Overcoming Depression with IFS

In studying how to work with depression using IFS, I have seen that a depressed part can be either a protector or an exile. In this article, I’ll just look at protectors.Overcoming Depression

Protectors That Block Hope 

One common cause of depression is having a protector that doesn’t want you to feel hopeful. Such a protector doesn’t actually feel hopeless. It makes you feel hopeless in order to keep you from feeling hopeful and then suffering the disappointment of not getting what you were hoping for. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it a Depressing Protector rather than a Depressed Protector. It is afraid of your feeling devastated if you are disappointed. It believes that if you are hopeful and your hopes don’t work out, or if you fail at what you are trying to accomplish, you will be devastated. It isn’t just worried about your being disappointed; it is afraid you will be devastated in such a severe way that you couldn’t handle it. Its fear probably goes back to times in childhood when you were hopeful and then your hopes were dashed and you were devastated.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your hopelessness is realistic or that your Depressing Protector feels hopeless. It is purposely trying to make you feel hopeless to protect you from devastation. However, even though it is causing your depression, its heart is in the right place; your Depressing Protector is trying to protect you from pain. So you can get to know it and connect with it.

Of course, the pain this Depressing Protector causes you is far greater that the actual disappointment you might feel if your hopes failed to materialize. But your protector doesn’t realize that.

Protectors That Depress Your Energy

A Depressing Protector may squash your energy so that you can’t feel the underlying pain or trauma of your exiles. This protector believes that you can’t tolerate this pain. It is stuck at a point in your childhood when you didn’t have the internal or external support to handle such pain. So it keeps your energy low to prevent this pain from coming to the surface.

A Depressing Protector might also suppress your energy so you won’t assert yourself or take risks, which the protector believes will lead to failure or trouble. It thinks that if you took a risk and failed, you couldn’t handle the disappointment. Or it may believe that if you asserted yourself, you might be attacked or abandoned.

In most cases, the depression that such a protector causes is much more painful than what would happen if it allowed you to feel an exile’s pain or if it allowed you to assert yourself in the world, but the Depressing Protector doesn’t know this. It believes that it must make you depressed to protect you from overwhelming pain or from the negative consequences of being powerful and visible in the world.

Inner Critic Parts

Inner Critic Parts, which are protectors, can also create or add to your depression by attacking you so harshly and mercilessly that you feel bad about yourself. These Inner Critic attacks trigger exiles who already feel inadequate or worthless, and the attacks make the exiles feel even worse, which contributes to depression.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This article is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

Interactions Between Parts in Conflicts in Love Relationships

When a couples gets into a repeated intractable conflict in their relationships, it is usually because they are triggering each other’s protectors and exiles.

In fact, if you focus on the most frequent type of argument you have with your partner, you can map out the sequence of transactions that happens in which you trigger one of your partner’s parts, he or she reacts in a way that triggers yours, then you react again, and so on. IFS has an insightful way of explaining how these sequences happen, and I can make this even clearer using the Pattern System, a way of understanding personality that is oriented toward personal growth.

Let’s look at an example. Jean becomes upset at her husband, Todd, because she feels that he hasn’t been sensitive to her. She has been feeling despondent over her struggles at work, and Todd hasn’t been very supportive or attentive to her feelings. As a result, her Not-Seen Wound (a type of exile in the Pattern System) has been triggered. This wound comes from not being seen as who she truly was as a child.

However, it is rare that people interact directly from their exiles. Often they aren’t even aware that an exile has been triggered. Instead, people react from a protector that defends against the pain of the wound. So Jean says to Todd, “You are so cold! You never care about my feelings.” Jean has led with a judgmental protector (Judgmental Pattern), which reacts to pain by being critical of other people. This serves two functions. It tries to protect her from feeling her wound, and it is a misguided attempt to get Todd to be more attentive and caring.

Communicating from a protector (a pattern in the Pattern System) usually backfires. When Jean blames Todd in this way, it triggers his Judgment Wound, which comes from having been judged as a child, making him feel bad about himself. However, Todd isn’t aware of this wound and doesn’t show it. Instead, he withdraws from Jean and closes down his heart, which prevents him from feeling the pain of this wound and keeps him away from Jean so he won’t get hurt further. This is his Distancing Pattern.

Conflicts in Relationships

Todd’s withdrawal triggers a second wound in Jean; she feels abandoned by him (Abandonment Wound). Jean defends against this wound by criticizing Todd for withdrawing (Judgmental Pattern), which activates his Judgment Wound again. He reacts to this with more Distancing, so the cycle repeats itself. They often go around this cycle multiple times, escalating their level of anger and hurt in the process.

By exploring and understanding sequences like this in your relationship, and possibly working with the parts involved, you can break these vicious cycles.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3

This is an excerpt from my book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

Anger and Disowned Anger in IFS

AngryAnger is an emotion that is problematic for many of us.

With other emotions, the main question is usually whether or not to feel or show the emotion. With anger, the situation is more complicated because anger can be harmful and destructive when acted out.

Therefore, many of us have conflicting attitudes about anger. We live in a violent society, surrounded by examples of the destructive effects of anger, and some of us have been victims of it. Anger and violence are sometimes also celebrated—in war, gangs, sports, and criminal TV shows. Working with anger in therapy is therefore tricky and complex.

It is too easy to just assume that anger is always bad and disown it completely, while it actually has a positive role to play in our lives.

Anger can arise in various ways in IFS work, depending on which part holds the anger, what function the anger serves, and whether the anger is disowned. Each situation requires a different approach.

Protector anger that is acted out in your life needs to be understood so you can heal the exile being protected and the protector can let go. Expressing such anger is usually not a good idea. Instead, it is useful to learn how to express it in a skillful manner that isn’t likely to cause problems.

Suppressed anger needs to worked with in a similar way to anger being acted out, except that you must first work with the protector that is suppressing it.

Exile anger, on the other hand, needs to be welcomed and expressed in sessions in order to fully witness the exile and also as a way of helping the exile feel protected and safe from harm.

Disowned anger also needs to be expressed in sessions as a way of accessing and developing your strength and healthy aggression.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This is an excerpt from Self-Therapy Vol 3.


The Three Types of Perfectionist

There are a three kinds of Perfectionist Patterns.
Perfectionist Pattern

The Not-Enough Perfectionist

You always believe that you must do more on projects because they are not good enough yet. You work far too long on tasks because you are never satisfied. You often work right up until deadlines or turn your work in late. Your Perfectionist Part is afraid to finish projects because it believes this will expose your shortcomings and lead to your being judged, and—even worse—ridiculed.

The Creative Block Perfectionist

You can’t produce anything because it has to be perfect the first time. Your ideas are blocked because they aren’t good enough to put out. Your Perfectionist Inner Critic doesn’t allow you to be a learner or to experiment because both of those situations involve putting out work that is far from perfect at first. This frightens your Perfectionist Part because it is afraid of your being judged, shamed, or rejected if your work isn’t always perfect.

The Control Perfectionist

Your world must be perfectly in control and in order. You must get everything right. You must always do the right thing and make the right choice. Your home and family must look perfect. You must be perfectly groomed and behave impeccably. You exert rigid control over your behavior, which takes away your vitality and spontaneity. Your life must be perfectly in control and predictable in order for you to feel safe. And of course, this is impossible.

Eating Issues, Hunger, and Needs

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This is a short excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 3. regarding eating issues, hunger and needs.

We can’t begin to talk about eating unless we talk about hunger. Hunger is one of our most primary needs and one of the earliest ways that we interact with our environment. It is what brings us back to our caretakers and how we learned about the nature of the world. Through our hunger we learn if we are safe, if our needs will be recognized and satisfied, if our caretakers will respond to us appropriately, and what love is.

Bonnie says:

“In my years of working with people, I have noticed that the psychological hallmark of eating issues is the conflicts people have around their needs. If you have a food addiction, you may not recognize when you are really hungry, what you are hungry for, and when you are full. You may not realize what other needs you have that are masked by your obsession with food. When you explore inside, you may find that your constant thinking about food has distracted you from feeling other unmet needs.”

Our issues about hunger come from conflicts about how we care for ourselves, leading to low self-esteem and people-pleasing behavior. This includes the following:

  • Taking care of others instead of yourself
  • Feeling like a martyr
  • Denying your needs in favor of others’ needs
  • Believing that you don’t have the permission, time, or resources to pay attention to your needs

Online Book Party for Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.


WelcoOnline book party for Self-therapy Vol. 3me to my first online book party. This free party is for my newly published book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 3.

I am excited to try holding a book part by videoconference.

Tuesday, July 12
5-6:30 pm pacific time (8-9:30 pm eastern)

The first book in this series, Self-Therapy, brought Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) to both Self-Therapy, Vol. 3therapists and the general public. Vol. 3 shows how IFS can be used to transform a variety of important psychological issues. You don’t need to have read Vol 2. If you have been using IFS with your clients or in your own inner work, this book will help you to heal and transform eating issues, procrastination, the inner critic, depression, perfectionism, anger, communication, and more.

This online book party will be held by videoconference so we can all see each other. Come and have a fun evening!

It will include:

  • A discussion of the book and an opportunity to purchase it.
  • A guided meditation based on one of the chapters.
  • A chance to mingle and get to know the people attending.
  • A description of Vol. 2 and the upcoming Vol. 4 in the Self-Therapy Series.
  • Question answered about IFS, the content of Vol. 3, my books and other products, my classes and groups, Self-Therapy Journey, or anything else.

Click here to register for free.


Changing Procrastination with IFS

The ProcrastinatorChanging Procrastination with IFS is an excerpt from my new book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 3

Do you find yourself avoiding important tasks? Is it hard for you to make decisions and take action to move your life ahead? When you are faced with a project you have decided to work on, do you get distracted or busy with other tasks? Is it difficult for you to discipline yourself to exercise, meditate, or eat well? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you are one of the many people struggling with procrastination.

Procrastination usually happens out of awareness, except for those situations where you sit down to do a task and can’t bring yourself to get started. If you are a procrastinator, you probably don’t decide not to do a task that needs to be done. You just go along with your life, and after a while you realize that you haven’t done the task. You may get distracted with other things. You may get lost in thought. You might spend time online, relaxing, partying, having fun. You might work hard doing things that are less important than the task you are avoiding. Or you may simply forget about the task.

This avoidance is caused by a Procrastinator Part, which is a protector, but you may not be aware of your Procrastinator. Therefore, the first step in doing IFS on procrastination is to discover this part and access it. Here is one way to do this. Remember what it feels like when you are procrastinating. I don’t mean what you feel when you realize that you have been procrastinating. That usually comes from a different part—a part that is upset with you for procrastinating. I am referring to the feelings you have when you are avoiding a task—when you are getting distracted, doing nonessential tasks, putting off the important task, or feeling stuck and unable to get started. Or what it would feel like if you checked in with your experience right before procrastinating.

Tune in to that experience of avoidance. You may feel an emotion, an impulse, a fear, or a sense of wanting to avoid. Notice what this feels like in your body. Get a sense of the part of you that is avoiding; you might see an image of that part.

You work on this part just the way you would work on any other protector in IFS. First you unblend from it, if necessary. Then you unblend from any concerned parts. It can get dicey during this step, so let me explain further. When you check to see how you feel toward the Procrastinator Part, you may realize that you are judging the Procrastinator Part and wanting to get rid of it. This indicates that you are blended with a type of part that I call the Taskmaster, which may be angry at you (and specifically at your Procrastinator) for procrastinating.

The Taskmaster is a type of Inner Critic that pushes you to work hard and judges you harshly if you don’t. When you are procrastinating, your Taskmaster will work very hard to overcome the Procrastination and get you to take action. However, this results in inner conflict which can fuel your procrastination. So you may have to work with your Taskmaster as well as your Procrastinator and the polarization between them.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3For more information or to purchase Self-Therapy Vol. 3, please visit: https://personal-growth-programs.com/products/self-therapy-vol-3/


Self-Therapy, Vol. 3

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3A Step-by-Step Guide to Using IFS for Eating Issues, Procrastination, the Inner Critic, Depression, Perfectionism, Anger, Communication, and More

I am excited to announce the publication of my new book in the Self-Therapy Series. It is available now in Kindle and PDF and will be published in paperback in a week or so.

The first book in this series, Self-Therapy, brought Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) to both therapists and the general public. IFS is a powerful and user-friendly method of therapy, which can be done on your own. Self-Therapy, Vol. 3 shows how IFS can be used to transform a variety of important psychological issues. You don’t need to have read Vol 2.

If you have been using IFS with your clients or in your own inner work, this book will help you to heal and transform eating issues, procrastination, the inner critic, depression, perfectionism, anger, communication, and more.

Click here for more information or to purchase.


Keeping Track of Your Thread in an IFS Session

Do you know how to keep track of your thread in an IFS Session?

The human psyche is a complicated weave of many colored threads of material. It is easy to get pushed and pulled from one thread to another as they are activated. For example, suppose your lover threatens to leave you, and you have a strong reaction of insecurity. You begin to explore your reaction, and you discover a defensive part that wants to prove to your lover that it’s not your fault that he wants to leave. You switch to that part, but before you have gotten very far in getting to know it, you become aware of a feeling of terror coming from a different part. You begin to explore this terrified part and discover that it is frightened about being alone if your lover leaves.

Before long, a loud inner voice starts telling you that it is all your fault that this is happening. This is a self-judging part that insists on being heard, so you switch your attention to it and begin to listen to what it has to say. It starts telling you all the things you have done wrong in the relationship, so no wonder your partner is fed up with you. You get curious about why the self-judging part feels a need to berate you so strongly. In the middle of this exploration, you notice an intense feeling of shame coming from a part that is being impacted by this self-judgment. The self-criticism is making this part feel worthless and unlovable.

Through all this, your attention is constantly being pulled to the part that has the strongest feeling at any moment. You haven’t been able to stick with any one part long enough to understand it or connect with it.  Your attention is a soccer ball on a field being booted around by a team of players. And by the time all these parts have come up, it is easy to forget the part you originally wanted to work with.

It can be useful to access all parts as they arise, because this gives them a chance to be heard, but in the scenario I outlined above, the parts jumped in on each other so fast that none of them really got much attention. And you couldn’t progress toward healing because you kept getting derailed. IFS provides a way to follow one thread at a time through the tapestry of your psyche until you have unraveled it and healed the part it represents. Plan to stay with the target part you have chosen unless you have a good reason to switch to a different target part. Ask the other parts to step aside. Let them know that they will have a turn to be heard, and ask them to let you proceed with the one you picked. You might want to take notes so you can keep track of all the parts that have come up.

For example, suppose you decide to focus on the defensive part and then the self-judging part comes up. Let the self-judging part know that you will take time to listen to it later, but you need to get to know the defensive part now. Ask the self-judging part to wait. If it can’t wait, encourage it to tell you about its judgments, and take some time to hear what it has to say with curiosity and compassion. Once the self-judging part feels heard, ask it to allow you to proceed with the defensive part. It is likely to do that now, which allows you to stay on track.

If any other parts jump in while you are listening to the self-judging part, ask them to step aside, too. And let them know that you will get to know them in the future. Keep track of all the parts that come up and need to be heard so you can keep your promise to listen to them later. This procedure allows you to stay on track with your work without ignoring or dismissing any parts. If they feel dismissed, they might resent you and resist you later.

Self-Therapy A Step-by-StepThis is an excerpt from my book Self-Therapy.

The Self-Acceptance Project

Self-Acceptance Project Book

A couple of years ago, Tami Simon, of Sounds True, did a series of interviews with leading spiritual and personal growth teachers on developing self-acceptance. Tami is a very good interviewer.

I have gotten numerous comments on the interview that she did with me, and how it helped people to understand IFS and how it works with Inner Critic parts. (To view this interview, click here.)

Now Sounds True has published a book with all the interviews. I recommend it highly.