Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today I speak with Jay Earley. Jay Earley is a transformational psychologist, group leader, psychotherapist, teacher, and theorist. He’s a specialist in Internal Family Systems therapy (or IFS) and is the author of numerous books. He teaches a variety of classes and workshops applying IFS to specific psychological issues such as procrastination, communication, relationships, and the Inner Critic. With Sounds True, Jay has released an audio learning series called Self Therapy: Transform Stuck Parts of Yourself into Inner Resources of Strength, Love, and Freedom, and also a new book with coauthor Bonnie Weiss, Freedom from Your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Jay and I spoke about the concept of the Self as it is understood in IFS and how we can learn to relate to different parts from the perspective of our true self. We also talked about the role of what is known in IFS as “Protectors,” and the discovery inside of ourselves of certain frozen parts that are not in our consciousness, which are known in IFS as “Exiles.” We also talked about how to work, heal, and transform these exiled parts of ourselves and how these exiled parts can actually unburden themselves from whatever they are carrying. Here’s my conversation with Jay Earley.
Jay, I’d love to know here at the outset if you could give us an overview—and I know, in a way, that’s a big thing to ask—but just [a] big brushstroke overview of Internal Family Systems therapy for people who aren’t familiar with it.
Jay Earley: OK. So, the basic idea is that we all have different parts of ourselves. There are some famous parts like “The Inner Critic” or “The Inner Child,” and IFS—Internal Family Systems therapy—has taken this to a very sophisticated level. If you actually go inside and start asking people to access their different parts and get to know them, you really discover that we all have a wide variety of different parts in different roles—some of which are healthy roles for us, some of which are problematic for us.
So, IFS has developed a pretty sophisticated, step-by-step method for helping people to work with their parts. A key element of that is recognizing that—in addition to the different parts—we all have what IFS calls “The Self,” which you can think of as your “core self” or your “spiritual center.” It’s the place of compassion, open curiosity, connectedness, equanimity. So it’s similar to many of the goals of many of the spiritual traditions. Except, the goal is not to be enlightened in that sense. It’s more like an aspect of ourselves that can be pretty easily accessed, for most people. Not necessarily in the extreme enlightened version of it, but a version of the self that’s “enough there” that—the Self is actually the agent of healing in IFS. That’s a key component of it. The therapist is not—and of course, the therapist is crucial to the process. But the therapist is not the agent of healing, the Self is. That’s one of the reasons [why] IFS lends itself so well to being done on your own. That’s a lot of what I’ve done: to help people learn how to do it on their own.
IFS helps someone to access Self and from there to relate to one of the parts that’s causing problems in the person’s life. To get to know that part from Self; to develop a relationship between the Self the part; and, to go through a series of healing steps based on that trusting relationship that gets developed between the Self and the part so that the part actually—and this involves accessing childhood origins and a bunch of other stuff . Through the IFS process and its connection with the self, [the part] gets to unburden the pain, the negative beliefs, the protective defenses that it’s been carrying and become its true self, so that it can take on a healthy role in the person’s psyche.
TS: OK now, there’s a lot that you’re saying here, Jay, so I’m going to tease out a few aspects. Would you say that the goal in IFS is to reside in the Self, or to know how to return to the Self? How would you describe the goal?
JE: The goal in IFS is—see, when the parts become transformed, they don’t just dissolve into the Self. They have their own healthy roles. They might have a creative part or a part that’s really good at being intimate with other people or things like that. So, the goal is for the parts to be transformed into healthy roles and for each of the parts to trust the Self to be the leader for the internal system. And this is not done in a highly conscious, deliberate form.
In the ideal situation, the Self is in charge. The Self decides how you’re going to respond, how you’re going to interact with people, how you’re going to interact in various situations in your life. Then, it calls on your different healthy parts to bring in whatever healthy capacities they have that are needed in whatever situation you’re in.
TS: If someone is listening to this and they’re saying, “OK, I just want to have a litmus test. How do I know if I’m even experiencing this capital-S ‘Self?’ How would I know?” How would the listener know?
JE: Well, let me tell you how an IFS client knows—which is not quite the same thing, but it will lead us in the right direction. This is one of the ingenious things that Dick Schwartz—and by the way, Richard Schwartz is the person who developed IFS. I didn’t develop IFS. I was trained by him. One of the things that he figured out was that you can basically—if you’re trying to work with a part, one of the easy ways to tell whether you’re in Self or not with respect to that part is to ask yourself, “How do I feel toward that part? Do I feel openly curious about it? Do I feel parts in pain? Do I feel compassion for the part’s pain?” Or, “Do I feel judgmental, like I want to get rid of that part? Or do I feel angry at it? Or do I feel like I want that part to change really quickly?” If any of those are true, you’re not in Self. That’s a kind of easy way to tell—when you’re trying to work with any given part—whether you’re in Self or not.
TS: OK. Of course, in so many Eastern traditions there’s this idea that there is no “solid sense of self.” And here we’re talking about this capital-S Self in a way that it’s an entity of some kind. Can you help me understand that paradox? We look inside ourselves and can’t really find something that’s solid, lasting, that doesn’t change—and yet, we’re talking about a capital-S Self.
JE: Well, the way the Self is understood in IFS is in very broad terms. If you’re thinking in Buddhist terms, you can think of the Self as equivalent to Buddha nature. So it’s not so much that it’s a thing as that it’s more of a—one way to look at it, in IFS terms, is that the Self is who you naturally are if you are not taken over by any parts in extreme roles.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that—I mean, Dick Schwartz has identified eight qualities of Self: compassion, curiosity, calmness, so on. What I’ve noticed is that when I’m in Self or a client is in Self, we’re not always in the same place. I might be in Self and really be full of compassion one day. Another day, my Self might be characterized by feeling very grounded and calm. And another day, it might be just really open curiosity. So, it’s not so much a thing as it is [just sort of] a way of describing where we are when are sort of residing in our spiritual center.
Although, that sounds like a single place. It’s not. So, that’s probably not a good way to say it.
So, when we’re just being naturally who we are without conditioned ways of being is maybe a better way [of saying it].
TS: You know, I think I get a sense of it as you’re speaking—this calm, compassionate, open, curious way of being and relating to whatever is coming up. Now, you mentioned that part of your work has been to develop “self therapy”—the idea that you can help people even without a therapist in the room. [To] learn to be more in this capital-S Self and then relate to their parts. How do you help people, first of all, [to] become more and more grounded in this true Self?
JE: Basically, what I’ve helped to do is to teach people the IFS process. The IFS process basically starts with helping people to get into Self and also to notice when they fall out of Self.
Of course, you can do many of the more traditional spiritual things. You can meditate. You can do various spiritual practices and those will definitely help you to be in Self. In fact, some IFS therapists start every session with a short meditation for their clients. That’s certainly a useful thing to do; it’s one of the things I do in my classes and in this Web application that I’m developing. I have guided meditations to help people get into Self.
The more fundamental way of doing that in IFS is very interesting. First, you check to see what your attitude is toward the part that you’re intending to work with. Let’s suppose that you check and you discover that you’re feeling—by the way, usually the parts that we intend to work with are the parts that are causing us trouble. So, it’s not surprising that we might feel judgmental toward them—like if there’s a part of me that’s very shy and makes it hard for me to connect with people. I might feel judgmental toward that shy part. I might feel like I want to get rid of it. Or if I have an Inner Critic that’s making my life miserable, I might be really angry at the Inner Critic. So, there’s a sort of natural response to parts of ourselves that are problematic, which are the parts we tend to focus on in therapy.
However, those responses are not coming from Self. So, if I check and realize that I am feeling judgmental toward this part that I want to work with, that first tells me that I am not in Self. Then, it also lets me know that there’s another part there—the judgmental part—the part that feels judgmental toward the shy part, the Inner Critic, or whatever part I’m trying to work with. So, what I can do is ask that judgmental part—let’s say, in this case—if it would be willing to step aside for this session at least so that I can relate to the part that I’m wanting to work with in a more open place—which is Self.
That’s the first step. Notice that we’re asking the part to step aside. We’re not telling it. IFS does not coerce parts. It doesn’t get into fights with parts. It’s [very open].
So you ask the part, “Would you be willing to step aside?” and you usually give it a reason. Like, “If you’re willing to step aside, I can engage in a more open way with this part and that’ll help the part to change.” If the judgmental part—in this case—agrees, then I’m probably more likely to be in Self. If it doesn’t agree, then I ask it, “Well, what are you afraid would happen if you stepped aside?” The part might say, “Well, I’m afraid that this part is going to take over and do bad things—is going to hurt you or get you in trouble.” Then, I can usually reassure it—whatever it’s afraid of, I can reassure it that isn’t going to happen.
That’s the kind of process that we use. That’s only half of it, because the other half is that I may not be in Self because I’m blended with the part that I’m wanting to work with. If I’m wanting to work with a shy part, for example, maybe I’m feeling really shy at that moment. So, I’m not in Self because I am the shy part right then. If that happens, I ask the shy part if it would be willing to separate from me. It’s the same sort of thing—you ask the part.
That’s the primary way that IFS helps people to get into Self—by identifying the parts that are in the way and asking those parts to separate or step aside or make room for the Self to be there.
TS: Are there an unlimited number of parts? Like, “There are a thousand possible parts!” or, “This person has a part I’ve never even conceived of!” Some part [where] they think they have an alien part. Does it just go on endlessly?
JE: In one sense, yes, because every part is unique. Just like every person is unique. Is there an endless number of people? Well, yes. And there’s an endless number of parts. I mean, of course you can put parts into categories. And I’ve actually done that. I’ve developed a whole system that I call “The Pattern System,” which is a way of categorizing parts, understanding the different types of parts, and how they interact with each other. That doesn’t mean that every part that’s in the same category is the same. Each part is unique. One of the beauties of IFS—unlike some other forms of psychology or therapy, which have theories that try to tell you exactly what this kind of defense is or that kind of part is—[is that] encourages people to get to know each of their part as unique beings, in some sense. [IFS encourages people to] find out exactly who this part is and what it feels and what it’s afraid of and why it does what it does.
So, I guess that’s an answer to your question.
TS: At the end of my commitment and process with IFS therapy—if I decided to really go through it—I would have a knowledge [of] and working relationship with Self? And there would be these positive parts in me? What would be my relationship to the negative or difficult parts in me? You mentioned the judgmental part or the critical part. How would I relate to that part?
JE: Let me give you two answers to that. One is that, ideally, the parts in negative roles would be transformed.
Let me just distinguish: there are two main categories of parts in IFS—Protectors and Exiles. Protectors are equivalent to what are typically called “defenses.” They try to protect us from feeling pain; they try to defend us from being harmed by other people or hurt by other people. The Exiles are young, child parts that are carrying pain, usually from childhood. The Protectors are actually protecting us against the pain of the Exiles, or trying to protect the Exiles from being hurt in the world.
Ideally, the IFS process is designed to heal the Exiles so that they’re no longer carrying pain or negative beliefs, and can become healthy parts. Therefore, the Protectors don’t need to do their roles, because they don’t have to protect against the Exiles and they can let go of their defensive roles—and also, to play a healthy role in the system. So that’s one answer to your question.
Now, the other answer, of course, is that nothing’s perfect. [Laughs] We all still have some parts that are at least somewhat in problematic roles. So how do we relate to those parts? Ideally, we relate to them from Self. Which means that we’re curious about them; we feel compassion for their pain or for their attempts to defend us against pain. We may negotiate with them and say, “You know, you don’t really need do this defensive [thing].” If I have a part that’s judgmental or I have a part that withdraws or a part that tries to please people—or something like that—we can negotiate with that part and say, “Right now, you’re probably about to jump in this situation I’m in because you think it’s dangerous and you think that you need one of these things. But, it’s actually not. You think it’s dangerous because it was dangerous in childhood, but it’s not now. So, maybe you can just trust me in Self to handle this situation and you don’t have to jump in and judge people or please people or withdraw or go into your head or whatever it is you do.”
That’s the ideal way to relate to parts—with compassion and caring, and also negotiating with them to see if they’ll trust the Self to take the lead in the situations where these parts might ordinarily have.
TS: I’m wondering if you could offer a concrete example in transforming a negative part. Be specific with what part, perhaps, has been exiled, the role of the Protector, and how that transformation process might unfold. Maybe an example that you’ve found to be pretty common in people you’ve worked with.
JE: Sure. Well, let’s take procrastination. Let’s say someone tends to procrastinate and there’s a Protector that may not even be—at first—the person may not even be aware that they have a part that’s procrastinating. All they know is that they’re not they’re not getting something done that they need to get done. But if they go inside and start exploring, they’ll discover that there’s actually a part that doesn’t want them to do it. So, then they might access Self and get to know that part, and have a conversation with it. [They] say, “OK, I see that you tend to get me distracted or keep me from doing this project I’m trying to do. What are you afraid would happen if you let me do this? What are you trying to accomplish by keeping me from doing this?” The part might say, “Well, I’m afraid that if you start doing this project, you’re going to get judged. People are going to tell you that you’re stupid and that you’re no good. I don’t want that to happen, so I don’t want you to do the project.”
So, you notice that this part is not thinking very clearly. [Laughs] Some parts have some wisdom beneath their extreme roles and some don’t. But often, they don’t really think totally clearly about what they’re doing. All they know is, “Oh my God! I don’t want you to get judged and feel bad—so no, we’re not even going to try something where you might get judged.”
You get to know the part and you find out more about that. “OK, so if I got judged, what are you afraid of?” “Well, I’m afraid you would feel really bad about yourself or you’d feel ashamed.” What happens is, you can end up appreciating the part. Not because it’s making you procrastinate—but appreciating that this part is actually trying to protect you from something it thinks is dangerous. Your appreciation helps the part to trust you in Self. “Ah, I see—this person actually gets what I’m doing.”
There’s a relaxation to begin with—this part feel doesn’t feel such an extreme need to do its role, because it realizes that there’s a Self there and the Self understands it. But that’s only the first part.
So this part is procrastinating because it’s worried that you’ll be judged and you’ll feel bad about yourself or ashamed of yourself. That points you to the Exile. What that means is that there’s an Exile that feels bad about yourself and feels ashamed. This procrastinating Protector is trying to protect you from feeling the pain of that Exile—or protect that Exile from getting triggered to feel that pain.
You ask the Protector if it’ll give you permission to work with the Exile. You get to know the Exile—and this is usually a young part, a child part. You find out what happened to it when you were young to make it feel bad about itself. Probably, it got judged. So, you ask it to show you scenes of when that happened and how it made that part feel—to the extent that the part really feels that you understand. (By the way, the “you” I’m talking about is Self).
So, you do that until the part really understands [and] feels that you really understand what it went through as a child. Then, you enter that scene in your imagination—you enter that childhood scene—and do some healing for the part. Protect it from being judged; or reassure it that it’s not stupid or that you care about it; or take it out of that scene. Because, of course, the part really isn’t in that scene anymore. That scene is 30, 40, 50 years ago. You can take it out of that scene and bring it into your current life or bring it into your heart.
Ultimately, the final step is called “unburdening.” The shame or bad feeling about the Self that this part is carrying is called a “burden” in IFS. The understanding is that that’s not who the part really is—that’s just a burden the part is carrying. And so, it can be released. There’s an internal ritual in IFS where the part releases the burden to light, as if washed away by water—there’s a bunch of different options. But it basically releases its burdens of shame, bad feelings, and so on, and allows the part to attain its natural state of curiosity, openness, self-esteem, relaxation, or whatever it might be.
Then you go back to the procrastination part and say, “Hey! See what happened? This Exile is no longer in pain. It’s no longer in danger. [If] someone judges me, it won’t be that big a deal anymore because the part’s been healed. It’s not carrying this shame anymore. Do you still feel like you need to procrastinate?” And the Protector will say, “No, I guess I don’t.”
TS: Let’s go into the example a little bit more, because I was completely with you with the procrastination protecting me from judgment and failure and all of that. What do you think—again, just working perhaps as a sort of composite from the many clients you’ve worked with—is a common example? Can you help me understand more what might have happened to create the Exile? What would be a specific example from someone’s childhood that would create this exiled part?
JE: Let’s say, as a child you were having difficulty with your homework. And so, your father tried to help you and—for whatever reason—you didn’t get it right away and he got angry and yelled at you. This happened over and over again. So, that’s an example of something that might happen that would produce an Exile that felt ashamed and incompetent.
TS: Just the word “Exile,” I find extremely heavy. It’s a very strong word.
JE: The reason they’re called “Exiles” is because they are typically exiled from our consciousness. We usually don’t realize—unless you’ve done work on yourself and you’ve become aware of these things. You know, somebody who’s procrastinating may not even be aware of the Protector. But usually, we are aware of our Protectors. If we get angry, we’re aware of it. If we get judgmental, we’re aware of it. If we’re a people-pleaser, we’re usually aware of it. But we often have no awareness of the underlying pain—the underlying Exile—that’s being protected by these various activities. Because it’s been exiled—literally—from our consciousness. So, that’s why they’re called Exiles.
TS: How does IFS help me become aware of these exiled parts? How do I start bringing them into consciousness? I’m curious about that. And also, are they sort of “frozen in time” from when I was eight years old? And they’re just sitting there [as a] frozen solid, exiled part of me?
JE: They’re pretty frozen, at least to a certain extent. They believe that they’re back in that original childhood situation—with the father yelling at them about the homework.
Now, that’s not strictly true—they also may be, paradoxically, be aware of what’s going on in your current life too. By the way, [many of] the Protectors are also frozen in time. It’s true of all parts that are in extreme roles. One of the things we’ll sometimes do is ask a Protector, “How old do you think I am?” and the Protector will say, “Three years old,” because it thinks you’re the Exile. [Laughs]
So, yes, they’re stuck in time. And what was the other thing you asked? Oh, I know—how do you get in touch with the Exiles? How do you access them? That’s what you asked.
There’s a couple ways. Sometimes, the Protector will show you the Exile if you ask it, because it actually knows what Exile it’s protecting. Sometimes, the Exile will actually appear as you’re working with the Protector . Sometimes, the feelings of the Exile will actually come up and you actually feel—in this case—the shame or the negative feeling. Sometimes, you’ll actually get an image of the Exile behind the Protector.
But, the other thing is just by asking the Protector what it’s afraid of, it usually tells you. If it says, “I’m afraid you’re going to be judged and you’re going to feel shame,” then you know that there’s an Exile that feels shame. Usually, that’s enough. If I just point that out to a client—that there must be an Exile that feels shame and ask them to access that, they usually don’t have that much trouble, if they’ve gotten that far.
TS: I’m wondering, Jay, if you could share an example from your own work with yourself, on a Protector and an Exile, the unburdening process, and how that worked for you.
JE: Sure—let’s see if I can remember. Let’s see: One Exile that I worked with quite a few times is an Exile who felt deprived. I was bottle fed and schedule fed as an infant. So I was hungry a lot—as anybody was who was treated that way—and I also didn’t get a lot of physical affection from my mother. So I have an Exile who feels deprived of food, love, and physical touch.
Part of my work with that Exile has been for me to love it, to hold it, to stroke it, to let it know that I love it through words and just through my heart. When I was working with an IFS therapist, there were also a couple sessions where I kind of evoked an ideal mother figure, who mothered the Exile. That was also part of how it worked. Now, that’s not the unburdening step—that’s what I call “the re-parenting step.” It’s an earlier step in the process.
I don’t remember exactly how the unburdening went, but it would probably—that Exile carries pain, grief, feelings of being unlovable, things like that. So, those things could—I don’t remember, actually, how I did it—but those things could be released to light. Maybe have them blown away by wind.
TS: Do you have a sense now, that that deprived part of you [is] not there anymore? It’s been completely transformed? Is that your sense?
JE: Not completely.
TS: When it comes up now, how do you relate to it?
JE: Let me just say that even though it’s still there, it’s much less burdened. For example, if my wife would go away for a weekend or a week, this Exile would usually be in a lot of pain. Now, there’s much less difficulty when that happens. And if I am aware of it, I usually just take time to tune into the Exile to give it love, to hold it, in my imagination. In a sense, I relate to it the same way I was talking about doing in some of these sessions that I did. But I just do it spontaneously, if I feel the need to.
TS: You know, Jay, I think the thing in everything you’re saying that sticks with me is, “Could this really work? Could people do this kind of work on their own?” You’re talking about Exiles and deprived parts from very, very early in our [lives]. I’m someone who’s been in therapy for a really long time in my adult life. I’m just trying to imagine: could somebody actually do that kind of deep work—even just the word “Exile,” with these exiled parts of us where we go blank or there’s so much pain (that’s why they’re exiled). Can we actually do this on our own?
JE: It varies. I’ll tell you what my experience is. For years, I have taught IFS classes to people. In the classes, people pair up for homework and kind of witness each other doing the work, with some help from their partner. Of course, their partner is not a therapist. Their partner is just taking the class. I’ve definitely found in my classes that people can really do that. Most people—not everybody. There are people who are seriously in need of therapy and have very deep traumatic issues. No, they can’t do it on their own—or it’s very rare that somebody like that can do it on their own.
But most people can. Now, they have the support of the class. They also have the support of the partner that they’re working with. For most people, it’s easier to do that kind of work with a partner witnessing them than it is to do it completely by themselves. Although, some people prefer to do it by themselves. I’ve certainly had many people—even after the class is over and I encourage them to continue with one of their partners and have a regular partnership, and many people do. I know some people who have had a regular IFS partner that they’ve worked with for years. I know some people do it on their own.
Now, the other experience I’ve had is that I wrote a book called Self Therapy, which was published about four years ago—which shows people how to do this process. And I’ve gotten many emails from people—and I didn’t know how well people would do on their own with just the book. I’ve gotten many emails from people who’ve said that it’s a life-changer for them.
Of course, I’ve gotten many calls from people who started working with the book, loved IFS, and felt like they couldn’t go far enough on their own. So they wanted therapy. There’s also that too. Many people can only go so far on their own and they need additional help.
TS: I think part of what’s so potentially so revolutionary about this—even for people to do this in partnership with other people who aren’t therapists—is, of course, a large obstacle for a lot of people is they say they can’t afford therapy.
JE: That’s right.
TS: Over the course of many years, it costs tens of thousands of dollars—and here I can partner with somebody? That’s very profound.
JE: Yes. I think it’s made it accessible to a lot more people.
TS: Now, Jay, I want to talk to you a little bit about your work with helping people use IFS to work with the Inner Critic—and this very radical idea that it’s possible that the Inner Critic is actually trying to help us in some way. I wonder if you can explain that. How can the Inner Critic—this pain that is making my life miserable day after day, telling me everything that’s wrong with me—be trying to help me?
JE: Let me make it clear: It’s trying to help you. It’s not necessarily helping you, but it’s trying. That’s what’s been discovered in IFS. The Inner Critic is a Protector. And like all Protectors, [it is] trying to help us.
Here’s a common example: Suppose you got criticized by your father or your mother as a child. That caused an Exile to be in a lot of pain. So, you often have a Critic that criticizes you in a similar way.
Part of what you might say [is], “Well, that’s just [your father or mother internalized].” And to a certain extent, that’s true. But, if you actually go in and ask the part what it’s trying to protect you from, very often it’s trying—here’s a classic one. Let’s say your father says, “You’re not working hard enough. What’s the matter with you? You lazy bum. You should be getting A’s . . .” And blah blah blah. The criticism is about not being successful and not working hard enough or not getting good-enough grades or whatever it might be. So, very often you end up with an Inner Critic that is trying to get you to be successful enough that your father won’t criticize you.
Of course, the only model this Critic has for how to get you there is the model from your father. So, it does it in the same destructive way that your father did. But its intent is to try to protect you from your father. [Laughs] I know that sounds a little crazy, but parts often don’t realize the impact they’re having.
So that’s one example. Here’s another one—[with] another, different slant on it. There are some Critics that we call “Underminers” that are afraid that if you go out into the world and speak up or make yourself visible or be powerful, that you’re going to get attacked. They want to protect you from getting attacked, so they undermine your self-confidence by telling you that you’re no good and can’t be successful and don’t even try. Therefore, [they] prevent you from taking any risks and putting yourself in situations where you might get attacked. You see that the intent of the Critic there is to keep you from being attacked.
Of course, it’s attacking you—so you might say, “What a stupid thing to do!” Yes, that’s true. But our parts usually don’t realize the harm they’re causing. All they know is that they’re trying to protect us from something else.
So there’s a couple of examples. The beautiful thing about this is that it means you don’t have to fight with your Inner Critics. You don’t have to try to get rid of them. You don’t have to battle with them or try to be stronger than they are because they’re actually trying to help you. You can actually get to know them from a compassionate, open place, find out what they’re trying to do, find the Exiles they’re trying to protect, heal the Exiles, and help the Critics to let go.
TS: Other approaches I’ve heard to working with the Inner Critic—and I’m curious what you think about this. I’ve actually interviewed people here for Insights at the Edge who say, “Out with you Critic! Banish you! Be out!” Just gone, gone, gone—you’re gone now, gone. Do you think that approach has any merit?
JE: Well, you know, it has limited merit. It can work, to some extent. But, for many people, it only works temporarily. And then the Critic comes back in just as strong as ever.
It also tends to create an internal conflict. Now, you’re fighting against this part of you and trying to get rid of it. It’s going to fight back.
So, yes, you can get some relief that way. Before I discovered IFS, that’s what I did. I fought with my Critics. [Laughs] And I got some relief. I know many people who have employed that method, because I used to be a student of the Diamond Approach for many, many years. That’s one of the things they do in the Diamond Approach. Even though it is—again—effective to a certain extent, many, many people said, “My Critic keeps coming back. It keeps being a problem. It goes away and then it comes back.”
It’s a very understandable approach, but I don’t think it’s very effective in the long run. Even the Diamond Approach doesn’t only use that—they have other things they do after that that are more effective.
TS: OK. In your book, Freedom from Your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach—along with Bonnie Weiss—you have a quiz. The quiz helps the reader identify which type of Critic—and you have seven different types of Critic that you’ve found are common parts inside people—[the person] might be. I went through and filled out the questionnaire and discovered—I’m going to say now—that I have a “Perfectionist.” A very strong Perfectionist Inner Critic.
I’m curious to know—once again—if you could take us through it as an example. Not necessarily focusing on me, but focusing on anyone who might identify this strong type of Inner Critic. How [can] they work with this Perfectionist-type—this Perfectionist voice inside?
JE: Sure. One of the most common motivations for the Perfectionist Inner Critic is to [either] get you love, praise, or affection by being perfect, or to prevent you from being judged, shamed, or rejected for not being perfect. Which usually comes about because that’s what happened as a child. You were judged or shamed or rejected or whatever, and you were told it was because you weren’t good enough. Maybe your parents had extremely high standards for you in a certain area. So, a part of you said, “Well, I gotta try to make you be perfect enough that you’ll get their love. So here’s what we gotta do—is be as perfect as possible and meet these super-high standards.” That’s a common motivation for a Perfectionist.
If you can keep that in mind while you’re working with a Perfectionist Critic, it’ll help you. One of the trickiest things in IFS and working with an Inner Critic is to be in Self, because the Critic is causing you so much pain that it’s very common—once you realize that the pain is coming from the Critic and not because it’s the truth about you—the first response is, “I hate the Critic! I want to get rid of it!” That’s not Self. If you can know that this Critic is probably trying to help you—in the way I just mentioned for the Perfectionist—then it helps you to be in Self. You can have compassion and understanding. Then you can go in and actually find out the details.
I’m just giving you my best guess as [to] what a Perfectionist might be doing, but everybody’s going to be unique. So you have to go in and get to know your Perfectionist, and find out exactly what it’s trying to protect you from by trying to get you to be perfect. Then, make a connection with the Perfectionist, and then access the Exile or Exiles it’s protecting—which are usually Exiles that, as I said, got judged or shamed or abandoned or rejected or whatever for not being perfect enough.
TS: You also bring in these other parts—these positive parts that can help with this process of freeing oneself from the Critic. “The Inner Champion” and “The Inner Mentor.” I wonder if you can talk about those parts. How do I get them to help me in this process?
JE: [Laughs] We discovered that some people just naturally do this. They have a part of them that champions them. Let’s take the Perfectionist as an example. Your Inner Champion might say, “You’re perfectly fine the way you are. You don’t have to be perfect to be OK.” Or it might say, “It’s fine to experiment.” One of the problems with perfectionists is that they have terrible trouble with learning or experimentation—because when you’re learning, you’re not perfect. When you’re experimenting, you’re not perfect. So, they have a very hard time letting us learn new things or experiment with new things. Your Inner Champion might say, “It’s OK to experiment. It’s good to experiment.”
The Inner Champion is almost like the voice of a really healthy, supportive parent that supports you in who you are because the Critic tells you that you shouldn’t be who you are—you should be somebody else. [It] tells you that you’re no good. Whereas your Inner Champion tells you that you’re perfectly fine the way you are, supports you being the way you are, tells you that you have the right to be who you are, and have the right to do things with ease instead of working your tail off to be perfect. And things like that.
It’s a voice that you can develop. This isn’t really IFS, exactly—it’s something that you can develop by getting in touch with [the] words would you like to hear from an ideal, supportive parent or Inner Champion. What would you like to hear it say? What do you imagine it would look like? Who does it remind you of from your past who was like that? You can build up an Inner Champion that says the right things, cares about you, supports you, and encourages you.
Then, you can call on it when you need to—especially if you’re getting flak from your Inner Critic. [Laughs]
TS: And then the Inner Mentor?
JE:The Inner Mentor—here’s a whole another thing. See, some Inner Critic parts are just plain wrong. They just tell us things that aren’t true about ourselves. Some Inner Critics tell us things that are true—but they do it in a harsh way. Let’s suppose that you aren’t working hard enough. Suppose that you tend to overeat—or whatever it might be. You might have a Critic that really shames you for overeating or a Critic that pushes you to work harder in a nasty, harsh way. We don’t want those.
But—if you’re eating too much—you do need to have a part that helps you moderate your eating. If you aren’t working hard enough, you do need to have a part that encourages you to work harder. Instead of doing it in a harsh way or judgmental way—the way a Critic would do it—the Inner Mentor is a part of you that helps you to grow, that helps you to change, that helps you to improve yourself—but in a kindly, encouraging, caring way. That’s the Inner Mentor.
TS: I’m curious now—with your work with Internal Family Systems therapy—if you’ve come to see that this approach is really good with certain kinds of challenges like freeing the Inner Critic. But [is it] not really good with other kinds of challenges? If that’s the case, which applications does it seem more effective and less effective in addressing?
JE: IFS is very good with trauma.
I have to tell you that my experience is that it’s more that IFS is less effective with certain types of people than it is with certain types of issues. I don’t think I’ve found any issues that IFS is not effective with. But certain types of people—very intellectual people who have a hard time feeling themselves, have a hard time getting in touch with their parts because they’re so stuck in their head—at least in my experience, IFS doesn’t work so well with them. Whereas it works extremely well with artistic people—who can just go inside and have this rich inner life with parts just popping up in front of them.
So that’s more of the distinction I would make—the kind of people it’s effective with. Although I’m a very intellectual person and IFS works great with me—so that doesn’t always hold, either. [Laughs]
TS: I just have one final question for you, Jay. Here you’ve now made a series of audio programs with Sounds True on self-therapy to complement your book of the same title. You’ve published this book, Freedom from Your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach. I’m curious what’s next for you. What other ways do you want to take Internal Family Systems therapy, apply these teachings, and help people use them in their life? What’s the frontier for you?
JE: Well, the frontier for me right now is a Web application that I’ve been developing, actually, for almost three years now called Self-Therapy Journey. It is probably going to be the first of its kind. It’s going to be a general-purpose application where people can go on the Web and basically work on psychological issues. It’s not a substitute for therapy, of course. It’s based on both IFS and something called the Pattern System, which I’ve developed—which is a way of categorizing and putting into a system different types of parts.
It’s a way that people will be able to log in, take a quiz, identify a particular pattern—like procrastination or people-pleasing or perfectionism or one of 25 others to start with. [They] identify a pattern that they have that they’d like to change, and they’ll be able to go in and fill out a lot of checklists, read about the pattern, write about it, check off things about it, and really learn in detail about how their pattern operates and where it comes from in their past. They’ll be able to do guided meditations, which are IFS-oriented [and] will actually help take them through parts of an IFS session, getting to know their part that has that pattern. Then [they] set up a homework practice where they can practice developing healthy capacity instead of that pattern, supported by an Inner Champion.
It’s a whole, fairly complex, very exciting new thing that I’m doing—which I think will make psychological work available a much wider range of people, even the people who have learned to do IFS. Hopefully, this will reach even a wider set of people in a way that they’ll get many of the benefits of therapy without spending anywhere near the amount of money.
TS: Beautiful. What a fabulous application of technology!
I’ve been talking with Jay Earley. With Sounds True, Jay has published a new, six-session audio learning course on Self-Therapy: How to Transform Stuck Parts of Ourselves into Inner Resources of Strength, Love, and Freedom and also—with coauthor Bonnie Weiss—a new book, called Freedom from Your Inner Critic: A Self-Therapy Approach. Jay, thank you so much for being with us on Insights at the Edge.
JE: Thanks, Tami. It’s always good to talk to you.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.