Part 2. Hiding the bad stuff

The concept that a person is either authentic or inauthentic (either a liar or not) is based on the premise that people have unitary, coherent personalities. In contrast,  IFS takes the view that people’s inner worlds are made up of parts, or sub-selves, each of which has its own distinct style, motives, and beliefs. Interestingly, this idea corresponds with the idea — quite familiar in psychology — that people’s fundamental attributes (e.g, racist or not, selfish vs. generous, flexible vs. rigid) vary hugely, depending on their social context — who they’re interacting with, whether they feel safe or insecure, what they feel is expected of them. Just having a trusted friend nearby can make all the difference in how one thinks, feels and behaves.

According to IFS, different parts become activated at different times, especially when triggered by painful emotions. When you feel threatened, your scared child self comes to the surface. You become hypervigilant and/or you retreat. When you feel like you’re not good enough, the critical part takes over. You become hard and punitive, maybe angry and controlling, toward yourself (selves?) and/or others.

So maybe the idea of having a unitary personality is just wrong. In which case, there’s no such thing as being an inauthentic person. Instead….there are situations in which it becomes necessary to hide stuff, and that’s when a distinct part comes online.

Instead of seeing someone (or yourself) as inauthentic, try thinking of them as being afraid of rejection, so that the part that takes over is the hiding part — the same part that hid the remains of the cookies you shouldn’t have eaten when you were a kid and mom was in a bad mood. The urge to hide one’s bad behaviour — or unattractiveness, or neediness, or aggression — is not inauthentic. It’s authentic. It’s an authentic effort to stay safe.

(Of course there are other ways to define “authentic”. If by “authentic” or “truthful” you mean someone who should be trusted, then we enter very different conceptual territory — territory defined by social contracts or rules. But if you think that simplifies matters, think again. No one can be trusted entirely, about everything; in other words, we all have secrets. In fact, most people can be trusted about some things and not others — try asking someone about their sex life or toilet habits! — which is why we often make a distinction between people’s private worlds and public worlds. So everyone lies or at least misleads…at least sometimes or about some things. And we end up at the same place: everyone hides what they fear will lead to humiliation, denigration, or rejection. Once you see this, you see that those referred to as drug addicts aren’t more or less “authentic” than anyone else.)

People with addictions are almost constantly struggling to stay safe — safe from other people’s opinions. So it’s not surprising that they try to hide the thing that will make the world even more dangerous.

In IFS terms, the hiding part is not inauthentic. It’s authentically trying to protect you. Whether that works well or not is a different matter.


10 thoughts on “Part 2. Hiding the bad stuff

  1. Elaine Summers September 4, 2020 at 12:02 pm #

    Reminds me of what an old addict friend of mine told me she did in her early days of recovery… She was on her 14th day post having come off, and was feeling unable to engage socially, but had heard that a good friend of hers was doing an important talk at a meeting for recovering addicts, and she didn’t want to “miss it for the world” but felt too unwell to attend unless she got a bit of gear inside her.. “I had to score just a tiny bit “she said, “not because I was craving in the slightest”, and she went on to tell me that unless she used a bit, she wouldn’t have been able to work up the emotional energy to be able to get herself to the meeting. Many an occasion would a “normal” person when feeling unwell, would take a nap and 2 x paracetamol get themselves up to overcome their feelings of malaise in order to undertake a job that otherwise would not have been able to be done, so I understood fully why this friend needed to take heroin to be able to attend an NA meeting. But this begs the question: how authentic was my friend being in subjugating her own recovery for the sake of being able to appear normal at an NA meeting?

  2. Joanna NicciTina Free September 4, 2020 at 12:18 pm #


    Most of us do seem to think of personality as unitary and coherent – and fixed, too – and behavior as authentic or inauthentic.

    What I notice more and more is how changing and expanding peer groups/the village, my thinking and other influences is having an impact on the way I’m able to show up in the way I want to, and to experience that showing up as authentic.

    I lied to avoid punishment, scorn… who wants to be banished? I needed, need my tribe, the village… as a kid for survival, for safety, as an adult for connection, community. Today I’m finding, co-creating the community to show up more fully the self I want to express. All of it. The grateful, joyfulness, tenderness, fearfulness and fiery pissedoffness… and the history of drug use, stealing, infidelity and other lies and transgressions that are part of how I survived.

    Is that the truth of me? It is – and was – all true, on some level, even the lies.

    The fundamental truth is, I’m a part of, not apart from… even as odd – and at times, distant or quiet – as I am.

    Parts work, or IFS, or inner child work – all of the permutations of connecting, joining with and owning all of the voices and influences within – has definitely helped with that and much more. Glad you’re writing about this.

    So, yes, in answer to your question, we’re still here, Marc. And welcome back to this continent… for better or for worse, and with all of its truths and lies.

  3. CM September 5, 2020 at 4:16 am #

    Does personality even exist?

  4. CM September 5, 2020 at 4:24 am #

    The existential approach considers human nature to be open-ended, flexible and capable of an enormous range of experience. The person is in a constant process of becoming. I create myself as I exist. There is no essential, solid self, no given definition of one’s personality and abilities.
    Existential thinkers avoid restrictive models that categorise or label people. Instead, they look for the universals that can be observed transculturally. There is no existential personality theory which divides humanity up into types or reduces people to part components. Instead, there is a description of the different levels of experience and existence that people are inevitably confronted with.
    Extracts are taken from ‘Existential Therapy’ (chapter 8) by Emmy van Deurzen, in Dryden, W. ed. The Dryden Handbook of Individual Therapy, London, Sage Publications, 2008.

    • Marc September 7, 2020 at 2:05 am #

      Hi CM. So there’s a lot of overlap between the existential approach and the IFS approach to therapy. Maybe a better way of phrasing that is: Both approaches recognize the same truths, or the same realities, about human nature, and they bank on that recognition to help people who are suffering or in crisis.

      The one (big) difference I see, and I don’t know if this is just a matter of wording or if it runs far deeper than that, is when you say:

      “There is no existential personality theory which divides humanity up into types or reduces people to part components.”

      Dividing humanity into types — existential and IFS approaches would agree that that’s not the way to go. “Reducing” people into components…yeah, again, both approaches would agree that reducing people (into anything) is not the right idea. But IFS does want to look at components. It even recognizes types of components, like “protectors” and “exiles” — those categories are central to the lexicon of IFS. But they’re not meant to reduce. Rather, they’re meant to help characterize and understand human universals. Is there such a thing as human universals? That’s a very gooey soup for even the most skilled philosophers, and I’m nowhere close to that.

      The gist and the detail of IFS see the critical task of psychotherapy as discovering one’s parts (which sounds a lot like how you describe the existential approach)…recognizing these parts, getting to know them, helping them to not feel so isolated and misunderstood. It’s taken for granted that everyone has very different parts or components or whatever you want to call them. The point is that we’re NOT unitary, coherent, definable wholes. Or types. One’s parts…are the essence of diversity. The point is to be open to this diversity — intimately — rather than classify it or reduce it.

      So you tell me: does that correspond with the gist of existential approaches? I’ve never studied existential psychotherapy, but my guess is that it would heartily agree with this premise of IFS.

      Have a listen to Richard Schwartz, the guy who “founded” IFS:

      There are other talks, interviews, etc on Youtube, both shorter ( and longer ( Enjoy!

      • CM September 12, 2020 at 4:30 pm #

        Hi Marc

        I wholeheartedly agree and am far from the eloquence of some of the prosaic narrators of existential philosophy such as Deurzen, Spinelli, Cooper and Du Plock. What I love about your writing Marc is your courage to give the unvarnished unpolished and unapologetic position not just on addiction but on the human condition the process of struggle and on change specifically that it’s messy, not neatly bundled into the neatly categorised of do a to obtain b positions on addiction. Life, the search for meaning and purpose and its struggle is messy and not guaranteed. the need for existential maturity ensures that we are equipped for the journey. I’m not opposing you Marc, i’m applauding and promoting opening up the lens and to that end I believe we are aligned.

        In respect my friend CM

  5. Terry McGrath September 6, 2020 at 7:25 pm #

    Hi Mark. It all sounds good and generally logical but i hear addicts ask the obvious question – so how is this supposed to help me ? isn’t this just theorists coming up with another you beaut, lets write another thousand text books, type approach that ultimately doesn’t change a thing – its like the trauma train – knowing about trauma doesn’t necessarily equate to be able to do anything about it – other than keep running, in different ways (that hopefully are less harmful than heavy drug use). I suppose there’s a part 3 coming ….. i most like the bit Mark in one of these recent 3 posts where you say that what you now do with clients is a mish mash of all the bits you learned along the way -and whatever comes out at the time the client is sitting directly in front of you – its good its that because otherwise we’d need a stack of 50 texts besides our couch to refer to with every client we ever see. I agree, we should not discount any part of an addict including their joy at communicating about their drug use in gleeful terms – so called neg raving – it all shows drug use and the relationship with their drug is a major part of them and cannot be simply discounted and never again to be spoken of, banished to the badlands – that’s whats happens to scapegoats

    • Marc September 7, 2020 at 2:55 am #

      Hi Terry. Well, to be blunt, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think IFS is a direct, pragmatic, and concrete guide to helping people in crisis — not just another pile of text books. It’s past 2:30 AM here, so I won’t go into vast detail. But…nuts and bolts. If lying is habitual, and it hurts both you and the person you’re lying to, and it builds on habits of using drugs that most people (and maybe even you) find despicable, then one crucial thing you want to do as a therapist is help people take control over their lying (and other really hurtful behaviours and habits of mind) and maybe eventually to stop lying. And the most compassionate and effective way to begin that process is to remove the stigma of “you are a liar — like all drug users — that’s who you are”….

      You want to help strip away that horrible stigma so that the person can hate themselves less — by getting to know themselves rather than pointing society’s finger at themselves. So that they don’t feel they HAVE to lie all the time because they’re simply “inauthentic” people — viz, liars. That’s not some abstract theory: it comes from (and contributes to) listening and understanding. And it in no way resembles “communicating about…drug use in gleeful terms – so called neg raving” as you put it. It’s not at all gleeful, but it might bring immense relief…and even trigger a cascade of extremely helpful changes in how people see themselves.

      I’ve said a bit more than I thought I would, and I appreciate your voicing an opinion that many others probably share. It’s important to straighten these things out as best we can. Either see things in similar ways or else agree to disagree. Or maybe some of each.

      By the way, if you want to get a better sense of IFS as a pragmatic practice rather than just more theory, you might check out Richard Schwartz (the founder) on YouTube. He speaks well, clearly and compassionately (real compassion — not bullshit compassion. You can easily sense it.) I’ve provided three links in my reply to CM, above.

  6. JustMe November 22, 2020 at 12:21 am #

    Totally agree on the idea of unitary selves, or not, from my readings in philosophy of people like Gilbert Ryle and Dan Dennett, as well as my own experience. That said, one “subself” is the one most likely to ride in the saddle most the time.

    As for IFS? It sounds somewhat like some of the quasi-Gestalt stuff Bessel van der Kolk does. He of course does it in group therapy, not solo. (If people here have not read “The Body Knows the Score,” I can’t recomment it enough.) Anyway, I’ve done a bit of “internal Gestalt” on myself with his ideas.)

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