Today, I am joined by my friend and co-author of Boundaries for Your Soul, Kimberly Miller, to discuss the almighty inner critic, how to get space from it, and how to bring this work into your relationships.
Kim describes how she first encountered Internal Family Systems (IFS) and how combining it with Christian faith and practice changed her life.
Here's what we cover:
1. How Kim finally healed the ache in her heart
2. The most ubiquitous part of the soul
3. Why self-acceptance is better than self-condemnation
4. How to differentiate from painful emotions
5. A real-time exercise for quieting your inner critic
6. How this work translates into marriage
Connect with Kimberly Miller at kimberlyjunemiller.com or on Insight Timer
Be sure to pick up your 3 free Boundaries for Your Soul resources here.
Thanks to our sponsors:
Organifi—Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today.
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.
- Connect with Kimberly at kimberlyjunemiller.com
- Click here to get 3 free Boundaries for Your Soul resources
- Get 46% off Boundaries for Your Soul & The Best of You
- Inside Out Movie Trailer
- IFS Institute
- Find a Christian IFS Therapist
- Guided IFS Reflections:
- Insight Timer — KimberlyMiller
- Insight Timer — Ann-Marie Bowen
- John 10:10
- Psalm 23:5
- Psalm 139:16
- Revelations 12:10
- Luke 15:4
- Isaiah 55:6-7
- Matt. 11:28–30
- Boundaries for Your Soul, by Kimberly Miller & Dr. Alison Cook
- Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard
- Hearing God, by Dallas Willard
- The Soul of Shame, by Dr. Curt Thompson
- LeAnne Payne
- Leading Wholeheartedly
- Michi Rose – Table Technique
Quote: “The wildness is gentled out of a personality at war with itself.” Disciplines of the Spirit by Howard Thurman
Other Episodes in this Series:
- Episode 39 Boundaries for Your Soul—How to Navigate Your Overwhelming Thoughts & Feelings
- Episode 40 5 Steps to Healing Painful Emotions & Why Parts of Us Get Stuck in the Past
- Episode 41 Boundaries With Fear And Anxiety—How to Calm the Chaos Within and the Joy of Internal Boundaries
- Episode 42 How to Honor Sadness, Set Boundaries with Loneliness, and What to Do When You Don't Have Time for this Work
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook and Guest Kimberly Miller
Episode 43: Boundaries for Your Soul.
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Alison: Hey everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out The Best of You. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. I am grinning from ear-to-ear and thrilled today because I have my friend and my co-author, of this book we've been talking about Boundaries for Your Soul, with me on the podcast today, Kimberly Miller.
Kim is a marriage and family therapist who lives in Southern California with her sweet girl and her husband, Ken. She is an author, she's a speaker, she is a retreat leader. The head of a wonderful ministry called Leading Wholeheartedly, and she is my co-author.
We wrote this book Boundaries for Your Soul together. It took us really years in the making. It came out of some of the very first conversations we had. When we very first met and became friends, Kim introduced me in those very first conversations to this Internal Family Systems model of therapy.
I'd almost finished my doctoral work and I had not yet been introduced to it. And when Kim and I met, we were talking about our work. We were talking about our love for therapy and our love for faith. And she started telling me about this model and I was just hooked, instantly.
We began to lead retreats, teaching other women about this model. About how to integrate this IFS model with Christian faith and practice. And then out of that grew this book, Boundaries for Your Soul.
So I am thrilled to have Kim here today. Thank you so much for being here, Kim.
Kimberly: Thank you so much for having me, Alison. It's always wonderful to be with you in any setting.
Alison: It's bringing up a lot of different parts of me. Because so much of our time, for those few years leading up to when Boundaries for Your Soul came out. Where you and I just talking back and forth about these different concepts, these different ideas. Trying to flush them out, both in our own lives, in our practice, and for the work of this book. So I would love to hear, today, as we get started, how you learned about IFS. And how it's been helpful to you in both your own life and in your practice?
Kimberly: Sure. Again, thank you so much for having me. And thanks just for being such a wonderful friend, and co-author, and just dialogue partner, over the years. I was living in Boston, at the time, and I had been a Christian since I was young, and I had been serving God.
I had committed my life to full-time Christian service at an Urbana Conference when I was in college and I was working for University Christian Fellowship. And, yet, at the same time, I was hitting a wall emotionally and spiritually, just stuck in certain places. And this is, I think, a normal stage of development that people go through. There's that initial enthusiasm and passion when you meet Jesus.
And then there is the stage of discipleship and productive surface. And then, oftentimes, people just hit a phase where they just want to go deeper. And there's a frustration that there's not the abundant life, and the joy, that the Scriptures talk about.
And, so, that was happening to me. Where I was just thinking, regularly, like, "Why am I not living abundantly the way that Jesus said that I will in John 10:10." And, so, I started seeking help in different places, and counselors, and spiritual directors going to prayer a lot at church. And I was always going up for prayer at the end of the services.
And by God's grace and providence, I was introduced, through a friend, to a social worker who was also the wife of an Episcopalian priest. And I told her my normal spiel, about how I was following Jesus, and I wanted to live the abundant life, but I had these areas in my life where I felt stuck. And I stopped and I looked at her, expecting her to say something like, "Do you want to talk about it?" Something that I had heard before, that wasn't really ultimately that helpful to me.
And she responded and said, "I can help you." And now I know that what she was doing was she was being a hope merchant. And she had this confidence because she had seen transformation through this model of therapy, and I was intrigued.
And, so, we started meeting regularly. Ali, I was so eager for healing that we met for 2 hours, at first, every week. So we met for 2 hours a week and, boy, she helped me so much. And it was this amazing experience, for me, of realizing, for the first time, that I had the ability to unblend from the parts of me that were experiencing pain and to care for those parts from my spirit-led self.
You and I began to call it spirit-led self. In IFS it's called the self. And this was revolutionary for me. It was very empowering and I felt like I had agency over my emotions. What was happening was internal differentiation. I was being able to detach from the parts of me that were hurting and to care for them like you care for a child. And it just changed my life.
And then what we started doing was praying and inviting Jesus to be present with us, in the sessions. And Jesus was ministering to these parts of me and I had never experienced that before. I'd never been able to access His power, in the place where I needed Him the most. And I was able to do that, in these sessions, and it changed my life, really.
And then I started feeling like, "I want to share this with the people that I'm working with. The students that I meet with through university that have deep pain in their lives." And that's how I got started.
Alison: It's amazing. I've heard you tell that story before and I just love the power of it, and you continue to live it. I've gotten to bear witness to you, as a friend, in your marriage, as a mom. Not to mention all these professional hats that you wear, which are so amazing. Where you continue to bring this work into all those different relationships, and it's really beautiful.
Kimberly: The other way that it really helped me was it gave me a framework for understanding other people. And for making sense of what seemed, to me, like apparent contradictions in other people, in my life. And that brought me so much peace of mind.
Because I could finally have a framework for these different people, in my life, that I cared so much about. And I could understand why they behaved in different ways, in different contexts, and said different things at different times.
And instead of feeling like I didn't know who anybody was. I started realizing, "Oh, this person has these different parts and that's so good to know. And let me get to know the parts and befriend of those parts." And it just really helped deepen my relationships. And it helped me to trust in the relationships in a much deeper way, instead of being afraid of people.
Alison: So true. Instead of being confused by people, it begins to explain the complexity that we encounter in people. That sometimes they don't even know they have. And, so, it helps us begin to go, "Okay, this is what's going on there." And it helps us not feel so confused.
Kimberly: And I've heard that one of the goals of therapy is clarity. And when we don't have clarity, we're stuck. And we're really, like you said, confused and it's really hard to know how to move forward.
But when there's clarity and understanding, as we know, Dallas Willard said, "Understanding is the basis of care." And when you understand something, then you know how to care for that thing. Or in this case, it's a person, you know how to care for them well. And befriend the part of them that may be relating to you in a way that is different from their spirit-led self.
Alison: Yes, or have patience with a part of them that is frustrating.
Kimberly: Yes, it really helps with patience and also perspective.
Alison: Sometimes, if we think about this word toxicity. Even when we bump up into a toxic part of someone, where we have to set some boundaries with that toxicity. It can help us both have the healthy boundaries that we need and have some of the healthy distance. I get that there are other parts of that person, but I can't access those other parts of that person. Therefore, I have to make these decisions to keep myself safe.
Kimberly: Yes, preach.
Alison: Okay, so, I'm curious if this has been your experience, Kim, because, over time, this has become, I believe, my experience. And, so, I'll say it this way, and I'm curious what you think about this. I think most of us run into some form of an inner critic, as one of the first parts we actually bump into.
We may not be aware of it; we may not call it that. But in my work with other people and increasingly in, as I get to know the parts of my own soul. Almost always right when I begin to notice some emotion, or some part of me that needs care, or if I'm doing this work with someone else.
When you begin the process of differentiating, we talked a lot about this in these past few episodes. This process of focusing, getting some healthy distance from this part of us, from this painful emotion. And you get to that question of - "How do I feel toward it? How do I feel toward it? I don't like it."
There's almost always this shaming or inner critic, this critical feeling about this way that we feel. And we didn't do a whole chapter in Boundaries for Your Soul on the inner critic, but it's everywhere throughout the book. Because in that step, as you begin to differentiate from a part and you want to befriend it, usually, you're bumping up against that inner critic. And we talk about it in the chapter on shame when we get into the shaming inner critic.
But I'm just curious if you have found that to be true. Do you think that inner critic is, typically, one of those first few parts we bump into, both, in your own life and in the work that you do, with other people?
Kimberly: Absolutely. Usually, when I'm working with a client, the first part that they encounter is a part that's responding to something that's happened in their life. They're feeling angry about something that was said or grief about a loss, et cetera. And then when I invite them to take a U-turn and they focus on the part. And then I ask them how they feel toward it, just like you're saying, that's when it's almost always an inner critic. There's almost always an inner critic there.
It's very rare that a person says, "Oh, I just love this part of me." If they happen to be really soaked through with the Holy Spirit, perhaps. But usually it's more like, "Arh, I just can't stand this part of me. I wish it would go away; it's so annoying. It's getting in the way of my being productive, et cetera."
And, so, we notice the inner critic, and then they have a polarization that we're working with. So there's this critic that's frustrated but, usually, the part is willing to step behind a glass wall. That's my go-to strategy. I know that oftentimes, in IFS, we ask parts to step back. Naturally, I don't want to do that. My inclination is not to ask parts to step back because I feel like they may resent not being welcomed. And the whole philosophy of IFS is all parts are welcomed.
But I do find that critics don't get offended by being asked to watch behind a glass wall. So that's my usual strategy, and I've never had anyone resist that. So, yes, I have very rarely not encountered an inner critic, in myself and in others. And usually what I do is I ask the client or with myself, I ask the inner critic to step behind a glass wall and just watch. I'll just say, "Would you watch behind a glass wall for a minute? And then help us to work with the original part that we discover?"
Alison: So this is great. I love that. And I want, for those listeners, hearing you say, "All parts are welcome". I could hear some of that pushback of, "Aren't there parts of us that we should almost condemn?" So I love that you brought that up. Because I think this is so foundational to this work, especially, for Christians. And we talk about this in the book and, actually, I got this idea from you. I got this concept from you, and it really resonated with me the line - self-condemnation and self-acceptance.
I'd never heard it put that way before, but this idea of self-acceptance is actually the soil in which the Holy Spirit brings healing, not self-condemnation. However, I think some of us, not all of us, but some of us come to the table of this work thinking, "Aren't there parts of me I'm supposed to condemn because they're bad?"
And, so, I want to ask you a little bit about what that has meant for you, that movement from self-condemnation? Because, I think, that's what the inner critic is doing. I think the inner critic, in the best case scenario, sometimes the inner critic is just a voice we've inherited from the past. It's just a bad habit. But sometimes it's a part of us that thinks it's helping by keeping us on the straight and narrow.
Kimberly: Oh, they have very good intentions. They really think that they're helping, for sure. Whether it's the manager that's being critical of you because it wants you to get in line, and not mess up. Or whether it's an inner critic of the original part that you encounter, and it's thinking that that original part is messing things up for you, and for your system. Either way, I think, all parts have very good intentions. They just have strategies that can be unhelpful. And, so, they need correction.
Another thing, Alison, that I've been discovering lately, I should say I'm coming to the belief that inner critics are very young. And it hadn't occurred to me how young they are. Because you think, "Oh, they're so powerful." And they have such strong emotions and such serious emotions, what seem like adult emotions.
But if you realize that these are probably parts that developed very early on in your life. May have even started mimicking critical people in your life, around you, and it's, I think, human nature. So I think we just come out of the shoot this way, just critical.
Think of it like a three-year-old or a four-year-old; they really don't know what they're doing. They really need guidance, and they need to learn the way of compassion. And that's the job of your spirit-led self. We need to become emotionally mature by embracing these young, critical, parts and helping them to see that there's a better way.
Alison: Yes, that's so good, Kim.
Kimberly: Yes, and I love what you're saying about self-acceptance, and I think that is a foundation to a life of service. Self-condemnation is painful. It's like walking around with a broken leg, it's debilitating. And it really holds us back from living into the plan that God has for our lives. And God has a plan for each person's life, even for every day, of each person's life, which is incredible. But the Scriptures tell us that. And accomplishing God's plan for our lives takes concentration, it takes focus, it takes work.
And it takes work that in some way is helping other people. And one of the lines that we came up with, together, in Boundaries for Your Soul. That really has stayed with me and ministered to me a lot is, "It's hard to help others when you're hurting inside." It's really hard to help others when you're hurting inside. And one of our main jobs on this earth is to help people.
And, so, I am so passionate about figuring out how do I get to that point of being able to help other people, so that I can glorify God with my life. And I can't do that if I'm walking around with a broken leg that's not been cared for or attended to. So that's why it's so critical to move from self-criticism to self-acceptance. And that's what this work is all about.
Alison: I love what you're saying about the inner critic being young. I think that's really helpful because they don't feel young. They feel adult, they feel very stern, they feel very parental, they feel authoritative.
Kimberly: They're very scary.
Alison: And you think about little kids, who at times, they can just say what they think. And have really strong opinions, and not really censor themselves or think about the way that they're saying that. It makes sense. It's helpful to differentiate from that part of us and just get that maybe it's on to something. But it doesn't have the best strategy for helping us find our best way forward.
And I think all of this really gets into our experience of shame. Because we know that shame is toxic. You and I spent so much time really going round around, "Is there ever a constructive role of shame?" And we really landed on, "No, it's really toxic."
Our friend, Dr. Curt Thompson, he calls it evils vector. He comes on that strongly about shame. And, so, I think, this inner critic, it's not always connected to shame. But often it's very much connected to where we start to experience shame about ourselves, which is never constructive.
So just circling back to that. How do we manage this shaming inner critic? I know you've talked about we ask it to step back or we ask it to go behind a glass wall. But what about when there's really a lot of shame there, and there's a lot of vitriol? I know for me, when I experience shame, sometimes, it takes a slightly different intervention. How about you? What do you think about it when we're talking about it in terms of shame?
Kimberly: Yes, such a critical topic. And I have experienced a lot of feelings of shame throughout my life. And, so, it's something that I've worked on a lot. In fact, it goes back, for me, so I started naming it and working on it back when I was in grad school. And, so, I've really worked on this issue, Alli, and like I said, it feels like a broken leg.
When you feel shame every day. It feels like you're walking around with this broken leg that hasn't been treated, and it really needs care. You really need to tend to this feeling because, first of all, it hurts. But it's hard to fulfill your God-given purpose when you're debilitated by shame.
I agree that it's never good. I believe that it comes from our fallen nature. And the enemy, Satan is his name, is the accuser. He's called, "The accuser of our brethren," our brothers and sisters in Revelations twelve. And he wants us to feel shame but that's not the voice of Jesus.
And, so, how do we get the parts of us to accept the voice of Jesus and to speak truth? And one of the strategies that I've found to be super helpful, Alli, and it's really just like a go-to technique that works for me really well.
And it works for my clients and it seems to work in groups also, when I'm doing guided exercises. Is to imagine a table, and this is I believe it was a woman named Mitchy Rose IFS therapist who developed this technique.
But I just go to it every time because, first of all, I've seen it work over and over again. Second of all, it's biblical. There are so many wonderful, beautiful, Scriptures about sitting at the table. God wants to invite us to His table. And it's just an analogy in the Scripture, that I believe God wants us to dwell on and to meditate on it.
So in this context, what I like to do is imagine the part of you that's feeling criticized. Imagine your criticized child, and imagine the inner critic sitting there at a table, with the Lord, if they're willing to be with Him. You always want to get permission from parts. If they're willing, and check in with them first, and if they don't have any objection.
See if they're willing to acknowledge His presence or if He's not there to invite His presence. And I always love to do real time exercises, Ali. So if you don't mind, I'll just go ahead and ask your listeners, wherever they are, just take a breath. And if you would like to close your eyes and just picture a table in front of you. And then picture your criticized child sitting there, across the table from you.
Picture the inner critic that doesn't like the criticized child and that's criticizing the child sitting there. And let them acknowledge each other so that they develop a relationship, a more intentional relationship. And realize that they're on the same team and they both have good intentions.
And then if they're willing to recognize or invite the presence of Jesus, whatever name they'd like to use for the sacred presence, to be there as well. And just take in His compassion because every time we connect with the Lord, He speaks love, He speaks grace. He welcomes every part of us. He loves us, and this is where there is healing. This is where there is relief from the suffering of shame.
Alison: Yes, what you're saying reminds me so much of what we talked about, I believe in chapter five, about David's prayer, about setting a table.
Kimberly: Yes, "you have prepared a table, for me, in the presence of my enemies." And you can apply that verse to your internal parts, that sometimes feel like enemies.
Alison: Including your inner critic. And this is this pretty radical work of even befriending this enemy within. Which is this part of you that has taken on this really toxic strategy of shaming you. I love also the quote, I talked about this in a prior episode, that we put in chapter seven, from Howard Thurman, that says "It gentles the wildness". Such a powerful quote. Gentles the wildness out of that part.
Kimberly: He was Martin Luther King Jr.'s mentor, Howard Thurman. And that is such a powerful quote; "It gentles the wildness out of a personality at war with itself."
Kimberly: And I want to be clear, Ali, because it's so important to say we are not suggesting the welcoming of our enemy at the table. Not the enemy, Jesus is very clear that we reject Satan and evil forces. And we have to distinguish between rejecting Satan and the evil forces, and welcoming the part of you that God made, which is good. Because God says that what He had made is good.
Welcoming the part of you that may have picked up some ways of thinking and feeling from the world of flesh and the devil, that's the source of the evil. And disciple that part of you in the way of Jesus, in the way of the heart, in the way of compassion.
Alison: It's so good. I love the image of the table, and I love the image of inviting these different parts and imagining them sitting at the table together. And, again, this is that work of internal reconciliation which is bringing these parts. Not just into connection with you and with God, but also with each other, where they learn to work together in healthier ways.
So the shaming inner critic loses that strategy. It releases that burden of shame. And maybe it starts to become a little bit more of an encourager, or a little bit more of a cautionary check, or whatever thing is, in a healthy way to say, "Hey, I'm not sure about that."
Where the other parts start to trust; "Okay, that part is not out to get me. But it is there to help us stay aligned. Stay true to who we are, to who God is, so that work of creating the healthy boundary lines."
Kimberly: And I wanted to tell you something, Alli, because I love our friendship. We can share with each other how God is healing us, over time, and our friendship is the context of the development of this work.
And I had written about a part that I had told you about, that I encountered early on in my work with therapists, which was my abandoned baby part. That I felt that's the part that we identified, when we started to work with my feelings about my parents' divorce.
And, over time, that abandoned baby part became more healed and accepted by Jesus. And just, recently, Ali, it started to feel like it was changing its name and it wanted to be called - "My comforted child"
"My celebrated child" even, isn't that amazing?
Alison: I love that.
Kimberly: And it has spent so much time with Jesus and it has a new name now. I would say I used to have an abandoned baby part, but it's not abandoned anymore, it's loved by Jesus. And it's not only comforted, but it's celebrated.
And what's so cool is that the inner critic can see that transformation, and then no longer needs to have such a stern strategy of criticizing it anymore. Because it's like, "Oh, I like that part, actually, that's great that you're celebrated. It's not a problem anymore, so I don't need to be critical anymore."
Alison: Oh, that's great.
Kimberly: That inner critic can just become, like you're saying, an encourager and advisor.
Alison: Yes, it has a role, it's just a much more helpful role. That's beautiful, Kim, I love hearing that. Because we did talk a lot about these parts of our own selves, as we were writing that book. And I love that part of you, who's found so much freedom, and peace, and joy in this work.
Kimberly: Yes, oftentimes, when parts meet Jesus they want to sit on His lap, which makes me think they're really young. They're like little children. And they want to put their heads on His shoulder. I'm amazed, when I'm working with clients. That's so often just what naturally happens is these parts want to put their heads on His shoulder and just let Him hold them. I mean, because He's just so good. He's so steady and calm, and He brings comfort to us and He loves us. So that's really the place to hang out.
Alison: It's so true that we tend to hear things like, "We need". As humans, we need safety, we need security, we need attachment. We need these foundational building blocks that creates health in a soul. And I think for the listeners that aren't as familiar with the parts language. What we're doing is applying those same concepts to a very specific part because we're multifaceted, as we've been talking about.
And, so, when a very specific part of us experiences that secure attachment. That maybe that part didn't get from a caregiver, from a parent, from a mom or a dad. Or maybe they had it and lost it, whatever. That part starts to experience that sense of safety, of comfort, of attachment, that we all need as babies with you there.
You're there and with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those parts of us start to heal. And that's where we get into this unburdening. They don't carry that heavy burden anymore, of this part of our story where, "Yes, this hard thing happened to me, and the pain of it has now been relieved. The burden has been lightened."
Kimberly: Yes, I mean, because you knew me back then and I wasn't walking around moping all the time. I was productive. I was teaching. I was living a very productive life. But, yet, I was doing it with this great pain in my heart, which was a part of me that was carrying the burden.
And, so, once I realized, "Oh, I can actually unblend from that part." That part of me doesn't have to sit on the seat of consciousness of my soul all the time. I can get healthy, proper distance from the part. And I love how we came up with this term proper distance.
I don't know that we invented it, but we love talking about proper distance from parts. Okay, I don't want it to be rejected. I don't want to get rid of the abandoned baby part, but I don't want it to overwhelm me. I want to be in a healthy relationship with it and have good boundaries with it. And, like you're saying, have secure attachment with the part. So we're talking about secure attachment between yourself and the part, and between the part and the Lord, and between the parts, among themselves. So there's a lot of attaching going on.
Alison: It's truly a family. And that's the other thing I think is important to highlight, Kim. What I love about your circling back to that is it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. And I love what you're saying; you've had a really full life.
It's not that this part immobilized you. But through tending that internal family. Through tending that garden inside your soul, this part of you not alienating it, also not letting it take you over. Just gently, over time, really tending to that part of you, you see the fruit of that, over time. Where there is this real peace there now.
Kimberly: It sort of snuck up on me, this healing experience, I had recently, of realizing that this part was celebrated and not abandoned. How long has it been? 20 years since I had that original therapy session.
And this just happened like a few weeks ago. Where I reconnected with that part as I was doing a guided exercise, in a group. And I realized, "Oh, my goodness, it doesn't want to be called abandoned baby. That's not me anymore, I'm celebrated. Jesus loves me."
And it took a long time, but if you stick with it. I mean, it's not that I hadn't experienced relief before. Obviously, I had experienced relief, or else I wouldn't have continued on the journey. But to completely change your name, that doesn't happen every day.
Kimberly: And it had gotten to a point where it just did not identify with being abandoned anymore. And it was like, "No, that's really not who I am." This part wanted me to know like, "I want a new name. I'm celebrated." And, so, I like how we talk about this, it's a slow way to get somewhere faster.
Alison: I was just thinking that exact same. That was a line in the book that you came up with. We wrote all of those sentences so closely together, that it's hard to tell, sometimes.
Kimberly: No of that would have happened without you because you came up with the idea of the book. I'll never forget, we were driving in the car, in Washington State and you said, "We should write a book."
Alison: I know.
Kimberly: It changed my life, so none of it would have happened without you.
Alison: But that is that slower way, it's exactly what I was thinking. That's a slower way to get to where you want to be faster. It's really interesting.
Kimberly: Because, realistically, I never would have gotten there if I hadn't done this slow work of attending to the needs of this part. And that I could have gone in a lot of different directions and never experienced the healing for this part, that I was looking for. So I did get there and I think it was faster than it could have been, and it also could have never happened.
Alison: And in a way that allowed you to continue to live a productive life where there was enough relief.
Kimberly: Yes, there was enough relief. And also I was able to put that part in a room in my soul. This is another really helpful technique. Somebody just asked me the other day, " What if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD?"
And I said, "One helpful technique is to imagine the part in a room." Because then it's contained within a specific area of your soul and it's not overwhelming you. And it can be a wonderful little room that it loves with Jesus there, and it has windows.
Everything that you can do to help contain the part. And anything that assists with internal differentiation, not being enmeshed with it, observing. There's other healing therapy models that have to do with differentiation like EMDR. Although I'm not certified in EMDR.
My understanding is that clients are often encouraged to sit in a bus and look out a window, and imagine a circumstance that traumatized them happening outside the window. And that's the technique that helps you get space from that experience. So what we're really after is that differentiation internally. That healthy detachment that gives us a chance to love the part of us that is hurting.
Alison: Yes, it's still connected to but not taken over. It reminds me of DBT, where it's two things can be true. I've experienced this painful thing and I have a full life.
Kimberly: That's how we realized that this was a boundaries concept. When we realized that the problem that we experienced has been blended with or overtaken by, or enmeshed with a part. Because I was enmeshed with that part of me that was hurting, and that was causing me to feel symptoms of depression.
But when I unblended from the part, whatever word you want to use, detached. I don't really like detached as much because that makes it feel like it's too far away because I still want to have that connection. But I was able to get space from the part. I didn't understand that language initially. I was like, "What does that mean, get space from it?
So I differentiate. That's the word that really speaks to me. It's one of my very favorite words. I differentiated from the part and then I was able to connect with it from that loving place within me.
Alison: Yes.[00:32:31] < Music >
Alison: What we talk about in the very last chapter of the book, is how we then take all this work we've done to unblend from and create these healthy relationships, with these parts of us. Then we take that into a relationship with another human who has their own internal family that they've got a parent. These different parts of them. And those different parts of them are in relationship with the different parts of us.
And I just love that last chapter. Which is really, honestly, I always say this most people come to us, and I'm sure this is your experience. Most people come to us wanting to solve the relationship problems in their lives, first and foremost.
And that's where we get at this idea of a U-turn. Because in order to solve the relationship problems in your life you, first, have to learn how to reestablish a healthy relationship with the different parts of your own soul. So you can lead yourself.
I love that story that you talk about how you began to bring this work into your relationship, with your husband. Can you tell us a little bit about that, Kim? What is that been like for you? To bring this work into your relationships, especially, the one with your husband.
Kimberly: I'll start by saying that when I first met Ken, I was already very much into using the Soul Care method. And he did not warm up to it at first. I think like a lot of people that first hear about the idea of having internal parts, he was skeptical and suspicious.
And then one day, thanks be to Pete Docter, we got to go see the movie Inside Out in the theaters. And we laughed all the way through that movie. And we walked out of the theater, and he looked at me and he said, "Okay, now I get it." It was so helpful, and that really changed our lives.
And we started talking about the different parts of us. And he started talking about his criticized child. And then we realized that what was happening, sometimes, when there was tension between us is we had sparring protectors. And we realized that what we both needed to do is take a U-turn. So he is so great at taking a U-turn, and he's always the first to do it. He really models it so well in our relationship.
And, so, if our protector parts start battling one another, he'll just say, "Okay, let me take a U-turn." And then we'll start to talk about the parts of us that are activated, and name them, and then that calms us down.
And I think one of the things that recognizing parts does is it helps us to regulate our emotions, and put things in perspective. And get proper distance from the parts that are overwhelming us. And then we're able to speak on behalf of them.
And this is really a process of growing in emotional maturity. Little children don't know how to do this. They don't know how to say, "There's a part of me that's really angry right now. I love you, but there's a part of me that's angry right now, can we talk about it." A three-year-old can't do that, I promise.
Alison: And a lot of adults can't. Because we didn't learn how to do that, as kids, we don't know how to do that as adults.
Kimberly: It's a skill that one has to learn, it really is. We know how to say, "I'd rather not go there for dinner." That's not so hard. But when it comes to a painful emotion. And some people can't even say that, they can't even express their preferences.
But a lot of people know how to say, "No, I'd rather not be in that environment."
Or "I was bothered when such and such said something." But how much more difficult is it to speak on behalf of a part of you that's really filling hurt. That's really feeling tender. And this is an important life skill to develop if you're going to have an intimate relationship. Because issues are going to arise, that you have to talk through.
Alison: It's so true. And, so, I've touched on it very briefly, but give us an example of the difference between speaking from a part versus speaking for, and this could be with anybody. With a partner with a friend. This, to me, is one of the most profound things about this work because it just takes everything down a notch. So that you can have a very calm conversation with somebody.
Kimberly: I'll use the example that I write about in the book, about my husband, Ken and I having to deal with the mail.
When we first got married the mail would mount up and neither of us would go through it, and it would just really bother me. I mean, because we get so much mail and I would get overwhelmed by it. And I would just find myself being so reactive, and anxious, and angry about it. And it was my birthday and he said, "What do you want for your birthday." And I said, "I want you to go through the mail with me."
And he had a part that got activated, he felt criticized. But we talked it through and we ended up having a lovely dinner and he gave me a sweet present. And then we also went through the mail together. But, anyway, I guess the example of speaking from a part would be to say, "I'm so frustrated that there's mail on the desk all the time."
A way of speaking on behalf of a part would be to say, "First of all, Honey, are you available for me to share something that I'm feeling?" Ask for an appointment and then when the other person is available to say, "I really love you. I love being married to you. I appreciate all that you do every day." So express appreciation and reaffirm your commitment.
And then just say, "Would you be open to hearing about a part of me that's activated right now." And then just say, "I have a lot of appreciation for you, and there's a part of me that's feeling anxious if the mail isn't getting opened on a regular basis." So that's an example.
And it takes a lot more time but, again, it's a slower way to get where you want to go faster. Because it'll end up getting you the results a lot quicker. And then there's not as much tension or no tension, in the environment anymore. And I don't claim to be perfect at this, but we're aiming for progress, not perfection.
Kimberly: And it's a lifetime process. I think it takes a lifetime to develop this skill. And even just being able to internally realize that you're activated, is a very good first step. And curiosity is a great starting point. I used to think curiosity and compassion were the best starting points. But compassion is actually asking a lot of a person.
And I think it's very helpful just to say, "Let's just begin with becoming curious about this feeling of reactivity and what's that about? When he's focusing on reading the paper instead of being with me. And that must mean that I'm not important to him."
There's a lot under there, and I need to really pause and take a look at why I'm feeling so reactive about it. And then move in the direction of speaking on behalf of.
Alison: Yes, it's so interesting, to bring this full circle, to that inner critic. Because I think when we haven't done the work inside of ourselves, or when we're on the front end of it, that inner critic comes in.
We see the mail we're annoyed, and then we're either mad at ourselves. And then that inner critic turns also on the other person, who's not taking this problem magically away, that they may not even know. Maybe it's not bothering them, they don't care.
So all of a sudden, that inner critic is now mad at us, they're mad at this other person. And then we can speak from it, which is, "What's wrong with you? You don't care about me. Why don't you help me out? I don't even know what just happened."
Kimberly: [Inaudible 00:06:43] bring the paper.
Alison: And, so, all that work that has to happen internally to, first of all, validate, "Wait a minute, this is causing me stress. This is causing me anxiety for numerous reasons, that go beyond just the mail." And this is the thing in marriage, it usually is these little things, initially, yes, they start to pile up.
But the more you begin to get curious, I love that you went there. Get curious about, "Okay, what is going on? Why is that so activating to me?" Not from a shaming place but from a validating place. Then that allows you to go into that conversation with the other person, without criticism, which is never helpful to relationships.
Alison: And to go into it with curiosity. Naming, again, naming is so important. Without shame, without criticism, "This is what's happening inside of me. And then together can we figure out how to solve this problem." It's just so much healthier, but it does start from the inside out. This work of how we bring it to that other person is really critical, to that conversation going well.
Kimberly: That's right, and owning what is going on inside of you and sharing about that, at a time when they're available. I can't stress that enough. Being aware that the person you're in a relationship with, whether it's a friend, or co-worker, or spouse, they've got their whole life going on, themselves. And they're not necessarily where you are in your mind. And it's really important to ask for an appointment to talk. Because these are really important things to talk about, and you want to do it at a time when they're available.
And then also a little tip that I've learned is never bringing anything like this up after 06:00 p.m., at night because people are just spent by then. So do it at a time when you're fresh and you've got space. And it may be that you have to put it in the calendar, but it's important. It's as important as whatever else is in your calendar.
Kimberly: Make space for it and then take a U-turn, stay on your side of the tennis court, own what you're experiencing. And use the opportunity, as a trailhead, to walk down a path of worrying what's going on with your inner world and find the curiosity within you. Extend that curiosity to the part of you that's feeling activated.
And then another phrase that's really helpful, is to think of the context as a torment. The mail, for me, can be a tormentor. Because it can be an opportunity, for me, to learn about myself because of the reactivity that it causes in me.
It sounds like a benign example, but for some reason, I think it's also because I'm an Enneagram One. And I really like for my environment to be clean, and orderly, and just seeing all the paper causes clutter in my psyche. But I've really gotten good at unsubscribing and discontinuing things, and just doing a lot electronically just as much as I can. I make it a daily practice to unsubscribe and discontinue.
Alison: Oh, that's cool, good for you.
Kimberly: Yes, it's just one thing a day, yes, it really helps a lot. Anyway, that's a whole another podcast.
Alison: That's what I was going to say. How do you use this parts work as part of your ongoing spiritual practice? Because I talk a lot about how you can do it in the context of therapy. And I think it's important to do it in the context of therapy, especially, when you have a lot of trauma. When you have a lot of deep pain that you've never unpacked, that you've never looked at. I think it's important not to do it alone.
It's important to do it with someone. And I also think this work is something we can incorporate into our daily practice, as we get to know the contents of our soul. So how do you use it in your own daily spiritual practices?
Kimberly: I had an IFS therapist, for a long time, and now I feel like I've so internalized the process. And I really learned, over the years, what it was that I was really wanting to get to in therapy. Which was the encounter of the part with Jesus. And now I really do that just on my own, on a daily basis in prayer. And it helps me to journal and journaling facilitates that divine encounter.
I do what you might call solo IFS, so I usually write out a thought that I'm having such as, "I'm feeling anxious about speaking tomorrow." Or something like that. And then I just write whatever other parts are speaking or I write what they're feeling. And then really quickly after that, within a few lines, I start to sense the Holy Spirit speaking. And I start to sense my Spirit-led self-comforting the parts, and responding in truth and love to the parts, and the parts relax.
I also do this through just imaginative prayer. I'll just close my eyes and picture a table, that really works for me, like I said. I just picture the part of me that's anxious, or sad, or hurt, sitting with Jesus and just listening for His voice. I also love to do it in guided exercises, with groups.
So, actually, you helped me start, together, you and I started a group. Again, it came out of our conversation. A group that meets on a regular basis, and we have a facilitator that leads us in a guided exercise.
So I do that on a regular basis, and that gives me a chance to be led in the experience of seeing parts connect with Jesus. And there's Insight Timer, there's a lot of good recordings on Insight Timer. I think, Anne-Marie Bowen just posted something, she's been encouraging me to do it too.
Alison: She does. I'll link to that in the episode, for folks who want to see what these guided exercises are, they're really helpful.
Kimberly: Yes, she is a Christian IFS therapist and just posted some Christ-centered IFS exercises to help you connect parts to Jesus. There's one that I did that's on my website, so I encourage your listeners to go there and find it.
But, yes, journaling solo IFS, mapping out parts, drawing a picture of the different parts. What I should say is I map out what the parts are saying on a piece of paper. So I put the voices or the thoughts of managers in one corner of the page.
The voices and feelings of firefighters in another corner. And then the exiles at the bottom and then the spirit-led self in the middle. And then the voice of God will usually speak to me, somehow, and I'll write that down in the middle with the spirit-led self, too. So that's a really common spiritual practice that I undergo.
Alison: Yes, it's super helpful, I do that too. I write out, I journal out the different voices in my head. And, like you said, with practice it comes more quickly, that ability to breathe into the reframe, the Holy Spirit-led reframe.
Kimberly: I love that.
Kimberly: Yes, I love that. I love that integration of psychology and spirituality, that's beautiful. The Holy Spirit-led reframe. I love to pray, "Lord, help me to differentiate from this part. Lord, please let this part of me know that you love me and you care for this part of me."
And He responds. He says, "Seek my face while I'm near."
And I'm working on this book I've told you about called Inviting God. And I just have been going through the Scripture, just looking at all the different places that God wants us to invite Him into our lives. And it's become really clear to me that God wants us to invite Him in, and He wants to minister to us, and He's right there.
He's right there for us, but we need to bring the parts of us that are hurting into His presence, so that He can minister to them. Just like a doctor can't operate on a person who's not staying on the operating table. And we need to present the hurting parts of us to Him and then He heals us.
Alison: Yes, I love that. It's so beautiful. It reminds me of the passage that we talk about, I think, in chapter four. About how Jesus goes after the lost sheep and He leaves the 99 to go after the one. And it applies to the parts of our own soul, that even if we're doing all right but there's one part of us that's hurting, God cares about that part of us, too.
And this is the process of our lives. This is the work. This is the work of becoming more spiritually and emotionally whole. In my experience it sure means life is never boring. There's always a way to tend the garden, tend the soil of our souls.
Kimberly: It takes courage, Alison, because it's easier to just let yourself be distracted all the time, and it's easier to avoid these feelings. But I just encourage everyone to really lean in to this process because God wants us to be free. He doesn't want us to live enslaved to firefighter parts that have a grip on us, or manager parts that just won't relent, or won't relax, or exile parts that are just constantly living under the weight of heavy burdens.
He doesn't want us to live like that. He wants us to live freely and lightly. And He invites us to come to Him when we're burdened and promises that we'll live freely and lightly when we do that.
Alison: I love that. Tell us about any projects you're working on; how people can find you?
Kimberly: Yes, as I mentioned, I'm working on this book that I'm calling Inviting God into the Broken Places. And it's really an elaboration of step three of taking a U-turn. Just really going deeper into that experience of encountering Jesus, where we need to meet with Him. And then I'm also working on a mental health Bible. There's different types of Bible. So I'm talking about the Word of God, but there's different publications.
I'm not talking about there's a nutrition Bible. I'm not talking about just something like that. I'm talking about the Word of God, but published in a way that that highlights the ways in which the Bible facilitates mental health.
And working with a publishing company to come up with ten articles on ten topics, so it'll be 100 articles of ancillary materials to go along with Scripture passages. As well an index at the beginning of the ten topics so people know where to find those passages, on whatever topics that they're struggling with. So that is the project that I'm working on right now.
And then I'm also preparing to lead a retreat here in California, in May. So I have those things going on and I'm on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, but really the website is the main place to find me and to connect if you want to reach out.
Alison: Which is kimberlyjunemiller.com, we'll link to that.
Kimberly: Exactly, just my name.
Alison: That's awesome, Kim. That Bible sounds amazing. I can't wait for that. We will be so excited to hear more about that. I have a couple of questions I ask everyone. I've never asked you these questions, so I'm very curious to hear your answer. What or who is bringing out the best of you right now?
Kimberly: Oh, I would say right now you are.
Kimberly: [Inaudible 00:16:21] topic and it was like people that have helped me to live out my God-given calling, and that's definitely you, Alison. Friends who are challenging me and loving me right now, probably, Ken more than anyone, my husband.
And I've got a couple of girlfriends that I work closely with, Elizabeth, you know her. My friend Lauren here and she supports me in my ministry, as well. Do they have to be alive? Because there's so many authors from the past that I read a lot, that really speak to me.
I think books just really get my mind just active and I just get so inspired by people like Dallas Willard. I'm reading his book Hearing God right now. And just a few pages of that book, I'm just so excited about listening to God's voice. Friends, family, wonderful books get me in the writing zone. And, then, God's Word when you said, "What really brings out the best in you?" Spending time in Scripture it really builds me up.
Alison: I love that. What needs and desires are you working to protect?
Kimberly: Really time with God. Time with family and friends. Time to work and write. Time to exercise and cook healthy food, and, of course, time to open the mail.
Alison: That's always good. Until someday it goes away, which it, might.
Kimberly: I think, less and less.
Alison: Yes, oh, Kim, it's so fun to be with you and have some of these conversations again. I'm so grateful for you and for the work that you're doing and putting into the world. And I so appreciate you coming here today to share with us about your life and about these topics, just grateful for you.
Alison: Thank you so much for your friendship, Alison. Ever since I first met you in Boston, since Jeff set us up for that tea, that we had, it's just been such a life-giving friendship. And thank you for who you are and all that you're doing and just the incredible impact you're having on so many lives. It's a beautiful thing to see.
Alison: Thanks, Kim.[00:18:09] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you'd go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
2nd March 2023
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