We have so far got through the 7 Day Challenge Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 where we have checked, challenged and visualised. If you have been following the challenge, you may well have a preferred scenario that you will want to aim for. Some of the things you visualised yesterday might not make the cut and some will be more realistic than others. Today’s post could have been similar to a business coaching lesson where we discuss the merits of each possible solution using pros and cons, cost/benefit analysis and quite complicated ways of making a decision. Important as that might be, it is in my experience, the underlying factors that often make the difference between making and not making a decision for one option or the other. In fact, the ability to make a decision at all could rest on this. We can describe this as polarised thinking.
Polarised thinking is a term that comes from Internal Family Systems therapy and is similar in its concept to Inner Child Therapy. It states that two opposing thinking styles (often referred to as the Firefighter and Manager in IFS…Inner Critic and Rebel in Inner Child) are battling each other for control of a situation. They are direct opposites and both have the same goal, to protect the wounded child “part” of us. This wounded part is our direct link to childhood fears and dysfunction. The part that keeps us stuck and wheels spinning. The battle means that any given stage, one side will have more control than the other and promote the behaviour it advocates. Unfortunately, all the while we listen to these voices, the wounded child goes unattended. Lets give a simple example:
Bill needs to make decision about his job but has been stuck for a long time while going through all the different scenarios. He feels he needs to get to a certain level in the company before he applies for other jobs (critic, manager trying to promote control and inaction to stop him facing issues); On the other hand, he sometimes feels like he wants to give it all up and do something more fun instead (firefighter, rebel promoting impulsive, irrational instant gratification to stop him facing issues). The unfortunate consequence of this polarized thinking is that Bill is stuck and unsure of his next move.
He has developed a “striver part” within his critical thinking that makes him work long hours meaning he is often tired (lack of sleep), eats at the wrong time (putting on weight), is often angry with his family and colleagues (result of frustration). His critic is pushing him to do more and he feels guilty when he doesn’t do it.
His rebel firefighting side promotes procrastination as a way of dealing with the issues and reminds him that he doesn’t need to deal with these things straight away and the decision about his job can wait. He is reminding him that he needs an escape and is promoting instant gratification. Bill is eating more, has developed a shopping addiction and cannot relax.
The above example is very typical of the result of listening to protector voices too much. Now the big question…what are they protecting? In this case, they are protecting the exiled child who fears failure and felt not good enough as a child. A child subjected to a parenting style that always demanded more. A situation many people find themselves in. In my experience, the situation described above is very common and is often a factor in decision making, overthinking and “analysis paralysis”. In therapy, the grip these two dysfunctional voices have can be released and the wounded child healed. This is a process, often made more difficult due to how strong these voices can be. Once an awareness is found of what they are saying and what they are protecting us from, it can start us on an effective journey forward.