Worry, fear, anxiety. If we’re honest, they’re feelings that most of us would rather not experience. But right now, a lot of clients are finding them hard to avoid.
So what’s one strategy to help clients face these difficult emotions in a healthy and self-compassionate way?
Richard Schwartz, PhD, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), has one idea. You can hear it in the video below.
Are there any strategies that you have for working with anxiety that you feel might be particularly relevant and useful during this global crisis?
Dr. Schwartz: Yeah, so, this is a strange time – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. We have in our community a term we call “tor-mentor”, which relates to people, generally, who trigger you, who torment you, but they also teach you what you need to heal. So, it’s “tor-mentor” with a hyphen between the “tor” and the “mentor”. This time now is tormenting us, partly because of the anxiety and the loneliness and it can be a teacher, in the sense that, it’ll bring up the parts of us that we need to heal. So, what I’m telling people and trying to do myself is actually notice what’s coming up. In terms of the anxiety, it’s usually these young, childlike parts of us that are stuck in scary places in the past, when our survival was threatened. So, we’re potentially facing, at least for some of us who are privileged, survival issues again. And it’s a guaranteed opportunity to go to those parts and listen to them and stay separate from them in what I call yourself, so you have compassion for those parts and hold them, as you might a child who’s scared, and you’ll find that actually can bring a lot of healing.
Dr. Vigil-Otero: Yeah, I think we get a lot of messages too, like, “Don’t be scared, don’t panic,” and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that, because people are scared. In some ways it’s invalidating, in some ways it’s not the most reassuring just to hear, “Don’t feel the way you feel.”
Dr. Schwartz: Yeah, exactly, and that’s pretty standard in the United States. This is a rugged, individualist country, and so whenever you’re scared or you’re really sad or you’re hurt, the message is, “Get over it, just move on, don’t look back,” all that stuff. That’s going to come across in a big way now. It simply means you wind up, what I call, “exiling” these very scared parts of you, if you succeed in doing that, and that’s really not good for them. They feel even more abandoned now, and scared. Then you get dominated by these protector parts that are trying to be strong all the time and become quite rigid, if you succeed. Otherwise, the fear just gets bigger and overpowers you, so it’s not a healthy message.
Dr. Vigil-Otero: Lastly, any helpful practices to hold our fear with compassion, other than pretending it’s not there?
Dr. Schwartz: As I said, in IFS, if I was working with you, I’d have you focus on the fear, find it in your body – a lot of people find it in their gut or their heart, and notice how you feel toward it. Again, if you’re imbued with the American burden of, “Get over it,” then you’re likely annoyed by it or you’re trying your best to not think about it or feel it. So I would ask those parts of you to relax inside, so you could open your heart to it. A lot of people at that point would see themselves as a child, and I would have you approach that child and ultimately hug and comfort it as you would if it was one of your kids, and that child was scared. You wouldn’t do that to your external kid, tell them, “Just shut up and get out of here.”
Dr. Vigil-Otero: By focusing on the part that’s afraid and asking the other parts to relax, a client can find a gentle way to manage their fears right in the moment. Additionally, this approach can help clients find a more compassionate, less judgmental perspective as they’re navigating these tricky emotions. That can be powerful for many of our clients in these trying times.
Now we’d love to hear from you. What do you find most useful in helping clients manage fears, especially during this global pandemic? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, and thanks for watching.
When clients are struggling with fear, especially during the global pandemic, what strategies have you found most helpful?
Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
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