Thomas interviews Deran Young, the founder and CEO of Black Therapists Rock – an organization committed to improving the social and psychological well-being of vulnerable communities – and Dr. Richard Schwartz, Founder of Internal Family Systems Therapy. They share their expertise and experiences in navigating through intergenerational trauma and unlearning past beliefs.
Deran Young & Dr. Richard Schwartz – Unpacking Legacy Burdens through Collective Spaces
Deran Young, LCSW, MPA, has served in the US Air Force for over sixteen years. She is a world traveler and has visited over thirty-two countries and provided counseling services in three different nations in Europe and Africa. Her clinical training and experiences have primarily focused on trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, child abuse, and domestic violence.
Dr. Richard Schwartz
Dr. Richard Schwartz began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He created the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model in the early 1980s. IFS is now a widely-used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. Schwartz is currently on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Notes & Resources
Thomas, Deran Young, and Dr. Richard Schwartz discuss:
- Finding and fostering collective trauma-healing spaces
- Re-connecting with “exiled” parts of ourselves
- Accessible trauma healing for marginalized communities
- What Legacy Burdens are, how they manifest, and how to “unload” them
Learn more about Dr. Richard Schwartz and his work at ifs-institute.com
Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit. My name is Thomas Hübl. I’m the convener of the Summit, and I’m really happy to be here today, again, with you, Richard, Richard Schwartz, and also Deran Young, both deeply immersed, Richard, the founder of IFS, and both deeply immersed in spreading the preciousness of IFS in the world. So most welcome, very warm welcome, both of you.
Richard Schwartz: Thank you, Thomas. It’s really great to be back with you.
Deran Young: Honored to be here, thank you, for the invite.
Thomas: No, thank you for joining us. I’m looking forward to our conversation because I feel a lot of resonances and there’s a deep, mutual mission that I believe we share, and deeper healing work in our social fabrics. And maybe let’s start, Internal Family Systems I think is spreading as a therapy, it’s spreading as a healing modality and I will be interested, what’s the most alive in this work at the moment for both of you? And what do you feel is the most exciting in your own development at the moment, where you feel there, the work’s expanding, growing, updating, and reaching out into the world? And maybe, Richard, since you founded that work, maybe you can start and then hand it back over to Deran.
Richard: Okay, sure. So, what we hope to be talking about today is exciting to me, and Deran and I had done some things together around it, the topic of racial legacy burdens and bringing IFS to that arena, and in general, bringing IFS out of psychotherapy so that it can be applied to more social kinds of issues, to, so we have initiatives to bring it into the coaching world with trying to reach the influencers in our culture with it. We have programs designed to bring it to the public directly now. We’re going to have a presence in the whole psychedelic revolution, and I’m working hard to try and make IFS the map to that territory. So I could name a couple others, but those are some of the things that keep me going.
Thomas: Cool. And Deran, I’m so happy to get to know you today. So maybe you can share a little bit about what’s exciting for you.
Deran: Yeah, I think for me what’s exciting about IFS is that it is a systems model, so it can be easily applied to different groups of people, and organizations, and communities. And so when there’s a collective trauma that impacts marginalized people of any sort, I think that IFS can be a roadmap, or just seeing things from a systemic perspective, versus traditional therapy models are very individualistic. And that’s actually one of the legacy burdens. Legacy burdens are things that have been passed down and around, parts of us that continue to generationally spread. And we know that racism, patriarchy, materialism, and last but not least individualism are four of the collective legacy burdens of society currently.
And these are things that we just kind of got passed down to us. It’s in the water that we’re all drinking, in the air that we’re breathing, and it’s really hard to notice these things because they’re so woven into the fabric of our society. But as we start to look at policies, and systems, and impacts of these systems that they have on people, we can see that these things are very important to look at and unpack, and to explore the ways that they’re shaping our lives and how our lives may need to be updated, how our programming may be still outdated, and how we can update our systems through either psychedelic-assisted therapy, as Dick mentioned, with IFS. Legacy burdens are sometimes the most ingrained parts of us. Like, racism and white supremacy culture are so ingrained into my life, into how I navigate life, that it can be a bit difficult to really start to bring all of that out and look at it. But I feel like IFS really gives us a model or a framework to really look at the parts of me that have been programmed to see myself in a very derogatory way, parts of me that other people see in a derogatory way, and how we can really start to understand that all parts of our society are connected. And what hurts me also hurts you.
Thomas: Beautiful. So, that’s very much along the lines, of course, of our summit and also what I’m deeply interested in. Like, what’s collective trauma? What’s collective trauma healing? And how can we have an interdependent systemic view on the individual, ancestral, and collective trauma? And you both in a way spoke to that a little.
And so let’s zoom in right away because you both mentioned it. So the legacy burdens, when we say there’s my individual biography, and there’s the stuff that I go through in my childhood attachment and in my personal growth, but then there are ancestors, and there’s a collective framework to the individual as an interdependent whole. And I’m curious, how can we imagine working on what you call legacy burdens in IFS? How can I imag to work on that transgenerational transmission of trauma and what works, what’s maybe more difficult, and how can we, as your listeners, come with you deeper into the understanding of what’s a legacy burden and how to release it?
Richard: So IFS believes that we all have these parts that other systems call subpersonalities. And as I was, in the early days, exploring what keeps these parts of us in extreme roles, I learned that there were extreme beliefs and emotions that had come into our systems from trauma and attached to these parts, the parts would describe that. They would say, “There’s this tar on my skin,” or, “There’s this coal in my gut,” or, “Burning coal,” or, “This weight on my shoulders.” And as I explored what that was and how to help them unload that, I learned that these were extreme beliefs and emotions that had come into the system from the traumatic experiences or attachment injuries, and attach to these parts and drive them almost like a virus, and I came to call those burdens. And then as I was doing that, it became clear that some of these burdens didn’t come from the client’s direct experience, that they had inherited, in a sense, from either their family, their direct family lineage, or from their ethnic group, or had just absorbed from these things that are floating around in the culture.
And so, to distinguish them from the personal burdens, I started calling those legacy burdens. And that’s when I got very excited about your work because I could really see so many parallels. And so we’ve, over the years, evolved ways to help these parts trust that it’s safe to unload these legacy burdens. And it’s fairly concrete because you can actually … the part can describe exactly what it is and can tell you when it’s there and when it’s gone. And then the reluctance, often, is if they give this up, they’re going to betray their people who suffered so long and they need to suffer, too. Or, they took this in to try and protect their parents, this energy, and if they give that up, their parents are going to suffer.
So, there’s resistance sometimes to giving them up. But once the part decides it’s safe to give it up, we can just send it out of the system. And, like Deran was saying, it’s a big player. Those kinds of burdens really organize many things about our lives. And they’re very hard to find often initially because it is like the air we breathe, but once they’re gone, they stay gone most of the time. So why don’t you add, Deran?
Deran: Yeah, I would say another theory that I like to lay this on top of is the drama triangle. If you look at it from the perspective of the drama triangle, you have a societal or global drama that’s playing out. And there are people taking sides that a lot of times the marginalized people are automatically put into a category of victims, and the perpetrator, or a persecutor role is taken on by certain dominant cultures or people who have dominated the victim, or folks that are victimized. And then you have folks from both of those categories who want to go into the middle and attempt to rescue folks from either side. And I found myself both in the victim category and in the rescuer category a lot as a therapist, and as a Black woman.
And I’m learning that that doesn’t really serve anyone and it definitely doesn’t serve me. So what I’m learning from my IFS is that the main role for all of us is to go inside to ourselves and to these inner children who never really properly grew up, these children who took on these burdens, weren’t able to fully develop emotionally, weren’t able to develop the full level of compassion that’s needed to actually bring healing to the world and to their self, and have really been taking on these different roles versus being our true authentic version of who we were meant to be. So that’s the way that I like to look at IFS and to look at it from a collective standpoint is to see what kind of role I’m playing at any one point. Am I pointing the finger at others and blaming? Am I feeling ashamed, or guilty of the identity, or the story that I’m holding? Or am I trying to rescue other people from their story and their experiences?
Whether it be other Black people, people of color, folks of non-color or white dominant culture, really understanding that none of those are my genuine role and none of those roles are authentic to who I am. And I can only really serve my purpose and serve others well when I’m really my full self, the expression of my full self, which I believe, such as we say in IFS, is able to acknowledge fear but doesn’t operate from a place of fear.
Thomas: What you said right now is also the personal experience of you going through your own IFS journey. Is there anything else that you would add that, on the one hand, why you felt attracted to IFS? So what attracted you and what do you see as the strongest transformation that you experienced through the process yourself? Because that always transmits the modality the best.
Deran: Yeah, I would say the most important thing, for me, has been to really be able to acknowledge when I’m hijacked by a part of me, when there’s an activated younger part of me that’s needing something from me, versus going out in the world and seeking that refuge or that peace externally. I’m able to, what we call, unblend and see my higher self, or my real self, separate from that part of me. And I can see like, yes, there’s this thing that’s trying to get my attention, that wants something and needs something, but that something has to come from within. And so in IFS, we unblend from that part of ourselves, we are able to acknowledge that it’s just a part of us, it’s not all of who we are.
And then we begin to witness what it wants to show us, what it’s holding on to, what story it needs to really make sure that we understand. My higher self, the true expression of who I am, it really wants some compassion for me, some self-compassion. And once it really feels like I get it, that I’m listening, that I’m there, that I’m going to be there, I’m going to continue to listen, I’m going to continue to honor that part of me in all the ways that it has tried to protect me. When I really understand the role and the job that it’s taken on and why it has that job, then it can start to relax a bit and let me be in control of the system. And so witnessing is one big part of IFS, really witnessing our story, our trauma, our experience.
And then once we’re able to acknowledge all the ways that our life has been shaped by that, we can then begin to integrate other aspects of who we really are. That one part of us doesn’t have to dominate our life or our system. For me, it shows up as a weight on my shoulders when we talk about legacy burdens. When you’re asking what has been my own biggest transformation, I would say carrying the weight of being an angry Black woman. Even though it was justified and it felt very self-righteous, it was an extreme weight that was impacting my health, impacting my wellbeing, impacting the way that I relate to people that I love.
It was really, I feel like, restricting me in the expression of who I could be. So, I had to start to work with that part of myself and slowly update my system to let part know, that it doesn’t have to protect me so hard as it did when I was in the military as a Black woman, or when I was in poverty as a child, or during times where I was being abused or neglected as a child. It’s still doing the things that kept me alive and helped me survive those situations, but it doesn’t help me with where I am in my current moment, it doesn’t help me stay present and grounded in who I am today. So that has been my biggest transformation that I’m still constantly updating my system because external constraints are still very much real. We still live in a society that’s based on white supremacy culture and male dominance. That’s another one that I’m slowly starting to open my eyes to is, “Oh, you’re a woman in a very male-dominated world.”
And how do I start to update my system and allow myself to let down some of my guards, some of my protective measures, so I can live with a little more flow, a little bit more ease, a little more peace in my own personal life.
Thomas: Yeah, thank you. That’s very strong. Also, Richard, given we get now the inner experience of going through the process from Deran, how do you see the relationality, what value does relationality, the support of one nervous system with another, play in IFS? Because what I heard is a lot of Deran’s inner work. Is there any emphasis in IFS on the relational dimension and the relational support, the safety that that creates, co-regulation, how do you relate to those terms in your work?
Richard: Yeah. I’ll give you a little history of that. When I first encountered what I call self in clients and saw how much the self can take care of these parts, the way Deran was talking about, I got all excited because I had parts that didn’t want people depending on me, I’m a white male American, and so I thought, “Okay, my relationship isn’t that important in contrast to other therapies where it’s all about the relationship.” And then I did some unburdening on my own and I started to shift, and I was lucky to have some students that shook me up about it and said, “No, the relationship is still crucial.” And I came to appreciate more and more how much what I bring to my clients allows their protective parts to trust the safety of my presence.
And without that, they’re not going to do the work and they shouldn’t, actually, they shouldn’t let me in unless they can sense that I have these C-word qualities that I talk about with self. So now, this is many years ago that I had this revelation, but now the relationship is crucial. The facilitators on system and how much facilitators have to work with themselves to be able to hold these fields that we have to create for people to be safe, to be that vulnerable, and to go to these places we want them to go to so they can unburden this stuff. That was one of the parallels I saw in our work is-
Richard: … now the importance of the therapist’s parts because the therapists work on themselves so that they can hold what I’m calling self, but you have other words for which I totally saw the parallel in your book too, so that we can be that, if we can hold that, then it’s like a tuning fork that’ll bring that out of the people we’re working with. So, yeah, it’s been a shift over the years to the point where the relationship is really crucial now.
Thomas: Beautiful. No, I love it. And I also love what you said, the second point, is that, how as facilitators, therapists, people who are coaches, that we go through our own ongoing integration process because that really opens up a system to hold that space and to be in relation. So, I think I want to just underline, I think that’s a very crucial part of embodied or let’s walk our talk, be able to really transmit what we say. Yeah, that’s very powerful.
And since you’re also working together and collaborating, I’m very interested, one of the collective trauma fields that we, I think, are all passionate about bringing more healing and light into, and there’s so many around the world, but let’s say for now for the U.S. context, is racialized trauma.
You said it, Deran, before, is structural violence, is inequality, it’s a lack of diversity, a lack of opportunity. And if we opened it up a much wider, I call this the ring of trauma that goes from Alaska, down the whole entire Americas, through Africa, through Asia. There is a whole trauma field that has been created through colonialization and colonialism. And I think we are here to also, part of our purpose it seems, because we are passionate about this collective work also, is to work on that and bring some healing or integration. And I’m wondering, maybe you can share a bit about your mutual experiences around working on racialized trauma, working on, I think it really needs a lot of skill, but we also run into difficulties. So I would love for you to expand a bit and let us be part of your experience of feeling racialized trauma because I think it’s so important.
Deran: Yeah. I think for me, another thing that drew me to the IFS model was that it was created by a Jewish man, to be honest. And the fact that the Jewish culture also has a history of genocide similar to the African-American culture. I felt that that was something that we could actually come together around and to begin to acknowledge how our parts might be similar, and to heal together in the ways that they’re similar, but also acknowledge the ways that they’re different and heal the differences as well. And so for me, a lot of my close friends now are Jewish IFS therapists, and these are people that I’ve really been able to be with. And they’ve been able to see parts of me that I didn’t even know were there. We’ve been able to share these healing deep, deep, deep healing experiences that I didn’t know were possible.
And I think that for me, the best healing, the greatest deepest healing, especially around legacy burdens, happens in collective spaces, happens in communal healing. So I think that some of these things that we’re all grappling with, that we’re all, you know, when you really feel alone, like “I’m the only one who understands this, no one understands me.” These are the types of burdens that really have to be healed together. And so that’s just been my personal work, has been bringing large groups of people together from different backgrounds to really start to help compassion for each other and for themselves. And I think that the Heirloom Summit, when we did this Black History Month for… 2021? Yes. I’m like, “What year are we in?” The coronavirus has really thrown off my sense of time, I will say as well.
But Black History Month this year, we were able to gather a large group of people, over 100 people together, who were committed to doing communal healing work together, committed to trusting the process, trusting each other, trusting ourselves, and building what Dr. Schwartz kind of mentioned, or what Dick is referring to as a “collective sense of self.” When there’s a large mass of self-energy in a room, or even virtually in a space, we’re all holding space for each other, and we’re sending the most positive intentions to each other. I think that there’s a lot of potential there versus what we see a lot of oftentimes polarizations, people being very defensive, people protecting themselves from very fearful places doesn’t really promote healing. So, to create environments and spaces where people can start to acknowledge their own traumas, and hold space and compassion for the traumas that we’re all holding, I think is really the pathway to healing for all of us around the world.
Richard: Beautiful, Deran. And I think what Deran was saying, by holding the self -energy in our group is similar to what you call causal energy, isn’t that right? The term creating that field. And there is something about the language that can be helpful because especially with white people’s fragility about acknowledging their racism, it’s a lot easier to say, “I have a part that carries that legacy burden of white supremacy,” and to go to that part and get curious about it, than to say, “I’m a racist and I’m going to find my racism.” So, there is something about the language that frees people up. And we did find that in the Heirloom Summit as well.
And yeah, I wound up doing a piece of work on myself that was very powerful because I do still hope to do affinity groups for white people around unburdening, not only the racist legacy burden, but the parts of them that want to deny, and don’t want to see, and keep them looking away all the time. And then the parts of them that are afraid to act once they do see, and to find and heal those parts. And so I did a big personal piece of work with Deran, that was very powerful, with those parts of me.
Deran: I think it always stems back to something, Dick, that you taught me about survival terror. Everyone’s afraid of dying. That’s normal, that’s a normal human behavior to want to protect yourself if your nervous system feels like it’s under attack. And so that very young feeling gets trapped inside of all of us, I think, especially in America where our culture doesn’t really perpetuate families being supported. It’s kind of like the parents are responsible for the children and that’s it. One of the things that’s really drawn me to the African culture, I went to Ghana, West Africa, during my graduate studies, and one of the things that I really learned from that culture, was the sense of connectedness. The sense that when a child is born, the child belongs to the village, and if something is happening in the village, or if a child in the village is sick, the first place we need to look is the well. If we’re all drinking the same water and everyone’s experiencing similar symptoms or patterns, we have to get curious about what’s in the water.
And so I think that that systemic view of the world that a lot of Eastern philosophy carries, a lot of people of culture have carried, continue to pass down is this idea that we are connected. Sometimes a little overly connected, that we’re still immeshed, which is very much that rescue mentality. But to really go into ourselves and to empower each person to be a part of a collective and to not feel alone or isolated, I think is really important when we’re talking about these legacy burdens, where people are really afraid, people of color are afraid of being open with the dominant culture.
The dominant culture is afraid of maybe some guilt or shame that might be lurking behind the scenes. And so it can be very intimidating for us to have these very vulnerable conversations with each other, especially if there’s no framework that’s simple, gives us ways to name things like white fragility, like anti-Blackness, or white supremacy culture, less blaming, more objective. And I think that acknowledging the real terror that comes with saying you might have to give up a privilege, you’ve maybe survived your life off of having white privilege, you didn’t even know that it existed. You didn’t even know that it’s been there this whole time. And now, what does it look like to navigate life with that privilege and being able to acknowledge that it’s actually present? And that it’s not present for someone else.
That was something that IFS has really helped me unpack because I grew up in poverty. A lot of my family is actually still in poverty. A lot of the people that I love and grew up with, friends and family, are still very much in these oppressed and depressed places, still in Texas where large groups of people of color just don’t have access to economic resources like healthcare, education. And so for me to have access to those things and start to see my world differently, to help my parts get updated on where we are today, meant that I had to acknowledge that I have economic privilege, that I have certain resources and possibilities and potential that everyone that looks like me doesn’t have. And to not own that from a place of guilt or shame, but to own it from a place of empowerment. That it means that I can advocate for somebody who doesn’t have the resources or privileges that I have.
And it means that I can start to share those with people in certain ways, just by acknowledging that I have it. And the healing that comes with realizing that it’s not your fault if you don’t have it. I think I spent most of my life trying to understand why I couldn’t just do everything the white way. Because as a child and in the military, I was taught that the white way was the right way. And of course, we all want to do things the right way because that’s what survival means, to stay connected to the society, to stay connected to the system that’s providing resources. So we all want to be seen as good, or accepted, or included really is the word, inclusion. But knowing that you not being included is sometimes doesn’t have anything to do with who you are and what your story is, but really the external constraints that are in the system, or that were placed by the system.
Thomas: And… So first of all, I want to underline the beauty of doing the inner work and then that leading to an empowerment of outer work, like of cultural influence. And I heard this now when you spoke, I heard this, okay, something changes in me and then I have a different empowerment to actually be a co-creative cultural force, to shape society from a deeper place of inner alignment, that sounds very powerful. And then I want to come back… then I have two questions that arose in me. The first is—and maybe you can both comment on that—so when therapists like Resmaa, Resmaa Menakem, speak to working on racial trauma in separate groups, and then maybe later doing the work together when we are ready for it, what’s IFS’s take on that? Do you work with mixed groups? Do you work with separate groups? What seems better, more suitable, more powerful? Is it different from situation to situation? Is it organic? How do you look at it?
Deran: I think one thing, for me, as I work on that legacy burden of individualism, I don’t think in terms of one or the other, either-or, better or worse, good or bad. I’m really starting to think of everything as both-and. I think there’s a place and a time for everything. And being able to honor all things is important, wherever anyone is, being able to offer something that everyone can use. And that looks different across different people in different levels of experience with healing, I think. Especially collective healing, not everyone is used to being in community.
Like I said, people of culture, as Resmaa relates to people of color, he says people of culture tend to be used to working together in communal settings, being a little bit more vulnerable, and relying on each other, quite frankly. I just got back from Puerto Rico. I spent two weeks in Puerto Rico and I just loved the feeling of knowing I was part of something. That people were watching me, that they were interested in me, and I was interested in them. And there’s just this level of resonance, I think, amongst people of culture. That we just know that it’s not all about us. It’s never been about us because we were marginalized, so we didn’t have the privilege of making life all about the entitlement of us, most of the time. And so I just see this humility and this humanity that’s really lovely when I’m with people of culture.
And I think that we have to foster a culture of healing when we’re in communal healing spaces, we have to say, “What is this going to be like, what are the rules here? How do we respect each other? How do we honor each other? How do we honor differences? How do we honor similarities?” And so I think that it’s really a matter of both-and, and preparing people for that. It’s just like, you wouldn’t want to take someone to fourth grade if they haven’t completed third grade, it would be a disadvantage to them. And it would be a disadvantage to every other fourth-grader who wants to learn at a certain baseline, or who’s expecting folks to have a certain baseline. And what tends to happen, especially around racialized trauma, like Resmaa says, is if we’re not on an equal baseline, if we’re not at a certain place of seeing everyone as an equitable part of the whole, then we start censoring the person who feels the most entitled in the room. Whether it be the white dominant group, the heterosexual group, the men, whoever’s the most dominant presence in the room, we start to polarize towards that one segment of the group.
And so, really having folks be able to acknowledge their own parts in IFS, we say, “Speak for your parts.” That you’re not just projecting your pain onto other people, but you’re actively doing your work and we’re all doing our work together. That there’s no one person who’s more in front or behind, but we’re all here to do this work together. And what that means is that we’re aware of our intentions first, but we’re also looking for the impact. We’re able to notice that whatever I say, whatever parts I’m speaking for, will have an impact and that’s the accountability that I need to be held to. So I think the ground rules, the holding space, and making sure there’s psychological safety in a container are things that are important, but I don’t think it’s one or the other, I think it’s just a matter of what folks are ready for, and what work they’ve done previously.
Richard: Yeah, I would basically agree. And it’s something we’re still trying to figure out exactly. The Heirloom Summit was a pilot and there were things I think about it that worked really well, and then I think there were people that got very triggered. And so, I’m, as a white person of privilege, not the one really to figure this out the most. I’m trying to be very open to whatever feels right to people who could be hurt in those contexts.
Deran: And I think this might be a great place to say that I’m really a proponent, because of things like this, and because there are levels, I’m really a proponent of group psychedelic-assisted therapy. I was able to participate in a ketamine group therapy session recently, and it was centered around racial trauma or trauma of marginalized people. There were a large number of people who identified as people of culture, and the way that the dominant folks in the room was able to hold space for us was very different than anything else that I’ve experienced because I think that we’re all at a very unconscious place where it’s oneness. It’s pure oneness, we’re able to return to our original state of being, and I think your heart opens in a different way, we learn to express ourselves and love each other in a different way.
And that experience stuck with me, and it’ll be with me for the rest of my life. So, I really think that that is the gold standard for a collective trauma or racialized trauma right now, that not a lot of people have access to that. So, that’s one way that I’m using my privilege; to take action and to advocate for more people that look like me to have access, or people who come from economically marginalized places to be able to have access. That this is not something that actually belongs to the humans, it actually belongs to the land. That this is a shamanic way of healing, it has been here for millions of years before, probably before humans were. I believe mushrooms and other plant medicine like that has been here, probably, way before me.
So, it’s not owned by one person or one group of people. And I really feel like all of us should have access to that deep, deep level of healing that goes far beyond our cognition. Because sometimes our protectors just won’t let us go beyond our thinking. I know that’s true for me, I’m a highly intellectualized person, I can get up in my head really quick. Dick mentioned the legacy burden of men wanting to avoid intimacy or vulnerability. I’ve noticed that with a lot of, especially, Black men. They’re like, “It’s not safe. It’s not safe to be vulnerable. It’s not safe to trust anybody.” To go past that defense network mode and to go to a deeper place of your consciousness, I think it’s going to be necessary for some of these very ingrained programming that really is just ways that we’ve learned to protect ourselves and to keep ourselves safe.
And the external constraints have not allowed us to lay down those defenses in a voluntary way, without a lot of assistance, in a very chemical way. So, I think that that’s going to be a big way forward in the future. I’m hoping that psychedelics will combine with IFS to give us, not just a pathway, but also an easier internal process so that people aren’t fighting their parts and trying to think their way through things versus, like you said, from a somatic standpoint. For me, myself, being in my body wasn’t safe until this year. Until I was introduced to psychedelics, ketamine to be exact, I didn’t feel safe in my own body.
And so, trying to protect myself constantly from all the external threats, was a full-time job. And there weren’t very many places where I felt like I could start to take that role off or that hat off. So I think some of us are really going to need the help of psychedelic-assisted therapy and in particular group psychedelic-assisted therapy, so that we not only have a chemical process, and we not only have our own self-energy, but to combine that with collective self-energy, I think really has got to be key in the future.
Thomas: Beautiful. I have two more questions for now that, one is around, like you described, for example, you said now that “I didn’t feel safe in my body,” which is a combination of hyperactivation, like stress and fear as one trauma symptom. The other coin of that set of trauma symptoms is absence. And I’m curious how, in your work, systemically relevant information that doesn’t show up in our awareness that is numbed or dissociated from, or is switched unconscious, which means that it doesn’t show up in my perception of you, that which is missing when I look at you, but I don’t know it’s missing because I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it.
I don’t know that I don’t see you in your entirety. I see Deran, but I don’t know if the Deran that I see, or the Richard that I see, is the one that’s sitting there. And I find out through relating, for example, I can update my experience through relating. So then I’m wondering what’s the element of absence, individual absence, and I think if you take it a step further, the collective abcencing and all the social symptoms that that creates, and a massive depression, sometimes, in the social fields that absent fields create. And I wonder to hear from both of you, how you experienced that, how you see that in the IFS work, and how you relate to that in your own experience?
Richard: Another thing I liked about your book was your descriptions of the impact of trauma on internal systems. And we share a similar view of that. We just change the word some. So trauma generally has the impact of burdening these very vulnerable parts of us that, before they were hurt were these playful, lovely, excited, innocent, inner children. And then they’re the ones who get hurt the most by the trauma. And then once they get hurt, we don’t want to be around them anymore. And we don’t realize that we wind up exiling these parts of us that have the most creativity, and playfulness, and desire for intimacy. We wind up locking them up in inner basements, or abysses, or caves and thinking we’re just moving on from the trauma. We’re just moving on from the memories and sensations, and beliefs that came from the trauma.
And so most of us have lots of what we call exiles, and that I think you would call the shadow, that we’re not even aware of most of the time, but still has an underground kind of influence over a lot of our decisions, the way we see the world, a lot of our beliefs about what’s safe and what’s not safe. And I’m not sure that’s what you were asking about, but that’s the way we conceptualize the unconscious in IFS. And so, some of the exiles are these very vulnerable inner children-like parts, but then there are also parts that both our culture and our families find unacceptable. And so those often are protectors. Like it could be anger in somebody’s family that isn’t ever allowed. And so the angry part also becomes an exile. And so the more of these exiles you have, the more vacant you are, as you’re saying, the less presence you have; the less access you have to what we call self.
And the more you’re not even sure why you find wind up doing things, which you’re just doing them. And so a lot of the work, and we share this aspect of what the impact of trauma, a lot of the work is going to those exiled parts and bringing them back home so that they aren’t disconnected, and we have access to their qualities that we didn’t have before. And you talk a lot about the impact of trauma disconnecting. We started out pretty well- connected in there, and connectedness is a big concept in IFS. So it’s reconnecting with all of these parts that the trauma made us afraid of or just disdainful of.
Deran: Yeah, I’d like to add a few things to that, actually. The way that I interpreted how my parts have been impacted by my own personal trauma, or generational trauma that was passed down to me, was through a model called the ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences. And so you can kind of go through this assessment and they give you a number. My number is nine out of 10, which is extremely high and most people wouldn’t guess that from looking at me. We think we know what a nine looks like in our society. We think that we can point out that that person is traumatized because you can see it, versus the traumas that we kind of just carry around with us in a very invisible way. Some of the things that people wouldn’t guess about me was that my mother, actually, gave birth to me when she was 16 years old.
And three months later I was in the NICU because she wasn’t able to afford heat or gas during the wintertime when I was born in August. And as the wintertime months rolled around, she had a three-month-old baby in November and an apartment that had no heat. And so, I actually got pneumonia and spent three days on life support. And that was even outside of my own consciousness. For most of my life, I didn’t realize what an impact that that had on my life, the things that have happened because of that, some of the other subsequent traumas that have influenced my life. But because of psychedelics, I was able to go back to that three-month-old child and kind of ask her what she needed, and she needed connection.
So she was severely cut off from her caregiver, from any human connection for three whole days, and even actually from a life source, authentic, real source of life, for three days, which is extremely traumatic. And so I can now feel that little child inside of me, that’s a part of me. And I’ve been disconnected from that little baby for most of my life, had no real understanding of what that experience was like or how it affected me. And it isn’t until now that I’m able to see that my mother struggling with addiction, her being in poverty, of us being bounced around between family members, but all of that experience, it enhanced the way that I experienced connection. It’s made me very distrustful of most people, even myself at times.
I can’t even trust my own thoughts, what’s real, what’s not real. But really coming back to, “Okay, who am I? At my core? Who am I?” Without the fears, without the traumas, without even the trauma that was passed down to me and through DNA, being identified as a Black woman and coming from a long lineage of Black women who were traumatized and oppressed and marginalized, who would I have been outside of that? And who am I because of that, even? How is that really showing up in my day-to-day life? What parts may have been influenced by those things? So, me knowing my story is really more important to me than other people hearing the story, understanding the story. It’s first about me trusting that the story is real for me.
And then I have the power within me to heal that little girl who needs love and connection from me first. I would also say, another example of that would be a ketamine session that helped me to get back in touch with the intention that I set before a ketamine session, which was that I wanted to find my way back to health. Because I grew up in poverty, I experienced a lot of food deserts and just scarcity, that my body really took as a huge survival threat. And it’s been hard for me to update my system, to let my system know that we’re no longer in poverty, and we’re not going to be homeless tomorrow, that we don’t have to eat everything now, that we will have money for food tomorrow, that we can select foods that are a little bit more pricey because they’re good for our body.
The little girl in me, I call her my 4-four-year-old girl who’s in poverty, grew up in the projects, she still sometimes struggles with the idea that there is no scarcity when it comes to food, or shelter, or clothing, or electricity, or water, because she experienced living without those things. And she knows that that is a very real threat. And so I’ve been able to connect with her and to reassure her, and remind her. And that’s another part of me updating my system. It’s resulted in physical changes, health changes, actually. I was pre-diabetic for a while there. So I had to talk to her and let her know, “If we don’t start to work together, this could be worse for our health.” I’ve been able to exercise more and move my body more, and now that I’m actually in my body and I’m aware of what my body is needing, what’s good for my body, drinking more water. But these are not things that you have the privilege of when you’re living in survival. When you’re in survival mode, like so many Black and brown people still are today. Hiding from the police, or when our nervous system is heightened when we see a police officer, your nervous system has a reaction to that. And it’s based on an experience, that is actually very real. So I don’t want to discount the trauma that is real and persistent for a lot of people of culture, and the people that are marginalized around the world. And we have to have some sense of hope when we’re no longer in those situations. If we find ourselves in a different situation where we’re no longer living in that scarcity place physically, how can we update our emotional self, our emotional body, and our nervous system?
Thomas: That’s very powerful to listen to you. And also it’s beautiful how deeply and personally you share your own experience, and also your own experience as somebody who is going through a healing process. That’s very precious. So thank you for that, that’s very deep. And of course, there are so many things that we could go into because we share such a passion together. And one thing I would still love to cover that you both already spoke to, I think that comes in here because I believe deeply that we are going to continue, of course, individual work and trauma work and the oldest psychotherapy work. But as you both already indicated, and I also strongly believe that collective healing fields, like larger groups of people, express a certain quality with each other. And we can look at what are the ingredients of such a collective healing field, are a tremendous healing resource.
So I experienced, with hundreds and hundreds of people, spaces where one person spoke and everybody was really there. There was this tremendous collective presence that I’m sure you experienced that, too. And so that collective individual healing system, where the individual is an expression of the collective… because it’s very interesting. Many people might think, “Oh, the collective is there, like out there.So where am I? when the collective is there? Or, “Where am I when the biodiversity is there?” It’s out there somewhere, but biodiversity is this too, it’s me too. So the collective, getting a sense, also so that the collective makes sense, is first of all, like a connection between cognition and sensing. And I’m wondering, maybe you can speak a little bit to what are the ingredients of a collective coherence building, or a collective field, that becomes like a healing space for everybody that’s in it?
And then maybe you can expand a little bit from your both experience. What makes those group experiences, or what makes those collective healing spaces of different scale, can be smaller groups, can be very large groups, healing spaces. So what would you say are important ingredients? And do you share, in a way, a vision of healing moving more and more in the collective sphere? The collective healing?
Deran: I can say a few things before I forget. I have parts that are easily distracted. I tell people, my superpower, one of superpowers, is PTSD. Another one of my superpowers is ADHD. So, these are things I’m learning to help work together. They helped me in some ways and not so much in other ways. But my easily distracted part is let’s get this out. So, I would say three of the things that come to mind for me when I think of ways to ground collective healing, or in collective healing spaces to ground each of us to each other, or to connect each of us to each other, is a common language. That’s what I love about IFS, I mean, everybody can say, “A part of me.” Everybody can identify or relate to that languaging. And we also have another word that we say, subgroup, to help folks not feel so alone when they’re sharing their experience.
So, if I say a part of me feels like I’m going to be disconnected, or people aren’t going to understand me, that people are going to judge me, or are going to maybe start to feel offended by me, that I’m worried that I might say the wrong things. These are often common subgroups. These are often common fears that we can say, “Okay, these are parts of us that are here.” So, acknowledging all the parts, using a common language seems really important to me.
I also think having accountability and acknowledging power dynamics is really important. Like I said, there’s intention, which is, “No, I don’t intend to use power over someone. I’m really setting an intention to come from a place of internalized power.” But I may, in that process, one of my protectors may start to feel defensive or attacked. And then I may start to engage in a power struggle. So, just me acknowledging whatever power I bring into the room, whatever power has been perceived or projected on me as a leader, I have to say, “Yes, people see me as a leader, people see me as an influencer. In this communal healing space, I want everyone to see me as another part of the collective that’s doing my own work, too. That I am someone who has to model what I’m saying I want to see in others.”
So, that’s why I share so freely. And I allow myself to be vulnerable because that’s the expectation that I’m asking of others. So, I think that that’s important, acknowledging power dynamics. And like I said, circling back, being able to stay connected, to make a commitment that we’re going to work through this together. I work with Brené Brown a lot and she calls it rumbling. That we’re in the rumble, no one gets to tap out, we’re in this together. Now, we’re not expecting people to recreate trauma for themselves. If they need to set a boundary and take space, of course, that’s important. And honoring that everyone can do that for themselves. And no one here needs to be taken care of, that there is no need for the rescuer, or the victim state, or the persecutor mode, but that we’re all here doing our work together. And we’re going to see each other as equals in that process.
Richard: Another parallel I saw in your book is the comparing the system of an individual to the system of a larger organization, like a country or some kind of collective. And so, when we work with individuals, what I find is if these protective parts feel safe and can drop their weapons, can drop their guard, and what I’m calling self just emerges spontaneously. And that self for me isn’t isolated in one person. There’s a field of self that can drop into us, and we can embody that, but it is much more of a collective field. And when you’re in a group and in various ways, some of the ways that Deran was talking about, you’re helping everybody see that this is a safe space and their protectors can drop their weapons. Then the self of each person begins to tap into that field of self.
And just like when you’re working with an individual and they begin to access some of that, healing just starts to happen. You don’t need a therapist to tell you what to do. It just starts to happen, unburdening starts to happen. And you have a beautiful description of that in your work. In the book also, where one person says one thing, and then everybody feels it. And there’s another parallel, which is the witnessing is very parallel. So when we go to try to heal exiles, we ask to see what happened where they’re stuck in the past and they start to show these scenes, and Deran spoke to that with her infant part. And that is healing for this collective self to witness what happened in the past that created such pain. So again, I just saw lots of parallels in our work.
And also again, just to reiterate, a lot of that comes from having people, and when we do the trainings, we often have a lot of assistants, all of whom know how to hold this energy of self. So having people who already know how to access that, and in addition to the C-word qualities I talk about, there is a vibrating energy that is very palpable, that runs through your body when you access what we call it, self-energy. And I think in your book, the parallel would be to what you call light, that as the leader and also the assistants are accessing that vibrating light, . Tthen it just resonates and creates that field in the larger group.
Thomas: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I love how you draw the parallels because it’s very true. It’s very true. And also how important it is that there’s some people in the room that can hold that space, because it’s already more internalized, or healed, or integrated. And that creates a certain level of coherence. And there’s one more thing. And then I think we will need to wrap up. I see we already exceeded our time. It’s very interesting. And I love to, because we’re using different language for-
Richard: The same thing.
Thomas: …. we are resonating a lot with each other. I discover in the development of any kind of system, let’s say it’s a human being, it’s a family, it’s an organization, it’s a culture. What shows up for me and many of the people that did to go through our training programs are many people who are on a path of development, individual, or spiritual, or collective, show a certain pattern of development, which means there is a certain coherence building that the two of you spoke to now.
So you establish safety, security, you establish a relational environment that is sound, and so that allows for deeper parts to come up. Now, when we build coherence, it feels like, “Oh, we are building something,” but coherence feels safe enough from a certain level that a new level of fragmentation can come up.
Richard: That’s right.
Thomas: And so, then suddenly it looks like we lost the coherence. Some people meditate and then they come into a great state, and then after two days, it looks like you never meditated-
Richard: That’s true.
Thomas: … you feel upside down and say, “I am meditating now for three years and now I’m, again, back to square one.” But it’s not true. But for junior practitioners, that’s very disillusioning, but for more senior practitioners, we know that process; that every new level of coherence allows a new level of detox, like deeper parts to come up. And I would love to hear if you resonate with it and I see that you do, and maybe you can each speak to that. And then maybe we can summarize our conversation.
Richard: Well, let me start with that, Deran, because I’m going to forget if I don’t.
Deran: Yeah, go ahead.
Richard: When people meditate, or as Deran’s been talking about, when they do psychedelics, there’s something about that that brings forth a huge amount of self. And with that comes an invitation to parts that had been exiled to come forward. And so, you feel really good and then suddenly these parts come out and they come out in a big way, and then it gets scary, and it can get scary for the facilitator, too. And so that’s some of what we want to bring is just the norm, That’s a very good process, it’s a good thing that all this is coming. If you don’t get scared of it and you just start to work with that, it can provide a lot of very deep healing. So yeah, I think we’re totally parallel in that area, too. I really liked that in your book, too.
Thomas: Yeah. Great. Great. I’m happy.
Deran: Yeah. And I would just add to that by saying one of my favorite questions in IFS is, what is that part afraid would happen? When we’re so attached to familiarity, our ego, should I say our ego, not our actual self, we get so attached to what we know, what is already currently is, and we open ourselves up to what could be, or what’s new, or what could be more or expansive, our parts get afraid. And they’ve been holding on and protecting us in such a very severe way that they’re not ready for anything new. It shocks the system. And so when something new into the system is like, “Oh, whoa, what’s happening?” And they’re afraid of letting go, oftentimes. They’re afraid of that new thing that’s unfamiliar, that’s not known, that causes us to feel vulnerable.
And, in a way, that’s actually could be opening for healing. But we’re so often just afraid of that feeling, afraid of not knowing, afraid of letting go, afraid of not being in control. I know for me, that’s a big one. When I feel like I don’t have a handle on things as a retired military member, it feels like, “Oh, this is not safe.” And we’ve actually had that come up a lot. In Black Therapists Rock, we do IFS training that is predominantly Black, and so quite naturally racism and topics of systemic oppression come up – topics of poverty, food deserts, healthcare disparities, all of these things are going to rise to the top because they’re in the collective.
And so I tell folks that it’s better out than in. Now that we actually know that what’s been there this whole time, we begin to acknowledge it and even acknowledge some of the fears of acknowledging it. And then in different capacities, like when we have a mixed-race or mixed-culture environment, whether it be military or non-military, people who come from middle-class versus people who come from poverty, anytime you have a cross-cultural difference in a collective, these things are going to surface. So we have to ask ourselves, what are we afraid of? What are we afraid will happen if we start to get honest about what’s already here?
Thomas: Beautiful. Both of you, it’s such a pleasure. And I’m happy to be a part of a movement together. Even as we said, there are so many parallels, even if we calls things differently. But I think we are very passionate about the similar movement, and it was beautiful for me to be part of your explorations and both of your depths and bringing healing into a bigger social environment. So I’m happy that for us to meet again and to continue this conversation. So thank you very much, Richard and Deran. It’s a pleasure to see you, and I’m happy that you’re collaborating. And I think it’s a very fruitful pairing and collaboration. So, thank you, both of you.
Deran: Thank you, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
Richard: I did too, Thomas. And I hope we can talk more.
Thomas: Oh, I would love that, I would love that. Yeah.