments that should otherwise be joyful were filled with trepidation.
Helping the Part with IFS
Utilizing the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach, I was able to release my “Mother Hen” from its maladaptive role. This doesn’t mean that the part isn’t there to protect me or my family in the future if I need it. What changed is that this part is no longer taking over when it doesn’t need to. Instead of dealing with the nearly paralyzing hypervigilance mode of my Mother Hen, I’m now able to enjoy times with my family without always being on the lookout for danger.
How IFS Can Help
As an IFS-trained therapist, I work with clients whose parts have taken on extreme roles due to trauma or other painful experiences. IFS is an evidenced-based model of psychotherapy. This approach incorporates both psychological and spiritual methods similar to meditation, mindfulness, and self-compassion practices. This modality can be helpful for a wide range of issues including dealing with shame, anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship challenges.
Overall, IFS therapy can allow you to break free from patterns that are holding you back from achieving your full potential.