Unblending from Judgmental Protectors

What Is Required for Unburdening to SucceedIn order to get to know an exile successfully, it is important for you to be in Self, just as with protectors.

To check for this, notice how you are feeling toward the exile.

  • If you are feeling curious, accepting, connected, or compassionate, you are in Self and can proceed.
  • If you are feeling judgmental, angry, or scared of the exile, or if you want it to go away, you aren’t in Self.

You are blended with a concerned part, which is a protector that is worried about your working with the exile. You have already obtained permission to work with it from the protector that was your original target part, but there may be other protectors that don’t think it is safe to open up to the exile. This concerned part is one of these. Ask the concerned part to step aside so you can be in a position to help transform the exile. Often that will be enough for it to relax and let you return to Self. Then you can go on to get to know the exile.

Sometimes a protector isn’t afraid of your working with an exile, but it has negative feelings toward the exile, which blocks your ability to listen to it from a caring place. Here are the two most common reasons for this, and how to respond to the protector so it will step aside.

  1. The protector may be upset with the exile because it has caused problems in your life. For example, the exile’s fears have kept you from taking risks to move ahead. Or the exile’s feelings of worthlessness have made you depressed. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that there would be a protector that doesn’t like the exile and wants to eliminate it in order to solve this problem. However, this attitude will not lead to healing. Explain to the protector that you won’t let the exile take over. Your goal is to help the exile unburden itself of the fear or insecurity she carries so that she won’t disrupt your life anymore. Ask the protector to step aside and allow you to relate to the exile from a loving place so this unburdening can happen. Since this responds directly to the protector’s concern with the exile, it is likely to agree.
  2. The protector might feel judgmental towards the exile because she is scared or insecure or weak, or just because she is too emotional. These judgments usually mirror the attitudes your parents had toward you when you were young, since protectors sometimes model themselves after your parents. (In psychotherapy, this is called internalization.) Explore with the protector where it got these judgments so it realizes that they aren’t actual truths about the exile but rather parental attitudes it took on. You can also explain that the exile is only feeling scared or insecure because of what happened to it when you were young and vulnerable, so it isn’t really the exile’s fault. This may also help the protector to relax its judgments. Then ask it to step aside so you can heal the exile.

IFS Exiles Course: Starts July 23

This summer, I will be offering the IFS Exiles Course. In this course, you learn how to

  • safely access young wounded parts (exiles)
  • how to stay in Self, how to develop a healing relationship with your exiles
  • how to unburden the pain and negative beliefs of exiles so they are transformed

This enables you to do a complete IFS session with yourself or a partner. You learn how to facilitate a partner who is working on themselves.

The prerequisite for this course is the IFS Basic Course or equivalent.

If you aren’t sure if you qualify, contact me.

10am – 12 noon pacific time (1-3 pm eastern, 6-8 pm UK)
July 23, Aug. 6, 13, 20, Sept. 10, 17 (6 classes)
Cost: $300, $250 if you enroll by July 17
Click here to enroll

Working Through Conflicts in an Interactive/IFS Group

Sharon tended to avoid bringing up difficulties with her friends, but then she would withdraw from them because her negative feelings festered. This was directly tied to her fear of vulnerability. As long as she was holding back negative feelings toward someone, she didn’t have to reach out or get in touch with her vulnerable exile. She felt justified in keeping the person at a distance or even writing them off. She was also afraid of the person’s reactions if she confronted them.

When Sharon brought up this issue in a group consult with me, I suggested that she work on confronting people in group directly, and this terrified her. She was afraid that the other person would get hurt, and then they would abandon her or get angry at her. I encouraged Sharon to get feedback from the group members about this, and when she did, only one person expressed fear of Sharon’s confrontations. The rest of the group welcomed them.

After this, she began to bring out her negative feelings toward people in group, and in the process she learned more about how her judgments were a protection against wanting contact. This also got her judgments out in the open so they didn’t fester inside and get in the way of her connecting with people. Sharon found that when she did challenge someone in a soft way about something they were doing that she didn’t like, the person would often reveal the reason behind their behavior and be willing to try to change. This encouraged Sharon’s own openness. Conflict became a way of becoming closer to people.

For example, Patti joined the group about 9 months after it started and Sharon didn’t feel very receptive to her. Sharon describes it as follows:

“I had a part with the attitude of ‘I’m in the in-crowd and I’ve got something that you don’t. You can’t come in.’ This protector felt this way toward some people. They had to prove that they were willing to be open and loving, that they were scared and vulnerable, and they had to appreciate me and let me know that. Once they did that, then I could trust them. I was very scared to confront Patti, especially because it was something that was part of her character and couldn’t be changed.

When I mentioned that in a consultation, Jay encouraged me to work on it with her because both of us could benefit from it. That gave me the idea that my response to someone could be appropriate and helpful to them. So he gave me the courage to do it.”

Even though at first Sharon didn’t say anything about her judgmental response, Patti sensed it, and, after a couple of months, she questioned Sharon about it. This gave Sharon an opening to do the work. She acknowledged that she had a tendency to make people prove themselves before she would accept them, and that she was feeling that way toward Patti. Patti asked her why, and Sharon said it was because she didn’t sense warmth from Patti toward herself or toward other people in the group.

“This was very scary. If I would ever talk back or challenge my mother in any way she would be so wounded. She could dish it out but she couldn’t take it! I felt tremendous guilt at hurting her. In my family, I had all this training that you can’t disagree, or argue, or confront in any way. I had already worked on that in individual therapy, so in the group I was ready to try it out and break old habits.”

Patti felt hurt by Sharon’s statement, but she also acknowledged that she did have a part that was guarded at first with people for fear of not being accepted. Patti was feeling shaky about not being accepted in the group, and I encouraged her to explore this rather than defending herself. It was difficult for Patti to make herself this vulnerable, but with encouragement and reassurance from me and from the group, she was able to do some very courageous work. As she explored this issue, it led back to an exile with deep pain about not being accepted in her family of origin, and Patti opened herself and expressed the pain in a vulnerable, appealing way.

Sharon’s attitude toward Patti changed right in the moment. She melted and felt genuine caring and respect for her. She realized that Patti had warmth, but that she expressed it in a different way than Sharon. They continued to work on this issue and other differences between them as the group progressed, and they grew closer over time. In addition, because of this work, Sharon saw the possibility of being more receptive to other new people whose style of relating might be different from hers.

I lead four Interactive/IFS Groups, some of which have openings now. Click here for more information about them.


Desire and Vulnerability in an Interactive/IFS Group

In an Interactive Group we encourage people to be honest with each other about their responses, so if one group member reaches out to another, they could get hurt. However, if they can handle this, it is an opportunity for growth. They can learn how to deal with the hurt and to realize that it doesn’t mean that they are unlovable.

What is more important, as people learn to reach out in a vulnerable way for contact, they are likely to be received positively. Vulnerability is very appealing, and the more people learn to be vulnerable, the more they are appreciated by the other group members.

In an early meeting, as part of some work Harry was doing, I encouraged him to pick someone he wanted to connect with. He chose one person and indicated a couple of others as alternate choices. Sharon was later able to say to Harry, “I felt hurt that I wasn’t even on your list of second choices.” Harry replied, “I didn’t choose you because I feel intimidated by you. You are so sharp and perceptive that I was afraid you would see right through me.” I encouraged Sharon to stay with her feeling of hurt. This allowed her to soften, and her previous front of appearing nonchalant disappeared. In an open and appealing way, she let Harry know that she liked him and wanted him to like her, too, and that she felt hurt.

This had three effects. (1) She discovered that nothing terrible happened when she showed her vulnerability. She didn’t get rejected or ridiculed. (2) She discovered that she was strong enough to tolerate the hurt feeling, and that she didn’t feel bad about herself because of it. As she did this kind of work in group over time, she developed eve more inner support so that she could be open and vulnerable without fear. (3) Harry began to appreciate Sharon’s openness and softness (along with the earthiness and spontaneity that he had always liked in her). He was increasingly drawn to her. She was nicely rewarded for her vulnerability, and as time went on, it became more and more her natural response.

This interaction was a key, a turning point for me. I used to think that I was warm, but other people experienced me as hard. It was with Harry that I began to recognize that I present an imposing or intimidating presence. I remembered people being afraid of me in my life, but I was surprised about that because I felt warm and open inside. It was a real surprise that someone like Harry was intimidated by me.

In one group, Sharon had made a comment about how “the universe moved” when Harry said something to another member. Later she confessed that she had really meant that the universe had moved when he’d said something special to her. At another point she told him that she had a crush on him (but she wasn’t coming on to him). She expressed these vulnerable feelings in an open and contactful way, and Harry responded in kind. He was very moved by her vulnerability in reaching out and grew fond of her.

As the group continued, Harry and Sharon developed a deep connection. This enhanced her ability to be open with people. There was no longer any chance of Harry ignoring Sharon. “I liked Harry very much and once he began to appreciate me more, it had a strong impact. His recognition liberated me.”


June 26: Drop-In Interactive/IFS Group

Drop-in Interactive/IFS GroupThis drop-in group is designed to give you an idea of how Interactive/IFS Groups operate, and also to give you a group experience that can be powerful learning in itself. 

In a Drop-In Interactive Group, you can be totally honest about your feelings. Everyone is encouraged to share their moment-to-moment experience with the group. It’s a big risk but very exciting!

A small group of people meets to practice awareness, honesty, and connection. Using IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy), we practice speaking for our parts rather than as our parts. This means being in Self (a calm, caring place) and talking about how a part of you is reacting in the moment, as opposed to dumping your feelings on other people. This helps you to communicate in a more effective manner, and it also makes the group safe for everyone.

I facilitate the group, helping you to tune into what you are experiencing and speak your truth. You may tell others honestly and directly how you are feeling toward them. We create an atmosphere of caring and trust so that this can be done in a safe, connected way. You also have a chance to get honest feedback from people on how they are responding to you.

The group meets by videoconference, so we can all see each other.

Drop-In Interactive/IFS Group

Tuesday, June 26
10am – 12 noon pacific time
(1-3 pm eastern, 6-8 pm UK)
Cost: $10
Click here to enroll

I lead four Interactive/IFS Groups, some of which have openings now.
Click here for more information about them.


Metabolizing Childhood Experiences

Whenever you endure a painful or difficult experience, it must be fully processed and metabolized for your psyche to stay healthy. You must fully feel the experience, make sense of it, and integrate it into your notion of who you are in a way that doesn’t leave you with a negative, inaccurate view of yourself. Even experiences in adult life must be metabolized in this way. For example, suppose you lose your spouse to cancer. You need to feel the grief and other emotions that it brings up, think it through, discuss it with friends, and work through any guilt or self-blame that you feel. This will occur repeatedly over many months until you have come to terms with it.


Threatening or Traumatic Experience

A threatening or traumatic experience puts your body into a fight-or-flight stress reaction. For example, suppose you are threatened with a gun by a robber. Your body goes into hyper-alertness and fear. Later, when you talk through what happened and feel the fear, this will help your body to complete its physiological response and return to a normal relaxed state.

Difficult Experience

A difficult experience can also make you feel bad about yourself or mistrust people. For example, suppose you are fired from your job for poor work performance. This makes you feel incompetent and, after stewing over it for a while, you come to believe that the world is unfair. You need to take the time to think this through with outside support and figure out what, if anything, you did poorly and how much of this resulted from office politics. This will help you integrate the experience into your psyche and sense of self, and learn from your mistakes without taking on a negative view of yourself.

Problematic Experience

When you have a problematic experience as an adult, you usually have the resources to metabolize it properly. You know how to articulate the problem, you are intellectually and emotionally mature, and you may have support from friends, family, or a therapist. As a child, you often don’t have the resources to metabolize difficult incidents. You can’t do it on your own, so you need a great deal of sensitive support from your parents or other adults. The more painful and traumatic an experience, the more you need support to be able to metabolize it. And this support often isn’t available, either because your parents don’t realize you need it or because they don’t have the capacity to provide it. Or, worst of all, because your parents were the source of the traumatic incident.

Burden for the Exile

An experience that isn’t metabolized creates a burden for the exile that experienced it. In IFS, a burden is a painful feeling or negative belief that an exile takes on as a result of a painful or traumatic situation. In order to heal that child part and help release its burden, the memory must be re-experienced and processed to completion. This happens during the “witnessing step” of the IFS process.

The Importance of Compassion in Working with Exiles in IFS

In order to work successfully with an exile, you must not only be separate from it—you also must feel compassionate and connected to it. It isn’t enough to be curious and open with an exile the way you would with a protector, because compassion is vitally necessary for healing an exile’s suffering. To be fully in Self with an exile requires compassion and connectedness. It is fine to start out feeling only curiosity about the exile, but as you listen to its feelings and story, you are going to be witnessing pain, often excruciating pain. This will naturally open your heart to compassion as long as nothing is blocking it.

Difference Between Compassion and Empathy

Let’s look at the difference between compassion and empathy and, in addition, how they are related. Empathy is a way of resonating with another person’s feelings (or with an exile’s feelings). Compassion is a feeling of loving kindness toward someone (or an exile) in pain. Empathy often leads to compassion; you resonate with someone’s pain, which stimulates your compassion for him or her. Therefore, the two often occur together. However, it is important to understand how they are different, especially in relating to your exiles. If you feel empathy for an exile without also feeling compassion, there is a danger that you will become too blended with her (because of the resonance) and lose contact with Self.

The State of Compassion

In a state of compassion, you are separate from the exile while still feeling caring and loving, which helps you to stay in Self. Compassion is crucial for work with exiles. Their pain can be so formidable and tortuous that it may be hard for them to open up to you without this tender, gentle quality. When we feel held by the compassion of a friend, we feel safe enough to reveal our most vulnerable places. Our exiled parts feel the same way. They need our compassion to be ready to come out and be seen. Not only do they carry pain from childhood wounds, they often feel hurt and rejected by us because we have pushed them away and excluded them from our inner family for years. This adds insult to injury. They were injured when young, and then they were dismissed by us because we couldn’t handle their pain. So they have been in eternal exile.

Luckily, compassion is the natural human response to someone who is suffering, as long as one is in Self. In an IFS session, the Self is there to give the exile the gift of being seen after years of being locked away in the basement. When the Self witnesses a child part’s pain and suffering with compassion, the exile feels touched and grateful for being seen, often for the very first time. Finally, it isn’t alone.

What You Feel Toward the Exile

When you check to see what you feel toward the exile, sometimes you may just feel neutral. You may feel separate but not particularly caring or connected. This is probably because you are blended with a concerned part that wants to stay distant from the exile or with a part that wants to remain intellectual or guarded. Ask that concerned part to relax and allow your natural connectedness and compassion to arise. If it won’t, ask it what it is afraid would happen if it did, and reassure it about its concern. Once it has relaxed and allowed you to feel your natural caring for the exile, you can proceed to learn about the exile’s pain and negative beliefs and form a loving bond with it, providing a firm basis for the healing steps to follow.


Updating in IFS

updating protectorsProtectors Stuck in Past

Our protectors are stuck in the past; they believe that we are little children who are vulnerable and have few internal or external resources for handling problematic situations. This is how we all were as children. Another way to say this is that the protector is protecting a young, vulnerable exile, and it thinks that you are the exile. It doesn’t realize that you have a Self with many more resources than when you were a child.

Ask the Protector

You can ask a protector, “How old do you think I am?” Very often, the protector will mention a childhood age—two or eight, for example. Notice that this is a different question from the one you might ask an exile, which is: “How old are you?”

Once you have found out how old the protector thinks you are, tell the protector how old you actually are. Then show the protector a series of scenes from your life that include growing up, maturing, accomplishing things, handling difficulties, and reaching your current age. This updates the protector as to your current capacities.

Competent, Perceptive Self

When you were young, you were vulnerable and under your parents’ power. However, now you are autonomous and in charge of your own life. In childhood, you didn’t have a mature Self present to help, so your protectors often had to handle painful situations on their own. Now that you are an adult, you have a competent, perceptive Self to help in difficult circumstances.

In addition, you probably have many strengths and capacities as an adult that you didn’t have as a child. For example, you are probably more grounded and centered. You may be more assertive, more perceptive about interpersonal situations, better able to support yourself financially, and so on. You have probably accomplished things in your life and overcome obstacles. You are an adult with much greater ability to handle yourself.

As part of the updating process, you can also show the protector your current life arrangements and the various people who will support you when needed. You probably have friends, family, maybe a spouse or lover, perhaps a community you belong to, or a support group you can rely on.

Self-Therapy-Vol-2This article is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 2. It is also one of the topics I teach in my Advanced IFS Classes.


Basic IFS Course Starts June 11

IFS Basic CourseI have had many requests to offer a Basic IFS Course at a time that works for Europeans and others who haven’t been able to attend my Basic Courses because of the time difference. So I will be offering one on my Monday morning, which is the afternoon on the east coast and the evening in Europe.

The Basic Course teaches you how to access Self and work with protectors. It teaches you how to work on yourself using IFS and how to do peer IFS counseling with other people in the class. Therapists and coaches also take the class to learn about IFS, though it is not professional training in IFS.

The course is experiential; it includes practicing IFS sessions for homework in pairs, group exercises, and demonstration IFS sessions with volunteers from the class.

For more information, click


10am – 12 noon pacific time
(1-3 pm eastern, 6-8 pm UK)
June 11 – July 16 (6 classes)
Cost: $300, $250 if you enroll by June 5
Click here to enroll



Continuing IFS Work in a New Session

Frequently, you will end an IFS session before you have completed the piece of work you started—in other words, before you have fully unburdened your target part and any exiles it is protecting. When you begin your next session, it is often useful to pick up the work where you left off in the previous session. This isn’t always necessary. Sometimes you may want to begin a new session with a different part because something urgent has come up in your life. However, don’t wait too long to pick up the thread of previous work so you don’t leave your parts hanging or lose track of the exploration you have already begun.

How to Continue Your IFS Session

Here’s how to continue from where you left off in a previous session. First re-access the part you were working on. Review your notes from that session to jump-start your memory, reminding yourself of what you learned about the target part, your relationship with it, and where you were in the IFS process. Remember to be aware of any concerned parts or protectors that didn’t fully step aside. You may need to begin with one of them.

Remember how you knew the part in the previous session through a visual image, body sensation, emotion, and/or internal voice. Re-access the part using that modality. For example, if you had an image of the Caretaker as a mother with an apron, use that image to re-access the part. Ask the part what it is feeling now and if it is ready to continue interacting with you. Then continue where you left off at the end of the previous session. For example, if you were getting to know the caretaker but hadn’t yet understood its positive intent for you, ask questions that will uncover that. Sometimes you may need to get to know the part over again to renew your connection with it experientially.

Don’t assume that the part will be exactly the same as before. Be prepared for it to feel different now than it did in the last session or have different things to say to you. For example, maybe the caretaker was very concerned about your husband in the last session, but now it is worried about your child.