Creativity and My Note Cards

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein

Hmmm…Einstein was a genius, so perhaps we could learn something from him about solving our own problems. But how can I use a different mind, when obviously I only have one?

One way is through creativity – stepping outside of our usual way of thinking. According to the IFS model, creativity is a quality of Self, and it’s one that is often stifled during our development into adulthood. We develop parts to protect us from being admonished, embarrassed, or left out, and these parts can become extreme and also keep us from being creative. In other words, many times it may have felt unsafe for us to express ourselves creatively if that expression caused us to be punished or separated from our peers, so we learned to “fit in” by conforming. If we continue to conform to what we believe others expect of us, we can develop extreme parts such as perfectionism and people-pleasing. As we work with our extreme protector parts, Self comes forward and creativity returns, little by little.

I recently had a burst of creativity that amazed and entertained me. I had made a note card on my computer with a picture of a beautiful waterfall on the front, and sent it to a friend as a thank you note. He liked it so much that he asked me to make 50 more for him to use as personal correspondence. As I started to print them two to a page, I noticed that the picture on the right side of the page was off-center. I was not happy with this, as these would be given to someone else, and I never wanted him to think I couldn’t make something perfect! (my part that didn’t want me to be embarrassed or seem “less than”)

So I tried everything I knew to fix the alignment on the right side – I reread the directions on the template, reset the margins, copied and pasted the picture again, manually moved the picture, reduced the size – and all I accomplished was wasting more paper (which I hate!) and becoming more frustrated. I felt like screaming, “I am smart!  Why can’t I figure this out?!” But you see, I was stuck because I was trying to solve the problem with the same mind that created it – my analytical, thinking too much, read the directions and stare at the screen over and over until I get this right – mind.

With nothing else to try, I gave up. I let go of trying to “fix” the problem by centering the picture on the right side of the page. I decided I could just print the note cards one per page, on the left side only, and leave the right side blank rather than waste ink printing that side off-center. So I fed the first page into the printer and printed out the first note card, beautifully centered and on the left side of the page. As I took it out of the tray and started to tear off the blank side, WHAM! – the creative mind said, “Turn the paper over, feed it through again, and the perfectly aligned note card will print on the other side of the page.” I absolutely laughed out loud, sitting on the floor of my office. Such a simple solution, yet I could NOT get there until I let go of my old way of thinking.

Admittedly, the extremely distressing problems in our lives involve something more serious than printing perfect note cards, but the path to the solution is the same – original, creative thoughts and ideas. Many times in my life when I have stopped struggling with trying to perfectly solve a problem in the way I believe it would be best, the solution has come to me in a completely different manner, usually a much simpler and better idea than the one I struggled so hard to use. So the next time you feel overwhelmed by a problem and frustrated by your lack of ability to solve it, try letting go of fighting in the same old way. Perhaps some creativity will be sparked, and you will be able to “think outside the box” into a different and better solution.

At Southlake Counseling, we can help you discover and get to know the parts that may be keeping you stuck in the same ways of thinking and behaving, in all areas of your life. To learn more about how this process of self-awareness can work for you, schedule an appointment today and start your own journey out of frustration and into creativity and freedom!

Be well,


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: The Rebel Within

We all like to think that we are not passive-aggressive. Even if we are not sure what that term means, we are pretty sure it does not apply to us. “Passive-aggressive” doesn’t sound like something a nice person, a loving person, a person like us, would do.

Even as you are thinking this, however, a recent incident weighs on your mind. Last night your mom called asking if you could watch her twin dachshunds while she and your step-dad went on a mini-vacation. The problem is that you know that your mom knows that her dachshunds get along like oil and vinegar with your basset hound.

And you know it too.

So why were the first words that popped out of your mouth, “Of course, Mom – no problem!”

Not to mention that, no sooner had she sweetly thanked you – for the third time this month – than you proceeded to volley off a series of conditions upon which the dogs could stay, including specific times your mom must drop off and pick up her babies, provision of an ample amount of food (because we all know how much dachshunds can eat and your basset Harry doesn’t need to starve all weekend just because your mom doesn’t want to pay to kennel her pets) …. you get the picture.

But you are not, would never act, in passive-aggressive ways towards your mother whom you love. Right?

The trouble with passive-aggressive behaviors is that they signal an uprising within – an inner conflict that is so immediate and unexpected that we do not feel like we have time to stop, investigate, and address the source of the conflict prior to interacting with the instigator of the conflict. To compound matters, since passive-aggressive behaviors most often arise when we are interacting with individuals we are familiar with and know fairly well, the stakes get even higher and cycle becomes more vicious over time.

So how do we change the flow of passive-aggressive language and behaviors?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is one way to begin to uncover hidden motives and messages that are causing us to engage in passive-aggressive interactions. IFS is a unique therapy model that encourages students to think of themselves in terms of aspects of self rather than a single unified personality. IFS teaches us that we have not one single “personality”, but personalities within ourselves. All of these personalities have our best interests at heart, but each perceives that achievement of our best interests can only be obtained through conflicting means. This is why getting to know each of our parts or personalities, and then getting them to dialogue and work together, is the goal of IFS.

To illustrate how this might work, let us revisit the issue of your recent interaction with your mom regarding her dachshunds, Winnie and Sue.

In this example, there are at least two aspects of you interacting with Mom when she makes the request to kennel her dogs at your house. There is the Pleaser (for more on the Pleaser see this previous Monday Motivator), who automatically says “yes” to every request your mom makes. The Pleaser likes – drum roll please – to PLEASE. This aspect of you enjoys making others happy, and fears their displeasure with the same intensity it fears abandonment because of displeasure. The Pleaser has been convinced through past experiences that saying “no” equals displeasure, which equals abandonment. To the Pleaser, a “yes” ensures your social survival.

Underneath the Pleaser, however, there resides another aspect of you. This aspect, the Rebel, idolizes James Dean, the Fonz, and any other character who regularly chooses to go against the flow. The Rebel has her own assessment of the mother-dachshund scenario. In the Rebel’s opinion, your mom is taking advantage of you for free kenneling. The Rebel resents your mom for continuing to ask you to care for her aggressive, whining, bottomless pits when she knows that you know that she knows that you are inconvenienced more than a little by the repeated favors. To make matters worse, the Rebel remembers every single past experience you have had when you have been taken advantage of – only to find out after the fact, to its horror and disillusionment. The Rebel has vowed to do whatever it takes to uphold your integrity and respect by refusing to let those close to you use you as a doormat yet again.

This is why, even as your Pleaser is saying yes, yes, yes, your Rebel is yelling at the Pleaser – and at you – telling you not to be a pushover. Your Pleaser is afraid of social annihilation and your Rebel wants to annihilate your Pleaser, the requester – and Winnie and Sue.

And you are caught in the middle.

Using IFS, you can begin to dialogue with the Pleaser and the Rebel, hearing each part out, commiserating and empathizing and then introducing a third perspective – balancing out each part’s needs so that all three of you together can accomplish your shared goal – to safeguard your own wellbeing even while maintaining valued relationships with others in healthy, self-affirming ways.

If you are frustrated by persistent internal and external conflict in valued relationships, and you are at your wits end for how to handle the interactions of your Pleaser and Rebel, IFS and Southlake Counseling can help. Contact us today at to find out how to say “no” to passive-aggressive behavior and YES to collaboration, partnership, and positive relationship skills.

Be Well,


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Couples in Conflict

You love me…you love me not. I love you…I love you not.

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or any other chance to renew our commitment to our partner, have we ever stopped to wonder why these reminder events are such a marketer’s playground, or why when they come around each year we are suddenly able to find the time, energy, and money to drop whatever we would otherwise be doing to make plans for displays of affection?

Love isn’t easy, period. Love is not easy to come by, and it is not easy to keep.  And it is extraordinarily painful to lose, but couples who once were madly in love with each other fight, split, and divorce on a daily basis. They also spend months and sometimes years after the split still struggling to figure out why it happened and how to pick up the pieces and move on.

If it is not easy to love a deux, it can be traced back to our own difficulties with loving ourselves. We cannot love someone we do not know – and often, each half of a new couple comes into the relationship willing and able to spend more time getting to know the other person than getting to know themselves.  We don’t know why we get angry, or what triggers it. We tell new partners about how past partners have deliberately “pushed our buttons,” and then we blame those past partners for love’s earlier unhappy endings. We tell ourselves we are sure it will be different this time – new partner, new love, new beginning.

Until it starts happening all over again with our new partner, and we suddenly begin to smell a rat. We may then start to wake up and realize that, if the only constant in a recurring pattern is us, then we are the one who holds the power to change that dynamic rather than risk yet another painful loss.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), a powerful and dynamic therapeutic model that explores our inner world interactions in all their many parts, we learn that both in and out of love, we are multi-faceted beings.  We are fascinating, really – we have so many thoughts, so many emotions, so many memories, so many experiences. And within the context of a love relationship the environment is especially ripe for all of those thoughts, emotions, memories, and experiences to collide in our attempt to preserve the love we have while protecting ourselves from more pain.

IFS students soon learn that we have the Hurt Child, who remembers the very first breakup and wants to make sure she never, ever has to go through that again. We have our Inner Critic, who remembers past harsh words from former loves that hit too close to home, and reminds us that we are our own worst enemy and that any pain we have felt in the past is our own fault. We have our inner Champion, who will do battle to ensure that no interloper – even a loving one with good intentions – gets close enough to harm us. And we have the Blamer, who steadfastly maintains that, regardless of whatever repeatedly unfortunate circumstances may befall us, we have no one to blame but somebody else.

Couples in conflict can benefit greatly from becoming students of themselves, and IFS is a model uniquely well-suited to that exploration. In IFS couples therapy, each partner can start to learn how “pushing buttons” actually arises when an inner facet of self that bears past painful memories gets triggered into self-protective action by a partner’s comment or action. IFS’ self-awareness training enables each participant in the relationship to check their reactions against their inner awareness before responding in customary knee-jerk reaction ways to their partner. For instance, is the Blaming part of you judging your partner because it is easier than bearing the self-judgment of your own Inner Critic? Is the Hurt Child going away just when he should come closer because one hurt was enough, and when that original hurt happened he was a child and didn’t know what else to do but flee?

IFS training in the context of couples communication helps each participant to recognize that each of these parts is doing the best they can to protect us. We can then begin to learn new communication skills that start with self-awareness and self-evaluation. We can forestall knee-jerk reactions that may further damage our treasured relationship and create new patterns of interaction that are healthier, more mature, and more self- and love-affirming.

If you are feeling stretched and challenged by the dynamics of a valued love relationship, Internal Family Systems therapy can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have over two decades of expertise with guiding couples to salvage, restore, and rebuild the love they have worked so hard to cultivate. Contact us at and experience for yourself just how wonderful saying “no” to unhealthy conflict and YES to love and life can be!

Be Well,

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Who are you calling a “people pleaser?”

To a certain degree, we all struggle with the desire to please others who are in our life. While usually our eagerness to please aligns more closely with achieving an advantageous compromise that benefits both the other party and ourselves, there are times we may find that, in the choices we make, the benefits to the other party far outweigh our own.

When this happens on a consistent basis, we may be struggling with a common syndrome known as “people pleasing.” “Who me?”, we might catch ourselves thinking…or saying…when the subject arises. Yet while it can be painful to discover that we have been engaged in a habitual focus on others’ wants and needs to the exclusion of our own, what is more important is that we develop that awareness so we can make a different choice going forward.

If you have ever caught yourself worrying about what to wear, how to act, what someone is thinking about you or how you can change what someone is thinking about you, you have a taste of what people pleasing feels like.  

Let’s take a common example – you have just come home from work and you are looking forward to your one free evening of the week to rest, relax, and just take good care of yourself for a change. But when you get home, your daughter asks if her friend can please stay the night. Then your spouse informs you that he is no longer able to take your son to baseball practice because he has scheduled a guys’ night – and he knows you will understand even though this is the first you have heard of it. Your daughter is begging….your husband is looking at you with expectation that you will graciously pick up the ball he dropped.

Appalled at yourself even as the words come out of your mouth, all you hear yourself saying is, “Yes, of course – no problem. I’ll take care of it. Have a good evening, honey!”

This is people-pleasing at its finest. And it probably doesn’t feel very good either while it is happening or after it has occurred.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we would call this the “People Pleaser Pattern.” IFS is a unique and powerful therapeutic model that assigns these different aspects or parts of our being different names and encourages the IFS therapist and student to work together to discern the roles each of these parts play in our lives and how we can work with instead of against them.

So in IFS therapy, we might look at the People Pleaser within and start trying to discern how it works in our lives by asking ourselves, “Does this happen all the time, with everybody, or just with a certain person or just a few folks?” “Or does it perhaps happen only in certain situations under certain conditions?” “What is triggering my desire to say ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no’, from agreeing when I really disagree?” As we begin to seek and hear our own answers to these questions we are already on our way to understanding and then transforming our people pleasing behaviors into something more self-respectful.

Using the IFS therapy model, you will work to first understand your specific behavior, and then identify the motivation(s) you have for encouraging or at least allowing that behavior to continue. Next, you will begin to trace the behavior backwards to possible origins. Where did you learn that it was not safe to say “no”? Who rejected you because you stood up for yourself or expressed disagreement with their opinion? Did you lose a valuable opportunity because you were too vocal in a team-based setting about an important group decision? Rejection always hurts….and it will continue to hurt until you recognize it, acknowledge it, and begin to heal from it. IFS gives you this chance to identify and heal from past wounds that are still driving current choices and behaviors.

Next you will begin to learn how to work with your People Pleaser part so that you can understand how it is trying to protect you. The People Pleaser is not out to get you – it is simply looking out for what it has come to believe are your best interests. The more you can allay the fears that part of you carries within it and reassure it that whatever the outcome, together you can find another way to deal with life without having to people-please, the less that part will be inclined to go rogue when it feels you are in danger.

Finally, having established a more collaborative relationship with the People Pleaser part, you can begin to finally regain the power of decision in your own life. IFS offers you a powerful way to hear and respect what each part of you is trying to do to help you while still reminding them that in the end, the buck stops not with any one of them, but with YOU.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand that discovering and befriending all of the various parts of yourself can feel like a handful – when attempted alone. We want you to know you are not alone – we are here and we can help. Our caring, experienced and professional staff has more than two decades of experience in guiding individuals in their exciting journey to self-transformation. If you want to learn to say “no” to allowing past pain to overshadow current gain and say “YES” to all the fantastic possibilities that are yet ahead of you, contact us today at

Be Well, 


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Food is My Friend…or is it?

One of the areas of life that seems the most problematic in today’s society is the issue of food’s role and purpose in our lives. Is food fuel for the body? Is it an emotional warm blanket when we’re feeling down? Is it an expression of celebration that reinforces and even creates relationships? Is it a treat at the end of a long day?

To most of us, food is all of the above – and more. In past Monday Motivators, we have discussed how our attitudes towards and choices around food can and often do fluctuate frequently – sometimes even in the course of a single day – and how confusing and conflicting such fluctuations can be.

In the scientific principle known as Occum’s Razor, the “simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”  In the case of food, this principle would deduce that food is fuel for the body, plain and simple, no more and no less.

But try telling that to the part of us that wants chocolate cake when we’ve just experienced a breakup. Just try to explain that to the part of us that thinks the best way to motivate us to make healthier choices is to yell “good choice as usual, Lardo” when we are enjoying a bag of chips. Or how about when our date suggests sharing a decadent dessert as the perfect end to a romantic evening…how likely are we to explain to him or her, “Well, truffles aren’t an item my body really needs for nutrients so I’ll have to decline, but thanks anyway.”

Not at all likely, right?

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we might instead begin to assign names to these seemingly disagreeing parts of ourselves, and then to decode what their real message, purpose, and role is in our lives.

For instance, the Inner Controller is always going to tell us what we think we need, rather than want, to hear – declining that truffle, using self-disrespecting language, doing whatever it takes to keep us on the dietary straight and narrow.

The Inner Indulger, on the other hand, will eschew discipline for pleasure every time. The Indulger loves romantic truffles, sees nothing wrong with a delicious bag of chips, and wouldn’t think twice about offering its suffering self some chocolate cake in recompense for a bad day.

The small gap or vast expanse that exists between the Indulger and the Controller is what students of IFS learn to call the “Pleasure Polarity.”  Managing the pleasure polarity, and more than that, hearing, affirming, and guiding the Indulger and Controller to learn to (gasp) get along is what a student of IFS will become adept at.

IFS students understand that each voice comes to us with a desire not to harm, not to degrade, but to support and protect us. As we walk the guided path of IFS, we will understand what our parts already understand – that we have needs that food can provide for, and that each part thinks it knows best how to care for us and meet those needs. We will perceive with tremendous clarity and newfound hope how each voice, in its own weird and wonderful way, has our best interests at heart – and is often willing to fight to the death on our behalf against another voice with an opposing opinion.

So how do we help these parts of ourselves stop squabbling and get along as they each seek the same goal – our wellbeing?

We have to first understand that each voice has a point. In between the Indulger and the Controller we find not just the Pleasure Polarity, but the Support Polarity and the Power Polarity. In the Support Polarity, we must balance the Indulger’s neediness and the Controller’s need for denial. In the Power Polarity, we must recognize our tendency to people-please against our desire to rigidly control ourselves and others.

When you become a student of IFS, you begin to walk the path of balance and moderation with wisdom, confidence, and self-compassion. You “get” yourself – in all your various parts – in a new and deeper way. You can make better choices when you understand that all of these parts or facets of you are all you – all valid, all worthy of a voice, all worthy of respect, appreciation, and satisfaction. As this understanding becomes established within, you become better able to evaluate the choices before you and make a fair assessment of each part’s needs, the airtime you will allow each to have, and your need to make sure that one is not over-indulged while one is ostracized.

Or, to once again apply the principle of Occum’s Razor, we could simply say that you will begin to realize that when a part of you hurts, you hurt. And when a part of you heals, you heal.

If you are struggling to balance the competing needs, demands, and desires you feel inside of you when it comes to making healthy food choices, Internal Family Systems can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of experience guiding individuals to meet and exceed their food-related recovery, health, and wellness goals. Whether you are just seeking a tune-up in the New Year or part of your bigger picture for 2010 includes a complete overhaul in your nutritional lifestyle, we look forward to partnering with you to help you say “no” to inner conflict at the table and YES to your own healthy, happy, and whole life! Visit us at today!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: The Critic versus the Champion

Into every day a little criticism must fall.

This could be the motto of the part of us we might label “the inner critic”.

When we are listening to our inner critic, we may not feel much desire to go deeper in our connection with ourselves or go for our goals and dreams. We may hear messages like “I wouldn’t ask for that promotion if I were you – they’re just going to tell you ‘no’”, “He doesn’t like you – that is why he didn’t call you back”, “Nice try with joining a gym, but you know it isn’t going to help with your eating habits because you never change.”

From the outside looking in, the inner critic seems to have one function and one purpose only – to tear us down. The inner critic hates us – or so it seems. We may even catch ourselves wondering why we hate ourselves so much and what we have done to deserve such unkind messages that come to us so frequently from within.

And we probably wonder on an almost daily basis if the voice will EVER go away.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, we dig deeper into the origin and role of our own inner critic. We also look at why our inner critic gets louder at some times than others. And we explore why our inner critic often appears to affect us more than the inner critic of those around us appears to affect them.

Let’s take an example. Imagine that you are a junior in college, and you have excelled in all of your undergraduate coursework. Your professors keep encouraging you to take more challenging classes – they can’t resist reminding you repeatedly of the straight-A’s you achieved in your first two years. They continually tell you that you have far more potential than you are tapping into. Every time one of your professors starts down this line of discussion, you hear a voice inside you that says, “They are only saying that because they don’t know you as well as you do. Remember that time in fifth grade when your teachers convinced your parents to let you try out for that middle school for ‘gifted’ children and you flunked the entrance exam? No need to go down that path again – you’ll just be setting yourself up for failure a second time”.

Here, all of the outside proof seems to show that you have every chance of success. Your professors even point out that some of your fellow classmates who are taking the accelerated program didn’t score as high as you did in their undergraduate work. But you think you know something your professors don’t about your chances for success.

Certainly your inner critic knows that you are afraid to fail again. You were very hurt the first time you were rejected after you stuck your neck and your pride out to go for what you wanted. You will never forget the sting of shame and the disappointment in the eyes of your parents and teachers. Your inner critic reminds you continually of how painful that experience was.

But – just for the sake of argument here – could it be that, rather than tear you down, your inner critic is actually trying to protect you – or at least protect that fifth grade inner child who still resides within you – from even more pain?

Students of IFS learn to re-examine and in time re-frame their relationship with their inner critic. Whereas in other therapeutic approaches, you may have been encouraged to ignore or overpower your inner critic, with IFS you will learn how to befriend it. IFS opens the door to ask questions you may never have considered before, like, “What can I learn from my inner critic?” “What service is my inner critic providing to me?” “What part of me agrees with my inner critic and why?” “How can I let my inner critic know that s/he is heard and respected so rather than standing in my way, we can work together to achieve my dreams and goals?”

In time, using the IFS model, you will be able to introduce your inner critic to its new best friend, your inner champion. The inner champion gives the inner critic a new lease on life – literally. When the inner critic tells you, “You must be crazy to believe you are as smart as Professor So-and-So claims”, your inner champion will say, “You ARE that smart. You just got scared before when you took that entrance exam. So this time we will practice some relaxation exercises before tackling this new challenge before us. It is not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up that matters. Together, we can do this!”

IFS offers us a new way of life through giving us the chance to look inside ourselves and see, not a collection of bitter enemies, but a close-knit and loving family that simply uses different communication styles to express their love for us. Each part of ourselves exists for a purpose. Each deserves a voice. Each requires closure for past hurts and disappointments. Each needs and wants love and connection. And each part loves us – in its own way. With IFS we learn to speak the love language of the inner critic, the inner child, and the inner champion, and then we are better equipped to help each part learn how to work together and enjoy life as a team.

If you are struggling with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, discouragement, fear, anxiety, or depression in the face of the messages you hear inside you, IFS can help. At Southlake Counseling, we understand what it is like to feel like a house divided from the inside out. We have nearly two decades of professional expertise in guiding individuals through change and use the Internal Family Systems model to help achieve comprehensive health and well-being. To find out more about how IFS can transform your relationship with your inner critic and awaken your inner champion, contact us today at

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Just who do you think you are?

Ask yourself this deceptively simple-sounding question, “Who am I?” and you may find that questions like these are easier asked than answered.

For instance, who you experience yourself to be may change depending on who you are with. With your parents, you may find yourself dropping into some of the mannerisms, thoughts, and opinions you held as the child-you. With your spouse, you may experience yourself as an odd assortment of relational habits you attribute to either your mom’s or your dad’s influence. With your child, you may struggle to reconcile the deep love and enthusiasm you feel for being a parent with your own all-too-human personal desire for a return to the unscheduled free time and rest that you enjoyed as a single person.

Your sense of yourself may be equally fluid – and elusive – depending on where you are. Facing a schedule that includes a full day of work, a quick after-work visit to the gym, and a later dinner date, you may find yourself keeping company with a completely different you as you move through your day. At work, work-you is task-oriented, focused, forgetting to eat until the hunger in your belly yells “LUNCH!” and you quickly hurry off to check that item off your to-do list. At the gym, gym-you counts calories and berates yourself for your earlier choices as the treadmill spins. And at dinner, over a relaxing glass of wine, you witness how dinner-you casually shoves gym-you aside as you go for your favorite high-calorie dessert – tres leches.

So who are you? Which you is “the” you?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a new therapeutic discipline that provides a roadmap by which the intrapersonally inquisitive student can begin to find his or her own both accurate and self-respectful answer to this question.

Students of IFS recognize and accept that “the you” they are tempted to conceptualize as a single discrete identity is actually a diverse collection of parts called “sub-personalities”. These parts can range from the inner critic to the abandoned child to the people pleaser to the anger-monger to the scapegoat to the loving caretaker and so on. 

As students of IFS, we work to identify and learn from each part. As our investigation unfolds, we begin to perceive how each part relates to each other part within us in helpful and sometimes not-so-helpful ways. As we learn from each part about the memories, associations, assumptions, perceptions, dreams, goals, and aspirations it carries within it, we become more attuned to how that part subtly shapes and drives our conscious behavior. With this awareness, we can work with each part to transform for the better its relationship with the other parts of us, with us-now, and with the world around us.

The true power of IFS, however, comes from the compassion we begin to develop towards each part of ourselves. Once we know that part’s story, past, present, and persistent hopes for the future, we cease to resist or fight its involvement or influence and start instead to seek a common good. IFS promotes a deep inner empathy with and affinity towards not just us-now but towards all our parts, as we recognize that we have each been employing different means to achieve the same shared goals for acceptance, success, love, meaning, and joy in life.

Lest a student of IFS begin to suspect that they suffer from multiple personality disorder, however, there is one more important basic component of IFS work that is worth mentioning.

IFS practitioners recognize that we are at our core spiritual beings, centered in what IFS calls “the Self”. The Self is nurturing, stable, and full of compassion. The Self exemplifies the best us that we can be, and reminds us that as we learn to stay centered in our sense of ourselves as “the Self”, we are then able to begin to repair, restore, and re-energize our tangled relationships with each of our parts. As the Self, we can help our parts to heal, heal ourselves, and develop a relationship with our own life that is both inspiring and empowering.

At Southlake Counseling, we have invested more than two decades in assisting you with your personal growth and development goals. We are strong proponents of Internal Family Systems therapy as a powerful and effective tool to help you learn how to say “no” to self-limiting thoughts, behaviors, and relational patterns and YES to your dream of being the best you that you can be. If you are ready to explore how IFS can help you achieve your personal growth and wellness goals, contact us today at

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Loving Yourself Unconditionally – If Not Now, Then When, Part III

I hope you have enjoyed Parts I and II of this special three-part Monday Motivator series on practicing unconditional self-love. In Part I we explored the differences between conditional and unconditional love. In Part II, we examined how love becomes conditional, how regular doses of conditional love affect us in the short- and long-term, and how practicing conditional self-love limits us.

Here, in Part III, we conclude our exploration by coming full-circle back to answer the questions we asked at the start of the series – What does “loving yourself” mean? How do you know you are doing it? How do you know you are not doing it? And what do you do if it doesn’t feel okay to love yourself, and you often catch yourself wondering “if I can’t love myself, now, today, then when? When will I finally be able to look in my own eyes and see someone worth loving looking back at me?”

The answer to all of these seemingly complicated questions boils down to one simple word: when you begin to practice it.

Learning to Love Ourselves Unconditionally 101

When we want to learn a new skill, there is no getting around it – we need to practice. Practice may never equal perfect (regardless of what our parents or teachers may have told us), but practice is guaranteed to equal progress, and that is what we are working towards here. Furthermore, once you experience for yourself just how good unconditional self-love feels, you will find it easier to make time to practice this invaluable skill until it becomes as second-nature as practicing conditional self-love used to feel.

There are several techniques we can use to practice unconditional self-love – so try each one, and select what works best for you. Again, you might also want to have a journal handy for recording your observations and experiences.

Exercise One: Learning to Identify the Critical Inner Voice

Before there can be application of a new skill, there must be awareness of what isn’t working for us to get us the desired results. So with this first exercise, we will begin to take notice of how, where, when, and why our critical inner voice speaks to us. Here, we will not be attempting to analyze the messages for insights, but simply noticing them with the intention to distinguish them from other messages we may hear within.

So start by keeping a log of what the inner critical voice is saying to you. When you hear messages delivered by the voice, write them down. If you are having trouble recognizing which voice is the inner critic, pay close attention for statements that include words or phrases like “should, how could you, you are bad/stupid/etc.”

Exercise Two: Learning to Listen to Ourselves

We give the critical inner voice plenty of airtime. But how much airtime do we devote to listening to our own authentic voice? With this exercise, you are learning to consider another perspective – your own. Here, you will practice listening to your own thoughts until you can clearly tell the difference between the inner critical voice and your own inner voice.

If you are having trouble distinguishing between the voices, a great technique to try is to ask yourself, “If I wasn’t afraid or knew I couldn’t fail, what would I do?” Practice asking yourself this question, and then jot down your responses. What you are seeking to identify here are your hopes, dreams, and desires apart from the messages your inner critical voice may give you about whether you deserve to or can achieve any of those hopes, dreams, and desires.

Exercise Three: Learning to Appreciate Each Voice for the Gifts They Bring

It is easy to react negatively to hearing criticism, especially when the critical voice comes from within.  But consider this – whether it sounds like it or not, each voice you hear within was at one time your invited guest. Each has a message for you – each one wants to help.

This is why learning to hear the message that lies beneath the tone of the messenger is so essential to healing, growth, and relationship-building. Practicing unconditional self-love begins with developing an awareness of how each message is trying to help you. Developing an attitude of curiosity and detachment can be very helpful during this phase as well.

For instance, when you hear the voice that compares you to someone else, choose to recognize it as a part and listen to it with curiosity. Why is the part doing this?  What is it afraid of?  What does this part truly want for you? For each message you hear, pretend you are the voice itself as you journal your thoughts about the answer to each of these questions.

Exercise Four: Learning to Give Yourself the Loving Care You Want and Deserve

Being able to hear, name, and decipher each messenger and its message lays the foundation for the most important skill of all – showing yourself that you love you!

To do this, start by journaling out a list of all the statements, activities, gifts, and experiences that make you feel truly loved. If it helps, you might imagine you are someone else, and ask yourself interview-style what you would really want and need to feel wholly loved, and then jot down your own answers.

You might also benefit from what I like to call “The Mirror Exercise.” Pick a time each day when you will have a few moments to yourself – it might be as you are getting ready for work or school each morning, or at the end of a long day just before bed. Whatever time works for you, make sure you can have a few minutes alone with yourself to look into your own eyes in the mirror as you tell yourself “I love you unconditionally…no matter what.”

This is not a time to evaluate whether you are having a good hair day, or whether those jeans really go with that shirt. This is a time to connect with YOU – eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart.

Again, if you find this extremely uncomfortable, it might help at first to ease into it by imagining you are looking into the face of someone you do feel unconditional, unwavering love for. It can even help to do it with pets at first because pets accept our love fully and without hesitation!

Work your way into being able to gaze into your own eyes and offer yourself total, unwavering, unconditional love. You can also use the mirror to offer your love and appreciation to other areas of your body about which, in the past, you may have felt shame or discomfort. Bring a sense of love and appreciation into your contemplations, and remember that you may have to “fake it til you make it”, but if you are persistent over time, your practice will turn into progress, and you will begin to feel just how wonderful it is to love yourself unconditionally.

How Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy Can Help

At Southlake Counseling, we know that it is one thing to decide to practice unconditional self-love…and quite another thing to actually do it! It can be scary, sometimes painful, often disconcerting to try to stop ourselves in our tracks and change long-standing ways we have been relating to ourselves, others, and our own lives. Here is where Internal Family Systems Therapy, a Southlake Counseling specialty, can help.

IFS Therapy is a uniquely effective approach to restoring loving relationships with self and valued others. Students of IFS learn to identify patterns of internal dialogue that create conflict and interfere with their ability to pursue healthy, productive change. IFS is a powerful vehicle for restoring your sense of self through promoting self-curiosity, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Southlake Counseling professionals have many years of training and experiencing in guiding students who wish to experience the full benefits of this powerful therapeutic practice.

Call us today at 704-896-7776 or email me at to learn more about how IFS Therapy can help you say NO to conditional love and YES to life!

Be Well,


Your ‘Say Yes to Life’ Monday Motivator: Loving Yourself Unconditionally—If Not Now, Then When, Part I

In her song “If Not Now….” songwriter Tracy Chapman sings,

 If not now then when
If not today then
Why make your promises
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none

While we may have grown up listening to the adults around us exhorting us to follow the Golden Rule by “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” how many of these adults actually spent time discussing with us or modeling for us how to accomplish the second part of that famous phrase?

 What does “loving yourself” mean? How do you know you are doing it? How do you know you are not doing it? And what do you do if it doesn’t feel okay to love yourself, and you often catch yourself wondering “if I can’t love myself, now, today, then when? When will I finally be able to look in my own eyes and see someone worth loving looking back at me?”

 In this three-part series, we will spend some time tackling the answers to these tough but essential questions. But first, let’s start by discussing what is meant by the term “love.”

 When we think of love, hear the word love, contemplate love in our lives, we seldom dissect for ourselves the many forms love can take, or how many of those forms are not truly love, but are rather some form of outwardly-expressed need, greed, lack, selfishness, manipulation, fear, or pride on the part of the giver.

 Unconditional Love

Love itself is commonly defined as “a deep and enduring emotional regard, usually for another person.” The key word in this definition is “enduring.” The quality of endurance – of being able to maintain and even grow the quality of emotional regard amidst the ups and downs of our own and another human being’s daily life, is what distinguishes true love – what we commonly call “unconditional” love – from the other, lesser kinds of so-called love.

 Conditional Love

“Conditional” love is actually what many of us more often experience – and conditional love does not have the quality of endurance that ensures it will be around when we need it the most. Conditional love will quickly desert us during those times when we are feeling low and showing it, when we are visibly struggling or stumbling, when we are small-minded, closed-hearted, mean-spirited, afraid, judgmental, or otherwise human in our approach to life, experiences, and other human beings. Conditional love will make us doubt, even fear, the presence of love in our lives, even as it leaves us longing for more.

 Recognizing “Real” Love

In contrast with conditional love, real love is always unconditional. Where unconditional love dwells, conditional love is not allowed to enter. And where conditional love lives, unconditional love will decline to go.

 Some real life examples of each that we are all familiar with might include the following: When we watch daytime court drama, soap operas, nasty public divorces, or drawn-out custody battles, we are watching conditional love at play. Conversely, when we watch a wife caring round-the-clock for a husband who is battling cancer, a mother tirelessly supporting a child with a learning disability, a sibling repeatedly sticking up for another sibling who is being bullied AND teaching that sibling how to fight back on her own behalf, we see the quality of endurance that signifies unconditional love.

 Some sure-fire clues to recognize which is which include the following – over time, unconditional love breeds patience, kindness, self-control, a big-picture perspective on small circumstances, empathy, mutual trust, and peace. Conditional love, on the other hand, always and often breeds only one end result – pain.

Please join us next week for Part II as we continue our exploration of developing unconditional self-love.

 How Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy Can Help

At Southlake Counseling, we understand how painful conditional love can be – whether it is experienced through our relationships with others or imposed upon ourselves from within. We know what it feels like to want to connect without knowing how to do so safely and from a place of self-respect.

 IFS Therapy is a uniquely effective approach to restoring loving relationships with self and valued others. Clients of IFS learn to identify patterns of internal dialogue that create conflict and interfere with their ability to pursue healthy, productive change. IFS is a powerful vehicle for restoring your sense of self through promoting self-curiosity, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Southlake Counseling professionals have many years of training and experiencing in guiding clients who wish to experience the full benefits of this powerful therapeutic practice.

Call us today at 704-896-7776 or email me at to learn more about how IFS Therapy can help you say NO to conditional love and YES to life!

Be Well,


What is IFS?

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of therapy has been developed over the past two decades by Richard Schwartz and is based on the concept of self-leadership as the ideal. IFS relies on a client’s own intuitive wisdom and therefore offers a safe, nonpathological, and empowering approach to psychotherapy. Schwartz believes that any client can benefit from the techniques used in IFS therapy, but that it is particularly helpful for the client who has been humiliated and feels worthless, or for those who have suffered loss or been devastated by trauma.

The basic premise of IFS is that internally, an individual is constantly listening to many different voices and is engaged in various thought patterns and emotions, which are similar to complex external relationships he may have with other people. When a person believes himself to be “thinking,” he is often having an inner dialogue with one or more of his parts. As people develop, their parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves, and the functioning of this internal system can be examined using the systems theory. The IFS model posits that each individual is composed of many internal parts, and that the Self is the true core of each individual. The Self is not only viewed as separate from the other parts, but the goal of IFS is to for the Self to be recognized and respected as the leader of the other parts. Schwartz uses a board room analogy to illustrate the ideal role of the Self at the head of the table and in the position of chairman, with the parts in the chairs around the table. The parts are all respected and important in their roles, but the chairman (Self) does not give up his seat at the head of the table to any of them.

IFS also contains spiritual components in reference to the Self as being similar to the soul of a human being. Schwartz promotes that all individuals have at their core a true Self that innately possesses qualities such as curiosity, compassion, calmness, confidence, courage, clarity, creativity, and connectedness – natural leadership qualities. As individuals go through life and experience various events which their system perceives as traumatic, or other extreme emotional consequences, their true Selves become obscured by these new emotions and beliefs, which become their parts. IFS assumes that the intention of each part is something positive for the individual, such as protection or motivation, therefore there are no “bad” parts. The goal of IFS therapy is not to eliminate the parts, but to help them find less extreme roles. The goal for the individual is to be able to separate his true Self from the parts, view the parts with compassion and curiosity, and regain his innate sense of calmness, confidence and clarity.

The parts in the IFS model of therapy are those separate internal characteristics of an individual that are not qualities of his true Self. They could be emotions or beliefs such as anger, fear, shame, or distrust, which have been programmed into a person by external events or messages, and they all have a reason for being there or an ingrained role to play. For instance, if a girl grows up in an abusive environment, she may eventually come to believe that she is worthless and is not deserving of being treated with kindness and acceptance. Through IFS therapy, her worthless part can be separated from her true Self and be seen as only a part of her. Then perhaps her true Self can be curious about how the worthless part came to be, what it is telling her, and how she can develop compassion for it. In this way, her true Self can come to acknowledge and respect the worthless part, and either unburden it of its feelings of worthlessness based on the abuse she suffered, or give it a more helpful role to play in protecting her. Schwartz believes that after an individual’s true Self becomes curious about one of his parts and begins to acknowledge and respect it, he can begin to have compassion for its purpose in his internal world.

One of the most important aspects of the IFS model of therapy is the safety of its use with the client, and the safety the client feels in referring to any undesirable emotion or characteristic as only a part of him. In IFS parts sessions, the client is in control of which parts to address and to what depth, so the therapeutic process is safely client-driven. Likewise, most clients are more accepting of referring to an undesirable trait as only part of them, and not their true Self. For instance, the woman who was abused as a child may be more comfortable saying, “Part of me is still very angry at the person who hurt me when I was a little girl,” rather than, “I am still very angry at this person.” The difference is that while it is healthy to acknowledge the anger and hurt, it may be liberating to accept that the adult woman is not obligated to carry it around with her and allow it to affect every aspect of her life if it is only a part of her, and not her true Self.

Debbie Parrott, MSW, P-LCSW

Southlake Counseling