We Can’t Heal What We Won’t Reveal II By Laura Hogzett MA, LPCC, EMDR

I used to think the worst experience possible was to endure abuse. I don’t believe that anymore. It the denial that causes more damage. We can’t heal what we won’t reveal.

This is a time of my life I have been dreading for over sixteen years. The nostalgia of meeting my newborn son for the first time was breathtaking and magical. I wanted to live in that moment forever.
A sigh of utter sadness also came when I realized one day, he’ll start growing up. Someday must let go. That delicious little newborn is right on schedule, pushing for his independence, and I’m right on schedule grabbing the Kleenex boxes.

Teenage years also bring up waves of memories for me. My brother, who is also raising teenagers, had a different viewpoint of our childhood. He spoke mainly of only positive memories and eliminated a lot of the painful ones. I, on the other hand, saw mostly the suffering. A decade has probably passed since our last argument discussing our opposing perceptions of how we were raised. The dust had settled.

Having kids sometimes causes me to recall things that happened at a similar age, and I look at them through an adult lens now. For the first time, I really felt angry towards my brother, instead of our parents. I accidentally tripped and fell on top of restless frustration with him, feeling betrayed as his sister.

Part of me wonders if I held onto the dark memories longer to not only protect myself from more, but also competed to be right and to prove it (maybe older sisters love being right). Letting that go of that created space for compassion. I really felt devastated for what he had been through, not just with our parents but with me too. I recognized how hard must have been on him. That little brother of mine had been carrying the same trauma, but differently all these years. He was basically expected to be the forefront of the family: Move along. Nothing to see here…

Wearing his trauma was exercised in the avoidance of anything provoking that part who remembered. When I realized this, my harsh judgment seemed to fizzle and faded into appreciation and gratitude.

Based on our childhood, our first inner critics developed from the same ingredients. Inner critics love to mimic the worst abuse or bullying we’ve ever heard. They pump the level up a bit and budget for a safety net. So, I knew his was probably intense and cruel too. But there is no pretending with trauma. There are just different ways to process through it. When we turn a blind eye to our awareness, we cloud up our own intuition and fullness. It’s in being authentic with ourselves that we find the road that leads to our wholeness.

If we sugar coat or disguise our unwanted parts, we can harm ourselves by repressing those unwanted traits. Ultimately, we’re the ones who have the internal map. We ALL have both dark and light parts and cannot heal what we’re unwilling to open to. Shadow work in “Internal Family Systems” (IFS) allows us to embrace our light and dark sides with clarity. The IFS theoretical framework suggests that we all develop these living parts in ourselves and operate as a system. Through each of these sub personalities or “parts”, we navigate the world adding in help from “managers” and “firefighters” to preserve and protect us.

In shamanism, a soul retrieval would be a comparable description. The practitioner finds lost parts of the soul and brings their essence back to the whole. In IFS, we want to un-blend with the “I am” statements that identify us as the part. Being spiritual isn’t about being pure or good, it’s about self-actualization and acceptance.

Some of our parts are formed in preverbal stages and some hide themselves, protecting pain that’s too difficult to acknowledge. Some of our parts are rock stars and work extremely efficiently with us.
We feel balanced when each of our parts (sub personalities) are allowed to be seen with curiosity and a desire for clarity, rather than resistance. The best part about IFS, which makes me want to sing blissfully from a mountaintop, is that there are NO bad parts.

We can choose to perceive good or bad in our parts, but the importance doesn’t lie with their presentation or performance. It is underneath the appearance. We’re searching for their intention. When a part gets frozen in trauma or intense pain, it builds a belief system based on the experience in that past time and framework. It made sense at that time and developmental stage. To them, recreating a chaotic scene may feel just like home. We don’t need to fix the part but just need to listen.

Recently, a colleague shared about a pediatric burn unit in the ICU. There were children burned severely by their parents. While in treatment for their burns, they would cry out for their parent who hurt them. That part wasn’t looking through a lens of what was right or wrong, it was looking desperately for connection in a time of crisis. We create “managers” to maintain a sense of safety and protection for our parts. If managers had a social media account, their hashtag would be #NeverAgain.

Releasing the competition with my brother allowed me to notice his “managers” were never in any denial. They were working overtime to protect him and the exiled part suffering. He internalized the pain and I externalized it. If a part is unwanted, it becomes an “exile.” If an exiled part is exposed after all the hard work the managers have done, it escalates to the top level.

As a last resort, we have another helper referred to as a “firefighter” in IFS. Firefighters are the parts of us that strive to lessen the pain immediately and sometimes disregard any consequences. Firefighters put out the anguish by any means necessary to soothe. The cost to numb the excruciating pain isn’t relative, it’s reactive in the moment to protect. Firefighters support by trying to make us feel better us with alcohol, sex, drugs, dissociation, suicidal ideation, extreme religion, running away, etc.
Sometimes they also take our lives.

It a little fun to imagine yourself as the driver in IFS. You’re the one running the adventure and each of these parts you embody are like the vehicle you’re driving at the time. Some of those carry more baggage than others and take up more space. The driver, or the observer, represents the Self, or the Cell as it’s referred to in IFS. In shamanism, this would be the soul. We can’t get rid of any our parts. We are made up of them and they’re ours, for better or for worse. The more we try to hide one, the bigger it gets to receive our attention. Since we can’t eliminate them, we make peace with them. We wouldn’t want to eliminate them either because they also hold great strengths.

Empowerment comes from validation and acknowledgment of the intentions of these parts. Changes happen organically when there is gratitude and acceptance. Being seen and having an expression is their desire. Recalibrating your mind to question what your parts are trying to do FOR you, and not TO you is the groundwork. Maybe IFS is like Unitarianism for your brain. All roads lead back home. You can’t get it wrong, because eventually we all recognize we have the power to heal ourselves.

Laura is a mental health therapist who runs a private practice in Evergreen, Colorado and claims to be the #2 tree hugger in the city. Laura’s specialty is focusing on rebuilding after trauma, and gaining self-acceptance through an Internal Family Systems model (bridging clinical counseling with ancient spiritual wisdom.) She graduated with her masters degree from Regis University with honors, and is finishing a four year shamanic apprenticeship. To contact her for a session, visit her website www.AwakenedLotusCounseling.com or text 303-747-3467.