The Utility of Parts Work Therapy Through Grief: Excerpt from my Book—Our Sad Sisterhood: Hope and Healing for Christian Women in the Wake of Miscarriage

This is an draft excerpt from an unpublished book that is still a work in progress. I am unsure if I will ever publish this book, so while I slowly make my way through writing it, I want to share some parts that I think might be relevant or useful to women like me.

One of the first techniques that my therapist and I worked on was Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. IFS is an approach to therapy that views the mind as being made up of relatively discrete sub-personalities or “parts” which each have their own purpose and qualities (Minor, 2016). A person can have any number of parts, and most parts tend to fall into one of three categories: Exiles who are born out of our trauma and carry most of our pain and fear; Managers who take on a protective role and often work to protect a person from pain by blocking traumatic experiences from his or her awareness; and Firefighters who emerge when Exiles react out of pain and fear, and usually serve the purpose of diverting attention away from the Exile’s experiences.

To give that explanation a more personal feel, my experience with IFS is like this. When we have an IFS session, my therapist and I sit down and begin talking about something from my life. Perhaps we will talk about something that is currently going on that needs my attention, like my son getting in trouble at school. Or, perhaps we will talk about past traumas that need more processing. As we talk through the situation, we begin to take notice of the feelings that come up for me. My therapist often will then ask me to close my eyes and ask my parts which one of them is responsible for this feeling I’m having. (I will note, it takes some time to learn how to do this successfully but after awhile it becomes second nature).

Once we have identified the part, my therapist begins walking me through the process of interviewing that part. We ask it what purpose it serves for me, that role is plays in my system of parts, and what is needs right now. Sometimes we thank the part for what it does for us and just let it know that we love and appreciate it. It begins to feel sometimes like I’m speaking to multiple people inside my own head. In fact, each of my parts has its own look and personality. It’s truly a fascinating way of getting to know myself and how my mind works.

Through this process, I learned very quickly that I have an Exile who is inextricably linked to the trauma of my miscarriage. We began to learn that although many of my other parts had successfully moved on from the grief in a healthy way, recognizing that it was not my fault and God wasn’t punishing me, this Exile was still holding on to these beliefs.

In order to explain this part to you, I have to tell you a few things about me as a person. I am sort of a tomboy. I love make up and doing my hair, but I prefer boyish, comfortable clothes. I have edgy, short hair with an undercut on both sides. You can mainly find me in the black clothing because somehow I sweat all the time, even when I’m cold. I am a business owner and I love my job — I might work too much. Politically, I consider myself to be a moderate who supports progressive ideals. I am proudly and loudly pro-women, and I tend to be outspoken and confident.

Compared to me, this Exile is quite different. I love her because she’s different. She presents herself to me in our interviews as a small woman in a white dress that is now tinged with brown, as though she was dragged through a swamp and has tried and tried to wash the stains out. The dress is even a little frayed and torn in places, like she has been in battle. Her hair is long, blonde, and curly. In all of my interviews with this part, I’ve never seen her standing up. She’s always sitting down with her legs neatly tucked underneath her. She holds conservative values. She wants to be a Proverbs 31 woman, who raises the children, cooks the dinners, and takes care of her man. She thinks “modern women” like me are alright, but that we would be more fulfilled if we stuck to the roles for us that are laid out in the Bible.

She is still me.

She is also me.

I am her.

Two sides of the same coin.

This part sees herself as the person who is supposed to take care of everyone. Because of that, she sees the loss of the baby and the subsequent pain as being her fault. She couldn’t do anything to keep the baby safe. She let everybody down. She is a failure. None of these things are true, of course, but since when do our brains care what’s true when it comes to self-blame and shame?

Over the course of a year, my therapist and I have helped this part understand that these lies she tells herself are untrue. Interestingly, most of our conversations with this part have nothing to do with the miscarriage. Instead, we talk about her faulty beliefs about herself and her role. My therapist has asked her:

Why does everything have to be on your shoulders?

Why do you see yourself as the person who is responsible for everything?

How could you have changed that thing that was completely out of your control?

As my therapist and I together have helped this Exiled part dissect some of these difficult questions, she (and I) have finally let go of the guilt and shame surrounding the miscarriage. Until I began IFS work, I believed those two feelings would be with me, in some form, forever. I felt like I had done all I could to move on, but it just wasn’t enough. I now realize that I wouldn’t have been able to move on because, although all my other parts had processed and healed, this one Exile had not. Identifying her, loving on her, and helping her understand that she wasn’t responsible and couldn’t have changed what happened, has finally set me free.

So, if there is anything I can urge you to do, sweet friend, as you begin this journey, it’s to start therapy. Find a therapist who specializes in IFS work. You can very easily locate therapists in your area by using the Find A Therapist took on the Psychology Today website. When it comes to trauma like this, I just don’t know if you or I have the tools to access some of these parts on our own — much less do the hard work of helping them heal. I am a firm believer that we cannot be healed until our parts are healed. Doing parts work through IFS therapy is an incredible way to get that work done.


Leave a Reply