Therapeutic Journaling Part 4: Internal Family Systems

One of the most useful journaling methods that have helped me is loosely based on Internal Family Systems. It’s the concept that within every individual is a plethora of different personalities all warring for dominance over their directing mind. You might be thinking about people with split personality disorder and how you would be so far removed from them, but actually what they suffer from is a very drastic disintegration of the self.

For those of us fortunate enough to not be clinically diagnosed with that mental illness, we still contain a variety of competing personalities within ourselves, which would explain why our thoughts and emotions are so complex. There are different versions of ourselves living within us that comprise of our entire being as a whole. It doesn’t make you crazy or anything, just human.

Due to varying factors such as culture, upbringing, and social circles, we all internalize different thoughts and opinions from our environment and all these ideas become a huge part of our personalities. Some ideas are stronger than others, while some are strong enough to contend with each other, and the goal of Internal Family Systems style journaling is to integrate these personalities, not disperse them.

I talk a lot about contending with your shadow on here and this is a more detailed and nuanced form of that. There are parts of you that you might be ashamed or even afraid of, and perhaps it is your resistance to their existence that creates their persistence.

(I totally didn’t mean to rhyme, I’ll try not to do that all the time ūüėČ

What you resist persists, though. According to Freud’s theory of repression, the more we stuff down things in our psyche, the stronger they actually become in trying to take the center stage of our minds. This is possibly how split personality disorder can occur aside from the unfortunate randomness of neurological development in the brain.

So instead of trying to completely cast out certain parts of yourself, you befriend them and finds ways to make them work in your favour. Most especially if they run counter to another personality of yours that seems to be its complete opposite. In actuality, these two warring personalities are two sides of the same coin, and sometimes one side wins over the other causing discord within our lives.

By allowing these varying parts of ourselves to have an open dialogue with each other, our directing mind can have a better time at getting a clearer picture of who is saying what, and why they are saying it. Imagine your consciousness as the director of a play and all these different aspects of your personality as individual actors who you need to assign roles to. Then as the playwright, give them their lines and let them put a play on for you to get a better grasp of yourself.

What I am about to teach you is definitely useful in understanding yourself better through Therapeutic Journaling, but also your fiction, and you’ll start to see how and why as you read along. I’ll even go into further details afterwards, but without further adieu…

Assigning Roles to Your Personalities

Think of the most prominent thought patterns you have about yourself, your relationships, and the world. For simplicity’s sake you can call them protagonists. Then think about if you ever have other thought patterns that contradict your protagonist’s patterns. Consider those contradictory thought patterns as antagonists. In actuality, there is a little good and bad in each of them, but whichever way you slice it, what you want to do is give each pattern a distinctive name as to give them some character.

In turning these thought patterns into characters, having a distinctive name and visual representation of them in your mind will allow you to get a clearer picture of how and what they manifest in your life. Sometimes writing out your thoughts, contradictory as they may be to each other, is not enough, and so the more divided you are, the more important it is to try out IFS Journaling so that you can better manage the contradictions within yourself.

Drawing from my own experience, I’ll give a couple examples of some of the characters living within my Internal Family System and how I integrated them into my being in a healthier way than just resisting what I thought needed to be discarded.

Becoming Your Own Inner Parent

Little Marlon is the wounded inner child. He just wants to be loved, taken care of, and allowed to enjoy his hobbies without judgement and without the pressure of turning them into careers. He just wants to enjoy these things for their own sake. He’s also very shy around people, but also wants to befriend them anyway because he likes to talk.

Papa Marlon is the kind of father I wish I had growing up, and the kind of father I wanted to become when I grew up. He works in tandem with Little Marlon to give him compassion, leniency, and empathy. He comforts Little Marlon and knows how to talk to him so he can feel better, thus helping him develop his social skills and become more confident with other people. However, sometimes Papa Marlon is too soft on Little Marlon and lets him get away with too much when he needs discipline.

Inner Father is the internalized version of my actual father. Although my actual father could be loud, aggressive, and sometimes physically abusive, much to Little Marlon’s and Papa Marlon’s dismay, he is not wrong in asserting that children need to be disciplined. They need to know between right and wrong or they’ll go about life disrupting the order of things.

I originally saw Little Marlon is a weakling who I needed to forget all about and become infinitely better than. I also saw my Inner Father is a nuisance because he was the one bringing up shame in for me simply being vulnerable and sensitive. For so long I wish I could get rid of this weak and sensitive part of me as well as the one who was so judgmental about his very existence to begin with.

This is where Papa Marlon had to come in to empathize with Little Marlon to let him know he belongs in the Internal Family System because reconciling his sensitivity is actually what allows me to understand the sensitivity of others and treat it kindly. Papa Marlon also went head to head with my Inner Father during the years I studied psychology and childhood development, thus developing some resentment toward my actual father for some of the ways in which he failed me growing up.

Papa Marlon represented the moral stand I took in that if and when I have kids, I will never hit them or yell at them, mishandle their vulnerability, and outright ignore them throughout their lives. He is also how and why I was able to raise my God-daughter without raising my voice or laying a hand on her, and that was a great exercise in self restraint and learning to break the cycle of violence in my family.

However, I did get over zealous with peaceful parenting and at times had been too lenient with my God-daughter, who in many ways was the physical and present manifestation of Little Marlon; another fresh new child brought into the world who just needs some love and guidance to survive it so they can feel safe and sound. But at the same time can bring danger upon themselves and even us adults sometimes.

My Inner Father was right, you really can’t let kids step all over you, which is what I allowed to happen at times with my God-daughter and Little Marlon.

Papa Marlon and my Inner Father had to duke it out in what was one the most fundamental journal entries I’ve ever written in my life. What it all amalgamated to was knowing that you must be gentle and patient with children in order to foster a safe environment for them to grow in, but you also need to discipline them whenever they act out in unruly ways.

For a long time it was either/or for me. You either be kind to them or you beat them into submission. But thanks to the dialogue I wrote out between Papa Marlon and my Inner Father, the two were able to meet in the middle and teach me that you can discipline children without having to hit or punish them in any other way.

It took some time, but alongside raising my God-daughter like she was my own, while concurrently parenting Little Marlon, I discovered ways in which I can teach these children how to behave properly without having to resort to any aggressive means of discipline. A lot of the times, I learned that some of the things parents allow their kids to do was more of the fault of proper supervision, while at other times, it was just kids exploring the world and not knowing how to do so safely.

So for instance, to teach my God-daughter why it’s important to not run into the street, I comically simulated one of her Barbie dolls getting run over by a car and voice acting how in massive pain she was in. My God-daughter laughed at this depiction, which was a relief because in hindsight it sounds like I could have easily traumatized her instead.

But she understood even at the age of two what I was trying to teach her. So any time we went out for a walk, yes I mostly held her hand to keep her close, but there were times I’d let her go and she just knew to stay on the sidewalk.

The Internal Interpersonal Tournament

This was just one of many examples I could have shared with you, and while it was geared towards healing my inner child, other dialogues I’ve written for my Internal Family System comprised of a vaster array of characters that lurk in my psyche. There’s the Lovelorn vs the Casanova, the Anima vs my Inner Mother, and many more character battles that had to take place, and still take place within me that allow me to get a better sense of myself.

So to do an Internal Family Systems journal, you assign characters to certain thought patterns of yours and like a movie script, write our their dialogue and see in what ways they can resolve their conflicts with each other so that they can live in harmony within you, as opposed to discord.

After all, this is kind of what we do, as writers, when we write novels. All the characters we write about may be amalgamations of other people we know in our lives, but ultimately their words and actions are being born out of our very own hands. If that isn’t a more creative and emotionally distant form of Internal Family Systems journaling, then I don’t know what is!

But I digress.

Writing an Internal Family Systems journal can be a more direct, dark, and gritty form of getting the kind of self-knowledge you get from writing a novel with characters who all represent different sides of you. With an IFS journal, you remove the creative filter and write something raw, unhinged, and uninhibited. Just like the Shadow Journal, you will want to proceed with caution because the more honest and vulnerable you are, the scarier this kind of journaling actually is.

Though the good news is that if you can survive it, you will become a much smarter and stronger version of yourself that you may not have imagined possible before.

Photo Credit: http://www.tinyme.com

Putting the “I” in “Interests”

What are your favourite books to read right now? What are your favourite shows to binge? And what have been your favourite movies in recent memory?

Now compare all those things to your favourite stuff from just five years ago.

How does it feel and what do you notice about your interests?

I ask this because today is the day I decided to visit my young adult novel, It Starts: at Home, for the fourth time and fourth year in a row.  And whenever I buckle down to rewrite this book for the first time in each respective draft, I get all sentimental over how I conceived the idea for it.

This is mainly because my world was completely different before I ever got invested in YA literature. Long story short, I was into fantasy and sci-fi before I fell madly in love with the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

Much like my novel’s Philipino protagonist, Johanna Pascual, along with her friends and family–I have also grown into a more muti-dimensional version of myself over the years. This has allowed me to bleed my own personal insights into the characters I’ve created for this drama that tackles the day to day conflicts of being in a dysfunctional family and equally dysfunctional high school environment.

As I said, I was into fantasy which meant magic and epic battles, along with sci-fi and advanced technopoly that all served as but an abstract symbolization of human ability.

I am not here to say that fantastyand science fiction are devoid of interpersonal complexity amongst their respective casts of characters, but over the years I have outgrown them and prefer to experience stories with a more clear cut representation of our reality as it is right now.

Not before, not the future. Just this eternal present we all share in our daily lives.

Obviously art cannot exactly replicate reality, but it can come pretty close while also showing us–as all fiction is meant to do–what we are also possibly capable of if we’re willing to grow as human beings.

The things we’re interested in either grow with us or we out grow them if they no longer serve any significant personal benefits.

For the things that stay with us, our reasoning for our continued interests evolve.

For the new things that enter our lives, they are a representation of how we’re growing.


I Am Vengeance, I Am the Night, I Am Batman!

Now let me stop being abstract and get a bit more concrete here.

Taking a simple example, Batman has been my all time favourite superhero for my whole life. The character and all his reiterations have stayed with me since I was a child, ranging from Adam West’s campy and corny Batman, to Christian Bale’s dark, broody, and realistic Batman.

As a kid I just liked watching The Caped Crusader beat up bad guys. Whether it had the POW! WHAM! and KABLAMO! sound effects or had the slightly more ironically realistic fight choreography of Batman: the Animated Series.

But then I remember watching Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin. I can’t remember exactly what scene it was that made me feel this way, but I do specifically remember feeling sorry for The Penguin.

Batman Returns’ take on The Penguin was my first experience of ever empathizing over a villain rather than hoping that he would just get beaten to a bloody pulp.

So that stuck with me for years I have come to accept that in the Batman world, especially when done right, the villains are meant to have tragic backstories that reveal these bad guys are just sad guys, expressing their pain and torment in a way that’s more psychologically unhealthy as Batman expresses his. (At least he beats people up for a good cause right?)

This is an example of how my continued interest in Batman evolved in terms of my reasons for liking the character. With so many reiterations to represent different eras of time in my life, there was a Batman for every age!


Dungeons and Daughters

Now throughout my teens I was into Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, and to some degree Lord of the Rings. I thought it was pretty bad ass for characters to have special races and skillsets based on their character class to make them different from each other.

Excuse me while I geek out too hard. *Pushes invisible glasses up the bridge of his nose*

Futhermore, just like with Batman, I liked how they beat up bad guys all in their own unique abilities, whether they were proficient with swords or magic. But as time went on, and I began reading Dungeons and Dragons novels, all the combat and fantastical voodoo became more of a spice sprinkled into stories about interpersonal relationships between characters with very different personalities from each other.

Soon I found myself intrigued by the ideological differences between knights and thieves, assassins and priests, and so on and so forth. The black and white nature of their characterization made it obvious what they stood for.

Though after an over consumption of fantasy, especially including being part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns–one with my friends, and the other with my family–I started to get tired of the genre. I outgrew it and no longer had interest in this idea of an unlikely band of warriors, mages, and hobbits coming together to stop some evil being from stealing all the crystals or whatever sought after magical relic that provided infinite power.

What remained was my interest in how characters relate to each other, and nowadays I can say I do love stripping away the abstraction of magic and technology to cut down to the bone of human relationships. I now prefer contemporary stories with the kind of people you can run into in your daily life who face pretty much the same, relatable issues they you may face in your life.

Existential woes of what to do with your life: finding the right career, the ideal romantic mate, or finding your tribe to name a few.

Interestingly enough, my introduction to contemporary fiction involved strong female lead characters who did not have to have superpowers to be admirable. In fact, they just had to be vulnerable, open, and honest, coupled with the desire to grow themselves personally in order to survive and thrive in their environments.

Where I once loved the story of an assassin turned priest, trying to find peace in a land that only knows blood (Diran from the Blade of the Flame Trilogy by Tim Waggoner)–I became fascinated with the deeply personal story of a middle aged mother of two struggling with early onset alzheimer’s (Ruby from Island Girl by Lynda Simmons).

Both equally incredible characters, both experiencing things I hopefully never have to, but get the privilege of thanks to them taking me on their journey through their respective books.

But when it came to Island Girl, I felt much more invested and centered than I have ever been because it was the first book I read where there was no need for magic or advanced technopoly to wow me. Just plain out, regular human being with her flawed personality and relationships with her daughters, and the incredible human determination to make sense of her life and personal relationships.

Again, I am not bashing on fantasy or sci-fi, but personally for me, I really want to cut away from the abstraction and just relate to everyday people being fictionalized and their psyches explored through realistic drama. It makes it easier this way to explore the concept of interpersonal relationships because I don’t have to spend energy compehending how magic spells work or what the stallactites in a dungeon smell like.

This is how I have outgrown fantasy and moved on to enjoying contemporary works of fiction. I’ve gravitated towards the feels and away from the epic fighting. In fact, there are some pretty epic arguments between contemporary characters that have intrigued me infinitely more than large scale battles involving orcs, mercenaries, and good ol’ medieval weaponry and magic.

I still like it, but I don’t love it like I love arguments between seemingly real human beings whose goals and motivations I can relate to much easier.


Values, Variables, and Virtues…Oh My!

So while I have rambled about my favourite stuff and how I relate to them, I hope you’ve kept in mind the stuff that you value and favour. After all, if you think about why you gravitate towards different types of stories and media, it really does serve as a reflection of what you virtues you value in humanity.

Maybe you like politically charged punk rock.

Maybe you like lovey dovey pop ballads.

Maybe you like both and everything else in between!

Whatever your interests may be, please feel free to share how you put the I…in Interests.

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post: Putting it into Practice

I am very glad that everyone has enjoyed the recent series I’ve written on The Four Pillars of Fiction, so much so that I’ve broken records in terms of daily viewership and followers gained per post.

So thank you very much for the views and follows!

If you’ve found these posts helpful and think others can benefit, feel more than free to share it around, I would be greatly honoured!

To top off this delicious cake of blog posts, we’re gonna smear on some icing in the form of examples straight from my own novel¬†It Starts: at Home.

Building It Starts: at Home With the Four Pillar Structure

In the following graph, I have outlined the story’s Plot, Location, Objective, and to prevent spoilers, I’ll¬†allow the chracter graph to illustrate the Tenacity.

I’ll keep everything after the rising action the same¬†just so you get an idea of¬†how those questions become important in relation to what I have introduced in my PLOT.

It Starts: at Home Spoiler Free PLOT Graph

It Starts at Home Plot Graph Spoiler Free

Characters With Similar Differences

The main characters of my story seem like complete opposites at first glance, but they share the same kind of vulnerabilities…that take on different forms from each other.

Sorry if that sounds confusing, but basically the plot revolves around how parenting effects young adults, how they end up treating each other at school due to their upbringing, and ultimately in the form of issues surrounding self esteem and popularity.

The way these characters compliment each other and clash against each other looks a little something like this:

Johanna and Britney's Similar Differences

The Settings Surrounding the Homes

As I’ve said earlier in this series, my favourite setting is comtemporary so that I can focus much more on the character development and interpersonal relationships. All of which is possible in a much more advanced setting than mine, but here’s a rough sketch of what this basic world looks like.

It Starts at Home Settings

Thus Truly Concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction Series

Thank you very much again for your time, and as always I hope you’ve enjoyed, and gained value, from The Four Pillars of Fiction series.

Let me know if the points I’ve made in the series were much better having been substantiated by my own story’s examples, if you preferred the abstract one from the characters post, or the direct Inception¬†example for settings.

I wanted to mix it up each post as I believe each method served the purpose it needed to for each pillar.

For those of you who are wondering how I made all of these graphs, I have been using Scapple, a top notch mind mapping program you can download at http://www.literatureandlatte.com

For dialogue examples from It Starts: at Home, click here for a full scene.

Til next time, keep on writing!

Anna’s Quest Review

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Anna’s Quest is by far my favourite point and click game! It’s about a little girl with telekensis who sets out on an adventure to find a cure for her sick grandpa. Her level of innocence, empathy, and resourcefulness makes Anna a great character to play as.

Much to her detriment, though, she is very naive and trusts everyone too easily. And I guess that has been the best part of her character arc having reached Chapter VI so far. Learning who to trust and not to trust has become a fundamental aspect to the story, and it’s great to see her keep pressing onward despite of the betrayals and disappointments she’s confronted with.

327220_screenshots_2015-08-14_00007The puzzles in this game are very logical, fun, and very rewarding to figure out. Point and click games are known to have some cryptic puzzles that you’d either need a guide for or several hours staring blankly at the screen, frustrated and scratching your head.

You won’t have that problem with Anna’s Quest, as the puzzles are easy enough to respect your lateral thinking, but not so hard that you sigh or groan is resignation from trying.

There were only a couple of times where I needed a guide, but I know that if I spent a little more time to think or exhaust one more possibility, I would’ve figured them out on my own.

My gripe with this game along with anything by Daedalic, though, is the lip sync. Like, is it really that hard to program the lip sync to go with the vast amount of dialogue in this game? What I would also like to see from this company is some close up shots on the characters while they talk, kinda like in Broken Age, and maybe more physical gestures from the characters as they speak.

There’s also the problem of dialogue strings starting off as if the first syllable or so gets cut off and it’s a bit jarring when you’re so invested in the dialogue exchange.

Lastly, what I do love about this game is the amount of maps there are in it to traverse through per chapter. The point and click games I’ve played so far have had the tendancy to recycle maybe the same 5 or so locations for most of the game, and that gets a bit boring.

SPOILER WARNING


327220_screenshots_2015-08-24_00007There’s a point in the game where you get to play as the villain in their childhood, and that really helps flesh out her character more instead of just making her pure evil. You get to understand why her heart was wrought with grief, but ultimately made the wrong choices to lead her on the path of darkness.

After you’ve vanquised her, the end seemed to happen too quickly. As it was Anna’s Quest and no one else’s, I didn’t like how quickly they narrated her ending instead of showing what happens with her grandpa after she saves him. It would have been nice to see him wrestle with the fact that she went against his wishes to go out into the dangerous world JUST to save him.

That would have made for a great dialogue to show ambivalence on his part. After all the story did begin with him forbidding Anna from venturing out into the dangerous world and she went ahead and did it due to her love for him. It’s a missed opportunity and there’s been some debate about the ending here and there on the Steam forums whether it was sufficient or insufficient for an otherwise great tale.


END OF SPOILERS

Loved the story about learning who to trust and seeing the harsh and dangerous world through the eyes of an innocent child. It’s sad to see how easily they can have their innocense exploited as with the case with a few characters betraying Anna throughout her journey.

The ones that betray Anna or take advantage of her, I think, was like a commentary on how destroyed some adults can be when it comes to children needing their help. And the few helpful adults that will empathize with her and genuinely want to help her is indicative of how very few adults there are in the current world that will genuinely care for children’s needs.

All in all, Anna’s Quest is a solid game. I got it full price and don’t regret it, but if you ever see it on sale, do not hesitate to get it! If you get it for even 50% off, it will out live its value.

 

How I Conceived the Idea of It Starts at Home

bully-6“My life sucked when I was in high school, so how¬†much worse would it have been if I was a girl?”¬†That was the important question I asked myself after I finished reading Damned and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

When I was a teenager, I got into heaps of trouble due to talking back at teachers, retaliating against bullies, and on some occassions I became a bully myself. The kind of bullying that I experienced and carried out fell on the masculine side of bullying. This included, but was not limited to, physical violence and intimidation.

And so due to society’s propaganda against us males being thoughtless violent brutes, I used to think bullying was only a male thing, but no, our supposedly gentle birth giving and nurturing counterparts are not exempt from this behaviour. I am speaking in generalities of course, since typically it is boys who get into fist fights, but the form of bullying girls are capable of can be as equally destructive. It’s just more subtle and harder to spot.

To understand the female psyche, and more importantly that of the teenage female psyche, I took to reading more young adult novels with female lead characters, as well as talking to my female friends, cousins, and co-workers to ask about their experiences of having been teenagers.

50-race-attacks-schools-day-picturebullyingpreventionnow-comI learned about how feminine bullying consisted more of psychological tactics. They employ more verbal abuse through passive aggression, spreading gossip, and public humiliation, thus resulting in the¬†destruction of their victim’s self esteem. By recognizing their victim’s personal vulnerabilities such as their body image and emotional issues, female bullies exploit those weaknesses in order to gain a sense of power.

Why would anyone want to command and demand power in such destructive ways, especially when there are healthier ways to feel and be empowered? The answer is quite simple, but also very difficult to accept. High school students are made to feel disempowered, not only by the prison like structure public high schools consist of, but also by the maltreatment they receive at home.

This is why it’s important for parents take the time to connect with their children as opposed to control them. To use their hands¬†and their words to guide and comfort their children, not to strike or intimidate¬†them. Otherwise, where do you think this behaviour comes from? Children are sponges. They only learn what they live, and devoid of any self awareness or intervention from peaceful people to point out the dysfunction, they will often bring their home life out into the world, particularly at school.

child-abuse

If you are bullied at home, you are likely to become a victim and/or perpetrator of bullying. Either you will walk down the school hallways with slumped shoulders, head bowed in hiding, and sticking close to the walls as to avoid detection, or you will attempt to regain the power you are robbed from at home by mistreating the former.

It’s not set in stone, teenagers do have the choice and capacity to act virtuously, as well as develop the self confidence and healthy support groups in order to ward off bullying–but studies have shown that maltreatment of children sets them up to exude anti-social behaviours and aggressive tendancies later in life.

So why write through a female perspective for my book? Threats of meeting another boy at the flagpole to beat the shit out of him is already such an obvious and apparent form of bullying, but bullying takes on several other forms. Society and the media will usually only touch upon the effect, but not the cause, because fundamentally…

Bullying…starts at home.