In a State-of-Being Flashback to Interpersonal CCTs from Childhood? Internal Family Systems Therapy Helps

“How can we help someone who comes flooded by an inner part of themselves to a therapy session?” asked a therapist over on an Internal Family Systems LinkedIn group. Here’s a copy of my own Inner Exile’s answer. Does it match yours?   

(If you’re new to Internal Family Systems, Professor Google can help you learn this valuable approach to healing. Meanwhile, the basics: “Exiles” are parts, or aspects of our total selves, that have been upset and upsetting in the past, and so have been pushed out of our conscious sense of who we are. “FireFighters” are parts, or aspects of our total selves, who come screaming onto the potential disaster scene with the equivalent of axes and hoses, with the intent of protecting us from disaster)

Let your Beloved Little (Ex)Exile and your Inner Therapist peek over your shoulder as you read this:

“Dear Fellow Therapists:

“My Beloved Little Exile–well, (Ex)exile actually–asked me to respond to your question about how to help when she has flooded my entire consciousness…..she thinks you sound caring and open and she wants her story to help other therapists and other Beloved Little Exiles.

“I am a therapist with a very common history of Chronic Covert Traumas such as non-responsiveness and unattunement in my childhood interpersonal relationships. Because these Chronic Covert Traumas are so ordinary, I have often gotten triggered by ordinary exchanges with other people, including therapists. When I’ve gotten triggered my Beloved Little Exile part has popped up and I have found myself in places, including therapy, in a State-of-Being Flashback (alternatively known as Emotional Flashback or Mood Flashback) to my Chronic Covert Trauma.

“Here’s what my Beloved Little (Ex)Exile wants you to know about handling those hard times when she has been the part that flooded my consciousness experience.

“My BLE wants you to know the best thing is when you do Direct Access with her…… just as though you were a nice person who found her all bunched up and scared and ashamed because some well meaning Mommy told her “big girls don’t cry” or “go take a nice deep breath and listen to your nice music and think of happy things” or “calm down,” or “turn the corners of your mouth up, you look so pretty when you smile.”

“She felt so ashamed and didn’t know what to do with her upset feelings that wanted out and managed.

“My BLE says she is a little girl and she really likes it when someone crouches down and lets her cry and be mad and scared and helps her understand why she feels that way and that those scary lonely feelings will go away and she is still OK and loved even when she has them.

“BLE especially gets scared and protectively angry if someone, like a therapist, tells her to go sit on her cushion and meditate. She says that’s like being told to go to her room and come back when she has something nice to say. Her Beloved Little Firefighters come out then.

“She really gets scared when an IFS therapist says to go sit in that room while the therapist talks to someone else (another part). It was OK she says, “In that class when that nice Dick Schwartz guy said to someone else’s BLE that he wanted to get to know them better so could they sit a little bit away in that chair. It was nice he wanted to get to know them. That wasn’t scary and no Beloved Little Firefighters had to come out then.”

“She says, “Remind those nice therapists that we Beloved Little Exiles are little children and children need their secure attachments and that when we’re in a flashback to a Chronic Covert Trauma time, we can use some nice safe caretaking. I think you guys call it a corrective emotional experience. The caretaking could come from the nice therapist or it could come from an Inner Good Mommy or Daddy part like you found for me.”

“Thanks for listening to us!

Your “Inner Therapist” or your external real world therapist is welcome to adapt this letter to your own experience. “We”, my Beloved Little Ex-Exile and me, would love to hear how you tweak it and how it works.

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