No Bad Parts
I believe it was Maya Angelou who said if you can’t find the book you want to read, write it yourself. At the time I heard her (or someone) say that, I was wanting to have a book about resilience that I could hand my clients and say, “Here, this will be really helpful.” I didn’t know of such a book at the time, so I did write my own. That was the catalyst for writing Bouncing Back, and it’s still a book I feel comfortable recommending to clients, and it still is a book that’s really helpful.
Here’s another book I feel quite sure about recommending to clients, to anyone who is looking to heal into a true self-acceptance and well-being: No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model. Published just a week ago, I’ve already recommended it to half a dozen clients and have underlined and earmarked it myself.
The premise of Dick’s work has always been that we all have multiple “parts” or facets of our personalies thay make up who we are and very powerfully, often unconsciously, determine our behaviors in response to other people and to life events. For 40 years he has taught clinicians like me to help clients identify, work with, and be-friend those parts, seeing that parts, when they are de-coupled from their defenses against pain, suffering and trauma, are valuable messengers. “From triggers to trailhead.” Dialoguing with these inner parts reframes them as valuable resources of insight and wisdom.
This is his first book for regular folks, and it’s so very easy to understand and implement the practices. No Bad Parts is full of people’s real stories, brief transcripts of Dick’s work with them, and excellent exercises you can practice on your own, where you learn to speak for your parts rather than from your parts. A sample exercise below; well worth looking into the rest.
Besides the personal burdens that parts carry from the attachment conditioning and personal traumas we are already familiar with, Dick also explores “legacy burdens” from experiencing our culture’s racism, patriarchy, individualism, and materialism. His philosophy deftly integrates understandings of our true nature or divine essence from Christian and Eastern contemplative traditions with Western psychotherapy’s notions self-actualization and of healing our parts into an authentic whole self.
Part 2 explores Dick’s principles of Self-leadership – the sense of spaciousness, well-being, enoughness, and energy, that we all naturally experience when the parts of our internal family have been listened to, welcomed, respected and integrated into the wholeness of our inner psychological system – that we all innately have 8 capacities of an authentic whole Self: curiosity, calm, confidence, compassion, creativity, clarity, courage, connectedness that can safely and skillfully hold all of our interactions with our parts, our larger Self, and the larger SELF in the larger world.
In my own 25 years of helping clients dialogue with parts that they are disdainful, afraid, or ashamed of, I have found the IFS model powerfully transformative because it profoundly shifts how a person thinks and feels and relates to those parts. This book is less than 200 pages; it can evoke those powerful shifts for you as well.
This exercise, the first in the book, is very illustrative of the dozen+ other exercises in the book, even as they get more and more sophisticated.
EXERCISE: Getting to Know a Protector
Take a second and get comfortable. Set up like you would if you were going to meditate. If it helps you to take deep breaths, then do that.
Now I invite you to do a scan of your body and your mind, noting in particular any thoughts, emotions, sensations, or impulses that stand out. So far, it’s not unlike mindfulness practice, where you’re just noticing what’s there and separating from it a little bit.
As you do that, see if one of those emotions, thoughts, sensations, or impulses is calling to you – seems to want your attention. If so, then try to focus on it exclusively for a minute and see if you can notice where it seems to be located in your body or around your body.
As you notice it, notice how you feel toward it, By that I mean, do you dislike it? Does it annoy you? Are you afraid of it? Do you want to get rid of it? Do you depend on it? So we’re just noticing that you have a relationship with this thought, emotion, sensation, or impulse. If you feel anything besides a kind of openness or curiosity toward it, then ask the parts of you that might not like it or are afraid of it or have any other extreme feeling about it to just relax inside and give you a little space to get to know it without an attitude.
If you can’t get to that curious place, that’s okay. You could spend the time talking to the parts of you that don’t want to relax their fears about letting you actually interact with the target emotions, though, sensation, or impulse.
But if you can get into that mindfully curious place relative to the target, then it is safe to begin to interact with it. That may feel a bit odd to you at this point, but just give it a try. And by that I mean, as you focus on this emotion or impulse or thought or sensation and you notice it in this place in your body, ask it if there’s something it wants you to know and then wait for an answer. Don’t think of the answer, so any thinking parts can relax too. Just wait silently with your focus on that place in your body until an answer comes and if nothing comes, that’s okay too.
If you get an answer, then as a follow-up you can ask what it’s afraid would happen if it didn’t do this inside of you. What’s it afraid would happen if it didn’t do what it does? And if it answers that question, then you probably learned something about how it’s trying to protect you. If that’s true, then see if it’s possible to extend some appreciation to it for at least trying to keep you safe and see how it reacts to your appreciation. Then ask this part of you what it needs from you in the future.
When the time feels right, shift your focus back to the outside world and notice more of your surroundings, but also thank your parts for whatever they allowed you to do and let them know that this isn’t their last chance to have a conversation with you, because you plan to get to know them even more.
And here’s the link to a more advanced practice of working with a more challenging protector, a 10-minute meditation guided by Richard Schwartz.
The Internal Family Systems model is one of the most innovative, intuitive, comprehensive, and transformational therapies to have emerged in the present century.
– Gabor Mate, M.D., author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction