Cleaning Up via
Internal Family Systems & Art Therapy

17 January 2023
A picture of a person wearing sunglasses in front of a graffity wall to show the empowerment of a life well-lived.
By Ben Schoelzel
As the soul and the brain of Samaṇa, Ben focuses on changing his being in the world via a 2-hour daily meditation practice, authentic relating and interpersonal meditation, as well as in an ongoing IFS-practice. He started writing poems in his teenage year and rediscovered his joy for writing with the newsletter and articles for Samaṇa.

"What people think about you is not important. What you think about yourself means everything."

Cleaning Up refers to integrating the emotional wounds that all of us carry. This can include negative experiences during childhood, more recent ones, or anything that's nagging you daily. It also entails finding ways to more skillfully deal with emotionally taxing situations, such as, a breakup, stress at work, financial worries, etc. In short, cleaning up refers to being comfortable in our Self. Being okay with "who we are" and accepting ourselves. 

Our experience of the world is inherently linked to our experience of ourselves (think back of having a good day vs. a bad day and how much that shapes how you look at the world) and it's thus pretty unfortunate that our society, schooling, and upbringing don't put a lot of focus on our emotions and how we relate to them. 

There's research indicating that the earliest years are the most important years across a host of indicators of quality of life, ranging from attained income at adulthood, to levels of happiness, relationship stability and support networks. The earlier, the more important! This isn't because you start learning math when you're a toddler, but because you learn emotional patterns that define your behavior for the rest of your life. Getting in touch with these patterns and relating to them more skillfully is thus one of the most important things one can do! 

Two building blocks of my own cleaning up are Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Art Therapeutic techniques.

Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed in the 1980s. In it, the mind is seen as made up of different parts that often pursue conflicting agendas. IFS brings these parts and their agendas into harmony.

IFS works from a place called the Self: a compassionate, curious, and open presence that's embracing whatever is happening. Conflict arises when individual parts take over. That can be, for example, a fear of abandonment from one's childhood or anger at the world for not being the way one wants it to be. IFS brings these parts and the Self into dialogue, embracing them and looking at their agenda. It's a wonderfully simple, yet powerful tool for reconciliation and emotional growth. One of its strengths is also that it can be done by oneself with a bit of practice. 

Art Therapeutic Methods 

Art therapeutic methods are great tools to release stress and to gain an insight into our emotional and mental system. They also lay bare resources one has to deal with taxing situations. This reflection also helps with one's communication, emotional affect, and the relationship with oneself and others.

One of my first art therapeutic sessions was me having a bad day around the aforementioned breakup and Maxi, my sister, and a practicing art therapist with over 10 years of experience, had me draw my emotions and then work with that painting subsequently. Art therapy is a wonderful way to shine light onto that subconscious sea of experience, bring it forth and transform it skillfully.
Let’s face it: we all have emotional baggage from our past. Let’s also face it: some experiences leave deeper traces than others and we all rather handle daily stressors skillfully instead of blowing up at our partner over dinner. To be okay in the here and now, one needs to do some cleaning up. Cleaning up helps you to feel better about yourself and to be more comfortable in your own skin.

Why not experiencing it yourself in one of our donation-based workshops. You can find out more and register via Eventbrite!
The information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult a professional for guidance about a specific condition.