“But nothing bad ever happened to me. There’s no reason for me to feel so depressed all the time. It just doesn’t make sense.”
This is a common refrain especially from new clients who find their way into my office. They’ve been exposed to enough therapy in television, movies, and casual conversation to know the first place to look for their trauma knot is in their childhoods and their pasts.
Why don’t they spot the knot when they look? Usually they’re looking for big things: losing a parent, surviving a fire, or being in a car accident. They come up empty-handed.
So where is the negative thinking and sadness coming from? Their lives seem just great: steady relationship and job, good kids. So why are they having full-blown panic attacks? They see no reason for their bad feelings…and they feel worse.
When new clients come into my office I introduce them to the Internal Family Systems goggles we’ll be using together. And then we go looking and discover how the negativity builds up over time.
We think nothing bad ever happened because we don’t realize negativity builds up slowly
Sometimes it’s the small things in life that build up into patterns of negative thinking, self doubt, fear or sadness. We think traumatic events should be earth-shattering. But sometimes they’re small and they grow bigger over time.
My client Diane (not her real name) was depressed and anxious. That was what she filled out on my form. As she sat in my office she tearfully explained how unhappy she was, and I could see from her body language she was telling the truth. Diane had low self esteem and high self doubt. She felt so low about life in general but was also convinced she was wasting my time.
Why? Because nothing bad ever happened to her.
That first session we did a Self Compassion meditation and Diane came back. I introduced her to the IFS goggles and explained how we would use them to work together.
It didn’t take long to find the hidden trauma knot after that.
What happened when Diane put on the IFS goggles
Please note, the IFS goggles are not a physical accessory you can put on when you want to learn about yourself.
I call them my IFS goggles because when you adopt the IFS mindset and look at your inner world through that lens, you discover all kinds of interesting things.
Diane re-discovered a memory from when she was a teenager and had acne and cried to her mother about it, saying “All the models in the magazines have perfect skin, I’m so ugly!”
Her mother reassured her that the models wore makeup and the photos were touched up to hide their blemishes.
But then her mother said something that bothered Diane for years. “You’d never be a model anyway. And these things really don’t matter anyway Diane!”
Diane immediately formed a painful belief (a part) that she was not physically attractive at all – even her own mother didn’t think she was pretty!
Her confidence tanked and for years she struggled to talk to other people, especially men she was interested in.
Even as Diane came to this realization during a visit, she immediately tried to downplay it. “My mother was trying to stress how it was more important to be beautiful on the inside than the outside. I was dumb and overreacted.”
What a party of parts! Diane had her younger, vulnerable part that felt poorly and a hater part that would beat her up for feeling bad. Diane couldn’t catch a break from anyone inside.
Diane earned her own pair of IFS goggles and you can, too
Diane and I continued to work together so her parts could feel the healing energy of Self. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Diane because once she understood her inner world, it’s like she got her own pair of IFS goggles.
What I mean is, Diane came to understand the IFS framework so well that it’s like she learned how to DIY it.
You can learn how to do this too.
That’s why I wrote Be the One to Heal Your Self: A Workbook for People Who Want Results Now.
You can get your own pair of IFS goggles without ever stepping into my office.
Be the One to Heal Your Self is a practical, step-by-step guide to learning and applying the basics of IFS.
Maybe nothing bad ever happened and you know what?
- The exercises in this book may lead you down some unexpected paths.
- You’ll find yourself, like Diane, making connections to events you’d forgotten.
- Suddenly your behavior and feelings make more sense.
And that’s when you can begin to heal.
Check out my new book on Amazon.com
“I Spy“by Flickr user Señor Codo is licensed by C.C. BY 2.0.