I can't be the leader I'm meant to be without all the parts of who I am - quote by America Ferrera
I can't be the leader I'm meant to be without all the parts of who I am - quote by America Ferrera

Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems - How we can stand in our power with all of our parts

Brené Brown interviewed America Ferrera (renowned actor, director, producer, activist, and leader) on the “Dare to Lead” podcast. It was about the importance of integration and how transformative it can be to bring all of our identities to our leadership journey.

There was a moment I couldn’t pass by without listening twice.

It was this question asked by Brown: “A lot of people, especially leaders, to be honest with you, even today, and especially women, have a tendency to acquiesce to orphaning parts of themselves to be seen more as a leader. Are there any parts of yourself that you ever have to stop and say, “Woah, America, bring her along.””

Brown's own answer was her role as a mother, which under patriarchal ideology didn’t align with her role as an aspiring academic and researcher. For Ferrera, it was her sexuality because as a young actress, she wanted to build a career, relationships, a body of work that didn’t rely on that, that subverted expectations and didn’t play up to that.

Ferrera says “I just pushed it away. I just thought, I don’t need that. It’s too hard, it’s too complicated. I’ll just leave it out the door.”

Brown succinctly clarifies the impact of that by saying “we’re orphaning the parts of us that we’re either afraid we can’t protect or we are afraid that will hold us back, and every time we do that, we cut some of our own power off… I can’t protect you in these spaces, so I’m going to kill you rather than letting someone else take you and kill you or take advantage of you.”

The sad part is that we do this as an act of taking control. Most of us are familiar with the fear that we are going to be hurt, so we mitigate the risk by hurting our self first (in a way that we think will be milder, or perhaps easier to handle because we instigated it), walking away from the threat, even if it’s just a possibility of harm.

What a devastating loss that we abandon, disown and disenfranchise parts of ourselves that deserve to stand alongside all our other traits and be seen with as much compassion, validity and respect as the more conventionally appreciated characteristics.

Balance is important, and understanding which parts of us need to step to the front in any given situation is a skill. Some parts may become dormant by choice, but ideally not by shame or by fear. Integration and acceptance starts with ourselves. When we know that we can keep all our parts safe, and when we start to recognise and build environments that support their existence, we know that we are in the right place, which is standing fully in our unique power.