The more time that passes, the more harm I see in labeling things as right and wrong. Hear me out.
Why do we feel such pressure to do the right thing? Is it because if we don’t, we think we’ll suffer consequences? If we don’t, we’re bad people? If we don’t, all hell will break loose?
I know for me personally, I have tried to use doing the “right” thing as a way to escape potential suffering, which means the flipside would apply as well: If I do everything right, I will receive only good things. Dang, what kind of damaging realizations must come from that ideology? This has been a personal challenge, and I hope to use a type of therapy model to dive a little deeper.
Internal Family Systems therapy can kind of split who we are into 4 categories. See below:
Let’s start with Self. Self is who we are at our most pure form. I believe self is where we begin, but then life happens, and we slowly form these other parts.
Next up are Exiles. Exiles are typically parts of us that have been hurt before. I like to describe them as younger versions of ourselves at various ages when major events happened that impact who we are. These can be anywhere from mild to severe events, but what comes out of it are the qualities mentioned in the above picture: dependency, shame, worthlessness, fear/terror, grief/loss, loneliness, neediness, and pain. Sounds intense, huh? Sounds awful to feel those things, yeah? Yeah!
So that’s where firefighters and managers come in. Let’s talk firefighters. Firefighters are created to protect the system AFTER an exile gets triggered. As mentioned above, Firefighters are designed to either soothe an exile or distract away from them. Common ways firefighters are engaged are through addictions (sleep, shopping, work, sex, diet, exercise, computer, video games, etc- yes healthy things can be an addiction if done in excess), binge eating, suicidality, self-harm, violence, dissociation, distraction, obsession, compulsion, fantasy, rage, etc. What are your firefighters?
Managers are where we want to end this description because it connects to my original topic, I promise. Managers are meant to also protect the system but BEFORE getting triggered. Basically, they try to prevent events that upset exiles. The photo describes them as attempts to keep the person in control of every situation and/or relationship to protect them from feeling hurt or rejected (exiles). THIS is where I want to focus and bring it back to the original point. Trying to always do the “right” thing is a tactic that the managers within us are using to minimize triggering our exiles. Ask yourself, “What are my exiles? What am I trying to avoid feeling or triggering? Do I think that doing the right thing is going to prevent all bad things from happening to me?
If we look at this in certain terms, we can see that yes, doing the right thing does prevent bad things. Paying our electric bill keeps our lights on. Going to school prevents truancy issues. Driving on your side of the road significantly reduces the likelihood of a wreck. Are you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down? Good, because I’ve run out of examples.
I fear some of us have this idea that if we always do the right thing, then we’ll never have to deal with pain (one of the exiles if you remember). How exhausting does that sound? ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING. How many decisions have you either a.) overthought or b) avoided thinking about because it was too overwhelming? Those freaking managers man! So, what do we do about them?
First, if there’s trauma, you want to work with the exiles to help them tell their story, which is a great therapy topic. This should minimize the necessity of managers in the first place, but maybe some practical tips could be helpful for anyone not interested in therapy… I will do bullets because maybe it’s not a step-by-step thing.
- Begin to recognize what behaviors in your life are serving as managers
- use language besides right and wrong- life isn’t that black and white, and it’s exhausting when we think there’s some magical answer to our problems that will mitigate all risk. What words should replace them, you ask? Ask yourself what is true and beautiful?
- focus on having a plan that works for you, not a perfect plan
- get confident in your ability to handle negative emotions- you WILL survive and one day thrive again. You can feel through the pain naturally and move forward with emotions fully processed.
- it’s probably helpful to know what exiles you are trying to avoid as that will determine some strategies. Sometimes when triggered, it helps to ask yourself, “How old does this emotion feel?” If you are comfortable commenting your exiles, I would be happy to comment some specific ideas.
Anywho, that’s my nonexhaustive list I wrote at 10pm, so take what’s helpful and trash the rest. Wouldn’t it be great to no longer feel the pressure of making the right choice? Wouldn’t it be epic to feel calm with simply a plan, no pressure for it to be perfect? I can feel the anxiety slipping away! So, I challenge you, learn to let go of these concepts of “right” and “perfect”. Let’s move into…
- I’m okay as I am
- I have an imperfect plan
- I’m human, and humans mess up sometimes
- I can feel through anything that comes up
- My exiles are integrated. They feel safe and heard. I no longer need manager behaviors.
Don’t those sound nice? I’m Stephanie Strouth, Owner at Anchoring Hope Counseling, PLLC in Wise, VA. We provide in-person sessions in Wise and provide telehealth across Virginia. You can check out our Team & Services page to learn more about populations we work with. You can contact us through this website or call 276-298-5034.