No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

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At its core, Internal Family Systems (IFS) challenges the traditional notion of a singular, coherent mind generating all our emotions and impulses, and instead proposes one that it is made of various interacting parts (e.g. exiles, managers, firefighters) each with its own function.

What’s revolutionary about it is that it looks at every part, including the difficult ones (like an inner critic or a binge eater) with a compassionate lens, and it gives you a way to talk with them to understand their purpose (and, hopefully, free them from their burden.

Book Notes

Our mind is made of multiple parts.

“We were all raised in what I’ll call the mono-mind belief system—the idea that you have one mind, out of which different thoughts and emotions and impulses and urges emanate.”

“Consider the possibility that you and everybody else is a multiple personality. And that is a good thing. [...] all of us are born with many sub-minds that are constantly interacting inside of us.”

“The mono-mind paradigm has caused us to fear our parts and view them as pathological. In our attempts to control what we consider to be disturbing thoughts and emotions, we just end up fighting, ignoring, disciplining, hiding, or feeling ashamed of those impulses that keep us from doing what we want to do in our lives. And then we shame ourselves for not being able to control them. In other words, we hate what gets in our way.”

“You identify with your weaknesses, assuming that who you really are is defective and that if other people saw the real you, they’d be repulsed.”

“We often find that the harder we try to get rid of emotions and thoughts, the stronger they become. This is because parts, like people, fight back against being shamed or exiled. And if we do succeed in dominating them with punitive self-discipline, we then become tyrannized by the rigid, controlling inner drill sergeant. We might be disciplined, but we’re not much fun. And because the exiled (bingeing, raging, hypersexual, etc.) parts will seize any momentary weakness to break out again and take over, we have to constantly be on guard against any people or situations that might trigger those parts.”

“Like children in external families, we each have parts that want things that aren’t good for them or for the rest of the system. The difference here is that the Self says no to impulsive parts firmly but from a place of love and patience, in just the same way an ideal parent would. Additionally, in IFS, when parts do take over, we don’t shame them. Instead, we get curious and use the part’s impulse as a trailhead to find what is driving it that needs to be healed.”

“The mono-mind paradigm can easily lead us to fear or hate ourselves because we believe we have only one mind (full of primitive or sinful aspects) that we can’t control.”

“So I started trying to help my clients listen to their troublesome parts rather than fight them, and was astounded to find that their parts all had similar stories to tell of how they had to take on protective roles at some point in the person’s past—often roles that they hated but felt were needed to save the client. When I asked these protective parts what they’d rather do if they trusted they didn’t have to protect, they often wanted to do something opposite of the role they were in. Inner critics wanted to become cheerleaders or sage advisors, extreme caretakers wanted to help set boundaries, rageful parts wanted to help with discerning who was safe. It seemed that not only were parts not what they seemed, but also they each had qualities and resources to bring to the client’s life that were not available while they were tied up in the protective roles.”

Parts blend because they don't trust us.

“In IFS, we use the term blended to describe the phenomenon in which a part merges its perspective, emotion, beliefs, and impulses with your Self. When that happens, the qualities of your Self are obscured and seem to be replaced by those of the part. You might feel overwhelmed with fear, anger, or apathy. You might dissociate or become confused or have cravings. In other words, at least temporarily you become the part that has blended with you. You are the fearful young girl or the pouting little boy you once were. Why do parts blend? Protective parts blend because they believe they have to manage situations in your life. They don’t trust your Self to do it.”

“These symptoms and patterns are the activities of young, stressed-out parts that are often frozen in time during earlier traumas and believe that you are still quite young and powerless. They often believe that they must blend the way they do or something dreadful will happen (often, that you will die).”

“It’s important to remember that regardless of how blended we are, the Self is still in there—it never goes away.”

If you earn their trust, they'll unburden.

“[Parts] stay stuck, however, not because they’re not sure how old you are, but because they live in the past—frozen in time in the traumas that you experienced. That’s why they still think they have to protect other parts who were hurt by those experiences, too, and are carrying the burdens—the extreme beliefs and emotions—from those times. They feel alone with all that pressure and terror. The simple act of turning your focus inside and beginning to listen and talk to them and let them know they aren’t alone—because you are there to care for them—is quite radical and so welcome to that inner orphanage.”

“After parts unburden, they will manifest their true nature in valuable qualities (like delight, joy, sensitivity, empathy, wonderment, sexuality) and resources (like the ability to focus, clear discernment, problem-solving, passion for serving others or the world) that you have new access to and enrich your life.”

“You often have to earn their trust. The fact that they are burdened suggests that you didn’t protect them in the past, and you may have locked them away or exploited them by depending on their extreme protective roles, so they usually have good reasons to not trust you. Like feral children, they need your love and nurturing, but they don’t trust it at first because of their history with you. Sometimes it takes you showing up in Self repeatedly and apologizing to them to regain their trust. Fortunately, they aren’t actually feral external children, so this trusting process often doesn’t take more than a few visits.”

Exiles are the most hurt parts.

“Let's start with the exiles. These are often the younger ones that have frequently been called inner children in our culture. Before we get hurt, they are the delightful, playful, creative, trusting, innocent, and open parts of us that we love to be close to. They are also the most sensitive parts, so when someone hurts, betrays, shames, or scares us, they are the parts who take in the extreme beliefs and emotions (burdens) from those events the most.”

“It's likely that after you were hurt, the people around you gave you some version of that message: "Just get over it," for example, or "Stop being so sensitive." For these young parts, that's just adding insult to injury. The injury came from the event and then you insult them by abandoning and imprisoning them. As a result, they are often quite desperate to be attended to and will try their best to break out of exile any chance they get 一 when we're tired, when we're not getting the accolades that keep them pacified, or when we're hurt or shamed in a way that's similar to the original event.”

Managers protect exiles proactively.

“When you have a lot of exiles, other parts of you will have to leave their valuable roles to become protectors. It's like your adolescent parts are pressed into military or police service. Some of them take on the role of controlling the outside world so that nothing triggering happens. They manage our relationships, appearance, and performance often by yelling at us the way our parents or teachers once did so that we'll try harder or look better. These are the parts that become inner critics. Other parts take another approach and try to take care of everyone else while neglecting ourselves. Others are hypervigilant, and some are intellectual and are skilled at keeping us out of our bodies.”

“Managers are parentified inner children. They are usually very tired and stressed out. They're trying to keep the world safe for our exiles while at the same time keeping our exiles contained. They also have the ability to numb our bodies so we don't feel so much, because if you don't feel, then you don't get triggered. Managers are working all the time-some of them never sleep.”

Firefighters protect exiles reactively.

“Firefighters are another class of protectors entirely. Despite how hard our managers work to prevent it, the world has a way of triggering our exiles at times, of breaking through what psychotherapy traditionally calls our defenses. When that happens, it's a big emergency. To many of your protectors, experiencing the pain of your exiles feels like you might die. Consequently, most of us have a set of parts whose job it is to deal with these emergencies, parts who will immediately go into action to put out that inner fire, the flames of emotion bursting out from the exiled place.”

“In contrast to the managers who try to preempt anything that's going to trigger the exiles, these firefighter parts are activated after an exile has been triggered and desperately (and often impulsively) try to douse the flames of emotion, get us higher than the flames with some substance, or find a way to distract us until the fire burns itself out.”

The goal of IFS is to become Self-led.

“Recall the four goals of IFS: to liberate parts from their roles and return them to their natural states, to restore trust in the Self, to reharmonize the inner system, and to become Self-led. What we call healing in this work is crucial to achieving these goals, because burdened exiles will keep us feeling vulnerable, anxious, worthless, ashamed, lonely, and empty. And all of that will continue to drive our protectors.”

“Exiles need you to connect with them until they trust you. Then they need you to witness what happened to them and know how truly bad it was. Then you can go back to where they are stuck in the past and bring them out. At that point, they are usually willing to unburden the beliefs and emotions they've been carrying.”

“When you show them that they don't need to protect their exiles anymore, protectors will sometimes panic. They think you're going to downsize them. They've been at the same job for decades! I've learned to simply ask them, "What do you want to do now?" because they all have a natural desire to do something productive inside of you and, as I said earlier, you can't really predict what that's going to be.”

The Self is calm, curious, and compassionate.

"The Eight Cs of Self Energy and Self-Leadership:

  • Curiosity
  • Calm
  • Confidence
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Clarity
  • Courage
  • Connectedness"

“It's rare for someone to be in a state of pure Self, in which all of these qualities manifest simultaneously (although the path exercise can sometimes get you fairly close). Most of the time, we're blended to some degree with different parts. But as you repeatedly prove to your parts that they don't have to blend, you gradually experience more of the eight Cs, and more often, as well.”

“The Self is in everybody. Furthermore, the Self cannot be damaged, the Self doesn’t have to develop, and the Self possesses its own wisdom about how to heal internal as well as external relationships.”

“You are a person who has courage, confidence, clarity, feels connected, and is grounded. If you're feeling anything that tells you you're not, just know that those messages are coming from parts who don't know who you are. Recall that they often believe you're much younger than you are. It's helpful to not totally blend with them and enter their world, but instead reassure them, separate from them, and help them trust that these explorations are hard, but you can do it because you're not a little kid anymore and you're here to help them.”

Take your parts seriously.

“Going to war against a part usually just strengthens it. When you exile it and pretend it's not there, usually you're just doing it to feel better about yourself, making it much harder to unburden it and counter the potential harm it might do.”

“I encourage you to use a similar process with other parts you are ashamed of or fear一maybe the one that gives you embarrassing sexual fantasies, or the one that thinks Donald Trump is great, or the part that secretly delights when your friends fail, or the one who believes that men actually are superior to women. We all have parts we don't want to admit to, even to ourselves. In general, these parts of us are young and misguided inner children. And just like misguided external children, they deserve to receive our guidance and love, rather than our scorn, shame, and abandonment.”

“If you don't take your parts seriously, you won't become an effective inner leader or parent. Various forms of psychotherapy can help you connect with the deep seated emotions of your exiles, and that can be healing to some degree. But if you think of that process through the lens of expressing a repressed emotion, you won't follow up and following up is crucial. If, on the other hand, you understand that you have exiles who really need to trust you, you'll be more likely to visit them for as long as it takes. Working with them like that is often what's needed to reach permanent unburdening, and that's what it takes to learn your lessons一lessons like everything deserves love.”

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