Getting To Know “Parts” Involved With Medical Conditions, Part 2

*Photo credit: Monique Feil

If you missed Part 1 of this series on the marriage of the Six Steps To Healing Yourself with Internal Family Systems (IFS), you can catch up in Getting To Know “Parts” Involved With Medical Conditions, Part 1. To go deeper, join me and Harvard-trained psychiatrist, author of 3 books about IFS, and rock star IFS master trainer Frank Anderson, MD on June 8-9, when we partner up for a weekend Zoom workshop IFS AS MEDICAL TREATMENT.

Learn more and register here.

Just as a refresher, here are the Six Steps To Healing Yourself.

Step 1: Believe that healing is possible. 

Step 2: Connect to and surrender to Self

Step 3: Let Self choose your healing support

Step 4: Diagnose the root cause of your illness

Step 5: Write The Prescription for yourself

Step 6: Treat your fears and resistance. 

You can read about Parts 1, 2, and 3 through an IFS lens here. Now let’s break down Steps 4, 5 and 6 from an IFS-perspective.

Step 4: Diagnose the root cause of your illness

The Whole Health Cairn wellness model, which I featured in two viral TEDx talks and which is the cornerstone of the Mind Over Medicine approach, is the foundation of this step.

The Whole Health Cairn is designed to give you a framework for taking inventory of parts involved with various facets of a balanced life. All of the “stones” in the Whole Health Cairn can represent medicine or poison. Healthy, securely attached relationships can be medicine for your body; toxic relationships can be poison. Doing meaningful, purpose-driven work you love can be medicine for the body; selling out for a paycheck can be poison.

This wellness model can help you focus your attention on any areas of your life where you are living in alignment with your truth and following your heart- and where you’re not. Pay close attention to the insights that arise as you contemplate the depth of your connection to Self energy (Inner Pilot Light, as well as the health of your relationships, your work, your creative life, your sexuality, your relationship to spirituality, your relationship to your finances, your living environment, your mental health, and how you treat your body physically with traditionally healthy behaviors, like nutrition, exercise, and avoiding bad habits.

Healing is the natural state of the human body, so when healing stops and disease takes over, it’s important to at least get curious about what might have led to an interruption of the natural self-healing process that should prevent illness or treat it quickly and spontaneously when it arises- at least when you’re relatively young. If you open yourself to being curious without self-judgment, you’re likely to get surprising feedback about what might have caused an interruption in the natural self-healing process. What many people find when they work through this step is that some sort of situational or development trauma lies at the root of this diagnostic process. This is not always the case, as some people get sick because of genetic influences or environmental factors or a poor diet. But even if illness is related to genetics, environment, or dietary reasons, a chronically dysregulated nervous system and the chronic inflammatory response caused by trauma can exacerbate the severity of symptoms when there are other underlying factors.

Because many, but not all, illnesses may be the result of unhealed trauma, healing trauma with cutting edge trauma treatments like IFS may help reverse medical symptoms. Especially in those mysterious illnesses that are either hard to diagnose, have no known treatment, or do not respond well to conventional medical treatment, treating trauma to restore the nervous system may be the one intervention a patient has not yet tried. In the case of childhood trauma, current life issues may be retriggering those early traumas and putting the body in a perpetual stress response, making symptoms worse.

Step 4 also includes facing the uncomfortable “firefighters” who may have hurt us or hurt others, causing us to be out of integrity in our lives in ways that can further distress our nervous systems. Many of the radical remission survivors me and my partner Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv have interviewed shared that doing “shadow work” to face head on the more shameful things they’d done in their lives- and when possible, confessed to the people they’d hurt, trying to make amends when possible. This can be an uncomfortable but illuminating and liberating step. Diagnosing these root causes prepares you to treat them create a self-guided treatment plan in the next step.

Common Step 4 Parts:

  • Parts that can’t say no & need the body to do it for them
  • Over-caregiving parts that burn out
  • Parts with porous boundaries
  • Protectors that mask your authenticity and won’t let you live in alignment with your truth
  • Parts that are lonely and socially isolated
  • Quietly suicidal parts that don’t want to keep living this way
  • Dissociative and numbing parts that take you out of your body so it doesn’t hurt as much
  • ACE & developmental trauma exiles

Step 5: Write The Prescription for yourself

Tuning into your Self energy, Step 5 is about allowing yourself to be guided to the action steps that you intuit will help you heal the root causes you diagnosed in Step Four. This step includes listening to all the parts that might have input and feedback about which choices you will make regarding treatment options. You can imagine that you’re sitting at a conference table with Self at the helm and parts that might have differing opinions sitting on either side of the table. Self can listen to all the feedback of all parts without letting any single “part” hijack the wheel or take over the whole table. The job of Self is to negotiate the needs of various parts and mediate between them, like any good mediator would between polarized parties.

If your parts can relax, the inner doctor/ therapist/ healer of Self can help you choose between conventional or alternative treatment options, as well as offer you action steps intended to restore your nervous system to a balanced state of homeostasis and healing. You may decide yes to the surgery but no to the chemotherapy. You may be guided to start working with a trauma therapist or a naturopath. You may just know it’s time to heal or end your marriage, confront your boss, change careers, write the book you’ve dreamed of writing, set boundaries with a family member, do a green juice cleanse, or sign up for a yoga membership. Write it all down so you can see it all in one place.

Some people make a 5 page Prescription plan, while others may only know just the next right first- which is all you need to know. One Self-led, intuitively guided action step may lead to the next, and if you trust the process, all you need to know is your next right step.

Common Step 5 Parts

  • Polarized parts that make resolutions & then break them
  • Indecisive parts that fear making the wrong choice
  • Obsessive parts that get stuck making the list
  • Parts that draw a blank
  • Ambitious parts that might overcommit
  • Overwhelmed parts

Step 6: Treat your fears and resistance.

If you’ve done a great job negotiating with all your parts beforehand, this step might not be necessary. But more often than not, when people attempt to write The Prescription in Step 5, some parts that might not have spoken up before may chime in with understandable fears and resistance. If you sense that what will facilitate your healing is changing careers, your financial manager parts might come screaming “No!” You might be in a toxic marriage and realize you’ve been the codependent to someone narcissistically abusive. You might realize you’re going to need to get into couple’s therapy, and if your partner refuses, you might have to leave. And some parts might holler out, “But what about the kids?”

These parts have legitimate concerns, so it’s important not to bully or override these parts. When you have polarized parts that aren’t all on board to take the actions some parts might feel strongly you might need to take, it’s easy to spin your wheels, with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes.

If you find yourself resisting at least some part of this healing journey, you’re not alone. Most people do. You might have some parts afraid to follow through on what your Self-led system is guiding you to do. You might have parts that try to sabotage the process. You might be resistant to losing any core needs you’re getting met because of being sick- like a good excuse not to deal with people who trigger you. You may have parts that feel overwhelmed with a whole series of lifestyle changes and treatments that need to be implemented.

You might have parts afraid of the financial consequences. You might have parts that worry about what other people will think or fear losing a valued relationship or the security it brings. You might even get uncomfortably flushed with intense emotions, even positive emotions, when you imagine what life might be like if you were one of those radical remissions at the end of all this.

All of your resistant parts are welcome. Most of us have resistance to change, even positive change. Treating your resistance may take some guidance, requiring expert IFS help, or your resistant parts might relax just because you give them permission to feel what they feel and brought the 8 C’s of Self to them (Curiosity, Connectedness, Compassion, Courage, Confidence, Creativity, Calm, and Clarity.)

Common Step 6 Parts

  • Protectors that are getting core needs met because of illness and don’t know how else to get those needs met
  • Parts worried about disappointing others if other parts start saying no
  • Parts scared of what others might think
  • Parts who don’t want to let go of benefits received by being sick
  • Parts scared of healing and/or change
  • Parts frightened of letting others down if you prioritize your own wellbeing
  • Financial managers that don’t think you can pay the bills if you do what you must
  • Dissociative parts that check you out when you get to this point
  • Suicidal parts that want a socially acceptable out
  • Parts that blame or shame you for being sick or feel blamed or shamed by others
  • Parts afraid of unwanted attention if they lost weight, got healthy, etc.

IFS As Medical Treatment

In the class I’ll be co-teaching with Frank Anderson, MD about the Six Steps To Healing Yourself and IFS, we’ll be supporting you with working with your own parts through each step. If you’d like to bring more of this way of practicing medicine, psychiatry, or therapy to your clients, we welcome you! And if you’re more interested in learning this material for your personal healing journey, you’re also welcome.

Learn more and register here.