Overview of "parts work" -
p. 3 of 7 / Updated
March 07, 2015
The next preparation step to take
is to decide...
Is Your Parts Work?
Reflect and decide
"What life activities are generally more
important to me these days than inner-family work, and which are less?"
A few activities will usually come before this personal-growth work,
like your job, your physical health, caring for dependents, and nurturing
other important relationships. Consider making a commitment to yourself to invest regular
undistracted time and effort in hi-priority inner-family harmonizing work
for a specific time period, or until... (what?)
Inner Kids to try to
your commitment. How would your
model hero/ine and
handle such anxieties and doubts? Try trusting that
your Self knows just the right way to respond if s/he is free to do so.
Another important preparation is to...
Some of your subselves will normally be scared, skeptical, and even
hostile to your inner-family work - specially if it involves a
helper. To keep you and themselves safe,
they will probably give you some intense initial thoughts like these:
"This (parts work) is
stupid. You are a real jerk to believe this junk!"
"You donít have time
(to do it)"
"You know youíve
never been any good at meditating."
"(parts work) wonít
work for me."
"Nothing comes - and
nothing will." (when trying to contact a part);
"Youíre going to
release or discover something bad (terrifying or fatal)."
"I just canít do it
"Itís too abstract -
I canít do that kind of stuff."
"If I ígo insideí,
Iíll go crazy (or Ďget stuck in thereí). Iíll certainly be put
"Other people will
surely: laugh / say "you are weird!" / tell me to stop / reject
and abandon me / get upset."
you notice any well-meant inner warnings like these,
notice the pronouns: "I," "you," and "me" refer
to the part thatís "speaking,"
(unblended) Self. You refers to your whole inner family or self
Some of your parts
(subselves) may communicate their anxiety ("resistance") through
physical symptoms, like aches, twinges, muscle tightness, yawning, and
headaches. Your Self and they can learn to understand and resolve each of
these, with time, empathy, teamwork, and patience. See what these attitude
statements bring up among you (all):
"Some subselves may try to sabotage my parts work. When they do,
they are unaware or misinformed, and
are trying to protect me and
"None of my parts are
evil or bad now
- nor have they ever been. My
subselves always mean well, from
their (limited) point of view. They can learn to change
their views when they feel safe, respected, and genuinely heard."
"I can respect and
empathize with each protective part of me, as it expresses itís fear and
distrust, without agreeing and impeding our inner-family teambuilding."
To respect any
meditate or journal. Give them a chance to express
their views on the specific risks they see to your doing parts work.
Whatís the worst thing that could happen, according to them? Why should
you not do parts work? Now invite the other "side" of you to
speak: what could happen if you donít free and empower your wise
resident Self, and
increase your inner harmony?
Option - write
both views down in your
journal. log, or notebook, and review them regularly. Monitor your
attitudes for change as your experience grows. Remind yourself that
a normal symptom of significant
attitude and belief changes is
temporary confusion and anxiety.
should you invite to share and support your parts work?
core theme in effective parts work is growing
senses of genuine trust and safety among all your subselves. The people
around you are a vital element in nurturing these two key
Who Should I Tell?
that we are walking collections of "inner
voices" and "subselves" is pretty weird for typical people.
Recall your own initial reactions: Detached amusement?
Cynical skepticism? Curiosity?
Disbelief? Hostility? Righteous indignation and criticism?
Most subselves are acutely aware
of how other people seem to feel about "you"
(i.e. them). If you describe subselves and/or parts-work to
people who jeer, shame, discount, or threaten you (all) - it will scare
certain young subselves, activate their Guardians, and risk inner chaos
Be selective about
whom you confide in, and what you confide. As you sense another
personís genuine interest, empathy, and support, trust them with more.
Other people who are doing their own parts work are probably safe, unless
their Self is disabled. Doing parts work with one or several
others can be a rich and intimate experience. Trust your own intuition
on whom to trust, with what, when - and "take it easy!"
There are many
alternatives. One is to tell close others "a little" about your
parts and inner clan. That can sound like ...
"Well, Iím just meditating
and learning about myself in an interesting way these days. Iíll let you
know if anything intriguing comes up."
You donít have
to tell anyone about your work. However, getting trusted othersí caring
reactions, validations, and encouragements can deepen your
insights, and speed your inner harmonizing.
to Ask For Help
those of us who survived
low-nurturance childhoods, our Guardians' and
Inner Kids' combined
fear, distrust, and
shame can hinder or block our natural growth
wholistic health. We try diets, and the pounds and bulges return. We take
assertion courses, and the shyness and anxiety renew. We go to counseling and key relationships still donít "work" well.
of this, it can help to have an experienced, Inner Family Systems
(IFS)-aware counselor keep you focused, motivated, and confident in
doing (some of) your parts work. Borrowing their Selfís clarity, nurturing
motivation, and clear leadership for a while can overcome your other partsí
fear until they trust your Self to guide them.
Because parts work is not yet widely accepted
among clinicians, clergy, or family-life educators, finding a qualified professional to help
hard. One place to look is the Self-Leadership
do find someone with
parts-work experience, look for these things in deciding whether to ask their help:
Can the person describe parts
theory coherently (i.e. some version of the basics in this
and this summary) in some detail?
Have they done their own
personal parts work, and are they willing to describe some of it?
true Self seem to be consistently
their inner crew?
Can they coherently describe
the main goals and steps to follow in doing parts work?
How does s/he propose to handle
parts of you who may be in major (initial)
(How does your
Self want them to be treated?)
Does s/he believe we each have
a naturally-effective executive true Self - or does s/he feel inner families are
leaderless and run by group consensus? (That idea works fine for some
Does s/he agree
that the counselor's role is to empower your Self to
promote the changes you want, acting as a skilled "co-therapist" who
knows what you need better than s/he (the professional) does?
Does the person include some
form of redoing and rescuing subselves stuck in the past
(p. 4) in
their inner-family techniques? If "no" - look elsewhere.
Is s/he willing to flex
(within "reason") and work with your inner family beliefs, or does
s/he require you to adopt her or his beliefs?
Notice the theme of these
questions, and develop your own. If you have an anxious
subself who quails at assertively questioning "an
authority" - reassure that subself you (all) have an indisputable
right, as a worthy human
and a consumer, to evaluate whom you ask for help. Youíd do that with a car
mechanic, dentist, realtor, tax advisor, or a plumber, wouldn't you?. Hiring a
professional parts-work consultant is no different.
If you canít find a
qualified and experienced professional, then seek a
trustworthy, experienced therapist who accepts Inner Family System (IFS) concepts and is
motivated to learn about them with you. Some people eventually free their
true Self without doing some version of "parts work." Many others
never do. If you can find a
centered therapist whom you (all) trust, see if s/he'll companion you as a
supporter, guide, and IFS co-learner.
+ + +
We just reviewed specific preparations you can
make before meeting your
dynamic group of subselves and
patiently harmonizing them under your Self's
expert leadership. If Inner Kids or Guardian parts want
you to skip some of these initial steps, know that you can pause
anywhere along the way and do (or re-do) them then. My experience is that the earlier you do these
the more effective your work will be.
As you do each
of these steps, note with interest any inner voices, images, and
impulses (like defocusing) that tend to hamper or block the step. Imagine
that each of these reactions is a protective Guardian
is distrustful, uncertain, and scared about what youíre doing. Be
alert for patterns of inner "resistance" - theyíre fertile areas for
significant parts work and growth!
Now - after picking your initial inner-family goals, clarifying key
attitudes, picking your supporters, and "ranking your inner-family work," you're ready to meet some
subselves. Your personal uniqueness
guarantees that the way you do parts work will be unlike anyone elseís way.
The following summarizes key elements in doing effective parts work. Tailor
them to fit your unique situation. Scan this whole article to get a feel for itís scope,
and then reread in whatever level of detail that feels right.
will take you to pp 4-7 of this article.
Be Aware of Your
personal awareness is key to effective parts work. An important awareness to
grow is of the language you use to think and tall about yourself and your
Use "A part of me" Instead
of "I," "Me", or "My"
Watch for the
old habit of using the pronouns "I,*:"me," and "my," when you think and
speak -e.g. "I'm so upset!," / ."You make me so frustrated!" /
"My memory is terrible." / "I'm really ambivalent about ____." / "I
feel I'll never _____." Notice the difference between these and
A part of me (or 'One of my Inner Kids') is
"My Impatient subself (or Inner Child) gets
really frustrated with you!"
"I have a subself that hinders my
remembering certain things."
Part of me agrees with ____, and another
Part of me feels I'll never ______."
parts-workers have told me that they "feel better" when they adopt
this way of thinking and speaking. It takes conscious practice to change
your language like this. Option - ask supportive others to alert you if you
fall back into using the old descriptors.
can also be useful talking about someone else - e.g. instead of saying "You
really lost it!", try something like "Part of you took over and caused you
to ('lose it')." Experiment w2ith thus and see what happens.
Once you accept the reality of your
subselves, "I," "Me" and "my personality" now refer to all your
dynamic, talented subselves as a group + your body + your soul
or Spirit. How does that feel?
"My" vs. "The"
People beginning parts work often talk about "the Self" or
"the Scared Kid," as though their subselves existed somewhere
"out there." This promotes thinki8ng of your personality parts as abstract concepts
rather than aspects of you as real and vital as your liver or lungs. I
assume you wouldnít say "the (vs. my) head aches."
When encouraged to consciously shift their
to "My Self," "My Guardians," and "My
Scared Kid," most people have reported a positive shift in
their parts work. It becomes more intimate, personal, and real. Try shifting
your pronouns and see what happens.
Naming Your Subselves
Another way of making
your subselves more real and personal is to
experiment with naming them. Your inner-family work may feel and proceed differently if you
think and say (for instance) "Rhonda" rather than "My sad
little six year-old." If parts are asked and feeling safe, some will quickly announce a name and/or title theyíd prefer to be
by. Others will have no preference, so you can assign a name that describes
their function - e.g. "My Procrastinator."
Forcing a name or title ("my Couch-potato") on a
consulting them can feel insulting and disrespectful. How would you feel if an a key
person declared "Iím going to call you Sluggo from now on, because I just like the sound of that"?
In settling on
and titles, recall that key inner-family goals
are to build group identity,
trust, and respect, over time. As a
subself's self-image improves
via parts work, it may be appropriate to have a christening party
or ceremony to adopt a more respectful and dignified name and/or title.
One client (spontaneously) did just that, calling an inner "Board
meeting" to announce and celebrate the transition of "My little
to "Cindy, our
Inner-family names and titles
are powerful because of un/conscious emotional associations. For instance,
if the name "Lucy" reminds you of the daffy, lovable TV
character played by Lucille Ball, it may feel shaming if applied to a female
part of you who currently feels insecure or stupid.
Periodically review the + / - emotional "tone" of the names and titles youíre
using in your parts work. An option at any time is to ask one or all your
subselves what they think, feel, or want about these important symbolic labels.
It demonstrates your Self's respect for them and their individuality.
for a Parts Session
Optimize the results of your parts work by making some simple
preparations for each inner-family session. The more you do the work, the
more automatic these steps will become:
do an honest Self-check
Reserve enough undistracted time
Gather helpful materials
Pick an appropriate site,
Review your attitudes and wound-reduction
(recovery) goals. and...
a specific subself to work with, and plan your interview.
An unavoidable paradox: the main purpose of parts work is to
your resident true Self to guide, retrain, and harmonize your other
subselves. Yet doing this requires your Self to be in charge! So an Initial
step before a parts session is to sense whether your Self is
- if not - which other subselves (usually one or more
and their dedicated
currently control your thoughts and feelings.
If you sense that a protective false self is in charge as you start a parts
session, evolve a way of unblending (p. 4)
that works well enough. Bypassing
this key preparation step risks your experiencing dissatisfying results from
a session and losing your motivation to do this priceless healing
Enough Undistracted Time
Like meditating or praying, if you try to jam parts explorations in between
other pressing life activities, you risk inner distractions diluting your
concentration and efforts. With practice, youíll evolve a sense of how much
time to allocate comfortably to meet with your
Initially, try at least 15". Expect some distrustful,
subselves to resist, and reassure them
that thereís time enough to attend "the other important things." Next,...
can include your
journal and a pen/cil; art markers or crayons; a newsprint
pad; clay; magazines for pictures; photographs of key people or places;
soothing background tapes or CDs (e.g. harp music, wind chimes, Nature
sounds); candles or incense; an alarm clock; sacred items (e.g. a
Holy book, crucifix, icon, crystal, or amulet); toys or stuffed animals; a
footstool, tissue; a blanket and pillow; slippers; a special garment; water
or fruit; a book of meditations or affirmations; and this article. Don't
bring your cell phone, checkbook, iPad, or cat!
Any objects that add to your
subselvesí comfort and enhance ways they can safely express them-selves are
helpful. As your parts-work style develops, youíll evolve your own resource kit. Know
that at some point, it may be helpful to add tools to allow safely
expressing partsí repressed anger - like a tennis racket and target
pillow, a rolled-up newspaper or magazine, or a padded "encounter
an Appropriate Site
"Appropriate" means a place that...
is free enough from
distracting noise, smells, lights, mementos, movement, and interruptions;
in temperature, illumination, decor, space, and furnishings. Ideally, furnishings will
include several comfortable sitting places and a couch, bed, or futon where
you can lie down if (someone) needs to. And choose a place
"right." Parts work can be intensely personal, and increasingly
Doing it in a place that feels like your safe
and sacred space (a den,
study, alcove, or sanctuary) is a great help. A setting near or in
Nature is often optimal. And "appropriate" also means a place where...
your subselves can
express themselves (rage, sob, yell) loudly without disturbing
or arousing other people or animals.
Where possible, do your work in the same
location. Accumulating positive
inner-family experiences there will strengthen anxious partsí expectations of
safety and good outcomes. A strategic exception is when your
current work may benefit from visiting places associated with prior traumas. These can include early homes, schools, neighborhoods,
churches, cemeteries, and other evocative sites.
Review your Attitudes and Goals
When youíve allocated enough time, arranged for no interruptions, and are
settled in your "parts space," then...
Read or review your initial
beliefs and attitudes (p. 2 or your journal) - perhaps out loud;
Close your eyes if that suits you, and mentally get clearer on what
you want to do this session. Optionally, invite
to guide the session, trusting that parts who
need attention will appear and help form your work.
Notice without judgment any
distracting thoughts, feelings, or sensations that some parts may be
giving you. Calmly accept any
as their legitimate
reactions, and use them as
opportunities to guide your work.
Pick a Subself to Work With, and Plan Your Interview
common error first-time parts-workers make is to pick their most troublesome
parts to work with right away. A better choice is to interview several
subselves that you really like and appreciate first, so you (all) gain
confidence and experience with the interview process.
Start with several Inner Kids and/or
Manager subselves, like your Playful or Friendly kids and your
Organizer/Planner, Nurturer, and Observer. Gain interview experience before
working with your Guardian parts and trying to negotiate changes
Three kinds of dialogs between your
Self and other subselves are: (1) fact-finding and befriending (trust-building); (2)
retraining and negotiating with a subself to change; and (3)
identifying and resolving inner-family conflicts.
Before each inner dialog, clarify
which of these you want to do: e.g.: "I want to...
learn about this subself, and start
trust-building." Option: list the
questions you want to ask
mentally or on paper;
invite this subself to join me in the
present." Option: mentally invite the part to tour my dwelling and
workplace or school first;
introduce this subself to one or more other
subselves." Option: introduce the part to all your
subselves in an inner council meeting;
this Guardian part is protecting."
or I want to...
introduce my Self to this personality part
and explain my role."
correct this subself's misinformation or
ignorance on (some topic/s)."
meet with two or more
subselves to resolve a dispute."
get an agreement to change
feelings, and/or behaviors temporarily or permanently;
motivate this subself to accept a new role
and/or title in my inner family." Option: before
negotiating, guess the subself's
objections, and role-play how to respond to each of them;
other strategic goal/s.
After an interview,
reflect on whether you met your objectives. If not, try to
identify specifically what (or who) got in the way, and what you
might have done differently. Keep in mind that building trust,
educating, and gaining cooperation from some skeptical and scared
Inner Kids and their Guardians takes patience and creativity, If you
get stymied, see this
and/or consider using an experienced IFS coach to help.
As you gain experience, youíll
develop your ability to do effective parts work in an increasing range of
situations and places. Evolving your own "teambuilding space" is a helpful
way of getting started.
Recall - we're
reviewing useful parts-work techniques here...
With Your Subselves
Every personality part has
unique feelings, wants, and opinions. When they feel safe - or excited -
enough, they express these as thoughts, day and night dreams, hunches,
intuition, "visions," "senses," "moods,"
memories, "urges," "impulses," "knowings," and
(some) physical sensations. As you explore your inner world, youíll
discover that thereís a lot going on at any given moment!
The next discovery is that -
if subselves feel safe - they will respond to communications from your Self,
each other, and "outside" people. Your parts "talk,"
listen, argue, interrupt, whine, whimper, moan, bellow, demand, and
question, all the time!
Reality check - be still, breathe easily, and notice your emotions and thoughts
("self talk") now. Imagine each feeling and thought is brought to you by a subself. Ask
(think) "who are you?" or any other question that occurs to
you. Notice any reaction - like another thought, a shift in feelings, or a
body sensation. Option - let an inner dialog
develop. If emotions
occur as you do this, those are your selves "activating." Whatís going
on in there?
recall that some Guardian parts have the protective ability to "drop a
perceptions. If thatís your experience now, respectfully ask the part responsible to
tell or show you why it needs to do that. It may or may not feel
safe enough to answer in some way. Trust the first response you get, without
computing or analyzing.
If it still seems really
weird and unlikely that your Self can talk to other subselves,
experiment further. As you do, you should be able to increasingly trust that your Self and your parts
really can communicate. Interview them individually and get to know them.
For more perspective, see the parts-work "troubleshooting"
options on p. 7 and return here.
How Do I Communicate? You can...
have internal thought
subself monologs, dialogs, or council-meeting
memories and pictures
or other media;
notice and use your emotions and body
ask one part to pass communications back and forth between you
(your Self) and another part who isnít ready to interact directly yet. Some subselves will tell you things about
other parts which may or may not be accurate; And you can...
work with a trained
parts-work counselor or guide to interview, instruct, or negotiate with
Each subself may have a
preferred way of communicating. Some will do so via thoughts and/or inner
images, some will use your vocal cords, and some would rather write prose
or poetry or sketch in your journal. Some Inner Kids are
pre-verbal (or even pre-birth). They can communicate via body sensations, emotions, or mental images, not with words,
of these is vital.
As your parts-work experience
grows, youíll develop a facility with each of these communicating
"channels". Letís take a look at the main modes:
Your Inner Voices
thought? We all
have them, yet itís hard to describe exactly what they are. Theyíre (usually) coherent streams of words and phrases -
sometimes linked to images or emotions, other times not.
concept suggests that our thoughts are the voices of our
parts. Before accepting the reality of subselves, most of us say (or think) "Iím thinking."
Here, that becomes "part of me is Ďtalkingí."
Notice your current thoughts, and say out loud
"One of my subselves is causing these inner word streams." Notice
also that you can allow inner talk to happen or divert it. You probably
can't completely stop thinking - right? Try it. Also experiment with
"creating" (imagining, remembering) inner sounds, like laughing, bellowing, bells ringing, water
moving, thunder, animal sounds, and favorite tunes or lyrics.
Parts work uses this
universal ability to communicate "inside" to interact with
subselves. To meet one, you (your Self) focus on them, and think an
inner question or comment, like "Are you the one whoís waking me up
at night?" Breathe easily and notice any inner response without judgment: a thought,
feeling, body sensation, or several of these.
"No response" is a
If a thought,
image, or "sense" occurs, thatís
a subself replying to
you. By alternating comments or questions from your Self and sensed
responses, you can dialog with selected subselves. Accept that this
may feel alien
and weird at first. You'll soon get used to it, and may wonder how you got
along without these rich inner dialogs. Typical kids are quick at learning
to talk fluidly with their subselves.
Parts conversations can be
internal (silent), and/or spoken out loud. Iíve shared profound moments
with clients who encouraged a subself to use their lungs and vocal chords to
make sounds for the first time in their life. Instead of "Iím talking
to my self" which may feel silly or weird, try saying "Iím
giving one of my subselves a voice." Experiencing inner
conversations, alone or with a helper, can feel much different!.
Pause and notice your thoughts and feelings now. Is anyone commenting on the
ideas we just covered? Who?
Changing Chairs or Locations
Psychologists Hal and Sidra
Stone have developed an inner-family process they call "voice dialog." In
"Embracing Our Selves," they write
about many clients who would change their seats during a parts session to
access different inner "voices." Iíve experienced the same
A woman Iíll
call Joan would have inner-family shifts regularly during our sessions. An
angry adolescent part would talk on the left end of the couch; a sad one
spoke with a very young voice from a separate chair, and Joanís true Self would
speak confidently from the right side of the couch. This evolved
spontaneously - it wasnít true when we began, nor did I coach it.
Some people are more visual
than others. Others are more responsive to sounds or touches. Visual people easily
sense inner pictures of real things ("picture" your mother), and
non-real things like dream scenes (fantasies) and imagined sights .
try imaging a mouse and an elephant having tea. if you canít, youíre
still OK! Visual people can develop the ability to see or sense symbolic
images of their parts, and often the partsí actions and surroundings. Such
images are rich sources of information about your inner team and its
If you are visual, your Self
can (a) invite the subself to show you its preferred image, or (b) choose an
appropriate image. I recommend the former, because asking a part how it wants to
represent itself is more respectful than "forcing" an image on it.
My experience is that -
depending on subselves' sense of safety, some will pick an initial image
(or none), and then adopt a more "real" one later in the work.
Others donít need to do that. Some subselves can use several different images
at different times, depending on inner and outer circumstances.
images people describe are of full or partial human adults and children,
including infants and even embryos. Other images have been "a
pile of black dirt," "a ferret," "a huge gray
boulder," a "soft white light," "a fairy like Tinker
Bell," and other non-human forms.
There is no right way to image a
subself other than what they and you feel is fitting.
Note also that,
like photographs, the image of a
subself is a symbol - itís
As with many inner-family explorers, one client discovered that her "Guilt
subself used the image of her younger real-life mother, frowning and angrily
critical. Stay clear that such a part is not "my mother." It is a
unique subself who uses the image of "my mother" to
represent herself, like a costume. This distinction is important to avoid
projecting feelings you have about the real person onto a subself.
Recall - we're reviewing the ways your Self can communicate with your other
Imaging a Subself
If youíre visual, use steps
like these to develop your ability to "see" or "sense"
the images your parts want to use:
Get quiet, relaxed, and
physically comfortable, in a non-distracting place. Breathe comfortably
from your belly, vs. your chest.
"Clear your inner
space" in your own way. Perhaps imagine erasing a blackboard,
clearing a table-top, being by a calm lake or pond, raking sand into
smooth patterns, or focusing on a pleasant pastel color. Quiet your thoughts.
Think or say softly something like "I am still now" several
times. Breathe easily and naturally.
Focus your thoughts on the
subself you want to "see." With peaceful interest and expectancy,
invite an image to form or ask the subself to give you an image it would
like to use to represent itself.
Trust the first thing that happens, including
having a significant reaction to the image. If some judgmental or analytic
part wants you (your Self) to edit or reject the image that comes (inner voice:
"That doesnít fit - thatís crazy!"), acknowledge and decline
their urge. If some parts are upset, scared, or even disgusted by the
image, acknowledge and reassure
them - and stay focused. Use such
reactions to learn more about those subselves after youíre done with the
Focus on the image and its
surroundings. Neutrally notice as much as you can, like an objective
reporter. For instance: "My sad part looks like a barefoot 7-year-old
girl in a brown dress. She has stringy blond hair, and is sitting hunched
in a corner with her arms around her knees. I canít see her face yet.
The corner is sort of dark gray, and bare. The floor seems to be wood. I
canít see anything else now."
Notice your feelings and
attitude about the part. If other than compassionate interest, know that
another subself may have
Self. Work with that part to see what it needs, if that feels
right at the time (see "Unblending" on p. 5).
you have trouble imaging your subselves, see these
options and return here.
When a parts session ends,
journal (soon) about what you experienced and any emotional or
physical reactions you noticed along the way.
subselves communicate is via...
A phenomenon thatís so
common as to be unnoticed is our ability to remember past inner and outer
events. A related phenomenon is "forgetting." This may be seen as a
Inner Child's habitual reflex to protect us from
expected harm or
Some people doing patient meditation and parts work can safely regain some
repressed memories - i.e. a subself can gain enough trust in current inner
and outer safety to "release" the old images and related emotions. Typically the repressed material is about events which were experienced at
the time as specially painful, scary, or
Premise - some (all?) people store records of past traumatic events in
certain muscle groups. These body memories can be triggered by external
events (music, activities, sights, smells, etc.), internal events, or
tactile experiences. Massage therapists and chiropractors are familiar with
clients feeling spontaneous waves of anger, sadness, or fear when certain
body areas are touched or manipulated.
Amputees report body memories of their lost limbs. Physical and sexual-abuse
survivors often experience
uncomfortable spontaneous body memories (like burning, hyperventilating,
pressure, pain, gagging) - without any clear connection to related thoughts
may be caused by activated subselves who need inner and/or social attention. They use certain body parts
or sensations as communication channels. As with flashbacks (below), these
signals can be understood and acted upon appropriately, with patient
A flashback is a spontaneous
multi-sense reliving of (vs. remembering) a past trauma. It is
a powerful combination of physical sensations, memories, thoughts, and
emotions that can feel momentarily
Sexual and ritual abuse-survivors often report unexpected flashbacks, which
can feel disorienting, frightening, and embarrassing. They may increase
for a while with parts work before receding.
Flashbacks may be
caused by Inner Kids and/or related Guardian subselves living in the
past, who are agitated about an actual or expected event that reminds them
of a past trauma. Flashbacks and
body memories are common examples of normal false-self dominance.
They each offer the chance to go inside and ask "Would the subself whoís
giving me (the specific sensations) make itself known to me now?" When a
part responds, the next step is to ask "Why are you doing this? What do
you want me to know (or do)?" Over time, dialogs like this often invite
well-planned redoings and/or rescuing subselves (p. 4) from
eternally reliving past trauma.
parts-work journal or log, focus on a given subself and invite it to express
itself by writing its current thoughts, feelings, goals, hopes, fears, and
needs. A key here is to accept and write or draw
anything that comes up,
without editing or analyzing. As you do, other subselves
may want to critique, comment, or block the Writer.
Reassure them (your Self) that thereís enough time for each part to be
attended to, and stay focused: honor the subself thatís currently communicating. As you do, your
other subselves will gain trust over time that Youíll honor them, too (if you
do!). Thatís part of effective inner teambuilding.
your experience with parts-work grows,
you may notice that different parts have unique handwriting, vocabularies,
and styles. This helps in times where youíre not clear on whoís
to let a conversation between two or more subselves develop on paper. One way to
do this is to divide a blank page into two equal columns with a vertical
line. Invite your Self or another subself to write on the left side, and
record another partís responses on the right side. An alternative is to
let a dialog unfold on the page the way the lines in a play or transcription
S(elf): "Are you the
part whoís giving me the angry feelings?"
P(art): "What if I am?"
S: "Iíd like to know
more about why youíre angry. Will you tell me about that?"
P: "Maybe. I donít
Using Physical Feelings (Body Signals)
Noting physical reactions can be
specially helpful in initial contacts and trust-building with cautious subselves. If theyíre not ready to use thoughts or images, they may
give you a body signal. For instance, if you get quiet, and ask within:
"Will the part of me who causes me to
show itself now?"
Note any reaction like a headache, stomach ache, facial tic, muscle
tightness and cramps, diarrhea or constipation, tingling, goose bumps, "skin
prickling," rashes, jaw clenching, flushing or coldness, eye watering,
dizziness, numbness, heart pounding, nausea, faintness, and other physical
you do notice a physical reaction, work with it: e.g. "Are you causing the
tingling in my right hand?" If you get "Yes," ask "What do you need from me
now?" - then listen. If "No," try "Can you show or tell me who is
making my hand tingle (or causing a flashback, headache, or any other sign)
Once your subselves begin to know and trust your Self, they often like
agreeing on a safe way to get your attention if they need something. One way
of doing this is to have them give
you an acceptable physical signal - like a yawn, a sigh, a muscle twinge, an
itch, or whatever.
The next time you notice the sign, get quiet, breathe easily, and focus on
that subself to see what it needs. For subselves who have never felt
empathically noticed or valued before, this can feel as miraculous as an
island castaway finding a working videophone.
Hunches, and Intuitions
Imagine that one of
your subselves is your
who wants to help you in its unique way. What is it trying to tell you with
dreams and fantasies? What if every element in a dream is a part of you,
perhaps using a symbolic image?
uses this idea to help clients gain self-awareness and insight.
you have hunches,
intuitions, and instincts? Most of us experience mild or strong "senses" or "knowings"
at times, which may be signals from one or more subselves. These may be...
small voice" of a
(e.g. a Guardian Angel, Indwelling Christ
Higher Power, Spirit Totem,
or Higher Self),
another way our Self uses to guide us;
communiquťs from a
non-verbal inner messages is one benefit of personal meditation. Many
seekers of such awareness practice focusing on relaxed breathing from their
practice non-judgmental awareness
of these "inner
experiment with (a) identifying and dialoging empathically with the
subselves that cause them, and (b) reacting to their messages and noting the outcomes, and ...
note and learn from your subselves'
reactions to doing these steps.
Malcolm Gladwell's interesting book "Blink
- the art of thinking without thinking" (2007) suggests trusting our
instincts and hunches even when we have "too little information."
Some members of your inner
family are most comfortable and fluent communicating non-verbally. Here are
Right or Left Hand
Experiment with writing or
drawing with each of your hands. Many subself-explorers discover some inner
members have a clear preference or aptitude for one hand over another.
Using your non-dominant hand may empower some parts to communicate for the
first time. If you have protective parts who
at this, acknowledge that
with affection - and try switching hands anyway.
Using Different Media
Try writing or drawing with a
variety of media. Some parts may feel freer to express themselves with a
pen, a marker, crayons, a pencil, or paints. Some may like prose, others
poetry, while still others want to draw, sculpt, make a mural, a collage,
compose music, or
parts-work techniques on page
4. Do you need a break first?