Book review: No Bad Parts, by Richard Schwartz

In a documentary I saw an articulate young women who used to hear voices. These voices terrified her. She was labelled as schizophrenic, institutionalized and medicated: her doctors were obviously as scared as she was.

I was hypnotized by her story, even though I cannot really say I hear voices – well I do, but contrary to those of us suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder I’m aware it’s me speaking in my own head.

The documentary went on to explain that most people hearing voices are now considered sane: it can be a consequence of being sexually abused.

We all have parts in us, but trauma can sometimes prevent them from communicating with each other. Hence the frightening impression that voices in our heads are coming from another person.

I resonated with both her experience, and the explanation. It made so much sense for me as well.

Even if I don’t hear voices, I always knew there were different sides to my personality. I sometimes feel like a very young and panicked child, sometimes like a competent and calm adult , and sometimes like a cynical, judgmental soul.

Yes, I always felt “me“, but I ended up not knowing who was the real me. And I felt crazy.

Who am I, really ?

According to Richard Schwartz, we are not crazy. We erroneously believe in the prevalent “mono mind paradigm”: this belief that we should have one mind, one personality, one belief system, one set of needs and wants.

Well we don’t : we all have several minds, or parts. When we have been traumatized we usually exile one part of ourselves in order to function and get ahead.

I exiled the part of me who still is a child: I hated my weakness and my vulnerability so I pretended this part of me did not exist. Besides, if I were to let her space, she was so distressed I could not have studied, worked, or enjoyed a social life.

I have another part of me who is very clear about what she wants, and competent and organized enough to get it. This part helped me to build the good life I have now, particularly when the little one was silent. The only problem was that my emotional life felt void, sometimes even depressing.

Sometimes, the little one would feel threatened enough to be triggered. She would then take over completely, but I would not see it. I would not understand my feelings (chaotic), my distress, what I wanted, and overall what was happening to me.

My inner world made suddenly no sense, at least seen from my adult self.

And then of course, there was my inner critic, Robert. Robert used to know everything, and be able to demonstrate how incompetent, guilty, and stupid I was. He used to completely dominate my inner life, and I’m so glad it’s over.

No bad parts

What I just wrote below is how I see my life now, after reading No Bad Parts. And it was such a relief: because before getting to know the Internal Family System therapy (or IFS), I saw my inner life as a confusing chaos.

I had no idea why my inner life switched to a different tone when nothing notable had happened. Now I know: different parts of me were taking centre stage, particularly when triggered by something reminding them of a past trauma. In IFS terminology, I was blending with my inner child.

Another part of me, the famous inner critic, was a protector: its job, he believed, was to make sure I stayed in line and performed so well in life that nobody could ever criticize or despise me (apart from him, that is).

Because I grew up in a very difficult environment, Robert my inner critic was ferocious. But he was doing his best to help though, hence the name of protector – and the name of the book, No Bad Parts.

Does IFS make sense ?

I understand all of this can seem a bit woohoo: that’s what I thought at first.

Where I stand now, it totally makes sense. The reason we find it bizarre at first is not because it does not: it’s more because no one talked about our inner world like this before.

Believe me I know : I got a masters degree in clinical psychology, 4 full years of university education, without ever being introduced to the idea that we had more than one mind.

IFS is also great to explain day to day occurrences, like when one part of us wants is very motivated to do something but we still procrastinate or self sabotage. Or when we cannot seem to be able to make a decision between conflicting needs and wants. recommendation for No Bad Parts :

Is it a good book to read if you have been through trauma?

Yes absolutely!

It helps to make sense of our inner world. It normalizes our behavior and emotions. It points to solution to heal ourselves. And it is full of hope.

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