Blending and Unblending our Inner Parts

Janine’s ex-boyfriend called the HR department of the marketing company she worked for. He believed that her co-workers were lying about him, and this is why she broke up with him. In his call, he threatened to initiate a lawsuit against the company.

Her friend in HR told her about all his nonsense and laughed it off. She assured Janine that this kind of thing happens, but they were going to ignore it completely.

Janine heard all the HR person said, but she could not ignore it for some reason. She had persistent thoughts of being fired from her job, dragged into court, ending up in the newspapers, and having her career completely destroyed. By the next day, her thoughts carried her into ideas of being homeless and living in her car.

She even went so far as to entertain the obsessive idea that she needed to take her car in to be serviced order to be ready when she had to live in it permanently.

As she was being bombarded with these thoughts, she felt a gripping feeling low in her stomach. She felt paralyzed and unable to move very quickly. All her breathing slowed down too far. She was also flooded with fear and terror. It felt like she was trapped and would die.

All of this because of an idiotic action by an ex-boyfriend. By the way, he never did follow through on any of his threats.

In Internal Family Systems therapy, we call the process she was experiencing a “Blending”. Blending happens when an internal mid-brain part of our psyche–either a Manager/Protector, Exile, or Firefighter takes over the Core Self and seems to be in control of all emotions and thoughts.

In order to understand this, let’s do a little bit of brain physiology. Please note all you amateur and professional neurologists: This is a huge over-simplification. But it helps to see some of what is happening in the mind. I believe the “mind” is a metaphoric extension of our brains. Our brains cannot see their own functions until played out in the mind. All the brain knows is biochemical reactions, neural networks, lobe structures, and electrical currents. But when the mind gives meaning to these things the brain knows how to change and rearrange its own structures.

The mind gives the brain meaning.

The prefrontal cortex is at the front of your brain. This complex of lobes and structures has many functions. You have your sense of self here. You make decisions here. You apply logic, reason, structure, pathways, plans, goals, meaning and purpose here. You also command all the mid-brain functions from here. The prefrontal cortex is your Executive Brain. No decisions can be made without it.

The mid-brain complex (made up of over 60 structures) is where your emotions, sensory data, memories, and body feedback loops reside. These structures are all controlled and manipulated by the prefrontal cortex, but they are separate from it.

In terms of IFS, the Prefrontal/frontal cortex is where your sense of the Core Self exists. The mid-brain functions are where all your Managers, Exiles, and Firefighters are. This is how we can have complex conversations with ourselves. We have a Core Self, but many sub-personalities. These sub-personalities cannot make decisions, so they have to influence the Core Self to achieve their goals. And the Parts have goals, to be sure.

Take Janine as an example. Janine has an Anxiety Part that scans the near future for danger. This Part saw that her ex-boyfriend was threatening her job and reputation. This caused an Exile who had been betrayed by loved ones in the past to act up. The Exile triggered the Anxiety Manager which flooded the Core Self with fear and dread.

Janine also had a Catastrophizing Firefighter. When the Anxiety Manager could not keep the Exile quiet, this part came in to completely flood the mind with worst-case scenarios. As Janine focused on those, the Exile’s cries could not be heard. As she obsessed, her mind was not focused on past hurts and pain. This is the purpose of all firefighter parts.

She also had a Isolation Manager who was working to keep her feeling like others would not help her. Every time someone tried to cheer her up or assure her, she isolated from them. She refused to talk to them until all things had been resolved. This manager was helping an Exile who found that friends in high school had used information she had shared with them to reveal her problems to a vice-principal. This had resulted in her being forced to see the school counselor. She vowed to never let anyone know about her problems that deeply. She stopped seeing her therapist during this time.

She was experiencing Blending. The Managers and Firefighters are seeking to get her to do things her Core Self didn’t want to do. The Blending often has up to three signs that it is happening:

  1. The body experiences polyvagal response. Somewhere in the body, the person will experience some kind of involuntary reaction. This is usually an uncomfortable feeling that they can’t shake. In Janine’s case, it was a parasympathetic freeze response where she felt her whole system shutting down when the Anxiety Part gripped her.
  2. The brain is flooded with emotions. These are more than passing emotions. They are overwhelming feelings. In her case, it was fear, panic, catastrophe and helplessness. These feelings would only stop if she did something to distract herself. Binge-watching television, porn viewing, and cannabis helped alleviate the flooding. Often, firefighting responses mess our lives up as much as the Blending does.
  3. Persistent and obsessive thoughts. These thoughts do not leave but grow in intensity. When this happens, the Parts try and get the Core Self to think in particular pathways. In Janine’s case, they wanted her to plan for a future of homelessness.
She was experiencing Blending. The Managers and Firefighters are seeking to get her to do things her Core Self didn't want to do. The Blending often has up to three signs that it is happening: Click To Tweet

Why do our Parts, which are supposed to be protecting us, act this way? Simple: The Parts do not have the whole story. And they were originally created to deal with our lives when we were children or teens. Many times, these sub-personalities still think we are young. This entire system was created by young people for young people. The system doesn’t work that well with adults.

But it is our system. We cannot ignore what our Parts do to try and influence the Core Self.

The Core Self is the most up-to-date version of who you are. Because most people do not update their parts–or even know they need to–the Parts act like belligerent children inside of us. We feel “childish” when our body and emotions are influenced by the Parts. How can this be changed?

The Core Self is the most up-to-date version of who you are. Because most people do not update their parts–or even know they need to–the Parts act like belligerent children inside of us Click To Tweet

Internal Family Systems was designed to do just that. In this article, I am only addressing Blending and Unblending. But understand the Parts really do care for you. They are trying to protect you. They don’t want to hurt you–but they often do just that. The most pain is felt when they blend with the Core Self. The cure for this is to unblend them.

A simple unblending starts with acknowledging the Part and asking it to back off. I usually start with the effects on the body. I might say, “Thank you Part for wanting to protect me by speeding up my heart rate and causing my stomach ache. But you’re hurting me. I want to talk to you, but not until you let go of my body.”

Then wait until the Part lets go. It may take a little while if you have never talked to your Parts. Once the Part lets go of your body, then move on to the emotions if they are touching those also. Also be pleasant with them. Assure them you will listen and help them out. But be firm on two things:

  1. You won’t listen to them until they stop hurting you.
  2. Make sure they understand they are hurting you.

If they won’t let go, ask them how this is protecting you. Be insistent you will not approve this activity. For most situations, the Parts will unblend. Then, you can listen and dialogue about their concerns. Often the part is trying to convey something they are afraid of. Listen to them as you would a teenager or a child. Then correct their mis-information. If you find you agree too much with them, then maybe see a therapist to help sort this out. It is possible a permanent blending has occurred because of trauma.

But most of the time, if you unblend the Part, you can get separation from them. This helps you to lead the process. Ask the Part what they do for you. What is their role? What are they afraid will happen to you if they aren’t doing their job?

But most of the time, if you unblend the Part, you can get separation from them. This helps you to lead the process. Click To Tweet

This helps the Part know the Core Self cares about them and is listening. It may not stop them from blending in the future, but they will often unblend easier if you have befriended them.

Masturbation is Our Friend

Important historical note.

This article is Part 2 of something I wrote back 12 years ago originally. I had been asked to participate in a discussion at a well-known Christian magazine on the topic of Masturbation. There were four therapists in the discussion; two of us were pastors. We rolicked on this topic for a couple of hours, discussing both theological implications and psychological ideas. We were all positive on the concept of masturbation in the life of any individual.

And we were all excited this conservative Christian publication was going to run our discussion. However, when it came before their editorial board, it was axed. I was not surprised. Neither were my fellow masterminders. They did, however, allow us to have the full rights to it. We brought it to another Christian magazine who was interested in running it. This one was more contemporary than the first one and we were sure they would approve it. All of us were paid for it.

They decided not to run the article for whatever editorial reasons they had. Again, I was not surprised. It is amazing that people of all stripes, religious or not, avoid the concept of masturbation like it has cooties.

But they also would not publish it or release the rights to it. Therefore, I took the concepts of that article and produced two articles that ran on my previous blog. In the first article, I simply highlighted our discussion and essentially ran down the outline of the article we had been meaning to publish.

A week after putting it on my blog, the magazine contacted me with a cease and desist letter. They asked me to take down the first article. They allowed me to publish the second one. That blog is no longer active, so I have decided to take the second article and republish it. This magazine still chooses not to run the original article and I respect that. They now own it.


The kid was in my office very upset and agitated. I have always had a good rapport with teens, since I counsel so many of them. I like teens and they know it and often feel comfortable talking to me about delicate problems. In this case, I knew he was there to talk about sexual problems. I was confident we would eventually talk about pornography, masturbation or the girl he dated last week. I was not ready for what he came up with however.

“I have lustful thoughts, Mike. And they’re driving me nuts. And I know God is angry with me over them.”

“What are these lustful thoughts you’re having?

“You’re going to think I’m crazy Mike. I feel so ashamed to tell you….but here it is. If you want to kick me out of your office, go ahead. When I masturbate, all I can think about is Jessica Rabbit.” He then put his head in his hands.

Let me supply readers with context here. In the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, a partly animated, partly “real life” film, there is a character called Jessica Rabbit. She is not a bad rabbit, but as she says “I’m just drawn that way.” She is pictured as an animated, rabbitish form of Mae West. She has impossibly large breasts (especially for a rabbit), narrow waist, sultry voice and wiggly walk.

If she existed in real life, she would easily be an object of great admiration. But she doesn’t exist in real life. That’s the point. This young man was having fantasies with an imaginary rabbit as he pleasured himself.

I wrestled for about a millisecond before going into my teaching on masturbation and the joy of sexual pleasure. I assured him that he had not “lusted” after the legendary vamp-rabbit, but was doing what comes naturally. Every person who identifies as sexual desires to have sexual release. There is nothing – and I repeat, nothing – wrong with the urge to feel sexual pleasure. On the surface of things, it is no different than the desire to eat food.

In the first article on masturbation, we mentioned the six benefits of masturbation. Since this is originally a Christian audience I am writing to, I brought up the reality that the Bible never prohibits or even mentions masturbation. Why? Even though it is the most common practice known to man, even the Bible makes no reference to it. All this tells us is that masturbation is not wrong in and of itself. As I say to most people, learn to love yourself well, and when you are having sex with someone you love and are committed to, you’ll know how your own sexual response works.

I brought up the reality that the Bible never prohibits or even mentions masturbation. Why? Even though it is the most common practice known to man, even the Bible makes no reference to it. Click To Tweet

In the first article in this series, I mentioned the conversation we four therapists had regarding masturbation, the theology behind it, and the benefits you can realize. That conversation was recorded and intended for publication. It was never released for various reasons which is why I am summarizing it in these two articles.

In the first article, the four of us noted that masturbation was made by God and commended for:

Learning about our sexual anatomy before introducing it to anyone else.

Control of libido

A source of pleasure

Gaining control of our own sexual identity

Leveling the unmatched libidos of a committed couple

Reducing anxiety

Rejoicing in how God has made us as sexual beings.

In this second article, I am asking, “Are there dangers to masturbation?” I made brief allusions to some of those at the end of the last article, but in this second article, I do want to give a few explanations. So let me tabulate some elements of masturbation that can be harmful or at least inadvisable; and allow me to reiterate those things I don’t consider to be problems.

Practices that Cause Physical Harm: Several sex therapists have raised the alarm bell about particular kinds of masturbatory habits involving sexual aids. People often don’t know or remember that anything we bring into the vicinity of our penis or vulva had better be extremely clean and sterile. In particular, women are seeing an increase in yeast infections and bladder problems because of masturbation using foreign objects. Just be careful.

For men, the problems often relate to the use of devices which promise to making their penises larger. Some men experience serious vascular and muscle tissue damage from these devices that promise more than they can deliver.

This is not to say a person should avoid dildos, vibrators and penile sleeves. All of these are wonderful ways to have an orgasm. If a woman has not been able to give herself an orgasm through finger stimulation, a vibrator is a wonderful tool. Or even if she can manually induce orgasm, vibrators can be much more intense. But make sure you clean it well and store it in a place where bacteria cannot affect it easily.

For men, you don’t need to extend your penis. Learn to work it well in masturbation, learn how to control your orgasm and your partner will thank you down the line.

Masturbation and Lust: Because Christians are the intended audience of our articles, we need to define what lust is and what it isn’t. To do that, allow me to quote a Bible passage that often comes up in this discussion: Matthew 5:27, 28:

“ 27″You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery  ] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”

There are some commentators and preachers who interpret this to mean “If you fantasize about having sex with anyone but your wife, your fantasy is equivalent to adultery”.  I have to say that many commentators and theologians DO NOT hold this position.

To explain what this verse means, let’s get the context to this section of Matthew 5. This is a sermon where Jesus challenges the legalistic teachings of the dominant rabbis (not rabbits) of his day and gets down to the heart of the issues. He deals with many issues from tithing to hatred. His formula is the same: 1. This is what is currently taught. 2. Here is what I say about that. 3. How will you respond?  In this case about adultery, he is dealing with one of the Ten Commandments.

How can he hope to improve on the Ten Commandments? The only explanation is that this commandment was not being taught properly. The rabbis of Jesus’ day had very complicated ideas about what constituted adultery. Some rabbis defined adultery as intercourse; others as oral sex; others still as any open look a woman might give to a man across the room. Each rabbi had a different definition.

Understand that this verse is not a teaching on lust. It is a teaching on the heart condition of man. The word “lust” is the Greek word epithumos. Thumos is the word for desire. Epi is a prefix means “to lay something on top of something else”. So epithumos means “to lay something on top of desire”.

This is the difference between lust and sexual desire. Desire is not wrong. It is when we lay something on top of that desire that we enter into lust. Jesus is warning people that adultery starts in the heart, not with the genitals. But let’s be clear what he is not saying. He is not saying that the thought and the action are the same thing. He never accuses a person of sin here. He is warning that the longer you allow a particular sexual fantasy to linger, the more chance your heart is going to want to make it a reality. The danger is always that if we masturbate and fantasize about a particular person we are not married to that we will begin to work out how we can actually have sex with them.

I was asked if there is a difference between lust and fantasy. The difference is always the difference between desire and decision. If I desire sex with someone I am not necessarily lusting; I simply have desire. The second I start to take steps to make fantasy a reality, I have crossed the line. Jesus is not saying that fantasizing is the same as committing adultery. He is warning that the heart is where the line gets crossed. None of us should ever disagree with that.

The young boy in my office had fantasy, but not lust. How could you lust over an imaginary rabbit? That’s an easy one Mike: get to the harder issues. Well, if I see a woman in the mall and never see her again, but was physically attracted to her, am I lusting? Absolutely not, unless I follow her around to find out her name and get to know her. If my purpose in doing this is to have sex with her, then my intention is indeed lust. But this is not true in every case of desire.

My point is that each person must ask God about their own hearts. There is a fantasy which stays fantasy and is not sin. Sin is an action that proceeds from an attitude. To use another picture, no one gets thrown into jail for murder if they hate their next door neighbor. Yet we are told that hate and murder are connected. Adultery is an act; it is not the same as fantasy. Lust is when a course of action is laid upon a fantasy.

Masturbation and Self-Medicating: There are problems when we escape our deeper emotional problems with masturbation. This is especially true when someone has untreated trauma. When used to escape trauma pain, this puts masturbation in the same category as alcohol abuse and work abuse. Any time we avoid dealing with significant trauma this can give to masturbation a significant power over the mind.

Masturbation and Avoidance: If one spouse is using masturbation to avoid having sex, this can be a harmful use of it. There may be serious problems that need to be addressed in marriage; and if masturbation is getting in the way of dealing with those problems, it should be stopped. But then there needs to be a time of accounting and deep discussions about what problems exist. As far as I’m concerned, people should masturbate however often they want to. Just don’t use this as a tool to cut off intimacy from your partner.

Here is the bottom line for me. Fantasy is fine for those who are married, unless we begin to cross the line into making any of that a reality. I have been challenged so many times by people who claim you cannot fantasize without trying to work it out in reality. I disagree. I know many people who have never considered cheating on their spouses who enjoy a rich fantasy life with masturbation.

I ran into the young man at the beginning of this story a few years ago. He doesn’t remember coming to see me. But when I reminded him, we had a good chuckle. And then he thanked me for introducing him to the idea that he didn’t need to feel guilty for enjoying himself.

To the rest of you, you’re welcome.

“Morals are for You or Me: Ethics are for Us”

I believe it is time for all societies to stop using Moral Imperatives to guide our actions. Instead, Ethical Guidelines work much better and will always aid us in improving society. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, the President published tweets that suggestively urged his fans to take up arms against the leaders of their states. He referenced several states–such as Virginia and Minnesota–reminded them of the 2nd Amendment, and put his tweet advocating violence in all caps. By doing this, he got the point across while maintaining a tiny margin for deniability. He did not explicitely say to try and violently overthrow state governments. Therefore, if there is any violence based on his tweets, he will deny any complicity. That has been his pattern so far in 3.5 years in office.

I believe it is time for all societies to stop using Moral Imperatives to guide our actions. Instead, Ethical Guidelines work much better and will always aid us in improving society. Click To Tweet

As of the writing of this blog, the nation is facing a terrible ethical dilemma: Do we stay at home, sheltered-in-place and risk harming many citizens in our country because of the destabilization of the economy? Or do we end the shelter-in-place, perhaps prematurely, and potentially kill more people than the COVID-19 virus would otherwise kill?

I don’t want to understate how important an ethical decision this is. There are almost no right answers to it. Regardless of where you land on this decision, you should admit it is a tricky and dangerous dilemma.

This follows on the heels of a decision many churches and Christians had to make for the past few weeks. This decision is NOT an ethical decision. Rather, it is a moral decision, and not even a very convincing one. Many states have made it illegal to gather in groups larger than 10 people. For most of those states, this includes churches.

The vast majority of churches have seen the ethical value of closing the doors, choosing instead to host virtual gatherings of their members online. But not all churches have complied. Some have defiantly opened the doors of their churches. Not only do they feel they have a first amendment right to do so, they claim to have a moral right and obligation to do so, given to them by God.

For instance, Pastor Tony Spell of Baton Rouge, LA held services for several Sundays in defiance of that state’s orders not to. Over 1000 people attended. When interviewed, Spell said,

“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

NBC News

The concept of “religious rights” is not an ethical foundation but a moral one. And in many cases, ethical and moral foundations can be completely opposed to each other.

Recently, Stephanie Tait, who is an advocate for the disabled and how churches relate to their needs, had this to say about the church’s attitude toward opening up churches and potentially exposing many more people to the virus. She likens it to the church’s disregard for the handicapped by claiming they should be exempt from Accessibility Requirements according to the law. She states:

So I see abled Christians who are “shocked” to see some of their fellow Christians framing this as a religious freedom issue, and essentially fighting for the right to hurt other people in the name of their “liberty” being preserved above all else?

Churches have repeatedly asserted that their right to harm certain others with legal impunity is a religious liberty issue – including disabled ppl, LGBTQ+ ppl, and Black ppl. This is nothing new. This is not “shocking.”

So respectfully, if you find yourself “shocked” at people fighting to keep holding services in the pandemic, recognize that you’ve been living in a bubble of privilege, where you could remain blissfully unaware of our history of fighting for special rights to harm others.

Stephanie Tait, 2020 on Facebook

Stephanie is stating that some Christians are claiming their rights–which is a moral claim–above what is helpful for other people (which is an ethical approach).

At this point, I want to define two terms: Morals and Ethics. In doing many hours of research into this subject, I found few philosophers, ethicists, social scientists, or pastors who could agree on a definition. So I have compiled a number of them together to come up with a working model for this document.

The concept of "religious rights" is not an ethical foundation but a moral one. And in many cases, ethical and moral foundations can be completely opposed to each other. Click To Tweet

Morals are the principles underlying the ideal behavior of each individual.

Ethics are the principles underlying all of the acceptable behavior of members of a culture.

Morals are subjective and personal. Ethics are subjective and communal.

Morals are usually based on a philosophy or religious belief. Ethics are decided upon by a society after debate and trial.

Morals transcend cultural norms, but may conflict with them. Ethics are based on cultural norms, but may conflict with an individuals morals.

We use Ethical guidelines when we decide whether or not to open up the society to business and social events again during the virus. We will debate the pros and cons of any approach and decide as carefully as possible which approach would create the most advantage and good to the most people. There is no other way of doing it.

Morals are involved as people decide if they should be in church, if they should visit a loved one, if they should share their food or toilet paper with others during this crisis.

In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot several people in Arizona, including Congresswoman Gabby Gifford. After killing six people, he was charged with murder and attempted murder. His lawyers used an interesting moral defense. They said he firmly believed in the moral philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who taught that weakness must be eradicated in order for the race of Ubermensch to appear. (Ubermensch refers to “Supermen” or “Master race”). His legal team argued that his moral compass was pointing in a different direction than the rest of society and even though that compass directed him to kill people, he should not be charged with murder. He needed to be re-educated, not incarcerated.

The court disagreed and gave him 7 consecutive life sentences.

It is the argument that is intriguing. And it is not a new argument. The argument is that a person has a right to their moral beliefs, regardless if their society considers them ethical. This does not make every action a person takes based on those morals legal, just defensible.

Soren Kierkegaard spent years wrestling with this incongruence of morals and ethics. He used the life of Abraham in the Old Testament book of Genesis as his starting point for figuring this out. In the story of Abraham, he takes his only son Isaac up on a mountain to sacrifice him there. He believed that God had told him to do so. He trudged up the mountain also carrying an ethical dilemma: Do I kill my only son and lose him? Or do I disobey God and lose my standing with Him? It seems like a dilemma where Abraham (and Isaac) lose either way.

In the ultimate deus ex machina, God intervenes at the last minute and gives Isaac a reprieve. A ram is caught in the thicket and Abraham is ordered to sacrifice the ram instead of his son. God then revealed he was only testing Abraham to see if he would obey.

As Kierkegaard pondered this moral and ethical quagmire, he imagined what the biblical tale would have shown us if it had been told differently.

In his book “Fear and Trembling” Kierkegaard imagines four possible retellings of this story:

  1. Abraham decides to kill Isaac and tells him it was his decision alone to kill him, and doesn’t mention God. Doing it this way, God doesn’t look like the tyrant Abraham now believes Him to be.
  2. Abraham kills the ram instead. But because God didn’t trust him and put him to the test, Abraham loses faith in God.
  3. He decides not to kill Isaac and lives in complete dejection. He believes he is not a man of faith and sees himself as a spiritual failure.
  4. Isaac sees his father hesitate: That is when Isaac realizes it was God who told his father to kill him. Isaac loses faith in God’s goodness.

Here is what Kierkegaard concludes. There is no good solution to Abraham’s dilemma. It is one of the conflicts for which morals and ethics will always disagree. The moral solution sometimes must struggle with believing something is right to do even if it is not ethical. The ethical solution must struggle as it must sometimes disgregard the moral underpinnings of our lives.

Most people believe they will choose the moral position first. In practice, however, we see they choose the ethical position. Indeed, there are times when people do choose the moral position over the ethical one, that they are often condemned by society.

Indeed, there are times when people do choose the moral position over the ethical one, that they are often condemned by society. Click To Tweet

Look at churches who have chosen to open at this time. Even other Christian groups condemned that practice.

In 1978, Jim Jones brought 1000 members of his cult church down to South America to start a communal society. As their Jonestown cult began to deteriorate, and they murdered a US senator, they realized they would all be taken into custody. As a result, Jones gathered all 1000 people into their makeshift auditorium. He invited them to join him in a final Communion service. The drink was laced with a poison. This was a mass suicide and all but the smallest children knew what they were being asked to do. Some refused and ran out of the meeting, but most of the Jonestown group killed themselves. Over 900 people died.

They were acting upon what they considered to be a moral imperative. They believed a version of an apocalyptic belief: That they would be rewarded in the Afterlife if they were faithful in this life. We do not agree with their decision, but philosophically we must conclude they were trying to live according to their moral standards. And their morality was based upon the words of Jim Jones.

They were indeed moral. But just as decidedly, their actions were unethical. We consider it wrong to do what they did. The “wrongness” of it is an ethical consideration not a moral one. In our culture, mass suicide is always wrong, as is mass murder–for the same reasons.

To be fair, some ethical decisions can lack a moral foundation, depending on what culture one lives in. In cultures where headhunting is practiced, taking the head of another person can sometimes be ethical. That is, if everyone accepts it as a standard practice, then it is ethical.

In the Ancient Near East, a woman was considered property. It was considered ethical for a husband to physically assault his wife. But if he physically assaulted another man’s wife, he had to give compensation, since she was his property. This is why, in the Bible, when David sexually assaulted Bathsheba he is not condemned for the sexual assault but for taking another man’s wife. Nathan the prophet chastises David for taking Uriah’s wife–he does not even give her a name–not for raping her. But that fit the ethical climate of that day.

Though today in America, we would consider headhunting, sexual assault, and ownership of women to be unethical and even immoral, they did not consider it that way back then in Ancient Near East cultures.

Unfortunately, because the Jews–and now Christians–believe their Scriptures are both ethical and moral standards for all time, the two ideas of morals and ethics have become conflated.

In any theocratic nation–that is any nation that accepts a religious moral standard as a de facto ethical standard–the moral law is the ethical law. This is true with Sharia Law in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. It has been true in Israel’s history. And when Christians have enacted Biblical laws as mandatory in some countries, the moral and the ethical get confused.

In any theocratic nation–that is any nation that accepts a religious moral standard as a de facto ethical standard–the moral law is the ethical law. Click To Tweet

Philosopher and ethicist, Elizabeth Anscombe has noted,

“The impact of monotheistic religion was to transform morality into a set of laws that had to be obeyed. Laws require a legislator and a police force. God was that legislator, the Church the enforcer.”

The Quest for a Moral Compass (p. 296). Melville House.

Therefore, in any nation where the moral rules are governed by one religion or religious group, it gives power to the leaders of that group to decide what is moral or immoral.

In today’s America, the idea of “morality” or “moral standards” is almost exclusively applied to one’s sexuality. Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt says that world culture encompasses six themes when it comes to their personal morality: liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, care, and purity. But he also notes that in today’s America, authority, loyalty, and purity are mostly emphasized by Conservatives, and fairness and care are mostly emphasized by liberals. He notes that liberty is emphasized by both groups, and is seen as both a moral imperative and as a right.

Yet when it comes to ethics, liberty is sometimes shoved aside.

Unfortunately, because the Jews–and now Christians–believe their Scriptures are both ethical and moral standards for all time, the two ideas of morals and ethics have become conflated. Click To Tweet

He concludes that morality has focused way too much on sexuality: either sexual purity or sexual freedom. And he also says the problem is that most people will focus on those two things based on their personal viewpoints, whether religious, philosophical, or political.


Here is my contention. For the human race to move forward we must have an ethical dialectic. A “dialectic” is a discussion where two sides with differing opinions come together to discuss their differences. Out of that comes a new understanding of an ethical position. We have seen in the history of the world that society keeps trying to get ethics correct. And when they find out they have not got it correct, they keep having a discussion.

In other words, the ideal is to continue debating our current ethical guidelines until the majority of people are satisfied we are benefiting the most people.

Morality does not offer a changing dialectic, since it is based on some kind of absolute standard.

Here is how moral imperatives work. Christian morality told us in the middle ages that all peasants must submit to the authority of the King and the nobles. Christian morality said that men could beat their wives as long as they didn’t do permanent damage. Christian morality said that the Bible justified the owning of slaves, the subjugation of women, the fighting of just wars. All of these were placed under the aegis of morality. The people who decided what was moral were the Christian leaders.

In other words, the ideal is to continue debating our current ethical guidelines until the majority of people are satisfied we are benefiting the most people. Click To Tweet

There was no society-wide discussion on these standards. They were decided upon by religious leaders and all people were required to accept these moral imperatives.

Even today, Christian leaders tell their churches what moral sexual standards should be. They say homosexuality is wrong. They say that polyamory is wrong. They say that sex before marriage is wrong. They say it is wrong for a wife to refuse her husband sex. They say that marital rape is impossible since wives have a sexual duty to their husbands. Each of these beliefs is unassailable because they are held to be absolute imperatives. If one does not accept the moral imperative, then one must face the censure of their religion.

Now let’s look at ethics. Ethics are societal standards of behavior. Ethics have also been brutal at times through the centuries. The idea of an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” seemed like a good idea at the time. If someone causes you to lose a limb, cut off his limb. At least it limited the damage you were allowed to enact in vengeance. But it meant a lot of people with swords were cutting off a lot of appendages.

Ethics have also created justification for war. Ethics have concluded that some people have to die for the good of others. Ethics were at the base of the Final Solution where the Nazis sought to exterminate all the Jews. We know that ethics can be harmful.

And we know that morals can be harmful.

The difference is this: Morals are not supposed to change; ethics are supposed to constantly adapt and change depending on the current ethical understanding of the culture.

Which one then should we adopt to guide our society?

In his book “How Then Shall We Live”, Chuck Colson suggested that we use an absolute moral standard as the basis for how we craft our laws and live our lives. Why? He says that only a Moral Consensus gives people a tangible sense of security that something is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. In this book, he bemoans that so many people do not hold to a Christian standard of morality any longer. He believed that this lack of a clear Moral Consensus was going to ruin us as a nation.

Is he correct? I don’t think so. Even within the Christian Church, a moral consensus has proved to be impossible. On so many issues, the church disagrees with itself. On issues like divorce, war and pacifism, premarital sexuality, marital sexuality, birth control, sexual identity, euthenasia, capital punishment, separation of church and state, etc. there is no moral consensus. The disagreements outweigh the agreements. Consensus is usually reached only by denominational legislation and not through dialogue.

Let’s take the issue of birth control. My wife is a school nurse. She helped to found a local clinic. She and one of her close friends, an OB/Gyn, sought to be allowed to put out a bowl of condoms at the front desk of the clinic. A member of the school board opposed this. Why? Because she had a moral opposition to condoms, she would not vote to allow them.

This person’s moral argument against handing out condoms is simple. They believe the Bible opposes premarital sexuality. They believe that giving a teen a condom is giving them a way to practice sexuality without immediate consequences like pregnancy or STD’s. They believe this gives tacit approval to a teen to have sex. Since this is what they don’t want, the condom is the point of the spear.

The ethical argument for condoms is simple. Teens will have sex whether you want them to or not. Only condoms protect against both STD’s and pregnancy. Condoms prevent both unwanted outcomes.

The Moral Imperative is a personally held belief that teen sexuality is wrong. The Ethical Guideline is based on something both groups can agree to: No one wants a teen to be pregnant or catch an STD.

I believe that an Ethical Guideline ultimately can be a better way of governing human behavior because it requires the majority of all of us–regardless of religious or philosophical belief–to agree before we accept it. And Ethical Guidelines are not legislated first. They are felt first. They are things we know to be true among us.

For instance, look at sexuality. As we have moved on from the middle ages, through the Enlightenment, to the modern age, and now into a Postmodern reality, we have changed our views on what is ethical. And I think many of those changes are good and just. They could stand improvement, but they are changing much more quickly than the moral views of sexuality.

Here are Ethical Guidelines of sexuality that most people today can approve:

  1. That all sexuality needs to take place after all parties give consent and continue to give consent all through the sexual act.
  2. That consent must be informed. This means that if someone does not understand the deep significance of sexuality, they should not enter into it. This includes minors, the mentally disabled, and those for whom sexuality would be dangerous.
  3. That consent must be equal. This means that anyone who uses their authority, position of power, or position as overseer to have sex with an individual, the sexual act is not ethical and may be illegal.
  4. All sexuality should be carried on between two adults who are honest and straightforward about their relationship status. This excludes adultery and lying about one’s identity.

There may be many other ethical guidelines that we could come up with as a society. Other societies might have different guidelines. In the future, more guidelines might be developed.

But the advantage of an ethical guideline over a moral imperative is that it embraces everyone in a culture and doesn’t require them to first ascribe to a religion or a philosophy. I propose that even if we strongly hold to a religious or philosophical viewpoint, we can all participate in the discussion on the best ethical guidelines for all to accept and live.

Understanding Internal Family Systems – Part 2: Meet the Exiles

(All stories in this article are composite sketches, compiled from real-life stories. None of these stories represents any one person dead or alive. But they are all true.)

Roni was a pastor’s wife. Unfortunately, this meant her life was lived in a fish bowl. Everyone saw her and everyone had an opinion on her behavior. People noticed how she dressed, how she responded to criticism, what skills she had and didn’t have, how her kids were dressed and behaved; it was an endless exam. But, she thought she handled criticism well and prided herself on not letting other people get to her.

One night, her pastor-husband came home from a board meeting. At the meeting, he had been attacked viciously by two board members regarding a story he had told in his sermon. They felt it was highly inappropriate and could lead to members of the church thinking he supported a particular sexual activity. He came home in tears and poured himself a large glass of wine.

Roni fought with herself about what to say. The problem was, she had told him during the week he was making a mistake with that story. The exact thing she predicted was what happened. She had a gut feeling people would misunderstand his point if he used that story from his childhood.

He also remembered she had told him this, for after sitting down, he looked right at her and said: “And you’re no better than all the rest. You’re just a big prude like the rest of the church.”

Panic struck Roni like a physical force of nature. She didn’t even know why she felt this panic. But it was so strong, she was still awake at 2 am, long after her husband starting snoring. She had thoughts of shame, guilt, insecurity, and doom. She was sure he was going to pull away from her. By 3 am she finally succombed to sleep, but was awake again at 4:30.

Over the next few days, she settled down emotionally, but then noticed an old habit was back. She was picking at the skin on her arms. She would catch herself doing it and then she would stop. But as soon as she stopped thinking about it, she would go back to picking at the skin. By the end of the week, she had several open sores that she had to put bandages on.

What had happened to Roni? If you haven’t already, go back to this first article I wrote in this series and review the basic terms I will be talking about in this article. Simply, Roni was seeing an Exile in her life manifesting herself. This Exile is a feeling and belief she had started to have as a young girl. She had tried to manage this old part of herself. She certainly tried to forget about this part. She did all of this without really knowing this Exiled Part existed.

Over the next few days, she settled down emotionally, but then noticed an old habit was back. She was picking at the skin on her arms. She would catch herself doing it and then she would stop. But as soon as she stopped thinking about… Click To Tweet

Exiles are those thoughts, feelings, experiences, or reactions from our past that bother us so much we don’t ever want to re-live them. We create most of our internal family system to prevent the exile from showing up. In Roni’s case, the Exile showed up as soon as her husband accused her of being part of the group attacking him. At the end of the article, I will show exactly how this worked in her life.

First, let’s understand more about Exiles.

Continue reading “Understanding Internal Family Systems – Part 2: Meet the Exiles”

Building a New Christian Sexual Ethic

[Update: So many people read the first few paragraphs and assume I am building a case for polyamory. I am not. This is because people aren’t reading to see my key point which is further on. If you’re going to read this article to discover my proposal for a new sexual ethical system for Christians, please read all of it before reacting].


“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” The man who asked me this had been a missionary for 25 years and was not considering a change in his marital status. He was not contemplating cheating on his wife or taking another bride. He was simply curious.

He was curious because during the previous year, three separate people had asked him these kind of questions. All of them who asked these questions were committed Christians with a good grasp of the Bible and the church’s teachings on sexuality.

"What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?" Click To Tweet

“Mike, the Bible doesn’t make it clear where it falls on any of those issues. Though we make excuses for the Bible, there are examples in the Sacred Writings of people who lived with multiple wives, who had sanctioned girlfriends, and who lived this way openly. And from what we can see in the Bible, God never condemns this practice.”

I couldn’t argue with him. The only restriction in the Bible regarding any form of Open Marriage is the 1 Timothy 3 admonition that an Overseer should not be a polygamist. It never expands on this concept by forbidding others to have multiple wives. In short, the biblical ethic regarding Open Marriage was non-existent.


Everyone has ethics; but not everyone has an ethical system. An “ethic” is a belief in how one should act. You can have an ethic that allows you to tell the truth one day and then not tell the truth the next day. But because this is not a consistent ethic, we would say it is not an “ethical system”. I define an ethical system as a series of beliefs regarding a particular behavior that are consistent with themselves. Therefore, if you have an ethical system about telling the truth, that system should apply to all situations. Let me give an example of the difference between an ethic and and Ethical System.

I might believe that it is wrong to kill. That is an ethic. I would not (and do not) kill anyone. But how widely do I apply that ethic? I might believe it is wrong to kill others unless they are trying to kill me. I might also believe it is wrong to kill others even if they are trying to kill me. In addition, I might define killing mosquitoes as killing, killing cows as killing, killing fetuses as killing, killing prisoners on death row as killing. I might believe killing all those beings is considered killing. That is an ethical system.

However, if for some reason I feel that killing enemy combatants on the battlefield is not killing, but killing someone invading my home is killing, then my ethical system is more complex, and perhaps inconsistent.

That is the problem with most ethical systems. Most systems of behavior are internally inconsistent, at least from a logical/philosophical viewpoint. Why is it wrong to kill some people but not others? Why is it wrong to deceive some people, but not other people? Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Most people will seek to justify the complexity and variations of their ethical systems by explaining the exceptions.

Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Click To Tweet

We will never be free of doing this. Not even those who believe in a so-called “Biblical Sexual Ethic” can get away with it. Let me show how this happens.

In the first paragraph, I noted the question about polyamory. The idea that all sex should be between one husband (male) and one wife (female) is the standard teaching of much of the Church for much of the Church’s existence. But is it a consistent ethical system?

Not really. There are many examples of prominent men in the Bible who married more than one woman. Jacob, Esau, David, Solomon all lived this way. In addition, several Bible characters had sex with sanctioned sex slaves–Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Absalom, Judah and others. God does not condemn any of these men for polyamory. In many cases, God even approves of it. When David raped Bathsheba and had her husband killed, God did send the prophet Nathan to confront David. And in that confrontation, this is what Nathan says:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

2 Samuel 12:7-8

According to these verses, Nathan is speaking for God and claiming that God gave King Saul’s WIVES to David after Saul died! And God says that he would have given him more women if he wanted. If we accept this as God’s inerrant word, then God not only passively accepts polyamory, but actively endorses it and supports it.

The biblical sexual ethic gets more complicated than that. The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Nowhere are men told they must also be virgins. Even the Hebrew word for “virgin” is a word that only refers to females. There is no Hebrew word for a male virgin. There is no place in the Old Testament where men were even expected or ordered to be virgins.

The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person's experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Click To Tweet

What can we say about all of this? Simply that the Bible does not present a consistent or relevant ethical system regarding sexuality. There are many more examples of this to give, but I want to move on to the solution, not just note the problem.

I don’t believe the Bible is helpful or realistic for building a modern ethical system for sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but they can be distilled down to these:

Patriarchy: Everyone who wrote Sacred Scripture believed in patriarchy. They believed that men had privileges and rights which women did not have. This affected everything they wrote, but especially their viewpoints on sexual relations. One classic example: In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John, chapter 8) only the woman is brought before Jesus and not the man. And no one, not even Jesus, openly notes this. It takes modern commentators to sort this one through.

Ancient Near East Focus of Sexuality: Virginity did not focus on sex; it focused on inheritance. A man wanted to know that his wife had not had sex with another man to ensure his offspring were truly his children. No claim could be made by another man on his children. Children and women were considered possessions of a man, even by the writers of the Bible. Even the teachings on “immorality” in the Bible are really focused on discouraging men from visiting prostitutes.

Misogyny: Women were hated in the days the Bible was written. A Jewish man prayed this prayer most mornings: “Thank you God that I am not born a gentile, a dog, or a woman”. How can an ethical system of mutuality with regards to sexuality ever come from that backdrop?

Homophobia: The writers of Scripture not only had a very low opinion of women, they hated anyone in the LGBTQ community–not that there was an established community due to fear. So, any ethic regarding those who are not cis-hetero men is going to be demeaning and incomplete if we rely on the Bible.

So how do we build an ethical system?

Christians have seen the problem with applying the Bible to many of our ethical systems: Money, power, marriage, reproduction, government, criminal justice, human interactions, etc. There have been many proposals through the centuries on how to build an ethical system which keeps some of the good teachings of the Bible but does not lean too heavily on them.

One of the most profound attempts at this was made by John Wesley. He spent years seeking to apply biblical truths to modern-day ethical problems. His view on Holiness required that our faith be lived out ethically and consistently. But he found that many in his day had widely differing views on what the Bible said on just about any topic. So, while keeping the Bible principles central, he added three more sources of revelation in building an ethical system:

  • Tradition
  • Experience
  • Logic

By tradition, he meant the traditions of the faith community one finds themselves in. By experience, he meant the experiences a Christian has which line up with the Bible. By logic, he is referring to the mind which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to grasp deeper truths.

Thus, even with these four sources of input to build an ethic, Wesley still saw all of them revolving around the Bible and biblical truths.

I contend that isn’t going to work with sexual ethics. You can certainly hold to it if you like, but the Church’s history with strange teachings on sexuality and moral purity lead me in a slightly different direction.

I still think we can use four sources of input to build an ethical system, including the Bible. But here is how I fashion it:

  • The Bible: We can use the Bible as a source for ethics on sexuality if we strip away patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, and virginity.
  • Tradition: In the sense that we rely on a trusted community of people whose practices of sexuality are consistent and respectful, we can use certain traditions we trust.
  • Experience: By this, I mean the collected experience of all humans with regards to sexuality. In our day, we are much more refined as a society on what should and should not be allowed in sexual relationships. The #metoo movement did not start the discussion on sexual assault, consent, and misogyny. It simply sought to apply emerging community standards world-wide…to everyone
  • Logic/Reason: By this, I mean that ethical standards need to make sense to a faith community and be reasonable to apply. If the faith community one is a part of does not apply logic or reason to sexual ethics, one might have to find a different faith community.

It should be obvious that this opens the door to many different ethical systems regarding sexuality. But if you think about it, that’s where we currently are. This is even true within the church of Jesus Christ. There are elements of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and other groups which do not accept LGBTQ as valid. Some faith groups allow for premarital sexual expression and some do not.

But there is widespread acceptance of the following:

  • Consent must be applied to all sexual relationships
  • Honesty and integrity are vital to healthy sexuality
  • The practice of safe sex is paramount for everyone
  • Sexuality with minors is always wrong.

Most of these conclusions do not come directly from the Bible, but rather from experience, logic, and the dialogue of interested communities.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system. Click To Tweet
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Understanding Internal Family Systems – Part 1

My granddaughter looked thoughtful. She took more time than I thought a 5-year-old would take to answer the question “What’s your favorite movie?” I shouldn’t have been surprised. This girl thinks things through.

“I’m ready Papa. I know my favorite.”

I waited. “So, which one is it?”

“I just love “Inside Out”. Don’t you? It is so beautiful and I like that the girl has all the same parts inside her that I do. Can we watch it now?”

And so we watched it. “Inside Out” tells the story of a young teen girl. It charts her progress since the moment she was born. The movie shows her brain and how various parts of her psyche (Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy, and Sadness etc.) develop and create relationships even with each other.

One reason I love the movie is that it serves as a great starting place for discussions on a therapy method I love called Internal Family Systems.

Internal Family Systems is part of a larger branch of psychology called Complex Systems Psychology. The basic idea is that our inner psyche is a complex amalgam of Parts, Structures, and Systems all designed to move us toward our full identity.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) focuses on how the Parts of a person’s psyche work together, much like the various characters in “Inside Out” relate to each other. In this article, I want to introduce you to those Parts and explain how each of them works. In subsequent articles we will address more of the problems which IFS seeks to help with.

The very basic idea of IFS is the concept that most people initially struggle with: That our sense of personal identity is not just one part, but is a multiplicity of various sub-personalities or Parts. When I tell people that, they assume I am saying that these Parts are all fully formed personalities with Ego Power equal to all the other Parts. But this is not true. Let me illustrate.

Have you ever been thinking of doing something and then another part of your thinking totally disagrees with that? And then, in the midst of those competing thoughts, a third thought–more an emotion–reacts to the ideas of the second thought. If we were just one Part, we would always think in a straight line. But our sub-conscious contains many opinions and reactions to the events and ideas of our lives. These opinions and reactions are some of what we in IFS call Parts.

To make it simple as possible, let me outline the four basic Parts that make up our psyche:

The Core Self: This is the decision-making part of our mind. It is the part of us that makes the final designation on what our true identity is. This is the only Part of us that really knows the entire breadth of our life to that point. This is where all the wisdom, knowledge, and experience is centered.

Many sacred writings, including the Bible, Koran, and Baghavad Gita call this Part our Heart. It truly is the heart of who we are and will be. But it is not the only Part.

Exiles: IFS is one of the therapies which believes in Ego States. An Ego State is a snapshot of who we are at any given age. We have a 6-year-old Ego State, another one at 7 and maybe another one a few months later. We are constantly evaluating who we are as we grow up. At significant moments of existential examination, we conclude “This is who I am”.

If those moments coincide with pain, loss, abuse, or injustice–as they often do–we develop a very reactive Ego State that IFS calls an Exile. These Parts are called Exiles because they represent events and emotions we never want to relive in any way. In fact, the entire Internal Family System from those moments forward exists to keep the Exiles quiet.

Let me give an example. A five year old boy witnesses his parents fighting more and more. Each day, he comes home from school wondering what horrible emotions he will feel because of their fights. Already, he is feeling chaotic emotions. He fears the disintegration of his home. He is angry at both of them for not loving each other. One day, he returns home from school and he witnesses the biggest fight of all.

At one point, Mom demands that Dad leaves the home. Dad screams at her and hits her. Then, he grabs his coat and runs out the door. The boy is left with an explosive mixture of emotions and ideas that are overwhelming. He will spend the next two years pondering what all of this means.

But at that moment, he decides one thing. It must be his fault! His 5-year-old brain takes all the evidence and reactions and this is what he comes up with. It is not accurate at all, but this is what he concludes. He doesn’t tell anyone of course. He is too ashamed to do so. But he still believes it. And that’s when this little boy develops a Part which represents the third group of Parts: The Managers.

The Managers: Managers are Parts whose job it is to keep the Exiles from reacting to any current events. To see how this works, let’s return to the little boy again.

He doesn’t like feeling that this is all his fault. So he develops a Part of his psyche–a Manager–who will remind him when he is about to make a huge mistake that will cause other people to get angry and leave. We might call this Manager a “Perfectionist” or maybe even “Shame” or “Obsessive-Compulsive”. Any of these Managers might accomplish the task of keeping that Exile from getting emotionally reactive.

Here is how this works out in adult life. This 5-year-old has grown up and is now married with kids. One of his sons is doing poorly at school. His wife simply suggests the two of them spend more time helping their son with his homework each night, perhaps taking turns.

At that moment, the 5-year-old Exile inside of him starts to react. She is saying that this is his fault, and he is not doing his job as a dad and the boy will be a failure in life because of it. He feels all of this in just a fraction of a second.

Immediately, a “Perfectionist” Manager jumps in to save the day. This Manager takes over and causes him to become obsessive about planning out the homework program. He buys a new desk for his son. He creates a very elaborate chart for homework which includes rewards and punishments. He buys four books for his Kindle on how to manage homework with elementary students.

And now, the Exile quiets down. The Manager has done his job. Unfortunately, the Core Self was not really involved in any part of this process.

Some IFS therapists call the Managers by a different name. They call them Protectors. This is mostly an accurate term. Most of our internal Managers are trying to help protect us from the real and perceived threats in our world. I prefer Managers because Protectors is only one role of these Parts. There are many others.

There are indeed Protector Parts

There are also Shame and Guilt Parts

There are Anxiety Parts. (Some people have lots of them).

Most people have Anger Parts

These are the more negative Managers. But we also have more positive Managers. We have parts that deal with our relationship needs (Sex, romance, communication skills). We have Parts that deal with other needs (achievements, freedom, fun).

There can be Healing Parts, Numbing Parts, Hero Parts, and Spiritual Parts

But for all their well-designed characteristics, the Managers are sometimes not enough. Let me give an example.

Let’s stay with the man whose parents split up when he was five. Let’s talk about another time in his marriage. Let’s say that his wife, when she gets angry, calls him a name that his mother used to call his father. The Exile of that age is apoplectic and out of control. The Managers that normally can keep this Exile out of sight can’t do the job any longer. This Exile is setting fire to the emotional center of the man’s mind. He can’t sleep at night. He can’t concentrate at work. He doesn’t know what he will do.

After work one day, his supervisor asks what is happening with him. His work performance is suffering. The two of them decide to go to the bar after work. After three beers, for the first time in weeks, he no longer hears the crying of the Exile inside. He is no longer in a constant turmoil. He likes the difference.

From that point on, every time this Exile gets out of hand, he drinks enough so he won’t have to hear that Exile any longer. Alcohol then becomes the next type of Part in the psyche.

The Firefighters: Firefighters are Parts we develop whose job is to calm down the entire Internal Family System when the Managers can’t do the job. Firefighters have one job: Distract the entire system so thoroughly that the Core Self cannot hear the Exile.

It is amazing how ingenious the brain is at creating these Firefighters. The distraction can be as simple as video games, eating more carbs, watching television or working out hard at the gym. It can be more advanced with actions like drinking too much, smoking too much weed, working too hard into the night, watching porn constantly, or bingeing on carbs.

Firefighters can be deadly. They may resort to harmful behaviors like self-harm, eating disorders, heavy drug use, unsafe and adrenaline-producing behaviors, complete dissociative shutdowns, and extreme violence toward others. Remember, the job of the Firefighter Part is to distract the Core Self when the pain of the Exile cannot be ignored any other way.

I think you can see if a person has Exiles who were abused sexually, physically, or emotionally that Firefighters can be quite common. And they are. Often, people come to the IFS therapist because they have a Firefighter problem. All that tells us is there are Exiles that need some loving.

In summary, here are the four main groups of Parts with each person:

Core Self

Exiles

Managers

Firefighters.

Church and the Asexuality Trap

“I don’t know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can’t see any solution.” Adeline slumped over in her chair and sighed. James just rolled his eyes and sighed a different sigh than hers.

She sighed out of hopelessness. I thought his sigh had tints of anger in it. I asked him to explain how he saw it.

She’s making something out of nothing. Every time we fight it’s always about sex. And I don’t understand it. I give her all the sex she wants. And it’s never enough. And I hate that we have to keep talking about it all the time. Can’t we talk about something else in marriage besides sex?”

I don't know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can't see any solution." Click To Tweet

James and Adeline had met in a short-term Bible training school. They knew instantly they were perfect for each other. They both loved God, loved to travel, and wanted to get married and have a family. They had so many things in common. They shared so many of the same basic goals in life. Soon, each of them felt they had found their soul-mate

James planned to get a job in computer-aided design and already had his degree. Addy still had to finish her professional year in preparation for teaching high school. When James proposed marriage, she accepted and they began to plan the wedding. They were both ordered and structured people. They knew what they wanted and when they wanted it.

And they knew they wanted each other.

Continue reading “Church and the Asexuality Trap”
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A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma

Henry Lang came to Downton Abbey to take over as the Valet to the Lord Grantham when the Lord’s previous valet had to leave suddenly. This fictional account of a household of the English aristocracy is originally set during the early days of World War 1. The writers of Downton Abbey researched how the war affected different individuals in England. Lang’s short time at the Abbey is one of the most sublime.

Lang had to leave the war because of a condition we now call PTSD. At the time, it had various names: Shell shock, soldier’s heart, war neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. The general population did not treat these soldiers well. They were often considered cowards and treated like lesser humans.

Lang came to the Abbey and at first everyone was impressed by his skill set as a valet. But quickly he showed signs of emotional deterioration. What made it difficult for Lang is the Abbey was being used to convalesce injured officers. Eventually Lang collapsed emotionally after seeing too many wounds and groaning soliders, and he left the Abbey in shame. Nothing more is said of him for the entire series.

This poignant portrayal of a character is accurately written. It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million.

It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million. Click To Tweet

According to David J. Morris writing in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Over half a million men were permanently evacuated from the fighting for psychiatric reasons, enough to man fifty combat divisions.” And though many of them were sent to mental institutions, they were not treated with any compassion.

David J. Morris

Despite its prevalence, shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.

Continue reading “A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma”

Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been released as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

Continue reading “Why I Work with Sex Offenders”

My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors

I have believed in the doctrine of Inerrancy at various times during my 50 years as a follower of Christ. But I can’t say I have always believed it. For me, the evidence that this doctrine is true gets slimmer as time passes.

I want to make this clear: I am not trying to convince anyone. This is just my journey. This article may help others who are in situations where they cannot express their doubts about Inerrancy and still maintain relationships with other Christians of their tribe.

Just so you know. You can believe whatever you want. These are my struggles.


This morning, I texted my wife and asked if she would read Numbers 31 again. I suggested she read it as if she was not a follower of Christ, and not someone with a high opinion of the Bible. As we digested its contents together, we realized it was saying that God had ORDERED the Israelites to:

  1. Kill all the Midianite boys
  2. Make all the virgin girls their sex slaves
  3. Kill all the women who had sex before
  4. Kill all the men
  5. Set fire to all their towns
  6. Reward the most violent soldiers with more spoils from the massacre.

Get your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children.

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