Home Psychology How to get to know all (the parts) of you

How to get to know all (the parts) of you

How to get to know all (the parts) of you

You might carry shame or regret at things you’ve done, or maybe you feel broken, bad or inadequate in some way? What if I were to tell you that you are inherently good, kind and loving at your core, and that there is nothing wrong with you?

By Derek Scott

Many people struggle to like themselves – perhaps you are one of them. You might carry shame or regret at things you’ve done, or maybe you feel broken, bad or inadequate in some way? What if I were to tell you that you are inherently good, kind and loving at your core, and that there is nothing wrong with you? My guess is that you’d probably respond on the inside with something like: ‘He doesn’t know me,’ or ‘He doesn’t know some of the things that I’ve done.’ As a psychotherapist, I’m used to these kinds of comments, and have come to know from years of experience that everyone is indeed inherently good, although different parts of us may behave in extreme ways. These extremes point to the healing that we need, and can bring to ourselves.

I practice internal family systems therapy (IFS) – an approach developed by the US psychotherapist Richard Schwartz that sees the different parts within each of us operating much like families interact. Sometimes, your different parts are squabbling; sometimes, they’re working together; and sometimes, they’re fiercely protective of other members. Schwartz came to this realization after listening to clients – really listening. He found they (like you) would say: ‘A part of me likes/hates this…’ and he wondered what would happen if we recognized those parts as being real.

You have many different parts, and a core Self

IFS holds two things to be true:

Your personality consists of many different parts.

At your core, your true Self, inherently loving, is present and available.

This might sound strange at first, but think about it a moment, and you’ll realize that we talk about the different parts of ourselves all the time. If a friend asked if you wanted to try a new restaurant on Friday for lunch, you might say: ‘Part of me does but part of me doesn’t.’ Maybe the part that wants to say ‘yes’ likes trying new places. Maybe the part saying ‘no’ wants to keep Friday open – it’s your day off.

IFS understands these distinct parts to be real – and to have relationships with each other; perhaps protective, sometimes oppositional, maybe allied. You know that critical voice in your head that tells you that you should have done ‘X’ or shouldn’t have done ‘Y’, and that beats you up? That too is another of your parts.

According to IFS, our parts are quite literally little beings inside of us with thoughts and feelings and their own experiences. When they ‘blend’ with us – i.e. take over our whole system – then in that moment it can ‘feel’ like that’s who we are. For example, if I’m mad at you, then I’m mad at you. If later I’m crying while watching a movie, then I’m just sad. But IFS suggests that maybe both the angry me and the sad me are separate parts of myself, since I’m not sad nor angry all the time. In contrast, what is always available to me, at least when I feel safe and calm? My love, kindness, courage, creativity, curiosity. When Schwartz listened to his clients talk about these loving parts of themselves, they would say: ‘That feels more like me.’ Over time, he realized that this is the core Self, which has specific qualities that can engage with the different parts.

It helps to know some basic IFS terminology

Before I explain more about how you can use IFS, it’s going to help you to know some of the basic terms and concepts:

Core Self: these are your qualities of compassion, curiosity, calmness, confidence, connectedness, clarity, creativity and courage

Protective parts: the proactive parts of these are your managers. They like to manage your life to make you look good; they often use that ‘should’ voice inside your head. Your inner critic – the one that beats you up for the mistakes you make, or for your supposed flaws – is one of these manager parts.

Vulnerable parts: these sensitive parts are your exiles. They’re the parts of you holding distressing feelings and/or beliefs. For instance, it’s very common to have a part that believes it is not good enough. It has been shamed, and carries that burden. These parts are often young and frozen in the past; for example, a kid who was repeatedly told they were a disappointment at eight years old can get stuck at that age. Manager parts may decide that the best way to protect this kid is to always be perfect, so they don’t get criticized again.

Protective parts: the reactive parts of these are your firefighters. When an exile is ‘triggered’, for example your partner shames you for something you did, then, to protect you from becoming engulfed by shame, your firefighter part may become enraged, or use drugs, alcohol food, porn or other activities, to distract you from the emotional pain. Firefighter parts often don’t make us look good, so managers will get on their case. Say your firefighting part got drunk as a way to mask a socially awkward part – ie, one of your exiles. The voices you might then hear in your head could be these two parts – your firefighter and your manager – arguing: ‘I can’t believe you drunk so much last night!’ And in response: ‘It wasn’t that much, I needed to relax.’ Which gets followed by: ‘You made a fool of yourself!’ etc.

Listening to your parts can help you know them better and begin healing

But here’s the thing – all the parts have a positive intent: ie, they are all trying to help in some way. Let’s say a friend has rented the local swimming pool for a party and they invite you, letting you know the theme is ‘Bikinis and Speedos’. If there is a part of you that doesn’t feel comfortable in your body, you may have an internal debate that sounds something like this:

‘I don’t think I’ll go; I wouldn’t be comfortable.’

‘You have to go, they’re your friend. Besides, they might think you’re blowing them off.’

‘How about if we wear something to cover ourselves up?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, then we’d really draw attention to ourselves.’

‘It’s not for two months, maybe we can diet and hit the gym more.’

‘That never works; besides, I’m sick of starving myself.’

So what’s going on here? From an IFS perspective, these are your manager parts talking; can you hear the ‘should’ voice concerned about how you appear to others? All have a good intent, but, as you can see, they don’t necessarily agree with each other, and this can create a lot of psychic tension – referred to as the ‘monkey mind’ in some Buddhist traditions. Manager parts also serve you by trying to make sure that the exile parts holding distress or burdens (such as the one that feels some body shame) don’t get triggered and take over. They are proactive in keeping the ones holding the pain in their place.

Now let’s imagine that the manager parts, concerned about what people might think, team up with the dieting manager part, and they override the not-going part, so you find yourself at the pool party. At the potluck table, you are considering having a piece of delicious-looking cheesecake when another guest leans towards you and says: ‘Oh you’re so brave… I couldn’t even look at that cheesecake.’ You might feel a stab of shame… and then immediately get mad, and/or leave the party, or suddenly need a nap, or want to smoke a joint, or crave a drink (i.e. your firefighter takes over).

Let’s say your angry firefighter says loudly to the other guest: ‘How dare you comment on my food choices? What makes you think you have the right?’ and you leave the party in anger. Chances are, as you drive home and get away from the trigger, you will hear something like this in your head (a clash between your firefighter and manager parts):

‘What’s wrong with you – I can’t believe you just did that, and everybody noticed!’

‘Well I had every right to, they shouldn’t have said that.’

‘But now everybody will be talking about us – have you no self-control?’

‘They deserved it.’

You might have experienced similar situations yourself – it needn’t be a pool party, of course: it could be something at work, at a get-together with friends, a domestic situation – anywhere that your parts end up in conflict over how best to protect you. But what if you could deal with these kinds of situation differently? IFS offers a route to healing, self-forgiveness and acceptance. It sees the core Self in everyone as characterized by the qualities of compassion, curiosity, calmness, creativity, courage, connectedness, confidence and clarity. It’s your true loving nature, often obscured by your parts. Following the principles of IFS then, in the pool example, you would thank your firefighter for getting you out of a threatening situation, while also appreciating your manager’s attempts to ensure it doesn’t happen again. With time, you would allow your core Self to get to know the hurting exile that holds the burden of body shame, and help it to release that burden. Then your protective parts, whose behavioral strategies are compelled by the exiled part’s distress, could relax.

An important first step toward this form of healing is to get curious about your different parts. In this Guide, I’ll show you several ways to begin exploring your various parts and to acknowledge their different functions and needs. Getting to know your parts in this way, and allowing them to be heard, can be a healing process in itself.

Click here read full article and to know WHAT TO DO?


Derek Scottis a registered social worker and a certified internal family systems (IFS) therapist and consultant. He is the founder of IFSCA, an organization dedicated to teaching the IFS model to mental health professionals in Canada and beyond.

Courtesy: Psyche (Received through email on Jan 25, 2023)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here