Stories of Transformation can trigger strong emotions. Take care of yourself.
My name is Gordon and I’m now 68 years old. I grew up in a conservative Protestant Christian family in Victoria Australia and took seriously the idea of being a Christian. This meant that while I fitted in with my family, I was left feeling alienated at school. I always felt on the edge of groups, not able to slot in, or connect. As a 13-year-old adolescent boy I was bullied at school which left me feeling lost, lonely and disconnected.
Overall, the teenage years left me confused and depressed. I never talked about these feelings or experiences with family or school friends. This feeling of being lost and disconnected has been a part of my story throughout my life and stayed with me as I grew into adulthood and in my dealings with God and the Church. I also struggled to initiate and maintain relationships in a whole and healthy way and found they often ended painfully and in confusion. By the age of 23 I was ordained as a Minister of Religion and while I had a degree of acceptance of the theology and doctrine of the Church, I also struggled with a literal interpretation of scripture, the idea of evangelism, and the teaching of original sin. Nineteen years later I walked away from the Church and my belief in a living God. Intellectually this was triggered by a change in theological beliefs. Personally, being confined by Church rules no longer worked for me. At an emotional level something different was happening.
Although I stopped believing in God, I still had an innate spiritual awareness and drive. I trained as a Social Worker when I was 48 years old and I found the work of counselling to be as sacred as my former work in the Church. My spirituality was deeply embedded within me and was focused on my internal emotional healing and awareness, rather than an external relationship with God. I started practicing meditation and this was like coming home. I found sitting quietly, going inside and accepting what was there to be a very healing process for me and it was excellent preparation for what I would encounter in my subsequent experiences with IFS.
In 2020, I had bumped into old negative patterns of behaviour. I wanted to explore them. It was suggested I try Internal Family Systems counselling and it was here that I heard about Self as a whole, undamaged expression of goodness and beauty that can take leadership in our internal being. As I explored my experience of loneliness and disconnection, I discovered this foundation in me (Self) which had the capacity to meet my lost and exiled Parts with compassion.
In my IFS sessions I worked with a Part that never felt good enough, was easily threatened, and would hide behind a wall. In time and with persistence and patience, the Self was able to speak with the manager Part who had put the wall up. This led to my manager Part stepping back and allowing Self to meet with my exiled Part and bring him comfort.
When my Self started the conversation with the manager Part to negotiate my exiled Part’s unburdening, the manager Part’s response was to remove a brick from the wall and give it to the Exiled part, who then decided to step through the hole in the wall and stand proudly on the other side. This was a significant turning point for me and my journey with IFS. I had discovered that Self has the capacity to meet my exiled Parts with compassion. The significance of this is it was a felt experience of strong emotion. At times during my life I had deeply felt the experience of being alone, unheard and disconnected from people. Having the Self meet my exiled Part was a deeply felt compassionate experience. Having a manager Part “remove” a brick in a wall that allowed an exiled Part to come through and “stand-tall” happened for me as a bodily felt experience.
Understanding Self allowed me to understand an old experience in a new light. Years ago, as I lay in bed, distraught, after breaking off yet another relationship, I mysteriously felt wrapped in a love that was palpable; this love came from within me and held me. Through my recent work with IFS, it makes sense now to call this the Self. Over the years, I realise I’ve experienced Self embracing me with compassion and kindness – as made manifest when I was a little boy who took his bear to bed to cuddle it when feeling lost. I also experienced what I would now see as Self during a meditation focused on looking back on my thirteen year-old self, bullied at school. I had visualized during that meditation putting my right arm protectively around the bullied child and then I raised his left hand to say ‘Stop – you are not to hurt this child.’
In my present life I have experienced how Self supports me to go back to my exiled Part that feels inadequate or doesn’t feel good enough, or skilled enough. The Self comes to me as an embodied feeling, or knowing, that brings a compassion and warmth to my exiled Parts. Gaining an understanding of Self (within the ideas of IFS) has also allowed me to look back on my life with a new understanding of experiences I had had that predate my understanding of Self. Self as idea and experience is supporting a transition to a different lived spirituality than that which I had as a young man. This understanding is not just a cognitive perception; rather it transforms my old sense of not being good enough, to being able to hold my hand on my heart with a sense of warmth and know that I am indeed good and good enough in every way. Overall, I have grown significantly through my IFS work. I now have a greater capacity to access Self-energy and Self-compassion and provide space for my Parts to engage and to feel welcome.