Angels and Traitors

My second semester at the Institute for Creative and Artistic Development moved me forward significantly in my steps toward self-acceptance. At ICAD, as it was called, the lessons were all based in experiential learning. Juanita Sagan, an educator, was brilliant (as was A.A. Leath), in creating experiences that brought the concepts to life. Rather than learning from lectures, we learned by embodying the ideas in the lesson. So it was as we explored the internal battles that waged within us.

The Sagans described the characters inside us as falling into two categories: angels and traitors. The angels are the aspects of yourself that take care of you and support you. They believe in you, your worthiness, your ability, and your goodness. They believe you can cope with your experience in a beneficial manner. Angel characters are sometimes called your “Higher Self” and could also be considered your “Inner Coach.”[1] Angel image[2]

The traitor characters are the aspects of yourself that are seemingly trying to do you in. They seem to sabotage you at every turn. They are sometimes called your “Inner Saboteur” or your “Gremlins.”[1] Traitor image[2] However, if you think of your traitor characters as fallen angels, it is easier to understand them, accept them, and eventually appreciate them.

Consider this: when you were a child, you developed a particular way of behaving that worked in your family of origin, your neighborhood, and your community. This behavior or attitude kept you safe and protected you from feeling more pain. It became a habit.

When you left your family of origin, the behavior continued even though the people around you were different than your mother, father, siblings, neighborhood kids, etc. They didn't react the same way your family did so the behavior was no longer serving its purpose of protecting you. However, it had become a part of you so you continued to do it.

Here's an example. My father wrote well and was extremely good with grammar. As a child, I brought my essays to him for his feedback. No matter how good the essay was, his first remarks were always critical, letting me know what could be improved. I longed to hear “good job,” but instead, was told to work on the sentence structure or the diction.

So, no surprise here, I developed a very strong self-critic. I learned quickly. Now, when I took my essay to my dad, I introduced it as not being so well done, I pointed out the problem areas, etc. I then was complemented on my analysis and critical thinking. Even though I was criticizing my own work, I was being acknowledged for my intelligence and rigor. It sounds strange but then again, we human beings do all kinds of strange things to ensure that we feel less pain than we fear we might. Our brains are pain adverse. As a result, we come up with survival strategies that help us feel better than what we imagine the alternative might be.

For me, the alternative was hearing my father's criticism. By me criticizing myself, I got him to compliment me. Even though he was complimenting me on discerning what was wrong with my writing, it was better than hearing his criticism.

I left my family of origin and went to university. My self-criticism came with me. It was so severe that I had an extremely difficult time writing my papers. I labored and struggled over every word. Though I received A's on my papers for the most part, writing was torture.

At ICAD, my self-criticism became the traitor character I called my Pathological Perfectionist. By seeing this as a character in me, not all of me, that developed to take care of me as a little girl, I started to have compassion for this character rather than judge myself for being so hard on myself. Inherent in the self-compassion was my increased awareness and understanding of the development of the character and the positve intention of the character. I came to see that indeed, even my Pathological Perfectionist was attempting to protect me.

Due to the strength of my many inner critics, it was nearly impossible for me to find an internal angel voice. Negativity bias ensured that I developed strong self-critics rather than good credit takers. However, making friends with my traitors and diminishing their control over me allowed my angel voices to develop. More about this in a future blog.

Please see today's activity for an exercise in recognizing your angels and your traitors.

Enjoy the journey as you reclaim all parts of yourself. As you notice any changes, have sweet aha moments, or run into any challenges, please post on the blog.

[1]: Bell, J. (2003). Theatre of Possibilities: A Consultant's Guide to Creativity, Spontaneity, and Confidence. Novato, CA: Relationships That Work, Inc.

[2]: Images © 2005 from

Judith Bell, M.S., Master LHEP™

Judith Bell, M.S., Master LHEP™

Judith is the founder and president of Rewire Leadership Institute®. A master facilitator, consultant, teacher, and coach, she has created and facilitated personal growth, team development and organizational change seminars, coached executives and teams, facilitated strategic planning and high visibility meetings, and supported culture change for over four decades. Judith works with a diverse range of companies from government agencies, non-profit, Fortune Global 500, to small and mid-sized family owned businesses including such organizations as NASA, Seaflow, Total Oil, Restoration Hardware, San Antonio Water System, and Culver Company.

Superb at supporting individuals, pairs, and teams in developing the skills necessary to realize their full potential, Judith helps executives, managers, and staff gain the ability to respond flexibly and rapidly to their changing environment. Through extensive experience and research, she utilizes a number of different approaches including the FIRO theory, systems theory, cybernetics, neuroscience, cognitive, positive, and success psychology.

As one of the world’s leading experts on the FIRO theory, she trains consultants internationally. A consultant’s consultant, Judith mentors facilitators, coaches, therapists and other professionals in the integration of the FIRO theory in their work. From 1981 until 2004, she worked closely with Dr. Will Schutz, the creator of FIRO theory. Independently, Judith developed FIRO Theory Profiling, which has been lauded as the first innovation in the FIRO theory instruments aside from Dr. Schutz’ own developments. She continues to develop courses that synthesize her studies and experience and are based in FIRO theory.

Starting in her teenage years, Judith has been a pioneer in her passion for authenticity, clear communication, and positive change. She is lauded for her ability to see others’ potential and help them realize it—be they individuals, pairs, teams, or organizations. Judith’s zest for life, appreciation for others, and generosity of spirit inspires those with whom she works.

An honor’s student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Judith’s desire and passion to learn about authenticity motivated her to move her studies to The Institute for Creative and Artistic Development (ICAD) in Oakland, California. As the youngest student in their teacher training program, she created and graduated with an undergraduate degree that focused on authenticity through California State University, Sonoma. Continuing on her quest to study authenticity and creativity, Judith began taking courses at California State University, Hayward where she also created and graduated with a unique Master’s degree that focused on communication, transformation, and the creative arts.

Interested in systems and change, Judith began experimenting with her innovative action-oriented approach to assess and intervene with families, groups, and organizations. Through this work, she became a much sought-after instructor, training masters and doctoral students in her seminal work. As chair of a psychology program focused on Creative Arts Therapies at Antioch University, San Francisco, she developed curriculum and continued to serve as guest faculty and lecturer at universities nationwide.

In addition to leading Rewire Leadership, Judith and her husband, Daniel Ellenberg, co-founded Relationships That Work®, where she serves as Vice President. She and Daniel co-authored Lovers for Life: Creating Lasting Passion, Trust, and True Partnership, which applies the principles of Rewire Leadership Institute® to romantic relationships. Recently, they co-authored a chapter in Mastering the Art of Success: Volume 8. With Matt White, Judith recently co-authored Leading with Courage.

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