An anxious response is triggered in the system when an exiled part (carrying extreme feelings and/or beliefs) gets triggered. For example, if you need to do a presentation there may be a young exiled part holding a memory of being humiliated when standing up in front of the class in school. This part may flood you with its anxiety to get your attention, and then a firefighter protector will step in.
Firefighters are aware of the anxiety belonging to the exiled part and do what they can do distract the system from allowing the exiled part into awareness. Firefighters may attempt to ameliorate the anxiety of the exile by frantic activity, or drinking or drugging, overwork; or any thought, activity or substance that works. They may bring tension, migraines or body pain into the system in order to shift the focus to what they are creating. Firefighters experience a real sense of urgency which makes them unconcerned with the consequences of their actions.
Manager parts of the system are critical of the firefighters and their methods for managing anxiety. When we are working with firefighters it is important to bring our compassion to them and recognise what a tough time they are having; using methods that result in them often being rejected by our managers and society at large and nonetheless doing their best to protect the system.
When a firefighter is appreciated for the work they do they may allow access to the exiled part with whom they are connected. If the firefighter trusts that your goal is essentially the same as its own – to help the system to not be overwhelmed by the exiled part – it may step back sufficiently to allow you to work with the exile.
Chronic anxiety occurs when an exile is constantly trying to come into consciousness – to be witnessed, understood and unburdened – and activating firefighter activity all the time. Assuring these parts that they can relax enough to unblend from you, that they will get the attention they require, can provide enormous relief to the system.