The Guardians of our Inner Galaxy

Many of you have heard me speak about the two types of internal ‘Protector’ parts – Managers and Firefighters.  They have very different jobs.  And they care about very different things.  But they do have one thing in common, they want us to be Okay.

Managers are concerned with day-to-day functioning.  They focus on security and stability and they scold us in the present because they worry about the future.  Are we being productive enough?  Are we taking care of business?  Do others respect us?  Are we doing enough?  Are we getting the job done?  Are we safe?  (From judgment, from lack, from chaos?)

Firefighters are concerned with comfort.  They focus on soothing/distracting, and pleasure and fun, and they only worry about right now.  Are we enjoying ourselves?  Are we too stressed out from working too hard?  Are we getting too rigid and bored?  Is life feeling satisfying and interesting?

Managers think Firefighters are irresponsible and out of control.  Firefighters think Managers are hyper-responsible, and over-controlling.  Each side thinks the other is misguided because there is not enough focus on what is truly important.

All this sound familiar?

Jerry Seinfeld the comedian thought so too.  Here is an excerpt from his 2017 Netflix special:  Jerry Before Seinfeld:

I saw a mattress ad the other day:  No payments until June.  Because they know our idiot brains are going to say:

“Oh, June.  That’s not really my problem, then, is it?  It will probably never be June anyway.  That’s ‘June guy’s’ problem.”

It’s the same when you are watching TV late at night, and you are tired, and you are binge watching all your little Netflix shows.

“What about work tomorrow?  You have to get up and go to work!”

“Eh, that’s ‘morning guy’s’ problem.  I’m ‘night guy’.  Party rocks on for ‘night guy.’  Fire up another episode.  Crack open another sleeve of Oreos.  No rules for night guy!”

Then the next morning, the alarm goes off, and you’re trashed with crumbs in the bed.

”Why did I do that?  I hate you night guy!!”

Because night guy always screws morning guy.  Nothing morning guy can do.  He turns into ‘coffee all day guy’ who is then cancelling for ‘night guy’, and then ‘totally-trashed-doesn’t-do-his-work guy’, and ‘out-of-a-job guy’.

Does ‘night guy’ care?  No.  He is sleeping on a brand-new mattress, courtesy of ‘no-payments -until-June-guy’.


After reading this and reflecting on your own lifestyle, you may be more identified with one side of this Battle or the other.  In either case, I invite you to consider how unbalanced life would be without both.  So, how about we start a conversation between the two, by getting them in the same room at the same time, with curiosity rather than criticism.  Success stories to follow.:-)

Motivator/Critics: They Love Us Enough to Hate Us.

If you have been following my blog, you will have noticed that it has been a very long time since my last post.  Some of you have, politely and respectfully, asked me if I were planning to continue the writing process since it has been meaningful to you.  It has been meaningful to me, too.  And so, I have been asking myself if I want to write, and you want me to write, why am I not writing?

In my therapy practice, which is typically full (25 to 30 sessions per week), I encounter a critical voice/part in almost every individual and couple’s session that I facilitate.  And I ask the client, each and every time – “What is the positive intention of this critical part of you?”  And they answer, each and every time (unless they have gone through the drill already) – “There is no positive intention – this part is just mean.”

Remember this, if you haven’t heard it before:  There are no bad parts.  There are only parts with bad jobs.  I think we can all agree that providing a consistently nasty, critical, shaming, blaming, judgment about your every action and even your very character, qualifies as a truly terrible job.

My own inner critic has been busy during my blogging ‘hiatus’.  That voice varies its commentary from “What the hell is your problem?” to “Doesn’t it bother you that you are letting your clients down?” and “You obviously don’t care that much or you would never let this happen.”

So, what is the positive intention of our inner critic(s)?  You will note that in the title of this post, I actually named this part the Motivator/Critic – a very important clue to solving this puzzle.  The primary intention of our critical voice is to “get your ass in gear”.  According to the online Urban Dictionary, this phrase is defined as “to hurry the fuck up, and start moving your ass instead of sitting on it. Often told to lazy slackers sitting around on their fat asses smokin’ bowls and updating their Facebook accounts.”  (Now that had to be written by an inner critic.)😊

Another equally important intention of the inner critic is to shame you before someone else does.  In the case of my own writing block, you can see from the commentary above that this part of me is attempting to appeal to my core value of caring and connection with my clients to increase my level of motivation.  Upon deeper exploration, I discovered that it is also worried that if I don’t write, others may shift from respectful inquiry to their own judgment and criticism of me, and my inner critic wants to spare me from that.  Thus, it will get there first and either I will get motivated to write again which solves the problem of future shaming from others, or I will develop a thick enough skin so if I do get judged, it won’t impact me so much (loves me enough to ‘hate’ me).  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty darn clever and resourceful, and yes, in a twisted kind of way, even kind.

Now, here’s the last thing I will say about this (more to come in future posts).  I also discovered that another hidden critic was keeping me from writing for a reason very similar to the critic that was pushing me to write.  This quieter, more obscure critic was worried that if I did keep writing, maybe I just wouldn’t be able to sustain the quality of previous posts and it would be disappointing to others or, again, evoke their judgment and criticism of me.  Once I understood all of these ‘behind the scenes’ intentions and strategies and experienced my Wise Mind appreciation of all of these parts, I felt myself settling down and getting to work.  I hope you enjoyed the results, and I hope this may inspire you to get to know your own motivator/critics just a little bit better.

Anger with Integrity

I have been thinking about the negative messages we have all received about anger:  Anger is unkind.  Anger is unhealthy.  Anger is dangerous.  People who are angry are out of control.  Nice people don’t get angry.  Spiritual people don’t get angry.  Anger will make you sick.

I even googled ‘negative messages about anger’, and found this quote:  “Anger doesn’t solve anything.  It builds nothing.  But it can destroy everything.”

There is also the question of how we actually define what anger is.  A feeling?  A thought?  An impulse or action?  The definitions of anger are varied but many of them seem to reinforce how bad anger is, as in this definition from Merriam-Webster:  “A strong feeling of being upset or annoyed because of something wrong or bad; the feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people.”

And of course, many of us have been hurt by someone’s anger.  Children abused by angry parents/adults/siblings.  Spouses abused by angry spouses.  Thus, for many of us, abuse and anger go hand in hand.  Another definition (of abuse) from Merriam-Webster:  “…condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily.”

As a trauma therapist, I have spent many years helping clients heal from abuse and part of the process always includes helping them work through their (understandable) mistrust and fear of other’s anger, as well as their own.  One of the most empowering tools I have offered them is to learn the value of their anger, and to honor the part of them that has held that anger about what has occurred.  This definition from  effectively encapsulates this truth:

“Anger is a strong emotion designed to send the clear message ‘something has got to change.’ It is an urgent plea for justice and action.”

So, what if we embraced this definition?  What if anger is actually a very important aspect of our personhood?  What if anger can be shared not with violence, but respectfully, and with integrity; and driven by our innermost needs and values of self-respect, self/other-care, and self-worth?

A personal example of channeling anger in an effective (and satisfying) manner occurred last evening.  I went with some dear friends to a bar to see another close friend of mine and her husband play in a band.  During this very enjoyable evening, an adult white male who was obviously inebriated came over and began, loudly, to make racist comments to one of my male friends, and overly intimate and inappropriate comments to the females in our party.  I felt myself getting angry.  The physical signs of anger showed up first, constriction in my chest, shallow breathing.   Then my thoughts began to race: “This is unacceptable behavior.  This is not okay.  I hate all drunken, ignorant public displays.  Somebody needs to shut this guy up.”  Then I took action.  I spoke to my friend in the band to see if he knew this man.  He spoke to the bartender.  The bartender was calm, and possessed an important bartending skill – how to manage drunks.:-)  In a few minutes, the situation was handled and the antagonist was gone.

I am not naïve.  I understand this is a very unambiguous example of injustice and righteous anger.  It was resolved, and quickly, and many situations of this kind are not.  And, I am still inviting my readers to consider this potentially new idea of anger as the spokesperson for our inner values/needs, and not a defect in our character to be rid of.  To consider the title of this post and to get curious about your anger rather than to battle it.  I will continue to do the same.

New Year Without Resolution

2016 is ending, with much uncertainty ahead.  With the current political climate and so much anger and fear in our collective ‘field’, it does not feel like a typical New Year in which we are galvanized and inspired by hope and positive intention for the future.  At the same time, I am reminded of an important value and principle that I have always held dear, particularly in the face of chaos, crisis, and vast uncertainty:  Faith.  I am not referring to a kind of pious, unempowered and/or disconnected from grounded reality kind of ‘faith’ that has been associated with certain kinds of ‘cult’ organizations and which has often had more negative, harmful impact than actual affirmative and encouraging benefit.  I mean Faith, as in, there is something bigger going on Here.  As in, the human heart is incredibly resilient and courageous and to quote a favorite movie of mine from 1984 often leads us to the beauty of our capacity to be “at our very best when things are worst”.  As in, I feel instructed and supported every day by a Force that feels neither impotent nor misguided.  As in, I am choosing not to live in overwhelming fear, helplessness, or hopelessness and that is a choice I alone can make for myself each and every day I am still Here.

And yes, this Faith is sometimes hard to hold onto.  Chronic illness (managing ulcerative colitis for the past couple years) has tested it.  A recent bout of bronchial pneumonia that sapped my body and spirit and energy and functioning for two solid months, tested it.  Relationship struggles tests it.  This election and all of the potential ramifications for what is ahead of us tests it.  And, it is still my greatest resource that I will continue to revisit, for the duration of my life.  And one of my greatest blessings is that I can share this with those who are closest to me.

So, this was the year that the seemingly impossible, and unthinkable, occurred.  But this was also the year that my mom invited me to be her exclusive healing companion for her neurosurgery where we experienced a profound connection and healing in our relationship as well as the miracle of an essential, and successful surgery.  This was the year that I completed and professionally produced a CD of Guided Relaxations and started a blog for healing and transformation to assist my clients in their efforts to find some measure of stillness and inspiration within.  It was the year that I attended an advanced course in counseling for couples and made a renewed commitment to expand my practice to include assisting others in healing intimate relationships.  And it was the year that I got sicker than I ever remember being and came out of it with more resolve to keep doing the one thing that continues to make sense to me when so much else does not – to do the work I am drawn to do, and to stay connected with the conscious, loving community around me – my Tribe.

Love and blessings to each of you as you look toward the New Year that holds deep uncertainty and unknown possibility, and as you reflect on the year that has passed and carry forward your grief, and your capacity for joy.  And, as one of my clients recently said to me, “It is also the time to give myself permission to Just Be Me.”  I invite you to do just that and to remember that it matters.



Falling Apart, Together.

I have been quietly, and not so quietly, falling apart.  My last blog post was almost a month ago.  Since then, I have been battling a severe upper respiratory infection that has caused the worst coughing fits I can ever remember experiencing.  Then, at the advice of my doctor, I took a course of antibiotics because my body just got too tired to fight on its own, and my colitis flared up.  During this very challenging physical experience, I have also been in deep grief and isolation following the presidential election.  Hence, the references to falling apart quietly, and wracked by full-body coughing, not so quietly.

To be sick for so long has activated many feelings and thoughts.  Shame:  “I am falling apart.  I thought I was stronger than this.  How could I let this happen?” Guilt:  “I am falling apart and missing work and therefore unavailable for my clients and friends during this very challenging time that impacts us all.”  Grief:  “I am falling apart and I feel so vulnerable in this fragile physical state.”  Fear/Humility:  “I am falling apart and I seem to have so little control over anything including my own body.”  Gratitude:  “I am falling apart and my clients and friends have offered their compassion and understanding even as I have offered less to them than I normally can/do.”

I have had a lot of time to myself as I have gone through this very slow, and still ongoing, recovery process and I believe I am learning more about how to be a better friend to myself.  I have found myself being kind to those inner feelings and thoughts, letting them know:  “I hear you.  I understand.  This is hard.  I have compassion.  We are going to get through this, together.”

And I realize that this is also my message to my clients, and my friends, and to all those in turmoil around the country.

And as I had that realization, I began to look for quotes about ‘falling apart’ that could perhaps provide a little comfort for me, and for each of you who are reading this.  One is from a Buddhist monk that most of us have heard of, and one is a song excerpt from a musician that many of us probably haven’t heard of.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ”
Pema ChödrönWhen Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

We’re falling apart together
Well it’s another flash light dinner in the dark
When times get hard
We just shake us on a little more salt and pepper
Yeah the good thing is we might be falling apart
But we’re falling apart together
Lee Brice, Falling Apart Together

This is a hard time for many of us and now more than ever it feels so important to share our pain, and our hope, and our wisdom.  I invite you to share yours as you are able.  Blessings to all.

A Choice to Make

I had an experience over the week-end that inspired me to write this post, and as noted in a previous entry, Cultivating a Mental Diet, it occurred on the tennis court where so many of my issues get triggered.:-)

I have a regular tennis partner and we have played tennis and racquetball competitively for the past five years.  We focus only on the game.  The exercise is great.  Being outside (when possible) is great.  A little catching up about our personal lives is nice.  But playing all out to win the points and feel the rush is the reason I keep showing up.

During the course of our competitive journey, my playing partner has had the good fortune of finding his romantic life partner, a very loving and kind person who shares many things with him including a beginner’s desire to invest in his two athletic interests – tennis and racquetball.  Understandably, both the level of play and motivation are very different between them than the matches he and I  have been engaging in for the past five years, and the times I have been invited to a ‘round robin’ (rotating two on one), it has been a very different game.

So, how to honor the parts of me that really enjoy the optimal competitive experience and the relational parts of me that appreciate connection and generosity of spirit?  To balance both, I had previously requested of my tennis partner to reserve some play time strictly for our singles tennis and to let me know when he was inviting his girlfriend to join us so that I could adjust my expectations to a different level/experience of play (and/or choose not to participate if my competitive parts were particularly activated).  I had been so proud of myself for speaking up clearly for my needs/parts and offering what many of you reading this know as my ‘and/both’.

And then this week-end event occurred.  My tennis partner invited me to play on what was very possibly the last warm tennis-friendly day until Spring.  I jumped at the chance and the level of play was intense and wonderful.  I was ahead 5 games to 0 with what felt like an easy trajectory to winning the 6-game set and then he came back 3 games, so life on the court was competitive and good.:-)  And then his girlfriend arrived excited to be with the man she loves and a person she enjoys (we like each other very much) and to get some exercise on a beautiful warm, autumn evening.

I felt the immediate pressure from my tennis partner that we either needed to complete our set quickly or forfeit and start over with our new configuration.  And I knew his girlfriend would understandably feel disappointed if the wait was long.  And my internal family system started to short out.  I lost the next two games and it was 5 games to 5.  And then I was asked to call it a draw.  As you may imagine, voices in my head were screaming about the unfairness of not being told she was coming.  About the injustice (and for some parts, pain) of not being able to complete a set that had been so awesome and competitively high-spirited.  About how the whole situation and request being made of me felt just plain ‘wrong’.

And I realized I had a choice to make.

I could actually visualize it.  One fork was the path of righteousness.  I had a right to be annoyed, disappointed, and angry.  I had communicated my needs and set a boundary and yet still invited into something without full disclosure which felt blindsiding.  The other fork was the path of generosity.  This is a nice person excited to participate in this really fun game on this really beautiful night and my tennis partner loves her and doesn’t want to exclude her.  Self-valuing/righteous and high-spirited.  Connected and generous.

Before I tell you what choice I made that night, I want to take one last moment to honor mine (and your) righteous parts.  They are not crazy and narcissistic.  They are not bad or wrong.  They stand up for us, speak for our truth and values, push back on others when our boundaries are feeling violated.  They work hard and are worthy of our appreciation.

And I made the choice to be generous.  And I let those parts of me know that I will speak to my tennis partner again and reiterate my boundaried request.  And they agreed to stand back and let me enjoy the night and the tennis round robin and the connections.  And/both.

Saying Yes to Life

A colleague of mine, born in the same year as myself, just passed away this week.  She left behind two amazing teen-age sons, an adoring partner, cherished friends, and a thriving therapy practice.

As you may imagine, this has stirred up a lot for me.  She was my age.  She was thriving.  She positively impacted so many.  She got sick.  She fought hard.  She ran out of time.

It also brought up all the poignancy of another passing in my life – of a friend who was dear to me – who was unable to thrive – and how then, and now, I am making sense of these losses with the message that came to me.  I shared it with her family.  I would like to share it with you.

“I loved my friend Eve.  I loved her intelligence.  I loved her sharp wit, which was a match for my own.  I loved her insights, and the way she called me out on things even though she knew it would trigger my arrogance armor.  And I loved that she knew about the armor in the first place.

And then I think, what was her armor to protect her from pain and overwhelm?  One of my strategies – armor – is arrogance.  A way of assessing the world and seeing it as an adversary that will never be stronger than my own will.  Of never letting them see me sweat, even if inside I’m afraid, which parts of me have been, most of my life.  And again I ask, what was her armor?  She couldn’t keep her pain and fear invisible like I would like to believe mine is.  It was literally eating her alive.  It was always visible.  She didn’t feel good about herself and she always felt like every decision she made must be wrong.  I have forced myself to believe that every decision I make is good enough because, I have insisted, nobody really knows what they are doing anyway.  She always seemed to feel that all her decisions were bad, that she was bad, and it was only other people that had it right.  She saw me that way.  But no matter what I said, she could never see herself that way.

I told her once that her greatest lesson to me was teaching me unconditional love.  Because to love her meant being willing to share love and connection without getting attached to how the other person takes it in or gives much of anything back.  From being with Eve, I understood that when one is in the dark, one can’t stand the light.  One can’t even stand hearing about the light.  And so she couldn’t ask others/me who are living in the light too much about our own lives.  The joyful things.  The progress.  Because in their/her own head, there is only darkness.  No apparent progress.  No hope.

And the heartbreak for me, is that I get that.  I have been in that dark place.  And I got out.  I help others to get out.  But she didn’t.  I watched her life for 16 years.  I walked with her.  I loved her.  And she never got out.  It makes me really, really sad.

And now I am thinking that there is a far greater lesson that her life and her struggle can teach me.  Can teach all of us.  Her voice has a permanent place in my heart now and it is telling me what she could not do while she was on the earth.  It is telling me, now that she has peace and is released from her tortured mind and body:  “Take it all in.  Don’t keep any light out.  Take it in.  The joy.  The nourishment.  The tenderness.  Take all of Life in.  Say Yes to Life.”

I will Eve.  Thank you.

Pure Intention, Not Perfect Action

A significant triumvirate that we each activate on a daily basis is that of Intention (underlying motivation), Strategy (action we take) and Outcome (end result).

Many of my clients will express their presenting problems in terms of ‘self-sabotage’:  “I know what I want (or don’t want) and what I should be doing differently to make that happen, but I just keep making it worse” is often what I will hear.

One such client who has been managing lifelong anxiety shared the following debilitating cycle.  She experiences intense worry (“my anxiety shoots in like a bullet”) and her thoughts start racing beginning with the recurring question “what did I do wrong and what do I have to do to make everything okay?”  She then notices that people around her discount her worry and minimize her distress and this triggers her anger.  In this angry state, she feels a strong desire to push people away and will express irritation and impatience.  Next in the cycle comes guilt about negatively impacting others with both her anxiety and her anger and this guilt fuels more worry about what she has done wrong (adding anger to the list of transgressions).

When I asked the client how she felt toward these parts of herself (worry, anger, guilt), her answer was also very familiar.  “I hate them.  I just keep doing the same things over and over and it is making my life miserable.”

I observed with the client that she was understandably excruciatingly aware of her recurring ineffectual strategies and the negative outcomes they produced, but asked her to be curious with me about the nature of the intention(s) that preceded those actions.  In my experience, intentions tend to be linked to a set of internal values (such as justice/integrity, dignity/respect, connection, stability, and authenticity) which are connected to, and promote, our most genuine sense of self.  Thus, if we can get in touch with our true motivation/intention, which is driven by one of our core values, and align our actions accordingly, we might have an opportunity to experience far different results.

So, what did we find out when we got curious and suspended judgment?  The worry part wants to protect the client from the unsafe world she grew up in (stability).  The angry part wants the client to be taken seriously by the important people in her life (dignity/respect), and the guilty part wants her to be accepted for who she truly is without having to try so hard to be ‘perfect’ (authenticity).

It is a powerful moment of discovery when we are able to honor our positive intentions and appreciate the core values they reflect.  For us, and for this client, it can help shift the focus from self-degradation to self-compassion and opens the possibility for more inner collaboration (updating strategies while still holding on to our intention/values), which can lead to more peace of mind.


A few months ago, I attended a lecture at Northwestern on the topic of mindfulness (a recurring theme throughout these postings).  The speaker was reflecting on the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion.

Self-esteem, he explained, refers to the ways we develop and express confidence in ourselves and our ‘performance’ in the world.  There is an emphasis on self-assessment and social comparison (which consequently can activate judgment and criticism).  The question we tend to ask ourselves when reflecting on our self-esteem is “Am I good enough?”

Self-compassion tends to promote a focus on comfort and connection, without judgment or negative comparisons, and asks a very different question: “Am I worthy of kindness?”

You may notice that regardless of the Self-Judgments we are battling internally, the second question can be far less challenging to respond to affirmatively in the present moment.  No matter how ‘not good enough’ we believe we are and/or how much we believe we need to change or improve, we may still be able to answer ‘yes’ to taking in some caring and kindness.

If this resonates for you, I would like to offer a daily practice for cultivating self-compassion.  I assigned this to two different clients this past week after they each shared with me the nature of the relentless inner voice that consistently berated them for ‘not getting/doing it right’.  I asked them to imagine that critical part of themselves as the child they once were who expressed to the protector/provider(s) in their lives their feelings of pain and fear and were met with critical shaming or worse, narcissistic indifference, but not with understanding or comfort.

I asked them if they would be willing to practice self-compassion and reassure that child part that they are, in fact, worthy of kindness.  I asked them to consider what words of comfort made sense to them, even though they did not hear those words as children.  “You are doing the best you can.  I care about you.  Everything will be okay.”

Are you worthy of kindness?  Would you be willing to take some time each day to provide this reassurance to yourself?