We all need a map to our soul.
A way to understand the emotions, the wounds, the areas that feel broken.
That's what I love about the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of therapy—it provides a map that everybody can incorporate into their daily spiritual practice.
It's your guide to navigating overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
Today on the podcast, I'm walking you through this map, including the following:
1. A picture of wholeness
2. The cost of not tending your inner life
3. A map of the parts of your soul
4. The 3 types of parts we all have
5. How Jesus relates to each part
6. What it means to have healthy boundaries inside your soul
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
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- Have questions you want me to address on our next podcast series? Leave them here.
- Inside Out Movie Trailer
- IFS Institute
- Find a Christian IFS Therapist
- Episode 4: What do I need to know about trauma?
- "Try thinking about this place as the core of your being—your heart, where all human sentiments are held together in truth. From this place you can feel, think, and act truthfully." The Inner Voice of Love, by Henri Nouwen
- "We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out.” Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The Best of You Podcast: Episode 39 2nd Feb 2023
With Dr. Alison Cook
Boundaries for Your Soul
Alison: Hey everyone, and welcome back to this episode of The Best of You podcast. I am so glad you're here, and I am so excited to start, today, this brand-new series on Boundaries for Your Soul. It's all about turning overwhelming thoughts and feelings into your greatest allies.
It's really all about emotional and spiritual wholeness. It's a deep dive into the center of your God-made soul. It's the heart of everything I do.
In fact, as you listen to these episodes today and, especially next week, you will hear so much of my approach to this work of becoming emotionally and spiritually whole, in partnership with God's Spirit. We have so much to cover here.
Next week I'm going to walk you through five steps to identifying and understanding a part of your soul that needs your care, that needs your attention. And then we're going to take a deep dive into different emotions that can be tricky and challenging and hard for us. So it's going to be a great series.
And, so, before we get started, I want to point you to some resources I've provided, that will help you as we move through this series. So there are three free resources on my website. One is a PDF - Map of The Soul. We're going to go through that map today.
There's a PDF devotional that takes you on this whole journey, and there's a guided audio reflection. This is a way for you to practice this framework, that I'm going to teach you today and next week, with me guiding you through it. Some people learn more through visualizing. Some people learn more through reading, and some people learn through hearing. And, so, I've got three ways for you to engage this work.
They're all at my website, it's dralisoncook.com/ifsbundle. Those three resources are there for you for free. You will also find there a link to get my first book Boundaries for Your Soul, which is a detailed overview of this approach. As well as my book, The Best of You, which also alludes to this approach. You can get both books together for the price of 1, which is 46% off. The link to that special discount bundle also there at dralisoncook.com/ifsbundle.
As always, if you are someone who is dealing with trauma, or unhealed pain from the past. If you have emotions that you haven't really looked at, and they're pretty deep. And you have a sense, "Ooh, that's going to be scary." We've talked about this in the episode on trauma. Please do not journey alone.
There is a list of all kinds of resources; including support groups, counselors, IFS therapists who operate from a faith-based perspective. All of those resources are at my website dralisoncook.com/resources. Including thoughts on how to go about finding a therapist. So please don't take this journey alone. Find those resources at dralisoncook.com/resources.
So I want to start off, today, by talking about wholeness. Wholeness is this thing we want. We want to feel whole. We want to feel aligned. We want to feel at peace with ourselves, is another way, I think, of thinking about wholeness. It's things coming together. It's harmony. It's a sense of being undivided. It's integration. It's a good feeling.
When we feel united inside of ourselves, we feel at peace with the decisions we're making. We feel at peace with our past, we feel at peace with the people in our lives. This is the picture of wholeness that we all want.
The problem is that we tend to think of this idea of wholeness as the absence of conflict, as the absence of tension, as the absence of challenges. We tend to think of it as this magical place we'll arrive. When we just are suddenly at peace with ourselves and with the world around us.
And if you think of a puzzle, this is the best metaphor I can think of, where there are all these pieces laying around. And you have to take your time to, painstakingly, take each piece put it together in its proper relationship with the other pieces, to create this beautiful picture. The pieces matter to the whole. If you lose some of those pieces or you can't figure out how to put certain pieces together, you miss out on that whole. There's a process, there's work, to be done inside our souls to get to that picture of wholeness.
And, so, this is what I want to walk you through, today, is the pieces. We first have to understand the pieces, the parts, of our souls, in order to bring those parts of our souls together to create this beautiful wholeness.
This harmony, this way of being in the world that is a little bit lighter, a little bit easier, a little bit more calm, a little bit more clear. Where we're really operating out of all of who we are, in a way that is emotionally and spiritually integrated. This is a lofty goal, that's why we're doing a six-week series on it. This is a lofty goal.
So today, I want to give you a map of these parts. A framework, a way of understanding the different parts of your soul. Because in order to get to the wholeness, the harmony, the piece, we have to understand the parts.
Our interior lives are murky; we can't see the parts of our souls. If you get a broken arm, you know something is wrong, you can see it. You can go to a doctor and point to it and they can help you mend it. But when a part of your soul is out of alignment, or hurting, or broken, or shoved so far aside, that you can hardly even find it. What do you do? It's murky in there.
And, so, in my work, I've developed a great respect for an evidence-based model of therapy, that looks at the soul as an internal family.
Just as you parent in your own family, right, where every part of the family, every family member has a role to play, every family member is valuable. Every family member needs to have a voice, and then somehow all of these voices have to come together in some sort of semblance of harmony where everyone is honored. It requires a lot of negotiation, right? To help your family to thrive. Not everybody gets their way. It's how we learn to get along with others, right? We have to learn to negotiate. We have to learn how to speak up for ourselves, and also have to step back to give others a turn.
In a healthy family, no one individual is taking over the family, but also no one individual is getting shoved aside or not getting heard. It's a lot of work to create harmony in a family.
And this is the way of your soul, your soul is like a family.
Now, if you've seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, I would encourage you to go back and watch that film as you listen to this series. It's a great film. It's a children's movie, but it's great for adults too. And it depicts a little bit of what I mean by these family of parts, these different emotions where you've got fear, you've got anger, you've got joy, this “will” to be happy all the time. You've got sadness, you've got disgusted sort of this eye rolling part, all existing inside the minds of each character. And each one of those emotions, each one of those parts is vying for control of that person in any given moment. And it's a great picture of what happens inside our own souls.
Now this Internal Family approach that Inside Out does such a great job of depicting is based on the work of psychologist, Dr. Richard Schwartz. Dr. Schwartz, in the early 1990s, came up with this model of therapy, it's called Internal Family Systems. And it's this way of viewing the parts of yourself so that you can lead yourself to wholeness, to harmony.
It's an evidence-based approach to therapy. I also view it as a spiritual practice, it's a deeply spiritual approach.
And in Boundaries for Your Soul, which is my first book with Kimberly Miller. We combine this evidence-based approach, IFS, Internal Family Systems, with Christian faith and practice.
And, so, this is an approach you can use every day, in your life. It's also an approach that people can use, with the help of a therapist, to heal deep trauma, to heal deep wounds, it works for all of us. It's a way of orienting to the parts of our soul, so that we can lead ourselves with clarity, with courage, with compassion. So that we can lead the parts of ourselves wisely.
The basic premise of this approach is that we're all comprised of parts, and it's pretty simple. If you think about your day-to-day, you can imagine a part of you might be tired and wants to stay home or call in sick from work. Another part of you is saying, "No, we can't do that, we got to get ourselves through it. We got to get to work."
Right there, you're experiencing some inner tension. Some inner conflict between two parts of you. A part of you wants to go out this weekend, and a part of you wants to stay home. A part of you is tired, another part of you won't let you stop working.
We're comprised of different parts, and wholeness doesn't come through choosing between the different parts or shoving 1 part aside. It comes as a result of learning to attune to these different parts of you, to pay attention to them, and to negotiate within yourself the best way forward. This is a way of leading the parts of yourself in partnership with God's Spirit
Now, I know some of you may think, "Gosh, this sounds like a lot of work. It's hard enough to raise my kids, and get to work. And how am I going to do this work of parenting my own soul?" And I get that, I mean, this is the biggest thing that's on my heart. Is to encourage you that creating space for this relationship with yourself is as important as all the work you put into the relationship with other people. And it's a deep, profound part of your relationship with God.
Now, here's the alternative, what we tend to do, if we don't do this work, and I have done this, listen, I have done this. I lived my life this way for so long. We do a couple of things; we work really hard to show up well for others, we please, we produce, we perform, we peace-keep, we hustle, we get the job done. We go and then we shut down, we numb it out, we escape. We do whatever we have to do to try to fill up our gas tank so that we can repeat the cycle the next day. Work hard, shut down. Work hard, shut down. Go. Numb.
We bounce between those two things, and I've done this, I've lived there, but we end up divided. We don't feel like we're showing up as the best of who we are, and we're not. Because there are parts of us that are being tossed away by the wayside, and this is what I want to walk you through today.
According to Dr. Schwartz and his model, there are three categories of parts of the soul. The first category is that one; that go, please, produce, perform.
Get through the day, show up for work, do all the things, get the job done. These are our manager parts. These are the parts of us that protect us by preventing bad things from happening. At least, that's what they think, "We just got to get this done."
"We just got to keep people happy."
"We just got to get everything more perfect, and then we'll be okay."
"We just got to keep putting on performing, making sure no one sees what we're really feeling on the inside."
These are our manager parts. These are parts of us that worry and analyze over and over and over when they're not really solving the problem anymore. They incessantly people please, because we're terrified of what other people are going to think about us.
They're the parts of us that keep working long hours, long after we needed to take a break, they overanalyze, they overthink. They are critical primarily of ourselves.
These parts of us think they're trying to help by forcing us, shoving us, criticizing us, berating us to make sure we never let anybody down or never let anyone else see our vulnerabilities or our areas of weakness.
And then we get tired because we are not machines. We are human beings. And so this second category of part kicks in and Dr. Schwartz calls this category firefighter parts. They're called firefighters because they come in to put out the flames of pain after you start to feel overwhelmed. They are the parts of us that just wanna shut it all down. They numb, they escape. They indulge in whatever feels good in the moment just to make it through the end of the day.
These parts are often operating outside of our conscious awareness. If you've ever found yourself mindlessly surfing the internet for hours on end, you can't believe it. When you look at the clock that all that time had passed, they reach for the credit card and just start buying things. When you don't really have the money to spend and might not even need the things.
These are the parts of us that go to food or sleep or exercise or otherwise good things, but to an excessive degree, that's not healthy. These are the parts of us that binge television for hours on end, they can turn toward excessive daydreaming of fantasy life. And these are the parts of us that can also turn toward addictions like alcohol, drugs, pills, anything to put out the flames of pain inside of us.
And this is the dichotomy. We are working hard, and then we are shutting it all down. We're out of balance.
Now, here's the thing, there's a third category of parts. And these are the parts of us we don't often want to face, but they're the parts of us that we need to attune to. That we need to connect to, to bring ourselves back into harmony, and Dr. Schwartz called these parts exiles.
They're called exiles because we shove these parts aside. They're the parts of us that harbor shame, fears, self-doubts and insecurities, our hurts, our wounds, and our unhealed pain. They harbor feelings of being less than feeling worthless, of being unappreciated, unseen, invisible, alone.
These are the parts of us that need our care and God's healing the most. But we are so busy managing or shutting it all down, that we don't get these parts of ourselves the care that they need.
And as a result, sometimes these exiled parts ambush us. They take us over. They've been left alone at the corners of our soul where they're not getting the care that they need, and then they can take you over and suddenly you can just be overwhelmed with sadness. You can be overwhelmed with pain. Sometimes we exile anger, and you might find yourself overwhelmed with anger. They come roaring out from where they've been exiled and overwhelm us with the fear, the heartaches, the self-doubt that they carry.
We're out of balance and we begin to think of ourselves as only sad or only lonely or only broken, and we lose sight of the whole.
This is just one part of our story. It's not the sum total of who we are. Your depression, your sorrow, your fears, your anger, your loneliness. Yes, they are real and they are not the sum total of who you are. They are not your identity. And when we get outta balance, these parts of us can start to feel like all of who we are.
The truth is there are two opposite and equally unhealthy ways of relating to these parts of your souls. One, you can keep them too close to you, right? And you become that one part of you. And that's what we saw in the Pixar movie Inside Out when one part tries to take over. But you can also push these parts of you too far away.
If you're too close, you risk being overwhelmed by them. And if they're too far, you risk being cut off from them only to be influenced by these parts of you in harmful ways.
Our job is to learn to lead each of these parts of us wisely.
Together, these three categories of parts create a whole. None of these parts of you is bad. Please hear me say that. We need the manager, parts of us that get us up in the morning, that help us comb our hair, that help us clean up the house, or get the chores done and put our best foot forward. But they become problematic when they take over, at the expense of the other parts of us.
Same with those firefighters, they are not all bad. We need healthy relief, healthy comfort, healthy distractions, healthy escape. We talked about that in the series on detoxing. The goal of a detox isn't to remove our coping tactics, it's to find healthier ones. But these firefighters can get really problematic, if we are not aware of them, they're sneaky. They sneak in and they get us to just, mindlessly, numb out, instead of giving ourselves the care that we actually need, and these exiles are precious - These are the parts of us that remind us that we’re human That we’re tender, vulnerable, and that we have needs. They remind us to slow down, that WE might be the one who needs our attention:
I wonder what that loneliness is about. Let’s not sideline it. But let’s also not let it overwhelm us. Let’s get curious about it and talk with a friend about it.
These are the parts of us that help us identify where we have needs and where we need to learn to speak up on behalf of ourselves with safe people. They are the parts that need our compassion, our attention, our kindness, our patience, our gentleness the most.
So how do we know when we are out of balance, when a part of our soul needs our attention?
Well, the biggest cue is when you find yourself doing something at an extreme. You might notice,
“Man, I just cannot stop working. I am exhausted. I've worked long past my deadlines. I just can't stop myself. I wonder what else is going on inside of me.”
“I cannot stop analyzing this situation. I'm not getting anywhere. It's not helping me, but I can't stop. I need to slow myself down and pay attention. Some part of me might be hurting and this, all this analysis, all of this, you know, mental paralysis is not helping.”
“I cannot stop saying yes or pleasing other people. It's like a compulsive need meeting and I can't stop and it's starting to hurt me. I wonder if there's a part of me that needs my care, how can I slow it down to discover what's really going on inside of me?”
“I just checked out for hours, like I could not get myself to do something.”
And so you start to become your own detective. We start to pay attention to the different parts of our soul, so we can bring ourselves into alignment. And next week, I'm going to walk you through a five-step process of doing that. But for today, I just want you to begin to recognize these different parts of yourself, and begin to notice when maybe a manager part of you is taking you over.
An extreme emotion, like anger, like frustration, like worry, like fear, doubt—a lot of things can serve as a cue to pay attention. It's like a light on that dashboard of your car, when it goes off saying, pay attention to your car.
Something isn't working quite right. These extremes are an opportunity to get curious. A part of your soul needs your care. Now, remember we talked about this in episode four on trauma. Do not take this journey alone. If it feels overwhelming to you. Bookmark it. Say, “wow, this is something I might need to pay attention to with the help of a therapist or in the safety of community.”
Now, here's the good news. At the center of all of these parts of us is the place inside you where the Holy Spirit lives. And, so, often we tend to look externally to God to solve our problems or externally to other people. And I talk about that in The Best of You, a lot, in chapters two, three, and four. Where we forget about this internal place inside of us. Where the best of who God has made you to be, your God-given self comes together with the power of God's Spirit to help you lead yourself wisely. To help you lead yourself with wisdom and in truth.
This place inside of you, is a place where all of you are comes together with all of who God is to lead these parts of you into wise, brave, action. You have this inside of you, it's the best of who you are. And part of our job, as humans, is to begin to peel back the layers of all of these parts so we can access this beautiful place inside of us, and lead ourselves wisely.
Henri Nouwen talks about this place inside of us as, "A place of truth, where we hold ourselves together with compassion."
Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, talk about it as "A place inside where we can become aware of our different thoughts and feelings.” We can name them without shame, and without judgment, and without criticism. We can just be with the parts of ourselves with compassion.
Dr. Schwartz called this the “Self.”
And in Boundaries for Your Soul, we call it, "the Spirit-lead self." It's the place where who you are comes together with God's Spirit, and you can lead yourself well.
Before we close, I want to give you a metaphor that I really love to describe this process, as well as examples from Scripture. And then next week, we're going to get into a practical five-step process to begin to do this work inside your own soul. Of just paying attention to the different parts of your soul, and learning to lead the parts of you wisely.
All right, in my experience, both as a therapist and in my own life, I came to find out that we are so often trying to operate in our lives without connecting to this place inside of us. Where God's Spirit helps us lead the parts of ourselves well. And the metaphor that I love is it's like a middle school band.
Now, I played in a middle school band and it was chaos. And I want you to imagine this middle school band without a conductor. The trumpets are over there just taking over. They think they're knocking it out of the park. They think they're in charge, but they’re playing too loud.
The flutes are playing so quietly or out of tune, you can barely hear them. They're such an important part, but if they’re not led well, you can miss them.
And then we got the drums, in the background, and these guys are just having a ball, they could care less about anybody else. They are just beating in whatever way feels good to them, and it's chaos.
And imagine a wise, capable, kind conductor steps up in front of the band and begins to slowly, methodically, with such wisdom, such tenderness, such compassion begins to help each of those parts play their role well.
Suddenly the trumpets are in key and they're playing at the right tempo, the right volume. The flutes come in and sound so beautiful, adding a gentleness, a serenity to the melody, and the drums are back there keeping everybody on beat. Suddenly, you have a beautiful harmony, and that wise conductor has helped each of those parts play their role well.
We all have access to that wise, inner, conductor and that's our job. It's to begin to learn how to show up for these parts of ourselves with wisdom, with gentleness, with honesty, with direction, with leadership. So that we can show up in the world authentically, from all the way down deep inside.
So that the insides of who we are begin to match how we show up on the outside.
This is the work of becoming more whole. It's how we heal the different parts inside of us. It's also how we show up to be a healing force, for good, in the lives of others.
And as you consider these different parts of your own soul, I want you to think about the way that Jesus interacted with three different kinds of people in the Gospels. And I love this because it maps onto these characters inside our own soul.
So number one, we see Jesus interacting with the sanctimonious, the stubborn, the self-sufficient religious leaders who thought they could do it all on their own. They thought they knew the right way, and they didn't really need Jesus. They were just going to get it done on their own.
And how did Jesus respond to those folks? He often asked them to take a step back. He accused them of shining it up on the outside when the inside remained empty.
And then Jesus also engaged with those who were straying; the sinners, the ones who were cheating, who were stealing, who were lying, who were engaged in adultery, and all sorts of things like that.
And how did Jesus engage those folks? He did not shame them. He named what was happening and He invited them into a different role. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
"Your faith has saved you, go in peace." He did not shame them; He gave them a new role.
And then, finally, we see Jesus engaging the suffering. Those who were sick, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically. For reasons beyond their control, they have been marginalized by society. And, yet, Jesus invited them to draw closer. He welcomed them in and gave them purpose, "Get up, pick up your mat, and walk." You have value here.
You are no longer invisible.
And here's the thing, we all have a little bit of all three of those types of people inside our own souls. Those sanctimonious, stubborn, sometimes, self-sufficient manager parts of us that just think, "We can muscle our way through and get it done on our own."
And then we have those parts of us that just are so tempted to stray. Just drown it out in that bag of cookies, in that endless scrolling, in that entertainment, in that alcohol, in whatever it is, that will just shut it all down.
And then we have the suffering parts of us that are so weary, so silenced, so invisible, in the corners of our own soul.
And Jesus comes in and He helps us reorient our own soul, to create a more beautiful melody.
"It's okay, inner critic, you've done your work telling me all the ways i’ve gotten it wrong, today, could you please step back. I'm in charge now, and I know a better way.
I don't need to pick up that bag of cookies, that alcohol, that credit card, that numbing. I need to rest, reach out for help, dance, or play or be silly instead, in this moment."
And, "Sadness, you're welcome here. I don't want you to take me over, but you have a seat at the table. It's okay to be here, you are welcome."
"Fear, you can be here, too, you don't get to drive. You don't get to take control of this decision. But I see you, you can be here, you can also have a seat at the table."
And suddenly it's like our inner lives become this grand boardroom, where all these parts have a seat at the table. Our inner critic, our fear, our worry, our sadness, our people-pleasing parts, our perfectionists.
We start to honor each one, and the good intention behind their actions, when we are leading from this place inside where the Holy Spirit dwells. Where we can hold all of these parts together in wisdom, and in truth, and lead ourselves into a brave new way forward. This is the work of becoming whole.
We start to course-correct with patience and with intention.
This is the work of taking every part of your soul and bringing it into the light of healing, so that you can begin to lead yourself well with joy, even with some playful energy. You start to delight in parts of you that sometimes make you roll your eyes; you're no longer shaming yourself. You are delighting in the intricacies of how you were made,
This is the beauty of healthy boundaries inside your own soul.
I am looking forward to the study and have been enjoying the episodes. I
am very interested in both books. I’m not sure I can get the fantastic bundle option in Canada.