Intimacy Matters

Ruth Culver - From Surviving to Thriving

May 09, 2021 Wanting More
Intimacy Matters
Ruth Culver - From Surviving to Thriving
Show Notes Transcript

Ruth Culver talks to us about the fascinating world of Internal Family Systems therapy, and her work linking IFS with Polyvagal Theory.  Sounds complex? You'll be an expert after this podcast, which is full of learning and warmth too.  Ruth talks about how we process trauma and how IFS can help us to gently access this and ultimately heal ourselves and our relationships.

Ruth's website can be found here: http://calmheart.co.uk

Her Survive/Thrive diagram can be dowloaded here (requires email).

And remember you can find us at www.realrelating.com/podcast

Nicola Foster:

Welcome to intimacy matters. I'm Nicola Foster. I'm a sex and relationship therapist and a self confessed intimacy geek. I work with couples around the challenges of keeping passion alive, and how to deepen intimacy.

Jason Porthouse:

And I'm Jason Porthouse. Nicola's partner. I'm also fascinated by what makes for fulfilling, nourishing and sexually alive relationships.

Nicola Foster:

So whether you're in one or you want one, join us as we learn from the best experts in the field, and find out how we can have healthier, happier, sexier relationships.

Jason Porthouse:

I saw this lovely article in the paper the other day, which I thought was really touching. And it was about hugging. It was about it was in The Guardian. And it was 'Hugging is like medicine and gives us hope', friends and lovers on the joy of touch. And it was really beautiful, because it was just talking about the importance of hugging in our lives.

Nicola Foster:

Oh, I mean, it's one of the real travesties, isn't it in this, you know, this time of lockdown. I remember you and I, in the summer going to the farm shop. And seeing those families like three generally, you know, three generations of a family, doing those kind of virtual hugs, where you just hug yourself and look at the others and make eye contact. And I find it quite heartbreaking really to see that. Yeah. Not missing the physical touch. Yeah,

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, and this is all about I mean, just the importance of it, not just between lovers, but, you know, between siblings, between parents and children, if they're separated between grandparents and grandchildren, and just between friends as well. And it kind of reminded me of the first time I ever went to, you know, one of those festivals all to do with intimacy and things like that. And, you know, we, we, we often are quite uptight, in this country about hugging out way we can be a bit kind of, you know, like men or just give each other a verse or a very cursory hug and a pat. And in this place, they were kind of giving these long hugs that would last for like a minute or something like that, which felt like an eternity the first time I did it. But then you get into this state, where you suddenly realise that the longer you hug, the more of the good chemicals are released, you know, and there's science to back this up as well now.

Nicola Foster:

Oh, 100% Yeah, we know that oxytocin is released after I think it's like, five seconds, you know, like, just if you keep going, just get it going, then the oxytocin starts to build, and the longer you hug for, you've got oxytocin flow, and which is the, the bonding brain chemical that is released when mothers nurse their children. It's it's released an orgasm, you know, it connects us and we feel safe and love.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, yeah. So it's really bad. It's vital, isn't it? We need to hug more, we need to have more, all of us need to have more. And it's kind of connected as well, cuz, obviously, that what it activates is our polyvagal system, isn't it? And there's a lot of science now coming out around that, you know, in terms of the difference between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, and all these neurological effects. And and that's what we're going to be talking about today, isn't it with our guest, Ruth Culver?

Nicola Foster:

Yeah, absolutely. And I feel just to add something about consent, because it's also a big important part of relating and intimacy. There's this brilliant video, it was all about kids greeting each other in the classroom, and they were given the choice between a handshake or a hug, or a high five, and they could choose between the three. And some point someone who I know that's really into the consent community pointed out that this actually was really inappropriate for kids. Because whilst we do need touch, we also need to be able to choose whether we want touch or not, or we want to hug or not. And I know I've posted about hugging before and had some friends post, you know, comment and say, I hate hugging. I really don't want to. Yeah, so I think it's really important also to acknowledge that for some people touch is not what they need and being able to being able to make eye contact. I mean, for a lot of people in lockdown, it's really interesting that they feel that going forward, they're going to have more opportunity to keep their own boundaries safe enough for what they need, because they were tolerating touch they didn't want before. Yeah, yeah. So it's interesting. It's not, it's not , it's different for different people,

Jason Porthouse:

You know, and I have memories of a kid of sort of, you know, kind of giving you those hugs that you really didn't want at the time, you know, and he kind of feeling a bit swamped by it and, and but you didn't have the wherewithal to say no, because that was just what happened to you. So that you know,

Nicola Foster:

Completely and that's leaves a lasting residue for a lot of people that they've had too much unwanted touch in their in their childhood years. And it was just like you, like you're describing that a bit overwhelming. And they need to be able to choose how long their hugs last. And of course, we can change, you know, sometimes you might feel like you're going through a phase of not wanting very much touch. And then you might move into a phase of wanting lots, yes. Yeah. Wonderful richness of being a human being changing.

Jason Porthouse:

So I'm going to modify my original statement and say we all need hugs, as long as we don't.

Nicola Foster:

Exactly.

Jason Porthouse:

Hugs with consent. That's what we need to have. Ruth, welcome to intimacy matters. It's great to have you here.

Ruth Culver:

Thank you. It's lovely to be here with you guys - exciting doing this podcast.

Jason Porthouse:

doing this podcast. And so Ruth is a somatic psychotherapist, who uses internal family systems therapy, and also specialises in trauma and attachment. And even in that short sentence of a bio, there's an awful lot to unpack, Ruth.

Ruth Culver:

Yes. Well, it's not an official term, I add somatic because a lot of psychotherapy tends to be focused on you know, it's a lot of it's analysing keeping it in the head. So it's a real emphasis on the fact that that my approach is through the body politic through the body.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah. And you find that makes a big difference in terms of

Ruth Culver:

huge difference, because of course, our cognitive mind is only a tiny percentage of who we are, and all our memories, all our programming, or not automatic behaviours, or compulsions, or all those things are our subconscious, which is all held much more in the body. And we access it much more effectively through the body.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, yeah. And I suppose that's in particularly relevant given the propensity for people to be in their heads in the society today that there's a kind of, yeah, I know, for me, it's been a long journey of getting in touch with my body.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, our society thinks left brain is is what matters in general. And we need to incorporate the both right and left to be fully human fully in our bodies. And of course, we dissociate to cope. That's a major, a major way of dealing with adversity is just, I'll just leave my body leave my feelings alone and just think about it rationalise intellectual bypassing, it's there? It's a great survival strategy.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Nicola Foster:

Jason's nodding away. You know that one?

Jason Porthouse:

I do know that one. Yeah. All too well, so I'm sure it's not something we can condense into one sentence but internal family systems IFS, what is it?

Ruth Culver:

Well, it's an approach to psychotherapy that its primary basis is that we're all multiple sub personalities inside which is not unique to IHS, there are other psychotherapists that that have that approach as well. But I have has has a particular way of working with these multiple personalities. Doesn't mean we have all got multiple personality disorder it's just it's a natural thing you know, if you are thinking of going to a party you might think are a part of me really wants to go and other part of me just wants an early night we say this really naturally. So it's, it's there as these conflicts these confusions different feelings pulling us in different directions. There's they're naturally so in IFS, we view them as parts of us that all have different roles within us different intentions, beliefs, carrying different emotions and memories. And by treating every single one of them is having a positive intention for us, which is one of the things that really makes IFS different. Even the parts of us we can't stand you know, made the part that overeats or or spends way too much time on Work, even things we can't read out, we don't want to be part of us. And we think it's not really me. They all have a positive intention for us and IFS, which was created by Richard Schwartz, about 40 years ago in the States, it aims to get to know befriend these parts and relieve them of the burdens they're carrying, the wounds they're carrying, so that they can relax and work more as part of a team rather than trying to run everything as if it's a disaster about to happen, because they're replaying what happened when they first started doing that. That coping strategy.

Jason Porthouse:

Right. So this idea that things yeah, these parts are created for a good reason.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah.

Jason Porthouse:

At the their inception, if you like, even though we might not be aware of what that is.

Ruth Culver:

It worked at the time. Yeah. And it's not a maladaptation. It's an adaptation. It's it was an adaptation to cope. And it's just needs updating the system needs updating. And the way we do that is by going to befriend them and relieve them of the burdens they're carrying.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah. So I'm fascinated this idea of exiles that you talk about on your sheet.

Ruth Culver:

So IFS has these three parts, a little bit of jargon, we've got managers, and firefighters, who are both protector parts. So managers do the daily, proactive keeping things in shape, as best they can to keep the exiles away. Keep them from being hurt again. Because these acts as our holding painful emotions and wounds. Firefight fighters jump in, as emergency services reactive if when the managers can no longer cope, and the exiles are getting triggered, firefighters will jump in. So they're the more extreme parts that don't care. Then, and spray foam all over your house and ruin everything. They don't care. They just want to put the fire out.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, yeah, I see.

Ruth Culver:

So these exiles are usually very, usually very young, holding pain, grief, fear, shame, unexpressed, sort of rage that couldn't be couldn't be spoken to set boundaries. And the managers and the firefighters keep them away because they think it's still happening. Right? IFS has this other part called self, which is a bit like the soul or spirit or Buddha nature or God or many religions, many therapists as well have this sense of self, which is the core compassionate, confident, calm centre of us that can never be damaged. But often can't access can't have access to these parts because they had to take over so early Ryan. So our job in the therapy is to help build that connection to self energy. And self is then becomes the re parenting re reprogramming the core of of what heals these parts.

Jason Porthouse:

And I'm guessing that in doing the healing your it's important that those the exiles aren't banished and fault.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, exactly. It's about turning towards all our parts, whether they're the exiles, these young parts holding, holding terror or beliefs that they're worthless or totally unsafe. We don't, it's about bringing them in helping them feel this presence of compassion and calm, that doesn't want to fix them doesn't want to change them also actually doesn't want to change the protectors. We, that's a core difference rather than trying to get rid of say our eating disorder or whatever, we turn towards it and find out what's actually driving it. And then when the managers the firefighters feel the presence of self, they no longer have to carry the full load of fixing it. They can relax a bit because someone else has turned up. It's like the ideal parent has turned up and they can relax and then they find more balance in the system. So they become team players and instead of being so extreme, they'll just manage things in a much more relaxed way. As we become more self led

Nicola Foster:

Thats brilliant because something that we were musing on when we were doing researching this podcast is if you have parts of you that have kind of that feel exiled, but there are like isotopes Think about it, you know, in shadow, the golden shadow the wonderful parts, but they're still you know, inaccessible, like magnificence or pride or, you know, could they be exiles or you know, but you find the very hard to access. Could you say anything about those?

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, well, those things are there. So they haven't exactly been exiled and kept away necessarily, although sometimes they might have to be kept away. If, for example, being joyful was dangerous when you're a child. If you're punished for being joyful or creative, then yes, those parts will be exiled. And sometimes they're simply unavailable, because the energy is all being taken up with survival with reactivity with, with coping, so they become more available as the system becomes more self LED, we automatically get more access to our creativity, our magnificence, our joy. Thank you.

Nicola Foster:

We refer to this diagram, this is one of the things that made us really keen to have you in the first series of the podcast is that you've been doing this incredible research and publish this amazing Survive Thrive spiral, it's gone kind of viral, the spirals gone viral. And where you've integrated your your own understanding and learning of internal family systems with the polyvagal theory. And we're looking at a copy here and our listeners, I'm sure at the end, we can contact you. And yeah, we'll post a link to your to you and they can contact you about finding out more about it. But I'd love to hear from you about how that developed. And in particular, I know that you reached out to some of the people who, who created these models to help you get to this point. So just tell us about how it came to be

Ruth Culver:

Polyvagal theory was created by Steven porges. And it sort of revolutionised our understanding of the nervous And it's really fascinating thinking about this because i system, we used to think there was just sort of fight, flight, and freeze and he brought in this whole understanding that the vagus nerve, which is the long the longest nerve in the body, it takes its name from Vagrant and the word wander it goes through every goes to every organ. And it has two different types. It has this dorsal vagal, which is kind of ancient, reptilian, or, you know, the earliest part of the nervous system, which really just disconnects to survive, and freezes just like you'd think, for reptile freezing. Whereas the newer part of the Vagus nerve is all about social connection, which is much more mammalian, you know, we have these social ways of regulating ourselves in connection with others. So you've got the safety and disconnection the dorsal vagal, you've got the safety in connection that's called the ventral vagal. And then you've got fight flight, which is I've, I've got to do something to cope. So I started mapping what was happening in people's nervous systems because I was working with constellation. So working in groups, there's a lot of a lot of people with a lot of trauma dysregulated nervous systems, often they don't know, they're not familiar with this safety and collection state, because maybe they they grew up with, in a distressing situation where it just wasn't available to them. So the nervous system, they're constantly either living in the fight flight mode, or in a collapse-submit-freeze type mode, or flipping between the two of them. So I started mapping to try and understand what was happening in the nervous system with my understanding of parts as, as I began to began to really integrate internal family systems into constellations, because they used to work with a form of constellations that worked with internal parts, but I've brought IFS, which is a new type of constellation. So now here were all these parts coming up in the constellations this internal family of parts, which will have this internal family that's what it's called that these parts come from constellations there were all these reactions, the nervous system, and I just my brain works that way. I wanted to put it on paper so I could kind of get a handle on it and then through various iterations the spiral emerged and spiral because we we kind of spiral out of ourselves into 'I must' which is the fight flight state through to 'I can't' which is almost dissociation. I can't cope with this. There's nothing I can do. So I either have to shut down in some way, that's maybe a kind of active shutdown. So we've got a bit of sympathetic nervous system in there, we are still doing something that maybe people pleasing or just keeping quiet, going through the motions, numbing out in some way or complete collapse through, say parts to go into chronic fatigue or just wanting to slee, wanting to die. But we can spiral back, we can come back down through that spiral down to this grounded place of 'I can' where our protectors are integrated, connected to the 'I Am' this absolute core of of safety, the self, this inner reservoir of being. So you mentioned the people who I'd spoken to, I spoke to Steven porges, about it finding out whether he, my understanding was correct in his way of thinking. And of course, his way of thinking is always evolving as is mine, I have probably got another version of the spiral coming out soon. And I also spoke to Deb Dana, who has done amazing work bringing internal family systems that she she has an IFS background, and the polyvagal system together. Although I humbly admit that I have inverted her polyvagal ladder, simply because it made much more sense to me to have this traffic light, it comes in the colours of red, yellow, green, and also to have this sense of self as grounded. So we don't have to go up try work hard to get up to self, we actually come back down into self, which is always think i think it would be true to say we all, sort of flick up and down through this system don't we it's it's, it's I can certainly see myself instances where I've been in and I am in different bits of this. Yeah, you know, that's so true. we are designed to use all parts of our nervous system, it's there to keep us safe. That's what the nervous system is for. So we want to be able to sometimes dissociate, if we need to, we want to be able to sometimes go into hyper overdrive with adrenaline if we need to. But the key is that we don't get stuck there. We, our system knows that it's safe to come back, it has the patterning the the neural connections to go up into another zone and then come back down into self connection when the danger has passed. And of course, there are times there's another version of the spiral, which is kind of the integrated system. This the one that's gone viral is the trauma system, the traumatised system. But there's an integrated system as well, where, yes, we may use these parts in emergencies. But there are also parts of the nervous system that we can access in pleasure, you know, in deep intimacy in, in role playing in excitement of chasing, chasing a goal. But again, the key is that we don't get stuck, we are able, we have a resilient system. And for me, resilience is something we learn gradually, hopefully we learn it in childhood, but we can learn it later in life that we can come back down to a safe place.

Nicola Foster:

That really leads beautifully into something I wanted to ask Ruth because there's couples listening to this podcast, who may be wondering, well, how can I learn from from what you know, from what I'm learning today about these systems? When I get into an argument with my partner, and I find myself in this fight or flight kind of mood, like we both are in some form of fight flight, and we're dysregulated or my boyfriend gone into the freeze. How do we come back? Yeah, so kind of together. How do we navigate coming back when both of us have got something going on? Yeah.

Ruth Culver:

Well, the key thing is to turn the attention back on yourself because what we tend to do when we're a couple is make the other person's fault. There's often some blaming going on, and that is a protector. That's a protector activity trying to keep the exile of the pain away - 'it's your fault you should change' and even if we're not massively activated, still are thinking maybe that 'if only they would change things would be okay'. So we bring it always back to ourselves and look at what's going on in me. So for example, if I'm triggered by my partner who is always at work, for example, I might have a protector comes in say 'your you never pay any attention to the family, you're never here'. Maybe some blaming or I might go into a hopelessness of 'this is never going to change', again a protector keeping me from what's really going on, which is underneath, there's probably some grief, some pain, some shame, maybe some unexpressed anger, like a clear, you know, the difference between protector anger, which is attacking and pure boundary anger, which is 'no, that's not okay', that clear, 'that's not all right'. So those things maybe aren't being expressed, because we didn't learn to express them in a, in a healthy way, we didn't learn to pay attention to ourselves, it's coming back to yourself, always. So taking a break from each other, and turning towards yourself, maybe finding help if you need it. But also, you could even use something like this spiral diagram to just identify what's going on with me. And we get curious about the protectors. So if my protector is making me quit, making me leave the relationship, maybe persistently keep leaving relationships, that's my main way of protecting myself. Okay. Get curious, what's this part trying to protect me from? And then we start to get to know the exiles that they are keeping away. But until we can help them be healed, it's gonna keep on happening.

Nicola Foster:

This is, yeah, this is the beauty of the couples work is actually, when we're, when I'm working with a couple who are in a very regulated calm state, sometimes we're able to, to explore, touch into the exiles just in a very gentle way. That the parts that have been hidden the parts that were there from childhood that just peeking out, and when the partner is able to see that part, that vulnerable child that that that tender part, it can, it can dissolve some of the future ruptures, because there's more empathy. So yeah, I definitely see that in the room.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, yeah, the IFS couples therapy happens two ways. There's one protocol which links it's a little bit of a geeky thing. I know some people might know

Nicola Foster:

We love geeky on here...

Ruth Culver:

Imago, the the the relationship based therapy, which I think is based on NVC where, you've talked about 'this reminds me of things that happened in childhood'. So IFS, that IFS has a particular type of a protocol called IFIO - intimacy from the inside out. And that combines kind of Imago with IFS. So you're working with the couple to start to state, this is my stuff, this is what is going on for me when you do that. So it's instead of blaming, you bring it back to your own wounds. And so that's one type of IFS with couples. The other type of IFS with couples is simply you do your own work in front of your partner, you do an IFS journey, connecting to yourself working with her and exiles in front of them. And it's beautiful as you rather what you've just described.

Nicola Foster:

Yeah, I, my kind of background with parts is working with the voice dialogue from HAl and Sidra Stone. And yes, sometimes we'll do a session where one partner is Yeah, is revealing themselves through their their parts work. And then in the next session, we'll do some parts work with the other partner. Yeah, as you say, it's, it can be extremely.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, that's beautiful.

Jason Porthouse:

I guess what it does is it takes out a lot of the imagining in the other partner, because they can understand what's happening, they see it in front of them, for their partner, you know, they're not puzzling as to why certain behaviour is happening, or kind of, you know, that there's a kind of a, almost like, a logic, if you will to it. You know,

Ruth Culver:

Yes, it helps the understanding, certainly, which stops them blaming themselves. Yeah, which is de-shaming. So that's one aspect of it. And then of course, also, it puts them in contact with self energy, which is the compassion that opens up their heart. And then the, the partner can feel the compassion and the love comes back.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, because I guess it's all too easy if we don't understand, if we don't have that to project to blame to kind of judge as a way of self protection maybe or something, you know. And so yeah, having that kind of having, what's going on in the other made explicit is a great help.

Nicola Foster:

We were speaking about how this might map into sexuality, and maybe we could move into that. I think one of the things, I specialise in intimacy and sexuality. And one of the things I find looking at parts really helpful for is that often people's sexuality has become sort of bound up, I think with, with, with parts that aren't very self, you know, sometimes they it's become a place where they, we can, that's what I was thinking of was is that we come look at get into these dark dynamics or has a parent child look at these dynamics, or analysis in another model. And they've lost access to an adult sexual self apart in the sense of themselves, that is self and is sexual. And when we can, like you say, sort of, make some more space and move some of the other kind of parts that are may be acting out sexuality in habitual ways from the past and find access to sexuality. That's, that's this kind of talk about adult sexual man and adult sexual woman. When those two parts can meet each other, then you can, then intimacy can grow.

Ruth Culver:

Because I was coming on the podcast, I got a bit geeky last night and made a whole a whole version of the spiral, looking at sexual parts in sexual, I suppose you'd call them sexual parts. Yeah, that suggests physical But no, I mean, the parts that come up in us around sexual sexuality and sexual expression, because normally, my focus is much more on attachment, which, of course, is the trauma aspect and looking at relational trauma. And a one thing I didn't say, which I'm just going to insert here, because I love it is oh attachment. It's so amazing. What I understood from the spiral is there aren't all these different types of attachments as far as I'm concerned, there's simply secure attachment and insecure attachment. and secure attachment is when you've got connection to self energy, and you can come back down the spiral move up and down it in a resilient way, and insecure attachment is when your protectors have taken over. And they're either doing avoidant or anxious ambivalent protection type activities or flipping between the two. And that's really it. So we don't, that's one of the things about IFS. It's very, non pathologizing. We don't label people such as parts trying to cope. So in terms of sexuality, it's the same shape, we've got this little reservoir of exiles, holding fear, shame, grief and anger from their own sexuality issues, gender issues, exposure to sexual things, all aspects of their sexuality. There'll be there will be exiles, we'll all have them. Holding trauma, cultural issues, religious beliefs, gender burdens, and they can be accessed sometimes they can be seen, you know, sometimes when people say, I don't know why sex makes me cry, well, sometimes those exiles can come up when we have that intimacy opened up. But in general, there, this reservoir is all being protected, kept away by all the way around it on the spiral is surrounded by either freeze or fight flight protectors. And so in the freeze, that might be things like, Oh, well the body saying no pain, absolutely not. We're not going not going near there, or dissociation, people pleasing that the kind of submitting type hopelessness, can't feel, can't, no desire, no orgasm, all different types of numbing for various reasons. So we don't label the reason why we turn towards and find out why. And then the fight flight protectors in sexual terms would be things like using sex to numb as pain relief, compulsions, being controlling, needing to perform chasing orgasm risk taking, worrying, procrastinating, avoiding, so lots of ways of looking at it in the nervous system terms. And then, right at the bottom of the spiral, you've got this whole green space, this place of 'I Can' this resilient space. And there what I saw was all the eight C's of IFS are what we mean by that is this the self is known to have these qualities. All beginning with C conveniently. So Curiosity. Wonderful when that's possible to bring that into our we can then have adventures and and explore sexually Courage to be vulnerable. Compassion for self and other and that allows intimacy Clarity so I know what my once I know what my needs are know what my boundaries are. Confidence to, to speak to act, Creativity play,. Connection to myself and to you and to the we space are these three types of connection. Choice - I can stop at any time well that's an that's a that's like a ninth C that that was just being added in, and Calm - so knowing what speed is right always being able to come back to pausing. So there's always that somewhere underneath even if we're going into the wildest places, we we've got some part of us that remains calm enough to say stop when we need to, or to slow things down. And actually, that also changes the whole speed thing. You know, sometimes, especially if you're an orgasm chasing part, you, it's really useful to have access to that part who can be calm because we all we know that when we're able to be slower, sex becomes much more interesting and spacious and expansive and magical. Sometimes Sometimes you won't go fast, sometimes you will get slow but having the access to speed, we need a calm place to come back to. So yeah, I geeked out on that.

Jason Porthouse:

It sounds fascinating. And it's incredibly clear. I think it's clear, and and empowering as well.

Ruth Culver:

As you know, we don't want to we don't want to get rid of the thinking parts, they are so useful to help us understand. And that's why having on paper for me I'm very visual. Being able to notice what's happening in my body and naming it that's the first stage notice a name. And just by doing that, Oh, look, I've I've dissociated. I've gone into auto Drive, drive I've, I've turned into my people pleasing of putting their pleasure before mine, simply by noticing it naming it. That means somebody else is here. The the part of us is naming it that's the self energy. That's the curiosity. Oh, what's happening?

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah.

Ruth Culver:

Oh, I'm not alone, someone else is here.

Jason Porthouse:

So many people go through life not ever having that sense of self in that concrete way. And I'm kind of minded all the while we're talking about this, I'm thinking of that Pixar movie that we watched, Inside Out. Have you have you seen this?

Ruth Culver:

Well, the IFS Institute had had had input with Disney about creation.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, it's very redolent of it. And I, I mean that with the greatest of respect for the both the film and the thing, because I think it's so true, isn't it, this notion that, you know, we've got this sense of things running the show that that not necessarily us. But that realisation that there is a self behind it all, the mere act of observation is confirmation that there is a self.

Ruth Culver:

And Dick Schwartz who created Richard Schwartz, who created IFS, and he says that he's worked with some of the most extreme criminals on the planet. And he says, with enough time, you find they all do have it, we all have, it's like the sun, it may be covered in clouds, storm clouds, but it is always there and it can be found. So, such beautiful hope to be able to bring that in to know what it is inside us all.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah, and what strikes me with this is the importance of this as we move in, as we move forwards as as a as a species in a way that you know, life is becoming evermore complex for us and my you know, the and the kind of the pressures on us and the burdens and the distractions and all of these things. And we kind of, I think we've got down pat, the models for understanding the physical body, you know, we kind of know if we go and exercise we need to stretch a little bit we need to warm up we need to kind of not just run without that, you know, and, and we need to warm down and we need to take care of ourselves and we need to sort of, but we that model for the emotional self is kind of lacking, isn't it until you look at something like this and you go, alright, I can understand that. What's going on here I can I've got a very strong image of where I am on this spiral at any given time, and how to get myself back to balance again. Yeah.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, it's the fact that it brings together the physiological and the psychological. I like that, you know, I, you know, there's something reassuring, especially for our very left brain culture, about having the science in there. Because it's harder to prove the, the psychological side of it. Yeah, the thought side? Yeah,

Nicola Foster:

I think it really helps. If people are very much in a left brain, if that's something they're very comfortable with, to have something to help them make sense of the emotional, and then it kind of is like a doorway into the emotional and, and creating safety in emotion. And that leads me on to probably are, we're moving towards the end. So might even be our final question. I'm just looking at your model. And it really strikes me that something beautiful here about the work that I do with couples, which is finding safety and connection, like the, you know, sometimes all of this is a bit overwhelming, isn't it? And it's confusing. And when we're activated, where we're a bit lost maybe in one of these survival strategies. And actually, some what, what our partner can do for us is, hold the space or create the conditions where we can come back to access self. So I wonder if you could say something about how how we can support and this isn't just for partners, it's for friends, it's for family members, you know, how can somebody who can see that this the other person is, is suffering or struggling and gone into a survival adaptation? How can somebody support them? Yeah.

Ruth Culver:

Yes, it's a it's a beautiful resource, the other people as safety, I think probably the best way to support people is to notice your own parts that want to fix them, they want to make it better. And simply listen, because the moment we start to try to make things better, whether it be giving somebody a hug too early or, or distracting them with wine, or whatever it is, or, oh, it'll be fine, reassuring them or very dominantly in our culture, again, working it out, coming coming up with solution or analysing it, the parts that are really hurting underneath that are terrified or full of grief or or rage, or shame, they don't get heard. So the protectors also, if your friend is activated into those protectors have taken over, then you're just going to work harder if we try and push them away if we try and make them better. So it's about acknowledging it just as you would with a little child, if a child is scared because there's a thunderstorm. You just go into their bedroom and say, 'Oh, it's alright. It's It's It's just a thunderstorm' but the child's still scared. So we need to say, oh, you're scared on you just be we just listen and acknowledge that sounds really scary. Well, that sounds so frustrating. So when people are heard protectors Calm down, because we've got connection, somebody just heard us, I would give that as the most important thing. Just reflect back on it sounds really scary. That sounds so frustrating. And then you can actually feel the other person's Nervous System start to calm down when they feel heard. give them space to talk. And then give them connection, eye connection, maybe some touch, if that's what they want. Ask them what they want. That's the most important thing, to what do you need now? And that's what we do internally, or externally as well. What are you most afraid will happen? That's a lovely question. Let them speak their fears. And then ask them what they want. So listen, ask what they need. Three, ask what they're scared of. And then ask them what they want. So it's not about your fixing parts, you have to calm those ones down.

Jason Porthouse:

Yeah. Because Because often the desire to fix is motivated by a desire not to feel the discomfort of the other person's pain or, and you know, maybe your own kind of upset around that as well, isn't it?

Ruth Culver:

Yeah. self energy, of curiosity and compassion. And noticing when you're protected and putting in IFS language here, noticing when your protectors come in to try to make it better, and know that that's what they're trying to do. There's nothing wrong with them.

Jason Porthouse:

But in my own experience of that, just having space to be with whatever is arising you know, with another person is incredibly calming.

Nicola Foster:

I think those two words are just beautiful. Just to stay with as a kind of reminder, curiosity and compassion, how can I stay curious and listen to what's happening to the other person without trying to understand it just just just just be curious. And I mean, I noticed you, Ruth, you were just speaking softly being kind just bringing a gentle energy being there like you say, as you would with a small with a child, which not patronising. But just just a slowness and gentleness.

Ruth Culver:

Yeah, it's about regulating yourself. First, as he said, when you first asked about couples, turn the attention to yourself, oh, look, I just got activated so you can extend your outbreath. That's a polyvagal. Really quick polyvaga tip, extend your outbreath will calm you down. Or who you're the person you're with, will feel your calming presence. Just like if you have a baby, you need to just yeah, I'm here. I'm here just Yeah.

Nicola Foster:

Oh, I'm feeling calmer already.

Jason Porthouse:

It's been such pleasure talking to you. And I know we could go longer. And and hopefully you'll come back and talk to us again about more of this.

Ruth Culver:

I'd love to. I mean, it's been a great delight talking to you. And you heard my I'm so excited parts talking as they speed it up my voice and then yeah, loads, loads to talk about. Great fun. Yeah.

Nicola Foster:

Absolutely have have you back. There's like, there's just so much here isn't there? We could do a podcast on aspects of this. And we could go for weeks. So we'll definitely be speaking to you again. We're really grateful that you came on series one. And yeah, we look forward to seeing the next version of the of the spiral when it emerges

Jason Porthouse:

And where can people find out more about you and your work?

Ruth Culver:

My website is calm heart dot co dot uk as in peaceful organ in your chest, calmheart dot co dot UK. And there's a resources page there where they can download the spiral and find out that this there's a video explaining it on YouTube. So links all on that

Jason Porthouse:

page. Great. And we'll put all those links in the show notes so people can access them easily. so fantastic. Wonderful.

Unknown:

Thank you very much.

Jason Porthouse:

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