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August 4, 2022

Making Sense out of Polarization

We are inundated with mixed messages, and even the good ones can be in conflict. How are we to make sense of these polarized messages?

What happens when there's a war inside?




We are inundated with mixed messages, and even the good ones can be in conflict. How are we to make sense of these polarized messages?

A framework for understanding

According to the IFS (Internal Family Systems) framework, we all have different parts of us inside, holding different perspectives, roles, and agendas. They all want something good for us, but they often have competing ways of trying to achieve that.

*Managers try to stabilize and improve our lives. They are also focused on preventing pain. They are proactive, always planning for the future.

*Distractors and Defenders (known in IFS as Firefighters) are the parts focused on pleasure, calming, and soothing, as well as standing up for you and your needs. At their best, they help us rest and find pleasure in our lives. They also help us realize our needs and stand up for ourselves. They help us be assertive. At most extreme, they are reactive. They will escape pain any way they can, or they will become rageful. They want to make you feel better in the moment at all costs.

*Tender Parts: Managers and Distractors/Defenders both want to protect the more vulnerable parts of us, which I call Tender Parts, and IFS refers to as exiles. These parts at their most free are full of wonder, awe, and playfulness. When burdened or hurt, they can be full of pain and shame. We hide them away (exile them) with the goal of not feeling the pain anymore. However, the pain doesn't go away until we heal our burdened, exhausted, pain-weary parts.

The conflict

When a manager becomes more extreme to prevent pain, a distractor/defender becomes more extreme to balance things out. This results in an internal tug of war, conflict, confusion, or all-out battle. These parts mobilize and polarize. They try to pull you one way and then the other. You don't know which one to pick and are frozen - or you bounce back and forth between the two and feel stuck in an awful pattern. And who gets hurt? Not the fighting parts, but the tender, vulnerable parts of us. Ironically, the parts the fighting parts are trying to protect from pain are the ones who get all the pain dumped on them. I mapped this out for you below.

The solution

There are many ways that we support, heal, and unburden parts. One solution for polarized, fighting parts is to sit down at the (metaphorical) table together. The Core Self, the highest, wisest part of us is the new leader. This is how we were made to be - in relationship with our Core Self, which can heal, unite, and mediate with all the parts of us without judgment. Glennon Doyle calls this part of us our Inner Knowing. It contains the qualities of Curiosity, Compassion, Calm, Creativity, Courage, Connection, Confidence, Clarity, and Choice.

Once parts trust the Core Self, managers and distractors can become advisors and valuable members of the team, rather than vying to take over. They can all work together to come up with a decision or solution.

1. Recognize the conflict. When things feel black and white, you are stuck in an internal fight.

2. Find some space for curiosity, calm and compassion about the different desires and needs inside of you.

3. Hear out all the needs and desires. Trust that they all want something good for you.

4. Find a creative solution together.

This can be hard to do on your own at first, especially with really volatile parts. If you want some support, talk to a trusted friend or a therapist. Be kind to yourself. Use this meditation as a grounding point: Both by Dora Kamau.