Boundaries for Your Soul, Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019.
Summary: A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life.
Some feelings are so powerful that they overwhelm us–anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy, shame, and guilt. These unruly emotions break the boundaries that enable us to function in a healthy and productive way. How do we control these emotions?
Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller propose an approach drawing on the Internal Family Systems Model of Therapy that sees our inner selves, or souls as consisting of a family of parts that works to free unruly parts from controlling roles and our various parts working together harmoniously under our Spirit-led self.
This model works off a map of the soul centered around the Spirit-led self who leads with creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, and confidence. Around this Spirit-led self are two types of protectors and one vulnerable part. One of the protectors is the manager that manifests in worry, people-pleasing, striving, self-criticizing, controlling, and perfecting. This part tries to protect by keeping us emotionally safe and free of pain. The other protector is the firefighter, that jumps in after painful events to extinguish pain through actions like overeating, addictions, overspending, self-harm, daydreaming, and lashing out. The third vulnerable part represents the exile: shame, fear, insecurity, hurt, loneliness, sadness. Often, a person seems to be struggling with one of the two protectors in action, and a key is quieting them to hear what the exile is saying and needs.
The key to beginning to bring these emotions under the control of the Spirit-led self is taking what the authors call a “You-Turn.” Instead of fighting or suppressing emotions, this approach assumes we can differentiate our self, particularly our Spirit-led self, from our unruly emotions. They commend five steps:
- Focus: Noting where we sense the feeling, thoughts or images that come to mind when we focus, early memories of feeling this way.
- Befriend: Are we able to feel curiosity and compassion toward this part of our soul. If there is some other emotion, that may be a different part, perhaps self-criticism, that needs to be asked to step back. Then as we return to our emotion, we ask, is there more it wants us to know?
- Invite: Would this part like to invite Jesus to be near? If not, what are its fears and concerns? Can it tell Jesus? Then ask Jesus if he wants to say or do anything, or give a specific gift.
- Unburden: what has this part been carrying? What does it fear about giving up the burden? Does the part want to release the burden and is it asking anything in exchange?
- Integrate: This involves checking in with other parts that might not have liked how a part was expressing itself. How can these parts work together as a harmonious family?
After outlining these steps, they apply the steps to specific emotions: anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy and desire, guilt and shame, and the challenging parts of others. Throughout the book, each step, each situation is illustrated with client stories (with details and identities changed to protect privacy.
What is attractive about this book is the clarity and simplicity with which it is written. In addition, for those who share the authors Christian assumptions, it addresses in one of the most tangible ways I’ve ever seen, how one lives a Spirit-led life, particularly as this applies to disabling emotions and defeating habits. Finally, this book is a refreshing alternative to the “try harder approaches” that seem to rely on human resolve in either suppressing or overcoming unruly emotions or habits. Instead, it builds on the idea that all of these might be focused on, befriended and listened to. These emotions point to places where we need the Spirit’s care and healing. The authors hold out the hope that, in the words of the subtitle we may “turn…overwhelming thoughts and feelings into [our] greatest allies.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.