I really want an ice-cream cone this afternoon. Well, that's partially true. One part of me wants the ice-cream, another part of me doesn't. I have a dairy sensitivity. I know that if I eat the ice-cream it will give me a belly ache, but still, there is a part of me that wants it. Which part of me will I listen to? Which part will 'win'? I might begin to wonder if the part of me that wants the ice-cream is 'bad' or 'wrong', especially if I know that eating ice-cream is something that is not inherently great for my body in the long run. But what if I am able to look a bit deeper and begin to engage with and ask questions of the ice-cream eating part of me? What if, instead of condemning it and making it wrong, I befriend it and ask it what its motives are, what it's looking for and what needs it is attempting to meet? This, my friends, is the basics of 'Internal Family Systems' otherwise known as 'parts work'.


Our psyches are so incredibly amazing. I used to feel like I had an entire community existing inside of my head - it turns out, I do! We all do. It's just that few of us actually realize it. Have you ever had an experience of saying something to someone impulsively or doing something that you were surprised by only to say afterwards 'I don't know why I did/said that?' It almost feels as though you are 'taken over' by something other than your self out of habit or reaction or impulse. Perhaps you found yourself feeling extraordinarily sad about something and being entirely unable to rationalize your emotion, despite knowing on a more logical level that nothing was currently happening that warrants you being so sad. One part of you feels the sadness, another part of you berates you for feeling it. The berating part might do something in order to push the sadness down or try to exterminate it in some way, but the sadness remains, feeling abandoned and neglected. (Hint: it won't go away until it's seen, heard and soothed).


Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems, developed the model while working with clients with severe eating disorders. He found that the more he pushed his clients to stop their self harming behaviours, the more these behaviours continued to take over and dominate their lives. After much learning, he began to realize that the individuals he was supporting would say things to him like 'a part of me wants to eat, another part doesn't'. He began exploring his clients' parts, asking them questions about their feelings and their motives. The dialogue told him a lot about their development and experiences and he began to learn that their thoughts, behaviours and impulses always came from one place - protection from feelings, thoughts and experiences that were stored inside his clients' systems. He learned that his clients had 'sad' parts, 'lonely' parts, 'angry' parts, 'aggressive' parts, 'self -harming' parts, 'bulimic/anorexic' parts, violent parts and the list goes on and on. At first, he wondered if this meant that his clients had more severe pathology than he initially realized. But with time and self reflection, he began to notice that he, himself, also had different parts inside of him that would compete for attention and that these various parts existed inside of everybody.


When you think about it, how often does this happen to us in our every day lives? We perceive someone is berating us, enter an aggressive part. We perceive someone is abandoning us, enter an anxious part. We are having difficulty figuring out how to move forward in a relationship - enter various parts telling us different things about what we should do and how we should proceed. Our parts are constantly being activated by reminders of experiences and events that have occurred at various times in our lives. Often, these parts take on the roles that they initially were created for, as 'protectors' that developed when we had no other defences, were powerless, in danger, or threatened in some way.


Looking back, my experience of this has been quite evident over the past two decades of my life. Without realizing it, internal parts would become triggered and would show up as extreme anxiety, depression, acting out, self medicating, isolation and pretty much any self soothing behaviour that was available to me at the time. Often these parts would arise from a perception of threat that I wasn't even conscious that I was experiencing.


The body remembers, you see, even when the mind does not.

Of course, without this understanding, these 'symptoms' of mine were very pathologized. I tried to suppress them, stuff them down and numb them with pharmaceuticals. My parts bypassed that - the strength of my inner protective system far surpassing any strategy that was offered to me to deny it. It never, ever gave up until I heard what it was trying to tell me.


Learning about parts work has completely transformed my life. The reason that I feel so passionate about sharing this knowledge is because, well, when you have multiple internal parts competing against one another at any given time and don't understand why, it can feel (forgive the expression) quite crazy. I would long for closeness with a partner, move towards it and then pull back when an extremely anxious part would emerge. The more I tried to suppress and ignore the anxiety and push forward anyways, the more extreme it would become and the more confused and trapped I would feel. Ignoring the battle cries of my system did nothing for me aside from putting me into a state of deeper dysregulation and distress. It wasn't until I learned how to recognize and interact with my internal parts that I started to be able to manage what was happening inside of me. I had to learn that that anxious part was trying to tell me something. It was a sacred clue. Almost always, it was trying to remind me of something that had happened to me in the past - something awful or unpleasant that I had suppressed in some way. Entering into a dialogue with these parts is what has enabled me to understand better what I've experienced, and has allowed me to process it and move forward. In essence, my triggers are a gift - information that I can use on my healing path to better understand my body, my mind and my experience.


Here's how it works: my psyche contains three different 'types' of parts. Managers, firefighters and exiles. My managers' job is to manage my distress and internal feelings on a day to day basis. This includes strategies like perfectionistic behaviours, people-pleasing, controlling etc. Then there are my firefighters. These parts come to the rescue when I experience a trigger that reminds me of a threatening past event or circumstance. They are called firefighters because they are activated in ‘emergencies’ and function more impulsively, through behaviours like aggression, self harm, critical internal dialogue, substance use etc. These parts are on-call around the clock. Their main goal is to act swiftly when there is a threat of pain arising to the surface. Lastly, my psyche contains my exiled parts. These are the very young, wounded, inner child parts of me that are carrying the pain and distress of what I have experienced in the past. My exiles have been deeply ignored, silenced and neglected and simply want to be seen, heard and soothed. The problem is that they are often suppressed by my protector parts, who fear that the pain of recognizing what happened and the intensity of emotion carried by the exiles would be more than my being could handle. My protectors are so well intentioned - thanks protectors!


Acknowledging and soothing my exiled parts contains the key to my healing. It is through connecting with them and processing the pain that they are carrying that I am able to free myself from my past experiences. When I go deep and ask them questions I will often be able to find out how old they are and what happened to them. This is not as easy task as my protective parts have created such a strong, intelligent and brilliant shield around my exiles. It's hard work to access them - but it can be done. I have the capacity to actually allow and invite my protectors to step aside, once I've engaged with them and asked them what they need. I have to ask for their permission. They are there for a reason, after all. They have to know that it is safe and that I've got them. They have to know that 36 year old Reilly (otherwise known as my higher or larger SELF) can hold the pain of the exiles and will not abandon them the way they were abandoned in the past.


The power of recognizing the strength, resilience and intelligence of my protective parts has been transformative for me. How often are we taught to 'fight', numb or ignore symptoms?


For twenty years in therapy I was taught to 'reframe', 'change' and make wrong the thoughts that were going on in my head, not recognizing that the thoughts existed for a very important purpose. I have learned that there are no mistakes in our systems - everything happens for good reason and needs to be honoured and respected.

An example of this would be my inner critic. To the untrained eye, this part might be viewed as something to silence, be angry with and try to make go away, because it’s wrong, right? Not necessarily. With time and awareness I have come to recognize that part as a highly intelligent protective system, originally designed to try to make me 'better' when I was not getting me needs met in my early development. Of course now, it doesn't realize that it is not needed to the same extent as when it initially was created. The way through this is to recognize what it's trying to do, listen to it, and redirect my attention. I can compassionately say to it 'I know how hard you're working right now. I see you. Thank you for trying so hard to keep me safe'.


Understanding my parts has allowed me to come more to peace with them vs. fighting a losing battle that only increased my sense of shame and 'out of control-ness'. The simple, yet profound paradigm shift from 'something is very wrong with me' to 'everything is completely right with me' is what has made all the difference. What we resist persists. I can now see symptoms as meaningful messengers, rather than painful inconveniences to get rid of, which makes them so much easier to tolerate and work with.

I know now that my body and my being haven't betrayed me after all - all this time, they have completely been on my side. They have never left me. I am not broken as I was lead to believe.

I now understand that while my exiles carry the pain of being harmed and neglected, I have the capacity to care for them in the ways that they once needed. I have the power to be my own loving parent, caretaker, guardian, saviour and healer. I have the power right inside of myself to do this work. How amazing. Of course, help is always welcome and wonderful, too. The right help. And safe connection with others is paramount. It is what has allowed me to gradually and effectively show those exiled parts that they are not in danger anymore and they will be held. They are loved. They no longer have to hide. They are not alone. Relationships are safe now. They are not where they once were.


I will continue to live with my internal family of parts because they're not going anywhere. They are parts of me, after all. And I do believe that with time and attention, they will become more harmonious, integrated and agreeable with one another with the support and compassion of my loving higher self - the parent they have always needed, the one running the show and holding space for their disagreements, conflicts and contrasts. Isn't psychology and neuroscience just SO fascinating??


From my brilliant internal family to yours,


xo

Reilly



References:

https://ifs-institute.com/

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/internal-family-systems-therapy





79 views0 comments

Updated: Sep 23, 2021


Last summer, Merel and I casually ate a weed cookie. This wasn't a heavy duty weed cookie by any means. It was pretty mild and the friend who had given us the cookie said that when she ate one from the same batch she played some fun board games and 'had some giggles'. This was not my experience of the cookie I consumed.


After we ate it, we were sitting on the couch watching 'Girls', (as one does when you have a body high) and I suddenly began to 'zone out' and move into spontaneous shaking with my body that lasted, off an on, approximately five hours in length. My pulse was well over 150bpm and my body was in a complete state of fight/flight. Merel had to move me down to the floor and hold me on a yoga mat while my body shook and released. Had this experience only happened the once I would have said that it was definitely some type of adverse reaction to the god damn cookie. The thing is, it didn't happen just once, it happened four more times, spontaneously during the night for the same amount of time. I couldn't control it, I couldn't stop it and I didn't know when it was going to happen again. Thank God I was living with Merel and that she is such a compassionate and loving friend, as it was truly a terrifying experience and I needed her support. Of course, we were all greatly concerned about what was going on with my body. So I reached out to my family doctor and did all of the tests. I even wore a holter monitor over the span of 72 hours so that he could check my heart health. Everything came back 'normal'. This shouldn't be surprising to me. As someone who has been living with chronic, invisible illness for close to two decades I am used to hearing the words 'everything's normal', even when I know very clearly that it isn't. The closest thing that my friends, family and I could come up with as an explanation is that I had an adverse reaction/overdose to a thyroid hormone that I was taking and it put my body into a state of 'hyperthyroidism' for an extended period of time. While I think that's probably at least part of it, I also believe now that there was something more at play.


I don't have children. I don't know what it feels like to give birth - but I couldn't help but wonder if it mirrored what I experienced those five times my body went into spontaneous shaking/convulsions. At certain points Merel would be holding and coaching me, much like I envision a doula would do with a woman in labour. The energetic and emotional waves pulsed through my body, mirroring contractions that afterwards brought a sense of release, relief and insight. It was truly one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had in my life. I was conscious during the episodes, but zoned out. I was aware of what was happening, but it was a feeling that I couldn't control my body or the processes it was experiencing. The last time it happened, we decided to call my mother over to supervise me, as she is a retired nurse of 40 years and we felt it was important for her to view my state in real time so that I she could help me better report to my doctor what was happening. My mom, completely at a loss and quite upset when she saw the state of me, continued to say 'this is not psychological, this is physiological'. She sat with me that night from 2am-5am saying reassuringly 'It's ok - it's just been a while since I've worked a night shift'.


I am still processing the fear and uncertainty of these episodes - what they were, how they happened, what was going on with my body. To be honest, the experiences felt so insane and unlikely that if I had been alone and Merel and my mom hadn’t been there to witness them I might have a hard time trusting that they had actually happened. When all of my medical tests were complete and came back 'normal', I asked my doctor out of desperation 'well then, what WAS that?' He replied graciously and humbly, 'this is just one of the examples of the limitations of western medicine. We simply don't know'.


Almost a year has passed since the onset of those episodes and, with lots of time for reflection, research, processing and understanding, I believe that what happened to my body was a miraculous act of spontaneous healing and release, triggered and induced perhaps by the weed cookie or the thyroid hormone overdose, or both. But a spontaneous act of healing and somatic stress release nonetheless.


I shared my experiences with my therapist - an incredibly wise man with a background in somatic psychotherapy. He has studied the healing modalities of many different Indigenous populations (including our own) and has a perspective on mind/body connection that I have never experienced before with any other psychotherapist that I've ever worked with. His reaction was curious but not entirely shocked or surprised. I first went to him six years ago with obvious symptoms of post traumatic stress, though it went unrecognized by any other health professional I had seen prior. 'You needed somebody trauma informed', he said to me years later, once I was aware enough to understand that what I was experiencing was connected to trauma and the nervous system. The problem was that no one else that I had seen was trauma informed, and my symptoms were written off as individual phenomena, neatly placed into diagnostic boxes that separated each part of my body from all of the others. My therapist's recommendation for the episodes: allow them to happen. Don't judge them. Don't try to stop them. So long as I had done medical testing and knew that it was nothing hugely threatening to my overall health, I should let my body do its thing.


Dr. Peter Levine is a psychologist, researcher, and former stress consultant with NASA who specializes in working with trauma and stress-related disorders. He is the developer of Somatic Experiencing, a body-oriented approach to treating trauma which focuses on processing traumatic memory, calming the nervous system, and releasing traumatic shock from the body. The approach was inspired by his observation of trauma recovery behaviours in nature. By observing mammals in their natural habitat, he observed that upon stressful encounters with other animals, they would often go into a state of 'freeze' out of safety and life preservation. Once the threat dissipated or disappeared, the animals would shake, shiver, quiver, and release the traumatic stress that had been circulating in their nervous systems due to the attack. This wasn't something that happened every so often - it was a regular, repeated occurrence amongst mammals in the wild. Dr. Levine began to experiment with these practices with his own client base and observed that individuals who had experienced life threatening events long ago had the capacity to release the stress stored as a result of these events through shaking, shivering and spontaneous movement. They were able to process what had originally happened to them that had induced their bodies into a 'freeze' state where they had remained for years and sometimes even decades. Adult clients that he was supervising began releasing stress from events that they had experienced in childhood that they had not been able to remember through cognition and had not been able to process using traditional talk therapy. The hugest requirement for their bodies to be able to access these release states were extreme safety in relationship. It was as if their bodies knew exactly what to do. They just had to be given the right support.


Upon further study of this process, Dr. Levine discovered that it was not only 'Big T' traumas that could be resolved, but also, though slightly more challenging, pervasive ’little t’ traumas that were stored in the nervous system from long term, ongoing stressors in a person's life. He also discovered that it was not necessary for the individual to remember specifically what they had experienced in order for their bodies to release the contained stress from their nervous system, but that it simply required attention to body sensations in a safe and supportive environment.


Its difficult to describe what it feels like to be living in a functional freeze state. The best depiction is to say that it is like having the gas pedal and the brakes on at the same time. Numb and paralyzed on the outside but with active fight/flight energy happening inside.

You are dissociated on the day to day, but with unprocessed energy inside of you ready to be easily activated by any event that reminds it of the past. You could easily say that it's likely that a large percentage of the population is living in this state, (myself included) - never learning how to process our emotions around events that happen to us, and not understanding that what we refer to as 'trauma' is not only reserved for combat veterans, first responders or natural disaster survivors. Trauma is, in essence, any event or experience that overwhelms the nervous system that we don't have the safety or support to process at the time - from the seemingly 'small' and 'meaningless' to the more obviously life altering. Our systems contain the experiences of our lives (so long as we don't process or move through them), which link heavily to our self created belief systems about ourselves and the world around us. Trauma is any type of unprocessed stress that remains, unresolved in our nervous systems. It is subjective, different for everybody, less about the type and extent of event that causes it, and more about how it impacts us internally, as individuals. As Gabor Mate so eloquently puts it 'trauma is not what happens to us, but what happens inside us as a result of what happens'. And what happens inside us lives on and waits for daily experiences that remind our nervous systems of the past, when it is once again activated, leaving us to feel (consciously or not) like we are reliving the original experience.


Without my initial understanding, this type of trapped stress processing is exactly what my therapist had been working towards with me over the past six years. Guiding me to feel into my body sensations by locating them in my body, and teaching me how to release them and to move this energy through. The process has been painfully slow, as, in order to survive the ongoing, unrelenting nervous system activation that I have been living with for so long, I have had to disconnect from my body in general. It has taken time for me to reconnect with it and it has required a great degree of safety to get there. It has been the secure attachment/relationship with my therapist that has allowed for this to unfold and it has taken years for my system to develop the necessary degree of trust and safety with him.


There are various ways to facilitate the movement of this stored stress response. The best ways that I've learned are through the following:


1) crying
2) shaking
3) sweating
4) yelling (or making any sound)
5) laughing
6) active breath work

All of these methods, though simple in nature, are easier said than done. We live in a culture that trains us to suppress our emotions OR to take them out on other people. Rarely are we taught how to take responsibility for our feelings and we are almost never taught what to do with them when they arise. We are taught that vulnerability and emotional expression is a sign of weakness. Meanwhile, our brilliant bodies know exactly what they are doing, but we rarely let them do it.


Back to my weed cookie experience - it is my belief now that what occurred was that my body saw an opening. The onset of COVID was obviously monumentally stressful and my nervous system was already far too full. Whatever the trigger (the cookie or the thyroid hormone) I believe now that my body saw an opportunity to release some of what was stored inside of it, because it had to. There was simply no room left to experience and survive COVID and everything else that comes along with that. My body did me a favour, albeit a terrifying one, and took me into a state of spontaneous nervous system stress release. After each of these episodes, I would become incredibly, ravenously hungry. My appetite kicking back on to signal that I was ready to receive nutrients again. Fascinating. I had experienced a similar thing only once before in my life, the first time I attended a Sweat Lodge Ceremony in Kenora. After the first round, my body moved into spontaneous stress release through uncontrollable crying, shaking and trembling. Not surprisingly, the elders there knew exactly what this was and how to guide me through the process, their ancient practices holding a deep wisdom that moves beyond what we have been able to 'prove' with modern science. Afterwards, I ate like an animal.


There are other ways that I have been working on continuing this process during my every day life, one of which being to recognize and engage in my body's natural, healthy aggression. This involves a large amount of reprogramming because part of my survival has been to always try to 'keep the peace' no matter what. Relational conflict feels life threatening for me. I have a very difficult time relaxing into someone else being displeased with or heaven forbid angry at me. In order to begin to process the stress that I have suppressed for so long I have had to begin to do things like set boundaries, communicate preferences, express anger, set limits with my time and energy, say no, express my needs and basically any/all of the things that were societally trained out of me as a human and especially as a woman.

Societally, men are not supposed to be sad or afraid. Women are not supposed to be angry. How often do we hear anger or assertiveness in women associated with ‘craziness’, ‘hysteria’ or being 'out of control' - societal conditioning at its best trying keep us small, controlled and to suffocate our healthy aggression, our power, our life force.

Due to this fucked up programming, things like setting boundaries still feel paralyzingly terrifying to me and continue to require constant practice. Merel, having travelled this path for longer than I, demonstrates these practices in our friendship. When, through my conditioning, I try to unconsciously prevent her from feeling anger in our home she gently responds with a loving but firm 'fuck that' and tells me to mind my emotional business. They're her emotions, after all, not mine, and she is entitled to have them. If I don't like it, well then, that's just too bad. She teaches me what the healthy expression, ownership and responsibility over anger looks like, as it’s something I’ve not seen before. This emotion frightens me, never having learned how to express it in a healthy way, myself. Her refusal to tone herself down to make me more comfortable demonstrates to me my own conditioning and shows me that it is not only perfectly acceptable to have and express emotion, but it is necessary for authentic connection. I am also learning an appreciation for spontaneous movement and for doing things like dancing in my kitchen - blasting the music and allowing my body to pulse and move naturally, in the ways that it craves. It's a slow progression to allowing this motion, as I've spent most of my life trapped in a contained and contracted state. It's flow, it's expression, it's intuition, it's spontaneity. Engaging in these practices feels strange - like learning a new, foreign language. Which is why I’m grateful for the teacher in that cookie. However scary the experience was, it gave me the opportunity to get out of my own body’s way. It demonstrated to me how much my body contains that requires acknowledgement, release and expression. It exemplified my body’s brilliance at knowing exactly what to do, despite all of my efforts to shut it up, contain it and keep it quiet. Thank you, body. Thank you, cookie. Thank you Peter Levine and other pioneers in the field who are beginning to bring these wise practices that we can use to facilitate our body’s natural healing capacities into the mainstream. And thank you to our brilliantly wise Indigenous peoples, who have been the keepers, holders and true teachers of this sacred knowledge for centuries. Thank you crying, thank you shaking, thank you dancing, sweating, yelling, singing, writing, speaking, laughing, sharing, running, MOVING. Thank you for all of the ways that we can express and release what is inside of us, as we need to, now, more than ever. Our world needs it.


References


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26zoFKZzbQc


https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/somatic-experiencing


https://traumahealing.org/se-101/


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgdCsfBXnHA



Reilly Scott is a singer/songwriter, blogger, yoga teacher and facilitator residing in Kenora, Ontario. She is passionate about combining trauma informed practice and body based healing modalities with the arts to support psycho-education, health and wellbeing.

Listen to Reilly’s music on Spotify, Google Play or Bandcamp.

https://open.spotify.com/artist/4A5MnVCAJXz0frpG2qQvD9?si=Wy5PMPGsRdae8nXp4Jh2KA&dl_branch=1

Listen to the podcast: Unraveling - conversations around emotional wellness, trauma and healing.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1788602

Follow Reilly on Facebook and Instagram. facebook.com/reillyscottmusic

https://www.instagram.com/reillyscottmusic/

www.reillyscottmusic.ca





















133 views0 comments

Dearest blog subscribers,

I am so excited to be embarking on this podcast mission with Michele Berthiaume, NP where we are creating space for the sharing of the human experience.


Please join us in listening to episode one. We’d love to have you on this journey with us. Listen via the link below or through Spotify. ❤️

www.unravelingpodcast.ca


Welcome to Unraveling - the podcast. Join us as we share stories and explore topics around emotional wellness, trauma and healing. Through our conversations, we aim to unravel who we are and the lives we lead in the hopes of reconnecting with our authentic selves.


All my love on the healing path,


Reilly

53 views0 comments
  • White YouTube Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Instagram Icon