A Concerned Part won’t Step Aside

It is important that you always ask concerned parts to step aside rather than making them step aside. IFS is a cooperative venture. We should never try to make parts do anything. We should never get into battles with them. We don’t have to fight with them. Since they have our best interests at heart, we can easily become acquainted with them and learn how to cooperate with them. Since you are making a request, not a demand, it is fine for the part to refuse. It may say no to you directly, or there may be no change in your feelings toward the target part. This is not a problem.

You can take further steps toward unblending, which can be summarized as follows:

Explain to the concerned part the value of stepping aside. Parts have their own intelligence and are open to reasoning. If it still won’t, ask it what it is afraid would happen if it did, and reassure it that you can handle whatever it fears. If it still won’t, address the concerned part as the target part and work
with it. Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Explaining the Value of Stepping Aside

Explain to the concerned part why it would be helpful for it to relax. It is concerned about the target part causing you trouble, so explain that when it steps back and allows you to get to know that part, you will be able to heal it so that it won’t be a problem anymore, which is exactly what the concerned parts wants. This helps the concerned part to realize that by stepping aside and allowing you to proceed along this healing track, it is fulfilling its own agenda. For example, if Sheila’s Judge won’t step back, she could explain that if it allows her to get to know the Temper Tantrum Part from an open place, she can heal that part so it won’t keep picking fights with her husband. Once a concerned part understands this, it is usually willing to step back. If it does, remember to check to see how you are feeling toward the target part after it does. This is to make sure you are in Self and to notice any other concerned parts that are around.

You may not be ready to say that you can heal the target part because you are just learning IFS, and you don’t yet know how healing works. Here is what you can do. Explain to the concerned part that IFS has a method for healing parts, and even though you haven’t learned the whole method yet, you are planning to heal the target part when you do know how.

Reassuring the Concerned Part

If the concerned part is still not willing to step aside, there is more you can do. Ask the concerned part what it is afraid would happen if it did. Take some time to fully understand its fears and empathize with them. Concerned parts are usually afraid that if they give the target part an inch, it will take you over and be stupid, destructive, or dysfunctional. For example, Sheila’s Judge might be unwilling to step aside because it is afraid that the Temper Tantrum Part will overpower her and start a nasty fight with her husband (see Illustration 5.2). Once you have really heard the part’s fears, let it know that you understand.

Consider this: Suppose you were concerned that someone you love was going to do something dangerous or destructive, and you were preventing this by your protective presence. You wouldn’t be willing to step aside unless you felt that he really understood your concerns. Otherwise, how could you trust the outcome? If you relaxed, all hell would break loose. Instead, you would want him to guarantee that those destructive actions wouldn’t happen. Our concerned parts feel the same way. In IFS, we respect the reasons parts have for what they are and aren’t willing to do. That’s why we don’t try to coerce them. We want to help them trust us and work with us. We know they want the best for us, and they will cooperate once they understand what we intend to do and why, and we reassure them about their fears.

Therefore, once you understand the concerned part’s fears, reassure it that you will handle the situation safely. Explain that you won’t allow the target part to take over—that you will be in Self and in charge during the session. Sheila’s Judge was afraid that her Temper Tantrum Part would take over and start a fight with her husband. She could explain that she won’t let that happen. She will stay in Self (Illustration 5.1), where she has the maturity to know not to talk to her husband about her birthday when she is angry at him.

Furthermore, explain to the concerned part that if the target part does blend with you, you have ways of returning to Self (which you learned in the last chapter). Assure the concerned part that you are only asking it to step back for this session. After that, it can blend with you again if it believes it must do so to keep you safe. For example, Sheila’s Judge can take over after the session if it is still concerned that she will pick a fight with her husband. If the concerned part really wants to be heard, then reassure it as follows: “After you step aside so I can get to know the target part, I will spend some time getting to know you as well.”

If the concerned part has other fears, reassure it about them, too. No matter what concerns it has, you can always reassure it about them because it wants the best for you and because the IFS process is safe and will lead to a healing outcome.

If the concerned part is leery about leaving, ask if it would be willing to let you experiment with getting to know the target part from an open place, and see what happens. It is welcome to stand nearby and watch from the sidelines so it can jump in and protect you if this seems necessary. This is often reassuring because the part doesn’t have to give up its protective role completely. It just needs to give you room to relate to the target part with an open heart, but it can still stand guard.

Changing Target Parts

If the concerned part still won’t step aside, it clearly needs some concentrated attention to assuage its fears. Therefore make it the target part. Change your focus from the original target part to the concerned part and get to know it fully. For example, if Sheila’s Judge really won’t stand down, she can make it the target part. She puts all her attention on it and finds out about its role in her psyche. Being concerned about the Temper Tantrum Part is only one aspect of the Judge’s story. What is its larger role? Maybe it generally protects her from getting into fights. Maybe it is a champion of doing what is right. She might discover what exile it is protecting.

It is probably a good idea to start by checking how you feel toward this new target part to make sure you are in Self with respect to it. As you proceed in this vein, you may end up doing a complete session on this part. That is fine. It will be just as valuable to work with this part as with the original target part because it probably plays a significant role in your life. You can always return to working with the original target part in a future session. Alternatively, once you have gotten to know the concerned part more fully and it has begun to trust you, it may step back and allow you to return to working with the original target part, but now from Self.