"I don't really get this parts thing"

I wrote this for a few clients who I had introduced the Internal Family Systems (IFS) or "parts work" model to. We had started to name parts and I was supporting them to go inside and pay attention to parts. And they just were not convinced that this would be helpful for them! I work in a client-centred way, so if someone doesn't want to do something, I will not try to convince them. On the other hand, there is a part of me (yes, a manager part!) that would like to have some "answers" in my back pocket in case someone is willing to try but just needs a better overall sense of how it might be helpful! So, here goes:

1) Naming parts – examples - “Should” or “Something is wrong with me”. How can this help?

  • If you can name a part, you can separate from it, or be less “blended” – this means you don’t have to 100% buy into what it is saying or identify with it.

  • Example - your Self-Critic says (to you) “Why don’t you do something productive instead of lying on the couch?” and you can notice, name it as your Self-critic and say something like, “my Self-Critic part doesn’t like me to relax”. Now it is less about “who you are” (e.g. lazy) and more about how you are treating yourself (i.e. quite harshly).

2) Remember that you are not your parts! How can this help?

  • Example – You go to a party and feel awkward because you don’t know anybody. You try to make small talk with a few people, but it doesn’t feel comfortable. You leave the party early and when you go home you have thoughts like, “Nobody wanted to talk to me. I must be so boring” (etc.). You can write down the parts that came up at the party – awkward part, trying part, wanting to connect part, uncomfortable part, rejected part, something wrong with me part. You may still feel bad about the party experience, but feeling something is wrong with you because you did not connect with people at the party does not mean there is something wrong with you – just that the part felt that in that moment.

3) Remember that protector parts (managers and firefighters) have positive intent – they do what they do (e.g. criticize, engage in harmful behaviours, etc.) because they are trying to protect you in some way. In other words, even if they feel like they are getting in your way, they are there for a “reason”. They may have the logic of a child and/or someone responding under threat. How can this help?

  • If you notice that you “don’t like” a part of yourself – for example, a part that would rather stay home than go to a party (even though you really want to meet new people or have an active social life) – ask yourself “what is this part doing for me?” This part may be protecting you from feeling uncomfortable or rejected or like something is wrong with you. That’s a lot to protect you from (which is why we thank these parts!) and it has probably been doing this for a long time. Can you get a little curious about why it had to do that, what was difficult, unwelcome or unsafe about feeling certain things when you were younger?

4) Getting to know exiles that carry vulnerable feelings (e.g. shame, fear). How can this help?

  • It is very hard to get to know an exile if you do not feel safe. Imagining ‘child parts’ can feel weird or awkward (too touchy-feely) or weak and uncomfortable. Or you may want to connect with exiles but you have built-up so many protectors (e.g. thinking parts, blanking parts) that it is not that easy to go there. If it is not safe to go there, that is information about how unsafe it was to feel these things as a child, and may tell you that there is a lot of pain locked away.

  • ‘Unburdening’ exiles is a process that allows these child parts to be witnessed by you. It helps by giving you a felt experience of your inner suffering, which makes it more real (it can’t be minimized or dismissed as easily) and it makes it less necessary to keep asking “why” – we know/understand that something happened in our past that was scary, painful, and/or unsafe, so our protective parts make sense (we can then have more acceptance of what they do for us).

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