First I should note that the foofaraw over a therapist named Schwartz is not about the original founder of IFS. Might be a relative. I know nothing.
Anyway, for now forget about proofs of outcome concerning Internal Family Systems. I’ve had no contact with them. I just want to find the points of reference in my own Inner Famiiy because I constantly take notes for an eventual memoir, illustrated with photos taken by my father of our actual family. Here are some incidents where he was not present, because no longer living.
1978: I am in a “growth group” for seminary students. led by a black counselor who runs a clinic for inner city kids. I’ve forgotten what the original subject was, but I began to disclose and hold forth and act out. Gene, the counselor, kindly said perhaps I was expanding too much, taking up too much room. My inner “exile” collapsed into despair. (That’s the inner part that is a victim, a weakling, despised. I hadn’t known it was there.) I wept so violently and so long that there was alarm. I don’t know what they thought. Gene gave me a glass of water. That moment is still very vivid. I could use it for acting. Gene’s take was that I was “defenseless.” In IFS terms it would be more like I didn’t have self-modulating or self-comforting skills. When in 1991 I wept like that because I had to take refuge with my mother for a second time, she just left the house. She didn’t have those skills either.
1981: I am in another “growth group” for future ministers, far away from the seminary. There are two leaders, a man and a woman. We don’t address whether or not God exists -- this is inner dynamics. Another member of the group is telling us all about how mean and withholding his wife was. One leader asked for an example. This guy said that after he’d had a bowel movement she refused to come into the bathroom and praise it before he flushed. His mother always did. I suggested that he buy a Polaroid camera and take photos of each production -- that way he could show an album to church search committees to prove how healthy he was.
The group leaders shut me down hard and suddenly. But I could tell they were suppressing laughter, which gave me a double message. This guy's most intimate dream which was to take a squirt gun loaded with milk into his mother’s closet of elaborate gowns and drench them all. He had no consciousness of what it meant. Ask your own therapist. For all I know, he became a fine minister. But I was too harsh to be a good counselor.
What I learned though, after a while, is that I have somehow swallowed my dinosaur of an Irish grandfather and his love of playing vicious jokes on others. (He thought they were innocent fun.) Another of his grandsons also has this trait.. When I came down the stairs on my wedding day, feeling splendid, the cousin (male) remarked, “You know, your hair-piece is really obvious. It doesn’t match your real hair.” My bridesmaid, who was my new husband’s daughter and a year older than me, turned slowly to stare at him. She had no family restrictions. “Fuck off,” she said. I smiled. I knew I wasn’t allowed to say that, but I hadn’t known anyone else could.
It has taken decades to see that my grandfather was compensating for grief over his brother (who died from yellow fever as a young man) and chagrin about his own lack of success. He was so impetuous that he made bad decisions but so proud he would never admit it. My mother married another man who could not succeed, though he seemed the reverse of her father. She had to save him, the same as she had tried to save her birth family. With some success, I admit. So that was my script, too. These guys who seemed like they would be “managers” (who make things possible) and “firefighters” (who deal with emergencies) weren’t any such thing. My biggest issue as far as the seminary faculty was concerned was that I started out so full of praise and cooperation and then over time became contemptuous.
My inner “exiles”. I had a doll house -- you heard of play therapy? How revealing it can be? I had a little pink rubbery figure that I finally discovered was the Firestone tire boy (or maybe Goodyear) -- in footie pj’s with the drop seat down on one side. He, Davy, was me. He slept in an aspirin box in the attic. All sorts of bad things happened to him. He was Cinderfella. The house was supplied with doll mom, dad, a sister and a big brother, plus a little two-inch boy with eyes that opened and closed: Bobby. A round-head sort of like Charlie Brown. He was Davy’s only friend. In reality I was not an oppressed girl. I just liked that story.
I had “defenders”. I always had defenders, usually teachers. In a school of 2,000 and a class of 500 I was one of four finalists for the National Merit Scholarship and one of two for the National Honor Society as well as being Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year. (My mother laughed so hard, she fell off her chair.) They kept telling us we were in the top 2 or 3% of the nation. I never did the math so I never realized what that meant until I got to NU and every girl on the floor was a National Merit finalist and many DID win it. I was a semi-secret smart person and a clown in high school plays. Eccentricity was my camouflage. It was the Fifties. My mother said no one would ever marry me. I would HAVE to earn a living. But no babies. Okay.
In the Sixties one could say in the jargon that I “dissociated” -- chose the reality I wanted instead of sticking with the real one. Bob remarked that I knew what I could do, but not what I couldn’t do. I did a lot of things I couldn’t do. “Can you ride a horse?” he asked. “Oh, sure.” Not Bob’s buffalo chasing horse. But I did it anyway -- sort of. All the really exciting stuff happened in that decade and, miraculously, I wasn’t killed. Just suicidal. It was adaptive.
On a rez no one is all that shocked about suicide. Whether you should succeed or not is always a matter of opinion. The “defenders” -- the parts that intercede to protect the “exiles” -- were few and weak. Way too many “exiles”. The “firefighters” -- the parts that put out the conflagrations and rescue the inhabitants -- were kind of clueless. Not even the shrink we paid to “fix” me. “Is there something you want to tell me?” he asked. “No,” I said, mystified. Truly. What was he talking about?
Again Bob summed it up: “No one else is going to save you. You’ve gotta do it yourself.” So I did. But I wish I could have saved HIM. That was my agenda. The first shrink got mad because I didn’t tell him I was suicidal, but i thought that was unimportant anyway. On the other hand, when Bob divorced me and I told that next shrink I wasn’t suicidal (I was brought in so drunk on Nembutal that I jumped up and down on the hospital bed), the shrink laughed. So I did, too! It felt good! Drugs are great!
You wanna talk dissociation, the dog-catching years were them. I started out working twelve-hour days, six days a week, in hundred degree temps in Portland neighborhoods where nice people don’t go. I drank. I was living with my mother until I was on a payroll again. I’d stagger home, she’d shovel me into her Mustang, and schlepp me to a great little restaurant on Swan Island for Mexican hamburgers and Margaritas. I was an excellent excuse for her to resume her bachelor girl years.
Then the Unitarian gig. It seemed like a perfect fit for quite a while. I was looking for power and success. If you can’t find it at the University of Chicago, there must be no such thing. There was no such thing. The ministry deconstructed it all, but inside of that, deeper, was something better anyway. All the time it looked as though I was doing nothing, but I was growing the person I am now -- quietly, secretly, taking up no room, making boundaries. Doing my own Inner Family Systems counseling. Locating my Core Self. I wasn’t better than anyone else -- not smarter, not more powerful, not funnier, and not meaner. Pretty much just like everyone else.
Sometimes this kind of stuff works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s conscious. It’s awareness. Sometimes it helps other people. It’s productive. There’s power and success in that. It’s emergent.