I can’t wait to help you tap into the therapy that transformed my life. Whether you’re brand new to IFS (Internal Family Systems) parts work or simply want to learn more about this transformational practice, buckle up! Today’s Dear Gabby can create major shifts in your life.
Sober Recovery Month
But first, wow … it’s that time of year again! September is Sober Recovery Month, and this holds profound meaning for me.
In just a few weeks—on October 2, to be exact—I will celebrate 17 years of sobriety.
Becoming sober is the most important thing I have ever done, and it’s the reason for every success I’ve experienced.
My career, my relationships, my family would not have been possible had I not made the decision to put down drugs and alcohol nearly two decades ago.
But my sobriety has been just one layer of my healing process.
Peeling the Layers
As I write about in my book Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace, I had a revelation in my mid-thirties that set me off on the greatest healing journey of my life.
Years after I’d put down the drugs, I remembered my childhood abuse. This turned my entire world upside down, but my steady commitment to healing helped me through. Despite the odds, I truly did find happy days on the other side of fear and anxiety.
I would not have put my face on the cover of Happy Days if I didn’t mean that ^^ with all my heart!
In the book, I share the 9 spiritual and therapeutic tools that helped me break free of fear and anxiety and honor my addictive patterns. But of ALL the tools, IFS therapy, and the “parts work” it entails, was the most transformational by far.
In this practice, I found the antidote to decades of suffering. And I also came to understand why I battled addiction in the first place, and find deep compassion for that part of myself.
In today’s Dear Gabby, I’m sharing a live talk that will explain what IFS parts work is. I’ll break it down so that you can let it transform your life, too.
IFS Parts Work
Whether you know all about IFS parts work or have never heard of it before, the lessons in this talk will be easy to follow. I’ll even guide you through a gentle IFS-inspired exercise that you can do TODAY to find profound emotional relief.
I can’t wait to talk about IFS with you, my friend. This tool has catapulted my happiness, helped me uncover the root of my addictive patterns and elevated every relationship in my life. I believe it can do the same for you.
So, let’s get started!
Press play to learn:
- How to identify the internal parts of you that explain your addictive patterns (these are called the “exiled parts,” the “manager parts” and the “firefighter parts” … understanding yours will change everything)
- Therapeutic techniques to relax the activated and addicted parts of yourself so you can feel calm, free and happy
- How to cultivate gratitude for any experiences that might have brought you shame in the past—and use those experiences to be of service in the world
- The eight qualities you can harness to serve the world in your highest capacity (these are called the 8 Cs … and I live by them!)
- How to recognize subtle addictive patterns that might be holding you back in life (we don’t get addicted ONLY to drugs or alcohol …)
An IFS Parts Primer
For the past 12 years I’ve been in treatment with my own “parts therapist” who’s trained in Internal Family Systems therapy. Out of all of the spiritual and therapeutic work I’ve done for the past two decades, IFS has by far been the most profoundly transformational in every area of my life. IFS is based on the premise that we are not one mono personality or person, but rather, we have many different parts of who we are.
There are NO bad parts; some parts are just in extreme roles. These roles consist of exiles and protectors. We all have exiles (often scared inner children) and protectors (the extreme ways we respond in an effort to manage the impermissible exiled feelings). For example, an exiled part may be based on a childhood experience of feeling abandoned. When the feeling of abandonment is triggered, the protector part will withdraw love to temporarily secure a sense of control and therefore safety. Or the protector might pick up a drink or turn to drugs to put out the fire of terrifying feelings that are coming through. Protectors work very hard to keep the exiles hidden. The exiles and protectors make up an internal family system of parts of us that are often at odds and fighting hard to stay safe in their roles.
Self With a Capital S
True safety comes about when we establish a connection to what is known in IFS as Self (with a capital S). Within us all, there is an undamaged wise, resourced, calm, loving Self—and it’s available to us at any time, like a loving internal parent who never leaves our side. Self embodies 8 qualities, known as the 8 Cs: curiosity, calmness, connectedness, clarity, compassion, creativity, courage and confidence.
The goal of IFS is to establish a strong Self-to-parts connection, so that Self as the leader can help the protector parts calm down, feel safe, and therefore be more supportive in the internal family system. When Self leads your internal system by extending curiosity, calmness, connectedness, clarity, compassion, creativity, courage and confidence, the protector parts will start to relax.
When you establish direct access to your Self energy, your entire life will change.
The Protector Parts
The protector parts are the parts of us that show up to manage the exiles and keep them under control so we don’t have to face the impermissible feelings of our exiled past. Extreme attachment injury with a primary caregiver or other childhood trauma can make us lose trust in others; therefore the protector parts do whatever they can to keep the exiled parts safe from those impermissible feelings. Protectors establish the unhealthy role of parenting and caring for the exiled parts. As they grow older, child exiled parts rely on the protectors to keep them safe. The unconscious mind is terrified by the exiled parts. It fears that they could be triggered at any moment into anger, panic, shame, anxiety, depression, worthlessness and even grief. Therefore, the protectors are always on standby, ready to keep the unconscious triggers from being revealed.
Protector parts are often associated with the ways we run or fight back. For instance, when someone puts you down, you get triggered into feelings of inadequacy. The way you respond to that put-down with rage and defensiveness is a protector part trying to save you from facing the deep-rooted feeling of shame or inadequacy. Your protector parts can present as rageful outbursts, controlling behavior, obsessive thoughts, judgment, and addictive patterns that can lead to drug, alcohol and other kinds of abuse. —Happy Days, pages 139–140
We all have these parts within us, ^^ and that’s okay! As IFS founder Dick Schwartz says, There are no bad parts. And our protector parts have done important work to keep us feeling safe.
The 8 Cs
Within us all, there is also a wise, calm, loving Self. It’s available to us at any time, like a loving internal parent that never leaves our side.
At any given moment, we can tap into the 8 Cs, or the 8 C qualities of the Self. These are: curiosity, calmness, connectedness, clarity, compassion, creativity, courage and confidence. I’ll dig into each of them on Dear Gabby today.
When you learn to live in this Self energy, everything will change.
I really mean that! ^^ Your relationships will transform, you’ll feel more grounded and at peace … and before you know it, you’ll be living your own happy days.
I can’t wait to share IFS parts work with you, and help you honor your addictive parts.
Remember: There are no bad parts.
Get More Gabby
The following are helpful resources and books I mention in the episode:
Want even more support? I created the Miracle Membership to help you design a spiritual practice you can stick to—so you can feel connected, supported and inspired every day. Each week I deliver lessons, guided meditations, community connection and so much more. Plus, I lead a different challenge each quarter to elevate every area of your life, and the BRAND NEW Relationship Challenge kicks off on October 1! Click here to join the Miracle Membership.
In my newest book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace, I write about IFS therapy and parts work in depth. Chapter 7, “Love Every Part,” will be particularly helpful for you.
To learn more about IFS, you can listen to this Dear Gabby Big Talk with IFS founder Dick Schwartz.
In today’s podcast I share about the deep healing that took place when I wrote The Universe Has Your Back. This book has touched countless lives, and I’m so grateful that its lessons have healed others as much as they’ve healed me.
If you need additional support, please refer to this list of mental health resources. I’m proud of you for being here.
This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey toward inner peace. I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from any psychological or medical conditions, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
Hi there, Gabby here. This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor a...
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
Hi there, Gabby here. This podcast is intended to educate, inspire and support you on your personal journey towards inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from a psychological or medical condition, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
There’s a lot that I’m really passionate about. Even beyond personal growth and spiritual recovery. I am really passionate about helping people feel financially secure and confident in their ability to raise their self-worth and therefore raise their net worth. And I guess you could consider this a self-help thing, but there’s also practical methods that have to go along with your earning capacity.
And when I first started out as a life coach, uh, 17 years ago, I was coaching privately and I learned a lot from those one-on-one sessions, but I didn’t feel like it was the best use of me as a teacher. And my feeling was I was wanting to get to more people. I wanted to, to scale my work. I wanted to have an easier way of paying my bills, but most importantly, I wanted to touch a broader audience.
And then this miracle happened for me, enter my girlfriend, very dear friend, Amy Porterfield. And she’s known as the digital course queen. And around that time I was starting out, I had become friends with Amy. And at the same time, she was leaving her job working for Tony Robbins. And she started a business teaching people how to create digital courses.
So what happened was, Amy taught me to turn my one-on-one coaching expertise into a one-to-many digital course. And that first course was such a huge success that I was able to change the way I ran my business completely. And this allowed me to travel, allowed me to write more books. And most importantly, it allowed me to touch far more people and almost do less and attract more.
So if you’re anything like me, if you’re an entrepreneurial spirit or you feel like you have a side hustle that you want to elevate and share, you want financial freedom, you wanna be abundant doing work that you love. Then I have something very special for you to check out.
Amy Porterfield, my digital course creation mentor is leading a new free masterclass on Wednesday, September 7th. It’s called how to recession-proof your business with one digital course. Five strategies to create and launch a profitable digital course from scratch. How awesome is that? So even if you’ve never even considered yourself, someone that could create a digital course, but this is sparking your interest.
Go to dear gabby.com/amymasterclass to save your spot. Again, this is totally free. It’s a masterclass on September 7th with Amy Porterfield and it’s how to recession-proof your business with one digital course. Again, that’s dear gabby.com/amymasterclass. I know this is gonna serve you greatly.
Hey there. Welcome to Dear Gabby. I’m your host Gabby Bernstein. And if you landed here, it is absolutely no accident. It means that you’re ready to feel good and manifest a life beyond your wildest dreams. Let’s get started.
Welcome back to Dear Gabby. Welcome back, my friends. Whew. Today is September 5th and September is sober recovery month. I put my hand on my heart when I say that. In just a few weeks from now, I will celebrate 17 years of sobriety. October 2nd, 2005 was the day that changed my life forever. That was the day I decided to get sober and being a sober woman is the reason I can sit here in this studio right here right now, talking to you with conviction and confidence recovery behind me, clarity, compassion for myself, love for myself and a deep align of connection to a spiritual relationship of my own understanding.
And that’s why today I decided in honor of recovery month, in honor of my forthcoming 17-year celebration, I’m gonna share a live talk with you. It’s a live talk I gave a few months ago at the High Watch recovery center where I am a fellow there. I have the privilege of being able to teach their guests and also teach therapists and experts in the field of personal growth as they come through for these different types of talks. And I am one of them.
So if you’re someone who’s in any way, struggling with addiction, or if you have a loved one with addiction, or if you’re struggling with a negative pattern that you can’t kick, Hey, that’s everyone. This episode is for you. It’s a beautiful live talk. I very humbly share some of my historical struggles with addiction and the most profound method for how I got out.
And I hope that you listen to this several times. I hope that you share this episode with your loved ones, particularly anyone struggling with addiction or someone who is in sober recovery or anyone who’s really struggling with patterns that they cannot heal. I pray for this episode to be a very soothing source of guidance and inspiration for you and your loved ones.
So I wanna thank you in advance for listening to this and allowing me to very vulnerably share my truth with you and the miraculous methods that helped me get back to safety. Enjoy the show.
I’m coming up on 17 years of sobriety. [APPLAUSE]
The reason that that’s the most important element of my bio is because if that hadn’t happened, none of the rest of the bio would exist. The nine books that I’ve written would not have served countless souls. I would not have been able to fulfill my mission and my function as a spiritual teacher, as a thought leader as a human who is here to serve.
So today’s intention is to really speak to the teacher, to the therapist, to the coach, to the individual who wants to carry the message. But then there’s many of us in this room that are also just humans having our own human experience of what it means to live life and to survive living. Whether you realize it or not, and whether you identify as a healer or therapist or coach or not, we all have our own journey of personal growth and spiritual awakening that in our own unique ways, we are here to share.
We are here to teach. When you wake up spiritually. when you wake up your consciousness, when you go to that therapy session, when you enter that 12-step room, when you say, you know what, my relationship, my marriage isn’t working, I’m gonna get that relationship therapist or crack open a book like Happy Days you have raised your hand and said a silent prayer.
I am willing to heal. I am willing to grow. I am willing to show up for myself and for the world. No pressure, but it is, it is the call. I have been responding to that call for the past 17 years. And in response to that call, I have made it my brave commitment to continue to peel off the layers of the onion and keep peeling and keep peeling and keep peeling and keep peeling.
And 17 years ago, I was, I was in a very different place than I am right here, right now, 24 and a half years old. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I’m driving my white beat-up Corolla in the car, waiting behind people to move their cars because I’m adhering to the alternate side of the street parking regulations.
And I have absolutely no business being behind the wheel because I’m still hungover and high from the night before. So here I am behind the wheel, behind a huge truck waiting to park my car and I have this audio cassette. This is six, 17 years ago. I have an audio cassette on rewind and play rewind again, and play rewind again and play—listening to it over and over and over.
And what I’m listening to is the voice of this psychic reading that I had had five months earlier. And I hear the psychic’s voice says. You’re really struggling with drugs and alcohol. It’s not that bad. I respond. Well, dear, you can carry on like this and have two choices. The choice of carrying on like this, and really doing a lot of destructive behavior and suffering or the second choice you can get sober and make a major impact on the world.
I rewind it. Play it again, rewind it, play it again, rewind it, play it again. Continue to listen to the words. You can make a major impact on the world. You can make a major impact on the world and I keep listening and listening and I wanna believe her words. So I keep rewinding and playing and rewinding and playing, but nothing around me would be proof that this could be real.
Then I see the street cleaners come behind me and the big truck moves across the street. And I follow that truck and I start to park my car and I chug this red Gatorade trying to get a little bit of electrolytes into my body. And I throw that empty Gatorade can on the ground, just trashing my car. And I look out the window and I see all these people walking somewhere.
They’re all walking with their shoulder bags and their coffees, and they’re all going to work or going to the gym. They’re all going somewhere. I’m going nowhere. I park my car, get into my studio apartment, throw myself in the shower and there’s mold on the side of the shower walls. And I’m standing in the shower and the mascara’s just dripping down my face.
And I’m feeling this shame of having to text message my business partner. I’d owned a nightlife PR company at the time. And so I could go to work at noon. So I text my partner when I get out of the shower and I say, be at work at noon. I get into bed. I take some kind of downer to fall asleep and I start feverishly journaling in my notebook—journaling, journaling, journaling.
So I don’t have to face the impermissible feelings of shame and I journal and journal and I keep writing over and over and over again, you can make a major impact on the world. You can make a major impact on the world. And I start to hear the clanking sounds of the trash outside my window, people walking to work and it starts to just get softer and softer and softer, and the anxiety starts to subside.
And it’s just going to take a break until I wake up again. I can think my way back to that moment in the car, I can think my way back to that journaling in my apartment, I can think my way back right here, right now to where I was nearly 17 years ago. And I’m so freaking proud of that woman, that young woman who at 25 years old made the commitment to change her life, save her life, and to make a major impact on the world.
That commitment, that desire to get clean and sober, that desire to show up for my life was the catalyst for all that I have had the privilege of showing up for. So wherever you are right here right now in your life, no matter how much work you have done, there’s always another layer of that onion. And so today my intention is to help you as individuals and as practitioners say thank you to every layer of the onion that is presented to you and to gently and bravely and courageously continue to peel back those layers.
Because when we are brave enough to look at what is underneath. The patterns, the fears, the destructive behavior, that is when we become free. That’s when we become free of the fear, free of the running, free of the perpetual cycle of addiction, whatever that may be. And so, no matter how much work you’ve done on yourself in this room, and I know I’ve done a lot, I wake up every single day, a humble student, ready to learn more, ready to heal more and ready to grow more.
And in my pursuit of personal growth and spiritual development and therapeutic healing, I have more to offer every single day.
I hope you’re enjoying this special episode of Dear Gabby. This episode is really near and dear to my heart. And I wanna thank you for listening to me and letting me share my vulnerability with you today as I always do. But this is a big one.
And I wanna just take a quick break to talk about one of our sponsors Just Thrive. Thanks to the modern world, we can all feel stressed out at times. And I talk about that a lot in this live talk of the stress and the addictive patterns and the lack of balance that we experience when we’re on social media, or we’re trying to just get ahead in life or just survive. And stress is there.
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And getting sober was really just the first step in my journey. Getting sober was okay, let’s put the fire out. But getting sober wasn’t enough to just keep going. I couldn’t just stay clean and sober and not do the work. Building up my 12-step recovery. Building up my therapy. Building up lots of different practices, spiritual practices, yoga practices, all kinds of methods that I would soon to get trained in so that I could really continue to peel away the onion and peel away the onion.
And about 11 years into my recovery, I was really proud of all the work that I had done. I’d been interviewed on Oprah, I had all these books, maybe seven, eight books behind me. I had done a lot of good work in the world and I had really shown up and I was fulfilling my function. But all the while I’m losing it, I’m having a mental breakdown.
36 years old, very newly married. My husband’s leaving his job to come run our business together. I am talking about family planning. A lot of big changes are coming up in my life and I’m having a mental breakdown literally day after day after day. I’d get on the stage and give a very profound talk, get off the stage and have a meltdown.
And my mantra every single day was: I can’t go on like this. I can’t go on like this. I can’t go on like this. Little did I know that that mantra was a prayer. That was a message I was sending out to God, to the universe saying I wanna know more and I’m ready to go deeper. At the age of 36 years old, I had a dream.
And in that dream, I remembered abuse from my childhood. I woke up from that dream. And I was just so shaken. I was so freaked out because it was the most real experience I’d had in a dream. And immediately I said, no, thank you. Not gonna touch that, gonna push that right down. Dissociate, dissociate, dissociate, which ironically I’d been doing for over 30 years, days later in my therapy, I bring it up very casually.
And within that conversation, was brought to my knees in acceptance. In full-blown acceptance that, oh wow. That’s the reason I was a cocaine addict. That’s the reason I’m a workaholic. That’s the reason I am running. That’s the reason I have gastrointestinal issues and TMJ that is breaking my teeth.
That’s the reason why I’m so terrified of deep intimacy. That’s the reason I don’t wanna hug people close. And there was a slight moment of relief of, oh, okay. Now I have a reason. But that relief was not enough. That relief was just the beginning and it was only fleeting. This moment in time was yet again, another catalyst for my transformation and for my growth.
And this began the next layer. Of the onion. This began the next level of recovery and that type of recovery, which is for those of us who have the privilege of stringing together long-term sobriety, we often, if we continue to do the work on ourselves, will be blessed with the universal assignment of uncovering more.
Whether it’s more that we literally disassociated from, which was in my case, just checking out, completely falling asleep to it for decades, or if it’s just stuff you know about, but you’re just like, no, thank you. I won’t touch that. But if we are gonna go big in this lifetime, if we are going to feel the greatest experience of life that we could possibly feel, if we are going to serve at our highest capacity, if we’re gonna feel free in our bodies and our minds and our energy and our purpose and our mission.
If we’re gonna have the courage and the bravery to really go there and to have the bravery to wonder what lives beneath the stories that have kept me so unsafe for so long. All of us have addictive patterns in some ways, whether it’s blown-out addiction like alcoholism and drug addiction, or love addiction or food addiction, sex addiction, or just fear addiction.
Or the news addiction or addiction to judgment or addiction to self-negative talk, self-hatred. We all have forms of addictive patterns. And in my therapy, I came to understand more about why those patterns were there and what they were there to protect me from.
About three years into my recovery from the trauma, I had really built up some big tools. I, I had started practicing somatic experiencing, and I was practicing EMDR and these are all body-based and tremendous therapeutic practices for trauma. And there was one that I’d been practicing for a decade, but I didn’t even realize it in a few years into my recovery, I read a book by Richard Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems therapy.
And the book is called Internal Family Systems Therapy. I read the book and I was like, holy shit. This is what my therapist has been doing with me for a decade. And I would always be sitting in her office and she’d ask me to identify the part of me that was really protecting me.
And I’d be like, I don’t freaking know what you’re talking about, woman. But at this moment in time, I believe that we’re guided to read it when we need it. So I was guided to this book at the exact moment in time when I was ready to know more, ready to reveal and understand this parts-work that my therapist was doing with me, that at the time I was so resistant to, but then uncovering and understanding more, it became so much easier for me.
And I began to really recognize and understand through Dick’s words that this work was gonna be life-changing. It began to reveal to me that there are all kinds of parts of who we are. We have in the IFS language, exiled parts. It’s often the little children, the abuse, traumatized little children, the parts of us that were like, hell no, don’t wanna ever touch that again. Don’t wanna see that part. No, thank you.
And some of you may be completely aware of who that inner child is or some of you be like, I just checked out a long time ago and I don’t wanna ever see that person again. But that’s typically for me, in my case, the little girl who was abused and I had a part of me that protected me from that abuse.
I had many parts of me that protected me from that abuse. And that’s the exiled part is the little girl and the protector parts, which come in the form of managers and firefighters. The managers that protected me were the control, control everything in my life. Control every detail of my life so that I never have to face that impermissible feeling of terror, inadequacy, shame, the feelings of being unlovable and inadequate.
Nope, not gonna feel that. So I’m gonna control everything. Dissociation is a protector part. Literally at a very young age, when I experienced the trauma, I dissociated, I checked out, I fragmented into another part of myself and moved over here and said, no, thank you. Never gonna see that again. And it really literally was fragmented parts of my brain.
You can have these visual memories and if you’re in this space, you know what I’m talking about, or if you’ve experienced this yourself, there’s fragmented memories like the closet, the chest in the closet, the window outside the closet, all the visual images that would come into my mind and then the visceral experiences and the feelings and the disconnection.
So you have a sense of knowing there’s something there, but you don’t know what it is because the brain is so profound and that protector part can really step up when we need it and say, I’m not gonna remember that. I’m gonna just, it’s too big for my system. I’m gonna check out.
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And so all of these protection mechanisms, so we have the manager parts that are controlling or raging or judgmental or whatever it is that we need to do to push it down, push down the exile. But we also have these firefighter parts, which is the addict when that little exiled part starts to get so jacked up.
Right? So excited, so scared. So fearful. We recognize, okay. That controller or that judger, that’s not gonna be enough to put this out. And so we go right to the firefighter and that firefighter says, I’m gonna go pick up that cocaine. I’m gonna go pick up that drink. I’m gonna go call that partner that I know is gonna destroy me.
I’m gonna go, just get out of this at all costs. I’m out. I don’t wanna feel it. Put the fire out. So to recap, we’ve got the exiled little children that we’ve locked up under lock and key they’re up in the basement. We don’t wanna ever see them again. No, thank you. Hide out. When they get activated, the protectors come in and those protector parts come in the form of the managers and the firefighters. Managers are everyday behavior, friends.
You’ve had managers show up 5, 6, 7 times today. Managers are the ones that control or obsess or try to avoid or run from or disconnect to, or eat, whatever. And then you’ve got the firefighters that are there when you are in that moment of chaos and you are feeling it strong and you are activated, triggered, and totally afraid.
And then boom, I’m out. I’m gonna go pick up that drink. I’m gonna go pick up that phone to call that boyfriend. I’m gonna go do whatever I gotta do. I’m gonna go get to work. And I started to notice my firefighters and my managers when I was really deep in my recovery. When I was writing my book, The Universe Has Your Back, I was living in this mountain house.
If you’ve read The Universe Has Your Back, you know, about the mountain house. And I had this really tiny, beautiful office that had white walls and white floors, and it was just really, really serene, but I was really struggling at the time that I wrote that book. And I believe that in the writing of that book, I healed myself greatly.
The subtitle of that book is transform fear into faith. And while I was writing, I would wake up every single morning so terrified and depressed because it was only months after remembering the trauma. So I was actually still in the trauma. I was back in it. My body was in it. My mind was in it. I was, so I was living in this really dissociated state of being in my body and outta my body and mainly out of my body.
But every time I would return to my desk and sit down, I would put my hands on the keyboard, take a deep breath and relax. And while what I was doing was in the pursuit of my healing and it was gonna end up being a book that would save countless people and really serve souls. It was also a firefighter.
I sat down to that computer and it was like, I was putting a needle in my arm. I was so activated when I woke up and depressed and scared. I went up to the computer and I can work. I can work because when I work, I don’t have to feel because when I work, I can prove to myself that I am adequate. When I work, I can, for a temporary period of time put down that impermissible feeling of shame.
And that impermissible feeling of shame is what we’re all running from. It’s why we show up in the ways that we show up. It’s why we’re so fearful. It’s why we’re so chaotic. It’s why we live with a chronic state of pain in our body, all of the above. Because we’re running so fast from that shame.
But it was my bravery, my willingness to wonder what lives beneath it and to continue to show up for it and to deepen the practice of understanding and getting to know the shame, understanding the ways that I ran from shame, the typical shame responses to judge yourself.
Right? Attack yourself, attack others. Feel that shame. Oh no, they did it. Not me. I, I don’t want, that’s nothing to do with me. Even dissociate, check out; go to another place. And these shame responses, I started to become aware of them. I started to bring them into my therapy. I started to work with them as parts and see the shame responses as protector parts that were blocking and supporting me from not having to feel that impermissible shame, inadequacy and feelings of being unlovable.
And so today with you right here, right now, I wanna help you get to know the protectors because for me, one of the greatest shifts, the greatest shift in my recovery has been to befriend those protectors, not judge them, not attack them. Not put them down, but to befriend them. I wouldn’t have been able to write Happy Days: The guided path from trauma to profound freedom and inner peace and put my face on the cover of that book.
I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had not had the bravery to continue to peel back the onion and befriend the parts of myself that were so terrified and working so, so, so hard to keep me safe. So that’s what I wanna get into with you today. I wanna teach you what it means to have the bravery to wonder and have the willingness to just gently touch into the parts of ourselves that are working so hard to numb that suffering and that pain of the child parts that are so exiled.
And here’s the beautiful thing. We’ve got all these parts that are working so hard, but we all have the antidote. We all have within us, which is called self in IFS language, self, or a capital S self has a lot of C qualities. And some of you in spiritual spaces might think of self as your higher self or the God within you or the universal spiritual connection. Self is the all-present, loving, compassionate, courageous, calm, committed, curious part of who we are.
It’s the part of us that can show up with commitment. These C qualities that we all have within us. And really the best way I could describe self is it’s the internal parent we never had. It’s the internal parent we never had. And so as we start to develop, what’s known as the self-to-part connection.
When you can start to let self the presence of that self-energy, be in connection with the protector parts of you. Those protection mechanisms don’t have to go away, but they can relax. Is everyone tracking with me on that?
Imagine this: imagine you’re in a situation where your protection mechanism, let’s just call it that for right now, everybody’s familiar with their protection mechanisms. Right? Throw some at me. What are some protection mechanisms that you are dealing with? Control? Yep. That’s like me. I don’t know. Mm-hmm familiar.
Anyone else? Anger’s a big one. Yep. Not a bad behavior at all. Neither is control. My controlling part, right? God bless her. She wrote nine books in 11 years. She’s done a lot of good work, but now she can write those books with ease. She can put more space in between them. She can get trained more, to learn more, to be an expert in these words. You know, I don’t have to do it in an extreme way anymore.
Beautiful. What else? Hmm. Fight flight is a protection response, right? Gonna get outta my body, whatever that is. Anyone else? Fear denial. Big one. Denial. Yeah. Fear is the big one. Fear is the one. So you see them and you can recognize, oh, these are protection mechanisms.
So for today’s conversation, let’s call them protector parts. And some of them may just be managing. And some of them like the fight-flight, you know, that might be a firefighter. Like I’m out. Firefighter woo! So we can start to recognize the level and the commitment that these parts have to shut down that child part.
And my work with IFS, I recently got trained in Internal Family Systems therapy. What I started to learn through studying the work and beginning trained in the level one was that we are all living from protector to protector, to protector we’re functioning from protector parts. Yeah. Some of us in this room may have been in a lot of therapy and done a lot of somatic work and moved through a lot.
And so we feel more and more soothed in our system and calmer, and those protectors might have started to relax whether you realize it or not. And for most of us, I think anyone in this room is doing personal growth work. So the protectors have relaxed. You put the drink down, you’ve done the therapy.
You’re a little bit less reactive. But I can safely say that without having that self-to-part connection, those protectors become who we think we are. Oh, I’m just controlling or I’m an addict or I’m a drug addict or I’m, I’m a whatever. And we rely on those protection parts to stay safe in our internal family system.
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So what happens is—this has nothing to do with family therapy at all, although that’s, that’s the origins of Dick Schwartz’s work. He was originated as a family therapist, and then he started to use the model for what is known as our internal family. So you got the little exiled children, you’ve got the protectors, and then you have this all-knowing, loving presence of self that is there to serve and soothe.
So I was earlier gonna say, imagine this now, let’s imagine this. Here we go with that. I’m gonna give you my example. I’m in my work meeting with my team. Now this is a decade of practicing IFS now, really living it. And I’m on the call with my husband who’s the CEO of my business. You can already just sort of paint the picture of the power struggle right there.
Although I will say we do a great job working together and we’ve got our COO Jessica who’s like a maternal figure to me. It’s like a trifecta, but Jessica and Zach love to say no to Gabby. And honestly, it’s a blessing because I’m a, I’m an eight in the Enneagram. If anyone knows enneagram, I’m just like the, let’s do it, you know, like you guys all have to catch my dreams and make it happen tomorrow. Like, that’s the way I live.
So I like the no, I appreciate the no’s. They have a lot of value, but sometimes they come with an attitude. Sometimes they come with aggression cuz their parts come up and they’re like, oh no, this she’s going for it again. We have to stop. So, you know, So I have a little bit of a power struggle in these relationships that we’re actually now doing IFS coaching on, which is really transformational.
But here I was before them engaging in the training with me, I had done the work, and old Gabby would be in these sessions with the team and they would start acting like that. And I would just start screaming louder. And I would just start showing my, you know, my strength and I’m the one who built this business and I am the content provider here and I know everything and it’s my way or the highway.
And it wouldn’t exist without me. And you know, that is real. That would come through me. Hi, self-help book author here. So. I was really fed up with that behavior. It was really taking a toll on my marriage. I could see it was scaring Jessica, you know, Jessica’s British, she’s not gonna speak up the way that I might, so I could see her recoiling in the calls and we’re on zoom and it’s like this chaotic energy.
So I decided, okay, you know what, Gabby? You have enough self-energy. You’re connected to enough of that internal resourced adult self, the undamaged part of you that, why don’t you invite self into these calls and stop being the 10-year-old running the business? Sound good? So recently in the last two months, literally I’d get on the zoom calls and they would start doing their thing.
I would notice in the moment, oh boy, that controller wants to come in and I would take a deep breath. And in the moment I would notice that part of me and it’s a female part and I would talk to her and I would just take a deep breath. I might even place my hand on my heart. I would just be silent cuz I know that in that moment she just needs to get still.
I’d silently ask her, like, what do you need right now? She’d be like, I need to breathe. So I’d breathe. And then as soon as I noticed the self-to-part connection, as soon as I noticed that that controlling part of me was feeling supported by self. I could then raise my hand in the call and say, Hey guys, thank you for sharing.
And I’m noticing that some of the things that you’re saying are kind of activating for me. And maybe the best thing for me to do is go step away from the call and just do a little bit of writing about it. Maybe come up with a punch list and bring it back to you so we can have a really constructive conversation about it.
Can you imagine? Think about the most triggered, activated relationships in your life. Can you imagine I’d like to take a deep breath and, you know, come back to you. Thank you so much for sharing. But in a really earnest way, not like a BS way, right? Like a really earnest response. Wow. Will that transform your relationships, but most importantly, transform your life, transform your life.
So can you see how self and part got connected in that moment? Now there’s been other instances just in that same dynamic where I will act out and the controller will take over and it will be like, oh no, there she was again. But what I’ll do is I’ll step away from the call. I’ll do my work to get centered with self.
Maybe I’ll do a meditation. Maybe I’ll do a practice that I’m gonna share with you today of connecting self to the part. I’ll calm down the part. I’ll relax the part. And then the part’s in a really steady place and together mainly from self. All from self.
I can actually write an email and say, Hey guys, super activated on that call. I’m really sorry. I didn’t wanna bring that energy to the practice. I’m still doing my work. And I’m so excited for our IFS coaching. It’s gonna really change our relationship to each other. And I, you know, I’m, I’m gonna think about everything you said and come back to it. Thank you for your patience, with my parts.
Can you imagine? And there’s this this message from A Course in Miracles, which is a metaphysical text, that it was really supportive to me early in my recovery. And it’s, there’s a way of living in the world that is not here, though it seems to be, you do not change appearance, but you smile more frequently. Your eyes are soft and your forehead is serene. This connection to self. Letting that connection to self become the internal parent in my internal family system has given me the grace to know what it’s like to live in the world that is not here, but it seems to be, and I don’t change appearance, but I smile a lot more frequently and my forehead is soft. My eyes are serene. I am so happy, happy days.
And I mean that. So there’s countless practices in this book that I wanna teach, but this was the most important that I wanted to bring to you today in my commitment to being a teacher of IFS, I am not actually here to work with the exiled parts and maybe in some of the work that we do today, they might start to show up because they do. I’m gonna suggest if you notice any of that stuff, come up, that you write it down, you bring it to your therapy.
You bring it to the therapist that you’re about to call when you leave here, and you start to look more closely in that, in that contained setting, I’ve always had a vision of what I’m here to do, which was one-to-many. And so in a one-to-many situation, my work with IFS is to help people connect to self and help them get to know some of their parts because the most transformational part of my healing journey was giving voice to my parts and giving self—compassion, courage, creativity, curiosity, commitment, calmness, connectedness—all of the C qualities back to the part.
So what I wanna do with you right now is a practice of getting to know one of your parts, and we’re not gonna work with an exile. Everybody with me on that. If you notice an exile coming up, I want you to just maybe just stop the practice.
Maybe just breathe, just meditate. That’s we don’t wanna go. I don’t wanna activate anybody majorly, but I wanna work with you on a part, a protection mechanism. So can you just, if you have a notebook, write one down or just think it to yourself? What part do I wanna work with right now? Maybe it’s up for you in this moment.
The controller, the anxiety, the overeater, the judger, the worrier. Maybe there’s a part of you that’s sitting here right now that’s like, I’ll never be able to get to that kind of freedom in peace. So the self-sabotager or the part of you that just, you know, wants to play small and hide out so that you don’t have to fail.
Think about where, where you are. Anybody wanna share one more time just to get a commitment and some buy-in. Everybody with me on this? Yeah? And in order to do this work with you. I need to have some level of a buy-in from the people I work with. And it’s pretty brave to get up and do it in front of a group of a hundred something people or 200 people because everybody’s got different parts, but let’s make a commitment now that if you don’t have buy-in and you’re really like, no, thanks Gabby.
That you just meditate as I carry you through this conversation, you guys with me? Okay. So this practice is about getting to know the protector. And once again, work with something that’s kind of like up for you right now, but not too crazy and not too up. Everybody got that. Everybody bought in. If you’re not meditate, all good.
Okay. My voice will be very soothing. You can just check out, hang out with your dissociated protector part. Totally fine. And actually, that’s something I should really share before we get into it, which is that the protectors are awesome. They have played a very valuable role in our system in our life. I can look back now and say, thank you, cocaine addict, you did a really good job keeping me safe from that impermissible, remembering of a trauma that you were not ready to remember yet. Thank you. Work addict for working so tirelessly and burning out so bad to just protect me from feeling into the feelings I wasn’t safe enough to face yet. And I can say thank you to the controller part.
Thank you for writing nine books in 11 years. And I want you to take a real deep breath and we can do it now together in a less extreme way, but please don’t go away cuz we have a lot more work to do. There’s no bad parts. That’s Dick Schwartz’s latest book. There’s no bad parts because when we can start to see these parts of ourselves as having a very valuable role, that they were just in an extreme role.
They came to us at really early days, early childhood days. They were the only way we could survive. And it’s really fascinating. I have a three-year-old and I can see them. I can be like, oh no, that could be a protector. Let’s talk to him right now. You know, I can really, you know, be a safe environment for him.
And so, they’ve been working really long and hard, and I want you to have respect for them. And the goal is not to get rid of them. The goal is to help them be less extreme. You with me? That’s why in 12 step we say, I am an alcoholic and a cocaine addict. We’re proud of the protector part and for the service that it has provided.
And we never forget that part of ourselves. And we use it in the service of good. Today, I can say I’m an addict, an alcoholic, and I’ve chosen to use that part of me in the service of others. Takes all the shame away. So let’s look at the part and the goal of his practice is to get to know the part, and then extend some self-energy to it.
If we can today, maybe we can, maybe we won’t, whatever we can do. Are you gonna do. So gently close your eyes and make one more commitment to yourself and to me that we’ve got some buy-in to do some of this work. And I want you to just focus your attention inward and we’re gonna commit to that part that you’ve chosen to notice, being mindful that some other protectors might come in.
And if you shift, you can actually adjust the same practices to the new part that’s present. That’s pretty, uh, that’s pretty big work, but you can do it. We can, if you’re open for it. And I want you to just check into your body and just notice any sensations or feelings that come up when you lean into this protector part that we’re getting to know today, just notice, notice what you notice.
What does it feel like in your body? Does it have a color or a shape? Does it have a location in your body? Does it have an image?
Now, bring your attention to that part more and spend some time just gathering your attention towards that part, letting that part show you more of what can be revealed. Does it have a gender or an age? Do any images come to mind? Any times in your life?
Just getting to know the part, breathing into that part. Allow the part to contact you in whatever way feels safe and easy to connect. Doesn’t make a sound. Is it telling you anything? Is this part of you telling you anything? And again, maybe there’s no words, but there’s just images and sensations. Noticing the part, giving it a moment to just reveal whatever it wants you to know.
Now take a moment to just deepen your breath, take a deep breath and connect more. Notice your reactions to the part as it comes up, as you become aware of it. Do you wanna just push it away? Are you patient with it? Are you annoyed by it? How do you feel toward the part?
Is your heart open to this part? Or is it shut? There’s no right or wrong answers. Just notice how you feel towards it and check-in. Is there any feelings of compassion or curiosity to get to know it more you feeling calm in the moment? Do you feel connected to the part at all? Starting to notice. Now, ask yourself, how did this part get its job? How did it get its job?
Is it satisfied with this job? Maybe ask how old it is. And if this part of you, wasn’t working so hard in this extreme role, what else might it be doing? And just check in now. And is there anything that’s, any objections to the idea of doing that other thing instead of working so hard in this extreme role? Are there any fears or objections to asking this heart to take a break?
Now, gently place your hand on your heart and your other hand on your belly. Making contact with that part, allowing yourself to just take a deep breath and let it go. Letting the part know that you are here with it now. Letting the part know that I am here, Gabby’s here to help create a calm space for the part. Feel me really with you right here, right now with a tremendous amount of compassion and calmness and commitment.
I have so much commitment to helping you just let this part relax. Maybe you’re curious to get to know more in your next therapy session. If that’s the case, just let the part know. Yeah, I’m curious to get to know you a little bit more. That would be cool.
If there’s any feelings of compassion or words of compassion that you have towards the part, just let it know how you feel, and really just give yourself a moment where you smile and breathe.
Just really tapping into that confidence and the courage that you have today to have the bravery, to even just do this practice with me. Just really just take a moment of pride for that courage and that compassion and open up your mind to creative possibilities.
As we close this meditation with a prayer to connect us to self. A prayer, to align this part with the self-energy that is ever present within you and around you, the undamaged resourced self. The internal parent that you always wanted and needed, that’s always been there. They’ve been there for you. At this moment, honor all that was revealed.
Say thank you to the part. Thank you for revealing to me that you’re there. Extend some commitment to stay curious. If you feel called, if you feel comfortable. You can just say something like I’m committed to getting to know you more. And if you feel that connection and that compassion for the part, maybe just let it know.
I love you. And I thank you. And I, I know it’s been really hard. It’s been really extreme, but I’m committed to getting to know you more. And I’m even just simply committed to breathing with you.
And let the self just hold space now as we close to let the part acknowledge the self, if it’s able to. How does that part feel now in presence of self? And just tap into that feeling.
Take a deep breath in and just feel my compassion and commitment to you.
Take a deep breath in and let it go. And just connect to that calmness in this space, in this room that we’ve all created. Take a deep breath in and let it go. And just honor the courage that you have to show up for yourself in this way today. Just make the commitment with me that you’ll get to know this part a little bit more. Whenever it feels safe. One last deep breath in and let it go. And when you’re ready, open your eyes.
There was a period in my recovery where I didn’t know if freedom was possible. No way. I was like, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s a way out, but I’m gonna keep trying. I promise you there is. You’re here now. You just peeled a big layer. Thank you for having me here today.
I am speaking at the Global Exchange Conference coming up in November, which is a conference specifically designed for those of you who may be in the addiction field—professionals or organizations in mental health or addiction treatment. And even if you’re in the holistic wellness space, anyone that’s touching into their own desire to serve people in the mental health and addiction space.
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