We have an inner family.
As with any family, our inner family has different members with different roles. The leader of the family reflects the image of God, with qualities such as compassion, curiosity, patience, perspective, and grace. We are born with the resources needed to lead (which are enhanced by the presence of the Spirit). We also have parts that provide unique qualities, talents, and characteristics. The ideal is that the leader and parts form a harmonious whole.
Adverse experiences impact our inner family members.
But as Paul laments, sometimes we feel chaos and discord rather than harmony. All of us have experiences in life that impact our inner system. In a fallen world, none of us escape some degree of adversity. As a result, some members of the inner family carry painful burdens, and other members take on jobs to protect us from the vulnerability of those burdens.
We refer to vulnerable parts as “exiles,” reflecting the inner family’s desire to bury or compartmentalize painful things. The other parts of the family take on jobs due to adversity; they are called “protectors” because they work to protect us from pain. Some protectors proactively manage our life, attempting to control and mitigate threats. Other protectors react like firefighters when painful vulnerability surfaces, trying to numb or distract us from it.
Our protectors are fear-driven. They fear what will happen if the painful beliefs, emotions, images, and sensations we hold due to adverse experiences surface. When we feel fear, a protector is trying to get our attention. The protector needs connection with the leader of the family so it can be heard, reassured, and, ultimately, so the wound it is trying to hide can heal.
Developing relationships with our inner family members supports healing and transformation.
This is the path toward healing, transformation, and the kind of loving relationships envisioned in the Great Commandment. Befriending the parts holding fear builds trust in the leader of the family. In harmony with the Holy Spirit, the leader can connect with the tender, vulnerable exile who is stuck in the past burdened by adversity. This is our new spiritual practice.