Andrea J Schrage, MA, LPC, CMT
adapted from Dr. Richard Schwartz
Have you ever thought of yourself as a person with many different parts, or aspects of yourself? Thinking of yourself that can be a little anxiety provoking. You may even remember the movie “Sybil” and feel a desire to back away from the topic.
However, I am asking you to bear with me and trust that this has nothing to do with the type of personality disintegration that was happening for that character. So, for the brave souls left, this is an introduction to a way of looking at different aspects of yourself that will allow you to take better care of you.
I have been practicing as a counselor for almost 15 years. My experience includes studying different modalities that include psychology, body-centered psychotherapy, and spiritual practices. The most profound teachings on my journey have been my personal experience with healing modalities and the art of mindfulness. What feels consistent in all of these modalities is that we all have different parts of us inside, almost like personalities. These parts have been given different names, such as, the Id, Ego, and Superego and the Inner Child. I have also found that when clients identify them, they find that they have a clearer understanding of themselves and their behavior.
Have you ever seen someone who gets angry and starts to act like a kid? One example of this is when they are being told that they did something to hurt someone and they quickly retort with, “Well, you….” That’s what kids do
Another example is the part of you that jumps in and tells you all the ways that you are bad.
The parts vary and most have benefits if used properly. At different times, the parts may function as the self, child, teenager, perfectionist, overachiever, depressed part, worrier, focused only on happy, other focused, withdrawer, addict, playful, artistic, manager, parent, critical, voice, dreamer, or arrogant part/ego.
When you are not aware of these parts, it is easier for one of them to take over so that you are acting from that perspective only. You can imagine that when only one aspect of you is making decisions, you may be seeing a small portion of what is really happening. This becomes the crux of all communication problems.
A way to start understanding your parts is by looking at the categories that they may fall into. This will help you get an idea of the job that they are doing and help you to distinguish when is appropriate for them to display their talents. This will also help you reduce the habitual nature of parts that originated as a defense.
These are often our most sensitive, innocent, open, and intimacy-seeking parts that contain qualities like liveliness, playfulness, spontaneity, creativity, and joi de vivre. They are the parts that were most sensitive and therefore most impacted by the painful events.
These parts could arise from trauma, but they may also be parts that embarrassed your parents, parts that held unspoken family rules or peer group norms, and parts that learned how to not feel.
These are the productive parts that are responsible for our day-to-day safety — often the voices that we hear most often. They are the aspects of us that want to control everything and are sure that they know best. They come from a place that will “never again” be hurt like before. They are the authors and enforcers of your stories and are created for protective reasons. They create your reality. They serve to block things from touching or hurting the exiles. They are the parts of us to try to make sure we are being externally seen in a positive way so that we can get that approval we did not receive in childhood.
These serve as the 2nd line of defense when the managers don’t work. They are our addictions and distractions, such as TV, eating, relationships, sleeping, alcohol, drugs, denial, rage etc. Over the years the firefighters pick less socially acceptable items because the first line of distractions stop working. Some people use physical distractions, such as illness or sudden pains. Some of the firefighters favor an impulsive retreat; they will leave the room or push the other person away. They are the parts that can make you feel fat, addicted, hostile, sneaky, sick, insensitive, and compulsive.
Managers often hate firefighters, though they have the some goal. Firefighters often rebel against managers by becoming more destructive. This can be seen as a parent (manager)/child (firefighter) relationship.
I hope this will help you begin to look at your parts and get support, as you need it. Feel free to email me with any questions about this process.