Children Health

A different understanding of the Ego | by Anna Vincentz | Nov, 2021

Anna Vincentz

Internal Family Systems, New Danish Parenting and The Good Intention

The view of humanity that Internal Family Systems (IFS) holds has a different understanding of the ego than many other well intended therapies and practices.
From the IFS understanding, the therapy we provide facilitates an inner presence, contact and a respect towards the inner system that can bring deep healing and contact both inside and out.

The Good Intention
The ego is often mentioned as “the bad part of us” and therefore something to get rid of, exile or bypass. Many therapeutic modalities even focus on getting rid of the unwanted behavior or symptom.

Acclaimed writer and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle even goes as far as saying that the ego likes pain and lives off of it.
And even though I admire the beautiful understanding Tolle has of Self (or Being) and the life and love we all share from this place in ourselves, I completely disagree with his view of the ego.

From New Danish Parenting (NDP), attachment theory and the understanding of child development that is available today, we know that when a child does something we perceive as bad, there is always a good reason for the behavior — no matter the outcome.

So if we call the “misbehaving” child a monster and lock him in his room, we are not seeing him — or treating him — according to what is. But according to our own wounding from the past.

The same goes for the internal system and the bypassing of the ego.

Just as the established institutions of our modern societies still view (and treat) a person or a disorder only by the symptoms that surface, seeing the ego as bad, is, only looking at the negative outcomes (or symptoms) that will often be the result of a positive intention when this intention is rooted in trauma.

When we only look at a symptom, a behavior or a negative outcome or result, we have lost our curiosity, which means that we are out of contact with our-Selves (and thereby out of contact with the situation or human being).

This of course means that we are “hijacked” by the very entity we are trying to bypass; the ego.

In the IFS view we do not talk of an ego. When Tolle talks of “human being” as Human (ego) and Being (higher consciousness), IFS talks of the Self (higher consciousness in all of us) and Parts (instead of ego).

So instead of one Self and one Ego, IFS talks of the inner family (hence the name). According to IFS we do not have one mind that is split into Self and Ego or Human and Being, but many minds; the inner children of our internal family system are the parts of us that help us in this journey on earth, adapting to our environment and staying safe and alive in the face of danger.

Our parts help us relate to our fellow human beings and live meaningful lives; our parts do all they can to uphold the balance of our inner system in relation to the outer system that we are part of as human beings.

And when our inner system meets the pain, suffering and trauma of the outer world, it is our parts who take the bullet.

Our parts take up burdens and extreme roles to uphold the balance that keeps us alive and functioning. Even when we appear to not be functioning and even when self harm or suicide is the devastating result of our hard working inner system, it is an extreme solution to an extreme problem (of trauma).

And even though our Self is the higher consciousness — or the inner parent — of the system, our parts hold the power to overrule in order to protect and survive.
Just as the older deeper parts of the human brain is in many ways governed by the newer developed cortex; when trauma happens our deep subconscious reactions of fight, flight and freeze take over to protect. This is the way of survival and survival overrules everything else.

Survival kicks in when we are faced with anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope. And this turns to trauma in our system when that overwhelm is not met by a calm and connected Self (of ourselves or of others). Therefore children are traumatised more easily than adults; their capacity to cope without the secure Self of others is lower.

Trauma is a stuckness inside of us as the energy or movement of the system that was not safe or able to move. It gets stuck.

When our inner system takes the bullet, the parts involved become stuck in the past. Not just as a metafor, but as: a part of — or an amount of energy of — your system is still stuck in that scene and sees the world from that place or energy.

Therefore our inner system becomes more rigid and reacts from the traumatic (or wounding) place in the past as if it is still happening. And again to be clear: For the parts involved it is still happening and the more we (or parts of us) try to shut off the pain or stop our reactions and symptoms, the more extreme and polarised they become to protect the system and keep the balance.

From NDP we know that children always do the best they can, that they always collaborate and that symptoms or behaviors are always signals of an underlying problem. And instead of just reacting to the behavior or treating the symptom, we need to be curious about the underlying issue, pain or problem that this symptom or behavior is a solution for.

This counts for the children in our outer family system and it counts for the children in our internal family system; our parts.

And just like our children are not their behavior or the symptoms they hold, so it is with our parts.

For instance a child who acts out in school, is not a “bad child” who needs to be put in his or her place, but a child who communicates in the best way they can. What is needed is for the adults to be curious and accepting, helping the child with the problem that the “acting out” is a solution for.
Maybe the child is having a hard time in school, being bullied or feeling alone. Maybe there are problems at home directly affecting the child or indirectly through the relationship of parents or other relations. We don’t know until we get curious, connecting and accepting.

This is exactly the same in the inner system. A part may be “acting out” through bursts of anger, intrusive thoughts, stomach aches or numbing.
This is not a problem that we want to go away. This is a solution and when we can be curious, connected and accepting, we can help heal the underlying problem or burden.

No matter the negative outcome, the intention is ALWAYS good.
The intention is alway the best that person or part can do at the time.

Therefore punishment, scolding, exiling, shaming, correcting or trying to get rid of the behavior or symptom does not make sense.

Would you punish someone for doing the best they could? No, of course not.
Instead we can help make a connection and heal the pain — and the best that person can do will change accordingly.

We bruise our skin and our wounds heal.
We bruise our hearts and our inner system always strive for balance.
But when the bruises go deep, we need extra help to heal.
You don’t need someone to fix your inner system.
You’re not broken, just out of balance.
What you might need is a therapist to walk the path with you, to guide you on your way and create the safety in your outer system, for your inner system of parts to feel safe enough to give space to your inner parent; the Self that is ready to connect when your parts give room.

Then the real healing starts.

Not by getting rid of your “ego”; your parts. But by welcoming each and every one of them back into the inner secure attachment which is rightfully theirs.

That’s where true mental health lies, that’s where happiness is felt, and from this place we start taking our first steps into the world from a position of inner safety, from a feeling of belonging and connection, from the safe attachment we all need to feel to be balanced human beings in the world.

About the author
IFS therapy
All articles by Anna Vincentz
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