Dr. Dick Schwartz – the founder of Internal Family Systems created a theory that has helped thousands of people understand how our defences operate to prevent us from re-experiencing painful feelings.
Everyone has different parts of self operating in different areas of our lives. A student part of self, a mother part of self, a daughter part of self, a friend part of self. These are examples of parts of self that we can all relate to.
In thinking about parts of self – Schwartz explains that while we all have parts of self some of these parts are what he refers to as protector parts.
Protector parts jobs are to prevent us from feeling vulnerable or re-experiencing a traumatic experience we may have felt in our childhood or from experiencing any painful feeling that can be overwhelming for the nervous system.
Protector parts of self can sometimes be attached to behaviours like binging, purging food, cutting, addictive behaviours like shopping, substances, alcohol, or sex.
This part of the self that is attached to the behaviour is stuck in the past where the trauma or painful feeling was initially born.
One thing that you can do that can be helpful and borrowed from Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Jay Earley is asking the following questions,
” When were you born protective part? ” What are you trying to protect me from feeling or re-experiencing?
Whatever the answer you get will be the key to unlock the mystery of why you may have felt trapped in a behaviour that you believed would never end!
If one is shopping addictively and going into debt despite several attempts to stop and just cannot stop you could ask, Okay Shopping part of self, When were you born in my life?
How old was I?
What happened to me during that time in my life? Did I experience something painful?
Was I a child and could not understand what I was feeling?
Was I made fun of? Bullied? Did my parents do or say something to me that made me feel humiliated or less than?
Then thank this part of self for showing you the clues to the mystery of the painful behaviour. Thank this part of self for protecting you from re-experiencing painful feelings.
Then ask yourself when I have these behaviours today is there something that happens to me right before I do the behaviour that reminds me of the painful experience or painful feelings? If the answer is a resounding yes then you can begin to track your triggers on a piece of paper phone etc.
Unpacking these feelings or painful experiences from the past can be best be talked out with a therapist trained in Internal Family Systems and or getting EMDR for the painful experience and triggers.