Shame and Guilt as Central, with Martha Sweezy
Martha Sweezy, PhD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, Program Consultant and Supervisor at Cambridge Health Alliance, and former Assistant Director and Director of Training for the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program at Cambridge Health Alliance.
Martha Sweezy has published several books on IFS therapy, and has authored articles & chapters like
. The Teenager’s Confession: Regulating Shame in Internal Family Systems Therapy, AJP, 2011.
. Emotional Cannibalism: Shame in Action - in innovations & elaborations - 2013
. Getting Unstuck (with Pam krause & Lawrence Rosenberg) - 2017
. What IFS Offers to the treatment of trauma (with Frank Anderson) - 2017
Martha Sweezy is also responsible for Titles like:
1. Internal Family Systems New Dimensions (with Ellen Ziskind)- Routledge 2013
2. Intimacy from the Inside Out: Courage and Compassion in Couple Therapy with Toni Herbine-Blank and Donna M. Kerpelman - Routledge, 2015
3. innovations & elaborations in Internal Family Systems … with Ellen Ziskind - 2017 by routledge.
4. Internal Family Systems Skills Training Manual: Trauma-Informed Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD & Substance Abuse, with Frank Anderson and Richard Schwartz - 2017 by Pesi.
5. and more recently the Internal Family Systems Therapy Second Edition - with Dick Schwartz - 2019 by Guilford.
Martha has a therapy and consultation practice in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a particular interest in how shame and guilt affect human behavior.
This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connections with the Internal Family Systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users. Today, we're interviewing and talking to Martha Sweezy. Martha Sweezy is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, part time program consultant and supervisor at Cambridge Health Alliance, and former assistant director and director of training for the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Program at Cambridge Health Alliance. She has a therapy and consultation practice in Northampton, Mass. And has a particular interest in how shame and guilt affect human behavior. Martha has also published several books on IFS therapy.
Martha, thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks for being with us on IFS talks.
Martha Sweezy: Oh, you're welcome. It's a pleasure.
Aníbal Henriques: Martha, thank you for having us. You have been publishing several books on IFS Therapy and also authored articles and chapters like The Teenagers Confessions, Emotional Cannibalism, Getting Unstuck and also with Frank Anderson What IFS offers to the Treatment of Trauma.
So, you have these really huge publishing and writing work. How is it for you to hear this bio?
Martha: Well, you know, I got to work on writing. I got introduced to IFS by a colleague and I think it was 2005. And I took my first level one in 2006. And I'm a writer anyway. I was a writer before I became a psychotherapist, and so, I was already writing in the field and also fiction and playwrighting. And so, that's kind of how I process the world, is sitting down and writing, and I have been working in community mental health for 20 some years. And I was always looking for...I always had questions, you know, I went through a lot of different trainings and I always had a lot of questions about how to fit what I was seeing with clients into what the theories that I was learning. And nothing ever...It was like the leg of the elephant, the ear of the elephant, the trunk of the elephant. Nothing was putting the whole thing together for me enough. So, I was very blown away when I heard Dick speak and saw a video of what he was doing, and my way of continuing to process, as I began to practice IFS with clients and understand what was happening, was to sit down and start writing. So, I wrote a couple of articles that actually been, somewhat to my surprise, got published, because IFS was pretty out there in...
Aníbal: You Martha, you are responsible for titles like Internal Family Systems and New Dimensions...
Martha: Which I co-edited with Ellen Ziskind...
Aníbal: Yeah. 2013. Intimacy from the Inside Out with Tony Herbine-Blank and Donna Kerpelman…
Aníbal: 2015. Innovations and Elaborations in Internal Family Systems in 2016...
Martha: Which I coedited with Ellen Ziskind
Aníbal: Internal Family System Skills Training Manual...
Martha: With Frank and Dick.
Aníbal: With Frank Anderson and yes, 2017. And more recently the Internal Family Systems Therapy, Second Edition...
Martha: With Dick.
Aníbal: With Dick Schwartz, 2019. So, it looks like you really have a special interest and skills in writing and publishing and in IFS in particular. Once you have done it with Dick Schwartz, Toni Herbine-Blank, Frank Anderson, Pam Krouse, Lawrence Rosenberg…this is huge, you've really enjoyed to sit...
Martha: [laughs] Well, you know, one of the things that happened to me, I became very focused on IFS because it was answering a lot of questions for me. It was like putting together everything I had learned from client into a theory that really worked for me. And so, I wanted once I got through level 3, I thought, well, there is no level 4 and there is no level 5...
Aníbal: No level 4 or 5.
Martha: So, I think I'll [crosstalk]...collecting all these people whom I used for my own personal level, you know, 4 or 5 and 6. I started collecting the lead trainers and saying "Write a chapter for me on what you do."
Aníbal: You really have to enjoy this writing and publishing because it can be hard work.
Martha: It's not hard work for me, actually.
Aníbal: Oh, you enjoy it really.
Martha: I enjoy it. I mean, it's work. You know, you have to, I have to put time and effort into it. But I really enjoy it. So, I'm not...I won't complain.
Tisha: Yes, thank you for all the contributions.
Martha: Oh, you're welcome. It's been my pleasure. And I've learned a huge amount from the people who I've had the privilege to work with, co-author with.
Tisha: Martha, would you be willing to talk a little bit about your journey into the world of psychotherapy? You said you were a writer first and then a psychotherapist later.
Martha: I was a fiction writer, actually, and I had studied playwriting with Derek Walcott. And I then thought I might...I wrote some film scripts and then I thought about going out to Hollywood. And then I thought, either I do that and go all in or I earn an honest living some other way because, you know, I can't live on nothing. And I don't have the personality to go to hustle, you know, in the film world, and it's just not...there are wonderful things about it, but it's not something I'm very capable of. So, I decided to do what a lot of English majors do, which is to become a psychotherapist. There's a narrative, an interest in narrative that crosses over and a lot of folks make that switch. So, I went into the therapy business and I worked in community mental health for many years and studied a lot of different approaches to therapy.
Aníbal: And you are also a DBT, Dialectic Behavior Therapy interested...
Aníbal: It was one of your trainings or interests.
Martha: Yes. And I've written some on that, too. Yes. So, I went through a lot. You know, when you're working with people who are really traumatized, you have to stay on your toes and you...I mean, I felt I had to constantly try new things because nothing ever worked enough.
Aníbal: Yes, it's never, never enough. Our training is never ending.
Martha: Exactly. And that's what I love about the field, too, is that it's never ending. I mean, there's always more to learn and we never know enough.
Aníbal: And when did you get across into the IFS trainings?
Martha: It was in 2005 that Nancy Sowell, who was a colleague of mine at Cambridge Health Alliance, brought IFS to Cambridge Hospital just when she first got introduced to it. She came in and started talking about it and did a little demonstration. And she kind of jokes before she knew anything. And I went with another colleague, I heard, because of what she was doing at the hospital, I heard that Dick was in town speaking in Cambridge and someone said "You want to go see him," and so, I went over to this church on the Cambridge county where he was presenting, and he showed a video that just blew my mind. And I thought "I have no clue what he just did, but whatever it was, I want to do that. That's what I need to figure out.”
Aníbal: Was kind of a feeling? Or...
Martha: No, it was astonishing the results he was getting. I mean, Dick can look very minimalistic in these videos. It's not like he says a lot. And I had no orientation to the therapy. So, the whole thing was completely new to me.
Aníbal: Absolutely, yes.
Martha: So, I really didn't know what he was doing. I was like, whatever he just did, that was like a magician. That was the most amazing thing I've seen in a long time, so, I want to do that.
Tisha: It was a demo that he shared.
Martha: No, he was actually working...It was one of the earlier videos that…he was working at an eating disorder facility. And it wasn't a demo, he was a consultant on a case with a young woman who had...It was her birthday, and she had long said that she was going to kill herself at her birthday.
Aníbal: Yes, that one.
Martha: And I don't think he can show that unless he's with that. I don't think it's for sale or anything. But it's an amazing piece of work.
Aníbal: It's impacted you a lot.
Martha: Oh, yeah. It had a huge impact on me. So, I immediately signed up for a level 1 training and kept going from there...Fanatically.
Tisha: Your curiosity led you in the right direction.
Aníbal: And did you get some IFS personal work back then?
Martha: Yes, I have off and on over the years, had done some personal work. But I also... The training itself is experiential.
Aníbal: It is.
Martha: Of course.
Martha: So, when you're...My husband, the first time I signed up for level 1, he said "This is kind of expensive." And then when I got done, he said "Well, when is the next one?"
Tisha: You come home with all that Self energy.
Aníbal: But your husband didn’t take some training.
Martha: I did actually send him to Kripalu for a few days with Dick because I said "You just have to experience this firsthand if you want to know what I’m..."
Aníbal: And he took the training?
Martha: No, it was just a weekend training. It wasn't a level 1 or anything. But he wanted to, and he was very impressed.
Aníbal: So, you can use parts language with him?
Martha: Yes, he gets it.
Aníbal: Lucky you. I cannot do that at my home.
Tisha: "Part of me wishes you wouldn't say part of me anymore." That's what I get.
How was it, Martha, to begin to use the model in your clinical work?
Martha: It was a revelation, actually. And I immediately started to understand a lot of things that had long puzzled me. You know, what is the repetition compulsion? What is...How can we...There's a whole quality of this...With many psychotherapies that are more abstracted, there's a quality which is most...unless it's like Gestalt or something where they're really working with parts already, most psychotherapies are very abstracted in their language and their view of feelings and thoughts and whatnot.
And so, a lot of it is you're working with sort of disowned material and it doesn't work very well, unless you can find whoever is running, driving the car. If you're not talking to the person who is driving the car, you're not talking to the right person. I can get somebody, you know, someone might come in and say "I'll never drink again" and they go out the door and head straight to the bar. You know, I was talking to the wrong part.
Aníbal: I totally agree. I couldn't agree more with you. I also found that in my clinical practice.
Martha: Yes. I mean, just everything fell into place in an amazing way, which was great because I had learned so much from my own experience with clients and from other approaches to therapy, but it was like putting the linchpin in the middle and having it all make sense when I understood psychic multiplicity as the driving factor.
Tisha: And it was easy for your clients to comprehend too because it was...
Martha: They love, people love it. I mean, unless you run into a part that says "there are no other parts" and then it takes more skill, you know, it took me a few years to figure out how to handle very protective parts.
Tisha: “It's just me.”
Martha: “It’s just me. What are you talking about?”
Martha: And that was a revelation there, actually. I was talking to Dick about, you know, some firefighters, and he said "Just say you're the boss, you are the boss." And I was like "oh, great, ok, you're the boss." Made all the difference. For me it took a long time to make the switch from a more controlling position as a therapist to a real surrender and trust of the clients' systems...
Aníbal: And an unlearning process.
Martha: Yes, an unlearning process and that protectors are good. They're not always behaving well, but they mean well. And to really get that, it took me a while.
Aníbal: So, you mean two steps, one is unlearning process and the other step, and the challenge is to bring parts language and the multiplicity of the mind into the office with clients, can be a challenge in many ways.
Martha: With some. Yes, with some. With many it's like a huge relief really fast.
Aníbal: Oh yes.
Martha: And I was, that's one of the reasons I ended up noticing the importance of this treatment in relation to shame is because it's very shame regulating right away to say "this is just a part of you. It's not all of you." One of the features of shame is that it's a global judgment about yourself. So, you're immediately challenging that global judgment when you say you have parts.
Aníbal: So, you find those clients, those that resist and those that jump immediately into parts language.
Martha: Yes, I mean, there are people who have been very traumatized, who have extremely wary protective systems. And if you don't...like, I was a beginner. So, those people - and I had plenty of them in my caseload - would have parts who were much more cautious about trusting me. And they were right, because I didn't know what I was doing the way I do now know. So, it was about me and my level of expertise and understanding and whether I was going to step on a landmine without realizing it. And now I'm much more trustworthy, I think, for my clients traumatized systems, and they respond accordingly.
Tisha: There's that softening of saying you're the boss, that softening of that system where they can own that and take their own direction.
Martha: Yes, right.
Aníbal: So far how long are you practicing IFS?
Martha: Since 2006. I'd say. So, what is that? Almost 14 years.
Aníbal: I'm practicing it maybe for three years only, and I'm still learning. And it can take more and more, right?
Martha: Oh, yeah. I mean, I learn every day from clients. That's one of the things I love about this, too, is I love going to work. I don't work that hard. I don't consider it work. I love going in and sitting with people and being right there and getting to, having the privilege of getting to know their internal systems and their parts.
Aníbal: So, you still enjoy doing therapy every day.
Martha: Well, I don't do it every day, I write some days, but, yeah, when I do, I totally enjoy it and I enjoy writing too, because, you know, I can...[crosstalk]
Aníbal: So, every day you go to therapy you enjoy it.
Tisha: It really is an honor when people let you witness their internal world.
Martha: Yes. And when you...what I come to appreciate is the courage it takes to just come into therapy.
Aníbal: Right. As a client.
Martha: We have these, kind of wild internal worlds, that are very private and to allow somebody else into all that, which is full of secret stuff, is a big deal.
Aníbal: It is. Did you combine yet IFS with other modalities? There is some any other modality that you still...like DBT, you were somehow attached.
Martha: You know, DBT is a combination of CBT and Zen Buddhism, basically, not as a spiritual practice, but as a discipline of acceptance. And I learned a huge amount from that. And I think the concept of wise mind is the same as the concept of Self in IFS. It's basically headed toward the same, accessing the same resource. I happen to think that IFS is more experience nearer for folks and actually kind of gets people into their systems, and that's for me, a more useful way. But, the kinds of skills that people learn in DBT are enormously helpful. They just often would, I think, be more helpful for people after they've done some work with their protectors, rather than before.
So, I would say I use at my training before that, was psychodynamic and I also trained in EMDR. I'm sure I use things, particularly when I need to be creative, because things aren't going according to plan. I will jump in with whatever comes up. But it's integrating...And hypnosis. It's integrating, you know, snippets from here and there into IFS. IFS is my blueprint that I'm using. And so, I would say that's my roadmap and I stick to it. And then I can use anything I've learned along the way.
Aníbal: Wonderful, Yes. And IFS fits and integrates well, yes.
Tisha: What brought you into working or are having an interest with working with shame and guilt?
Martha: Well, you know, it's interesting. I actually started when I started in the field in the 80's. I was introduced by a professor who was a very wonderful teacher, Bob (?) , to a theory called Control Mastery Theory, which was about pathogenic guilt. It was very popular in San Francisco at the time. And they were in a big debate with a woman named June Tangney, who's an emotion researcher, who was very interested in shame. And so, there was a big debate going on between them. And I read through all that literature and then I read James Gilligans' book. He's married to Carol Gilligan and he's a psychiatrist who ran a mental health criminal facility in Massachusetts for many years. And he wrote a book called Violence, which is one of the best books ever written on shame. And so, I was fascinated by the topic right from the beginning of my training and entrance into the field, but I learned all this other stuff that, kind of, along the way, I wasn't putting it all together. So, I sort of came back again later on when I got introduced to IFS and I was sitting in a Level 3 training actually with Dick. And I was sort of thinking "Why does this work so well? Why on earth does this treatment work so well?" And then, I had one of those, I suppose it was a part somewhere said "Ok dummy, let me tell you, it's because of shame."
Tisha: Say more. Say more.
Martha: Well, my parts, you know, talk to me. And, you know, is because compassion is the opposite of shame, right? And so, the two are mutually exclusive. And we have clients who come in, you know, I mean, that's what you see. When you get to an exile, you get to a part who says "I feel worthless, I feel unlovable, I feel bad, I feel..." And that's the burden they're carrying, but it's a burden of feeling this defective and/or evil in some way. And that burden is basically a result of having been traumatically shamed. An attachment rupture that was traumatically shaming. And the literature...It's like all over the literature we can read this. It's not hard to know. This is a huge topic and a field that's been a great interest since Helen Block Lewis, Judith Herman's mother, was writing about it as an analyst in the 50's, I think, maybe 40's. And so, it's not new. People have been working their way around this topic and I've read a lot of the literature. But psychic multiplicity, specifically plugging it into the inner dynamic of a mind that's trying to cope with trauma is like a third dimension that I had never....
Aníbal: Heard about.
Martha: At least maybe other people were tuning into it, but I wasn't, despite my interest in the whole thing. And I did later on read John Bradshaw. I don't know if you remember him. He used to have a show on PBS or Channel two, and he wrote The Shame That Binds You. And he was very famous. He did a TV show and he talked about the inner child and he talked a lot about shame and shame and addictions. And he was he was right on with a lot of stuff. There were things...He made the same mistake that most people in the field have made or many have, which is to think that you have to fight with protectors. So, in that way, he had, to my mind, a major glitch in terms of treatment being effective. But he was, he thought that, that's what was going on inside and he got a lot about what was going on with shame.
So, it was very interesting to read that after getting, having this light bulb go on for me about IFS and shame, and of course, shame and guilt are two...You know, they get conflated in a lot of research and a lot of literature. Not all. There has been...
Aníbal: What do you mean by conflated? In what way?
Martha: I mean, people think of them as the same thing.
Aníbal: Oh, yes.
Martha: Yes. And written about as interchangeable shame and guilt, shame and guilt. And they're actually totally different.
Tisha: They're different parts.
Martha: And some people understand that it's been written about and whatnot, but that shame is a global judgment about me, and guilt is a judgment about behavior. And guilt promotes a prosocial desire to repair, unless it's maladaptive. Pure guilt, guilt that's urging you to go and fix it with somebody. That's a good thing. We want to feel guilty if we transgress. We don't want to feel ashamed. Feeling ashamed causes people to hide. That's the derivation, I think, of the word, actually.
Aníbal: Anyway, shame has been used also as a socializer, as a glue for socializing or not? I mean, somehow you are saying we need to feel guilt, but we don't need to feel any shame?
Martha: Yes, I mean, I, I'm writing a book on this topic actually to...Shame is, you know, there's a big argument in the field about whether shame is useful or not. And some people say, yes, it's good to feel shameful, and other people say no. And my view is that it doesn't do people much good to feel shameful. It's like, what is it in King Lear? I can't remember. I think it's, maybe it's Cordelia who says "it's like the salt in the bread, you just need a little bit," in one of her lines. You just need a little. You need to be aware of the possibility that you could be stepping outside the group norms and that you should be vigilant about when you want to do that and when you don't, because you will pay a price for it. But you don't need to feel shameful. Feeling shameful is really very pathogenic actually, in terms of human behavior and correlates with a lot of really very dysfunctional behavior, which we could kind of group into broad categories of avoidance and aggression, right? So, a lot of symptomatic behavior that we see is connected to, when we talk to people, to their feeling there's something wrong with me. And either I have to make sure that I project that and then I get enraged or I hide it.
Aníbal: Would it be possible to say, Martha, that guilt somehow includes us, and shame can exclude us from the group?
Martha: Yeah. That's a nice way of putting it. Feeling shameful, actually, people will exclude themselves from the group, but they are also - if they've been shamed by an individual or group - they are being excluded from the group, they're being kicked out or exiled and IFS centers around this whole concept of exile. You know, when we exile parts of ourselves and we get exiled. So, if you look at it in terms of systems, systems have exiles, exile is basically a state of being shameful and having been shamed. So, you are in exile from that group, from that system.
Tisha: I worked with someone recently who, one of their shame parts was serving the purpose of protecting a perpetrator. So, keeping them quiet, keeping them...
Martha: Right. And shame can either be, it can also be a protector. Because protector shame...[crosstalk]. So, they're shaming and they're shameful. Shameful is the exile's state of being. It's a chronic condition and shaming is something that goes on internally on a pretty continual basis with most people who have been traumatized, because protective parts want the system to be...It's a constraining, inhibiting activity that managers engage in pretty chronically. And in response, we get these disinhibited behaviors of firefighters, because it's intolerable to be shamed, we need some distraction...[crosstalk] And so in that way, this is just kind of central, this feature of this dynamic of shaming and shameful, is central to the very typical kind of loop that we see inside of people where they go from inhibition to disinhibition. Yeah.
Aníbal: Yes. So many psychopathology feeds on that. Feeds on shame.
Martha: Right. And we look at, the thing with this is we also look at firefighters, we look at these disinhibited parts as the problem often. Many mental health treatment systems are set up around the emergency of these parts. But they're driven by the shaming of the managers, actually. So, if you treat one without the other or if you engage in more managerial behavior yourself in relation to that disinhibited behavior, you're in a losing battle. You have to deal with it as a package. It's both. The inhibition drives the disinhibition.
Aníbal: Mm hmm. I'm just wondering, we do a lot of work on unburdening Shame also. But, should we try to exterminate it?
Martha: Oh, no. You don't have to exterminate anything. It's a very bad word to bring into...And that's the fear that parts have. The shame is just a burden, it's just a feeling state and a belief, a set of beliefs. And parts let those go as soon as they feel lovable and loved, which is what we're doing with the attachment. We're basically doing inner attachment work between the self, the client Self and the part who's been injured and the whole system that has become an injured system, basically by trying to cope with that original injury. So, protectors need as much attachment and love as the as exile does.
Aníbal: Martha, you have this wonderful title of one of your chapters in The Innovations 2013...
Martha: Yeah, cannibalism,
Aníbal: Emotional cannibalism, shame in action. It's a strong word.
Martha: Yes, it is a strong word. It is, indeed. Yeah, I intended that.
Aníbal: Why so?
Martha: Well, because that's I see a lot. I see people eating themselves up. I mean, after they get injured by somebody else that we...After we, if we get injured - this is true of everybody - if it lands, if that injury lands and feels true of me and I don't get anyone, have anyone around me protecting me and challenging that and saying, you know, bring me back to some kind of place that's more Self infused, particularly when I'm a child, then I am vulnerable to believing that's true of me. And as soon as I believe that's true of me, my internal system starts to eat me alive. That's what's shaming is. It's a kind of, it's a self-attack.
Aníbal: It is. You also have these...I know it's this sentence yours, is coined by you, that is take in an injury and turning it into identity.
Martha: Yeah. That's a quote from me. And that's the essence of what is going on with shaming. After trauma, if it goes inside, if it lands. In other words, there are some people...Like say I'm walking down the street and someone makes fun of me for the hat I'm wearing. And I like my hat. I'm like. you know, who cares, right? I'm not, it might be a little shocking to me that someone's going to make fun of me in the street, but it's not going to ruin my day if I feel confident about myself and my hat, right? So there's shaming where I'm kind of Teflon, it doesn't hit me, and there is shaming where it gets through and it lands right in my heart, you know, and it's like oops, that person just saw something really true about me where I'm defective and I'm not good enough. My choice of hat means I'm a stupid person or whatever.
Aníbal: Your inner shamer.
Martha: Yeah. And then, once that happens, once that arrow kind of lands in my heart, my entire internal system starts panicking about it because it's a fearful thing to be unacceptable in human systems. You don't want that. It's not ok. So, your system galvanizes to manage this information that there's something unacceptable about you and your protectors who are often barely older than the part who got attacked, start trying to manage it in the best way they know how. They either get into severe inhibition or the...and then they end up over here with some disinhibition because the systems become unbalanced by that. But the first effort is to inhibit and hide this information, which is taken in as true. So, it goes from an injury to an identity.
Tisha: Is the emotional cannibalism, is that usually self-reflective or do we do that to each other as well?
Martha: Oh, well, then it goes back out. Of course, we do. Of course we do it to each other as well. And that's why we have couples’ therapy and family therapy. There's no such thing as a person outside of systems.
Aníbal: Martha, you also have these interesting terms, historical shame and instrumental shame. Could you help us with this?
Martha: Yes. Historical shame, what I mean by that is historical shame is we all get shamed. I mean, there's no such thing as getting through childhood or adulthood without being shamed. I mean, in childhood, parents have to inhibit you all day long. Don't put your fingers in the light socket. Don't jump off the cliff. Don't go after that dog or it's going to bite your face off, you know. So, parents are constantly controlling their children to keep them alive. And in school...Some cultures are much more shame based in the ways that they do that. And it gets passed down, of course, within cultures and families, the way of governing children and socializing them. So, peers also and siblings can be terribly shaming, and it's a way of getting power over somebody else, making someone else feel smaller in relation to you. And there's all kinds of settings in which people want to do that to each other and children do it to each other and adults do it to children. So, you can't get through childhood without being injured in various ways. But presumably, if you have a loving enough environment where you're getting the infusion of "your fine, don't worry about it..."
Aníbal: That will buffer.
Martha: You're going to develop some resilience around that. And you'll definitely have some injuries. I mean, I don't know anybody who hasn't gone through an IFS training, for example, who says, you know "I don't have any exiles." I haven't met anybody who doesn't have any exiles parts, who hasn't taken some vulnerable part of themselves and put it in a cave or a dungeon. But of course, there's a continuum to very extreme trauma. But life is full of opportunities to be shamed...
Aníbal: Yes. Even from, not only from parents, but also from, teachers, educators and...
Martha: Oh, absolutely. And there are some cultures where it's particularly considered the right way to teach. I went to some schools when I was a kid that...And my parents were kind of desperately trying to get me and my siblings into a school where that wasn't happening. They were appalled, but it was hard to find from public schools to private schools. And my experience of childhood was a lot of shaming, that my parents did not intend me to be subjected to.
Aníbal: And you differentiate between intentional and unintentional shaming...
Martha: Right. An unintentional shaming is your kid pours some orange juice on the floor and goes down and licks it and you go "oh my God, stop looking the flour, what are you doing?" As opposed to "Oh, honey, I forgot to tell you, it's not good for you to lick the floor because you could get sick." So, let's just wipe your shoes up. Your first reaction when you see your kid doing something dangerous is to respond like stop and that's unintentional. But I am shaming my child to get a quick response to stop them fast, because it works. Children are shocked by being shamed. They are much more likely to respond quickly to shame.
Aníbal: And it’s pretty pandemic, as you describe it. It's everywhere.
Aníbal: It is. So, for you, somehow, shame is adaptive or even innate?
Martha: Shame...The capacity to feel shame and guilt and all these different emotions is innate. I mean, we're all wired to feel that, right? So we all have the capacity to feel shame. And that warns us to stick with the group. Don't - when I'm in grade school - don't wear polka dot pants if nobody ever wears polka dot pants to school, because I'll stand out like a sore thumb and everyone will make fun of me, right? So I try to cohere to the group norms as much as I can so that I'm going to be included in the group. And shame cues us up to be conformist. And so there are good things about that and bad things about that, right?
Aníbal: Absolutely. And so, it's also adaptive.
Martha: So, it's adaptive in that way. It keeps the group functioning as a group, but for individuals it's not so...it's not always so adaptive to be conformist, because you may not conform to the group, you may be somebody who likes to wear polka dot pants and you don’t get to or whatever, or you may wear them anyway and get kicked out of the group because you're not going to conform.
Aníbal: And also, Martha, why does this happen so, so, so often that "a bad thing happen to me and I turn it into I'm bad."
Martha: Because we're primed. And I think this is...we're also primed by temperament. This is my view. That there are some people who are much more resilient temperamentally and some people who are much more sensitive physically and temperamentally to the kind of interface, social interface with other people.
Aníbal: So that's not only to do with the experience and the familiar setting or the perpetrators around, it also has to do...
Martha: With temperament, I mean and of course, legacy burdens. I mean, there's all kinds of factors that go into priming us. The culture of our family, the culture of our culture and our temperament and our personal experiences, which how much am I shammed, how traumatic is that shamming for me? I mean, I've had worked with people who came from what they...And I believe, and they say "my parents are very well meaning, I had a nice childhood, it was all fine." And we get to their exiles. It's like "someone looked at me sideways when I was two and I never got over it." And then the other parts are going "what is wrong with this part for being so oversensitive?" So, they get beaten, that part gets beaten up inside for being sensitive and being too traumatized by something that might not have bothered somebody else.
Aníbal: Are you saying Martha that it's also temperament, that differentiates between a victim that becomes a perpetrator versus a victim, that just stays a victim?
Martha: I mean, my view is that all of us dish out and as we receive and we dish out, both. And it's much harder to notice what we dish out another. Shaming other people is harder to notice than that I've been shamed. The ways in which I shamed other people, you know. It doesn't mean that someone who's been traumatized is going to turn around and become a perpetrator in the same way that they were traumatized. Many do not. Some do. Most people who become perpetrators have trauma histories. That's one of the things Gilligan writes about in his book, Violence. But it's not necessary. But people who have been traumatized certainly have parts that beat up on them. And they'll have parts who will take it out, as we all do on partners in terms of anger and shaming and...It's not easy to be a walking system, you know. We're all walking systems and we have lots of different ways of being as we go through the world. And if we've been hurt, some of those ways are angry and protective.
Aníbal: Yes, makes sense. And given your, already long experience as a therapist, how is it for you to undo experientially this fiction, what you named this, you call this fiction of...
Martha: Fiction of shaming. Right. Well, it's not...That is what IFS is doing, in my view, is undoing the fiction of shaming. In other words, the attachment work between Self and parts internally, the parts who are...I think of it as like we have a little beehives in us basically. And so, the queen bee and each little beehive is the injured exile.
Aníbal: Say it again, you'd call it queen bee?
Martha: The queen bee. The exile is the queen bee in the middle of the high and around the queen bee, this little queen bee, are all these worker bees who can sting, you know.
Aníbal: They sting yeas.
Tisha: It's a great analogy.
Martha: They make honey and they sting.
Aníbal: Oh gosh, what an image.
Martha: They work really hard you know...
Tisha: Right, to protect the queen.
Martha: That's right. And we have these, and then we have lots of parts who aren't involved with that who aren't pulled into the trauma hives. But around hurt parts, we have these little hives of bees. And, you know, we have to befriend the whole system to rescue the queen. That's what we're doing.
Aníbal: Yes. It makes sense.
Martha: It's so fascinating to hear you speak. I'm wondering if you lead any IFS trainings or...
Martha: Well, I helped Dick get an appointment at Harvard Medical School a few years back, and he teaches at Cambridge Health Alliance also. And Nancy Sowell also, who is a colleague of mine from there, has an appointment at medical school. And she and Dick...
Aníbal: She's doing some research also.
Martha: Yes. And we're working on maybe getting some research at Cambridge Health Alliance. And also, I've been involved with some of the other research projects. And Nancy did a big research project, yes.
Aníbal: Are you doing some research right now?
Martha: No, not now. I'm actually writing two more manuals like the one, the trauma manual for PESI. One with Tony Herbine-blank on her intimacy from the inside out or couple therapy that's IFS based. And one with Cece Sykes on IFS treatment of addictions.
Tisha: That fantastic.
Martha: That's going on right now.
Tisha: That's really needed.
Martha: Yeah, it will be great to have those two.
Tisha: Absolutely, the manuals.
Aníbal: So, Martha, is it possible to do some IFS work without jumping in or stumbling into some shame?
Martha: No, not in my view. Well, in fact, one of the things that I encourage clinicians to do is not to be afraid of bringing it up. People are so relieved when you spot it. I mean, and if you're comfortable with it, they'll be comfortable with it. They like to know the difference between shame and guilt. They like to know that it's a part who's been hurt, who is carrying a burden. And the whole thing becomes much more bearable as they learn to unblend from parts, basically, because it's the blending that causes people to be overwhelmed with feelings of shamefulness. So, I just say this will feel better as we practice this. Let's practice unblending.
Aníbal: And regarding the future, Martha. You have been doing so much editing and publishing and writing and practicing IFS. Is there something, you just want to keep doing this? Well, I have the two books that I'm doing now, and I think I have a couple more on the runway. So, I want to do these books.
Aníbal: You will sit a lot.
Martha: I will sit a lot. I get up and walk around and, you know, but yeah, that's my main goal right now is to get these books done. And I love teaching and I love my practice with clients.
Aníbal: And we are very thankful to you because it's a gift that someone like you is leading in this strong way all the good publishing that IFS is having.
Martha: I'm so grateful that I've been able to do it and had such great collaborators. You know, I was a playwright. So, for me, doing these dialogue pieces was just a great fun. And I'm going into case studies. It's really fun for me to write.
Tisha: It's also fascinating on the receiving end. Makes it real. Do you see a wish for any evolution of the model?
Martha: I see evolution all the time in two directions. One is that people are taking it out into so many different venues. And people like Tony has developed it with a couple therapy. And so, people are doing it in all these different settings. I would...I think there are people who are doing it with groups. I'd love to see someone write a book. I won't do it. I'm not enough of an expert in any kind of group except DBT groups, to write that book. But I would love to see somebody write a book on IFS. The various kinds of groups that exist and how IFS can be imported into that setting. So that would be great. You know, Dick is really kind of bringing it...Thinking a lot into the area of physical illness, as is Nancy Sowell is writing a manual for PESI on that topic...
Aníbal: Wonderful, it's good news.
Martha: Yes. And so, you know, just for people, as people use it, they will make discoveries and people all over the world are using it. People will use it in different cultures and make discoveries about their own cultures. And I just hope people write about this as well as make videos, because there's nothing to my mind like the written word. I mean, it's fantastic that we live in an era where we can capture demos and stuff with videos, but not everything. You're not going to be able to see all the intimate moments with clients with that, that people are getting in different cultures all over the world in video. So, I hope people write.
Aníbal: It's a wonderful moment for IFS and it's a privilege to witness this growing and the growing community. It's amazing.
Martha: Yeah. I mean, you can just see how interested people are, the minute they kind of get the concept.
Aníbal: I'm happy for finding IFS also. It's amazing.
Martha: And it's so nice to...People are so relieved not to be pathologized.
Tisha: Right. Not be shamed in therapy.
Aníbal: Yes, right. Well said Tisha, it's exactly that. So, Martha, thank you so much for having us.
Martha: Yes. You're welcome. Thank you.
Aníbal: It was a joy to be here with you and Tisha. I hope we can keep meeting and sharing this model that our work and our lives. And is there any way that you like listeners, find you or find out more about your work...Well you have those wonderful books?
Martha: I have a Website, so people can find me on the Internet. I'm about to actually rehab that, but it exists, and it will exist so, yes, people can find me that way.
Martha: And through books, you know. If anyone wants to email me about any thoughts or responses they have to my books, I'd love to hear from people.
Aníbal: And many, many congratulations for all the publishing work that you have been doing. It's a huge gift for our community.
Martha: Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you.
Tisha: This was an IFS talks episode, an audio series to deepen connections with the internal family systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users.
Recorded 12th November 2019
Transcript Edition by Carolina Abreu