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  • Writer's pictureChristina Cunningham Spinler

7 fears of protective parts

Updated: Nov 20, 2023


Photo: Older self (self of now) relating to younger protective part. IFS.


This is for my current clients.


I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with valuable insights into the realm of Internal family systems healing work. We've discussed what it looks like to become familiar with your protective parts and extending hope towards them in order to make room for healing. However, it's important to remember that at times, offering encouragement alone may not suffice. It's a positive beginning, but not the ultimate solution.


Protective roles:

Overall, let's focus on how to build healthy relationships with your protective and exiles parts, as well as how to begin engaging in conversations with them.


Think of your protective parts as guardians dedicated to keeping you safe. They've been with you since a very young age, trying to protect you from painful experiences and overwhelming emotions. Despite their sometimes mature or stern appearance, deep down, they're quite young themselves.


It's important to understand that your protective parts are not bad or wrong—they're just doing the best they can with the tools they have. When communicating with them, it's important to be kind and gentle. Showing compassion towards yourself and your protective parts can help create a safe space for healing and growth.


One way to start engaging in a dialogue is by giving your protective parts space and time to express themselves without judgement from you or anyone else. You could do this by setting aside specific moments during the day when you allow yourself to listen and observe without judgement or reaction. This could be done through journaling or simply sitting quietly and allowing yourself to connect with them at an emotional level.




Common Issue:


It could also be helpful to consider what some of the gifts that each of your protective parts may have brought into your life, even though it may not always seem like it in the moment.


Perhaps they are helping you stay focused on goals or reminding you not take on too much responsibility at once? Viewing situations from this perspective can redirect the conversation away from fixating on what may be considered as "flaws" and attempting to make them vanish without comprehending their underlying message.


Here’s the good news: you don’t have to ignore those loud yelping ego-driven thoughts that linger in your head and that are persistent. Instead, invite them in and give them a chance to be heard. Listen to their stories, understand their perspectives, and let them know they matter. By doing this, these thoughts won't seem so scary anymore - you might even learn to respect, or care for them. Absolutely, we certainly don't want them to take over your thoughts and actions. However, if we genuinely befriend these thoughts, we can gain valuable insights into the best way to comprehend them and foster genuine personal growth, without pretending they don't exist at all.


You are in this together, after all. Ultimately, the louder parts of you will come to recognize that they don't have to be so loud, in order for you to be safe. They will learn that they can trust your true self to lead, and won't feel the need to overpower you to be heard.


A Note on "Toxic positivity" and "spiritual bypassing" makes you feel like you have to smile through your tears. It makes you feel like you have to force yourself to believe and ignore anything appears or feels "negative" or "ego driven" I wrote a separate blog on the topic.


Please, don't forget that any conversation involving our protective parts should always include an element of self-care afterwards - whether it's taking a break from work or some fresh air or having a cup of tea with a good friend - this will help ground you after any emotional sessions or time spent on your own. Throughout this post, I give a few ideas.



Today, I'd like to explore common fears that these protective parts often harbor. It's beneficial to acknowledge that these fears are valid and realistic. We won't ignore them; instead, we'll explore them together and find ways to address them to ensure your well-being.


1. Parts may Fear Overwhelming Emotions


For many people, their protective parts are programmed to keep intense emotions, beliefs and thoughts at bay. This can be especially true when it comes to discussing grief, trauma, uncomfortable situation, sadness and depression. The fear that they might be overwhelmed by emotions if they allowed these parts to express themselves can be very real for some people. It might seem counterintuitive to focus on these overpowering thoughts, as one might think it will just make them stronger or if you think about them you will allow them power over you.


It is important to validate this fear and recognize that it is a normal response from someone who has been through such difficult and traumatic events. However, it is also important to help them understand that these feelings don't have to remain in the dark forever and that by listening we can hear, validate and then teach them another way based on these parts frame of mind.


Grounding Energy

A good starting point for discussing overwhelming emotions is creating awareness around what triggers them in the first place. It could be helpful to identify which situations make them feel overwhelmed, as well as any associated physical sensations and behaviors they use in order to cope with their intense feelings.


Another tool for dealing with overwhelming emotions is ground-based activities – these can help bring us back into our body and provide us with a sense of safety and control when we’re feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Examples of grounding techniques include focusing on an item near you, focusing on your breathing, or focusing on various body sensations like your feet touching the ground or your hands gripping something securely.


Finally, it’s important to ensure that you give yourself enough time for processing any emotions which come up during conversations with your protective parts – this might mean simply allowing yourself some extra “me time” or scheduling regular self-care days dedicated exclusively for exploring emotions in a safe way. By approaching conversations with our protective parts in this mindful manner, we can create a safe space where all of our fears – even those related to overwhelming emotions – can be explored without judgement or criticism from ourselves or anyone else.


2. Parts may Resist Revisiting the Past


It is not uncommon for someone's protective parts to resist revisiting the past. This can stem from a variety of reasons, such as fear of being overwhelmed by emotion, feeling as though things can't change, or simply not wanting to relive painful memories. It is important to be understanding and validating when it comes to this resistance, and remind them we will take it at their pace and allow them to have a voice in the process.


It can also be helpful to normalize this reluctance by reminding your protective parts that everyone experiences hesitation when it comes to facing difficult emotions or situations.

Bringing to the surface those parts of yourself that have been unspoken, particularly from your past, can be restorative for where you are in the present.


In addition, one useful tool for addressing this resistance is reframing: by asking yourself what benefits might come about as a result of revisiting the past, you can shift focus away from potential negatives and towards possible positives that could result from delving into the past–such as gaining insight into certain issues or having more control over future decisions.


Lastly, developing healthy grounding practices in the beginning (until you feel more self energy take over later in the process) with any intense emotions that might arise during these conversations will help build trust between you and your protective parts; this could include grounding activities like focusing on your breath, lying down, taking a nap after, listening to music when done discussing. Also, remember you are in charge of what you navigate and knowing you are safe now in this moment is a good reminder to your parts.



3. Parts may Feel a Loss of Control


Certain parts of us act as diligent protectors, striving to prevent anything bad from happening at all costs. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, there is always a fear that despite our efforts, unexpected events may still occur and take control of our life. This feeling of loss of control can lead to feelings of helplessness, anger and even panic.


When faced with situations in which we feel as though we are spinning, it is important to have those grounding practices as discussed in place that will allow us to manage any intense emotions that may arise.


Another way of doing this is to practice mindful "self compassion" self-awareness – being aware and accepting of your thoughts and feelings without judgement or criticism, which can help you gain a better understanding of your experience. More , grounding activities such as focusing on the present moment or guided imagery can provide an anchor for shifting focus away from difficult thoughts and emotions. I can give direction on self compassion mindfulness exercises.


Grounding Energy:

Another useful strategy is to create a plan for when situations arise which make you feel out of control – identifying triggers ahead of time and having strategies in place on how to cope with them can provide reassurance during stressful moments. On top of this, it’s also important to build up a network of trusted people who you can turn to for support or advice if needed.


Finally, some simple practical strategies for creating a sense of safety such as staying connected with nature and journaling about your experiences can be beneficial when addressing loss-of-control issues.


By approaching these challenges from both an emotional and a practical perspective through self-care techniques to bring comfort. Lastly, engaging in activities that bring joy will help foster resilience in moments where it feels like the world is spinning out of control.


4. Parts may Fear of Losing Identity


The fear of losing identity is a common issue for individuals with trauma histories (small T and big T trauma). This fear can stem from the belief that one’s protective parts are necessary in order to remain in control, and if these protective parts step back it could lead to losing a sense of who you are.


It is helpful to understand that the components of you that are protective serve a purpose. Although sometimes they may be too guarded or even impede development, their existence is always meaningful. They can help your "Self" when necessary, instead of dominating it.


We will work together to ensure that stepping into recovery does not mean sacrificing your sense of identity. By recognizing and acknowledging the roles your protective parts have served in the past, you can begin to cultivate an understanding of how these roles have helped shape who you are today. With this understanding comes an opportunity for healing – as your awareness increases and you learn new grounding practices, it will be possible to slowly withdraw from reliance on the defensive strategies which were once used as survival mechanisms.


Tips:

Additionally, it is helpful to identify what makes us unique as individuals apart from our traumas or anxieties – such as hobbies, values or interests – so that our sense of self can remain intact amidst continued growth and exploration.


Focusing on growth rather than failures from difficult past experiences also helps cultivate resilience by allowing us to draw strength from challenging moments. By encouraging encouraging self-narrative and reframing old narratives through creative journaling or artwork we can create manageable pathways towards personal growth while still preserving the sense of ourselves we strive for.



5. Parts may feel Worry About Fragility of Exiles


Often, individuals with a history of trauma or overwhelm have a fear that the painful experiences they carry are too fragile to be exposed even to therapist. This fear can lead to extreme measures to keep these parts hidden for fear of them becoming damaged or overwhelmed and can cause the individual to become isolated from their sense of self.


It is helpful to recognize how strong these protective parts actually are and give them credit for the immense depths they have had to plunge in order to help you survive. It is equally important to provide a safe space for exploration into the unknown by building a network of support with friends, family members, or therapists who can provide empathy and understanding as you venture out of your comfort zone. Additionally, it may be beneficial to incorporate grounding techniques such as mindfulness exercises or body scans into your regular practice so that you are able to remain connected and grounded throughout any journey. Remember you are the one that can control the process, go at your pace.


it is important to keep in mind that within every difficult experience lies an opportunity for growth. The core challenge here is learning how to allow yourself the space needed in order to investigate these experiences without feeling overwhelmed.


Navigating Memories, Thoughts, Younger Self and Experiences


When navigating memories, thoughts, younger self and experiences resulting from trauma, fears and even times of distress, it is essential that safety remains paramount at all times. This is to ensure that a balance between exploring and protecting is achieved.


One way to approach this delicate process is by gradually introducing oneself to the memories or experiences they may need to explore. This can be done through creative outlets such as art therapy, journaling or guided meditation. I also use Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) as a tool to help integrate and process past memories. Through these activities, individuals can learn how to connect with their inner self and gain insight into their feelings and managing anxiety and overwhelm.


Grounding Energy:

Additionally, developing a sense of self-compassion during this time is essential in order for healing to take place. It can also be helpful to remind yourself that difficult memories are often coupled with positive ones; allowing yourself to remember the good parts of your past can help you cope more effectively with the harder parts. Most importantly, these activities should be done when there is someone else available who can provide loving support if needed.


Tips

Finally, returning to present day life with grounding work to the present is a helpful way to anchor ourselves in the here and now, knowing you can revisit another time.


6. Parts may feel Responsibility for Protection



Create a nurturing environment that enables you to relax and explore your emotions without feeling judged or rushed to change.


So, instead of viewing our protective parts as enemies or to tell them to hush or go away, it is necessary to acknowledge the strength they possess and create an atmosphere where they can learn new ways rather than resorting to outdated protection strategies.




7. Parts may Fear of Uncomfortable Changes


When engaging in a healing journey, there is often a fear that the healing process may result in some uncomfortable changes or the loss of familiar coping mechanisms. This can be a daunting prospect, leaving one feeling unsure and anxious.


When our parts get say overwhelmed or feel to uncomfortable, people employ an array of coping mechanisms (in parts work called firefighters) to navigate their pain and problems. These strategies serve as temporary reprieves from emotional distress, but our manager parts still exist. Some common methods include turning to substances like alcohol or drugs, resorting to emotional eating, immersing oneself in binge-watching TV shows, adopting an attitude of "toxic positivity," overloading with work commitments, or seeking solace in obsessive cleaning or organizing. While these approaches may offer momentary relief, they are exhausted parts of yourself, sigh of relief when we can unblend a little more and bring more self energy to the parts.


Tips:

One thought is to take it one step at a time and give yourself permission to go at your own pace. It is also important to reach out for support with someone who understands you and are willing to just give you space without trying to "fix" you but can be with you as safe space and will enable you to move through this process with patience, understanding and non-judgmental care.


Building up trust with yourself by recognizing your strengths and recognizing this process is not a race you need to complete, but instead grow and enrich. Focusing on self-care with activities such as yoga, massage or anything else that brings you joy and peace is another way to make space for healing while still having a sense of safety and control over your environment.


Ultimately, embracing change is an act of courage - but no matter how big or small it may be, it is helpful to have support. Having supportive people around you during this time allows the possibility for growth in spite of any setbacks along the way.

Expectations:


Reminder for clients:

We will move forward at a pace that feels most comfortable for you and focus on topics that align with your current stage in your personal journey. The clients that tend to get the most out of sessions, recognize that growth and healing take place BETWEEN our scheduled sessions, not just during them. To achieve this, it's important to apply what we discuss in our meetings, remain curious about yourself all week long, pay attention to your parts with curiosity, whether by examining your thoughts, jotting down notes, talking with others, meditating, diving into your inner world, creating art, visualizing, using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) techniques, studying literature, or being honest with yourself.


I am here to support you in exploring the ways that are most meaningful and useful for you. I can offer additional resources to help you on your journey such as books, online materials, or guided meditations.


You possess the ability to discover your own answers and to discern the right course of action. Trust in your inner wisdom, and you'll find the guidance you seek within your own heart and through your higher self and if it fits you, support based on your own spiritual beliefs.

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