I did something scary and brave during our time teaching together. I let Dick make me the client, and we recorded Dick demonstrating IFS on me- as the trauma survivor doing my own trauma healing work on camera in front of my students (Yikes!).
Dick and I talked about it beforehand. We both think it’s important to turn the model of “invulnerable leader healing vulnerable students or clients” on its head. Dick recently let the IFS therapist and leader of Black Therapists Rock Deran Young do an IFS demo on Dick in front of his own students, bawling his eyes out in front of the whole IFS community. I told him I was so touched when I was co-teaching with When The Body Says No author and physician Gabor Mate, MD, and Gabor let me facilitate an IFS session on his triggered parts in front of our workshop community of over 100 students.
Being a leader who models that kind of vulnerability is scary and super risky to our tender parts, but I think it’s brave and a necessary part of our culture’s reckoning with how we handle power- and redistribute it, rather than abuse it. I was so impressed and in full admiration when Dick and Gabor made themselves vulnerable in front of our students too, so I decided to model the same- for YOU, dear community.
Watch Dick’s IFS demo on me below.
Let me give you some back story, so the video makes sense. The part Dick worked on in me goes back to 2016. I was having a painful flashback to a frozen moment in time. I was teaching a writing workshop in Bali, leading a beautiful group of writing students, when someone came and whispered in my ear, “Donald Trump was just elected President of your country.”
I froze. I lost my words. My body felt like it was sinking into a pit. I felt impending dread and a sense of terror. I felt nauseous and terrified. Looking back and knowing what I know now about trauma symptoms, I can see now that my nervous system had shifted from a relaxed, ventral vagal state of safe connection and open creativity to a dorsal vagal freeze state of dissociation and collapse.
I had to take a break from the workshop. I let someone else take over and teach a yoga class, since I wasn’t the only one who froze.
I did not want to come home and considered expatriating for the first time in my life. Half of my countrymates had voted for a man I considered a traumatized psychopathic narcissist (who was never going to get trauma treatment!) He openly hated and felt entitled to exploit women, Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), immigrants, and poor people. He terrorized anyone who slighted him and fired anyone who didn’t tow the privileged, white supremacist, sexist party line.
I felt scared I would die if I went back home. The past year of QAnon taking over the wellness, yoga, and spiritual world, white supremacists taking their KKK hoods off, polarized hatred against Black Lives Matters protestors and other BIPOC uprisings, and especially on my daughter’s 15th birthday- the insurrection of January 6- the fear of seeing democracy erode in my country made all this terror in my nervous system worse.
This all left me with parts scared of reopening after a year of lockdown. I didn’t know who to trust, lost a lot of friends and colleagues this year, and felt scared of people who used to be friends but who might now be Q supporters or “Trump is a lightworker” white supremacists. I wondered which side of the political divide the average person I bumped into might identify with. Some of my parts wanted to stay locked down- and safe. Others knew it was part of my privilege to even have that choice- and it wasn’t fair to indulge that privilege.
Dick offered to work with those very trembling, terrified parts who were scared of my fellow Americans. As it happened, the feedback I got on our Zoom chat was that I was not the only one terrified of people in my country. I suspect the QAnon folks feel the same way about me that I feel about them, and that Republicans think I’m one of those crazy Democrats out to steal their election. In spite of how scared I felt, I decided to make myself vulnerable, even though I could feel a part that I knew would likely cry the minute Dick touched it.
So that’s what happened. What we captured on film is called an IFS “unburdening of the exiles,” which I describe here.
This work I’m sharing is incredibly vulnerable, so please do not watch this- and definitely don’t email me or comment on this- unless you can be 100% supportive, kind, compassionate, and sensitive to my traumatized part- which (spoiler alert!) turned out to be a very young infant alone in a trailer without my mother or father.
Even if you love Trump and support QAnon, even if you’re an avid anti-vaxxer following my former mentor Christiane Northrup who thinks I’m dangerous because I’ve been vaccinated, PLEASE- if you can’t be kind to me as a fellow trauma survivor, I ask you to just stay silent and leave me with those who can hold a compassionate lens on this vulnerable share.
I share it not because I want your pity or even need your empathy, but because I sincerely believe IFS is a path of peace and compassion with each other, even in the midst of polarization and strong emotions and beliefs we hold dear and feel called to defend (like democracy!) And I believe we can all start to heal if we do this work individually- and in community.
SPIRITUAL BYPASS DISCLAIMER!
It’s important to understand that doing this IFS work doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate reasons for me to fear my fellow countrymates- or that my activist parts shouldn’t still be steadfast in their cooperation with my Self to do the daily work to change the country of my birth into a more equitable, loving, compassionate home for all who live here- the privileged and the oppressed, the Trump supporters and those who are terrified of him, the ones who fear real democracy (in which all voices really get an equal vote in governing our county)- and the ones who trust it. This is a scary time. IFS won’t fix what’s happening in the outer world. But if we do our inner work, it CAN help us engage more openly, lovingly, fiercely compassionately, and courageously in how we engage with outer life in scary times.
I’m still scared, even after the demo and the unburdening of my exile- because some of my countrymates who want to uphold their privilege are armed, dangerous, and willing to shoot, support a psychotic, autocratic ex-President who lost the last election and are lying about having the election stolen, wish to diminish voter rights and overpower people our country tends to oppress, refuse to cooperate with the humanitarian effort of mass vaccination, and wish to take over the government so they can keep their unearned, unfair, often male, often white privilege.
These people scare me- for good reason, just like those who were scared of the rising power in Nazi Germany were right to be scared of a threat to global security. The very real threat and power of many of my white supremacist countrymates is a real threat to many of us- and I’m not even BIPOC, poor, an immigrant, LGBTQIA+, or otherwise at greater risk from autocratic, cultic domination. I am still scared, because I’m afraid the US is on its way to being the next Nazi Germany- and that’s a legitimate fear. But at least now, after this demo Dick did with me, that fear is not amplified by this tender little baby part. I am now holding and mothering that little terrified baby, giving her extra TLC from my mature, adult Mama Bear Self holding my baby part the way my own very young and scared mother couldn’t at the time of that moment in my past.
Interested in being part of a community I’m facilitating that does this work together?