Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Richard Schwartz. Richard is on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he discovered that family therapy alone did not achieve full symptom relief. In asking patients why, he learned that they were plagued by what they called “parts.” These patients became his teachers as they described how their parts formed networks of inner relationships that resembled the families he had been working with. He also found that as they focused on and, thereby, separated from their parts, they would shift into a state characterized by qualities like curiosity, calm, confidence, and compassion. He called that inner essence the Self and was amazed to find it even in severely diagnosed and traumatized patients. From these explorations, the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model was born in the early 1980s.
IFS is now evidence based and has become a widely used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. It provides a non-pathologizing, optimistic, and empowering perspective and a practical and effective set of techniques for working with individuals, couples, families, and—more recently—corporations and classrooms.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Greetings, friends. This is a rare preface to the intro. So, there is a separate intro, but after recording this episode, which I was very happy with, I wanted to add a number of additional notes. First, IFS is an incredible system and it really goes far beyond any type of trauma. So it applies to, I would say, each and every one of us. It will help you work with your inner critic. It will help you to befriend inner voices. Not in the pathological sense. And at one point in this episode, I do a live demo as the patient with Richard of IFS. So, that is a real life, real subject matter demo.
And be patient, this is a dense episode at points and you may find yourself wondering what the hell are these two talking about? Be patient, just sit with it for a minute or two and it’ll get back to Terra Firma and you will have your bearings. And you can think of IFS also, which has been very helpful to me personally and I’ve seen some incredible, I would say almost miraculous, before and afters in video of therapeutic sessions, can be compared to perhaps GTD. Getting Things Done. So, GTD by David Allen, incredible system, David’s been on the podcast, is excellent for getting rid of all the stuff. The work, death by a thousand paper cuts, and open loops and things floating around in different systems, things that aren’t captured, getting all that stuff, which a lot of people would think of in a work capacity, into some kind of flow and systems that you can work with it and give yourself some peace of mind.
Imagine if you could do that, if you had a system for doing that for your emotions, for the flare up of energy, of anger, of sadness, of self-flagellation, if you had some kind of system that allowed you to contend with all of that stuff. IFS is one such system. And also this episode is the first time that I talk openly, and I did not plan on this, about everything that has happened since I published my episode on childhood abuse. So, there you have the preface to the intro and now to the intro. But before I get there, I can’t help but read one quote, which applies to all of this episode. It’s a quote from Jack Kornfield. “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” And with that, to the intro we go.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, this is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today I’ve wanted to have on for years now, Richard Schwartz. He began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is now on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, but it was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he discovered that family therapy alone did not achieve full symptom relief. And in asking patients why he learned that they were plagued by what they called parts and we’ll get into what that means. These patients became his teachers as they described how their parts form networks of interrelationships that resembled the families he’d been working with. He also found that as they focused on and thereby separated from their parts, they could shift into a state characterized by qualities like curiosity, calm, confidence, and compassion.
He called that inner essence the self, and was amazed to find it even in severely diagnosed and traumatized patients. From these explorations, the Internal Family Systems, otherwise known as IFS, model was born in the early 1980s. IFS is now evidence-based and has become a widely used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. It provides a non-pathologizing, optimistic, and empowering perspective and a practical and effective set of techniques for working with individuals, couples, families, and more recently corporations and classrooms. And I want to add just a little bit more context, which Richard may or may not disabuse me of.
But one way to think about this is as a tool kit for reconciling parts of yourself that may have conflict amongst them or difficulties amongst them, parts of yourself that you’ve disavowed. And therefore it is not limited to heavily traumatized patients in the psychotherapeutic context. So, what we’re going to be talking about in this episode, I think, applies to just about everyone. I’m going to hedge by not saying everyone, although I, if I’m being honest, think everyone in many, many, many different contexts. So with all of that preamble said, Richard, welcome to the show.
Richard Schwartz: Thank you, Tim. I’m honored by those words and also just so excited to be with you. I’ve been a fan and particularly a fan of the session you did several ago where you were so disclosive about your own history. Just thought that was amazingly courageous and a service to everybody.
Tim Ferriss: I appreciate you saying that. And it’s been one hell of a journey, both since the podcast and leading up to it.
Richard Schwartz: I was wondering what it’s been like and what kind of feedback you’ve gotten.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk about it. I haven’t spoken publicly about the after-effects or the consequences, positive and unintended. I will say that for those people who don’t know what we’re referring to, I put out an episode of this podcast in September, you can find it at tim.blog/trauma, which disclosed history of sexual abuse. So, suffering at the hands of an abuser from ages two to four at a babysitter’s house, and talked about my healing journey subsequent to that, my ups and downs, my battles with depression, and all sorts of other things in conversation with a close friend of mine, Debbie Millman, who also is a survivor of sexual abuse. Although we both take some issue with that word survivor. But nonetheless, putting that aside, that was the episode.
And I expected since it was in some respects, many years in the making, I anticipated putting it into book form after my parents passed away. So, it was always inside my head 15 or 20 years in the future, something I would do. And as soon as it was published, my response to it on some level was feeling like I was in a surreal alternate reality because it was now current tense or in some sense past tense. I published this thing that I thought wasn’t going to ever see the light of day or be shared with the public for 15 to 20 years. And it was bizarre. I had girded myself for a tsunami of emotions and difficulty and maybe attacks and so on. I set rules with my team and policies that I could stay entirely off of social media, we turned off comments on certain types of posts, really to stem the flow.
And the first two days I had cleared my entire calendar for that week to have space. First two days were very tranquil. And I don’t know if that’s because I was genuinely at peace, if there was some type of shock, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t claim to have that level of self-awareness. But it was very, very calm. And then having so much space for the rest of the week was very challenging. I typically run pretty hot in the sense that I like traveling in sixth gear and doing a lot. So, having that much time to ruminate or to experience consciousness uncluttered by activity, in retrospect maybe was a little harder on me than filling my calendar, if you can imagine that. I remember having Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the podcast and he said, to avoid depression after certain points, he just made his calendar very busy. And he said he would recommend it to anyone. And I did the opposite and it was very challenging.
So I had a lot of, just as an example, and I haven’t spoken to anybody publicly, but here we are. And I’m pretty well-caffeinated. So I’ll try to cut short my monologue here in a second. But I had a lot of anger and rage come up, but the way in which it came up was very surprising to me. I had this flood, I remember it was on the Wednesday after this podcast came out on Monday, this flood of memories of past slights. Many of them really trivial. Just emails I didn’t like or rejections that hurt my feelings or fill in the blank. And I was so pissed off all day on Wednesday and I didn’t try to fix it. I didn’t worry about it, but I thought it was really quite surprising that this anger was coming to the surface, but it wasn’t specific to any of the abuse.
It was in just dozens of trite or inconsequential slights from my past. And I was just pissed off all day long. And then when the podcast really hit escape velocity, in the sense that it was widely shared enough that a lot of my friends had heard it, that’s when things got a little harder. Because I would say of my very close male friends, and I don’t have that many close friends by design, let’s just arbitrarily say 20, I would say seven or eight of them reached out to me to confess that they had been sexually abused and never told anyone.
Richard Schwartz: Wow.
Tim Ferriss: And some of them sent me voice memos, really tear-jerking, heart-shredding audio. And I mean, just thinking about it, I’m like welling up with tears a bit because it was fucking emotionally difficult for them. And also very challenging for me to act as a sort of recipient or support. And I’m glad they reached out. I’m really glad they reached out. I expected there would be a lot of this. So, we received tons of emails, tons of blog comments, tons of handwritten letters from people describing their experiences.
But that was really very difficult. And to wrap up since this interview intended to ask you questions, I’m very, very, very proud of it. And I’m not proud often. That’s something I have always had difficulty with. I don’t accept praise well, or let it land well. I’m really proud of it. And it did a lot of good and it was tough, but not in the ways that I had anticipated.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Well, I’m so glad you can be proud of it because I agree. I think it really served us to have someone of your stature be that open about it and live to see the light of day, like you said.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk more about living to see the light of day, because you have worked in many places with many people and some of those people perhaps have resigned to a life of darkness or a life that is shadowed by certain experiences, trauma, depression, suicidal ideation, et cetera. Could you, and I don’t know if this name is going to ring a bell because I’m not sure if you anonymized it or somebody else did, but there’s a great piece in Medium, Inside the Revolutionary Treatment That Could Change Psychotherapy Forever. And in it I read about the story of Roxanne and how that was part of developing IFS. Could you share that story, please?
Richard Schwartz: This was in the early 1980s and I was a fresh graduate of a PhD program in marital and family therapy. And I was trying to prove that family therapy was the thing, found the holy grail. And so I did an outcome study with a bunch of bulimia clients, which was a syndrome that was new on the scene at the time. And she was one of them and as I was trying to do this family therapy with all these clients and succeeded in actually reorganizing the families the way the book said to. They kept binging and purging. they didn’t realize they’d been cured. And so out of frustration, I began asking, “Why?” And they started talking this language of parts, which was sort of bizarre to me. I thought maybe they were sicker than I thought, because they were talking about these, what they call parts of them, that could take over and make them do things they didn’t want to do and had a lot of autonomy inside.
And they were talking about them as if they were full range personalities. And so after I got over my fear about it, I got curious and I started to try and get my clients to relate differently. So, they would say something like, “Something bad happens in my life and this critic attacks me inside, calls me all kinds of brutal names, and that brings up another part of me that feels totally worthless and alone and empty and desperate. And that feeling is so dreadful that to the rescue comes the binge to take me away from all that, but that brings back the critics.”
So, I’m hearing about these interactions among different seeming to be entities inside of them. And, as a family therapist, that was intriguing because that’s what I studied, these interactions among family members. And I began to explore trying to change some of this, but I was assuming that these parts were what they seem to be, which is what the field still assumes. That the critic is just a critical parental voice that they internalized and the binge is an out of control impulse. And so from that frame of understanding it, you’re limited what you can have your clients do. So I was getting my clients to stand up to the critic and don’t take it and control the binge and they were getting worse, but I didn’t know what else to do.
I was like the man in a hole with a shovel, you just dig deeper. So until this client, who in addition to the eating disorder, also cut herself on her wrists, and I knew had a bit of a sex abuse history. I didn’t know the extent of it. And so I began to try and work with that cutting part in the way I had with these others. And so I would get her to have a dialogue with it in which she would try to tell it, it couldn’t do this to her anymore. That was done. No more of this. And I was saying that to the part too. And after a couple of hours of badgering it that way, it finally, in her head, agreed to not cut her that week.
And then I opened the door to the next session and she has a big gash down the side of her face. And I just collapsed emotionally inside when I saw that and I spontaneously said, “I give up, I can’t beat you with this.” And she said, “The part said, ‘I don’t really want to beat you.'”
And that was a turning point because I shifted out of that controlling coercive place to just being curious. And I said, “So why do you do this to her?” And I had her ask that. And the part told the story of how when she was being sexually abused, it had to get her out of her body and contain the rage that would get her more abuse. And I shifted again. Now I don’t see it as just, I had an appreciation for it, but it was like a hero in her life. It really saved her during those abuse scenes. And as I listened to it more, it sounded like it was still living back in that time. Like it still thought she was five years old and it still had to protect her in this way. And that it carried these extreme beliefs and emotions that we call burdens about the world, about her, about how dangerous everything was that drove it.
These extreme beliefs and emotions were like a virus it seems, like the coronavirus that drove the way it operated. And so as I got all that, I started to think maybe these parts aren’t what they seem. Maybe they are like kids in a family, a dysfunctional family where they’re forced out of their naturally valuable states to be in roles to protect the family or because of the dynamics of the family, that aren’t who they are and don’t serve them, but they think are necessary.
And in exploring that, it turns out that’s true. That first of all, we all have these things I’m calling parts, that they called parts, that from my point of view, aren’t the product of trauma, which has been the way it’s been viewed, multiple personality disorders. The unitary brain got shattered by the trauma. Well, for me, it’s the natural state of the mind to be multiple, to have these parts. And they’re all valuable. We wouldn’t be born with anything that wasn’t valuable. And they come into our life at birth with us and then trauma and attachment, injuries and things like that, force them out of their naturally valuable states into roles that they don’t like, but they think are absolutely necessary to keep us safe and then can become symptoms and problems. But they also, if they are listened to and actually loved ultimately by our clients and ourselves, will transform. So anyway, I got rolling on this, but —
Tim Ferriss: Well, that’s why we have a long-form podcast. You can get rolling. And I just want to say for people who are trying to envision what this might look like, and you and I will attempt to do a live demo of this using me as a guinea pig a bit later in this conversation. But I recall the first time that I saw IFS in action, and I will say that the, and I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the Internal Family Systems brand name, so to speak, initially led me to have a bit of a knee jerk aversion. Because I took it very literally. I assumed, although I didn’t read the internal, I wasn’t quite sure what that referred to, that I would have to sit down with my mom and my dad and my brother and do family therapy of some type. And I was like, “I’m out. I don’t want to do it.”
But when I saw IFS in action for the first time, it was when I was going through the MAPS MDMA assisted psychotherapy training program as an auditor. I am not in any way licensed as a psychotherapist or psychologist or otherwise. But as an auditor, I wanted to experience the program and was able to see session footage of people with severe PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, in many cases vets who certainly with the amplification and assistance of MDMA, but nonetheless, in this particular case, under the care of Michael and Annie Midhoffer, going through IFS to see where someone could start with their say, relationship or thoughts, perspective on rage and where they would end up, was truly mind-blowing. To watch it in video form was so impactful, and I want to highlight one aspect of that that really struck a chord with me on a whole lot of levels. And I’m going to do this by referring back to this Medium piece. And I’ll link to this Medium piece in the show notes for people at tim.blog/podcast if you want to read this as well.
But I’m going to read a paragraph and then I’m going to dive into one particular aspect of it. So here we go. “Frank Anderson, a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, was working as a staff psychiatrist at Bessel van der Kolk’s renowned trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts when he first encountered Schwartz and IFS.” For people who don’t know the name Bessel van der Kolk, he’s the author of a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which is a bit of a classic in this world.
All right. So back to Frank Anderson. “…first encountered Schwartz and IFS. It flipped his world upside down. ‘I had been working with severe trauma for a long time at the Trauma Center, and I was one of the many people who go, “Oh wow,”‘ Anderson recalls. “Within the mental health world, it’s a huge paradigm shift. IFS is very non-pathologizing. Every part, every symptom has a positive intention. That kind of blows therapists away. ‘What do you mean, shooting heroin has a positive intention? What do you mean, cutting yourself or bingeing has a positive intention?’”
So the non-pathologizing nature of IFS is what I want to hone in on because you very often hear, and this is speaking as a layperson, if you start wading through the books and literature and even in-person conversations in psychiatry, you very often hear the term maladaptive. This behavior is maladaptive. What this person’s doing is maladaptive. Meaning it’s some kind of like perversion of an adaptation that doesn’t fit. At least the way that I hear it. You could correct me if I’m wrong.
But my understanding and the way that I’ve been able to finally find some compassion for myself and parts of myself, is to recognize that the things that we view in ourselves as totally fucked up, totally self-destructive, totally fill in the blank pejorative term, very often are not maladaptive. They are perfectly adaptive. They’ve just outlived their usefulness or they’ve expired, but they still remain if that makes any sense. And so the non-pathologizing and any piece of what I just said, I’d love to hear you respond to.
Richard Schwartz: Well, you said it really well and it’s been a tough sell in my field, but that is what I found back with that client and subsequently with thousands of clients. Not just myself, but all the people using this around the world, are finding that these things we thought were symptoms are, they are maladapted in the sense that in our current context they may not be needed, but they were definitely needed. They were like heroes, like I was saying, back when we were being hurt and they get stuck back there. So, again, I’m a family therapist, so I’m trying to understand the context of all kinds of both external people’s behavior and internal and the internal parts of behavior made total sense back when you were being hurt. And they think they still need to do it because they think you’re still in the same kind of vulnerability. So, yeah, so it has been a tough sell.
Tim Ferriss: I would say that many of the most important and impactful inputs that I’ve had in the last handful of years, from a healing perspective and furthermore, not just from a healing perspective, getting back to whole, but even just becoming hopefully, I know this is a really generic term, a better human, so not just getting to baseline, but actually going beyond baseline in some ways, has related to self-compassion and Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach would be a very, in some respects, Buddhist mindfulness approach to that. And I feel like IFS is a very tactical, practical framework for actually getting after it almost in a tennis match type of way. Not that it’s adversarial, but with the assistance of someone else. And I’d love to explore what some of these parts are and to explore, for instance, protectors and some of these other labels. Just to give people an understanding of what this looks like in practice.
What do you think the best way to do that is, is it giving a conceptual overview of some type? Is it just getting into it and you and I rolling up the sleeves and seeing what happens?
Richard Schwartz: If I gave a brief conceptual overview, then what we do with each other would make more sense to people. So let me do that. So, as I was exploring this with clients, back in the day, I’m a systems person, I’m looking for distinctions and patterns and the big distinction that leaped out immediately as I was doing it with more and more clients was between parts that were very young, what in the culture has been called these wonderful inner children, who were vulnerable and sensitive and often were the parts of us that are the most hurt by the traumas, they take it the most personally and they get the most frightened and feel the most worthless often.
And once those young, formerly happy go lucky, delightful, creative, inner parts of us, once they get hurt that way, they have the power to overwhelm us and give us all the burdened emotions that they carry. So, not knowing we’re locking up our most juicy parts, we tend to try and get away from them and put them in inner basements or abysses or caves. So, I call them the exiles and we’ve all done that to one degree or another. Even if you haven’t had a lot of trauma. There are ways our culture or your family didn’t accept certain parts of you and so you had to move away from them. And we do it not realizing, we think we’re just moving away from dreadful memories or sensations or emotions. But we are locking up these parts of us that are so wonderful and have so many talents when they’re not locked up, and when they’re not stuck in the past. So when you have a lot of exiles, then the world becomes a lot more dangerous and you feel a lot more delicate. And so other parts have to jump into other protective roles, some of which are designed to control the world, so your exiles don’t get triggered, because if they get triggered, then it’s like flames of emotion threaten to consume you. And these protectors often think you’re going to die if you stay with that. So there are parts that’ll keep you a certain distance from people. There are parts that will control your appearance, so you don’t get rejected.
Parts that try to make your performance perfect, so you get a lot of accolades to counter the worthlessness. So all of that, we call protect, those are manager protectors, because they’re managing a lot. They’re like what in family therapy, we used to call parentified inner children. In a family where the parents advocate, the kids have to become the parents. They were called parallel parental children. This happens inside of us too. These younger parts have to kind of run our lives and they get it strained because they’re in over their heads, often they become these critics. They’re yelling at us just to try and get us to behave. They don’t know what else to do than to yell at us. And so those are some of the common manager roles. Others are these massive caretaking parts that don’t let us take care of ourselves, only take care of everybody else.
There’s just a lot of common manager roles. When that doesn’t work, and the world breaks through those defenses and triggers our exiles, it’s a big emergency. And so there’s another set of parts who’s on-call almost, who immediately goes into action to take us out, to get us higher than the flames of emotion or to douse them with some substance or to distract us until they burn themselves out. So those we call firefighters because they’re fighting the fire of this exiled emotion inside of you. And we all have some of those, and most of us have a kind of hierarchy of them. If the first one doesn’t work, we go to the next one. If that doesn’t work, the next one and the top of the hierarchy is often suicide. It’s a big kind of comfort to many people to know if things get bad enough, there’s always that safety net, exit strategy.
But other kinds of firefighter activities include a lot of addictions. And for me, it sounds like for you too, work is one of my firefighter activities. Eating was one of mine, it’s not anymore. So, those are some of the common firefighters. So most all of us walk around with some version of that system. The more trauma you experienced, the more exiles you have, then the more extreme your parts often are. In addition to all of that though, and this is actually the big discovery in IFS, as I was doing this work and I would, as a family therapist, try to have dialogues inside among these different parts, like I was within family, often I’d have to get one part to kind of separate or move back or step out for a second, so I could have two others talk to each other, because the other was interfering.
And as I started doing that process of getting parts to open more space inside and not be chattering all the time, slowed it down. It was like another person would pop out who took the lead and was just immediately curious about these parts or even had a lot of compassion suddenly out of the blue and also was calm and was confident. And the parts would relate well to this person. And when I asked, “What part of you is that?” Clients would say some version of, “That’s not a part like these others, that’s myself.” So I came to call that the Self with a capital S and it turns out, and this is really totally amazing, but given all the 40 years we’ve been doing this and the thousands of people doing it around the world, I can safely say that that Self, with a capital S, is in everybody, can’t be damaged, and knows how to heal and can be accessed simply by getting these parts to open space, because it seems it’s just beneath the surface of them.
So when I’m working with somebody, I will wait until I hear some of those C words. In addition to the four I mentioned, there’s also courage, clarity, creativity, and connectedness. So I’m waiting to hear when my client is in that place before I have them work with their parts. And when they work with their parts from that place, they just naturally know how to heal.
Tim Ferriss: If I may just reflect on what you said for a second, I mean, this is for people who have never had a psychedelic experience. If we look at the etymology of psychedelic, I mean, it is mind manifesting in a sense, if we want to roughly translate it to English. And it’s incredible how much your description of working with IFS parts, and then the Self, right? This sort of central observer who has, as maybe Stan Graf would put it, that an innate healing intelligence or something like that. How much it mirrors what some people can only achieve with drugs, meaning psychedelic drugs, or plants or fungi of some type, right? It’s pretty remarkable that you were able to sort of engineer and back into without any type of pharmaceutical intervention, something very similar, and get to a very similar place.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Let me comment on that for a second. So, because you mentioned Michael and Annie Methoffer and in phase one, when Michael was using MDMA with these mostly combat vets, but PTSD clients. And he started talking excitedly about this, because they’re both well-trained IFS therapists. I started to feel more and more validated because for some reason, the MDMA seems to get all your protectors to relax. And so you, just by virtue of having taken the medicine, you’re in self with those C words that I described earlier. And he found, and he kept track of this, he tracked that phase one group and he found that over 70 percent spontaneously started doing IFS without any coaching from him because, in the protocol, they set it up where they couldn’t lead the client. It was all kind of following —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, non-directional. Right.
Richard Schwartz: Exactly. So that confirmed to me that I had just stumbled onto a process that people naturally know how to do when they access enough self and they’ll do it on their own, and that’s true too. It’s become a kind of life practice where people do this on a daily basis often.
Tim Ferriss: So how can we demonstrate this for folks? And I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous about opening the kimono on the podcast, but I seem to be setting a trend in doing that with recent episodes. So I might as well just go for it, in for a penny in, for a pound. So what’s a good way to for you and I to have a chat, to try to illustrate some of these things?
Richard Schwartz: Well, if there is a part of you, you’d like to get to know better or are change your relationship with, or if there’s something still getting in your way from — you mentioned that there was a very angry part of you that came up and had all these, what in retrospect seemed like minor quibbles, but we could go there. It’s really up to you, whatever you want to explore.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I would say when I’ve looked at the anger and tried to work with it, and it’s quite subdued, not exiled or not disavowed, but it’s not as high volume as it used to be even a few years ago. But I do think that the anger is very often a by-product or a symptom of fear. And so the fear I think could be worth digging into. And something that I’ve noticed as I have successfully contended with and healed from depression, that anxiety has become more pronounced and this sort of vague sense of unease that something bad can and will happen, that type of anxiety, that I then create narratives around because I’ll sort of have this wave of anxiety and then explain it in all sorts of ways that may or may not be accurate.
But that has become something that I’ve noticed more and more as depression has become less and less of an ongoing battle for me in the last five or six years. And I’d love to kind of explore that because I’ve tried many things to move from a place of anxiety and fear to a place of trust and faith, and God damn, is it hard? Maybe I’m just exposed to too many ugly aspects of the world where I get to see really bad behavior and sort of Lord of the Flies type dynamics quite a bit. But that is something I wouldn’t mind digging into, right?
Richard Schwartz: Absolutely. Yeah. Happy to help you with that. And that trust in the world is safe is tough to get through willpower. So we’ll try it this other way. So are you ready?
Tim Ferriss: I’m as ready as I’m going to be, yeah.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. So the way we start is have you focus on that anxiety and find it in your body, around your body.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Richard Schwartz: And as you notice it there, where do you find it by the way?
Tim Ferriss: Right now, as I’m thinking about it, I feel it in the throat and that’s quite common, like a constriction in the throat. Also, will feel it basically right over the heart, like a constriction on the left side of my chest. But right now I’m feeling it mostly in the throat.
Richard Schwartz: All right. So let’s start there. So as you notice it there in your throat, tell me how you feel toward that part of you that’s so anxious?
Tim Ferriss: Well, if I’m being honest, I would suppose I want it to go away. I wanted to let go so that I can feel certainly less constriction physically, right? In the throat, it’s not pleasant, it doesn’t feel good to me. I would say there’s anger towards that fearful part also because objectively, I can look at my life and my surroundings and everything is fucking great. So I get very upset at that part for —
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, which I can understand it does get in your way. But we’re going to ask the one who’s angry at it and the one who wants it to go away, both of those parts, we’re going to ask to give us a little space to get to know it just for a few minutes and actually maybe try to help it in a different way, rather than trying to make it go away. So just see if those parts would be willing to relax in there. So you could open your mind to it a little bit.
Tim Ferriss: So just for clarity, the angry part and the anxious part, the fearful part, I’m asking both of those to kind of stand down for a few minutes.
Richard Schwartz: No, no, no. We want the anxious part to stick around.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, got it.
Richard Schwartz: We want the one who doesn’t like the anxious part to step back and the one who wants to get rid of it. So just see if you can open your mind to the anxious one.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Schwartz: So how do you feel toward it now?
Tim Ferriss: I feel more empathetic. I mean, it just seems like a scared child or —
Richard Schwartz: There you go. So let it know you have some empathy for it and you care about it, you want to get to know it better, and just ask what it wants you to know. And don’t think of the answer, Tim, just wait for something to come from your throat.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It already came, as soon as you prompted. It was, “I don’t know what to do.” That’s what came to mind.
Richard Schwartz: And how do you feel toward it now as you get how sort of confused it feels?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I feel a lot of compassion for it.
Richard Schwartz: So let it know. Let it know you get it’s confused and scared and just see if there’s more it wants you to get about that feeling of “I don’t know what to do,” just see if there’s more that comes.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. “I don’t want to mess things up. I’m not trying to mess things up,” something along those lines.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Okay. And let it know you just want to keep getting to know it. Why does it worry so much about messing things up whenever it wants you to know about all that?
Tim Ferriss: Well, it just seems like kind of a confused, scared child, and I guess what it’s trying to communicate is that it’s not intentionally trying to mess up my life. It’s just unsure of how to sort of quell that.
Richard Schwartz: That’s great.
Tim Ferriss: Fear.
Richard Schwartz: And do you see this child in there or you just sense him?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, this is kind of an unusual practice, and visualizing it, so I’m highly visual. So for me right now, as I’m talking to you, I’m looking out a window, and I kind of feel, at least I’ve been envisioning this part, this scared part to my left, the kind of left peripheral visual field. And for whatever reason, it’s not a child. In my mind, it’s actually an adult version of myself that just has the fear and the wide-eyed look and the scattered nature of a fearful child.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. And as you see him there in your periphery, how close would you say you are to him in terms of feet away?
Tim Ferriss: 8 to 10 feet.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. And is it possible to get closer to him and turn more toward him?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s possible.
Richard Schwartz: So how close can you get now?
Tim Ferriss: Well, since I’m sitting in front of a mic, I’m kind of inviting him over, otherwise, it’s going to make this podcast very difficult. So I invited him to have a seat at the table. So we are about four, four and a half feet away now. We’re sitting more or less directly across the table from each other.
Richard Schwartz: Okay good. And once again, just let him know that you get these other parts have been very hard on him, but they’re not around right now. And that you actually care about them and just see how he reacts.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Seems to be sort of softening and relaxing in my mind’s eye.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Okay. And just again, ask if there’s anything more he wants to know about his anxiety and confusion.
Tim Ferriss: Nothing coming to mind immediately. He’s just sort of sitting more relaxed at the table.
Richard Schwartz: Ask him this question then. Does he protect other parts of you?
Tim Ferriss: I guess I was going to say, I don’t know if I’m making this up or not, but I guess one could make the argument I’m making none of it up or making all of it up. So I’m not going to give the commentary, but the other part of me that was abused, the part of me that that was sort of constantly at risk of some unpredictable abuse as a little kid. And I mean, it wasn’t limited to the two to four sorts of sexual abuse. There was a lot of other — I was bullied really, really severely up until about sixth grade. I was a very, very small kid. So there’s a lot of unpredictability in my life, kind of start to finish as a kid. So protecting that part of me that was always kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. So this is a kind of choice point for you, Tim, because I’m happy to go to that one, but that would be more vulnerable and more exposing. So it’s your call and I don’t want you to feel any pressure to do it.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I mean, I don’t want to get into specifics of the sexual abuse or anything like that in terms of —
Richard Schwartz: You won’t have to disclose anything about what you see.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Okay. Well, let’s try it. Let’s give it a go.
Richard Schwartz: Well, before we do it, just check around inside and see if there is any fear about doing it. I want to be sure we’re doing it with full permission.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, there’s a little bit of trepidation, but I know I can always cut. I am the master of the audio. I feel okay with that since we’re not livecasting this.
Richard Schwartz: All right. So then go ahead and focus on that abused part of you and find him in your body, around your body.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. Okay.
Richard Schwartz: Where do you find him?
Tim Ferriss: I am still feeling the dominant constriction is in the throat and I also find myself wondering if this frightened part of me is one and the same with the abuse, but I don’t want to start —
Richard Schwartz: No, you’ll get the answer, if you just ask. Ask if that’s the case and just wait for the answer.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I think it is the same. I think it is the same.
Richard Schwartz: Okay, good. All right. And you’re still across the table from him?
Tim Ferriss: Yep, still across the table.
Richard Schwartz: And ask if he trusts now that you care about him.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, he does.
Richard Schwartz: All right. Then if he’s up for it and ready, then tell him to show you and let you feel and sense and see whatever he needs you to, about how bad it all was. And again, don’t think Tim, just wait and see what comes to you and you don’t have to disclose any of it, but you can disclose what feels okay.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s just a horrible stream of images and scenes of abuse and violence and a fearful little kid who was just constantly hypervigilant because of that.
Richard Schwartz: And are you okay watching all that?
Tim Ferriss: I mean, I don’t enjoy watching it, but I feel like I can handle it.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. So let him know you’re okay so far, that you really want to get how bad it was for him, as much as he wants you to. So just tell him, you’re ready and just see if there’s more.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. There’s more. Nothing shockingly new, but just painting a fuller picture of a pretty scared, pretty sad childhood for a lot of the time. Not always, but for a lot of the time.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. So it’s really good that you’re getting how bad it was and getting more of either the details or the emotions and just tell him to keep going if he needs to. We’re going to stay with them until he feels like you really get it now.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I feel it petering out a bit. I mean, I got a lot, so I feel like I’ve received what has been sent.
Richard Schwartz: But just ask him directly and see if he agrees this is what he wanted you to get.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it went through, so.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. All right, Tim. So now I want you to go to that boy in that time period, some point in that time period, and be with him in a way he needed somebody, and just tell me when you’re in there with him.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. I’m there.
Richard Schwartz: And how are you being with him?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, well, he’s actually sitting in a chair, another chair. It’s like the board of directors here. Sitting in another chair, just a few feet across from me.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. But you’re in that time period with him. Is that true?
Tim Ferriss: I can be, yeah. If you want me to sort of transport myself back to that time period, I can do that too.
Richard Schwartz: That is what I want. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Got it.
Richard Schwartz: Tell me when you’re back there with him.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. I’m there.
Richard Schwartz: How are you being with him back there?
Tim Ferriss: I’m sitting on the floor, he’s playing with blocks on the floor and I’m just sitting there being with him in the living room.
Richard Schwartz: How is it for him to have you there, can you tell?
Tim Ferriss: I think it’s comforting to have sort of a non-threatening, I suppose in some ways protective male.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: There.
Richard Schwartz: He does seem to acknowledge you’re there and feels comforted?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it feels, yeah, comfortable.
Richard Schwartz: All right. Then ask him what he wants you to do for him back there before we take him out to a good place. There’s something he wants you to do, some person he wants you to deal with, whatever he wants.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. This is where we get into territory that might not make it onto the live version here. Yeah, I mean, he would like me to say a few things to some people, I would say, for sure. I don’t know if I’ll get into the specifics, but I can think about the specifics, certainly.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. You don’t have to disclose what you say. It’s just for you to do for him. While he watches, go ahead and say those things to those people.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, done.
Richard Schwartz: Ask him what that was like for him to watch you do that for him.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, well, he has a sort of ‘my hero’ type look on his face.
Richard Schwartz: That’s great.
Tim Ferriss: Right? To have somebody stand up for him in that way.
Richard Schwartz: That’s right. Tell him you’re going to be doing that for him from now on and see if he’d like to leave that time and place with you and come to a safe, comfortable place now.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Yes.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. Take him wherever he’d like to go. It could be the present, it could be a fantasy place, whatever he’d like.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Richard Schwartz: Where do you have him?
Tim Ferriss: Took him to this farm property that I own. Lots of trails and woods and room to play and roam.
Richard Schwartz: Beautiful. All right. Tell him he can stay there. He never has to go back to that time and you’re going to take care of him. Given that, ask him if he’d like to unload the feelings and beliefs you got back there from those times.
Tim Ferriss: Answer is yes.
Richard Schwartz: Ask him where he carries all that in his body or on his body.
Tim Ferriss: First thing that came to mind, I don’t know why, is the traps, like the trapezius kind of between the neck and the shoulders, yeah.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Ask what he’d like to give it all up to, light, water, fire, wind, earth, anything else.
Tim Ferriss: What he would like to give it up to, like an element?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be, it could be anything else.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. I think I, could you give me, again, some examples just because I’m not sure how to answer that.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Light, or water, or fire, wind, earth, anything else.
Tim Ferriss: I’d say light.
Richard Schwartz: Just check with him. Let’s have him pick.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Revision, fire.
Richard Schwartz: Fire, good. All right, Tim, so set up a fire for him and tell him to take all that out of the place in his body and to let the fire take care of it. Just put it in the fire until it’s all gone.
Tim Ferriss: Done.
Richard Schwartz: Good. How does he feel now without it?
Tim Ferriss: Looks a lot happier. Looks ready to jump up and down.
Richard Schwartz: That’s great. Before he does that, just if he wants to, he can invite into his body qualities that he’d like to have. You can just see what comes into him now.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Confidence. That’s the first one.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. Yeah. That might be all he wants. He seems good?
Tim Ferriss: Seems good. Yeah.
Richard Schwartz: All right. Let’s bring in this original guy, the anxious adult guy.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Richard Schwartz: Have him see how this boy is doing now and just see how he reacts.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Just deep exhales, kind of sighing exhales of relaxation.
Richard Schwartz: That’s great. You can see if there’s anything he’d like to put in the fire too, just ask him.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Okay.
Richard Schwartz: He did?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Let me just make sure that I envisioned that really clearly. Give me one more sec.
Richard Schwartz: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. Done. Just to add some color for people who are listening along, I mean, hopefully, people can listen to this and kind of take themselves through it as well, possibly, but it’s so fucking bizarre how these things sometimes work. I mean, and it’s also kind of magical and in a sense, I mean, because he took fear out of his abdomen and put it into the fire, but it was not premeditated. I don’t know where that came from. Who cares? Yeah. I mean, that’s good enough.
Richard Schwartz: Well, what you’re getting is that this is a real other world. It’s not like you imagine it, so.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Schwartz: Okay. How does he seem now?
Tim Ferriss: Much more at ease.
Richard Schwartz: Good. Yeah. Does that feel complete for now?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I’d love, if you mean by complete, we would then do sort of a post-game analysis and you can add on to that. Yes. That feels complete for now. We can —
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. Focus back outside. Before we stop, just notice your throat and see how it feels now.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s like if it was at an eight-volume before it’s at like a two, two or less volume now.
Richard Schwartz: That’s great. Okay. Yeah. We can do our post-game. Maybe let’s start with you and what it was like.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, this is, I’m going to sound like a one-trick pony here, so you’ll have to forgive me. I’ll beg forgiveness from my audience also, but it feels very psychedelic. I mean, it really, it is very reminiscent of the non-pathological therapeutic splitting of the psyche, or maybe it’s just the recognizing of separate parts of the psyche, better put.
Richard Schwartz: Right.
Tim Ferriss: That, I mean, it puts you in a very non-ordinary state, or at least that was my experience.
Richard Schwartz: Very much. Yeah. It’s the same state that shamans take people into. It’s a real other world. I stumbled on to this way of accessing it and operating it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Richard Schwartz: In terms of my post-game, we could do all that because you had access very quickly to a lot of Self, with a capital S, and I gauge that by when I asked you initially how you felt toward the guy in your throat, and you said you didn’t like him and you wanted to get rid of him. Then I had those parts step back and I asked now how do you feel toward him, immediately you had empathy. Do you remember that?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I do.
Richard Schwartz: That’s what we find over and over when these other parts step back, you enter that empathic compassionate leader place. Once we got you in that place, I knew we would be able to do a lot because you just started to do it. I led you to some degree, but your parts responded really well to you as this leader that they didn’t really know that well. Yeah. Then, we could get to know the anxious man. He turned out to be a manager and that classification I gave earlier, because he was trying to keep you from taking risks probably, and sort of manage your life through anxiety.
Then, there was a point where I had you ask him if he protected somebody else, remember that?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Richard Schwartz: Then he lets you know he protected this exiled boy who was still stuck back in those traumas, those scenes of abuse and bullying. The way we heal those parts is what you did, which was to become a compassionate witness to the boy. He feels like finally, you really get everything about how bad it was. Then, to actually go to him in that time period and do a redo in the sense of being with him and talking to the people he needed you to talk to. For him, people say you can’t change the past. For these parts in this inner world that literally changes their experience of what happened.
Then, we could take him out to a safe place on your farm. At which point, these exiles generally, if they trust they can stay there and you’re going to take care of them are willing to give up the emotions and beliefs they’ve been carrying, even though I don’t know how old you are, but it sounds like it’s maybe been 30 years or so.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s been a long time. Yeah. I’m 43. I forget how old I am. That’s probably a sign I’m getting older.
Richard Schwartz: Right, well wait until you’re my age! Yeah. So that’s what we did. Then once we unburdened, is my language for letting all that go, he gave up to fire, and we bring in the qualities of confidence, then we have the protector come in and see he doesn’t have to protect this boy anymore. He, as you could see, felt much more relaxed and we could help him unburden too. That was actually quite a piece of work. Again, the reason we could do so much is because you had so much access to self pretty quickly. For many other people, it takes a long time to get those other parts to step back and not interfere.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Parts work is just, it, you would think that at this point in my life, having been exposed to parts work in different ways, in very different contexts also, in some cases enhanced, and in some cases not, that it would just be another day at the office, but I am always, when I experience it firsthand, so impressed by how powerful parts work is and can be. I would love to hear you speak to how this applies to people who might suffer from suicidal ideation. I’m referring to another editorial piece, and there’s a quote here that I’m going to read from one such patient or client who had suicidal ideation.
Here’s the quote. “For me, the most amazing thing was learning about a part of me that was suicidal and knowing that that was just a single part of me. It wasn’t my entire being. That changed my world. I try to share that with a lot of people because I know a lot of people who get very depressed and sometimes feel suicidal. If you can step back from that feeling and realize that it’s just a part of you that’s trying to take away your pain and suffering, then you can move through it and find a different way to deal with it, to help that part.” Could you expand on this or speak to it, give examples? Whatever makes sense in terms of fleshing this out, because speaking of someone who came very close to taking his own life, this is a very, very, very big lens swap for someone who is suicidal or suffering from suicidal ideation.
Richard Schwartz: It really does help to know that all these things aren’t you, they’re parts of you that often are just trying to protect. For me, there aren’t alcoholics, there aren’t. I’m against all these monolithic labels because yes, you’ve got a part that tries to protect you by getting you drunk all the time. It’s just a part of you. It’s one of your firefighters. Then, most people don’t realize that if they took away your drinking, suicide is the next one on the list, the next one on the ladder that would be jumping in if not for the drinking. Then you’ve got to honor the drinking part for keeping you alive.
I’ll go to suicide. I’ve worked many, many years with highly suicidal clients. They, as you can imagine, as you probably were, were terrified of that part of them. Like you said, they were so blended with it they thought it was who they were. Yes, that first step of seeing it as just a part like you just did with the anxiety, and not only that, but if you began to get to know it, I can tell you the common dialogue we have. I would say to you, “Tim, ask that part why it wants to kill you or what it’s afraid would happen if it didn’t kill you.” Do you want to give a spontaneous answer to that?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I wasn’t, I didn’t have my shoes on, ready for the starting gun. Could you say that one more time? Then I’ll —
Richard Schwartz: That’s okay, no, I’ll give you the common answers. I would have you ask the part why it wants to kill you, what it’s afraid would happen if it didn’t kill you. Generally —
Tim Ferriss: The first thing that comes to mind is that I just want it to stop. There’s a loop that I can’t turn off. It’s just a thought loop of hatred or self-loathing or whatever it might be. Then, there’s another part that knows life is pretty good. It’s like, “Well, shit, if this is never going to stop, what’s the fucking point? I just want it to stop.” That would be the answer.
Richard Schwartz: Totally, that’s right. If we were doing the work, I would say, “Ask this part if we could get that loop to stop in a different way, without having to kill you, would it still want to kill you?” Most of these parts say “No.”
Tim Ferriss: No. Yeah. The answer would be no. Yeah.
Richard Schwartz: It would be no, but I don’t think you can do that, or I wouldn’t try to kill him. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Richard Schwartz: I’d say, if you’d give me a chance, I can prove that we can, I guarantee it. I’m what I call a hope merchant. I’m selling hope to hopeless systems and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t know we could follow through and actually stop that loop. That’s generally how we work with suicide. Once these suicidal parts trust that there is this alternative, they know they’re going down with the ship, they don’t want to die. If there is an alternative, they’ll go for it.
Tim Ferriss: Do you stop the loop — just to not leave that cliffhanger of a promise — if you say that to a client who’s suffering from suicidal ideation, is the delivery mechanism doing what we just did in some fashion and getting them to the point where they are speaking from the place of the self where they can excuse and reinvite different parts, including the part with the loop, is that how you shepherd them to that point?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. It’s accessing self and then finding the parts that are creating the loop and then doing what we did with your parts, a different version of it. Because they would be different parts. Then, just like as you found, that this one doesn’t have to keep you so anxious now, they wouldn’t have to keep doing that loop. Then, the suicidal part would see that and would say, “Oh, okay. I guess I was wrong. You could pull this off.” Yeah, it’d be like that.
There are circumstances where the external world is so dreadful for somebody that you can’t just do this inside. You have to actually, I’m still a family therapist, so I’m going to still do what I can to change that external context too. I didn’t want to be facile and say, “All you’ve got to do is this feeling inside and everything will be fine.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Sometimes you got to take the rock out of your shoe and not just change how you relate to the rock. Right? I mean —
Richard Schwartz: That’s right. That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: The quote I was going to read is from Carl Rogers, and I know you are familiar with this quote and it is, quote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Richard Schwartz: Exactly. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Is there anything you would like to say after my mention of that? Is there any —
Richard Schwartz: That’s sort of the foundation of this work is not just accepting. I mean, you could get to a place of acceptance of that anxiety guy and that would help him not feel beat up by those other parts. You with me so far?
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Richard Schwartz: But that wouldn’t necessarily help him unburden, you know what I’m saying?
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Richard Schwartz: It wouldn’t necessarily help him actually transform. This is a step beyond what a lot of maybe spiritual traditions do, which would be to get you mindfully accepting of your parts, radical acceptance. That’s all great, it’s a great first step. Then, rather than having yourself be a passive witness, accepting witness, you became with your parts, an active inner parent, an active leader, an active “I’m going to help you.” That’s one of the big differences with IFS.
Tim Ferriss: Let me return to psychedelics for a moment and the psychedelic experience. It’s perhaps, it’s not, I wouldn’t say it’s a common misconception because I do try to be the voice of restraint and caution as often as possible. Just for the sake of making the point I want to make, I’ll say it could be a misconception that I want or think all people should have psychedelic experiences with strong compounds, whether it be psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, ayahuasca, or otherwise. That’s just patently not true because it’s not suitable for all people in all circumstances. It just simply is not. There are risks involved. I’m fascinated by the prospect, I mean, it sounds like for you a reality that this is an alternate or complementary way of accessing, in some respects, the same space and the same workspace. Have you also found or heard anecdotally that IFS or working with IFS has helped prepare people to be more adept, or I hesitate to use the word productive, but to be more prepared for psychedelic experiences with compounds?
Richard Schwartz: Yes. We’re doing, ultimately, we’re going to do some training, but I like Michael and his training, but I think it could be, there could be more IFS in there to use more IFS in those prep sessions and then after, in the aftermath, to actually help people understand what they experienced and to follow up, to have them keep going. Yeah, I’m hoping, and I’ve been working at it, that IFS can be kind of the map to that territory in general so that yes, in addition to the prep sessions where you would first check the parts that might be scared to do it, or the kinds of parts that might come up during the time and just help the person get to know those a little bit in advance and get permission to do the psychedelic experience.
Then during it, as these parts come up, even scary ones, there is such a thing is post-psychedelic trauma syndrome where —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. Please speak to that. This is important.
Richard Schwartz: People do have really bad experiences. I’ve worked with people who were severely traumatized and it’s set in motion a kind of psychotic process. These are delicate ecologies we’re entering and we need a very ecologically sensitive map. If that were to happen either during the psychedelic experience or as a kind of backlash afterwards, for the guide to know what that is and not panic themselves, and to be able to work with the part that has come out in a certain way, which also involves the self-energy of the guide, so that IFS can also be used to help the sitters work with themselves and get their parts to open space for their self to be very present, which really makes a huge difference in the experience of the person doing it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. And to just reiterate something you said, I mean, the stories that are most commonly shared related to psychedelics or suffer from a survivorship bias, right? So in the sense that just like if you pick up Barron’s or one of these investment magazines or newspapers, the only mutual funds that are still advertising are the ones that survived and it can create a very distorted picture of just how safe these things might be. And that’s true also with drugs where the people who died of heroin overdoses aren’t available for interview. So you don’t get to hear from them.
Psychedelics, generally speaking, physiologically not being anywhere close, at least if we’re talking about the classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin. Physiologically, their LD 50 is going to be nowhere close to something like an opiate. But the point being that if you are a clinician, as you are, you get to see the whole spectrum of post-psychedelic experiences. And that includes people who have psychotic breaks or people who suffer from what some scientist friends of mine have called ontological shock, where they aren’t completely unraveled, but they really don’t know what is real anymore, given the powerful —
Richard Schwartz: Or who they are. Right.
Tim Ferriss: Or who they are. And you also have people, I’m a case study in this, who go into an experience thinking they have no trauma or a certain level of lowercase T trauma, and then under the influence of these compounds, have the opening of the flood gates, where they suddenly realize that there’s a lot more in Pandora’s Box. And once that is uncorked and they return to ordinary reality, don’t know how to metabolize that or work with it or contend with it, which can lead to all sorts of problems.
And I just want to make it really clear that these are very powerful experiences that, I think, require the same type of due diligence and forethought as going into neurosurgery or a process like that. And you wouldn’t look for your neurosurgeon on Craigslist or encourage them to buy their tools through the dark web, similarly. How can one make, if they can, IFS, or this type of work, a daily practice? Is it a daily practice, or is it something that you just go for the gusto with every once in a while in a really intense therapeutic session? How do you think about that?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, one of the things I like about it most is that it easily translates into a daily practice. So as I thought about this interview, and also the listeners don’t know, but we had some technical snafus in the beginning and I could feel my panic parts coming up, and I knew you were waiting. And so inside, I say, “I get it. I get you’re scared, this isn’t going to happen. But just trust me, just relax. Just step back. I can handle this. Remember, it always goes better when I’m in the lead, just let me handle this.” And during that, even that time, when they were so panicked, I would just feel this parting of the seas and my self would come back, I’d have access to it again. And my confidence is back and all those C words.
And so I do that on a daily basis. If I’m going to face something scary, I’ll do a little prep session with my parts, a little pep talk about, “Okay, I know you guys, this will be triggering, but just let me handle it.” And then if they get triggered during a session or during a time during the week, and I can’t unblend, I can’t separate from them, then I bookmark that and I call my therapist and I do a piece of work around it, like the piece of work we just did. And so then I do a lot of unburdening in the session, but then I follow up after the session.
So my homework for you is to check on that boy and that adult part of you every day for about a month and just make sure they’re still doing okay and treat it very seriously. It’s not your imagination, it’s actually real. Even if you don’t believe it, treat it that way, and this will stick. So, yeah, so when I’m working with clients and we’ve done a lot of work and at the end, they’ll say some version of, “You’re a pretty good therapist, but I healed myself,” and that’s really what we’re shooting for.
Tim Ferriss: I like that. How do you suggest people build in this check-in? I would imagine this is common homework, where they are checking in on these parts. When do they do it? How long do they do it for? When they first get up? When they’re eating breakfast? What does it check-in, or what might a good check-in look like?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, just it’s very variable. Different clients do it differently. There are some who will do a sit for an hour every day and just really keep it going. And they actually get to where they can do unburdenings on their own, and the first 20 minutes of our session, they’re just telling me all this stuff they did at home. And then I [say], “Okay. Let’s go in and do some more.” And then there are people who are more like me, who, I’ll remember, especially if I write it down, a part that I’ve been working with that needs my attention.
And like I said, when I get up in the morning, I’ll just lay in bed and check on it and see how it is. But I can’t do a whole lot more than that, for some reason, I’ve got parts that interfere on my own. So I do a lot of the big healing work with somebody else, and then I do the maintenance work on my own every day. So it just varies from person to person, but I can do that, notice a part’s getting triggered, and not think it’s me. Know it’s a part, and separate from it in the moment, is the process we’ve been talking about a lot.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about adding in some additional variables. So you have said that often when couples are fighting, they’re in a protector war, if I’m getting the reference right. Can you expand on that? What does that mean?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What does it mean? And then how might you approach resolving it? If there are couples listening who are in quarantine, who might not have access to a therapist.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. So often I give my wife and I, as an example, but she got tired of me doing that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. That’s understandable. Yeah.
Richard Schwartz: So when I’m working with couples, most of the time, it is these protectors who have taken over each of them and are doing the talking. So it’s maybe the man’s angry part. I don’t want to be gendered about this. It’s one partner’s anger part.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s okay. I mean, you could give the hypothetical heteronormative just to make it easy for just the example. Of course, people, chill out. This can apply to any couple, but let’s just go with — all right, so in this case, we have a man and a woman, the man has the angry part.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. So he’s really angry about something his wife said, and she’s in this big defensive part and is just trying to justify it and so on. And it’s just these two parts interacting in a nasty way, a lot of the time. And unbeknownst to each of them, or maybe even known to each of them, those protectors are triggering the exiles of the other person, each time they say something. They’re hurting these wounded children inside. And the more those exiles get hurt, then the more extreme the protectors become. And that’s the loop that most couples are in. There’s I believe it’s an Indian saying that goes something like, “When the water buffalo battle in the marsh, it’s the frogs who suffer.”
So when these protectors go to war, both parties often don’t even know the damage they’re doing to the other person at all, because all they see is the protective part. But that damage really can erode the relationship ultimately. So when we’re working with such a couple, the first move is to do what we call a U-turn in their focus. That means could each of them stop, focus inside, noticing the parts that are doing the talking, get to know them a little bit, come back out when they can speak for them, rather than from them. So if you and I got into it, Tim, I might say, “So, Tim, it really, really — I just can’t stand that you just said that.” So, that would be a protector speaking period. And then if our therapists said, “Okay, Dick, just go inside, listen to that angry part I just spoke. Listen to what it protects and come back when you can speak from this open-hearted place for both of those parts.”
And I might say some version of, “Okay, I did that. And I noticed this angry one, and it really wanted me to ream you out.” And then I asked what it was protecting. And it was this boy who would hear something very similar from my father when he would yell at me and this angry guy said, “I’m never going to let that happen again. No one can talk to me like that.” And so that’s what was happening for me when I was saying that to you. So you see the difference
Tim Ferriss: I do. Yeah. And once you’ve had, let’s just say both people in the couple, right? So in our previous example, like the man and the woman, they do the U-turn, they’re both able to come back. Is the problem half-defined, half-solved in this case? Are you kind of halfway there? Or is there a next step once each person can say, “This part was protecting this part, and I’m able to kind of speak from this calmer observer self about these two now,” and get the man and the woman back in the room. What happens from that point forward?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, there are several next steps. So one side of IFS is having them interact with each other, from self, speaking for their parts, sort of in the way I just described. But my job then becomes simply being the parts detector. So as they talk to each other, I’ll say, “Time out, you’re talking from these parts. I want you both to go inside, come back when you can be more in self when you speak.” And then when they can, and they stay in self, just hold them in that space as they talk about their issues.
And what I find is just that, just being able to have a self to self conversation with somebody, you do start to heal on your own basically. Just like self can do that in the inner world, self could do that in the outer world. Now, as we do that, there may be parts that aren’t willing to step back and that are still quite burdened. And so the other thing I’ll do is I would do a piece of work with you while your partner witnessed that work. So if let’s say that anxious part was really getting in the way in your relationship and your partner watched me do that and saw the backstory to why this part’s so anxious, what’s your partner going to feel?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, empathy.
Richard Schwartz: Empathy. Yeah. So rather than being critical of you for being so scared or whatever it was now, they have empathy for this part of you, and they want to encourage you to keep working with it and healing it. So that’s a major intervention in a relationship as well. And so I’ll have people work with the parts that are the most getting in the way of the relationship the most, while their partner watches, so that’s a whole nother side of IFS.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk to another example of being a merchant of hope as you put it, or a hope merchant. Trailheads, I want to talk about trailheads. In an interview, I believe it was an interview, it might’ve been a blog post. It is an interview on 1440.org. Here’s the paragraph I want to unpack. “If I’m working with a client who is a former alcoholic and they come in and tell me sheepishly they went off the wagon this week, I say, ‘That’s great,’ because this is a trailhead, and if we follow the trail it will lead us right to the part we need to heal that we haven’t gotten to yet.” Can you please elaborate on trailheads?
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. As you can imagine, that’s a bit of a radical statement in this field, but that is my experience that these, whatever extreme belief, emotion, sensation, you mentioned on your farm, there are a lot of trails and those trails have trailheads where you start. And if you start at the trailhead and then follow the trail, you’ll come to some lake that’s beautiful or something like that. If we take whatever, like in your case, it was this anxiety that you felt as the trailhead that led us to this adult part that was protecting the exile. So any kind of symptom becomes that, becomes a trailhead that’ll take us to a pot of gold really.
Tim Ferriss: And I mean that’s also reminiscent to me in some respects of Gabor Maté and “Ask not ‘Why the Addiction’ but ‘Why the Pain?’” and —
Richard Schwartz: I quote, I use that line all the time.
Tim Ferriss: No kidding.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. And he and I are good friends and mutual admiration thing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. He’s a fascinating guy, fascinating guy. For people who want to further explore IFS, or get to a better understanding of IFS, perhaps even find a therapist who is knowledgeable with IFS, what are some of the resources, tools that you would suggest people start with? And let’s assume for the sake of argument that, or let’s say simplicity really, that these are lay people, not practitioners, not therapists.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah. So our website is ifs-institute.com, and on it, there’s a store and there are lots of books for the public. I’ve written two of them, one’s called An Introduction to IFS. And the other’s You’re The One You’ve Been Waiting For, which is more about relationships. And there are lots of videos and there are books for kids. And there is a book called Self Therapy that was written by a guy named Jay Earley that does sort of walk people through the process.
I’m a little anxious about that because he tells people to go to their exiles on their own, which I have concerns about. But that is also something some people use successfully. I did a, what do you call it, audio course on Sounds True called Greater Than the Sum of the Parts that contains a lot of exercises that people like a lot, and so I’d recommend that. Yeah, and there are more technical books for therapists that laypeople seem to get a lot out of too sometimes.
Tim Ferriss: What are those books?
Richard Schwartz: Well, the sort of Bible for therapists is called, oddly enough, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Second Edition, which came out just last year. And there’s a manual we did for an organization called PESI, that’s kind of step-by-step. And Frank Anderson is the author of that.
Tim Ferriss: For a layperson who really wants to get a brass tacks grasp of how they might use IFS in their own lives, would the audio course, you suggested with the exercises, be a good place to start? It can be overwhelming in a paradox of choice sense to have so many books available and not to know where to start. So to get people to step one, if we were to recommend, that audio course would be a good place to start?
Richard Schwartz: Very much. Yeah. And those exercises, I’m pretty careful about exiles. So they’re quite safe, I think, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Great, wonderful. I will link to that and everything that we’ve discussed in the show notes for people, so that will be available all in one place at tim.blog/podcast.
Well, Richard, this has been as hoped, incredibly fascinating for me. I’m glad that we were also able to do a live demo of what it looks like in the wild, in a sense. Is there anything else that you would like to share, suggest to my audience, ask of my audience before we wrap up?
Richard Schwartz: Oh, just, this is a very different paradigm for understanding human nature. And it changes a lot if you really get it and buy into it. And I told the story of in the early ’80s, when I finally got that Self was in everybody, I had this vision of possibility, this could change everything. I hope the guy comes along who can take it where it’s supposed to go, because I’m just a little kid. I’m still waiting for that guy, and I’m still trying to take it where it’s supposed to go. It feels like it’s got an energy of its own, because it would change a lot to know that this self is who everybody really is. And that these parts aren’t even what you think they are, that they’re actually very valuable qualities who’ve been distorted by trauma and can transform this quickly. All of that make a huge difference in everyday life for most people. And also we’re working with high-level mediators and so on just to try and bring more peace.
Tim Ferriss: It’s an incredible paradigm and set of tools that I will say was the first framework for talk therapy that I saw in living color via video initially, that really, really caught my attention, where I was like, “Holy shit. Okay. These before and afters are really incredible.” And it would have been for someone who hasn’t seen these types of transformations, almost impossible to anticipate that you would get these outcomes in such a relatively short period of time, given the starting points involved and the levels of trauma. And it’s really grabbed my attention, which is why I wanted to have you on the podcast. And I appreciate you very much for taking the time and making the time to have a conversation.
Richard Schwartz: Well, I’m very honored and moved actually by the depth at which you get this and for your support. And so I’ve loved our conversation, I really have. Having listened to you a lot, I kind of knew I would, but I still have these anxious parts. So it’s just been, moving is the best word for it for me.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I really appreciate you and the work that you’re doing in the world, hopefully we’ll get to meet in person at some point in the not-too-distant post-COVID world. And for everybody listening, thank you for tuning in. You can find the show notes, links to everything that we discussed, including the audio course that we mentioned towards the end at tim.blog/podcast. You can just search IFS and everything will pop right up. And until next time, thank you for tuning in.
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