Tag Archives: Richard Schwartz

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

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 2.48.10 PM

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!

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 5.38.41 PM

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.

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.

How To Silence Your Inner Critic #2

You met my house mates (the yammering inner voices) here.

Then Colin (who’d silenced his inner critics and loved himself down a mountain) here.

Today I’ll share what I learned from Colin about loving oneself.

So, how to silence one’s inner critic (task-master, slob, pessimist, skeptic, saboteur et al)?

The way Colin described it to me I figured I needed to chunk things down into five steps so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and give up before I started. Plus, you know I love steps, right!

  1. Listen
  2. Name
  3. Understand
  4. Thank
  5. Lead

Step 1  LISTEN

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.04.24 PMColin told me that for years he’d been trying to ignore the inner chatter.  The messages all seemed so mean, random, relentless and contradictory it never occurred to him to listen to the content.

However – he told me  – one weekend after a particularly horrendous bout of inner self-flagellation, a light bulb went off.


“I’m just like my Ex!” he told me.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.08.02 PM “Yes, it used to drive me nuts. Elaine was a nice girl but she hated herself too. She’d get going on something she hated, like her hair. She’d moan about how thin and straight it was and then, right when I’d be thinking of something OK about her hair she’d skip to bashing her hips: too big. Her breasts: too small. Her chin: too pointy. Her career: too dull. Her family: too unsupportive. And so on. She’d never stop anywhere long enough in her spiral of self-loathing for me to help her figure out if she wanted to do anything about all of this.  She’d end up with me agreeing with her – she was hopelessly and forever flawed.”

“And this connects to your issue how, now?” I asked.

“I’ve played this inner game of pass-the-parcel. As soon as one negative thought comes in and stings, I’ll nudge it out-of-the-way with another nasty thought; but just nasty in a different way. Like Elaine would bash her hair like I bash my comments in a meeting. But before I can really address how dumb I was in that meeting, I’ve got another voice telling me it’s not that I’m dumb, it’s that I’m not ambitious enough. I should be in a whole different level of work. And then when I think that, another voice says I’ll never amount to anything and should bag all this and wash dishes…”

“So, I got that I needed to be not like Elaine.

“And the best way to be not like Elaine that I could think of was to slow down the messages and let myself listen to them before the next one came in.”

So Colin told me he decided to slow things down and listen to the messages – even though they were painful. He had no idea if it would help, but at least it was something different and totally the opposite of what he had been doing unsuccessfully all along.

He said he started letting each thought run its course.  They stayed mean, random, relentless and contradictory but he made sure he really understood what each voice was saying.

As he did this, he began to notice different themes. Different voices, if you will. Almost as though there were different people inside with entirely different points to make. So he decided to name them.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.13.03 PMStep 2  NAME THE VOICES

Colin said this part was fun!

In order to give these voices names, he had to step back and listen to the content with a view to identifying what sort of person would say such a thing.Humm… now he was curious.


Was this the voice of a ~

  • pessimist
  • lazy slob
  • critic
  • sergeant major
  • jester
  • saint
  • or sinner?

Colin told me first he identified these sorts of characteristics and then he gave them  names.

Let’s look at my inner community that day, climbing the Sun Valley hills.


Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.19.12 PMVoice 1  [Roaring…]

Can’t you pick up the pace. Look, Mark’s been breaking trail for ages.  You’re such a mooch… step it up there

Maybe a sergeant major.   [Or bossy fitness coach?]



Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.29.11 PMVoice 2  “ This is hard work. It’s OK to slow things down. Maybe call for another chocolate break

Definitely a slob.   [Maybe just someone who is tired?]

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.26.45 PM



Voice 3  “I should have opted to stay home. I’m in a filthy mood right now. None of this snow is going to be any good by the time we turn around anyway

Whiny victim.   [Maybe someone who recognizes I love to be home alone?]


Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.32.25 PM

Voice 4  “And you’ll be last down the hill as well as up. You’ll fall the whole way down and be an utter disgrace as usual. How long have you been learning how to ski now? When are you going to get it down – eh?”

Sounds like the mum who screams at her kid “You get any closer to the fire and you’ll get burned. Don’t touch the knife, you’ll get cut.” that sort of energy. So maybe I’ll think of this as deeply ineffective Mother.   [Maybe someone who loves me but sure expresses it in an off-putting way?]

I went one step farther here – by linking my inner folks to public or well-known fictional characters so I could describe them to other people more vividly.


Colin showed me how – as he listened to his inner voices and could identify the sort of person who might say these things to him – he was able to discern a potential positive spin in each message. You can probably see it above in the secondary explanations I give in the [brackets].

Now, having done these voices the courtesy of listening to them, identifying their perspective and discerning a positive flip-side to their messages, he had to grant that they each had a decent point: they just made their points appallingly!

In my case let’s see once more how I could understand a positive intent from each message.

Voice 1/ Sergeant Major / Fitness Coach

Says  “Can’t you pick up the pace. Look, Mark’s been breaking trail for ages.  You’re such a mooch… step it up there

Positive Intent could be   “Keep this up. You’re doing well. Be inspired by Mark and keep on trucking.”

Voice 2/ Slob / Tired Person

Says  “ This is hard work. It’s OK to slow things down. Maybe call for another chocolate break

Positive Intent could be   “Boy this is hard. Check your energy – do you need anything?”

Voice 3 / Whiny Victim / Voice of Solitude

Says   “I should have opted to stay home. I’m in a filthy mood right now. None of this snow is going to be any good by the time we turn around anyway

Positive Intent could be   “Yes, you had mixed feelings about how to spend this day. Part of you wishes you were home in a deliciously quiet cabin with no agenda right now, right?”

Voice 4 / Ineffective Mum / Caring Mum

Says   “And you’ll be last down the hill as well as up. You’ll fall the whole way down and be an utter disgrace as usual. How long have you been learning how to ski now? When are you going to get it down – eh?”

Positive Intent could be    “Boy I see how hard it has been for you to learn how to do these telemark turns. You worry that your friends will judge that you should be better at this already. I just worry you’ll judge yourself harshly and get your feelings hurt.”

OK – I understood this.

That I needed to understand the voices.

Step 4 – THANK THEMScreen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.38.54 PM

  • Really?
  • Yup.

Colin said that once the negative voice was tamed by a name, and understood for the possibility of deeper, kind intentions he was grateful for the message.

The voices really were trying to help.

And that perspective changed everything.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 2.42.23 PM


Once you’ve come to recognize your inner perspectives – listened to them, named them, understood them and appreciated their positive intent – you get to experience being the leader. You get to invite the inner characters to come forward and share their presence with you when you are ready for them. If you are trying to be brave, you invite your inner coward to step back and focus on your inner Sargent Major (for example)! And you can certainly coach them to share their points of view with more kindness.

I’ll talk more about the implications of all this tomorrow – for they are huge.

But if indeed you can begin to see yourself as the one who watches these inner characters, or who listens to these inner voices, you may find yourself asking ~

  • Who is the One watching?
  • Who is the One listening?

the answer to which leads us directly toward the path of self discovery.


I am sure some readers will be appalled at the idea of listening to these inner voices. What if they are telling you to hurt yourself or others? What if these voices are urging to you cut, binge, purge?

I have wondered about that myself, until I recently came upon the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and the therapeutic work he terms Inner Family Systems.

He came upon ideas like Colin’s and after years of research, and successful work with clients, he is convinced we are all profoundly good at our core. He believes these self-generated voices (he calls them parts) are motivated by positive intent.  I’ll be writing more about these ideas – I’m hooked!