Loving the Worry Part
My friend Elizabeth was asked to comfort her 9-year old grand-daughter Amy who had suddenly become afraid to go to sleep at night. Afraid something would happen and she wouldn’t wake up.
Elizabeth is an experienced therapist as well as a loving grandmother, so she and Amy scheduled a FaceTime session, and a few days ago Elizabeth conveyed to me how it went.
Amy’s new awareness of and fear of dying was totally understandable, given a year of sheltering from the pandemic already; now returning to school in person with all of the grown-ups’ uncertainties about what’s safe, what’s not safe.
Elizabeth asked if Amy could hear inside her the voice of the worry part, something inside Edith that told her the world was not completely safe anymore; something bad might happen; she might go to sleep and not wake up.
Oh yes. The worry part was very worried that she might fall asleep and not wake up; that she could die.
Well, could she imagine sitting with the worry part, just sitting together, listening to all the worries of the worry part. What was the worry part trying to tell her? What did the worry part want her to pay attention to?
So Amy did that. And the worry part told her to be careful; to not ride her bike too fast, to wear her mask in school and to even carry an extra one; to listen to her teacher so she would get her lessons and her homework right and not be worried about that when she was home.
Elizabeth then suggested that Amy imagine her mom Nancy coming to sit with her and the worry part, maybe holding Amy on her lap, or maybe holding the worry part on her lap. Amy did that, and Elizabeth told me Amy visibly relaxed her shoulders and gave a little sigh. And opened her eyes and said, “We’re all okay now.”
And Nancy later reported to Elizabeth that Amy slept through the night that night, and has every night since.
In sharing this story with me, Elizabeth acknowledged she has her own worry part, too. (We all do.) Worried about the delta variant, worried about her husband’s lingering cough, worried about running out of milk for the cereal.
Elizabeth is well trained in Internal Family Systems therapy, [see No Bad Parts] where this practice of loving and listening to the worry is standard practice. It’s helpful, even without formal training, to know that acknowledging, making room for, listening to, our worry part (or any part!) helps us tune in to our own intuitive wisdom about what’s bothering us and what we can do about it.
For a similar practice, see Complaining – A Cue for Compassion.