In Internal Family Systems there is a concept called Self Energy. It’s a quality we all have and yet we lose access to it through our normal daily reactivities. Self-Energy is basically a quality that allows us to feel like we know ourselves, our patterns, our blind-spots and our strengths. I like to call it True Self, Witness and Wise Heart. Our Wise Heart is a part of us that has an evenness, an acceptance and a wisdom to it. It is a spiritual concept, but it is also a reality when experienced.
IFS uses a clever alliteration that captures the essence of being in our Wise Self. These qualities are called The 8 C’s –Calm, Connection, Compassion, Creativity, Clarity, Curiosity, Confidence and Courage, to expand on the concept of Self-Energy (or Wise Heart).
These qualities sound great, but when we experience them, we know it. IFS is about helping us un-blend from behaviors or thoughts that cover over these 8 C’s.
Three of these stand out to me as being super important in therapy. They are what my clients spend the most time of developing and maintaining.
Curiosity, Clarity and Compassion
Curiosity is the first step in making any changes. We need to be able to turn towards ourselves and inquire within to see what we are actually doing before we can make changes to get to where we want to be. If we aren’t Curious, we are usually judgmental, afraid and closed off. We stay negative and stuck.
Clarity comes from Curiosity. If I am open to turning inward and exploring my patterns, then I began to understand why I do the things I do. Clarity is about developing an observer self, that part of us that pans back and can see the big picture. The part of us that offers a perspective that surpasses our fearful, narrow viewpoint.
Compassion naturally arises after Curiosity and Clarity are on board. For most of us Compassion is a foreign concept. We are used to reacting to life by trying to control everything. We have no grace towards ourselves (and others) about how hard it is to live life these days. Compassion is one of the most important qualities of Self-Energy or a Wise Heart. And its something I find both myself and my clients struggling with constantly. So much work in therapy is about un-blending from the critical inner voice. If we have used Curiosity to explore the inner critic and then gotten more Clarity on why it won’t shut up, then we naturally arrive at some percentage of Compassion.
It is unreal what I have seen Self Compassion do for clients. I might go as far as saying its life changing! To be able to give yourself some grace about the ways in which you try to manage this crazy world…it’s a true gift. I have seen clients physically change in an instant when they feel Compassion for themselves. The softness and, dare I say love, they feel towards themselves is amazing.
Qualities of Wise Self (The 8 C’s)
Calm – a sense of being able to ride the waves of life without overwhelm. Less white-knuckling it and more of an unflappable type approach to what life brings. Helps with creating Clarity.
Clarity – a sense of being able to see situations without the distortion of fearful beliefs and intense emotions. Decision making becomes easier. Setting boundaries becomes easier. Helps with confidence.
Curiosity – a sense of inquisitiveness and openness. We might ask questions instead of jump to conclusions. We are less defensive with others.
Compassion – a sense of understanding and empathy towards others, often because we can relate to the same suffering. A softness or tenderness emerges rather than defensiveness. Leads to a desire to help others and decreases our sense of separation and disconnectedness.
Confidence – a sense of steadiness and centeredness inside. We feel we can handle what comes our way. Inner trust increases and fearful reactivity decreases.
Courage – a sense of capability and inner strength. We often associate it with taking action. It is a belief, like Confidence, that we can face what comes our way and not just bare down and wait out the storm. We might speak up for ourselves more, set and hold boundaries, and stand up for injustices. We might pursue projects or experiences we were previously afraid to do.
Creativity – a sense of inspiration and connection to our intuition. Less rational mind and more out of the box thinking. Expressed in arts, movement, writing. We often feel lighter and feel ourselves immersed in the pleasure of the activity.
Connectedness – a sense of being seen and accepted. Feelings of peacefulness and safety. We find ourselves spending time with people that are healthy for us as well as more time in nature. We sense more belonging and less isolation.
Thanks to Vicki Smith for inspiration.