James Fitzgerald Therapy, PLLC

James Fitzgerald, MS, NCC, AAP, Psychotherapist

Strengthening Your Conscious Self © 2022

Internal Family Systems

Self Therapy ~ Exploring Your Own System ~ Parts Work

Common Firefighter Roles


“Firefighters” react automatically whenever an exiled part is activated. It is as if an alarm goes off and they frantically mobilize to put out the fire of feelings. They do whatever they believe necessary to help the person dissociate from or douse dreaded, exiled feelings, with little regard for the consequences of their methods. The techniques of firefighters often include numbing activities such as self-mutilation, binge eating, drug or alcohol abuse, excessive masturbation, or promiscuity.

When activated, a firefighter will try to take control of the person so thoroughly that he or she feels nothing but an urgent compulsion to engage in a dissociative or self-soothing activity. These firefighters can make the person self-absorbed and demanding (narcissistic), driven insatiably to grab more material things for himself or herself than anyone else. Firefighter activities also sometimes include the numbing and protectiveness of rage, the exhilaration and indulgence of stealing, or the comfort of suicidal thoughts or attempts. Although firefighters have the same basic goal as managers—to keep the exiles exiled—their roles and strategies are quite different from, and often in conflict with, those of managers.

Managers strive to prevent the activation of exiles by keeping the person in control at all times and by pleasing everyone, particularly those on whom the person depends. They are often highly rational and planful, able to anticipate and pre-empt activating situations. Firefighters, on the other hand, usually react after the activation of exiles has occurred. They take the person out of control and displease everyone around him or her. They are often impulsive, unthinking, and reactive.

Whereas managers tend to react to activated exiles by trying to shut them out more, firefighters are more likely to find something that will calm or appease the exiles—to douse the fire. Managers and firefighters, then, are strange and uncomfortable bedfellows. Managers rely on firefighters and call on them, when necessary, but afterward scornfully attack them for having made the person indulgent, weak-willed, endangered, and insensitive to others. Firefighters, then, often bring a barrage of criticism from inner managers, as well as from the managers in your external world (and the people around you). This disapproval will reactivate the exiles, which in turn triggers the firefighters again, and so on. Thus, you are caught in another escalating vicious cycle: The more the exiles try to break through, the more the managers and firefighters desperately try to contain them, but their containment attempts themselves activate the exiles.

Most people, even those who never were severely hurt, are organized internally according to these three groups: managers, firefighters, and exiles. This is because most people are socialized to exile various parts of themselves, and once that process begins, the managerial and firefighter roles become necessary. The kind of symptoms someone experiences will be related to which of these groups dominates them.

For example, people with various addictions are often dominated by firefighters; those who are chronically depressed are often dominated by managers; and those who experience bouts of intense sadness or fear may be dominated frequently by exiles. The length of treatment and the difficulty of change are related to how much trust exists within the system for a person’s Self and how polarized the parts are, rather than to the severity of symptoms themselves. Generally, the worse and the longer someone was hurt, the more polarized the person’s system is, and the less trust exists for Self-leadership.

“Deer in the Headlights” Dissociative Fugue (Freeze)

These parts take us out either to prevent or to suppress the negative feelings of exiled parts or the reactivity of other, more extreme protectors. They do things like cloud the mind, take us out of time and awareness completely, interfere with our ability to hear what others say, interfere with our ability to notice danger, numb the body so we don’t feel that little electric shock with each reminder of frightening experiences. They form alliances with parts who take prescribed medications to dull the nervous system, self-medicate with illegal drugs or alcohol, and numb the body with food. Not wanting to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, so we don’t say or do anything. Any overreaction is not going to solve the problem so we remain passive.

“Hypochondriac” Somatic (The Body Keeps the Score)

These protectors use the body to get our attention, to influence our behavior, to get attention for us from others, to try to communicate something important about our past experience or the nature of our pain, and generally to promote their agendas. They manifest in things like migraine headaches, nausea, hypersensitivity to smells, exhaustion, amplified asthma symptoms and allergic reactions, chest pain, and panic attacks.

“Happy Pig” and “Sad Pig” Food Control (Relationship with Food)

These parts obsess about food, either indulging or restricting as a way of distracting us from noticing exiled feelings or suppressing those feelings when they come up strongly. They do things like make us: feel hungry even when we do not want to eat; long for and obsess over certain comfort foods; overeat even after we feel full; restrict amounts and types of foods, fear regarding food, avoidance of certain foods, feel sick after eating certain foods, restrict calories, binge on food, and purge our food. They sometimes hide food away or mask disordered eating, and may feel embarrassment if they are discovered or carry shame about their behaviors. They can form alliances with parts that are overly concerned with body image, appearance, and self-esteem. They are typically numbing or comforting pain and suffering with food, to an addictive level.

“The Addict” Mind Changing and Mood Altering

These parts use mood-altering substances, legal or illegal, to numb, avoid or distract us from emotional pain and inner conflict. They do things like abuse alcohol, pot, crack, cocaine, ecstasy and other party drugs, heroin, glue, steroids, mood-altering pills, and unprescribed (or prescribed) mind-altering psychiatric medication. Self-initiated dopamine release with process addictions.

“Sex Addict” Histrionic Personality

These parts are adept at seduction and spend their time recruiting lovers to pack inner emptiness with drama and attempts at connection. They focus on: sexual attraction; longing and desire; games of seduction; passionate sex when reuniting after quarrels (make-up sex); and the physiological release of hormones and neurotransmitters during and after orgasm. They form alliances with mood/mind altering protectors.

“Temper Tantrum” Angry Rage

Parts who felt angry at mistreatment are often young. They may have stepped forward to protect another young part and been exiled because their anger was unsafe. They often continue to be treated like Kryptonite in the system because anger itself is viewed as a perpetrator behavior. They are smoldering, resentful, and feel slighted. They interrupt others and push back aggressively. They easily express their disdain and explode at the slightest provocation. They form alliances with other aggressive protectors.

“Unhealthy Grounding” Self-Harming and Self-Sabotaging

These parts cut, scratch, hit and burn to punish, distract, soothe, try to get help, forestall suicide or rage. They do things like distract us from emotional pain. They shift our focus due to the need to tend to injuries and make the emotional pain manifest in our blood. They help us feel alive and stop dissociation through pain. They recruit others to respond to our physical injuries and care for us. They use self-harm in order to alert others so that we can get our needs met. They form alliances with suicide protectors. They will cause pain to stop the dissociation process, an unhealthy way of grounding in reality and the present moment.

Suicidal Ideation

The idea of suicide is often a comfort to people who are in extreme pain, emotional or physical. They offer a theoretical (soothing to think about) exit from unending and seemingly insoluble suffering and an actual (emergency) exit from unending and seemingly insoluble suffering. They promote the ultimate escape. They want revenge, seek connection and want others to react to us or rescue us. They use suicidal rehearsals in order to alert others so that we can get our needs met. They form alliances with self-harm protectors. They will rarely want to intentionally end life, rather talk about suicide as a way of connecting to others. They can also form alliances with guilt tripping parts.

Vindictive Revenge

When we are mistreated, rendered helpless by someone more powerful, humiliated, or made to feel worthless one common response is to want revenge. Revenge parts are vindictive, use sarcasm to gain power and try to even the playing field. They humiliate anyone who feels threatening and preoccupy our mind with fantasies of being powerful and taking revenge, which in the extreme can include hurting or killing someone else.


These parts often work in conjunction with parts who obsess about our appearance. They can also pinch hit for eating disorder parts. They hound us to exercise with a hyper-focus on health and wellness. They urge us to achieve unrealistic new fitness goals. They become panicky when we are ill or injured and critique our body for imperfections. They are obsessed with our weight and body parts (BMI, and fat percentages). They glorify, romanticize, and admire bodies that are shown in fashion or sport magazines, or in electronic articles and ads.


We now have a whole new dimension, a veritable looking-glass world, into which we can fall for endless distraction. Since for most people work and communication depend on electronic instruments like cell phones and computers, our parts who seek to distract us in this way operate virtually no holds barred with endless options. These parts make us take out our gadgets when we are at the office, when we stand in a line, when we are in unpleasant environments like airports, elevators, and busy, noisy public streets, when we are in conversation, while eating meals, while in school, at lectures, in libraries. In short, they will take gadgets out anywhere, anytime to look at them, play with them, or work with them.

Streaming Entertainment

Netflix anyone? The human mind is engaged by stories, whether they are banal and cliched or original. Our electronic devices deliver an endless stream of visuals, words, music, real and fictional stories. These parts take us out to the movies, watching TV, cable or various other subscriber services. They live vicariously through movie characters and retell the stories of the shows we have just watched. They provide distorted realities and false hopes via reality TV. They make us relate to the characters depicted therein to learn, emulate and make sense of experience. The entertainment distorts our beliefs and perceptions of what is real and what is possible.

Aggressive Traits

Humans engage in aggression when they seek to cause harm or pain to another person. Aggression takes two forms depending on one’s motives: hostile or instrumental. Hostile aggression is motivated by feelings of anger with intent to cause pain; a fight in a bar with a stranger is an example of hostile aggression. In contrast, instrumental aggression is motivated by achieving a goal and does not necessarily involve intent to cause pain (Berkowitz, 1993); a contract killer who murders for hire displays instrumental aggression.

There are many different theories as to why aggression exists. Some researchers argue that aggression serves an evolutionary function (Buss, 2004). Men are more likely than women to show aggression (Wilson & Daly, 1985). From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, human male aggression, like that in nonhuman primates, likely serves to display dominance over other males, both to protect a mate and to perpetuate the male’s genes. Sexual jealousy is part of male aggression; males endeavor to make sure their mates are not copulating with other males, thus ensuring their own paternity of the female’s offspring. Although aggression provides an obvious evolutionary advantage for men, women also engage in aggression. Women typically display more indirect forms of aggression, with their aggression serving as a means to an end (Dodge & Schwartz, 1997). For example, women may express their aggression covertly by communication that impairs the social standing of another person. Another theory that explains one of the functions of human aggression is frustration aggression theory (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939). This theory states that when humans are prevented from achieving an important goal, they become frustrated and aggressive.

Angry & Aggressive

The most common form of anger we see in IFS sessions is the anger of a protector—a manager or firefighter—that is using it to defend against the pain of an exile. The protector uses anger as a way to avoid feeling the pain that the exile is holding. Because of this, the anger often arises in situations in which it is inappropriate and is frequently more extreme than is warranted.

The agitated tense (on edge) part ranges from feeling frustrated, irritable, uneasy, edgy, and annoyed to intensely stressed and tense. This part can take us over for minutes during the day or in a low grade fashion for months or years. This part can be triggered by the little aggravations in life. It can come from our day after day, month after month, year after year, stress. It can be fueled by a buildup of aggravating, threatening, family, work, or health problems. It can get in the way of our wellness, and can wreak havoc on our relationships and cause any number of health problems.

The angry irritable part is mad, angry, vindictive, and/or vengeful. The negative energy and vibrations can be directed toward us internally or others externally. The anger can come out as aggressive and/or passive-aggressive behavior. It may be seeking and/or exacting revenge for the past injustices we may or may not have suffered at the hands of others. They form alliances with paranoid, persecutory, ruminative, envious, and/or jealous parts. This part often comes out in harmful and destructive ways. They contribute to illness and disease and destroy our relationships. This part can take the form of being paranoid and jealous, having a fear of missing out. It may be angry that others are against us, opposed to us, have more than us, are happier than us, mistreat us, or exclude us.

For example, when John feels rejected by a woman he has been dating, he often feels very angry at her. He doesn’t express this anger to her, but it can become pretty intense inside. This anger is an attempt to protect him from feeling the pain of an exile who feels hurt and unlovable. It distracts him from those vulnerable emotions and substitutes a more acceptable feeling.

Protector anger may also be an attempt to protect an exile from a perceived external threat.

For example, let’s look at the case of one client, Marlene. Whenever someone acts controlling or dominant toward Marlene, or when she perceives their behavior in this way, a protector is activated that feels angry at the person. Marlene often expresses her anger at the person she feels controlled by. She tries to prove to the person that he or she is wrong for trying to control her. This is an attempt to protect the exile from being dominated. Because Marlene’s anger is protector-driven, it tends to be either inappropriate or too intense a response to what the other person has actually done. As a result, it often offends people or makes them worry that Marlene will get out of control They often respond with increased attempts to control her, resulting in exactly what her Angry Part fears.

There are four common situations involving protector anger.

  1. The anger is being acted out in the client’s life.
  2. The anger is felt, but the Self refrains from acting it out.
  3. The anger is felt, but protectors prevent it from being acted out.
  4. The anger is disowned.

The rage “volcano or temper tantrum” part of us resorts to yelling, screaming, throwing tantrums, or getting into a stern, nasty, or insulting pattern of behavior with others. It is vengeful, vindictive, and full of anger and rage. When this part takes over, it is often abusive. Once activated, this part does not back down, will justify the behavior, and will blame others for its actions. This part is more reactionary, emotional, irrational, and abusive than the bully part.


Passive aggression is a way of expressing negative feelings, such as anger or annoyance, indirectly instead of directly. Passive-aggressive behaviors are often difficult to identify and can sabotage relationships at home and at work.

Instead of getting visibly angry, some people express their hostility in passive-aggressive ways designed to hurt and confuse their target. Most people will have to deal with passive aggression from others in their personal and professional lives at one time or another: a roommate who leaves a sweet-yet-scolding note about the one cup that was left unwashed, for example, or the report a colleague keeps “forgetting” to finish.

Nagging or getting angry only puts the passive-aggressive person on the defensive—often resulting in them making excuses or denying any responsibility. Recent research shows that there are healthier ways to confront passive aggression and handle relationship conflict. Passive aggression stems from deep anger, hostility, and frustration that a person, for whatever reason, is not comfortable expressing directly.

Some common forms of passive aggression include avoiding responsibility for tasks, procrastinating and even missing deadlines, withholding critical information, and frequently underachieving relative to what one is capable of producing. This type of behavior can cause problems at home when the family cannot depend on a passive-aggressive individual to follow through on their promises. Passive aggression at work can sabotage group projects, resulting in unachieved goals.

While passive-aggressive behavior can be hard to pin down, experts agree on the most common signs, which include refusing to discuss concerns openly and directly, avoiding responsibility, and being deliberately inefficient. The passively aggressive person often leaves a job undone or “almost” complete. They frequently run late and are masters at subtly sabotaging others when they disagree with a course of action. They often resort to the silent treatment or the backhanded compliment to get their point across. Passive aggression often stems from underlying anger, sadness, or insecurity, of which the person may or may not be consciously aware. Passive-aggressive behavior may be an expression of those emotions or an attempt to gain control in a relationship.

Guilt Tripping

This part knows how to get under someone else’s skin. It tries to get others to feel that they did something wrong, are bad in some way, or are in debt to us. This part will often form alliances with the victim part. This part is likely to alienate and anger others. Although this part is trying to get others to support our needs, it most often leaves others feeling resentful and uninterested in helping us. This part can be very self-righteous, self-assured, and irrationally feel others owe it for the hurts, disappointments, and unfair treatment we have suffered our entire life.

A guilt trip involves causing another person to feel guilt or a sense of responsibility to change their behavior or take a specific action. Because guilt can be such a powerful motivator of human behavior, people can wield it as a tool to change how others think, feel, and behave. Sometimes this might involve leaning on something that someone already feels guilty about. In other cases, people might induce feelings of unjustified guilt or responsibility to manipulate the other person’s emotions and behaviors. If someone has ever made you feel bad about something you’ve done (or didn’t do) and then used those bad feelings to get you to do something for them, then you have experience with guilt trips.

Guilt trips can be intentional, but they can also be unintentional. There are chances that you have even guilt-tripped people into doing things before. Sometimes this behavior can be easy to spot, but it can also be much more subtle and difficult to detect.  Some key signs that others may be guilt-tripping you include:

  • Making comments suggesting that you have not done as much work as they have done
  • Bringing up mistakes that you have made in the past
  • Reminding you of favors they have performed for you in the past
  • Acting as if they are angry but then denying that there is a problem
  • Refusing to speak to you or giving you the silent treatment
  • Making it clear through their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions that they disapprove of what you were doing
  • Suggesting that you “owe” them
  • Engaging in passive-aggressive behavior
  • Making sarcastic comments about your efforts or progress

It is important to note that this type of indirect communication can occur in any interpersonal relationship. Still, it is more likely to take place in relationships that are marked by close emotional connections. It can show up in romantic relationships, but guilt trips may also be utilized in family relationships, parental relationships, and even work relationships.

There are many different types of guilt trips that people may utilize depending on the ultimate goal or purpose of the behavior. Some of the different purposes of a guilt trip include:

  • Manipulation: Sometimes, the primary goal of a guilt trip is to manipulate someone into doing something that they normally would not want to do.
  • Conflict avoidance: In other cases, people may use guilt trips to avoid directly talking about an issue. It allows them to get what they want without having to engage in direct conflict.
  • Moral education: Guilt trips can also be a way of getting someone to engage in a behavior that the individual feels is more moral or “right.”1
  • Elicit sympathy: In some cases, guilt-tripping allows the individual to gain the sympathy of others by casting themselves in the role of someone who has been harmed by the actions the other person is supposed to feel guilty about.1

Guilt isn’t always a bad thing. While often troubling and unpleasant, it can serve an important role in guiding moral behavior. When people experience guilt, they can fix their mistakes and avoid repeating the same errors in the future. A guilt trip does not appear to induce the benefits of guilt, such as making amends, honesty, and mutual understanding.

Invoking feelings of guilt to change someone’s behavior can have a wide variety of effects. Whether guilt is wielded intentionally or not, it prevents healthy communication and connections with others. Some of the most immediate effects of this form of covert psychological manipulation include:

  • Damage to Relationships: Research suggests that guilt trips can take a toll on close relationships. One study found that people hurt by their partner’s criticism were more likely to use those hurt feelings to make their partner feel guilty and offer reassurances. However, the study also found that the partner who had been guilt-tripped into offering assurances was more likely to feel significantly worse about the relationship. In other words, inducing feelings of guilt may work to get your partner to do what you want—but it comes at a cost. It can impair trust and cause the other person to feel that they are being manipulated.
  • Resentment: One of the reasons why guilt trips can poison relationships is because they can lead to lasting feelings of resentment. “A guilt trip imposes aversive states associated with guilt, along with feelings of resentment from feeling manipulated,” Humeny suggests. A single occasion of someone using a guilt trip to alter your behavior might not have a serious impact on your relationship. Repeated use of guilt trips can leave you feeling bitter. If you feel that your partner is always going to guilt you into something that you don’t want to do, it can decrease intimacy, reduce emotional closeness, and ultimately make you start to resent your partner.
  • Reactance: Research suggests that appeals to guilt are a common type of persuasion technique. However, while guilt can compel people to take certain actions, it can also sometimes backfire. Low-level guilt tends to motivate people to act on the persuasive message. High levels of guilt, however, often fail due to what researchers call “reactance.” “An individual in a state of reactance will behave in such a way as to restore his freedom (or, at least, his sense of freedom), for example, by performing behaviors that are contrary to those required,” explain researchers Aurélien Graton and Melody Mailliez in a 2019 article published in the journal Behavioral Sciences. In other words, guilt trips can backfire and lead people to behave opposite how someone else wants them to act. For example, someone guilt-tripping you into calling them more often might actually result in calling them less.
  • Poor Well-being: Feelings of excessive guilt are associated with several mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.4 Being subjected to guilt trips may contribute to the development or worsening of such conditions.

Experiencing guilt can also lead to many immediate and unpleasant emotions and symptoms such as anxiety, sadness, regret, worry, muscle tension, and insomnia. This type of covert manipulation may also sometimes contribute to the development of a guilt complex, which is a persistent belief that you have done (or will do) something wrong. Over time, guilt can lead to feelings of shame. Shame can affect your self-image, which can then contribute to social withdrawal and isolation.


This part shames and humiliates others by threatening and/or damaging their self-esteem and confidence, and their identity or value as a person. It participates in character assassination, demeans and attacks another person’s character and inner self in order to exact revenge or gain power and control. This part is a more intense version of the guilt tripping part. This part is out to make others feel horrible about themselves. This part may be using its misguided strategy in a vain attempt to get others to care for us. The shaming part may be seeking revenge or control. It can be anti-social and enjoy hurting others for its own pleasure.

The difference between shame and guilt is that shame feels like “I am a bad person,” while guilt feels like “I did something bad.” Shame can cause harm to ourselves, to others via blaming, or to ourselves or others in the form of violence. Although guilt can have constructive outcomes, there are no good or constructive outcomes to shame.

Unfortunately, shaming has been used for centuries as a way to discipline children as well as influence adults to act in accordance with society’s accepted norms. Many of us, during childhood, have been asked by a frustrated parent or teacher, “What’s wrong with you?!” Or maybe it was a partner, friend, or spouse who threw out this question in a moment of anger as if they were trying to understand us better. Has that question ever led to a constructive discussion about the problems we were facing? I highly doubt it. On the contrary, shaming only leads to negative consequences for ourselves and/or for others near us.

To be clear, it is important to first review the difference between shame and guilt. While shame is a general sense that something is wrong with me, guilt is a feeling that I’ve done something wrong. In the simplest terms, shame feels like “I am a bad person,” while guilt is the feeling associated with knowing that “I did something bad.” Guilt may have positive consequences to the extent that it leads us to consider how our actions may have harmed others. We would hopefully try to make amends for whatever harm we caused, whether it be an apology or an action that alleviates the problems for which we are accountable.

Guilt may lead to shame, but when it does, it is not helpful. When guilt turns to shame, it becomes a purely inward focus as we wonder about what’s wrong with us or how could we have done that? Our feelings of inadequacy or defectiveness then take priority over empathy and consideration for the injured other person.

The harmful consequences of the experience of shame depend upon the individual’s basic personality, past experiences, and current coping skills. Three general ways in which shame is harmful can be categorized as harm to ourselves; harm done to others via blaming and not accepting our accountability; and harm to ourselves or others in the form of violence.

  1. Shame’s harmful consequences for ourselves

Research has shown that common problems linked to the shame experience include proneness to anxiety and depression. In particular, studies have shown a link between shame and social anxiety disorder as well as generalized anxiety disorder. Those who are prone to shame also experience low self-esteem, related to false beliefs such as “I’m a failure,” “I’m defective,” or “I don’t deserve to be happy.” These self-critical statements only serve to increase the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another way in which shame has been shown to harm the self is apparent in the association between shame and addiction. For some individuals who are susceptible to addictive behaviors, the addictive substance is used to numb the intense and painful negative feelings, including shame. According to Internal Family Systems theory, the use of the substance may be the mind’s way of trying to protect itself from intensely painful emotions that might otherwise lead to suicide (Schwartz, 2020). This also may become a self-defeating cycle when the abuse of substances is in itself experienced as shameful behavior, possibly leading to more self-numbing through substance abuse.

  1. Shame’s connection to blame

Shame-prone persons usually react with excessive defensiveness and blaming of the other person involved in the problem. When shame overpowers guilt, the inward focus is greater than the other-focus and can be very difficult to manage. While awareness of guilt may be managed by actions that express regret or that repair damage done, shame feelings cannot be resolved through constructive action. For some individuals, the immediate sense of being flawed or of being unlovable is so painful that it cannot be acknowledged and corrected through rational self-statements. The defensive response is to put the blame on someone else. “It can’t be my fault; it must be your fault.” This pattern was explained in the recent post by Carol Lambert. Clearly, this type of reaction, if habitual, can be very destructive in relationships.

  1. Shame and violence

Possibly the least well-known consequence of shame is its connection to violence. While most of us occasionally react to feelings of shame with either self-directed criticism or other-directed criticism (blaming), the most unstable and emotionally vulnerable among us react to feelings of shame with violence. A violent reaction may be self-directed or outwardly directed. Both are primitive and potentially deadly responses. According to research by Brene Brown, shame is highly correlated with both bullying and suicide, in addition to the consequences noted above.

When shame leads to violence directed at others, those harmed may be close family members. They may also be complete strangers, as in the case of mass shootings that have tragically become so common in daily news. This is not to suggest that shame is the only motivating factor in mass shooting incidents; rather that it can be one of the factors. There are multiple factors that contribute to the person reaching a level of distress that reduces their reluctance to injure others.

This aggressive behavior in response to shame was studied by Donald Nathanson (2008) and labeled the “attack-other response.” Feelings of shame, including low self-esteem and a self-perception of being defective, are so intense that the person feels themself to be in danger. In effect, anger is used as a weapon to hurt the person(s) who triggered the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Shame has been highly correlated with a wide range of human suffering, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, blaming, bullying, suicide, and violence toward both loved ones and strangers. There are no good or constructive outcomes to feeling shame or to shaming others. Guilt can have constructive outcomes when it leads to empathy and making amends, while shame only leads to more harm to the self or to others. To quote the renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: “Shame is a soul eating emotion, and we must first get rid of this inner shame for not being exactly society’s perfect specimen.”


This part uses a variety of methods and tools, including yelling at, screaming at, emotionally blackmailing, making threats against, intimidating, posturing, and overpowering other people to get its way. This part uses emotional, financial, social, or self-esteem threats to control others. This part can be a dictator, tyrant, and/or control freak. This part can be very cold, calculating, icy, subtle, rejecting, stinging, sarcastic, emotional, manipulative, loud, overt, passive/aggressive, aggressive, and threatening. Alternate names: Intimidator, Tyrant, Dictator, and the “I don’t care if you like me or not, I am the way I am and not changing for anyone” type of personality.

Another form of aggression is bullying. As you learn in your study of child development, socializing and playing with other children is beneficial for children’s psychological development. However, as you may have experienced as a child, not all play behavior has positive outcomes. Some children are aggressive and want to play roughly. Other children are selfish and do not want to share toys. One form of negative social interactions among children that has become a national concern is bullying. Bullying is repeated negative treatment of another person, often an adolescent, over time (Olweus, 1993). A one-time incident in which one child hits another child on the playground would not be considered bullying: Bullying is repeated behavior. The negative treatment typical in bullying is the attempt to inflict harm, injury, or humiliation, and bullying can include physical or verbal attacks. However, bullying doesn’t have to be physical or verbal, it can be psychological. Research finds gender differences in how girls and boys bully others (American Psychological Association, 2010; Olweus, 1993). Boys tend to engage in direct, physical aggression such as physically harming others. Girls tend to engage in indirect, social forms of aggression such as spreading rumors, ignoring, or socially isolating others. Based on what you have learned about child development and social roles, why do you think boys and girls display different types of bullying behavior?

Bullying involves three parties: the bully, the victim, and witnesses or bystanders. The act of bullying involves an imbalance of power with the bully holding more power—physically, emotionally, and/or socially over the victim. The experience of bullying can be positive for the bully, who may enjoy a boost to self-esteem. However, there are several negative consequences of bullying for the victim, and also for the bystanders. How do you think bullying negatively impacts adolescents? Being the victim of bullying is associated with decreased mental health, including experiencing anxiety and depression (APA, 2010). Victims of bullying may underperform in schoolwork (Bowen, 2011). Bullying also can result in the victim dying by suicide (APA, 2010). How might bullying negatively affect witnesses?

Although there is not one single personality profile for who becomes a bully and who becomes a victim of bullying (APA, 2010), researchers have identified some patterns in children who are at a greater risk of being bullied (Olweus, 1993):

  • Children who are emotionally reactive are at a greater risk for being bullied. Bullies may be attracted to children who get upset easily because the bully can quickly get an emotional reaction from them.
  • Children who are different from others are likely to be targeted for bullying. Children who are overweight, cognitively impaired, or racially or ethnically different from their peer group may be at higher risk.
  • Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens are at very high risk of being bullied and hurt due to their sexual orientation.

With widely available mobile technology and social networking media, a new form of bullying has emerged: cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, like bullying, is repeated behavior that is intended to cause psychological or emotional harm to another person. What is unique about cyberbullying is that it is typically covert, concealed, done in private, and the bully can remain anonymous. This anonymity gives the bully power, and the victim may feel helpless, unable to escape the harassment, and unable to retaliate (Spears, Slee, Owens, & Johnson, 2009). About one in three middle and high school students report that they have experienced cyberbullying (Patchin, 2016; Patchin, 2019), with some studies indicating that nearly three in five teens have experienced some type of online abusive behavior such as non-repeated name-calling or being sent unsolicited links or images (Anderson, 2018).

Cyberbullying can take many forms, including harassing a victim by spreading rumors, creating a website defaming the victim, threatening the victim, or teasing the victim (Spears et al., 2009). Overall, LGBTQ youth are targeted at a higher rate than heterosexual and cisgender youth, and members of minority populations overall are more likely to be cyberbullying victims (Hinjuda & Patchin, 2020). In terms of gender, experiences vary in terms of both the prevelance and types of cyberbullying experienced and perpetrated. In cyberbullying, it is more common for girls to be the bullies and victims. Interestingly, girls who become cyberbullies often have been the victims of cyberbullying at one time (Vandebosch & Van Cleemput, 2009). Girls were more likely to say someone spread rumors about them online while boys were more likely to say that someone threatened to hurt them online (Patchin, 2019). The effects of cyberbullying are just as harmful as traditional bullying and include the victim feeling frustration, anger, sadness, helplessness, powerlessness, and fear. Victims will also experience lower self-esteem (Hoff & Mitchell, 2009; Spears et al., 2009).

Furthermore, recent research suggests that both cyberbullying victims and perpetrators are more likely to experience suicidal ideation, and they are more likely to attempt suicide than individuals who have no experience with cyberbullying (John, 2019). Cyberbullying is a form of aggression and, depending on the messages and methods, can be considered harassment, stalking, or assault—all subject to prosecution. Finally, while much of the concern and research regarding cyberbullying centers on adolescents, adults (particularly college students) are frequent victims and perpetrators. What features of technology make cyberbullying easier and perhaps more accessible to young adults? What can parents, teachers, and social networking websites do to prevent cyberbullying?


This part uses humor and sarcasm to deal with difficult situations, problems, and people. This part can be very insulting and demeaning toward others or making light of things that are important to others. (and when they are angered, respond “lighten up, why do you take everything so seriously”). When in the extreme role, this part will often put others down. This part helps us avoid dealing with other people on a more genuine, vulnerable, caring, and intimate level. This part often puts a wall up between us and others. This part may lead to others not wanting to be close and loving with us. This part easily offends other people. Other protectors (managers) may get irritated or angry with this part.

It’s funny how sarcasm is associated with humor. “To tear flesh like a dog,” is not a jolly image, but the word nonetheless derives from the Greek sarkazein, meaning just that. It evolved to mean “to bite into one’s lips in rage,” and “to speak bitterly, sneer” (Online Etymology, 2020). Webster’s modern definition is: “Satirical wit…depending on caustic and often ironic language that is usually directed towards an individual.” From Oxford: “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.” Essentially, sarcasm is often hostility disguised as humor. Synonyms include derision, mockery, and ridicule, all less-than-humorous things to be receiving.

Clearly, there’s more than meets the eye. Indeed, a laugh from clever and pointed irony can be funny. Readers familiar with comedian Bill Burr can attest to this. And we’re all guilty of a little sarcastic quip. (Husband: “Did you turn the stereo on?” Wife: “No, it grew arms and turned the dial.”) It’s also understandable how teens, for various reasons, are often contemptuous, and have a sarcastic phase. But what about people who rely on abrasive sarcasm as an interactive style? A little sarcastic wit is like a spicy seasoning. A pinch of it can make food enjoyable, but a serving of the spice itself hurts.

Have you noticed that gratingly sarcastic people make fun of you if you relay you’re bothered by their comments? “You’re a baby!” “Calm down-I’m just messing with you,” they say, and you’re left to marvel at this chronic need for them to “mess” with you. It’s as if they feel superior in their casting you as a weakling for being unable to take their sarcasm. Such a sarcastic demeanor may be confusing. It’s as if a strange screen of attitude exists between the sarcastic person and their target. Targets may not be sure if the sarcastic one is sending a message or if they are simply joking.

The truth is, chronically-sarcastic people frequently rely on this obfuscation to express emotions and communicate. These folks also often harbor passive-aggressive characteristics and simply don’t have the ability to be real about emotions, or fear confrontation were they to speak their mind. They therefore employ sarcasm, a sort of cloak-and-dagger approach to communication. It allows them to expel brewing contempt in a manner that feels safe. It is also serves as a repellant along with the smug demeanor many sarcastic people adopt. Oftentimes sarcastic, passive-aggressive souls don’t want people getting close due to an inability to handle emotional intimacy. Most people can only handle so much of them, even if they are truly a good person, because of their sarcasm. Said person gets their cake and eats it too.

But what about this business of chronic derision towards people whom the sarcastic person has seemingly never had issues with? Theodore Millon, Ph.D., the late personality disorder giant, also noted (1996) another point is that the chronically-sarcastic/cynical are also pessimistic and have low self-esteem, naturally leading to jealousy of others and therefore criticism and contempt. This also explains the tendency for them to capitalize on others’ “not being able to take it,” providing them a chance to feel superior in that you can’t handle them.

Hyper-Rational Rigid

This part can be rigid, controlling, not open to give and take, and irrational. It can get legalistic and view its thoughts and beliefs as being objective, unquestionable, absolute truths. This part often puts a wall between us and understanding others. A variation of this part may be the thinking preoccupied part (a part preoccupied with our thought process and inner talk, that others are shut out and not really listened to).

This part is similar to a concept known as reasonable mind in DBT. The natural human tendency to operate from a place of logic and reason on the one hand and strong emotions on the other. The problem is that when you’re viewing any situation through either the lens of logic or the lens of strong emotions, you miss out on a lot of nuance and information. It can feel cold and robotic to view events and relationships through nothing but facts, logic, and rational thought. Conversely, life can feel chaotic and disorganized if seen only through the perspective of emotions.


This part maintains control by pushing people away, cutting off and threatening others with rejection when we are displeased, upset with them or  not getting our way. This part may also reject other inner parts. This part often does the opposite of whatever it is trying to accomplish. This part cuts others off because we are not getting the love, care, respect and connection that we want. Rejecting others is often an attempt to show our hurt and how unacceptable the situation is. However, pushing people away most often only gets others frustrated and less interested in giving to us. Although this manipulation can be effective at times, in the long run, it can be destructive to our relationships and ourselves.


Everyone has certain emotional needs that are partially met in close relationships, including the need for attention, support, affection, respect, and security. Emotional neglect occurs when there is a repeated pattern of ignoring, minimizing, or disregarding someone’s emotional needs. Over time, emotional neglect causes negative impacts on someone’s mental health, self-esteem, and ability to form close, healthy relationships.

Signs of Emotional Neglect In Adulthood


“Silent Treatment” Over-Emotional “Sulking”

This part gets overwhelmed with upset, hurt, and emotions. It is reactive and sensitive, and may stew in its emotions as a strategy to get what it wants from someone. Our emotional part shelters us from exiles by having us stew in our reactions to someone or something. It often acts like an infant having a tantrum, wanting magically for someone to come to make it all better. This part is self-righteous and blames others for our pain. This part would rather hold a pity party rather than healing our deeper wounds or solving our problems. Also known as our holding a grudge part.

Narcissism & Borderline

A part of us that is self-focused, self-preoccupied, self-involved, superior, condescending, arrogant, controlling, grandiose, and/or self-serving. This part uses other people to feel good about itself. This part may try to dominate others and get people to take care of our needs without concern for them or their needs. These parts can be controlling, intimidating, opinionated, and self-focused. These parts depend on others to help it to feel valued and important. Ultimately, however, conducting one sided relationships deprives us of the most important things in life, connection and a sense of belonging, the love of others, and a sense of meaning and purpose. This part can manifest as an intense need to have others see us as beautiful, handsome, intelligent, wonderful, successful, and great.

Controlling & Manipulating

This part craves and strives for control and power. The “immovable object.” It can be rigid, stubborn, and demanding. It gets into power struggles with other parts, the self, exiles, and other people. It likes to win, whatever the cost. This part can make our lives miserable. There is only a certain amount of control that we can have over others and our lives. In DBT, there is a concept known as radical acceptance, or, accepting what we cannot change and changing what we can. However, our controlling part wants total control. Its motto is “my way or the highway” in its approach to life and relationships. When this part is in extreme activation it fills us with frustration and aggravation when our rhythm is disturbed or we don’t get our own way. This part repels others and makes them angry with us. It leads to others distancing themselves from us. It ruins intimacy, cooperation, and connection. It can injure the beauty and joy in life that comes from connecting with, appreciating, and having a positive relationship with people and the world.

Research: The Bystander Effect

The discussion of bullying highlights the problem of witnesses not intervening to help a victim. Researchers Latané and Darley (1968) described a phenomenon called the bystander effect. The bystander effect is a phenomenon in which a witness or bystander does not volunteer to help a victim or person in distress. Instead, they just watch what is happening. Social psychologists hold that we make these decisions based on the social situation, not our own personality variables.

The impetus behind the bystander effect was the murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese in 1964. The story of her tragic death took on a life of its own when it was reported that none of her neighbors helped her or called the police when she was being attacked. However, Kassin (2017) noted that her killer was apprehended due to neighbors who called the police when they saw him committing a burglary days later. Not only did bystanders indeed intervene in her murder (one man who shouted at the killer, a woman who said she called the police, and a friend who comforted her in her last moments), but other bystanders intervened in the capture of the murderer.

Social psychologists claim that diffusion of responsibility is the likely explanation. Diffusion of responsibility is the tendency for no one in a group to help because the responsibility to help is spread throughout the group (Bandura, 1999). Because there were many witnesses to the attack on Genovese, as evidenced by the number of lit apartment windows in the building, individuals assumed someone else must have already called the police. The responsibility to call the police was diffused across the number of witnesses to the crime. Have you ever passed an accident on the freeway and assumed that a victim or certainly another motorist has already reported the accident? In general, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely any one person will help.


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