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Applied Review #1: Boundaries For Your Soul

Jan 24, 2024

Dear Souls and Hearts member,

I am very excited to offer you my review of the 2018 book Boundaries for Your Soul by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller, two friends and colleagues of mine, following on last week’s anthropological review of the same book by our Souls and Hearts’ philosopher-in-residence Monty De La Torre, Ph.D.

Starting with this reflection, I would like to introduce you to the richness of this book from an applied perspective, how the practices and techniques it contains can be used in practical ways to help the reader.  Along the way, I will describe sections of the book, highlight the book’s strengths and weaknesses in the practical, applied realm, and point out the exceptionally useful parts for Catholic readers.

The book is divided into three main parts: Part 1, Reimagining your soul; Part 2, The five steps of the You-Turn; and Part 3, Working with challenging emotions.  We will devote a separate weekly reflection to each of the parts, starting with Part 1, as I can’t be constrained to only one opportunity to review this book, which has a been a favorite of mine for the last six years.

Becoming a student of your own soul…

In the introduction, Alison and Kim (it seems odd to me to refer to friends of mine by their last names, so I’m using their first names) invite you to “Become a student of the many facets of your soul.”  That language resonates with me, and sets a tone for the rest of the book.

Can we get curious about our souls?  Can we be open to discovering how we are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:14) in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1: 26)?  Can we go on an adventure of self-discovering, not out of narcissistic self-absorption, but because we are called to love ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:39) so that we can better love our neighbors?  Who is on board with that?

Reimagining your soul

One of the strengths of this book is how Alison and Kim weave in the stories.  Real stories of real people, including themselves, not just dry, clinical case histories, but relatable, living stories that grip the imagination.  They use actual dialog to personalize the stories, and in chapter 1, Alison and Kim introduce us to Megan, Ruben, Jenna, Tom, and Lin, and skillfully weave their stories through the fabric of the book.

They also introduce the concept of the You-Turn which I see as a central contribution of their book, and which Dr. De La Torre briefly outlined in last week’s reflection.  We will explore Alison and Kim’s five steps of the You-Turn in great detail next week.  Then the authors briefly discuss how different people in the Bible struggled with inner conflicts reflecting how their parts were burdened and polarized.  After a brief discussion on the power of compassion, Alison and Kim offer you their “Internal Boundaries Quiz” to help you determine if your emotions are “too close” or “too far” from you.

Your “Spirit-led” self

“Your Spirit-led self” is the title of the second chapter, where Alison and Kim bring in more of the Christian anthropology.  IFS Founder Richard Schwartz’s emphasis on being “self-led” and his capitalization of the word Self makes many Christians (including me) uncomfortable.  In his book Internal Family Systems Therapy (2nd Ed.), Schwartz discusses how exiled parts seek redemption (see p. 32), a fascinating insight.  However, for Schwartz, our Christian God is not needed for redemption – rather, redemption of parts comes through unburdening, and being led and guided by our innermost self.

Schwartz’s negative view of our Christian God is revealed in his distorted recounting of Genesis 3, where he writes that “In this tale God shames and exiles a couple (Adam and Eve) for disobeying an order and eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  In blunter terms, God punishes the couple for enjoying sex.” [p. 48].  It is far more accurate to say that Adam and Eve banished themselves from the garden; and that instead of shaming them, God treated them with great solicitude.  He let them know he was coming to visit them personally, he engaged relationally with them, he did not condemn them, but rather promised them redemption and cared for their physical needs by providing clothing.  He closed the garden to Eden to them because if they had eaten from the tree of life in their sinful state, before their redemption, it would have had terrible consequences; an eternity separated from God.  Thus, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden was an act of God’s love (see this article by Edin Michael for more details).

In twisting Genesis 3 to be somehow about sex, Schwartz cited a single source (a 2017 article titled How Augustine Invented Sex in the New Yorker – hardly considered an authority on the subject by serious biblical scholars) as evidence that St. Augustine “devised” original sin – that St. Augustine surely was a busy and creative fellow in Schwartz’s estimation).

In contrast, in their second chapter, Alison and Kim share how your innermost self is uniquely suited to connect with our Christian God, and to guide your parts toward the Holy Spirit as an active, inner leader.  They assume that the Holy Spirit is always dwelling within a Christian which, depending on definitions of terms may be debatable in the case of mortal sin, but nevertheless, they invite you not to just go with your subjectivity, but to trust in God’s Word:  “Your task is to trust neither your thoughts nor your feelings, but to lead them in step with God’s Spirit.  As you do, you can turn the most challenging parts of you soul into your greatest allies.” [p. 23].  At the same time, we don’t condemn and banish parts of ourselves who are burdened with thoughts and feelings that are misdirected, disordered, or otherwise not reflecting objective reality.  This serves as a powerful counterpoint to the unbridled reliance of subjective experience that permeates much of IFS writing and thinking.

The 8 Cs and parts’ roles

Then the authors discuss the 8 Cs of the innermost self: calmness, clarity, compassion, curiosity, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness.  And after that, they take seriously the concerns that some spiritual or theological managers might have with parts and systems thinking, particularly the acceptance and love of parts of us who are troublesome, whose impulses and desires, if followed, would lead us into sin.  They make a clear and useful distinction between accepting such parts and condoning their destructive inclinations.

The third chapter, titled “Three Parts of You” is a basic outline of Internal Family Systems, giving good descriptions of the three major roles that parts who are not in right relationship with the Spirit-led self play:  managers, firefighters, and exiles.  These pages constitute a very good summary of IFS concepts, and particularly valuable are the bulleted lists of examples of each type of role.  They show the internal system of “Megan” (introduced in Chapter 2) is composed of parts in these three different roles, going more deeply into her story, and describing how her parts react to each other.  With this preparation, Alison and Kim briefly mention the five steps of the You-Turn that comprise the next five chapters in Part 2 of the book.

  • Step 1: Focus on an overwhelming part of yourself.
  • Step 2: Befriend this part you don’t like.
  • Step 3: Invite Jesus to draw near.
  • Step 4: Unburden this weary part.
  • Step 5: Integrate it into your internal team of rivals.

We will turn to those steps of the You-Turn in my next reflection (there is a chance I may take a break next week, so part 2 could release in two weeks).


More developments on Dr. Gerry’s new book…

I am really excited to announce that the Kindle version of the Dr. Gerry’s book Litanies of the Heart: Relieving Post-Traumatic Stress and Calming Anxiety through Healing Our Parts has now been released.  I just bought it and it looks great.

Amazon has denoted Dr. Gerry’s book as the “#1 New Release in Self-Help for Catholics” out of 52 books in that category.

You can read my foreword to Gerry’s book in this article by the Catholic Education Resource Center, who will be publishing some excerpts over the next few weeks, with permission from Sophia Press.

Also, I know that Dr. Gerry is working on the Audible version of the book as well; soon we will be able to hear his book in his own voice.

Check out Dr. Gerry’s 48-minute interview with Drew Boa of the Husband Material podcast, in an episode titled Outgrowing Porn Through Parts Work; Drew and Gerry discuss Gerry’s new book, bringing in how parts work can help men overcome a reliance on pornography.  The audio-only version is here, and Gerry and Drew pray the Litany of the Closed Heart together.  You can check out the Litanies of the Heart prayers on our landing page here.

You can also check out Dr. Gerry’s interview on Real Presence Live on dealing with trauma and his new book.

Calling all Catholic therapists, life coaches, and spiritual directors!

Would you like to work on your own human formation with other professionals in your discipline, together?  Souls and Hearts is now expanding our Foundational Experiential Groups to offer them not just to therapists, but also to coaches and spiritual directors (and those in training, too).  If that sounds great to you, fill out our short form here and we will reach out to you personally.

These Foundations Experiential Groups (FEGs):

  • Are limited to 9 Catholic members and are led by experienced IFS-trained leaders (including me)
  • Meet via Zoom for 90 minutes for 10 sessions (times TBD, depending on when our FEG members can meet)
  • Use IFS techniques to go deep inside yourself, to connect with your own parts, and work on your own real issues, in the holding environment of the group
  • Guide you in better loving yourself, in all your parts, in an ordered way
  • Engage you in experiential exercises that help you see, hear, know, and understand your parts much better
  • Provide discussion space for the two recorded lectures that cover a chapter of Internal Family Systems Therapy (2nd Ed.) by Schwartz and Sweezy.
    • In one lecture, the main points of the chapter are summarized
    • In the second, Dr. Malinoski provides his “Catholic take” on the chapter, discussing where the IFS model departs from a Catholic anthropology and how to make appropriate adjustments to harmonize it with a Catholic worldview.
  • Include a sequence of 10 sessions (15 hours total) at only $700 per person, which works out to only $70 per session (some need-based financial aid is available).
  • Are a gateway to advanced groups that focus on specialized topics for more experienced members.
  • Provide structure for you practicing parts and systems work with other group members outside of the main group times.

These groups are focused on your personal human formation, informed by IFS and grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person; they are not a replacement for IFS-institute training and do not lead to IFS certification.

Interested?  Fill out our short form here and we will be in touch with options for you and answer any questions you may have.

Pray for us…

Please keep all of us at Souls and Hearts in your prayers – everything good thing we do has to be supported by prayer.  Please pray for us, we are praying for you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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