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Book review: The Others Within Us by Robert Falconer

The Others Within Us, by Robert Falconer, is an evocative book which promotes Internal Family Systems, especially as it can provide a path towards healing for those who have been severely traumatized. The book emerges from the author’s own personal healing journey and his vocational work accompanying others. The aim of the book is to communicate the efficacy of Internal Family Systems (as model) and the ways it might be wielded, so that internalized and extreme polarizations within the interior life of people can be reconciled through the presence of relationships in the “transliminal” space—a term Falconer proposes as a replacement to the subconscious or unconscious.

One of the major hopes for the book – and its key, lengthily handled focus – is to address a rather controversial and relatively unnoticed phenomena in the wider IFS community, known as unattached burdens or otherwise referred to as UBs. It does help the presentation of this strange phenomenon that Falconer makes wide and good use of literature to support his claims.

The book’s foreword is written by IFS founder, Richard Schwartz, who, whilst outlining his reservations with the book due to his own history within psychotherapy circles, also endorses it by stating it can truly help many people.

Falconer’s book follows a very data driven and empirical approach, detailing, with precision, many different case studies across diverse cultures that illuminate the book’s point and support the claims. The book is “encyclopaedic” in nature – really very long – but written with deeply practical intentions.

Chapters six and seven are particularly helpful in this regard. They lay out step by step recommendations for how to engage with unattached burdens. The second half of the book is written for general readers as a way of inviting skeptics or those questioning, towards a very different way of approaching healing and wounds.

Chapter 11 is especially of note as the author acknowledges the eurocentric bias present in the book and by doing so, invites those from other cultures to read, engage, and contest the contents and claims. In a time of awakening regarding deep diversity, it seems important for authors to practice naming their own contexts and the limits of them.

One of the most important and interesting points of the book takes the foundations of IFS to another level: “the porosity of mind,” or the radical permeability of our mind and infinite potential of change that is available to all. While this goes against the grain of the primacy of matter, inherent to the scientific revolution, the ideas involved in Falconer’s thesis are not contradictory to the cosmovisions inherent in many other cultures and traditions of the global majority.

For Falconer, porosity of mind does not mean that all changes to one’s mental state should be welcome. Chapter 14 clearly focuses on the importance of discernment, or in other words, a way of identifying whether changes within one’s inner world are helpful or harmful. The author goes to great lengths throughout the book to clarify that his position is not mono-perspectival, but this chapter does insist there should be a benevolent or wise force accompanying a person on their healing path when attending to UB’s. Falconer then suggests three markers of discernment to look for when identifying a benevolent or wise force to support a person: non-impositional presence, humility, and compassion. While the three markers are very helpful, Falconer spends very little time acknowledging the presence of fear that is likely to arise in the process of tending to UB’s (other than to say a benevelont force will never use fear tactics). It seems that a discussion on the presence of fear would have been very helpful to flesh out more fully and to help normalize it, perhaps even ways a practitioner might trace the subtle ways fear may be present, rather than implying that a person and/or practitioner can always recognize it with ease.

Because of the ways in which the book explores the edges of IFS work, it is likely not a book for everyone. Yet, for those who are interested in exploring the spiritual dimensions of IFS, it is a great book. Regardless if practitioners embrace the claims made by Falconer in The Others Within Us, this new publication emerging within the IFS landscape surely invites for a more relational and multi-dimensional approach to healing.

As such the new openness that Falconer’s book offers, intends and supports an approach that can “change everything” for those who are able to embrace its implicationsThis book means that healing may be much more dynamic than we tend to think of it, and if we are yearning for paths towards wholeness we must be open to take in the whole – wheresoever, whatsoever and whensoever necessary – as a part of that journey.

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1 Comment

  1. There is so much richness, such depth and breadth in The Others Within Us that it brings me to an altered state of being, and that state is a heightened sense of the possible human. Bob Falconer is a rare human being whose aim as I understand it, is to free us from our isolating, wounded culture to be able to live our fullest lives. He cites other cultures and opens our minds to how we humans have taken a tragic path away from the communal nature that had been supportive of our human lives until a few hundred years ago.

    There is a context to Bob’s writing, perhaps more perceptible to those who have become attuned to the presence of Self, or its absence, hearing instead the voice of the manager, the ‘authoritative’ voice. There is a quality of “I-Thou” in the voice of the author, the capstone of the IFS model which is the meeting of one Self with another, open and unguarded. It was this undertone throughout the book which made palatable the reading of many citations which he garnered from the depths of time and the breadth of so many cultures and belief systems across the planet. It takes this much effort, this deep background, to open us to the many ways that humans have perceived these phenomena and to convince a person steeped in our individualistic culture that they are living in a wounded culture. In his concluding statements, Bob writes that ‘This citadel model (of the human mind) is a deep cause of isolation, an underlying factor in the epidemic of mental illness that plagues our modern Western world.’ (p.404).

    The scope of this book is epic, and instructive for those who want to see the wide view of being human. Bob names five themes to this work: radical pragmatism, the metaphor of possession, the porosity of mind, the value of internal experience, and personalism. He paints the context for the human experience with incisive scholarship and compassion. And in this context he addresses the specific phenomenon known to Internal Family Systems as ‘UBs’ or Unattached Burdens.

    I have found Chapter 11 to be a continuation of Bob’s intention to push our own Eurocentric confines including his own, in order to gain the broadest perspective from other cultures. Modeling for us the need for awareness, he then goes on to explicate what value we find when we become conscious of our biases. I did not read this as an invitation for others to contest his theory, rather it is to be broadly inclusive. Bob does invite a change in the IFS terminology as naming these ‘others’ as ‘UB’s’ or guides creates an attitude of judgment about whether these energies have benign or negative intentions. In this work, they are perceived as whole personalities in the same way as parts are, capable of change and being themselves unburdened.

    Bob’s case examples are a study in the immenseness of what it means to be a human being; the actual ‘porosity’ of our human nature and the interconnectedness of our being with the ‘others.’ This reality is undeniable to those of us who have been given the opportunity to work with those whose inner world is burdened by a negative foreign energy, or conversely, who are gifted by spiritual guides. Bob has settled on a neutral term for these nonmaterial beings, ‘spiritual presence experiences’. He states, “When we go deep enough into the subjective, we encounter things that are no longer ‘ours’ or part of us. They are autonomous. The line between inside and outside blurs and vanishes.”

    For those who haven’t yet encountered these ‘others,’ I want to reassure you: they are real. When I first met Dick Schwartz 40 years ago, my skeptic was front and center. I thought to myself, ‘this guy probably believes in crystals, too.’ I boldly told him (who had not yet written his book), “it feels like you want me to believe in fairies.” Dick characteristically just smiled disarmingly. And I was hooked.

    And over the years, I’ve encountered in my work a tragic little 3 year old victim of rape, who explained why she tried to drown her little sister in the bathtub, because ‘a man with red eyes told me to do it.’ I mean, what 3 year old would make this stuff up? Or the 11 year old, or the 60 year old…and others. Thus I verify from my own experience, what Bob Falconer calls ‘radical pragmatism,’ that these energies, too, are also as real as our parts. I also can verify from my own experience that Bob’s approach, from compassionate Self, is most consistent with who we are at our core – a species with the potential for compassion and integrity. We can work with UBs just as we do with parts – knowing that they could have a positive role somewhere, somehow and helping them with firm assurance to choose to go to the light – or not. This allows us, the therapist and those we are guiding towards healing, to maintain Self energy which is pragmatically our best position to do healing, and spiritually, our destiny.

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  • Aizaiah Yong

    Rev. Dr. Aizaiah G. Yong (he/him) is an ordained Pentecostal Christian minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). His work centers on QTBIPOC communities. He is an IFS practitioner.

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