THE CASE OF JANEY: Working with Eating Disorders and IFS
Janey is 45 and goes the gym every morning religiously. She is a devoted christian and has a loving husband and son who is ready to graduate from HS and go off to college. She is a Exercise Physiologist and works in a health club and is living a very successful life –at least from the outside looking in. And that’s just why she came to see me–she was tired of looking at her life always from the “outside looking in”. She realized that something was still not okay with her inside because she kept struggling with her weight, her eating and this compulsion to exercise all the time.
Janey also came to me to do IFS work specifically. She had been told that IFS therapy was successful with eating disorders. She had received a lot of treatment for an eating disorder that arose for her when she was beginning puperty growing up in Australia with her British family of origin. As we began working, she told me the story of how her mother would shame her constantly by negative and critical comments about her size, her weight and her looks. Her mother also gave preference to her brother over her. She felt like Cinderella a lot.
Janey and I worked together for several months getting to know her parts that were keeping her safe in her life and away from the scary and painful feelings deep down inside. She realized how lucky she was that she was so smart and resourceful because these intellectual parts of her have truly helped her be successful and create a happy family. But we also got to meet her Angry “Bitch” part who lashed out and made it clear when she needed things to go her way –even in the therapy process. This part was causing issues in her relationship with her son and her husband and she didn’t realize how much. Getting to know this Angry part was a huge step in Janey getting more in the leadership role with her parts and learning to be curious about how they were trying to help her.
The deeper we went into Janey’s body to find and explore the parts she was feeling physically, the more she got better. She found a part in her stomach that was anxious when she ate so she would rush through her food and never finish. She found a part in her throat that was creating so much tension she often couldn’t breathe and this part came up when she sat down to prepare food for a meal for herself or her family. As Janey began to trust the physical sensations and show them her curiosity, the parts began to relax and trust her a little more and they began to show her more of their stories. These parts began to tell her about how they have had to be crammed into closets and boxes hidden away inside of her because they are so ugly and worthless.
Working with exiles like these takes time and patience. For Janey, it took bringing her food into therapy and eating with me, to learn how to witness and be with these young parts in a loving way. Keeping Janey connected to all the protectors or managers who are trying to keep her safe and away from these painful and shameful little ones, was the first step. All parts had to learn to trust her to be there for them all and care about them all. This is the middle part of therapy and developing the trust in the system and helping Janey learn to care about them all, instead of judge or hate them, is a very wonderful experience because this is when the spiritual healing and transformation begins.
As Janey continued this deeper work, and took time each week to draw the exiles in their newly opened up positions, she was able to open her heart even more to the huge struggles they told her they endured to help her survive. Tears rolled down her face when she heard them share and she felt her connection to them growing stronger and warming her up inside. This “unburdening” happened over and over again with each exile as we were able to meet them and get to know them over time along with all the protectors that were trying to keep them hidden. We were able to hold them all together in a “pow wow” of love and deep connection where they could feel Janey’s love and direction finally –what they all needed to feel safe and whole again.
Janey’s innerwork informed her life from that point on. She realized she didn’t need to exercise everyday with such intensity along the way, when she got in touch more with the firefighter/protector who was just on autopilot doing what she felt she needed to do to keep Janey safe from the Angry one–stay busy and exercise away all the emotions. She was able to prepare food without getting anxious and learned to slow down and breathe before she started cooking. Her eating was more normal and she was able to feel when she was hungry and when she was tired. She also was able to have a more regular mindfulness practice that informed her ability to make good decisions for herself and moving forward in her life and her work. And the best outcome for Janey, was learning how to be with her Angry “Bitch” part and to talk to her internally and reassure her that she didn’t need to go into that extreme role to get her needs met with her loved ones. That certainly changed her relationship with her son and she was so grateful to be able to love him and give him clear boundaries in a way that he could appreciate now–before he was gone off to college.