Unlock Your Self-Worth with Internal Family Systems (IFS/Parts Work)

Discover how childhood experiences shape self-esteem and influence our lives. Explore the impact of early criticism, as I delve into the intricate dynamics of our inner selves using the Internal Family Systems (IFS) perspective.

Estimated Reading Time (excluding the inner practice exercise): 3-5 minutes

Low self-esteem is like a shadow that follows us, influencing every aspect of our lives. One of its greatest architects is our childhood, where experiences, particularly those filled with criticism and negativity, often lay the foundation. In this blog, we’ll embark on a journey to unravel how these early experiences shape our self-esteem and explore the intricate dynamics of our inner selves. Drawing inspiration from the Internal Family Systems (IFS) perspective, we’ll delve into the world of our internal parts (characters) and discuss strategies to heal and nurture our self-esteem.

Childhood memories shape the blueprint of our self-esteem. Let me illustrate this with my own story. I grew up in a home where criticism was a constant guest, and encouragement was an infrequent visitor. My parents made me believe I wasn’t good enough, that I often too much or too little in my expressions, and that my efforts could fall short. They didn’t necessarily tell me these things directly, but often in roundabout, passive-aggressive comments, gestures, or body language. Additionally, my school teachers, who were educated under traditional paradigms of punishment and reward, instilled in me the notion that my self-worth hinged on the grades I received and my ability to regurgitate information from past lessons without question. It’s essential to acknowledge that their intentions were well-meaning, as this was, after all, their primary responsibility. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that my self-esteem took a hit.

As the years passed, I absorbed these negative judgments and feedback like a sponge. I started to believe I was indeed “too much” (whatever that meant) and incapable. These beliefs etched themselves deeply into my self-esteem. Over time, I began to fear failure and the criticism that would inevitably follow. I wrestled with self-doubt and insecurity in many areas of my life, from school to relationships to personal accomplishments. This vicious cycle persisted into adulthood, casting a long shadow over my self-confidence and overall well-being. I sometimes gravitating towards partners who reinforced my negative self-beliefs. I unconsciously sought out relationships with individuals who were critical or emotionally distant, mirroring the dynamics I experienced in my childhood. These relationships perpetuated my feelings of unworthiness. And so the vicious cycle continued.

My childhood experiences of perpetual criticism and a lack of positive reinforcement shaped my self-esteem, painting a picture of myself as someone unworthy. Childhood has the power to leave undeniable marks on how I perceive myself and my capabilities, whether it’s for better or for worse.

Through the lens of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) perspective, I’ll take a closer look at the cast of inner parts that may have emerged within me, each part influenced by my childhood experiences and contributing to feeling of unworthiness and low self-esteem.

Fragmentation

  • The Inner Critic: This part embodies the critical voices and messages from my parents. It serves as a constant reminder of my perceived flaws and shortcomings, reinforcing the negative self-esteem cultivated in my childhood.
  • The Protector: To shield myself from the pain caused by criticism, I developed a Protector part. Its mission is to safeguard me from further emotional wounds. It might manifest as avoidance of situations that could lead to criticism or rejection, such as avoiding challenges, playing it safe, or concealing my true thoughts and feelings.
  • The Exile: This part is the bearer of emotional wounds from my childhood. It carries the heavy burden of sadness, shame, and unworthiness that originated from the ceaseless criticism. These emotions may have been buried deep within me as a coping mechanism to shield myself from their intensity, thanks to the protector part.
  • The True Self: Amidst this ensemble of parts, there’s the core, the True Self. My True Self at times has been overshadowed by the dominant Inner Critic and Protector parts. It represents my authentic, confident, and capable nature, stifled by the negative self-esteem cultivated in childhood.

Healing with Internal Family Systems (IFS)

The journey toward healing and elevating self-esteem involves collaborating with these inner parts, either with the guidance of a skilled practitioner or through self-awareness and self-compassion:

Acknowledging and Soothing the Inner Critic: The first step is recognizing that the Inner Critic, in its own way, is trying to protect me from harm. Understanding its intentions and acknowledging its presence can help me transform self-criticism into self-compassion and support, fostering a nurturing and self-affirming inner dialogue.

Engaging with the Protector: By recognizing the underlying fears and concerns that drive protective behaviors, I can find healthier ways to address my need for safety and self-preservation without limiting my life experiences. This may involve gradually taking calculated risks, setting achievable goals, and seeking support from trusted individuals.

Healing the Exile: In a therapeutic setting, I sought the help and support of trained IFS practitioners and therapists, who created a safe and supportive environment to access and process the emotions stored in the Exile parts. This can be an emotional voyage, as it requires confronting long-suppressed feelings of sadness, shame, and unworthiness. However, by acknowledging and releasing these emotions, I gradually eased the emotional burden I’ve carried for so long.

Reconnecting with the True Self: As the other parts are tended to and healed, I began the process of reconnecting with my True Self. This involved rediscovering my authentic qualities, values, and passions. It also entailed finding ways to express my true nature in my everyday life, whether through creative pursuits, setting and achieving personal goals, or building authentic relationships.

The echoes of childhood experiences can reverberate through our self-esteem, but they need not dictate our destiny. Through the lens of the Internal Family Systems perspective, we can begin a journey of empowerment, healing, and self-discovery. By understanding and collaborating with our inner parts, we can transform self-criticism into self-compassion, break free from the shackles of protective behaviors, and rekindle the flame of our True Self. This journey is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, offering hope to all who seek to enhance their self-esteem and lead lives filled with fulfillment.

As I embarked on my personal healing voyage, I experienced a profound transformation in the way I perceived myself. This transformation was so significant that it stirred a profound sense of purpose within me, compelling me to assist others in their own journeys. I utilize various therapeutic techniques, including Internal Family Systems (IFS), and this work provides me with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and meaning. Consequently, I’d like to present you with an exercise that may aid in bolstering your self-esteem during your recovery process. If you’re interested in receiving guidance from an IFS-trained professional, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Self esteem is not a luxury, it’s a profound spiritual need.

Nathaniel Branden

Inner Practice: Meet your inner parts

In this exercise, you will get to know and understand your inner parts inspired by the IFS model. This will help you begin the process of healing and nurturing your self-esteem.

Materials Needed:

  • Pen and paper
  • A quiet and comfortable space
  • Willingness to meet your internal landscapes with curiosity

1. Self-Reflection: Start by finding a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Close your eyes and reflect on your childhood experiences that may have contributed to your low self-esteem. Think about critical voices or situations that left a mark on you.

2. Identify Your Inner Parts: With your eyes closed, think about the various parts of yourself that may have emerged as a result of those experiences. Just let your mind wander, and imagine these characters taking shape. Think about how they look, what their voices sound like, and what their roles are in your inner world.

  • Are there critical voices that remind you of past criticism you received (e.g. from caregivers, teachers, etc.)?
  • Are there protective voices that try to keep you safe from emotional pain?
  • Are there exiled parts that carry the emotional wounds and burden of low self esteem?
  • Can you sense a True Self, your core being, amidst these characters?

3. Open a Dialogue: Open your eyes and grab your pen and paper. Start a dialogue with one of these inner characters. You can choose the Inner Critic, Protector, Exile, or even the True Self if you feel it’s present. Write a letter to this character, addressing it by name (or by its role, e.g., Inner Critic).

  • Ask it why it behaves the way it does.
  • Inquire about what it’s trying to protect or express.
  • Express your understanding of its role in your life.

4. Let the Character Respond: Now, switch roles. Imagine yourself as the character you wrote to and respond to the letter from the character’s perspective. Write down what it says in the first person, as if you are that character.

5. Reflect on the Dialogue: Read over the dialogue between you and the inner character. Take a moment to consider the insights you’ve gained from this exercise. What have you learned about the role this character plays in your life and how it relates to your self-esteem?

6. Repeat with Other Characters: If you have identified multiple inner characters, repeat the dialogue exercise with each of them. Explore their motivations and perspectives.

7. Action Plan: Based on the insights gained from your dialogues, create a plan for nurturing your self-esteem. Identify specific actions you can take to acknowledge and heal these inner characters. It could involve practicing self-compassion, seeking support from others, or engaging in activities that align with your True Self.

8. Regular Practice: This is not a one-time exercise. To truly heal and nurture your self-esteem, engage in these dialogues regularly, getting to know your inner characters better and fostering a sense of self-compassion.

By engaging with your inner characters and understanding their roles, you can embark on a journey of healing and self-discovery. This exercise helps you build a deeper connection with yourself and lay the foundation for a more nurturing and self-affirming inner dialogue.

Feel free to drop me a message with your insights from this exercise.

Check out this upcoming retreat I am co-creating, which includes an IFS-inspired group workshop!

7 - 9
June
6:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Virkelig
Tagensvej 85C, 1. & 2. sal, 2200 København

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Anelia Mitova
Anelia Mitova

Passionate about promoting holistic well-being and resilience in individuals ready to live in alignment with their truth! Facilitates healing in a 1-1 setting and in group retreats through diverse modalities, including Internal Family Systems, Somatic Attachment Therapy, Plant Medicine Journeys, Ecstatic Dance and Trauma Integration. Available for online sessions worldwide.

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