Playing your Part
“I’m still learning to love the parts of myself that nobody else claps for”
Have you ever said “there’s a part of me that wants to but there’s another part of me that doesn’t”? Does it frustrate you as much as it frustrates me? That feeling, when faced with an experience, choice, opportunity it feels like a tug of war is happening inside you as these different ‘parts’ of you battle to decide which will win out and determine how you act, speak and feel. What on earth is going on?
Don’t worry – you and I are not going mad! The idea of multiple ‘parts’ making up our core Self is normal according to Dr Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems (IFS). In fact, every part is there to protect you in some way and has a value. As we grow up, we have many experiences, some of which may be traumatic or difficult at the time. It could be surviving abuse, managing a bereavement or conflict, moving home or anything in between which leaves us with uncomfortable feelings. In order to manage the situation, and ultimately survive, a part of us might take responsibility because it has the tools to help us. It will disconnect from the rest of us and thus be forever frozen at that age and with that strategy, however as we get older, if we face a similar event or perceived danger, that part may become activated and use the same strategies to help us cope. Fab – our own set of emergency services living within us!
But it isn’t always obvious that these parts are working for our benefit. Let me give you an example. There was a time in my life when I began to achieve everything I had wanted – the job, the family, the house, all was rosy and then something happened. My world was turned upside down and I felt loss, hurt and shame. I had to look at other options, find a new way to move forward and I did, quite successfully I can now say, but at the time it was hard. All went well, but at times when it seemed like everything was going to plan, I would get a little niggle. One of my protective parts reared its head and said ‘you can’t do this, it will all go wrong, you might as well give up’ and I was filled with self-doubt and worry which stopped me in my tracks. In the past it has led me to decide to not take a risk on opportunities, to keep quiet and accept the status quo. However, in reading about IFS, I have come to realise that this is just one of my parts trying to protect me from experiencing the loss of everything at a time when everything is going well. By halting me in my tracks I don’t pursue my goals and so I can’t risk losing it or missing out. It is, in its own way, protecting me from the possibility of feeling that loss, hurt and shame again.
At first, I hated this part, I wanted to get rid of it as it wasn’t really helping, just motivating a set of behaviours which, in all honesty triggered other parts of me. However, the more I hated it, the more threatened it felt and the more it dug its heels in and tried to ‘protect’ me. So, I took a step back. I looked at the part and tried to empathise with it – why was it there, what job did it feel it was doing and what did it feel might happen if it didn’t do its job. Now I was able to hear it and its motivation and then I was able to show this part compassion. This was a massive breakthrough, instead of battling with my part, I was able to soothe it – acknowledge what had happened in the past and explore with it how it is different now. It felt safe and was able to step aside and let me continue with my goals – which included completing my counselling qualifications and setting up my own private practice! I now feel on the cusp of again, getting closer and closer to my goals but this time my protective part is quiet, though I trust it is ready to jump to attention whenever I am in need of it again!
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