No Hugs, No Learning, and The Wisdom of Seinfeld

Internal Family SystemsAnyone who knows me knows I am a massive fan of the Seinfeld show. I cannot tire of the antics of George, Kramer, Elaine, and Jerry.

It is commonly understood that the show was about nothing, but I recently learned that a mantra of the show was “no hugs, no learning” that reminded me of Internal Family Systems. If you want to see a show about nothing, turn on “Curb Your Enthusiasm which is Larry David’s show (the cocreator of Seinfeld and inspiration for George).

Most sitcom episodes, up until Seinfeld, followed a formula that ended up with the characters learning a valuable lesson from their experiences and culminating with a hug between them. Consider any episode of Three’s Company or even Frasier. The characters are going about their lives, and some misunderstanding causes hilarious assumptions and reactions; it wraps up with the truth being revealed, all learn a lesson, hugs all around, and harmony is restored. Ironically no one ever learns to be direct and open about communicating.

Learning and Growth

IFS Comox Valley

There was never an episode of Seinfeld where a character learned and grew from their experiences, you could argue that Jerry learned to express his feelings, but he is eventually scared back into denial by George becoming vulnerable. “No Learning, No hugs” doesn’t mean there were no valuable truths modelled in the show, just that they never impacted the characters to the point of lasting change.

Invitations Episode

The Invitations episode is an excellent example of “No hugs, No learning.” George gets out of his engagement by purchasing cheap wedding invitations with toxic glue, resulting in his fiancé Susan’s death. Kramer tries to get $100 from a bank that promises to greet every customer with a hello. Jerry gets engaged to Jeannie Steinmann, who is just like him.

Jerry makes some statements that could be argued to qualify as learning. After meeting Jeannie, Jerry is smitten and realizes that she is just like him and that he is crazy about her. Jerry is so taken with Jeanie that he asks her to marry him, and they get engaged. At one point, Jerry exclaims,

“Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself. I’ve been waiting for me to come along. And now I’ve swept myself off my feet!”

It sounds as though Jerry has had a moment of clarity, has accessed self-compassion and is on the road to healing and growth, only later to declare,

“All of a sudden it hit me, I realized what the problem is: I can’t be with someone like me. I hate myself!”

Self Compassion and Internal Family Systems Therapy

Jerry’s epiphany touches on the authentic experience of many people. Hatred towards self or a particular part of self is common. Often, we have extreme beliefs, feelings, and behaviours in which we feel compelled to engage. These extreme beliefs, feelings, and behaviours can be confusing and distressing. Depending on background and upbringing, we can end up heaping shame on ourselves, which can manifest as self-hatred. Internal Family Systems understanding is helpful in working with parts stuck in hatred or anger toward yourself.

Developing Self Compassion Through Internal Family Systems

Self-Compassion is a fundamental goal of therapy. Developing self-compassion allows the parts of you that have not been heard and validated to heal and take on new roles. A powerful and insightful way to develop self-compassion is through Internal Family Systems.boy, child, cover parts-2729804.jpg Internal Family Systems says that ‘All Parts are Welcome.’ In other words, IFS believes that every part of you has good intentions and means well. Even the parts you don’t like or hate are important and well-meaning.

By understanding how a part developed its way of thinking and being, we can understand its goals and move towards a more compassionate stance. Having compassion towards your parts, extreme or not, will allow you to access healing, take on new roles and behaviours, and open the door to a more satisfying and joy-filled life.

Book an IFS Session

If the IFS method sounds like something you might benefit from, contact me to book a session. You can expect to experience a gentle, patient, empathic, understanding environment as you gain a deeper understanding of yourself, and move away from shame toward self-compassion.