Unattached Burdens: IFS Helps Us Understand What Psychiatry Ignores


As I’ve argued here previously, our modern culture’s poor track record of treating mental health conditions can be directly tied to not understanding what causes these conditions in the first place. It should come as no surprise that trying to treat what one doesn’t understand—to truly heal it, not simply attempt to manage symptoms—is extraordinarily difficult. As such, exploring new (or old, as the case may be) ways of understanding mental health is critical if we’re to progress beyond today’s largely lackluster treatment modalities.

Green stick figure, chalk on a blackboard, standing on its head, amid a crowd of identical white stick figures

Critical to this endeavor is having an understanding of the mind that isn’t subject to our modern tendencies of reductionism, materialism, and hyper-rationalism. There are three misconceptions about the mind that are particularly relevant to Eurocentric culture’s views on mental health:

  • The mind as separate from the body
  • The mind as a unitary entity
  • The mind as a closed entity

These myths are ordered based on the amount of attention they tend to receive in mental health circles, with mind/body separation being at the top. I’ll cover them in order here, as they build on each other. The bulk of this article will focus on the third one, as it has by far garnered the least amount of appreciation here in the west.

Mind and Body, or Mindbody?

Although science has definitively established (over and over again) the inseparability of mind and body, western medicine continues to largely operate as if they are discrete entities that don’t influence each other. This creates a narrow view of disease that, particularly with chronic physical and mental conditions, makes truly effective treatment all but impossible. ​

The fact that this mindset contradicts our day-to-day lived experience makes its prevalence in medicine all the more remarkable. Think of the last time something startled you, or the moments after waking up from a bad dream. How are our bodies impacted in these situations? Our hearts race, we feel tense, and anxiety flows through our veins. This is the mind impacting the body. ​

The reverse can be shown just as easily: Consider your mental state the last time you were sick with a cold or the flu. Depending on one’s level of physical symptoms, this can range from being groggy and mildly annoyed, to flat-out miserable. This is the body impacting the mind.

With respect to mental health treatment, viewing the mind as separate from the body impacts one’s treatment approach in a variety of ways. For one thing, this perspective is often the result of a larger reductionist/materialist mindset which views the mind in purely physical terms—merely a collection of cells, afflicted with chemical abnormalities which supposedly cause mental pathology. Treatment with drugs—psychiatry’s old faithful—is all but inevitable when this mindset is at the helm.

Moreover, chronic mental and physical health conditions often share the same underlying cause—trauma—and therefore tend to manifest together. Treating them as entirely separate conditions (with different specialists) therefore misses the mark, and makes true healing much harder to achieve than it would be otherwise.

The Mind as a Multiplicity

In Eurocentric culture, we tend to think of our mind as a single, homogenous entity. We say “I” and “Me” as if we’re referring to one thing, and much of how we view ourselves in day-to-day life revolves around this concept.

What’s particularly interesting about this largely implicit perspective is that, much like the notion of mind and body being separate, it contradicts large portions of our lived experience. We frequently have contradictory opinions or emotions about things; for example, when weighing a big decision, we’ll waver back and forth between opposing perspectives, often very rapidly. In addition, we often say things like “A part of me wants to do this, but a part of me doesn’t”, or more generically, “I feel conflicted about this issue”. We also know that not only are our minds able to look at themselves—passive self-observation—but they can also actively self-engage, including self-criticism, self-shaming, self-praise, and so on.

All of these things point to something very fundamental about how our minds actually work: The mind consists of parts, rather than being a single entity. In this perspective, the notion of a unitary “I” is more of a superficial feature of the human mind—a helpful shorthand to be sure, but one which doesn’t fully describe the underlying reality.

While this non-unitary view of the mind has been recognized in psychology, art, literature, and even quantum physics for over 100 years, it has yet to pierce through into mainstream thinking. This appears to be gradually coming to an end, however, with the dramatic rise in popularity of a therapeutic modality called Internal Family Systems (IFS), which was built from the ground-up to honor our parts, hear their stories, and work with them rather than against them to effect healing.

IFS views the mind’s parts as full-fledged sub-personalities, each with their own way of viewing and thinking about the world. They are a completely normal trait of the mind – we’re all born with them, and they’re present with us throughout our lives. Each person’s parts interact and function in different ways depending on his or her history. We are particularly susceptible to trauma—both overt and covert—early in life, and when this occurs it causes our parts to take on two basic roles:

  • Burdened Parts carry pain and toxic self-beliefs
  • Protector Parts take on protective roles aimed at preventing more pain from being inflicted on burdened parts

A practitioner of IFS takes a systems-level view of one’s parts to understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re interacting with each other. Through the IFS lens, we gain a deep understanding of the dynamics underlying our behavioral patterns. By forming relationships with our parts, we come to better understand ourselves, investigate issues we’re having in life, and work with the parts that are involved in those issues.

Working with the mind in this way led fairly quickly to another realization, one that virtually every other culture and spiritual tradition has recognized for ages: That the mind is not a closed, sealed-off system.

The Mind as Porous

I had been seeing a client for some time for a variety of issues going on in his life. One side issue (that we hadn’t yet focused on) was a temper that often manifested at work with certain colleagues. As we started digging into this one day, I invited him to focus on the part of him that was getting intensely angry when triggered. In IFS, we approach parts with openness and curiosity—inviting them forward, finding them in the body, and relating to them from a centered place. If the part is a protector (as is usually the case in situations like this involving high reactivity), we talk to it to gain an understanding of its roles in the inner system—why it does what it does, and what the part is afraid would happen if it stopped. (Protector parts always have a positive intention, despite how negative the effects of their actions often are.)

Owing to his experience with IFS and good intuition, the client quickly realized something was amiss. After finding the anger in the body and focusing on it, he said “It feels like there’s something inside of me that isn’t me.” This realization would completely change the course of how we dealt with his short temper.

The Citadel Mind

“The mind, unconquered by violent passions, is a citadel, for a man has no fortress more impregnable in which to find refuge and remain safe forever.” —Marcus Aurelius

Western culture has tended to view the mind as a largely closed, independent, and private entity since at least the Enlightenment era. (The roots of this line of thinking go back further, however—the above quote from stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius is nearly 2000 years old.)  Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann refers to this individualistic perspective as the Citadel model of mind: on a hill, impenetrable, disconnected from the rest.

This view of the mind impacts us in a number of ways, ranging from a tendency to be more alienated from society, to persistent anxiety when things outside threaten to invade. Here we’ll focus on the aspect that most directly relates to mental health and psychiatry: The idea that our minds are private fortresses, and that nothing comes in without our will and permission.

Much like the notion that the mind is unitary, the idea that it is a sealed-off structure is a cultural belief so ingrained that we don’t even think about it. Belief has become assumption. Yet when these ideas are brought out into the light of day and examined, they fall apart rather quickly.

IFS and “Entities”

As IFS was being developed experientially in the 1980s and 90s, clinicians kept running into situations such as the client above, in which something in a person’s mind was clearly not a part of them; that is, it was something that came from the outside, not native to their inner system. These entities, which IFS calls unattached burdens (UBs for short), often have a very different feel to them than our parts do. This difference is often sensed energetically—the UB will just “feel” foreign, or it will have a very antagonistic energy/demeanor which isn’t typical in a person’s system.

There was a good amount of consternation in the IFS community as to how to deal with this. There was very little precedent for dealing with the paranormal in psychotherapy, and our culture’s tendency to relegate things like possession to the realm of make-believe has been strong for some time now. There were two primary things that allowed IFS practitioners to overcome these anxieties:

  • The realization that our culture is in the extreme minority with respect to its views on the supernatural. Other cultures all over the world have, since time immemorial, accepted the reality of these things as self-evident. (Hence, virtually every known spiritual and religious tradition includes these elements.)
  • IFS has always taken a follow the data approach during its evolution. The idea of the mind having parts was (and still is) a minority view, particularly in scientific circles. But the experiential data with clients was irrefutable, so clinicians bravely stayed the course and didn’t concern themselves with how these findings would be perceived. (This, of course, is the very disposition required for a new paradigm to take root.) When unattached burdens were discovered, all it required was more-of-the-same: follow the data, wherever it may lead. (And focus on helping clients, rather than trying to rationally explain what is being observed.)

One of the fundamental therapeutic findings of IFS is that parts can take over our minds. Known as blending, this ability for parts to cover up our true essence (called the Self)—and cause us to see the world through their eyes—accounts for otherwise inexplicable mental experiences, such as strongly overreacting to something emotionally, doing something that we know at the time we’ll regret, and our penchant for criticizing (or blaming/shaming/guilting) ourselves. It turns out that unattached burdens can also blend in this way, and this occurs whether or not a person is aware that the UB isn’t a part of themselves.

In mental health circles where entities are recognized, they’re most commonly associated with severe schizophrenia and psychosis (and the resultant extreme behaviors). But things can be, and often are, much more subtle. There are a wide variety of ways that a UB can manifest in a person: Hearing voices, relentless self-criticism, frequent violent ideations, explosive anger, and seemingly endless others. (Note: Parts can present in these ways as well, so it’s never possible to definitively identify a UB just based on surface manifestations.)

The idea that our minds are porous, rather than sealed-off structures, is a hard sell here in the west. But as we’ll see below, these findings have by no means been limited to IFS circles.

A Broad Perspective

The phenomenon often known as possession has been observed over and over again throughout history, in cultures all over the world. Whether we view it as literal (an external entity entering a person) or metaphorical (a yet-to-be-understood biopsychological process), the fact remains that it must be a helpful way of looking at (and treating) certain mental states, otherwise it wouldn’t have arisen independently in so many cultures and religions.

Here in the west, with our hyper-rationalistic notion that anything which can’t be measured or observed isn’t scientific, we tend to have a difficult time with such concepts. It would do us well to keep in mind that the entire idea of mental illness is cultural to begin with. In anthropology, the phrase idioms of distress is used to reflect the fact that mental health problems manifest very differently in different cultures. The western notion of mental illness is no less cultural (and therefore subjective) than any other. As anthropologist R.H. Prince noted, “Highly similar mental and behavioral states may be designated psychiatric disorders in some culture settings and religious experiences in others.”

The idea that possession states and entities impact mental health has been noted by psychologists, anthropologists, and even physicists. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann refers to these states as spiritual presence events, and writes that these events “often come from a domain in-between the mind and the world, between a person’s inner awareness and the sensible world.”

Wilson Van Dusen was the Chief Psychologist at a state hospital in California. His article The Presence of Spirits in Madness discusses in detail his 17 years of experience working with patient hallucinations, and what he found to be their clear link to the spirit world. Jerry Marzinsky is a retired psychotherapist who continued Van Dusen’s work. He writes, “After what I’ve experienced in my 35 years on the front lines with patients suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, there is no doubt in my mind that these entities exist. I’ve both seen and spoken to them and they are very nasty.”

Tom Campbell, a physicist, lays out the problem with the west’s view of the paranormal very well:

“We call things mystical and paranormal because we don’t understand them. Once you do understand them, they are just normal stuff. You take a color TV to a tribe in the jungle that has never seen modern-day technology, and they would find that television set entirely mystical. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good science behind it. It just means they don’t understand it. That’s the way our culture is about the paranormal. There is good hard science that describes the paranormal exactly—and it’s repeatable—but to most people, because they don’t understand it, they label it weird or crazy.”

This is necessarily the briefest of looks at cross-disciplinary perspectives on this issue. What these spiritual presence events actually are, however, isn’t as important as how we can practically work with them to help people who are suffering. Undoubtedly, when someone has voices in their head which aren’t their own, the voices are real to the person who has them. As such, the person deserves to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as ill or crazy.


It is believed that UBs often enter into a person’s system during trauma, when defenses are weak and the system is vulnerable. It’s often not possible to determine exactly when a given UB came in, but fortunately this knowledge isn’t necessary in order to get it out.

Robert Falconer is a senior IFS practitioner, IFS trainer, and author. Some years ago, he decided to put a heavy focus on unattached burdens, and his wealth of knowledge on the subject is unmatched. His recent book The Others Within Us delves deep into the history of the paranormal with respect to mental health, and focuses on his treatment approach with IFS.

The gist of the approach is that UBs can be removed from a person’s system, often without much fanfare. This process looks nothing like the common stereotype (The Exorcist), because it’s not a fight between the person, their therapist, and the UB. While UBs can initially present as very scary and intimidating, there is nothing violent or aggressive about the removal process. This aligns with the overall IFS philosophy of working with our symptoms (i.e., parts or UBs) rather than against them.

While there are a lot of subtleties with the protocol, and it can vary substantially per-client/per-UB, there are a few fundamental aspects of it that can be generalized:

  • UBs feed on fear, and they only have power if we’re afraid of them. Once any parts of the client who are scared of the UB are dealt with, the UB’s power to wreak havoc is eliminated.
  • A UB can’t stay in a person’s system if all of that person’s parts are in agreement that it needs to leave—it doesn’t get a choice in the matter. This is part of why expulsions are much less dramatic than on TV.
  • Much like IFS work with parts, work with UBs is done by guiding the client to connect with their inner world, in effect establishing an interface between their conscious and unconscious minds. Within this inner realm, a person communicates and interfaces with their UB in order to determine what needs to happen to get it out, and then to perform the required steps.

While the overall process can sound like basic visualization work, it would be a disservice to consider it imaginary or metaphorical—it is very real, as its results attest. Once the process is complete, the symptoms that were associated with the UB disappear. It is common for large energetic shifts to be experienced, followed by feelings of spaciousness, lightness, or wholeness. The client mentioned earlier experienced precisely this—after the UB was removed from his system, his sudden bouts of anger with co-workers went away with it.


Effective mental health treatment begins with understanding the mind’s architecture and basic functionality. When a culture is married to fundamental misconceptions about something, it’s going to have a very difficult time working with it in a productive way. Eurocentric culture in particular has proven to be remarkably stubborn with respect to how the mind works.

It’s a strange kind of irony that the people who scoff at the idea of entities causing (or contributing to) mental health conditions are often the very ones who staunchly believe that genes do so—a claim for which there has never been any supporting evidence. Science, as it turns out, isn’t as objective as we’d like to think.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Thanks Terry for this interesting post. I think you make lots of good and important points, but one I’m not quite convinced about is the whole “unattached burdens” thing. I know that many IFS people will say that what something internally experienced is an unattached burden when/if it doesn’t identify as having a positive intention, and seems foreign and hostile, etc. The problem is that I’m familiar with stories where people had parts that would not reveal any positive intent, and seemed very hostile etc., yet over time the person’s relationship with them changed and some positive intention was finally revealed. So I don’t know how someone simply “following the data” would be able to be sure they weren’t just dealing with a part of the person that was severely alienated and for various reasons was not currently open to revealing a positive intention.

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    • Agree. I once worked with a client who had psychosis and said he wanted to kill hismother, strangers and myself at different times over a long period. These ‘demon’ parts accompanied him as visual and auditory hallucinations almost constantly for 13 years. I read about UB’s and naively assumed they must be UB’s since pee talk and write about them as if they are a real thing.
      I was too new to IFS TO TRY TO TACKLE THE uBs so I worked on other aspects. But finally they were so intrusive that I had no choice but to address the parts that wanted to kill so many people.
      After a couple if sessions and many attempts to find out the positive intention of the part – it finally revealed that it had to kill people because it was afraid others might kill it.
      Then the demons turned into benevolent elves who just wanted to have fun! And the demon hallucinations disappeared totally. Now he Doesnt have any auditor of visual hallucinations of anything but just connects with the cute and fun loving elves in his imagination every now and then. So my belief is that UB’s like ghosts, devils and carries are very much in the realm of make believe.
      I’m not sure if it could be harmful or beneficial to act as if The UB’s are real and to send them out into the light where they belong which often suggested- I’m not sure that would do any harm and might in fact do some good if the person really believes they are in some way possessed. The imagination is very powerful and this could be used to help the client who has unusual beliefs. But is this ethical? Could the process go wrong leaving the person believing they actually do now have a demon inside them because a therapist agreed that they do? Sounds very problematic to me. I would just focus on finding the good intention- it will be there if we phrase our inquiries carefully enough and show no fear of the creative human imagination.

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  2. IFS didn’t help me much, and my last therapist diagnosed DDNOS (the diagnosis would now be OSDD). That can also lead to an experience of being “possessed”. The perceptions and memories in the “demon” are still somewhat separated, and very strange to the regular “apparently normal” me.

    The mind, consciousness, and behavior are often still mysterious. I now have my own way of understanding me, including what I experience as spritituality and possession and it has helped more than anything a therapist offered me. I wonder how many others out here have our own way of finally understanding things which, if collected, might suggest some similarities and concepts beyond what any current so-called, limited scientific theory offers?

    I agree, science has no way of conceptualizing possession or spirituality in general in any way other than to dismiss them. Very short-sighted in my view.

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    • It did seem odd to me that after dismissing the claim that science understands the mind, the IFS approach still “diagnoses” people with “conditions” based on their “understanding” of the mind. Better to just admit it’s a mystery and work with the person in front of us and stop trying to “understand” them separately from their own conceptualization of their own situation.

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      • Sorry, better to admit it’s part of the human existence, and for much of our historical existence it was not a “disease”.

        Heck! it saved the greeks from the second? persian invasion…

        I was always fascinated that people fantasized about what machines dreamt about. Me, since a kid, I wanted to know what my kitty friend, that awesomness of physical and spiritual accomplishment, a little buddha, dreamt about…

        What she imagined before catching a pidgeon?, what she feared when I was exhausted and brought gifts to heal me? what she hoped when climbing a fortress?

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      • If only, Steve … and I agree, if the IFS people are still utilizing the “invalid” DSM defamatory billing system, they’re still a part of the problem.

        “Better to just admit it’s a mystery and work with the person in front of us and stop trying to ‘understand’ them separately from their own conceptualization of their own situation.”

        But it does sound like, if the IFS therapists stopped billing with the DSM, they may have more promising solutions than the failed majority of DSM “bible” billers.

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  3. I’m a pretty ignorant fellow when it comes to mind issues, but to me the mind is a model about some “inner” individual processes built by some outsider to those processes for the purposes of predicting and understanding the first individuals behaviour.

    “…western medicine continues to largely operate as if they are discrete entities that don’t influence each other. ” not true, hypothiroidism, microcephaly, lead/mercury poisoning, encephalitis, tuberculous meningitis, tertiary syphilis, astrocytomas, multiform gliobastoma, diabetic coma, temporal lobe epilepsy, speak of a non body/mind dualism.

    “anxiety flows through our veins”, not really, that’s reductionist speech.

    “… chronic mental and physical health conditions often share the same underlying cause—trauma” not really, trauma in medicine refers to physical trauma. Chronic viral and bacterial diseases, autoimmune disease, gallblader stones, kidney/urinary stones, hypertension, diabetes are not trauma based.

    “In Eurocentric culture, we tend to think of our mind as a single, homogenous entity.” not really, for ancient greeks the human and the polis were intertwined. So much so, that humans without the polis were considered barbaric or not better than “beasts”. At least in Athens.

    For ancient Hebrews the fate of the community could depend on a single member going “astray”.

    “We also know that not only are our minds able to look at themselves—passive self-observation—but they can also actively self-engage, including self-criticism, self-shaming, self-praise, and so on.” those to me are explanations, not processes nor reasons, let alone causes.

    Humans only recently in evolutionary terms acquired or developed the capacity to put in words what for hundreds of thousands of years, maybe millions, had no words for. Verbal analysis of human behaviour is very recent in evolutionary terms, in the “old” days, I speculate, we went with a gut feeling, for the most part, I imagine we still do. Just like chimps, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. And they are very smart fellows.

    There are no objective parts in a black box, i.e. the “mind”.

    Quantum physics and mind do really not go together in a sentence. The descriptive levels are too separate. To go from quantum to mind you have to go from electrons and nuclei, to atoms, molecules, macromolecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, indivuals and groups.

    Quantum mechanics equations don’t work really well even in molecules…

    “The mind, unconquered by violent passions, is a citadel…” that sounds tautological to me, confirmed by “no fortress more impregnable in which to find refuge and remain safe forever”.

    And Marcus Aurelius was a priviliged stoic that tried to quash germanic rebels that really never bothered the roman empire without prodding. And apparently was at least partially thwarted by his own “roman” fellows, i.e. victim of corruption of the society that “made” Marcus Aurelius.

    And from his meditations I got little insight about his insight about his situation in his time and place, let alone mine…

    “…the notion that the mind is unitary, the idea that it is a sealed-off structure is a cultural belief…” for research, not for living, that’s why I read MIA…

    “… person’s mind was clearly not a part of them” really? because the client/patient says so and the therapist agrees? that’s at the best intersubjective, hardly objective and it’s prone to at least confirmation bias…

    “But the experiential data with clients was irrefutable…” that sounds like something Freud would have said. “…didn’t concern themselves with how these findings would be perceived.” ditto for the incest complexes.

    “In mental health circles where entities are recognized” … you know the holy spirit descends every time at mass. Every time a kid goes into some catholic ritual the holy spirit sits upon his or her head to give him or her courage, to speak…

    “… the entire idea of mental illness is cultural to begin with” I agree, just this article is trying to present a different cultural basis with no scientific ground by preempting “reductionists” attemps at criticism.

    “…mental health problems manifest very differently in different cultures.” that seems to assume they are the same “mental health problems” and that, way worse, mental health problems exist at all…

    I would not call a dog fight over a single bone a mental health problem. Nor would I call a mental health problem a bonobo fight over something else…

    “The western notion of mental illness is no less cultural (and therefore subjective)…” I would call it intersubjective, there being a therapist.

    Now, to try to shake my reductionist eurocentric views:

    “After what I’ve experienced in my 35 years on the front lines with patients suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, there is no doubt in my mind that these entities exist. I’ve both seen and spoken to them and they are very nasty.”

    I agree, they seem to exist, but that does not make them real. Love exists, hate exists, but they aren’t real.

    So, to me, ignoramus, if UBs exist, are common beliefs that somehow influence what people feel, perceive and believe. Not unlikey comercial brands, religion… or quantum mechanics. Are we possesed by quantum mechanics?….

    There are differences between causes, reasons, arguments, discourse, explanations and beliefs. As btw love and passion!.

    “UBs feed on fear, and they only have power if we’re afraid of them. ” look, they might feed on belief rather than on fear. There is mythology to back up the concept that divinities require belief to be “alive”, rather than fear. The holy Virgin Mary hardly can feed on fear. Kali might, but the Buddha might not.

    Connecting to the inner world when the outer world provides anchoring to the real world, might be counterproductive to some folks.

    “While the overall process can sound like basic visualization work, it would be a disservice to consider it imaginary or metaphorical—it is very real, as its results attest.” I strongly disagree, calling something imaginary, metaphorical, fictitious, etc., kind of suggests that it’s a bad thing. Sounds eurocentric.

    And misses the point that reality is a thing, and for much of human experience is not relevant. I have never seen an atom, I have seen pictures of an atom, but never one, how could I if it reflects so little light?.

    My endorphin levels when I interact with another humans is irrelevant to my experience…

    We humans AFIK live and thrive on imagination, on fantasy, etc. Even scientists imagine crazy cooky stuff ALL the time. It seems to minimize our wholesomeness as sentient, feeling, caring beings.

    Science and reality have a place in the human world. Art, humanities, fantasy and imagination have one part too…

    It seems this article tries to question a duality by subrepticioulsly introduce another: reality vs imagination. When it refers to human life, experience, feeling and existence. That kind of sounds reductionst 🙂

    For the most part trauma in medicine is external. You can scratch and traumatize your skin but at some point something external caused the scratching, somehow. Injury and trauma (uggh! lession) are not that synonimous, a heart attack, anoxia to the miocardium might not be that external. An unintended surgical ligature to a coronary artery might.

    If UBs were to exist in a common/shared/connected mind, and/or at least partially in ones mind, how could that be traumatizing being not external?

    And there is no real self, there might be a consistent self on someone else’s view, but consistency in a changing, variegated world is overrated.

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    • “Chronic viral and bacterial diseases, autoimmune disease, gallblader stones, kidney/urinary stones, hypertension, diabetes are not trauma based.”

      I’m not a doctor and I don’t know about most of these conditions, but I’ve read some research in psychoneuroimmunology that suggests that autoimmune conditions can be trauma-based because of the impact of emotional trauma on the immune system. I personally know a person who healed themselves from lupus erythematosus through psychological means. There is a lot still to discover about the mind-body connection!

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      • I agree there is a neuroimmunological conection. But that research dates at least from the 70s and it hasn’t panned out except in a few recognized conditions, AFAIK. But there probably is an influence.

        Agression and violence was speculated to cause almost undetectable brain volume decreased in minors in part because corticosterols released because of abuse have that effect in rats exposed to high levels of cortisol.

        That’s old research I admit. But I was trying to argue against overgeneralization without passing as rude.

        My fault 🙂

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    • I’ve never met a demon nor angel, but since a kid I found no real difference. From little I got evesdropping on sunday school, usually on weekdays after school, and latter cursory readings on the history of religion I still can’t really find a difference.

      In fact, it appears to me in some religions angels do actuate on the world, while demons are usually more of persuasive kind. And even an angel message sounds scary, very, enough to shut up one’s mouth for years on pressumably blessed news. That in that particular case, a virgin birth, might have brought calamity on the family of apparently a holy man or priest.

      But angels do inspirational speech too! Even muses do. Who inspired clockwork orange?, who knows.

      To me those concepts, those ideas of the suprahuman that emanate from the humand mind, colective or otherwise sound nasty, the mythical unspecified egregors. Even if they are “kind”.

      I wonder if other animals have those experiences too, that would be problem solved. They probably would have less baggage than we humans when approaching the suprahuman espirituality. Many animals big and small seem to engage in some meditation.

      But for me philosophically, spiritualy, historically and mythologically, not scientifically, I’m more inclined to “believe” the zoroastrians in that they emanate from a duality. To me no such duality exists and the original duality from which divinity takes a body is the human mind, in those cases collective.

      Those emerged divinities really do not seem to know anything more that humans in a subgroup do. Demostrably so in some cases AFIR, so they cannot come from somewhere else, their presence might be suprahuman, but their knowledge is merely so human, only human.

      And limitedly human knowledge too, they despite the origin I impute seem not to know what other more knowleageable humans, even in the future know, or will know. They are time restricted on their knowledge, unlike humans who can even draw the line without recurring to foretelling, maybe forecasting, common sense. Even myths! we humans seem to use those more efffectively than angels, demons and spirits.

      At least we can trace where this without name divinity apparently from history emerged. I have not read they can do that.

      But I do not share the Jungian archetypes, I do not think they are somehow stereotypical. There may be motiffs, but certainly to me no common source for stereotypes. They seem more cultural to me, hence my curiosity of what animals dream, hope, fear and enjoy in such “creations”.

      I have not read a narrative of an unknown divinity presence, I have the impression they somehow always wear an identifiable outfit…

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  4. Someone I know believes in the existence of ghosts. So what can I do, she asks, to prevent myself from freaking out? I responded, stop watching the movies and seasonal shows that you are, and begin to believe that ghosts are film producers’ money making productions. Replace those with wholesome films and seasonal shows, and the space ghosts have been taking up in your mind will de-escalate until they are gone. UB disappears as you stop paying attention to it and focus on pleasant stuff

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  5. This is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that can only be designed to yet again avoid confronting the truth of human experience.

    The truth is that people are – as personalities – immortal beings. They reincarnate over and over again and have been for millions of years.

    This is the reason that the mind can appear so fragmented, even influenced by “external” entities. Of course, external entities CAN exist and influence a being.

    And of course there is a very complicated relationship between the being, its mind, and the body. And that’s a lot of what any therapy has to pick apart.

    I would never get involved in a therapy that did not openly accept these basic facts of life.

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  6. Hello Terry,
    well for the last 16 years i have walked with my wife through her DID. In the DID world they call themselves ‘multiples’ and the rest of us ‘singletons.’ However, the longer I walked with my wife the more I became convinced that the only difference between her and me was she was a ‘dissociated multiple’ and I am a ‘non-dissociated multiple.’

    However, after 16 years of helping my wife heal in the deepest areas of her personality…has IFS never considered the place of dissociation and how that easily reconciles ‘entities’ and ‘ub’s’ and ‘possession’ without having to embrace the supernatural or outside forces…and I say this as one who grew up in a deeply religious background that eagerly sought all those supernatural experiences. Decades-long dissociation accounts for that feeling of a part being ‘foreign’ or ‘outside’ of the other parts of a person’s personality. And the deeper we went in the healing, the more ‘outside’ those parts felt…initially…but as I showered each with love and the safety she never had, each responded…and in time connected to the larger group…Respectfully, I really think you all are missing what these are and how essential they are to the healing and wholeness of the person.

    There’s more, but, unless you have interest, I’ll leave it there.

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  7. Hmm, I’m not convinced about ‘entities’. The ‘data’ you’re working with is that someone is having an experience that feels alien or outside of their sense of self. Initially that is just a psychological phenomenon that stands in need of explanation, just like any other phenomenon, and we don’t yet know where the explanation lies. Immediately jumping to the conclusion that it’s supernatural seems unjustified to me. I think taking things at face value and concluding that because it *feels* external, therefore it must *be* external, is a bit naïve. By the way, “a domain in-between the mind and the world, between a person’s inner awareness and the sensible world” is actually a pretty good definition of the Unconscious, rather than of the spirit world…

    I don’t think you’ll ever be able to prove the supernatural based on a purely subjective experience or something you’ve ‘sensed energetically’. As David Hume said, the wise person proportions their belief to the evidence. So far there’s no evidence apart from a person having a weird experience. Saying it’s a ‘spiritual presence event’ is an interpretation (not data), selected without exploring other possible explanations.

    Also, you’re saying, “it’s not a fight between the person, their therapist, and the UB”, but if it was in fact an independently existing entity from the spirit world, isn’t that exactly what it would be? If I can completely control the entity by upping or downing my anxiety, to me that rather suggests that it’s psychologically created.

    Of course from the psychoanalytic point of view, UBs sound very much like what psychoanalysts call a ‘perpetrator introject’. For example, if your client is having anger outbursts only with certain colleagues, not with everyone, that suggests those are the people he is in the transference with, i.e. the people whom he has unconsciously identified with the perpetrator(s) of the original trauma. The view that the perpetrator introject ‘enters’ – or is internally formed – during experiences of trauma is (from the psychoanalytic point of view) correct. Trauma involves the subjective experience of powerlessness, and through a defense called ‘identification with the aggressor’ the perpetrator, who does have power in that situation, is internalized, allowing me to regain a certain sense of power. And since in the moment of trauma only the aggression or malice of the perpetrator is felt (no love or care), the perpetrator introject is more or less pure evil and acts highly destructively in the mind, as well as towards others in moments when the person switches from identification (or ‘blending’) with an inner victim part or rescuer part to identification with the aggressor (e.g. against the coworkers). There’s a great book about Perpetrator Introjects by Ralf Vogt which helped me greatly, though it requires some familiarity with psychoanalysis to understand.

    I guess my view is mostly influenced by my background of growing up in Germany and being exposed to endless history lessons and writings and discussions about WW2. How did a civilized nation that has produced poems and symphonies decide to victimize millions of innocents, harvest their gold teeth, shave their hair for wigs, enslave them and gas them? How could it happen? How did they all go insane? Were they possessed by demons? No, they were not. Ordinary psychology can account even for very extreme behaviors and states of consciousness because human beings have the potential for unlimited violence and ‘nastiness’, whether it’s turned towards others or towards the self in the form of hallucinations etc. Evil is not evidence of the supernatural, and I don’t think feelings of alienation or an incompletely integrated sense of self are either.

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    • I appreciate this reframe and application of psychoanalysis.

      The relief of “expelling” an UB correlates to a reduction in anxiety and seems, essentially, to be another way of unburdening, by allowing the expression of anger and rejection towards the original perpetrator (though it is towards this internalized part).

      So, when usual unburdening – “letting go” – is not possible (allowing sadness), “rejecting” with a ritual of expelling (allowing anger) is another route to allowing the rage (aspect of grief). Whatever energy is left (as rage is not the same kind of release as sadness), can then resettle into the system as another part or aspects of parts.

      Early on in my IFS work, a therapist suggested a part was an unattached burden. That seemed attractive, as I detested and feared the part, but I was skeptical. Ten years later, I recognize this was related to some deep trauma that I didn’t have the capacity and regulation to be with at the time. I imagine if I was a person whom the ritual of rejection seemed attractive to, that would have allowed me to release some rage, which would have shifted things in my system.

      It feels again, that this something that works, but not for the reasons one thinks. Supernatural demons and entities have served many purposes to externalize that which we cannot be with.

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      • Well said. For me, it has been very hard to “be with” my demon, while still recognizing that it has some very unwelcome qualities. It has seemed to me the capacity for something like the “demonic” must have had some purpose for earlier primates — and hence us, in some primitive way.

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        • As an idea, to me demons and THE devil are the negative of evil.

          The lack of explanation for evil in the human world.

          As, God, in critical analysis of mythology, not of religion of course, is the negative of Good.

          That good which cannot be explained is attributed to God, the evil that cannot be explained is attributed to the “other guy”.

          The blessings and the curses we do not deserve and/or cannot explain are attributed, in mythology, not in religion, to divinities, to the suprahuman.

          To me, it’s an attempt to explain the good and evil in the human world, that we otherwise could not explain.

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  8. It is plausible that we want to help each other, but here lies the problem with helping.

    Help from others, like anything else, can, for lack of a better word, be weaponized consciously or unconsciously. The conscious situation is abuse and violence of great underscoring. The unconscious can be the same except it may be not be direct. The result under these conditions is the same for the receiver.

    In therapy, the most important thing is not to dissect the person’s mind because if we can do that they can too and there is nothing more intrusive than one doing that and the other not allowed especially when both are adults. this is my opinion.

    I know informed consent may cover this but unless that informed consent is in every session, it is not practical. I am not against the dissection as it happens in every relationship dynamic, just that the mere fact of doing it is harm if not explicitly stated: I am working with your inner world while you (the client) not entitled to do the same. This sets the stage quite in the present and allows both to know where they are positioned. It should not be assumed as common knowledge or common agreement.

    The mind is both private (thoughts, ideas, feelings +more) and public (transference, reactions, emotions), and our interactions can generally harm and help us, sometimes simultaneously.

    One of the most important thing for the therapy experience is understanding what therapy “represents” for the client.

    If the client carries “introjects” from the past, what will they carry from the therapy experience going forward?

    Most therapists do not want to engage in this self-reflection and instead focus on projection, which can be both a weapon of harm and a mechanism of love.

    The introjects, burdens, or internalizations are always important, even if they hurt us now and definitely harms us then. The point is to find their purpose for the person.

    One cannot simply cut off the flesh that has been nourished by these internalizations over the years. At a minimum, these “unwanted entities” help us differentiate what we do not want, and in order to recognize that, we must gain it from an experience. Their purpose may be the process of differentiation not shutting them down, not cutting them out but realizing there are parts of us that we carry from the past just as parts we can develop today that we will carry – it is the mechanism that allows harm as well as healing.

    IMHO, most therapist represent compassion and empathy (if they are doing their job properly as I have no doubt the writer is doing). The main issue with this is when we are in the presence of such person naturally we may also project our compassion and empathy to them (this projecting from the client is what we label as therapeutic alliance but some clients may not project their compassion – what is the therapist representing then?). This is worth some thinking.

    The informed consent is and should be making that projection from the client into reflection – it bounces back to them as often as possible explicitly. The clients are not dumb. They will know how often they project their compassion to the society or to the therapist (even when under deep grief) and the absence of compassion being unbridled mental states without the boss – compassion and empathy parts.

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  9. Hi Terry

    Thanks for a super helpful article. I am a ‘self taught’ student of Voice Dialogue (developed by Hal and Sierra Stone). Their book ‘Embracing Ourselves’ has been my persistent ‘looking after myself’ text for a good 20 years now. I usually find the heavy terminology & Certification of IFS a bit of a turn off (things that Voice Dialogue tends to be free of), but your article articulates very well IFS in ways that I had not fully appreciated before. I can see now that dipping into IFS from time to time is another way to help keep my understanding of my parts as ‘aware as possible’. Thank you, Guy

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