Dear soft hearted loves,
Do you remember when we learned about the seven different types of inner critics from expert, Maryam Fallahi? You can review the different types in Maryam Fallahi’s article seen here if you’d like: https://softheartpsychology.com/?p=161
I want to share about the phenomenon of the inner critics attacking our identities, specifically gender identity. Given that I’m a cisgender woman I cannot speak to Transgender and nonbinary folx experiences. And as the psychologist for a county’s gender clinic and as someone who cares about bringing this work into her private practice I want to discuss using components of internal family systems (IFS) with gender diverse people for psychologists.
Sometimes a part of people can come up and say they are not enough, especially as it pertains to gender. For example, a transwoman may have a part of her criticize that she is not woman enough or not Trans enough. This is different and sometimes intersecting with messages she may have heard growing up or from hateful, dangerous people in society. Sometimes another part can tell a person to fit a mold or that they aren’t being themselves in the “right” way. Essentially, I’ll hear clients in a beautiful path of transition have a hurtful part of themselves (like an inner bully, protector part, or inner critical parent) come up and say some of the meanest stuff. This part knows what buttons to push and which part of our identities to destroy. For example, as an Iranian American and White person, sometimes my inner critic comes up to tell me I’m not Iranian American enough and fit no where. There’s no use in battling back with this part of me. If you’ve ever tried to disprove or battle with these parts you may know that even if you “win” the battle this time, the inner parts will continue to be in tension and conflict, perhaps gaining even more momentum.
The most effective way to approach these inner conflicting parts has been to acknowledge where they come from and to observe them as the inner critic (or inner protector, wounded child, etc.). Understanding that a part of us is attacking our very identity can help this protective part of us be heard. Yes, I said protective. How can such hurtful attacks be protective? Well these parts of a person may arise to protect us from being rejected or abandoned. This may be especially true for folks who experienced emotional neglect, dysfunction in the family, abuse, and oppression. It is understandable that if I’m working with a trans client they may experience a part of them saying hurtful comments parallel to a change, fatigue, stress, oppression, hunger, or other shifts in their life such as right after hormone replacement therapy or before a family gathering. It can be difficult to note the inner critic is arising and may be trying to help the person mold to society. Or perhaps an inner part is trying to get the person to be so perfect that they won’t be abandoned or rejected. Once we acknowledge this is where that part of us is coming from sometimes the part can soften just knowing they’ve been heard.
Sometimes that part might need some soothing. I trust that the folks I serve have ways of soothing that serve them well and if they don’t we have so many cool options to explore such as taking a walk in the sun, cooking a favorite meal, listening to soothing music, compassionately putting their hands on their face, affirming they will not abandon themselves to the best of their ability, or simply hugging themselves.
I will also say it has been a bit triggering for some folks to imagine parts of their inner psyche because they may imagine their inner child in the gender they were born into and not their gender now or they may imagine an inner critic as a parent of a gender that brings them dysphoria. For example a woman imagining she is screaming at herself, but the image is her dad and this could ignite dysphoria. We can evoke any image we want or need. I can remember my inner child as the sweet girl who just wanted to play rather than the girl who was in trouble at school. We can work to reframe memories into the inner child that feels most aligned with a client’s current gender. This may change from session to session so we want to rely on the client’s words and names for themselves each time.
While I have no idea what it is like to be born into a body that doesn’t align with who I am, I want to say integrating internal family systems work into my gender affirming practice has changed my life and those I serve. We have an opportunity to support and heal through listening to the parts of us craving to be seen and heard. These parts have been stuffed, abandoned, and numbed for years and sometimes generations. If these parts have been oppressed or harmed by society I’m sending all these parts and all of you extra tenderness and love. We have the love within to access this healing.