The Impact of Patriarchy on Our Internal Family

I was thrilled when my friend, fellow therapist and writer Molly LaCroix, agreed to write an article on patriarchy and mental health for my blog! We met in a training through Writing for Your Life and connected because we are both mental health therapists. Molly then went on to join Hope Writers with me and it’s been a joy to encourage each other along our writing journeys!

Molly is an expert on Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy and has published a book, Restoring Relationship, connecting the model with spiritual practices to work toward wholeness and integration. In her article below, she wisely links patriarchy with wounds to our internal family and offers suggestions for healing.

Make sure to follow Molly on Instagram and check out her website and book!

Passing through the kitchen one evening during high school, I watched as a familiar scene unfolded. Mom stated an opinion, and Dad, in a condescending tone bordering on contempt, said, “Oh, Sue.” He didn’t say, “You idiot,” but part of me heard, “Your opinion doesn’t matter; you are insignificant.” His disrespect sent a message to parts of me that shaped my choices, both personally and professionally. 

One part of me took on the burden of my father’s comment: the visceral sensation of cringing, the shame of being “less than,” the image of my mother’s pained expression and mute acquiescence. 

That burden was sufficiently painful to provoke a protective response from another part of me. She became very ambitious, wanting to achieve the professional success that would earn my father’s praise. For her, the most crucial aspect of my identity was my job title. Post-college, that meant choosing a profession based on prestige. When an utter lack of interest in the field left me searching for the next opportunity, I set my sights on being a hospital administrator. By 35, I accomplished that goal and, despite being married and having two young children, professional achievement was my highest priority.

I didn’t realize how internalized patriarchy had shaped my internal family.

Have you found yourself pursuing professional accolades at the expense of personal relationships? 

Do you overfunction, consistently privileging others’ needs above your own?

Is there are part of you who silences your voice and disregards your dreams?

Are there times when you’re flooded with grief over lost opportunities?

These are just some of the ways patriarchy can influence your internal family.

The metaphor of an internal family is a helpful way to make sense of often-conflicting thoughts, emotions, and impulses. We are created in the image of God, who is multiple. The analogy of Christ as the head of the Church, a body with diverse parts, describes the Christian community in a way that mirrors our inner landscape. Paul’s lament is the most pointed example of multiplicity: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NRSV).

“The metaphor of an internal family is a helpful way to make sense of often-conflicting thoughts, emotions, and impulses.”

The wounds inflicted by patriarchy and the protective ways we adapt to them result in internal conflict and confusion.

It is difficult to avoid being wounded by messages about women being inferior in a culture that is still rife with patriarchy. Some are covert, and some are much more overt. Spiritual communities that prohibit women from full participation and constrain gifting according to gender burden members of your inner family with beliefs of worthlessness. They provoke bitterness and anger, emotions meant to get our attention that something is wrong. The protective members of your internal family try to shut those emotions down; they are uncomfortable, and speaking up might be risky.

So what is the alternative to allowing protectors to lead our inner family to avoid the painful legacy of patriarchy?

The goal is to lead our inner family in harmony with the Holy Spirit. As bearers of God’s image, every person, no matter their life experience, possesses resources for healing and navigating challenges. Dr. Richard Schwartz, who developed the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, identifies the “8 C’s” of curiosity, compassion, calm, clarity, confidence, creativity, connection, and courage. These, and many other resources, are innate.

“The goal is to lead our inner family in harmony with the Holy Spirit.”

They are God’s imprint on your soul.

You can lead your internal family by drawing on these resources to develop relationships with all parts of you. Let the protective parts know you appreciate how they work to keep you safe from feeling vulnerable. When you connect with them, they will relax. As tender emotions and painful beliefs arise, turn toward the wounded members of your internal family. Create a sacred space by inviting more of the Spirit so they can tell their story. When they have the opportunity to share what they experienced, they can release their burdens. Developing these relationships is a spiritual practice.

This is how you love yourself. Loving God as God loves you is the most powerful antidote to patriarchy.

About Molly:

Molly is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. She received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Bethel Seminary San Diego and returned to Bethel as an adjunct professor in the MFT program. Specializing in treating clients who experienced early trauma and adversity, Molly has the highest possible level of training in the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model.

Her book  Restoring Relationship: Transforming Fear into Love Through Connection tackles the question, “Why do Christians talk so much about love but often fail to be loving?” The book examines reactions to distress rooted in fear of vulnerability, helps the reader understand why humans are vulnerable, offers a way to connect in times of adversity, and guides readers in applying the approach to common causes of distress. Molly also contributed a chapter on using IFS to heal divides in How to Heal Our Divides, edited by Brian Allain and Adam Thomas.

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