Have you ever felt like you have an internal menagerie of parts of yourself -- with so many competing voices that it's hard to discern which part to listen to?
You're not alone -- and it actually makes sense, according to multiple psychological and spiritual traditions, including the Daoist practices that are the foundations of my work.
In a noisy world, it can be difficult to tune into which voices to listen to, both internally and externally. And the better acquainted we get with all of our inner voices — so we can clearly hear the voice of our True Essence — the easier it becomes to navigate external input, with that foundation of inner clarity and congruence.
But how to do that?
One of my students recently asked if my work is based on Internal Family Systems, or if IFS just has a natural overlap with the Daoist practices and Feminine Power principles I teach. (The latter!)
If you haven't heard of Internal Family Systems before, the below description and the 17-minute video on this linked page are a great introduction, and have a LOT of similarity with how I work. (It is also similar to some types of Family Constellation work and other healing modalities; there’s an intuitive body-wisdom to all of these that simply makes sense!)
“What is Internal Family Systems?
IFS is a transformative, evidence-based psychotherapy that helps people heal by accessing and loving their protective and wounded inner parts. We believe the mind is naturally multiple and that is a good thing. Just like members of a family, inner parts are forced from their valuable states into extreme roles within us. We also all have a core Self.
Self is in everyone. It can’t be damaged. It knows how to heal.
By helping people first access their Self and, from that core, come to understand and heal their parts, IFS creates inner and outer connectedness.”
— Richard Schwartz, IFS Institute
Ultimately, the Daoist idea is also that we have a “Core Self” or “Essence” that is always pure and whole and untarnished, that has the Courage, Confidence, Clarity and Compassion talked about in Internal Family Systems too.
Our "Essence" is our own innate expression of Source Energy. It knows how to heal, and it carries the vast potential of our creative Life Force (qi).
With practice, we can cultivate our ability to tap into this Core Self more easily -- for instance, by doing particular forms of Qi Gong or meditation, or by bringing compassionate Presence to anything that feels like it’s blocking the full expression and leadership of our Essence.
In Daoist medicine, we also have various “Parts” or “Organ Spirits” or pain points in specific areas of our bodies, that have taken on various beliefs and patterns (usually from attachment ruptures or trauma) to try to protect our Essence. These Parts are doing their best to help us, even if it doesn’t appear so at first glance — indeed, it often seems that those are the parts that are “self-sabotaging”!
But if their help isn’t understood, or if we don’t listen to their clear messages, those Parts can get stuck in patterns over time, which then cease to be helpful.
Being ignored or disbelieved, those Parts often lose Trust in the leadership of our Essence, and our Essence might start to feel blocked. It becomes harder to access the core Wholeness of who we are.
The voices of the Parts start to become louder than that of our Essence, and we become more reactive under their direction. (Whereas with the clear, compassionate leadership of our Essence, best accessed with a regulated nervous system, we can respond more calmly and consciously to a wide variety of situations, rather than react defensively.)
The ways those Parts may try to protect us emotionally is quite similar to the physical ways our bodies try to preserve life -- even if the process causes uncomfortable symptoms. (For instance, encapsulating cancer cells in a tumor preserves life longer than letting them spread. Or, any of the myriad stress responses provided by the nervous system in response to trauma, intended to help us survive by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or appeasing the one who feels threatening to us.)
These protective mechanisms have the initially wise goal of self-preservation. But when we get stuck in those patterns over time -- as we often do, if we lack sufficient support or nervous system regulation skills to cope with physical or emotional trauma, or in on-going stressful situations -- we start to develop “pathologies” or symptoms, that may start to interfere more deeply with our healthy ability to function and thrive.
But really, those “pathologies” are simply signposts for where to bring the healing Presence of our awareness, our Source Energy, our Essence, and our compassion.
When we start to Listen to those Parts, to get really Present with them, to ask them what they’re holding, feeling, & believing, we allow their voices to be heard. Then it can become clear what needs aren't being met, and what could change for us to be able to meet those needs.
A Part of ourselves that's struggling can show up much like a child who needs loving attention -- it keeps getting louder until that need is met! The need itself isn't wrong; it only feels challenging if the strategy to meet the need is disruptive or ineffective. Also, with children as with our bodies, pre-emptive loving attention (especially consistent co-regulation with a trusted loved one) nurtures resilience for the times when certain needs might have to wait. (This all reminds me a lot of the practices of Special Time and Listening in Hand-in-Hand parenting as well.)
When we bring our internal awareness to these Parts, our Essence can listen and offer compassion. We can come to an understanding of what a particular painful Part is experiencing, what purpose it’s trying to serve for us, and what need is asking to be met.
With deeper understanding of What Is, we can hear the unmet needs of that Part, and examine its beliefs. Usually, we find that the beliefs held by pain aren’t True, but are based on past experiences, fears, or unmet needs, asking simply to be seen, heard, and understood with Compassion.
Once heard and accepted by our Essence, the Part we’re working with can relax: our calm, clear Essence is back at the helm, so that Part no longer needs to shout fear-based orders to take command over what direction we're steering our lives.
We can then offer that Part a job upgrade, to allow its energy to transform, so it can be more deeply supportive of where we are now and where we want to be going.
For instance, a Part may seem to be driving behaviors that are motivated by the fear of betrayal, based on a belief of our own unworthiness or the inherent untrustworthiness of others, related to our past experiences.
First, we Listen and extend empathy for that Part of ourselves, to acknowledge its needs and to understand its motivation and ultimate desire to protect and help us. (Note: This aspect may take significant practice, especially if we didn't have compassionate caregivers in our early years; we need to know how to access and continue to cultivate a strong, clear Inner Voice of Compassion for this to be most effective. The Daoist Inner Smile practice can help facilitate that, as can many other exercises. I go much deeper into this work in my online course Thriving Beyond Trauma, as well as in private coaching sessions.)
Then, once heard, we can invite that Part to step into new, more empowering, helpful beliefs: that we are worthy of Love, that we are capable of discerning who to trust (when guided by our Essence), and that we are also resilient when circumstances change — all of which our Essence knows deeply to be True.
(If there’s still a disbelief in any of those statements, we likely need to work with another Part too. It’s most effective to work with one at a time, to bring them into Right Relationship with Essence, which will naturally bring them into healthier relationship with each other too. Likewise, learning to access our Essence is key!)
When we consciously invite that Part to live into those new beliefs, it becomes much easier to change our behaviors and make choices aligned with the new beliefs, rather than to continue to be governed by unconscious reactions based in the past.
But: affirmations of new beliefs can only go so far, without actually FEELING their Truth in our bodies.
This is where the Daoist practices come in so powerfully: they offer practical, physical exercises and effective, efficient skills to help us get better at:
Qi Gong (“Energy Skill”) and Internal Alchemy practices are incredibly powerful tools for nourishing our own vitality and Inner Ecology, as well as that of the larger ecosystems of our family and community.
When we combine the statement of a new belief with a physical or energetic body-centered practice, we encourage the growth of new neural pathways -- it allows us to re-wire old trauma-circuitry far more effectively than words alone. After all, the old belief got wired in with intense emotion and/or physiological responses; having a powerful positive emotion and physical Felt Sense helps to re-wire a new belief in its place most effectively -- and there's an increasing amount of modern science to support this too!
When we continually realign with our Essence, honoring the beauty of ALL of our Parts helping us to Be Here Now, it becomes easier to change both our immediate emotional state and our broader circumstances. There's less resistance to the Truth of who we are, to the support available from Source Energy, to asking for support from others, and to tapping into our own innate inner wisdom and deep resources.
Without such resistance, we naturally embody more Love, and it becomes easier to manifest more of what we want to be Feeling and co-creating with the Universe — in our health, our relationships, our true work in the world, and in our own self-actualization — which is what we came into these bodies to experience in the first place!
Of course, that's easier said than done, especially without clear practices and compassionate guidance... Many healing modalities and spiritual systems have evolved to offer some support and framework for understanding and working with all of our Parts, so that we can come back into alignment with our innate Wholeness.
Some healing modalities and spiritual systems stick with cultivating the health of the individual. Others focus on making the world a better place, sometimes at the expense of the individual’s well-being. Neither are sustainable or well-balanced.
In my integration of the Daoist and Feminine Power perspectives (which align with many other intuitive modalities as well), it's very clear that honoring the value of ALL of the Parts — of ourselves, internally, as well as of our place in the larger world -- is vital to nourish each individual and the collective We-Space.
The health and resilience of one Part (of ourselves), or of one Person (in a family or community) directly impacts the health and resilience of the Whole, including our ability to actualize our full capacity to Thrive, as well as to co-create a We-Space that supports ALL of our Thriving.
As we listen to, accept, and extend compassion to each Part, and explore healthier ways for needs to be met, we invite each Part to come into Right Relationship with our Essential Wholeness -- both internally, within ourselves, and in the larger community.
When we are regularly cultivating healthier, more conscious ways of relating (internally and with others), we can be in Power With each other, so that we All can Thrive.
"Thriving" to me includes continuing to evolve as our circumstances change, with relative grace, compassion, understanding, and tools to support the process.
It's a practice and a journey, not a destination.
And there’s no better time than now to begin, or to continue!
Curious about more of these simple, transformative practices?
Ready for a deeper dive?
Join Thriving Beyond Trauma: Foundations of Sacred Feminine Embodiment — a 12-week course with a full year of live Q&A calls to help you continue to integrate!
Need more personalized support on your unique journey?
I’m happy to offer compassionate, empowering support for the sacred journey of bringing your Parts into Right Relationship with your Essential Wholeness! And I send you infinite blessings of courage, gentleness, and clarity as you continue to evolve, however is right for you.
This Free Mini-Course includes 5 practices to:
All of these practices will support you in living into your fullest authenticity and vitality amidst these challenging times. Join us!
Sign up here for our newsletter! We respect your privacy, and look forward to deepening our connection and offering support to nourish your alchemical healing journey.
Thank you for Being all that you are, and for connecting with us!