Experiencing a traumatic event is difficult: we feel broken into pieces and may find it challenging to pull ourselves back together.
What Does Trauma Do To Us?
When we experience a traumatic situation, the areas in our brain involved in emotional regulation and processing are overactivated, and logical thinking processes are shut down. The memories of the traumatic event are made vivid, triggering emotions and physical sensations that often feel overwhelming, and we may, at times, experience what has been classified as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapy approach suggesting that we have different aspects determining our beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and actions. We often keep some parts we may not like (such as a traumatic memory) away from our consciousness. Yet, the beliefs acquired due to the traumatic memory may significantly impact our current life.
Traumatic memories, despite being parts of us, are frequently suppressed and pushed away from the “Self” because of the concern that it might be too painful to face the pain surrounding the trauma. The protective parts within ourselves assume the role of helping us stay away from the traumatic memories.
Our protective parts have the intention of helping us and always mean well. Their goal is to keep the “Self” safe. However, their actions can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, resulting in unresolved and unprocessed trauma, which can prevent our authentic “Self” from manifesting itself so that we can be the unique person we are.
Working Through The IFS Lens
Using the IFS approach, we learn to identify and appreciate all our “parts.” We are able to acknowledge that each of our aspects intends to better life for our “Self.”
In working with Internal Family Systems, we understand that our protective part results from our fear of confronting the emotions resulting from the trauma, creating a barrier between the “Self “ and the traumatized part.
With IFS, we utilize a contained and safe therapy setting to help process the feelings and beliefs created by the trauma.
Utilizing Internal Family Systems as a modality, we help the acceptance of our feelings, validating their purpose at the time of the trauma and exploring whether there is a benefit in currently maintaining the beliefs that protected us at the time of the trauma.
This can be done by getting to know each part, The protectors as well as the parts that have been pushed into hiding. By being kind, open, and curious towards each part, we can develop acceptance and compassion for our experiences and reactions to these incidents.
If you have witnessed and/or undergone a traumatic event and feel you need support, starting a therapeutic journey is a step in the right direction. Choosing Internal Family Systems as the framework used for your exploration will help enable you to fully understand and accept yourself, allowing you to move forward in life in a well-integrated and healthy manner.
Feel free to reach out to Rachel Freedland, LMSW, for an appointment to take the first step on this essential journey.