IIC 124: Your Parts, IFS, And War: An Experiential Exercise
In this special edition, I invite you to an experiential exercise to connect in a loving way with your parts who are in any distress or suffering with the armed conflict between Hamas and Israel and the humanitarian tragedies that conflict has brought. I do this experiential exercise along with you, working with my Adventurer part who has been burdened with fear and anxiety, especially around the conflict broadening out regionally in the Middle East and beyond. Parts also have an opportunity, with your innermost self to question and challenge God about what is happening.
Today, October 18th, 2023, in this special edition of Interior Integration for Catholics, episode 124 titled “Your Parts, IFS, and War,” I offer you an experiential exercise to help you process any distress or suffering your parts may be experiencing as a result of the recent explosion of violence in the Middle East.
The purpose of this experiential exercise is to help you love yourself–for you to better be able to love yourself in all your parts, especially any parts that are upset or destabilized by that violence and instability, parts who are struggling with basic attachment needs, basic integrity needs, needs for that felt sense of safety and protection, fears about war and violence, horror about the human capacity for evil and sin, even if those concerns and that distress is not in conscious awareness.[00:01:13] This exercise is not about judging anyone. Now, it’s not that moral evaluation is not important. There is a need to consider the moral aspects of this situation and other situations, but that’s not the purpose of Souls and Hearts. It’s not the purpose of this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast. It’s not what we do. There are plenty of others with expertise in moral philosophy, moral theology, ethics, metaphysics, war theory, other fields that can address those questions.And I’ll be the first to admit that there is so much I don’t understand about the situation in the Middle East, but just a few facts to get us started–to catch up. As you know, on October 7th, 2023, several hundred Hamas fighters breached the Israel border defenses and rampaged through Israel towns and villages near the border with Gaza, pillaging and raping, leaving at least 1400 Israeli men, women and children dead, taking about 200 hostages back to Gaza.Photographs and videos of the assault revealed the devastation, and Israel’s military responded with airstrikes in Gaza, leading to civilian casualties, a humanitarian crisis with the loss of basic services and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Gazans that’s now underway. Also, more than 500 Gazans died in an explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital. All sides are accusing each other of causing the explosion, and nobody’s taking responsibility for the blast.[00:02:50] Israel has massed its forces near the border with Gaza for a possible ground offensive, and the polarization among peoples, nations, political leaders and individuals is extreme. They have deep historical roots, a lot of trauma, a lot of legacy burdens. There are strong concerns now that the war between Hamas and Israel may widen–bringing in Hezbollah in Lebanon, bringing in Iran. The American aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and its strike group headed toward the eastern Mediterranean just hours after the initial assault, and now the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is heading across the Atlantic Ocean. To the eastern Mediterranean as well.And since then, since October 7th, I’ve experienced in my own parts, especially my adventurer part, who carries fear for me, much unacknowledged distress, much unacknowledged fear. And I offer you that backstory in my weekly reflection for today, October 18th, 2023, titled “Your Parts, IFS, and War in the Middle East.” You can check that out at our Souls and Hearts website, soulsandhearts.com/blog.[00:04:07] Now as we begin, situations like this can bring up intense emotions–sorrow, anxiety, anger, numbness, sorrow, deep emotional pain, sadness, depressed mood, a sense of powerlessness and helplessness that nothing can be done, the problems run so deep, despair, disillusionment with the human race. All of those are elements of sorrow that parts may be carrying. Anxiety, fear about the future, insecurity, vulnerability, the sense of being threatened, a sense of not being safe, of danger, nervousness, worry, and a sense of being overwhelmed. All of those are elements of anxiety that parts may be experiencing. Anger, aggressive impulses, hatred for one side or the other, or both. Bitterness. Irritability. Frustration. Hostility. Righteous indignation. All of that can come under anger. And also, the intensity could lead to to rage. And then numbness, that detachment, that apathy, that shutting down. All of those could be going on for parts within you with regard to the situation in the emotional realm.Second major area: thinking there could be confusion, there could be criticism, judging harshly. There could be catastrophizing, there could be rumination that this is the beginning of World War III. Will Israeli forces roll into Gaza? What will that look like? What will the much more heavily armed Hezbollah do? Will it open a second front in Israel? What’s Iran’s role in this conflict? It can be really hard to stay focused, to concentrate, to stay on task. All of that is in that realm of thinking.[00:05:59] The third area: behaviors. People can become really attached to news reports, TV and internet images of traumatized people, dead bodies, all this human destruction, ranting politicians and leaders of factions promising annihilation and genocide. We can find ourselves caught up in consuming way too much of that kind of information. On the other end of the spectrum, we could find ourselves withdrawing, avoiding, hiding from it. We could find ourselves skittering across the surface of these current events, not looking for not finding any resolution about how to handle them in our own lives. And it can lead to sleep issues, which was a major issue for me. You can read about that in the backstory that I offer in my weekly reflection from today titled “Your Parts, IFS, and War in the Middle East.” It’s on our website soulsandhearts.com/blog.And then finally the last area are the spiritual and existential issues. Where is God in all of this? How can this much evil be happening? What does it all mean? And could this be the end of the world?[00:07:29] I am Dr. Peter Malinoski, clinical psychologist. trauma therapist, podcaster, blogger, and co-founder and president of Souls and Hearts. I’m your host and guide in this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast. It’s an honor; it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for being here with me. And I want you to be able to taste and see the height and depth and breadth and warmth and the light of the love of God. I am here to help you embrace your identity as a beloved little son or daughter of God. That is what this podcast is all about.And we do this on this podcast–we do this in Souls and Hearts by shoring up the natural foundation for the spiritual life. We know from Saint Thomas Aquinas that grace perfects nature. We are all about offering you the best resources on human formation, and to bring that about to live out our mission. I bring you new ways of understanding yourself, new conceptualizations informed by the best of human formation resources and psychology, firmly grounded in the perennial teachings of our Catholic Church.And in response to some members of the Resilient Catholics community and our broader Souls and Hearts community, I wanted to offer you something today. One of the spiritual works of mercy in the Catholic Church is to comfort the afflicted. And when I think about comforting the afflicted, I think about parts. I think about those parts that might be neglected, that might be alienated, isolated, those that are carrying heavy burdens, those that are weighed down with distress. How do we reach out to them? That’s what I’m thinking about in the spiritual work of mercy.[00:09:16] And I thought to that end, I would offer you some consolation through a reflection and an experiential exercise focused on helping you go inside, and with compassion and kindness, care for any parts of you that are distressed about these geopolitical events, about the war in the Middle East. So there’s a focus on connecting with parts of us that are agitated, that are distressed–this focus on bringing your parts together under the care and guidance of your core self. So this is more than mindfulness in this exercise. Your innermost self can actively lead and guide your parts. Not just be a passive observer. Not just be a listener, but more actively be with your your parts in a way that is good for all of you. We’ll be doing this grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person and a Catholic understanding of who God is.So on to this exercise. A couple of preliminary comments. First, this exercise is not therapy. It’s not counseling. It’s not anything like a clinical service. It’s an experiential exercise with some guidance. You might think of it as you might think of it as a guided meditation. It can be really helpful to have pencils and pens and paper, something to write or draw with. I like to use different colors to express what different parts are sharing. That’s optional, but something to write with may be a really good idea just so you can capture what your parts want you to know. And often they really like it when you can give them a voice in writing.[00:10:59] Next, we’re going to be dealing with some potentially difficult material in discussing this situation. So it’s important to be mindful of where you are in your window of tolerance…whether you’re leaving that window of tolerance to the upside, moving into fight or flight, that sympathetic activation revving up…or if you’re leaving that window of tolerance to the downside, that’s the freeze response, the dorsal vagal activation, shutting down, numbing out, dissociating. If you notice any of that happening, then it’s important to slow down, stop, take a break, recognize where you’re at, and consider whether this is actually what you need right now.It might be helpful to bring it to somebody that can help you work through it. You don’t have to do this exercise. You can stop at any time. You can reground yourself.We don’t want to steamroll any of your parts. We work in a way that’s collaborative and cooperative with all your parts.[00:12:06] Also, toward the end of the exercise, I’m going to be bringing in God from a Catholic perspective–that might activate some parts in some people.It’s good to do this exercise when you have the time and space and the privacy. It’s not a good thing to listen to while you’re driving or when you’re engaging in other activities, when you’re exercising, when you have to divide your attention between the cooking and what I’m offering you. This really needs to have pride of place–nothing else going on to distract you when you do it.So I’m going to invite you to take what’s useful to you from what I offer you in this experiential exercise. Feel totally free to go your own direction if that seems what’s best. If you’re finding that what I’m offering doesn’t resonate with you but you’ve got a different direction, go with the direction that seems helpful to you and to your parts.Also, feel free to pause the audio to settle in and do some extended work if that seems best.And then a lot of gentleness with yourself, for yourself. There’s a moment here for you to really care for yourself. In Luke 10:27, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and we are supposed to love ourselves in an ordered way. And to me that means loving the parts of yourself that are in need, treating them with care and compassion.If you get distracted during this experiential exercise, that’s perfectly okay. It’s really common. You can just refocus. Or if it’s not possible to stay focused, then let’s focus in on that distraction. Let’s get curious about why a part of you might need to distract you. Maybe there’s something going on that we can learn. There’s a reason for that distraction. There always is.[00:14:16] So as we begin, as we settle in, just notice what’s going on in or around your body. What’s happening in your body? Body sensations that you notice might be there, when we bring up the violence in the Middle East. What do you notice? Just going to invite you to focus in on some kind of body sensation–could be muscle tension, stomach distress, headaches, fatigue, indigestion, ringing in the ears, tingling–whatever it is in your body. Just going to invite you to focus in with me on that sensation. I’m noticing some real tension in my right shoulder right now. I’m going to focus in on that. You can find whatever might be going on in your body, and just notice it. Whatever the situation in the Middle East is bringing up for you.[00:16:01] And once you find some kind of sensation that seems in some way linked to the situation in the Middle East, we’re going to call that a trailhead. Trailheads lead us to parts, often parts that are in distress. Now, if you notice that you’re really stuck on an image, or video footage from the conflict in the Middle East, or if you notice that there’s an intense emotion, sorrow or grief, anger, fear or anxiety, or maybe there’s a numbness about it, that can be a trailhead too. You know, it doesn’t have to be a body sensation, just something that might link to your heart’s reaction to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza. Could be an inner voice, kind of a message from a part that sounds verbal. It could be a memory. It could be a belief or assumption. Could be an impulse or a desire, or it could be a daydream or a fantasy that’s come up.Any of those could be trailheads, but I’m going to invite you to focus in on something that seems prominent in your experience about the tension, the violence, in the Middle East. One inner experience that’s associated in some way with how your parts are dealing with the situations in Israel, in Gaza. And that experience, that trailhead, will lead you to a part. And we will call the part that you’re focusing on your focus part.[00:18:15] We just want to have a lot of acceptance for your focus part, that part that’s connected with that trailhead, with that inner experience, that bodily experience or some other kind of experience within you.And there’s an invitation here for you to really notice that focus part. To really connect with it in some way. Let’s see if we can work with one part at a time. You can do this reflection, this experiential exercise, over again with multiple parts if you’d like. But let’s see if your parts inside can agree to just let you work with one part right now.And this is really important. We’re going to ask that that one part not flood you with its intensity. That’s a safety thing. We really want to work in a way that feels safe to parts. We’re going to need that part not to overwhelm you with its distress. We want to be separate. But near so that your innermost self can have a relationship with that distressed part, with your focus part. If your focus part fuses with you, if it blends with you, then there’s no chance for relationship. There’s just fusion or blending. So let’s see if that focus part will agree not to overwhelm. And just ask–see if that part agrees.[00:20:14] And then if that part agrees, let’s just really sense that part. See that part in your mind’s eye. Sense that part. Could be that you hear your parts. I can’t see my parts–I’m not really visual with my parts, but I can hear them. I can sense them.I’m noticing what’s going on in my shoulder. That’s where that tension is for me. That’s my trailhead. Connecting with the part of me that carries a lot of fear, my adventure part.So just encouraging you to have a big open heart toward your focus part. And to just notice what there is to notice about that part. How old does that part seem to be?[00:22:10] Really focusing our attention inward as long as that feels safe, as long as that feels okay.And I’m going to invite you to notice how you’re feeling toward that part of you. How do you feel toward that part? That focus part, that one that’s connected with that trailhead, that bodily sensation or some other internal experience connected to the Middle East, what are you noticing?And if there’s any criticism or judgment of that part, if there’s any negativity toward that part, that’s coming from other parts, usually protector parts–managers and firefighters. And an invitation, if you are experiencing any negativity or criticism or judgment toward that focus part, just an invitation for those protectors to soften and relax back. See if they’d be willing to give you, as the innermost self, more space to lead and guide. More space to connect with this focus part that’s struggling in some way, that’s distressed in some way.[00:24:03] You know, protectors sometimes don’t know that parts can hold their intensity. They don’t have to flood with it, if they decide not to. If they want to collaborate and cooperate, they can choose not to blend or to flood. And we’re only working with a part who has agreed to not overwhelm. So there’s safety there for the whole system. And just let your protectors know that, if they don’t know that.In that big, open heart toward your part, just notice if there’s compassion, connection, a sense of calm, curiosity, a genuine interest, and a sense of acceptance of that part as that focus part is right now.If you notice an agenda to have to change the part, or to fix the part, or to correct the part, or to admonish the part, that’s all, again, other parts trying to keep you safe. They’ve got good intentions. But they’re working at cross purposes to what’s really needed, which is this cooperation and collaboration with you as the innermost self, leading and guiding.[00:25:51] If you’re in a good place now to connect with your focus part, I’m just going to invite you to listen to the story that that part wants to share. You might ask if that part has a favorite color. And you can write in that color of ink or in that color of pencil lead. It’s not necessary, but just to be able to take down some of the story about how that part is experiencing what’s going on in the Middle East.And if you need more time than I offer here in this episode, just feel free to hit pause. Really work through the story of what that part wants to share–really listening.[00:27:33] I’m noticing that my adventure part who carries fear in that shoulder is just feeling burdens–like it’s carrying this burden of having to try to make things okay and safe. How do I keep my family safe? What if this escalates? A lot of uncontained fear around safety. A lot of worry about the geopolitical situation. That’s what I’m experiencing. You might be experiencing something very different in your parts.What emotions are there? Sometimes parts might draw–you can allow the part to draw the emotion if it’s easier. Some parts are not very verbal–very young, often.What emotions? The sorrow, the anxiety, the anger, maybe numbness. My adventure part is really focused on anxiety, insecurity, vulnerability.[00:29:48] And what about the thinking? What about confusion, criticism, judgment, catastrophizing? Maybe that’s going on with your part. Rumination. Distraction.And what about behaviors? You know, the consumption of TV and internet images or videos. What about withdrawing, avoiding, hiding? What about skittering along the surface? Distracting.[00:31:03] And I know from connecting with my part, my adventure part, I still sense that burden in my shoulder that that part’s been waking me up at night with anxiety–especially fears about the future and where this is all going.What does that part do with regard to what’s happened in Israel and Gaza as their binge watching of news or is there an attempt to avoid?Sometimes external conflicts reflect internal conflicts. It might be easier to recognize really important, really critical dynamics when they play out externally where you can see them outside yourself, but they reflect something going on within yourself, some sort of internal conflict or battle. So is there anything back in your history that this conflict between Israel and Hamas brings up for you? Anything that it activates from your story, from your own lived experience? Any unresolved issues? Just be open to any of that if that’s coming up from your part. This is tapping into something from before October 7th, 2023.[00:33:48] Again, it might be helpful to write things down as they come up.Just invite you to check and see if there might be a concerned protector part, a manager part, trying to speak for your focus part–you know, like a spokespart who wants to interpret your focus parts experience. And if that’s the case, let’s just see if that concerned protector can soften, relax back, and trust that you can be with your focus part, and that focus part can speak for itself, if that would be okay.And as you listen to the story, I’m just going to invite you as your innermost self to really listen for the six attachment needs and the six integrity needs, to just see if there’s concerns about these themes, these unmet needs coming from your part.[00:35:12] And the six attachment needs are safety, recognition, reassurance, delight, love and belonging.
- Safety. The part’s needs to feel a sense of safety and protection in relationship.
- Recognition. The part’s needs to feel seen, heard, known and understood.
- Reassurance. The part’s needs to feel comforted, soothed and reassured.
- Delight. That’s the need for parts to feel cherished, treasured and delighted in. It goes beyond acceptance.
- Love. The need for parts to feel that you, as your innermost self, has the part’s best interest at heart, holding a position of benevolence and of beneficence.
- Belonging. For the part to feel included, that the part is valued inside you, in your system.
Safety, recognition, reassurance, delight, love and belonging. Those are the attachment needs. Just checking in on those attachment needs with the part and seeing if any of those resonate with your focus part.Taking the time that you need, especially around the situation in the Middle East.[00:37:23] And then the six integrity needs: the needs for survival, the need for importance, the need for agency, the need for goodness, the need for mission, and the need for authentic expression. Those are the six integrity needs.
- Survival. That’s the need to exist, the need to survive.
- Importance. The part’s need to matter to you, to be significant to you.
- Agency. The need that parts have to be able to exert influence in your system, to make at least a small difference inside of you–that they matter.
- Goodness. The part’s need to be good in its essence–to experience that ontological goodness, and not just being used or exploited for its functional value in your system.
- Mission. The part’s needs to be sharing in a mission, a purpose, a vision to guide your life.
- Authentic expression. The part’s need to share and communicate with you as the innermost self, with other parts of you, and with other people outside of you what is true and real within you, within that part. Rather than pretend otherwise.
Those six integrity needs: survival, importance, agency, goodness, mission, and authentic expression. Do any of those resonate with your focus part?[00:39:25] I noticed that with my adventure part, the part that’s in my shoulder, the need to survive and the need for safety are really important. It might be different for your parts.And the spiritual and existential questions. You know, why is this happening? Or is your focus part struggling with something in the spiritual realm? Question about why is there evil? How could God, being all powerful and all good, allow this? How could this be happening? What about God’s providence? Maybe there’s some things that the part’s really struggling with in terms of who God is, or maybe where God is in all of this. What God is thinking, how God is moving or not moving, and all of this.And what does that part need from you around these spiritual questions? Or what does that part need from God? And would it be possible for you as the innermost self to be a bridge between God and your focus part? Would that be okay for that part to be able to connect with God with you there as a mediator–with you there present, you as your innermost self.[00:41:44] Is that part open to hashing it out with God, either God the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Or maybe with the Blessed Virgin Mary–that might be easier–or your guardian angel or a patron saint or a favorite saint, all of those are options. Could that part lay it out for God with you there? Could that part share with God or whoever else you’re working with–whoever your spiritual confidant is, just confide in that spiritual confidant, whatever that part feels like it needs to get off its chest, to ask the hard questions?But here’s the critical thing: to remain, to hear the answers. Would that part be willing? Does that part trust that you can be with him? That you can be with her to stay for those answers from your spiritual confidant? To address those questions, the doubts, the uncertainties, the pain, the distress, the suffering, the trauma, whatever is up.[00:43:44] We don’t want to rush this. Let it take time.My adventurer part just wants to know from God the Father that he really does have all of this in his hand, that he’s not asleep at the wheel, that he’s still minding the store, that there’s some way that he will bring good from all of this in the Middle East, and that we will be safe and protected. That this little part, this adventurer part is his beloved son too. That I am his little beloved son too. That I, in my multiplicity, in my unity, that I am God the Father’s little beloved son, and that you, dear God the Father will protect me. That’s what my part’s focusing on. I’m just allowing that part to be with me, near me, in the presence of God the Father.It might be different for you. Just a lot of acceptance of what’s going on.Again, really helpful to write down what you’re experiencing, if that seems helpful.Can your focus part feel the love from you as the innermost self? Can that focus part feel love from your spiritual confidant? It might be a little early for that to happen yet.[00:46:51] I’m just inviting you to stay with your part. I’m just inviting you, as your innermost self, to be with your part–with that compassion, connectedness, with that curiosity, with that calm, that big, open heart. Really being that secure internal attachment figure for your part, helping to lead and guide that part into this recollection, into this space, into an encounter with God.And in a minute or two, we’re going to wind up this experiential exercise. Again, inviting you to write down what you’ve learned, what was helpful, what came to you.A lot of gratitude for all of your parts. All of your parts have good intentions. All of your parts are trying to help. You are not fully you unless all of your parts are included.And this doesn’t have to be the end of connecting with your focus part. It doesn’t have to be a one off experience. You can check in with that part again. It might be helpful to make some kind of plan for that to happen. Connect with that part in a number of the experiential exercises that we have here on this podcast. There’s lots of them–episodes 93, 100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, 111, 117, 121–all of those episodes have experiential exercises that might be helpful to your part.[00:48:56] And thank you for for allowing me to journey with you. I know my adventurer part is feeling calmer. There’s still some pain, some tension in my shoulder. It’s sort of a way of that part asking me not to forget, not to leave that part behind again, not to get too busy.And in closing, I’m just inviting you to share this episode freely with whoever might find it helpful. If you want to learn more about Internal Family Systems, I invite you to episode 71 of this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast. If you want to understand how you can ground it in a Catholic understanding of the human person, episode 73 is a really good one. That’s that one’s titled ‘Is IFS Really Catholic?’ Episode 71 is titled ‘A New Way of Understanding Myself and Others.’And I’m going to invite you to check out all our resources at Souls and Hearts, the podcast, the weekly reflections, the free video courses, our communities, our shows, our resource. And you can also check out our resource page, that’s at soulsandhearts.com/TOC, for table of contents. There we have all of our resources in alphabetical order for you.And then just a quick word about the Resilient Catholics Community. If you really resonate with these kinds of experiential exercises, and if you’re really invested in your human formation, Catholic men and women from all over the world have come together in the Resilient Catholics Community, the RCC, for a pilgrimage to greater and better human formation. It’s informed by Internal Family Systems. It’s grounded in a Catholic anthropology. We reopen in December for more members. We’re always open in December and June for new members. Check that out: soulsandhearts.com/rcc.[00:51:07] And if you have any feedback to me, you’re welcome to email me at email@example.com, or what’s even better is to call me on my cell phone 317-567-9594 during my conversation hours, which are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST for a private conversation. We can’t do any clinical work there, obviously. It’s really a chance to connect about the themes in the podcast. It’s about connecting with the themes in the weekly reflections. I really love to talk to people though, and understand what your experience was.And with that, we will bring this episode to a close by invoking our patroness and our patron. Our Lady, Our Mother, Untier of Knots, pray for us. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.