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As Yourself

When Jesus taught "love your neighbor," he added something to that. He added "as yourself." What is the significance of this? And how does it add even more meaning to the well-known adage?

I was recently introduced by a friend to a type of mental and emotional therapy called Internal Family Systems, or IFS. The book I read is entitled "No Bad Parts," and is authored by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz who developed the model. I may not have agreed with every idea presented in his book and yet I came away with some very powerful epiphanies and insights.

IFS is a way of relating to each of your emotions and experiences in which you personify them, listening to what each is "saying," (those monologues and stories we hear inside our minds and tell ourselves) and narrowing them down and giving them each a voice. As you sit with and witness these emotions and experiences, your conversations with them help you to learn from them deep, important, healing lessons and then you are able to help "unburden" them, resulting in their transformation into contributions, energy and emotions that serve you.

Each of your personified emotions or experiences is what he calls "parts" of you. And often, they feel like children and your true self their loving parent. These parts may contradict one another, having conflicting views or beliefs. Each of us is familiar in some degree with battles being waged within ourselves. We often label one part (or child) "good" (the part of us that wants to eat healthy and exercise) and another part (or child) "bad," (the part that loves to eat ice cream for a midnight snack) even suppressing or ignoring or burying those parts that frighten us or that we are ashamed of. We may fight them, resist them or even punish or exile them. We "suck up" our addictions, our experiences, our confusion, and attempt to move on from things that are difficult for us, without fully exploring or understanding them. After a while, these pile up creating a mess inside of us, becoming troublesome and causing problems for us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. They affect our relationships with others and our ability to be confident and happy.

One of the things he has discovered is that we can sit with and witness each of these "children"- our emotions, experiences or "parts"- and just observe, listen to, converse with and ask each what it is afraid of, or what it needs- without judgement. We can ask them why they hurt so badly and listen to them- and these parts actually speak to us in our minds. As they speak, they teach us why they are so valuable to us, and how they exist to help and protect us and what they need from us. We learn how vulnerable they are and how deeply they care and that they have valid reasons for why they are angry or embarrassed or in hiding. There are even parts that have materialized to protect us from other parts that they believe we can't handle. And the truth is, we learn, that there was a time that we couldn't handle the powerful emotions or experiences, or process them, and these wonderful parts saved us and helped us in difficult times. Our true "self" emerges as the confident, calm parent figure who desires to help each part and care for it as we would our own innocent, vulnerable, struggling child. Everything inside of us is unified in wanting what is best for us. Every part is there to teach, protect, edify and help us grow and to be our very best, true self.

All of this happening inside of ourselves! There are so many parts and emotions and experiences that we can observe and learn from just inside our own minds. What I have recently discovered is that in learning how to sit with and witness my "parts" and observe and listen to them without judgement, I have learned this is also possible to do with others around me. I have learned how to more deeply give this same skill and grace to everyone around me - to my neighbors.

I believe that when Jesus offered this truly loving counsel, He realized that we wouldn't properly be able to love our neighbors, or those around us at any given time, without first learning to do practice these amazing skills within ourselves. That we couldn't truly learn empathy for others without learning how to exercise that empathy within ourselves. That we couldn't comprehend what it looks like to be unified and confident with and full of gratitude for and to value those around us until we learned to do so inside of ourselves. Incidentally, Jesus also said "As I have loved you, love one another." And in learning to love ourselves and others this way, we understand exactly how He loved us.

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