Tag Archives: IFS

How To Trust Yourself

In 1984, for reasons I will explain (and you will possibly consider idiotic) I brought our eighteen month honeymoon – traveling in a VW camper through Europe and the Middle East – to a halt because I wanted to nest in my own home and become an upholsterer.

Yes – we traded the charms of small French towns like Cassis

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and adventures on an Israeli Kibbutz and the newly-returned-to Egypt vast Sinai Peninsula (which in 1983 was virtually unoccupied following the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979)

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so I could pull the stuffing out of elderly sofas, become adept at tying internal springs in the classic 8-way-pattern for maximum holding and comfort

20150920_192605and tackle the occasional “Button Back” project.


An odd choice, and one I went on to regret.

What was I thinking?

I had persuaded myself that I was a contemplative craftsperson who needed to work quietly on my own with classical music and scented candles, carefully restoring gorgeous antiques for folks who liked such things. And I wasn’t interested in hearing anything to the contrary.

Until I did. And the contrary voice I heard was loud, insistent, and from within.

I’m miserable! Here I am working away on my own, in the basement with things while what I really love and crave are people, sunlight and ideas!”

I had completely mis-read who I was and what I needed. Talk about undermining my trust in what I knew to be true about myself! I set aside my tools.

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In 1980, for reasons I will explain (and you could possibly also consider idiotic) I brought my 2 year back-packing adventure around the USA to a halt Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 7.16.36 AM

by moving in with a man three days after I met him at The Last Exit on Brooklyn, in Seattle.

Me! A convent-boarding-school-graduate-with-two-sisters-nuns-who-had-no-intention-of-getting-married-anyway. But, I made the lightening quick decision to stay with this warm, kind Seattleite.

For a while.

Another odd/out of character choice, and one I’m eternally grateful for.

What was I thinking?

Lots of things!

I really liked this man. He felt familiar and kind and I was an emotional kaleidoscope. Some days I’d feel loving and secure, others I’d panic about my future and our differences. Sometimes I’d feel content at the prospect of choosing “the one”, other times I let myself explore my options. [if you’re curious read this]. I had lengthy phone conversations with my aunts and sisters; I sobbed and laughed with girl friends; I sought counsel from wise folks; and Mark and I went about our lives getting to know one another ever more deeply.


700 days after we met (during which time Mark came to England to meet my family, and we sought a work visa for me) we said our “I dos” at the Burke Museum in Seattle at our pot-luck-home-spun wedding filled with the crazy chaotic kindnesses of friends and family (still grateful for that cake Stuart!). 


So – how come the trust I placed in my decision to be a contemplative upholsterer was so misguided, while the trust I placed in my spontaneous decision to move in and ultimately spend the rest of my life with Mark, so spot on?

How can we get trust right?

In Can We Trust Too Much, I suggested the way forward lay in “helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can:

  • manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  • manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  • cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.”

So, what is this feedback system and how come it’s trustworthy anyway?

Here’s what works for me, and increasingly, for my clients.

Our own infallible-once-we-know-how-to-use-it feedback system is ~

  • Available to us 24/7
  • Body-centered
  • Compassionate
  • Do-able
  • Effective
  • Fair
  • Growth-promoting
  • Honest
  • Individualized for our specific journey . . .

(OK – you get the point. I won’t go through the whole alphabet)

Maybe you can discern what it is as I review the ways I approached becoming an upholsterer versus the way I approached staying with Mark?

In the first instance I listened to only one inner voice. I listened exclusively to that Part of me who was absolutely of the opinion that I was, at my core, destined to be a contemplative upholsterer.

I had shut down the opposition. Any Part of me who might have had doubts about the plan was seen as a threat to my desire for certainty and the poster-child of certainty for me then was a life-long-dedication to the craft of upholstery.

But, in that tiny percentage of my attention I was ignoring, there were Parts gnawing at my gut, tightening in my upper back, and whispering in my heart ~

  • But I hate sewing;
  • Maybe I want to go back to Grad School;
  • Will I earn enough;
  • What if I get lonely?

Too bad for them! My contemplative-hold-tight-to-certainty Part monopolized all the attention in my inner Cabinet, drowning out dissent and shoving aside the President. Until she couldn’t. Until those ignored inner knowings erupted and I could no longer refuse to hear them and I cracked open with frustration, grief, and rage at my inauthenticity.

I was like a President who fills her cabinet with “yes people.” In trusting only one adviser, I was completely oblivious to the larger reality I’d been ignoring.

Enough of the broken chairs already!

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With the Mark decision it was the opposite. Within my inner Cabinet I was certainly swayed by my Minister for Spontaneity who argued “Hey, you gotta seize the moment girl..tomorrow you move on. If you don’t spend time with this man now, this moment won’t ever come around again.”

But, this Part had lots of supporters~

  • This man feels safe and kind, this is a great decision;
  • His family is European, so it feels familiar;
  • I like that he has a career already sorted out;
  • Good job finding a man who sings so wonderfully!
  • He loves animals too – an excellent sign.

And lots of opposition too ~

  • What about my volunteer job with VSO in Indonesia  – I want to see that through;
  • I’d be nuts to put my dreams aside for a man;
  • Do I even want to stay in America?
  • I’m still grieving the death of my mother, this is no time for love;
  • Our spirituality is way too different.

But the difference this time was that I welcomed information. I listened to all these Parts. I paid attention not only to my thoughts but to my body, which had plenty to say! I listened to depression, to a spasming back, to knee and ankle injuries, to headaches and to the gnawing in my gut. I worked the issues until I felt I understood what needed to be understood in that moment.  I let reality be messy and complex.

Each Part held a piece of the truth. Each part wanted what was best for me, from her perspective. This idea of listening carefully to multiple competing views is hardly new, in psychology or politics. Fellow history enthusiasts might appreciate the analogy to Lincoln’s cabinet, beautifully described in Team of Rivals. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin explains (in an interview for National Archives)

At the same time, Lincoln was facing a Republican Party that was very young and whose members had come from a variety of other parties. They were former Whigs, former Democrats. By putting his rivals in his cabinet, he had access to a wide range of opinions, which he realized would sharpen his own thinking. It also gave him a way of keeping all those conflicting opinions together. If he didn’t have a unified group fighting against the South, the fight would be impossible to sustain. So having all those opinions in his cabinet not only helped him; it helped the country as well.

So, like President Lincoln, when it was time to make a decision, that decision arose from a deeply informed place. My own inner team of rivals  was led by my inner President (what I usually call my Self) in a way that considered the views of all the Parts. My Self was curious and compassionate toward all the fears, all the stories, all the desires held by these Parts. My Self understood, for example, both how hard it would be to abandon my VSO position in Indonesia and how hard it would be to walk away from an extraordinary relationship.

Each Part of me, each distinct set of beliefs/fears/desires I held, was welcomed, attended to, appreciated for the specific perspective it brought, and considered or negotiated with. Until I realized that I knew what needed to happen. Until I recognized an upwelling of certainty that came from getting to know all the Parts. And, at some point there was no longer a question. I knew I wanted to be with Mark above everything else. And all the Parts felt good about it.

Don’t trust me on this one folks – try it for yourself!

Next time you need to trust yourself with a decision – whether about a relationship, office politics, a move, an issue with your child or parent – let yourself genuinely tune into all the Parts of you who have something to contribute. View them all as helpful. It’s the Parts of us we shove aside as irrelevant or discordant or irritating, or frightening in their implications, that have the most power to unravel whatever version of “trusting myself” you come up with.

If you want some help here are five suggestions for moving forward

  1. Read more about Parts work and Dr. Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems
  1. Read Jay Earley’s book Self Therapy
  1. Read There’s A Part of Me (or anything else that catches your attention) here:
  1. Sign up for a few sessions with an IFS-trained therapist in your area;
  1. See the first three articles in this series

Why bother?

Because every relationship is built on trust. So, what Part(s) of you are doing the trusting? Your ability to trust other people will grow to the extent you get to know which Parts of you are showing up as you decide whether or not to trust. Trust is a process. It ought not be given too quickly. So, the more your President (your Self ) learns how to distinguish and listen compassionately to all your inner Parts the greater the chance you will form a clear and informed assessment.

Before you can trust (or re-trust) someone else, you need to learn to trust yourself.



This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Cultivating Kindness

It’s not hard to make the case for kindness.

People are yearning for it.

  • Personally, it’s the vital glue in my close relationships;
  • My article Kindness is Key got more “hits” than anything I’ve written for over a year;
  • Google reports that searches for “kindness quotes” and “acts of kindness” are rising rapidly.

It’s good for us.

  • The study of positive psychology has gathered persuasive hard evidence about the benefits of qualities like kindness, compassion and happiness, a small sampling of which can be enjoyed (and even studied) at The Positive Psychlopedia;
  • An Atlantic article is calling kindness and generosity the Masters of Love.

Humans are possibly hardwired for it.

Primates do it.

  • Professor Franz De Waal has been studying emotions in primates, including cooperation, altruism and fairness, for over three decades, touching off a whole field of primate cognition that continues to inspire.
  • There are fresh new studies of pro-social behavior in primates which continue to reinforce the idea that our close animal relatives instinctively exhibit “altruistic” looking helping behaviors.

So – if kindness is yearned for, good for us, innate at birth and alive and well amongst certain primates, why does it become so hard to come by between people who love one another?

One clue to answering this might lie in the research of David Rand, assistant professor of psychology, economics, and management at Yale University, and the director of Yale University’s Human Cooperation Laboratory

In his paper spontaneous giving and calculated greed Dr. Rand discusses his findings that given a brief decision-making window, people will instinctively choose the pro-social (or kinder) option. But, give them time to think it over and they’ll be more selfish.

So, let’s slow that down.

Our first, innate instincts are pro-social and kind.

But once we get to thinking, we over-ride this instinct.

And we tend to over-ride this instinct a lot with the people we love:

in our long-term relationships where familiarity can breed discontent.

Right there in that pause between stimulus and response when your partner (to continue the examples from last week) ~

  • Looses the car keys – again
  • Trumps your punch line and finishes your story – again
  • Burns the fresh wild Alaskan King Salmon fillets – again
  • Forgets your birthday – again
  • Surfs the channels until you’re dizzy – again
  • Grunts at you over morning coffee – again

and you’re frustrated and disheartened because you’ve tried a thousand different ways to communicate that this behavior drives you nuts,

and right then you quell any instinctual kind response and instead go Hamlet and ask yourself a version of “To be (kind), or not to be (kind)?”

In that moment of thought, your natural kindness instinct is gone – Pooft!

And instead you feel an upsurge of anger and think to yourself,

How the blazes do I play the kindness card when I’m frustrated and disheartened and my partner is unreasonable and forgetful?

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And in that moment of thought

a huge gulf opens up within you

and your heart divides.

On one side lurks the story you tell yourself about what has happened.

On the other side lies your ability to respond kindly.

As an IFS-trained couples counselor, I think David Rand is onto something important about what happens when we replace instinct with reason.

The moment we stop to think, we open our inner Pandora’s Box. And this box is always very full of opinions and judgments, the belief in which allows us not to feel what we feel. Particularly our thinking protects us from feeling the pain of ~

  • isolation
  • vulnerability
  • unworthiness
  • unlovability
  • shame.

See if any of these feel familiar.


  • The blue script is the thought that interrupts your instinct to be kind
  • The red script is the feeling you may be trying not to feel.

* * * * *


  • My partner’s needs and chaos are interrupting me and my life far too much.
  • I feel overwhelmed by all the demands on my time.


  • Why does my partner have to steal my thunder all the time?
  • We get so competitive around others. I feel like I’m not interesting enough.


  • My partner can’t even focus and accomplish one thing for “us” at home.
  • I feel so alone when we can’t pull off a simple team effort like a meal .


  • I make a big fuss over everyone’s birthday in this family, so why can’t they do the same for me?
  • I feel invisible, unlovable & too vulnerable to remind folks when my birthday is coming.


  • He’s so twitchy and uncentered. Why can’t he just settle on a program?
  • I feel ashamed that I waste time like this but can’t find anything more interesting to do for myself.


  • I have to make all the decisions around here – my partner’s non-functional every morning.
  • I feel so isolated when I can’t connect with my partner before we both leave for work.

So now you’ve got ~

A behavior in your beloved that you once found endearing and met with kindnessyou used to help find the keys, and you used to find it reassuring when your beloved knew your stories so well  they could finish them

is now immune to your original kindness response  – because your story about this behavior interrupts your initial pro-social instinct

and instead your story about this incident triggers your core vulnerabilities – and the accompanying not-so-great-feelings inside of you

and you lash out, tilting at the windmills outside of you, when actually the pain is all internal.

Because your cup is empty. Because you are not happy. Because you have not been kind enough to YOU.


My new friend and Buddhist teacher Kathleen Rose of the Boise Institute for Buddhist Studies connected me with a wonderful teaching I’d love to share briefly here, with a link to a fuller article.

In the face of inner overwhelm when you are underwhelmed by kindness for yourself or others, remember the RAIN of Self-Compassion. I quote briefly from this article here, or click that title link for the whole piece.

The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness. It has four steps:

Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from Not identifying
with the experience. Or, more simply Non-attachment.”

To cross that enormous gulf of pain that opens up when thinking interrupts your instinct and separates you from your original pro-social drive, you only have to eliminate the story!

You already have everything you need to be kind.

You are an innately kind person who has lost touch with your instinctual ability to be kind because you’re drained. You’ve exhausted yourself by first creating these inner protective beliefs and then by believing these tales you tell.


in yourself and others, the next time someone in your life does what they do that you normally find so irritating, try 3 things:

  1. Recognize anything other than a kind instinct within as a self-diagnosis of inner overwhelm. All is not well if you are separated from your naturally compassionate self.
  2. Remember RAIN of Self-Compassion.
  3. Turn toward this person with a refreshed heart and remember what you used to do that was instinctively kind. You’ll know. If not, simply say “You know, here we are again – with you doing this and me on the verge of reacting. But I’m done reacting negatively. I’m sorry I’ve been so grumpy. I’ve been running on empty but I’m taking better care of myself. What do you need right now?”

See what happens.

I’d love to hear about it!

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

Who’s Listening?

Ever considered what an astonishingly powerful tool deep listening really is?

The summer holidays are coming.

David turns to his wife Judith over breakfast and sighs;

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.23.34 PM

I’m dreading summer this year!”

See if you can hear how Judith responds differently to David depending upon what Part of her is doing the listening. Or, to put it another way, depending upon who Judith is as she listens.

Judith has a Part of her who likes to keep things light and fluffy…a sort of “Don’t rock the boat” Part. This Part says:

Oh heavens – what are you saying? You love the heat and going to the lake house.”

And, Judith has a Part of herself who is hyper attuned to what-is-fair between her and her partner. This Part senses the balance may be off and from there Judith responds:

Look whose talking! It’s a pain for me with both kids home all summer, you gone all day, me trying to get work done and no routine!”

And, Judith has a Part who gets easily triggered by guilt and this Part smells a guilt trip coming so she says:

OK, OK… we agreed I’d go part-time and have some flexibility to be with the kids in the summer, and now you complain….You love your job, right?”

And Judith has a Part finely honed in response to her high-achieving-but-distant-and-grumpy-Father whose expectations for year-round hard work cast a shadow on Judith’s childhood desires for fun. This Part comes out as a snarky “don’t tell me not to have fun!” teenager so when this Part hears just those 5 words from David she quips:

You’re just like my father! It drives me nuts when you pour cold water on the kids’ summertime fun. Stop being such a grouch!”

So three questions immediately arise here.

  1. What might Judith’s responses trigger in David?
  2. What did David really mean?
  3. Instead of this, is it possible for people to listen in a way that fosters ~
    • understanding and love for oneself?
    • understanding and love for others?
    • more relationship satisfaction and closeness?

What might Judith’s responses trigger in David?

Since I see variations of this theme in my offices pretty frequently I can tell you how David is most likely to respond.

When someone initiates a conversation with a partner hoping for some solace, and that partner listens only through the narrow prism of his or her needs, fears and ghosts, and responds from those places, the speaker will not feel heard at all.

In fact, they’ll feel ~

  • dismissed (answer #1)
  • attacked (answer #2)
  • manipulated (answer #3)
  • unreasonably accused (answer #4)

And when a person feels any of these emotions, they are likely to respond with some combination of

  • frustration
  • counter attack
  • anger
  • defensiveness.

Not helpful – right?

What did David really mean?

Do we know?

All he said was “I’m dreading summer this year!”

Without being curious with David about what he meant, we have no idea what’s going on for him.

How can we ever know what someone really means?

Which brings us to the last question:

Is it possible for people to listen in a way that fosters ~

i)   understanding and love for oneself?

Yes yes, self first!

Going back to Judith, she’s not wrong for having being triggered. This is the magic of relationship! Being in this relationship with David allows Judith to discern these Parts of her. They all have a role to play. To grasp this point more fully if “Parts language” is new to you, you might find this post helpful.

The work – for yes, coming to understand and love yourself does take effort – is to cultivate a relationship with these Parts of you so that you can:

a) know what triggers this pattern of feelings, fears and beliefs (what I call a Part of you),

For Judith, can she become aware of situations that get interpreted by this Part of her as “Potential for some upsetting boat-rocking here.” ?

b) understand why this Part is concerned since all Parts are trying to help and protect you;

For Judith, can she hear that this Part is on high alert because it vividly remembers a time she was disobedient as a child and her mother yelled at her saying “Can’t you see how tough things are for me? How dare you rock the boat! Your father and I are at breaking point!” ?

 c) listen for the deeper beliefs which fuel this Part’s protective triggers

For Judith, can she allow herself to connect the dots between her belief that emotional instability leads directly to overwhelming pain and chaos and that it’s all her fault? That she has a belief if she does not keep things calm, bad things happen?

d) and might she be interested in releasing these long-held but unhelpful beliefs?

For Judith, can she witness this inner pain and let go of the belief that emotional pain is dangerous and it’s up to her to never let it be expressed?

This is the gift of relationship: it offers opportunities for us to understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) ourselves.

ii)   understanding and love for others

To the extent we allow this gift of relationship to help us understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) ourselves, we can offer the gift back.

If we can be clear about how we get triggered, and bring compassion to our own inner Parts so we can stay clear, present and untriggered as we listen to those we love, we can help others come to understand, love and unburden (or de-trigger) themselves.

Let’s see what that looks like for Judith and David.

Here’s their “do-over.”

The summer holidays are coming.

David turns to his wife Judith over breakfast and sighs;

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.23.34 PM

I’m dreading summer this year!”

Judith’s been doing some emotional homework.

She’s immediately aware of a bunch of feelings which bubble up inside of her.

She notices a pang from her “Don’t rock-the-boat Part” which she quickly calms with a warm inner hug and a reminder to this younger Part of her that she is safe in her adult relationship and not vulnerable to her parents’ volatility;

She has a momentary pang from her Part who worries David might be saying he is working harder than her and reassures this Part that she and David check in each week with how each is feeling in their respective worlds and both are mature enough to take responsibility for getting their needs met;

Her guilt-detector runs a quick scan but knows David doesn’t do guilt-trips, and she’s been working to liberate herself from the grips of this bad-boy for a while now;

And that Part who got so triggered by adults preventing kids from having summertime fun also gets a warm inner hug of acknowledgment.

Now Judith feels clear. She is centered in a calm and curious inner space from which she can say, with warmth and genuineness:

I’m sorry you’re dreading the summer David. Do you want to talk about it? What’s going on for you?”

David might need to test the waters a bit to see if he really does have permission to be curious; to be sure Judith is not going to pounce on him if he is not coming up with what she needs to hear.

I’m not sure. It’s odd – I usually love the summer but lately I’ve been feeling this sense of gloom and dread. Are you sure you want me to talk about it?”

Judith can reassure him with a compassionate nudge.

“Yes absolutely. Tell me more. You’re right, it’s odd. You do normally love the heat and the lake. What do you think is going on for you?”

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 12.59.40 PMNow Judith is listening.

She’s created a deep pool of space, permission, curiosity and compassion for David to explore what is going on for him.

In that place of quiet permission, David can explore.

“Well, now that you ask, I think there’s a mix of issues.

I DO love the summer, and time with you and the kids up at the lake. It’s one of my favorite places. And, I feel good about my work right now. I’m getting ahead and doing well. I guess one of the issues is I feel so pulled. I want to be with you, and yet I’m needed more at work to cover when others are on vacation. And then I feel bad – whichever I choose, I’m letting the other one down. I think that’s what it is.”

What a difference – right?

iii)   more relationship satisfaction and closeness?

Need I say more?

When one partner can bring self-awareness and self-compassion to his or her listening, it’s a game changer.

How much more deeply satisfying is an exchange like this, than the Parts-triggered and Parts-led alternative?

Hence my question at the top of the page: “Who’s Listening?”

If you want to build great relationships, do your best to clear the decks and show up with curiosity and compassion. For the both of you.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self


Listening to Yourself

When you tune into your self talk, who’s doing all the talking?


Who’s in there behind your eyes making all that noise?

Do you ever really tune in and listen to your own inner chatter as if what was going on in there was worth listening to?

And, if and when you do tune-in, do you find you get caught up in the content?

  • Maybe you hear a belief “You’re a mess!
  • Which gets trumped by a judgment “At your age you really ought to have your act together.
  • Which is met with a comparison “In fact, look at X. She’s gone and really made something of her life.”
  • Which elicits a hopelessness “Go on then, just finish the cookies, get yourself into something baggy and just show up and sit at the back.
  • Which generates some anger “Damn it – you said you’d have this eating habit fixed after last year’s reunion and here you are again – what is with you?”
  • Which evokes some pity “Yea well, you’ve had it tough. Not everyone had to deal with everything you went through this last year so lighten up already”
  • Which engenders some sadness and the “conversation” moves from all this head chatter and suddenly your body feels heavy, deeply exhausted and deflated.

Sure, you can focus on the content, but where does that get you?

You probably get a bit lulled into the status quo of the familiar scripts and figure it’s just how folks talk to themselves. No big deal…nothing to be done.

But what if you could listen to yourself in such a way that you’d:

  • Recognize and get to know distinct inner Parts of yourself
  • Understand and appreciate how your Parts drive your behavior
  • Harness your judgment and criticism of others to transform your relationship with yourself
  • Release negative beliefs and cultivate self-compassion

Would you be interested?

OK – here’s how.

Recognize and get to know distinct inner Parts of yourself

Going back to the sample self-talk above, a simple shift in how you listen to yourself will deliver dramatically different results.

Instead of focusing on the content alone, note the content but say to yourself:

“I have a Part who . . .

  • Believes I’m a mess
  • Judges me for not having my act together
  • Compares me with others
  • Notices a hopelessness and just wants me to eat the cookies already
  • Gets angry that I don’t keep my promises to myself
  • Feels sorry for me, and reminds me it’s been one hell of a year
  • Drops into sadness so my whole body feels heavy, deeply exhausted and deflated.


Because it’s a divide and conquer thing.

If you tune into your inner chatter and back away from the static concluding it’s “just my old familiar monolithic negative self with a touch of self-pity and sadness” you’ll see no reason to grow from this. It’s too big and there’s no entry point.

If however, you decide to listen as if each of these Parts had a message for you, you can get curious and learn from the message.

There are 3 important rules for listening and learning from inner parts though.

  1. All Parts are trying to help. Their message might feel negative as in  “You’re a mess”, but the intent behind this could be, “Life’s tough when you’re a mess. I want to keep reminding you of this so you’ll be motivated to be a Not Mess.”
  2. The best attitude to have as you tune in to yourself is CURIOSITY. As soon as you detect something other than curiosity, you’re probably hearing from another Part…you’re not listening with an open heart any more.
  3. It helps to try and find out when this Part took on this message or belief. See if you can be present enough to that Part and his or her message and see what age you were when this Part first started talking to you.

OK – now you’re cultivating a relationship with Parts of you. This is way cool!

Understand and appreciate how your Parts drive your behavior

Building on the work you’ve done in the step above…once you’ve met a Part and come to get a feel for what it’s worried about and how old or young it is, you’ll probably start recognizing it in other areas of your life.

Take the hopeless Part in the above example.

I can relate!

I have a Part who gives up easily. She’s pretty quickly prone to hopelessness and she can drive my behavior if I’m not careful.

Screen shot 2015-05-13 at 3.39.31 PMIn fact, a trip to IKEA can bring her right out.

I stand looking at a wonderful cupboard with shelves and doors.

As soon as I see  “Tools and instructions included” my hopeless Part pops right up with ~

You’ll never make this! You’ll screw the wrong x into the wrong Y, break it and throw a tantrum. Move on!”

What’s just happened?

I’ve let a young hopeless Part drive my decision-making!

But I know this Part now. I can be the one who watches the inner drama unfold. I can love up my young hopeless one and let her know I can call a friend, I can slow down, I’m no longer 8 years old facing an incomprehensible math test (which is where my hopeless one got started). So, she does not have to drive my IKEA purchases any more!

Harness your judgment and criticism of others to transform your relationship with yourself

This is terrific – but it’s a heavy lifter and takes a degree of self-knowledge and a ton of self-compassion.

You tune in and you notice for example, you have a Part who feels super critical toward someone you know. Listen in. What all does this Part say?

In my case, I felt very judgmental about someone I did not know very well. Here’s the gist

  • She’s so uptight
  • She won’t let me get close to her
  • She’s not doing any of her own emotional homework
  • And so on.

OK now the heavy lifting.

I looked at one judgment at a time and asked myself ~

  • To what extent do I get uptight?
  • To what extent do I not let people get close to me?
  • To what extent do I avoid my own emotional homework?


If you let yourself sit with the enormity of how this “You spot it you got it” paradox, a powerful self-awareness and self/other compassion can burst through. Now those very people we most dislike can become helpful mirrors toward our own emotional and spiritual development.

Release negative beliefs and cultivate self-compassion

The key to all this inner listening is that with the recognition and witnessing can blossom loving self-acceptance.

These steps build one upon the other.

  1. First, you simply listen for Parts,
  2. Then, appreciate how they are powerful enough to drive behavior
  3. And also insightful enough to prod our journey of self-development
  4. So, we can get to the place were we can maybe invite some Parts to let go of negative beliefs and behaviors.

Have a go.

If this is working for you, I’m thrilled, and would love to hear about it.

If you get bogged down or stuck, that’s a good time for a little help. IFS therapists are particularly ready and equipped to help you.

OK – until next week.


FIRST TIME HERE? This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self


The 7 Deadliest Fights – Part 2

Last week and this I’m exploring the 7 deadliest fights.

Not those knock-down-drag-out-referee-over-the-body fights.

But those we launch with words, looks and silences on those we love.

I actually believe fights can be good. They are a sign of robustness and courage and can clear the air. I’m almost worried when I meet “nice” folks who tell me with pride they’ve “Never had a cross word…”

But, there are fights, and then there are FIGHTS.

These 2 weeks are dedicated to helping you bring things down a notch or two.

So here they are ~ The 7 Deadliest Fight Strategies

  1. Attacking
  2. Belittling
  3. Criticizing
  4. Contemptuousness
  5. Defensiveness
  6. Escaping
  7. Escalating

(Today I’m writing about 5 – 7. Last week was 1 – 4. Too long for one week.)

Deadly Fight #5 – DEFENSIVENESS

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 3.56.19 PM

One of the most subtle and common of the deadly fight strategies, it is the rare person who has not responded to an attack with excuses, explanations, justifications or a counter attack in the form of blame. “The other chap started things, of course I’ll defend myself!”  you righteously think.

Maybe it sounds like ~

  • “But I didn’t mean to!”
  • “That was so not my fault!”
  • “No, no, no. Let me explain.”
  • “Well obviously I had to do this because…”
  • “You know, if you would have done this first we’d not be in this mess.”

What you’re doing is pushing away what the other person needs you to hear. It might well be that this person is coming on strongly and is angry so you find yourself feeling the need to defend yourself. But not listening to what this upset person has to say will not solve the problem. The more close to the bone the complaints, the more likely you are to reach for those innocent sounding explanations and excuses.

The problem with this is ~

No one is listening! If you’re not listening to what this other person is trying to tell you, for sure they will be in no mood to listen to you. All your excuses, explanations, justifications and blaming will not only fall on deaf ears, it will fuel the flames.


Get curious. If you’re in the habit of responding to criticism or “feedback” with excuses, explanations, justifications or a counter attack in the form of blame – switch to asking questions.

Stop. Breathe. Listen. If you feel defensiveness bubbling up, the deeper truth is that if you could only stop long enough to listen, maybe you’d agree just a little… but instead of exposing that vulnerability, you launch a (clearly justifiable!) defensive mission. If the other person is shouting by all means let them know you’d love to listen when they can calm down. Then, if they can talk to you without shouting, really listen. Ask questions. Get curious. Your goal is to fully understand what is upsetting them. This is important:

Seeking to understand is not the same as agreeing with their point of view or admitting any fault.

Understanding is simply that – understanding. You are the anthropologist seeking – in a non-judgmental way – to see things from the other culture’s point of view. You want to briefly inhabit their worldview so you genuinely see what they see. There is no salve as calming as feeling heard.

I know this can seem like nothing. Or not enough. But once you try it, I think you’ll find its a hugely helpful way of being in the face of someone’s anger. Often indeed, simply listening deeply, non-defensively and with genuine curiosity will allow both of you to flush out what the other person needs to express. And that can be enough.

Deadly Fight #6 – ESCAPING

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 4.04.27 PM

You escape – either physically or emotionally – without letting your partner know you need a time out. You just walk out, drive away, slam a door, hole up, or get lost in the TV, internet, or music.

Maybe it looks like ~

  • A door slamming.
  • A car engine revving.
  • The TV on full blast.
  • A person lost in distractions, buffeted by headphones.

What you’re doing is running for all you are worth away from the pain. You are possibly flooded with sadness or rage; shame or guilt. You are spent, exhausted and done with the effort of figuring out what anyone needs or wants, yet everything is left hanging and no resolution is in sight.

The problem with this is ~

It’s abandonment! If you do this to a friend, it’s unkind. But if you do this to your committed partner it’s devastating. It triggers deep places within people in primary relationships when a partner makes a unilateral move to withdraw with no warning, no explanation, no reassurance. And, right when the stakes are high, your partner’s anxiety will go through the roof.

He or she is left thinking:

  • “When will s/he come back?”
  • “Will s/he ever come back?”
  • “Will s/he do something stupid?”
  • “What should I do now?”


Ask for a break. If you are in the habit of leaving abruptly, either physically or emotionally, without letting your partner know you need a time out, please – pause before you leave. Right when that “I am not taking this any more” button gets pushed see if you can tell your partner what’s going on for you.

Don’t leave them hanging. Before you take that break tell them “I’m totally overwrought. I need to take 15 minutes. I’ll be back.” Then go. But come back when you said you’d come back. If you know you need an hour, say you need an hour, but come back in an hour. If you feel you want to run away for a longer period of time, it works better to move a bit more slowly. Take a 15-minute break and then come back and negotiate a longer space, like a weekend away. The idea is to not lose sight of the goal – which is to reconnect with your partner and heal the problem. If you just take off without negotiating this space, you run the risk of making the issues so much worse because now you’ve got whatever the initial issue was, plus abandonment. And believe me – the latter is a hard repair.

Deadly Fight #7 – ESCALATING

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 4.13.44 PMYou know you’re way too far gone when your partner has de-escalated their part of the fight, is trying to listen to you, is making soothing noises, is asking you to calm down, and is clearly telling you they want to stop. But you are so overwrought, angry, righteous and caught up in emoting that you don’t notice the cues. You just keep on punching the air like a blind fighter alone in the ring.

Maybe it sounds like ~

  • ”No I’m not willing to calm down and take a break”
  • “Don’t change the subject on me now…”
  • “No I don’t want to sit next to you and talk calmly!”
  • “We need to figure this out right now!”

What you’re doing is throwing a “Fire & Brimstone Anger Party” for one. No one else wants to come. You’re horrid company. You make no sense, and you look like you have no intention of stopping any time soon.

The problem with this ~

You are pouring gas on your own internal fire. You are, effectively, fighting with yourself. Your partner is not the issue anymore. You are not listening to anyone, most especially yourself.


Get some firefighting skills. If you know there are times when you loose the plot and escalate conflict, it’s time to get some pre-emptive, flame dousing skills. Here are three tips to get you on your way. The fourth, if these are not helping you, would be to let yourself go talk with a good therapist.

  1. Think of this out-of-control behavior as a Part of you, not the all of you. Say to yourself “I have a Part who escalates fights in certain situations.” (See here for more on the idea that we have distinct inner Parts)
  2. If you can see that you are not only your anger, then immediately new possibilities open up. You may notice other Parts of you who get judgmental and critical of this fearsome, escalating angry Part, but you might also find it within you to be curious about it. What does that Part of you need right then? Quite possibly something about the fight has triggered deep emotional pain, and this aspect of you – this Part of you – tries to protect you from emotional pain by escalating the external mayhem to distract you from the internal maelstrom. This behavior probably made sense at some point in your life and this Part does not understand that it’s not such a great approach today.
  3. Tell your partner about this Part and make a firefighting plan together. If you fight and your partner notices this super angry Part is on a path of escalation, what do you want to do? Some partners come up with a protocol which keeps the non-escalating partner away from receiving the brunt of the escalation without shaming or abandoning the partner who has been overtaken by this pained Part.
  4. Or, seek good therapy. It is so wonderful to de-trigger these Parts of ourselves who hold on to old pain and trauma.


In truth, the tips above about thinking of a potentially problematic behavior as a Part of you – not the all of you – help with all of these tough fighting scenarios. If you attack your partner verbally it”s not the all of you attacking, but you sure have a Part in attack mode.

Or maybe a Part who is

  • Belittling
  • Criticizing
  • Contemptuous
  • Defensive
  • Escaping
  • Escalating

If you want to thrive in your relationships, remembering that different Parts of you show up in different contexts is very liberating. Go back here and here to explore this some more and to let the implication of thinking of ourselves as having Parts sink in a little deeper.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

Self Leadership

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.06.49 PMYou’re poised, hand on the doorknob, about to enter a challenging situation.

Inside are people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions will impact you.

Your heart’s racing, your head’s throbbing, your jaw is clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face is a shifting map of anxiety.

Right then, do you wish you’d made time for some emotional preparedness, or are you fine with that same old charge-in-and-deal-with-the consequences mode?

Some of us go through our whole lives charging about and dealing with the emotional fall-out. But sometimes, after one emotional blitzkrieg too many, it occurs to us that maybe there’s another way.

We left Holly right here last week as she was about to attend a niece’s birthday. There, at yet another family gathering with her four married siblings and their flock of offspring, she would typically experience herself as being pitied and gossiped about. All traces of her strong, professional and capable self would be replaced by a self-doubting, fumbling and emotionally labile alter-ego. It could have felt, yet again, like a no-win situation.

This time however, things were very different.

Holly had had enough of the cross-her-fingers-drink-too-much-and-hope-things-won’t-be-too-awful approach to relationships with her family.

  • She’d recognized how she could be strong-yet-compassionate in most places, yet weak and whiny around her family. Hummm… so there was more than one version of herself.
  • She’d seen how these weak and whiny Parts of her seemed to show up in familiar ways, and how she’d behave as if she was being run by a much younger vulnerable and reckless version of herself.
  • She’d learned how to notice these shifts – to be both the one with the emotions and the one noticing herself emoting.
  • And she’d had some experiences lately where she was able to notice the younger, emotional Parts of herself and interview them as if they were separate people. She could attend to those Parts and find out what they believed and feared.
  • And, most important for today’s post, she’d learned how to bring compassionate leadership to these inner Parts.

She’d started down the life-long path toward Self-leadership.


We left off last week wondering about Self-leadership.

SELF ~ I described Self as that which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.

If you meditate, this might be a familiar concept.

Meditation, like encountering your Self, brings perspective and freedom. The moment you notice your mind as it thinks, chatters, forms and shares opinions, fosters fears and tells tales – then you are not your mind. You are your mind + an observer. So, who is the observer?

“You” – some separate “You” – is noticing the drama, which means that you are not the drama.

There are loads of advantages to spending time connecting to this centered place (here are 20-scientific-reasons-to-start-meditating)

But inviting this centered “You” to be a Leader for your inner world expands upon the benefits of normal meditating in an astonishingly helpful way.

The WHAT ~ SELF-LEADERSHIP describes a state where your inner, loving, wise Self brings a healing combination of genuine curiosity and loving compassion to all your inner Parts such that they can tell their story, feel heard, release their extreme positions and let go of untrue limiting beliefs so they can trust You, your Self, to lead the way. It really is a leadership thing.


I’ll break this down using Holly’s situation. (See here is you missed meeting Holly last week).

Remember, Holly is already practicing 4 important things:

  1. She recognizes there’s not just one Holly; that she has a variety of inner Parts;
  2. She notices how these Parts interact and have a purposeful relationship with one another;
  3. She is so aware of her rich inner family of Parts that she can actually speak FOR these different Parts; e.g., “Part of me is dreading this family gathering, as usual. But another Part’s excited to try something different.”
  4. And, she is finally coming to believe she doesn’t have to be a victim of her moods and frightened young Parts. She is ready to cultivate ~


To teach something, I think it helps to break it into clear steps. However, over time this way of bringing your full compassionate Self into any given moment can happen instantly.

Know too that initially it helps to put some time and effort into this sort of self-reflection, before you encounter a tough situation. Holly chose to work with me for a few sessions to make sure she was on the right path. But this work can be done alone – which is why I am excited to share it with you here.

Here’s the process ~

1.   ROLL CALL ~ Identify the Parts who might get triggered by a specific event.*

It helps to get an image in your mind’s eye and treat each Part as an intact person, with feelings and needs. Here are the five Parts Holly identified.

  1. Her inner recluse
  2. Her no-nonsense task-master
  3. Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married
  4. Her devil-may-care
  5. Her yearning-to-connect

* This can be hard so don’t beat yourself up if you are only aware of 1 or 2 Parts of you. If you are interested in getting better at this visit here for an IFS therapist in your area. A couple of sessions with a professional who is trained in helping you discover these Parts can make a big difference. Or drop me a line (gemma@gemmautting.com) and I’ll give you some pointers.

2.   CHECK-IN ~ One at a time, check in with each Part.

Keep it simple. Just ask ~

  1. What are you afraid will happen?
  2. What do you need from me to make sure that doesn’t happen?

Here’s Holly and her Recluse demonstrating.

Holly          So I hear you’re worried about an upcoming family birthday. I’d love to know what you’re worried about.

Recluse      I’m worried it’s going to be so noisy and chaotic and I’ll feel trapped in there with everyone thinking I’m going to freak out!

Holly          Yes, I know that feeling and it sucks! What do you need this time to feel less trapped?

Recluse      Well,  I guess I’d feel better if I could give myself permission to take a break when things get too loud. Maybe I could just let Sally know I’m going to take the dog around the block for 20 minutes, which might help a lot.

3.   MAKE A PLAN ~ Take each fear seriously, and make a plan.

Stay compassionate with all these Parts of yourself. Chances are they are young and they need you to take their concerns seriously. Imagine a little fellow in his footie PJs is frightened the under-the-bed monster is back. He just needs you to take a peek and let him know if it’s all clear. Then he can feel safe. Would you do that for him? Same difference here.

Does this seem too simple?

Here’s what is going under this simple façade ~

1.   You’ve gathered great data. By focusing not only on what’s “out there” in the external world of people, you’ve also focused “in here”, on your internal family of Parts.

2.   You’ve taken stock, assessed potential dangers and identified potential allies. You’re forewarned.

3.   You’ve taken charge. When you feel a situation is heading south (which you can do easily now since you’re in communication with those Parts of you on the emotional front lines) you are in a position to check-in with all the Parts who are triggered; weigh their possibly conflicting needs;  review the pre-planned solutions; make a decision and lead your inner family of Parts in a way that is as good as possible for the all of you.

Remember how it was before you knew this stuff?

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.06.49 PMRemember that  doorknob?

You were poised, about to enter a challenging situation. Inside were people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions would impact you.

Your heart was racing, your head throbbing, your jaw clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face was a shifting map of anxiety.

You had no control over anything. Talk about a vulnerable place to be!

And, now that you have some skills?

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.43.58 PM

Same challenging situation behind those doors.

Same possibility that the words, deeds, whispers and decisions of the people inside might impact you.

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.51.00 PM

But this time, you’re not alone.

You’ve invited your wise Self along.

Your younger Parts have been encouraged to share their concerns. They feel much less anxious now they’ve been heard.

You’ve got a plan.

Your Self has your back.

That’s Self Leadership.


This is the seventh article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #6 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
  6. Happy Families

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.


Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 2.38.13 PMMy friend Hannah and I love to swap good quotes. One of her favorites is from Eeyore, who comments to Pooh one day

“Not all of us can. And some of us don’t.”

That is of course true for lots of things, including this sort of inner work. Sometimes, try as we might, we can’t bring our Self to have enough authority to lead our pack of inner Parts.

Try as we might, we get triggered by things our partner, boss, child, in-laws or friends say to us. Next week I’m gong to talk about what you can do then, when you feel you’ll be forever held hostage by your highly emotional Parts. Because, I suppose, the opposite of Eeyore’s statement would be ~

“Not all of us can’t, and some of us do.”


You might enjoy this.

The Brain’s Ability to Look Within: A Secret to Self-Mastery

The author makes a great case for the benefits of tuning into our inner selves.

Happy Families?

Imagine your family is oblivious to your feelings and needs, but still demands your loyalty, presence and engagement with family events. The “Lady Edith” dilemma. This is also Holly’s (whom you’ll meet in a minute) predicament.

Is there anything either of them can do to improve this situation?

Maybe this isn’t your problem, but perhaps you have other relationships which leave you feeling bruised, frustrated and yearning to change?

Welcome! This is a place to explore what it means to cultivate great relationships with partners, family, friends, kids, neighbors, work mates. With people you love deeply, and with people you’re tempted to dislike, or even write off.

In January I made the case that step one in creating great relationships is to get to know yourself in a whole new way. In brief:

  1. Recognize there’s not just one “you”. Notice how different people elicit a different version of you. We have distinct inner Parts. See here.
  2. Your Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading, critiquing, judging, dismissing, ignoring or protecting another Part. See here.
  3. This is not random. Your Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage your day to day, to exile your deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse your inner pain when it is triggered. See here.

This month I’m exploring how – in the midst of this community of Parts – we can become proactive and choose how we show up.


Meet Holly (with the tough family). Her story is an amalgam of several prior client situations. She’d love to improve her relationship with her family and we meet her now as she anticipates attending a family birthday.

Holly’s one of five kids and the only one not yet popping out the grand-babies for her folks who have morphed from stern, judgmental, distant parents into indulgent and fawning grandparents.

It’s yet another birthday for a niece or nephew, and Holly’s been summoned to attend since, as her mother says every year and for every birthday “How could you miss! Don’t you want to celebrate with your family?

Holly is already familiar with her variety of Parts who get triggered by these events:

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.39.17 AMHer inner recluse starts screaming and a feeling of suffocation begins to overwhelm her at the thought of the noise and chaos that happens when 20 people gather to eat sugar and offer too many gifts to a small child;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.40.21 AM

Her no-nonsense task-master starts trying to plan how to entertain the younger kids so there will be some planned cohesion to the afternoon’s chaos;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.44.20 AM

Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married Part swoops in and she finds herself alternately sobbing and raging at her parents’ agenda for her in the days leading up to the event;

 Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.46.34 AM

Her devil-may-care Part makes sure she brings several additional bottles of Prosecco so she can always pour another glass when the going gets too tough;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.47.26 AM

And her yearning-to-connect Part braces for the disappointment that usually follows when Holly tries to have a meaningful conversation with her favorite sister Sally at family gatherings.

Holly has done some terrific emotional homework.

She’s discovered her ~

Managers – the recluse & her no-nonsense-Parts

Exiles – her vulnerable-not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married, & yearning-to-connect Parts

Firefighters – her devil-may-care Part

(see this Post if you are not familiar with these terms)

And she knows how these Parts tag-team to keep her functioning at these family events. Her Managers keep her alternately seeming like a one-woman island unto herself, or chivvying everyone like a kindergarten teacher, both of which are acceptable to her family and serve to minimize her need to connect at any meaningful level with them. Alternating aloof with busy has the added advantage of minimizing her exiled emotional pain which is easily triggered by her family’s judgment and distance. And, as soon as the pain is tapped into, it’s “fire-fighters-to-the-rescue” and somehow her glass is constantly re-filled with the highly effective “lets-numb-out-on-booze” response.

But she wants to do this differently. These behaviors only reinforce her family’s dim view of her mental stability and life choices. She wishes she could be with them as she is in other contexts, where she experiences herself as strong, interesting and capable.

Holly knows no one in the family (with the possible exception of Sally) has the desire or ability to change how they all relate, so it’s up to her.

With me, as well as working to understand the variety of ways she shows up and how they can trip her up, Holly is also learning to speak FOR her Parts, not FROM them. This means (with reference to the upcoming birthday party) that rather than act out her feelings of frustration with her family by huffing, sighing, rolling her eyes and snapping at them, she can say (even if only to herself to start with)  “You know, Part of me gets frustrated by these high-stress family gatherings, but there’s also a Part of me who’s happy to be invited and wants to continue to try and connect with my siblings.” See here to learn more about this idea.

So – what should Holly do?

Below are 4 options for Holly. You choose ~

_____a.   Cross her fingers and just go.

  • Pros: no effort needed in prior planning and you never know! The family might be attentive, kind and finally interested in her life; the kids might be calm and the cake tasty.
  • Cons: This never happens! Last birthday ended up with her leaving early, drunk, and in tears after screaming at Sally.

_____b.   Decline the invitation and avoid the whole thing.

  • Pros:            She would not get hurt that day.
  • Cons:            She’d pay for it for years to come in guilt trips from the family.

_____c.   Just pick one Part and stick with it. Right now she’s totally blended with the imagined security of her no-nonsense Part. That’s the one!

  • Pros:            If she could do this, it might work. She’d organize the smaller relatives, stay busy, avoid talking with anyone else, and leave early.
  • Cons:            Zero buy-in from the other Parts pretty much guarantees that they’ll show up. And then we’re back to option a.

_____d.   Practice some pre-emptive self-leadership so she is aware of her inner dynamics and can trust her Self to finesse whatever happens.

  • Pros:            Knowing she can keep her Parts attended to, Holly is free to enjoy the Party. She can risk having conversations with family members because even if they can’t control how they are with her, she can handle what is going on for her. As she masters her ability to be compassionate and present with her internal community of Parts, she notices she is able to feel acceptance and compassion toward her external community of people.
  • Cons:            Getting to this stage takes a strong desire, a willingness to be honest, and a level of compassion toward oneself that takes time to cultivate.

OK – if Holly’s goal is to improve her relationships with her family, which of the above scenarios would you pick for her?

Most folks choose options a, b or c and those are good if your goal is to simply cope, or get through something. But improving things takes a different approach.

If Holly is committed to improving her relationships, then it’s up to her to BE someone else, and DO something different, which makes (d) a compelling option.

What’s this pre-emptive self-leadership Holly needs before she can enjoy herself at the party?

Self-leadership describes a state where your best self, or maybe your true self, becomes the wise, loving adult to all your younger inner Parts.

This true Self (which I’ll now refer to as Self) is the you which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.

Self is present when your heart melts into compassion for these young Parts, instead of the usual judgment, criticism, and impatience.

You’ve met this Self before.

It’s the still point at your center when you meditate.

It’s where music and art can take you.

Or the particular beauty of earth ~


Or the vast, unknowable majesty of space ~

Screen shot 2015-02-10 at 7.22.32 AM

Self is the still-point amidst all the hubbub.


Discover how to connect to your Self, and learn how to bring this Self into a loving relationship with your Parts. This is the key to that pre-emptive Self-Leadership Holly will need (we all need) if we are to connect deeply with others. And it begins when we connect with our Self.


This is the sixth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Top 12 Relationship Skills

Click the box for the full list →    →    →

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #5 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.

The Purpose-Driven Life . . .



This is the fourth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

So far I’ve presented 2 of the 3 main ideas ~

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:

This week? 

3. How and Why do our Parts relate?

Plus ~

  • How on earth does any of this help my relationships?
  • And, who’s really in charge of all these Parts?



It can feel random when we first tune into our inner chatter and hear loads of contradictory messages, but each Part is absolutely acting purposefully, and when we come to see what their purpose is, everything shifts.

In any given moment our Parts are relating to one another, brokering how we show up. When things are going along reasonably well and there’s not too much external stress we can show up with access to our good feelings and (we hope) with the lid tightly shut on our bad feelings. Most of us walk a fine line between happiness and despair, or between confidence and embarrassment. We never know if something will trigger all those nasty feelings we’ve shoved away deep within, under the carpet of our inner basements.

Indeed, the purpose of our Parts has as much to do with managing our pain & shame as it does with the pursuit of happiness.

I’m going to paraphrase a bit here from Richard Schwartz (the founder IFS), and you’ll find much more about this in his book Internal Family Systems. We manage or inner system by organizing our Parts into three groups.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.18.52 AMMANAGERS – This group’s purpose is to be highly protective, strategic, and interested in controlling the environment to keep things safe. When things go well, these are the Parts we become most familiar with as important aspects of our personality. These are the “front men & women” who manage how we go through our days –  learning, growing, adapting, relating and scanning for danger. Freud would call these parts our Ego. Our managers can be balanced and kind, or forced by context and circumstances to be strict bullies within us.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.26.12 AM

EXILES – These are our shadow sides, exiled out of consciousness and out of the public eye because they’ve been tasked with holding onto (and burying deeply away) our pain, trauma, ugly beliefs, shame, unlovability, unworthiness, and not-good-enough-ness. Their purpose is to protect us from experiencing the emotional pain that has been inflicted upon us. When perfect little babies are born into an imperfect world, Exiles exist. Some of us have so much pain and suffering these highly vulnerable Parts can’t stay locked away and the person finds they have to relate to the world from a place of shame – which, paradoxically can be liberating and freeing (think AA meetings which begin with acknowledging something which, when hidden, we are ashamed of, but when shared, can be healed: “Hello, my name is X and I’m’ an alcoholic.”

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.23.42 AMFIREFIGHTERS – This third group behaves like, well, firefighters! They are our first responders when there’s danger that an exile’s pain might be coming up. Their job is to react powerfully and automatically to stifle or sooth our shadow feelings. So – if we’re jilted by a lover and it triggers our deeply exiled sense of “not good-enough-ness” that we took on from critical or abusive parents, our firefighters step in and douse the feeling with highly distracting and often very damaging and extreme alternative behaviors – like over drinking, over eating, obliterating the conscious mind with drugs, accessing blind rage, disassociating and more.

OK – you’ve got the 3 main ideas for January and the first of ~

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

#1  Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:
  3. This is not random. Our Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage our day to day, to exile our deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse our inner pain when it is triggered.

Want to play with this?

Watch movies and see if you can distinguish what parts are coming up for the characters. Here’s a fun one for you to get started. Below is a scene from Woody Allen’s movie Blue Jasmine.  It’s the story of a wealthy financier’s wife who tumbles down through the social strata as she looses touch with reality (inner and outer) as her anger, shame and drinking increasingly unhinge her.

In this scene, you may be able to detect her ~

  • MANAGERS – struggling to proactively maintain appearances with dignified work and options;
  • EXILES – the bursts of shame and unworthiness that pop out
  • FIREFIGHTERS – look for the background drinking and struggle to manage the shame


I’m answering this first of all with the wonderful Brene Brown quote at the top of this article:

If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything.

Until you become aware of the rich complexity of your own inner system it’s as if you’re flying blind in the dark, with no instruments.

As long as you are not hitting another plane and you’re not being buffeted too violently, you can get away with blind flight. But as soon as you hit turbulence and your wings tip, or you go into a spin, or you want to avoid what might be an obstacle ahead and you start randomly punching at buttons on your instrument panel, your progress, your impact, your position and your recovery are totally random!

If you want to be a competent pilot in all weather conditions, you need to learn everything you can about your airplane. What are all the moving parts of your airplane, how do they interact and which instruments communicate with them and how. What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

If you want to be competent in relationships through good times and bad, you need to learn everything you can about your self. What are all your moving Parts? How do they interact and how do you impact their behavior? What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

Hope that metaphor works for you. We’ll keep exploring and deepening this answer .


Great question. Come back in February when I’ll be exploring this issue each Wednesday.


If you’ve not encountered Brene Brown and her work on Shame, you might enjoy either of these two TED talks she gave:

1. The Power of Vulnerability

2.  Listening To Shame


Little Miss Sunshine & Family


This is the third article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list    →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

Last week we talked about learning to recognize this phenomenon by noticing how we are constantly buffeted by mixed emotions. And since we can all relate to having mixed emotions, it’s perhaps not such a leap to think of these differing perspectives as representing important-but-separate aspects of ourselves. As different Parts of ourselves:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.

From “There’s A Part of Me” by Jon Schwartz and Bill Brennan.

Taking it one step further, it can help to think of these Parts as being in relationship to one another. Like family. Some families work to balance the needs of individual members with the needs of the group. Some not so much. Some family members speak up loudly and often, some are silent. And all have their outliers and eccentrics like . . .  Olive Hoover’s family from the movie Little Miss Sunshine.

Let’s play with this for a moment. So the idea here is to imagine those conversations you hear in your head are taking place between distinct inner characters, or Parts-of-you, each with his or her own narrow view of what’s needed to keep you functioning and safe. Olive has a loud-mouthed self-medicating grandpa intent on his next “fix”; a brilliant but tortured uncle processing multiple losses; a teenage brother focused on getting into the air force academy and who refuses to talk until he does; an exhausted over-working mother desperate to keep the family eating, sleeping and safe; a self-obsessed father focused on his career as a motivational speaker, and, of course, Olive who is close to her grandpa and who wants the chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Yet, as you’ll see below,  “no one gets left behind.”

If you’ve never seen the film, do treat yourself. Meanwhile, whether you’ve seen it or not, take a peep at the official trailer. Even this 2.5 minute clip makes the point: we’re a mess of well-meaning contradictions striving to get along, both inside and outside the family.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This week?  Where do these “Parts-of-me” come from, and what do they do?

In brief, your Parts (which contribute to your overall personality) are a mash-up of your biology and your environment. You were born with the predisposition to thrive in two realms;

  • Your outer system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) other people;
  • Your inner system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) yourself.

Predisposed to get along?” I hear a Part of you sneer! What about Olive’s grandpa screaming about the chicken dinner? He seems to hate everybody. Or brother Frank wanting to kill himself. He seems to hate himself.

Those are fair observations but my guess is, both Grandpa and Frank weren’t born with these extreme perspectives. At birth they, and all of us, were perfect little babies born with everything they needed to contribute their unique way of being to the world.

Problem is, they (and all of us) were born into an imperfect world. They (and all of us) were born with unique abilities to feel and think and express  but, because they (and all of us) exist only in relationship to others (other people with feelings, needs and agendas in your outer realm and other Parts of you with feelings, needs and agendas in your inner realm) things don’t always go smoothly.

Parts are forced out of their valuable roles [ . . . ] by life experiences that can reorganize the system in unhealthy ways. A good analogy is an alcoholic family in which the children are forced into protective and stereotypic roles by the extreme dynamics of their family. While one finds similar sibling roles across alcoholic families (e.g., the scapegoat, mascot, lost child), one does not conclude that those roles represent the essence of those children. Instead, each child is unique and, once released from his or her role by intervention, can find interests and talents separate from the demands of the chaotic family.

While some people get understandably pushed into destructive roles because of trauma and abuse,

more often, it is a person’s family of origin values and interaction patterns that create internal polarizations which escalate over time and are played out in other relationships.

from Richard Schwartz’s overview of IFS.

Which leads me to talk about what Parts do?

Going back to the idea that we are intended to thrive or at least, to take it down a notch, to-get-along-well-enough-with-our own self and our family or chosen community, then each of these inner personalities has a role to play to help us thrive.

According to Richard Schwartz (in his book Internal Family Systems, page 19) human systems (both our inner system of Parts and our outer system of relationships) thrive to the extent they enjoy ~

1)  BALANCE It’s a fairness thing. Parts and families need their fair share of ~

  • influence on decision-making – they need to know their ideas count
  • access to the groups resources – they need “enough”
  • responsibility – they need to contribute
  • safety – they need boundaries that are neither too rigid nor too loose.

2)  HARMONY It’s a cooperative thing. Parts and families thrive when an effort is made to work cooperatively toward a common vision whilst recognizing each person has specific styles, gifts, ideas and abilities. Our Parts are tasked with helping create and maintain this harmony.

3)  LEADERSHIP It’s a “Who’s in charge?” thing. Parts and families need help to ~

  • Mediate disagreements and polarizations and manage the feedback they give one another;
  • Ensure all members are protected and cared for;
  • Allocate resources, responsibilities and influence fairly;
  • Provide the broad vision and perspective for the whole system;
  • Represent the system to other systems;
  • Honestly interpret feedback from other systems;

4)  DEVELOPMENT It’s a learning thing. We may be born with all these wonderfully sensitive Parts designed to help us thrive with balance, harmony and leadership but, as I noted up top, perfect babies are born into an imperfect world. Our Parts have to grow and mature yet all of us to some extent, have parts who get stuck. They hold on to old beliefs and fears or, through trauma, freeze in place.

This is a lot for one week. But bottom line, you’ll be ahead of the game in your relationships if you can recognize that in any given moment ~

  1. You’ve got mixed emotions – you’re a mash-up of your biology and environment
  2. Your mixed emotions are expressed through your own inner family of Parts – and each Part is trying to keep your inner and outer worlds more or less balanced, harmonious, well-led and adaptable.


  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store.


Bring to mind a dilemma you are having. A “should I do this or that” sort of dilemma. This is a terrific way to see your inner family at work. You are having a dilemma because two Parts of you are polarized. It’s like watching an inner ping-pong match – right?

  • Your I want to be happy Part says “Quit your job – you’re miserable!” and
  • Your I want to be secure Part says “You’ll never find another job. You’ll be destitute in two months. What are you even thinking!”

And some other Part is striving to find the wisdom of Solomon and be The Decider.

Now what you do about all of this is another article. But if you can at least find these Parts, you’ll be several important steps along the way to resolving the impasse.

  • How do these Parts relate to one another?
  • Who’s really in charge of all these Parts?
  • And how on earth does any of this help my relationships?

Part of me wants . .

. . . to finish writing this article, while another part of me really wants to go skiing.

Welcome to a conversation about mixed emotions. This is the second in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

#1 ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Whether or not you’ve ever met Mork from Mork and Mindy (an American sit-com which ran from 1978-1982 about a space alien, played by Robin Williams, who’d been dispatched from his planet Ork to observe human behavior) you might appreciate what a great job Mork does of observing his own inner chaos. See if you can relate ~

Mork’s a mess and we love him for it. No matter what organized, calm, more-Mindy-like demeanor we might present on the outside, our insides can be quite different. In there, we’re a slowly simmering soup of sentiment – and that’s on good days. On bad days when we blow it, or someone blows it with us, that low simmer steams into a rolling boil and the inner chaos spills out all over.

You’ve seen it, right?

  • You’ve done what you consider to be good work and then someone gives you “feedback.” Suddenly your confidence vaporizes and you feel as capable as a mole on a unicycle.
  • Your teenager is late home. Your catastrophizing worrywart is about to call the hospital when you hear the car pull into the garage. In an instant your worry is engulfed by a volcano of rage and despite that slight whisper you hear back-stage to “Listen first!” you explode through the door like a banshee.
  • Your heart is full of love and ready to share. Candles. Mood music. Surprise dinner-for-two in the oven. Your phone bleeps for an incoming text: “Running late. Don’t wait up.” Poof! Your secure lover is sucker-punched and replaced by a green-eyed jealous, suspicious gut-chewing-monster.
  • And how about those inner tug-o-wars between the Part of you who craves cake after dinner and that Part who champions height-weight proportionality? Or between your straight-laced Banker who advises putting 10% of your income away each month and your Zesty “Carpe Diem” who’s just put a deposit down on that Hot Air balloon ride?
  • Or, much harder, the Part who wants to leave the marriage and never come back and that other Part, who is afraid of being alone and worries there’s no one better out there?

~ There’s not just one YOU ~

Have you noticed that your personality is more multicolored than monochrome?

That nothing is as simple as it seems?

Even when, to expand upon an example from the above list, you may feel confident about a piece of work, that confidence was probably a negotiated alliance between your ~

  • WORDY PART who wrote and wrote and over wrote
  • EDITOR who sliced through the word count
  • RESEARCHER who can’t stand unsubstantiated claims
  • POET who delivered gorgeous prose
  • TEAM PLAYER who sought buy-in from all the necessary stake-holders

and that sense of incapacity following the “feedback” was probably not just one flavor but a blend of your inner ~

  • CRITIC who warned you all along this was rubbish
  • PERFECTIONIST who actually agreed with the feedback you received
  • INSECURE teen who craves the positive attention of others
  • NAY SAYER who always warns you against risk-taking.

As I said, we’re often a mess on the inside. But the truth is, this is actually very good news! This is news-we-can-use, if we’d only learn how.

I’ve come to understand myself more clearly than ever before thanks to the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and the model he developed called Internal Family Systems (IFS). As a brief intro I’m quoting from a short, accessible book* called There’s A Part of Me by Jon Schwartz (the founder’s brother) and Bill Brennen.

Normally, our parts work extremely well together. They coordinate, calculate, weigh in, and contribute to every decision we make, and they help us navigate a complex and sophisticated world. When they don’t work together, we experience conflict. As we will examine in this book, ironically it is mainly the parts of ourselves that want to protect us from potential harm that tend to cause emotional upset in our lives. We will look at situations in which our parts are in conflict, learn how we can recognize when this happens, and understand what we can do about it. (page 8)

Now this is useful stuff. Here’s a model which normalizes the chaos and offers a way into it, and then through it, that makes sense to me.

They go on to share their 3 main ideas about Parts:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.


  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store..


Tune in to yourself. Can you identify a conversation you’re having in your head and notice the different perspectives? Or, have you noticed that you show up one way with this person, and another way with that? What Parts are those? Is there already a familiar set of thoughts and beliefs that tend to pop up, unbidden? A critical voice, a fearful gut, a vulnerable heart, or a Part who whisks you into some nice numbing behaviors like mindless eating, smoking, drinking, spending? Just be present with awareness, rather than judgment.


January 21st  – building upon a great question from a reader’s comment to me in an email about the idea of Parts. Thanks SS.

The “angry you,” the “mean you,” the “gentle, loving you.”  Where do they come from?  From experiences we have had, from people and situations we’ve been in – to an unholy degree, from our parents and the “attachment” experience of our early years: What?

Featured Image (above)

Robin Williams as Mork. Still missing his fire on the planet.