Blog Workshop: Working with parts (a.k.a. how to feel fulfilled)

I've started this ‘Workshop' series to introduce some valuable tools for personal development to anyone who wants to go deeper within themselves. Each post will teach a specific tool for reconnecting with what is going on inside you, and guide you through a series of exercises so you can start making fundamental changes in how you live. Enjoy!


'One part of me wants one thing, while another part wants another.'

'I feel dissatisfied with life, but I don't know why.'

'I just don't know what I want anymore.'

We all go through periods in life where we feel disconnected or torn within ourselves. To support you during those times, I wanted to write this post on 'working with your parts.'

This is a technique for understanding yourself and enriching your life through greater self-knowledge.

The theory behind parts work is that humans are multidimensional beings – that is, we all contain many aspects of ourselves, each with its own thoughts, feelings, and agendas. 

For example, most of us have a part that wants to go out and socialise vs. the part that wants to stay home. Or the part that is patient and kind vs. the part that wants to physically throttle that person making our lives difficult right now ;-). 

Parts work comes in a variety of flavours (for example Voice dialogue or Internal Family Systems), but it is essentially about consciously hearing and honouring all aspects of who we are.

The goal? To better understand the unconscious aspects of our inner world, so that we can live more authentically and feel more free and fulfilled within ourselves. 

When you become more aware of which parts of you are running your life, you can then change your life, including your relationships, the choices you make, how you handle the events life brings you.
— Astra Niedra

 

Say hello to your inner village

Let's start by imagining that your inner world is a village filled with many different people. 

Who lives in your village? 

When there's an important decision to be made, who gets to have a say?

For example, does your inner Professional run your life? Or perhaps your inner Perfectionist? How much of a say does your inner Creative or Artist have? And what about your inner Child who just wants to be loved and have fun and play? 

Exercise: Take 5-10 minutes right now to write down the members of your inner village (your parts). Notice which parts get a say in how you run your life, and which don't get a say at all.

Some example parts you might notice are the: Pleaser, Romantic, Inner Critic, Perfectionist, Dreamer, Achiever, Warrior, Spiritual Seeker, Joker, Judge, Good friend, Daughter/Son, Creative/Artist, Vulnerable Child, Nurturing Parent, Nihilist, Critical Parent, Procrastinator, Drama Queen, Adolescent, … (please do make up your own!). 

The best way engage with this exercise visualise a meeting room where you 'call a village meeting' and see who shows up.

Imagine each part of your inner world as a person, including how they dress and act. E.g. Your inner Dreamer might show up as a 60’s hippy spouting Beatles lyrics. Have fun with this – doing so will stop your analytical brain from taking control of the process, and let you connect with aspects of yourself which don't get much say in your conscious life. 

When starting this work, you might start out identifying 5-10 parts. As you continue, however, you will start to make more distinctions, and notice that you have many more parts than you first thought. 

Note: if you find any extremely dark or disturbing parts of you showing up as you do this work, seek out an experienced counsellor, therapist, or life coach to work through this with you. Don't ignore or run away from these parts, since they should be dealt with. Sometimes, however, we all need help and guidance as we figure out how to come into a healthy relationship with certain powerful aspects of ourselves.  

 

Let your parts speak!

This is where it starts to get interesting, because we are going to hear what each of your parts have to say! While this might feel a bit weird at first, this exercise can be really fun and eye-opening if you let yourself run with it.  

Exercise: Set aside at last 15 minutes to retreat into your imagination. Call a village meeting again, and this time let each of your parts speak.

Focus your minds eye on each part, one by one, and give them a voice by speaking aloud or writing down what they have to say. 

Importantly: be sure to use the first person, and speak in that parts true voice.

For example, someone starting to do this work with me might identify their Judge part and say: 

'My inner Judge thinks I could do better in life.'

However, this is not a true embodiment of the Judge’s voice. Let’s switch to the first person and the Judge would actually sound more like this:

'You're fucking it up! You never get things right. You're such a mess!'

Notice how the frustration and disappointment is really tangible in this second statement, while the first completely dilutes what this part of you has to say. 

Basically what I'm asking you to do is let loose, even if what your parts have to say doesn't reflect your core values or beliefs, or align with what you believe to be 'safe' or 'right.’ 

Note: Do use your good judgement as you do this exercise. Sometimes our parts are 'in hiding' for a reason. If at any time you feel truly off balance or unsafe emotionally, don't push it. Always do what feels healthy and safe for you, and get in touch if you feel you need support in doing this powerful work. 

 

Let your hair down, honey

Many people needlessly suffer by believing that they should be only one particular type of person, or that they are only one particular self, and they try to suppress the contradictory thoughts, feelings and perspectives of their other selves.

The problem is that when you suppress parts of yourself, over time those parts distort and become more extreme, and so when they do break loose they do so with great intensity.
— Astra Niedra

We often avoid expressing our parts fully because expressing the diversity of thoughts and feelings within us seems dangerous. And in truth, it is! 

Self-expression is dangerous to the status quo. It is dangerous to the parts of us that want to live small, and dangerous to our controlling parts that want to keep things stay safe and boring within our comfort-zone …  

Self-expression is most definitely not dangerous, however, to our ability to connect with a deeper sense of richness, growth, and empowered fulfilment within ourselves.

So please, as you do the exercise above, let your parts speak fully from the heart!

Some tips to help you do this:

  • Come home to the fact that you are not your parts – you are more than your parts. No matter what the individual parts of you might have to say (and believe me, if you are being honest with yourself, some of them will give voice to some pretty hair-raising things!) it is always you who gets to choose how you live your life once they are done (more on this below).

  • Notice when your judging or fearful parts try to step in and 'protect' you from yourself, and respectfully ask them to step down and take a break. Some valuable phrases to say if you find yourself disconnecting from the exercise despite yourself: 'I'm ready to wake up now. I'm sick of hiding and avoiding what is really going on. I don't need protecting anymore. Let me see what is there ...'

  • Find your sense of humour again. Notice how some parts of you are continually monitoring, judging, and filtering who you are in each moment. Know that you have the ability to ask them to step aside, and once you do, find another part of you that is willing to play and have fun with this exercise in self-exploration!

Some things to pay attention to as you go: 

  • What does each of my parts have to say?

  • What parts want to dominate the conversation and cut others off while they speak (often this will be the Judge or Inner Critic)?

  • What parts are quiet or get drowned out (often this will be parts like our Child, Idealist, or some part with a rebellious streak)

  • Are there any parts that are hard to see or hear e.g. in shadow, cloaked, silent? (it's perfectly natural to have parts that emerging or that we are not ready to communicate with just yet)

  • What parts do you feel uncomfortable acknowledging or listening to (E.g. Jealous or hateful parts, or parts that seem useless, worthless, or wrong)?

 

A note on self-acceptance

I'd like to preface the rest of this article with this statement: even if your village is hot mess of arguing or fearful personalities right now, that is perfectly OK.  

Much more than having a 'functional' village, the most important thing to hold onto while doing this connecting work is your own courageous willingness to be present to what is.

(Your alternative choice: spend decades of your life in a futile attempt to run from what's happening inside you, and ignoring the fact that life feels empty and meaningless. Ergh ;-/).

Importantly, the parts of you that feel fearful or inadequate will most definitely get triggered by this work.

They might be running around telling you that this is pointless, or that you can't do it, or reiterating whatever fearful stories best hit your vulnerabilities so that you'll turn away from the powerful work of reconnecting with yourself.

But don't listen to them! It's time for a change. Stop letting their Chicken Little mentality drive you to distraction.

And you want to know the best way I've found for dealing with these fear-driven parts?

Laughter. 

Yup. Giving myself permission to enjoy the hilarity of my own messy humanity, and learning to laugh at myself for all the stupid things I've done while driven by my parts, is truly one of the most powerful tools I've found for my own personal growth.

Exercise in finding the humour: Physically smile three times (yes, just plaster three big ugly smiles on your face, one after the other) and force yourself to finish this sentence: "You know what is really funny right now ..." 

Now ... while this silly little exercise won't necessarily work for everyone (we are all different, and you might need to explore your own methods for healing or letting go of ego-identification with your parts), it is often a fun way to lighten up and disconnect from the drama when life is feeling especially heavy :-D

  

Take me to your leader

The most valuable thought tool I've found in consciously relating to parts, is the idea of a core Self –  i.e. the Conscious Observer or Village Leader – which comes from the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model by Dr. Richard Schwartz. 

The IFS model is based on the idea that each human on earth has access to a core sense of 'Self' who can be recognised by 8 fundamental characteristics:

Calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.

Schwartz calls these characteristics the 8 C's of self-leadership, and believes it is the Self who is responsible for negotiating between our parts and leading us forward in life. 

Working with hundreds of clients for more than two decades, some of whom were severely abused and show severe symptoms, has convinced me that everyone has this healthy and healing Self despite the fact that many people initially have very little access to it.
— Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph. D.

Importantly: we all have a core self, and it is a part that is available to us at all times.

 

Visualising your core self

A visualisation that has been especially helpful for me in engaging with Self is to imagine my parts as a pie, with my Self in the middle.

With this in mind, I can ask myself in any given moment: 

Where am I coming from right now?

Am I coming from one of my parts (e.g. a fearful part, an achieving part, or a vulnerable part)? 

Or am I coming from my Self – the part of me who is naturally calm, curious, clear, compassionate, confident, creative, courageous, and connected? (For those of you who are religious or spiritual, this is of course, the part of you that is connected to God/all that is)

Where are you coming from right now? Your centre or one of your parts?

Where are you coming from right now? Your centre or one of your parts?

The real trick at this juncture is not to judge yourself for identifying with your parts. The Judge or Inner Critic is, after all, a part, and not your core Self!

 Connecting with yourself is an exercise is non-judgment, coming back to calm, and being compassionately present to the places in your life where you are identified with your parts. 

Exercise: Close your eyes, relax your shoulders, set down your requirements and expectations (ego), and take three deep, life-giving breaths. Come home to the realisation that your Self – your inner Leader – is a calm and connected part of you that is always there, waiting for you to connect with it in each moment. When you open yourself up to it's presence, what is it you find? 

Whatever happens as a result of this exercise –whether you do connect with your calm centre, or whether you find yourself spiralling off somewhere else (e.g. judgement, doubt, or numbness/disconnect), your task in that moment is to simply be present to what is. 

Simply notice what happens, and realise that if you can't connect with your Self, then there is still work you have to do in owning and connecting with your parts. 

 

Oh noES, the ring of fire!

One thing that complicates our ability to be with Self, is that by engaging with this work, we will often be asked to go through what life coach Martha Beck calls the 'Ring of Fire.' 

That is: the process of emotional awakening and awareness that allows us to connect  with the more real of who we are.

The Ring of Fire is the emotional process we must go through to reach the Core of Peace. There are only two ways to accomplish this. We can disbelieve any false ideas that are causing unnecessary pain. Any unavoidable pain — loss of health or a loved one for example — we must grieve.”
— Martha Beck

For example: when I first learnt about the Self and started to observe my life through this new lens, I was absolutely dismayed! I was disgusted, and disappointed, and terribly, terribly embarrassed by the realisation that I'd spent my entire life in one or the other of my crazy parts. 

And what was most natural in that moment was to start to beat myself up and to tell myself I wasn't enough.

However, if I did this, I wouldn't be connecting with my Self, would I? 

The false idea I was living under at the time was that I had to be outwardly perfect – that I had to have it all figured out, and if I didn't I was somehow less than whole. It was a belief that was/is simply untrue, and something which I've had to practice disbelieving over time.

Once I had let go of my identification with my inner Perfectionist, however, I finally came face-to-face with the vulnerable parts of me that I'd been covering up since youth.

And gosh it hurt to actually face the pain of my past, rather than go on pretending they weren't there.  And I guess talking about facing the pain of the past might not sound like much fun …

But learning to face my own pain in this way has honestly been the most freeing, empowering, and life-giving thing I have ever done. 

Your core Self is the part of you that is conscious of, and connected to all of your parts in each moment. It therefore has the ability to find creative and life-giving solutions that can fulfil the core needs of every part at once (not always all the needs, but definitely the most important ones!).

It also has the ability to hold each of your struggling parts with compassion, and support them (e.g. through self-compassion, self-nurturing, and self-love, which are resources that are available to each of us in every moment – even if we don't know it yet!).

In other words, connecting with your core Self is a pretty kick-ass life skill to have :-D. 

Note: If you are struggling to connect with this part, don't keep struggling alone. Contact me for a free Get Connected coaching session. I know how hard those first steps into self-empowerment can be, and it is for that reason that I have dedicated myself to coaching people through it.                                       

Your parts walk into a bar …

In closing, let me offer a few words of support as you go about connecting with your parts and your own calm, compassionate, curious and confident core Self:

  • You are not your parts. You are much more than your parts. If you find yourself feeling off-balance, look back at the Pie diagram above and realise that you are currently coming from a place that is outside of the centre of the circle.

  • Finding your centre is a process of growth. Give yourself time and space, and don't listen to any nefarious parts that want to convince you it's not worth it. They are run by fear, and want to keep you living small.

  • Accept that this process might need to be incremental (for a while at least, until you discover your break through moment!), and know that learning to be accepting and grateful for those tiny-teeny baby steps will serve you much much more in life than any big grand plans or requirements.

  • Give yourself full permission to joyfully explore your inner playground (your village of parts) as if that is what life is about!

Good luck, and please do share your experiences with me via email or in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you!

With love and commitment

 - Liz Busch