My clinical experience with scores of people has shown several common
problems with learning to do effective parts work. This Lesson-1 page
describes common problems, what usually causes them, and offers options for
avoiding or resolving them.
The problems are...
The links will above will
take you to action-options on this page. As you read them, if you find yourself being
distracted, "blank," or thinking things like "I can't do this."; "This will
never work"; "This is way to complicated"; or "This is too much
work"; you're probably controlled by a protective false self - i.e. Inner
Kids or Guardians like your Cynic/Skeptic, Doubter, Pessimist,
Perfectionist, Lost Child, and/or Victim.
Trouble Staying Focused "Inside"
Common reasons for this are...
your true Self. arguing or debating, and causing a
jumble of thoughts and feelings.
2) trying to
do parts work in a distracting environment (too noisy, smelly, hot or
feeling impatient and/or rushed (not allotting enough undistracted
time). A variation is trying to do parts work and something else at the
and/or difficulty staying
focused because of...
significant physical discomfort/s like hunger, thirst, fatigue,
sleepiness, nausea, and/or pain.
When free (trusted) to lead, your true Self knows how to avoid or resolve
the last three of these. So you can
improve your ability to stay focused "inside" by learning how to...
and/or learning how to...
get distrustful subselves to
"unblend" and free your Self to
guide you; and to...
shift Inner Kids' and
Guardian subselves' distrust in your Self to willingness to let her/him
make plans and decisions for your
Follow the links above to learn options for resolving this problem.
Another common parts-work frustration is...
Difficulty Imaging Subselves
Kids and adults vary in their ability to "see" inner images. Arguably, this
ability can be intentionally developed. My experience is that people who can
visualize their subselves are better able to dialog with,, retrain, and
If they can't visualize well or at
all, they can still focus inside and dialog with their "inner voices."
see if you "are visual," get quiet and undistracted, close your eyes,
breathe easily, and try "seeing" Imagining)...
Some of these can be remembered, and some are created. If you can "see"
both types of images in your mind, you're able to visualize. Also, note whether you
can fantasize and/or dream. Both involve inner imagery.
A way to begin a parts dialog is to relax, focus inside, vividly imagine being in a safe,
comfortable real or imaginary place. Then invite a selected subself to
give your Self an (internal) image to represent itself.
Note the important difference
between inviting an image to form with an open mind, and trying
to form an image. The former offers a better chanced of
results are you get (a) a clear image of something; (b) a vague, fuzzy, or
faint image; or (c) you get no image.
The last two of these outcomes may occur because...
the target subself is
hesitant or scared to allow a clear image to form; and/or...
another protective subself
distrusts the safety of imaging, and
Mentally reassure all your subselves that
nothing bad can happen if they're willing to dialog, with or without an
image. The more inner dialogs you have, the safer they'll feel over
If you haven't recently, review these ideas about
communicating with subselves. If
instead of an image you get a physical reaction (like stomach tightness, a
lump in your throat, tingling, goose bumps, etc) or a "sense" (e.g. of
anxiety, awe, or excitement), "talk to it" with an open mind, just as you
would with a subself's image.
Try imaging several different subselves. If one or more give you an image
but others don't, be patient with the latter. Someone is afraid of
something, and needs respectful acknowledgement and patient reassurance.
In your mind, ask the target subself "Are you uncomfortable giving me an
image?" Trust the first thing that you become aware of - a feeling,
thought, memory, and/or physical reaction. If you get a response, follow
your Self's wisdom as to what to do.
If you get no response (which is a response), assume that a
(Guardian) subself is preventing any images or interaction. Ask (inside)
something like "Will the subself
who's protecting me...
itself known to me now (e.g. give you an image)?"
learn more about you?"
what you're guarding me against?"
and be open to any kind of mental / emotional / bodily response.
Be alert for a subself like your Perfectionist discounting or ignoring an
image because "it doesn't make sense" or it doesn't fit some expectation or
image is valid and useful, including abstract shapes, colors,
objects, mythical creatures, and cartoons,
Example: a client said "I can't locate (get an image of) my Scared Child."
He said when he invited an image of that subself to form, he was expecting
to visualize something child-like. Instead, he saw "a wide panorama of
mountains that blocked me." I didn't occur to him that his cautious
Child was providing that scene, and that he (my client) could start a dialog
with the panorama image.
Watch for opportunities to dialog with your
("You're no good at
parts work"), your
("You'll never be able to do this work!");
("You're not doing this parts work right!").
Negotiate with each of them to try more productive ways to help you guard and
comfort your Inner Kids.
Another common parts-work problem is...
One or More Subselves Won't "Talk"
with your Self
A way of starting to work with a subself is to ask something respectful like
"May I ask you a few questions?" or "Are you willing to talk with me now?"
If you get "No" or no response, you have several...
Practice present-moment awareness: i.e. getting focused
(undistracted) and saying mentally or out loud "Now I'm thinking ____;
feeling ____; doing ____; and needing ____."
Recall the range of ways subselves
communicate: thoughts ("inner voices)", emotions, memories, "senses,"
hunches, intuition, images, and/or physical sensations. All of these are
legitimate and useful
With an open mind, ask (internally) "Is
there someone who doesn't want this (target) part to speak with me?"
Be open to any reaction.
If you get one, refocus on that subself and see if it will give you an
image and/or explain why it's blocking a dialog with the target subself.
If the mute part is an
focus on patiently gaining its trust over time, just as you would a physical girl
or boy. This may take several sessions. Spend quiet time with him or
her, play quietly (with an imaginary pet?), offer (don't force) gentle
touching, smile, sing or hum, etc. You can also
ask your talented
(Good Parent) subself to help with this trust (security) building.
See these options for working with your
If the silent subself is a
seek to identify which Inner Child/ren it's protecting. If you can
learn that, focus on making the Child/ren safe and comfortable before trying
to communicate with the Guardian.
Ask if any other subself can help you
understand why the silent one won't or can't communicate.
If the subself begins to communicate, use
to validate and encourage it. Note that
silence is a
communication, because it invites implied (assumed) meanings.
Grow dialog experience with other
(talkative) subselves, and come back later to see if the silent one has gained confidence and is willing to communicate.
Notice the theme of these options, and let your Self tailor them
and/or create other strategies.
parts-workers experience this problem at some time:
Influential Subself Resists Change
Typical people - specially GWCs - have significant personal and social
problems like these:
low self esteem
I propose that stressors like these are all symptoms
of a disabled true Self. In other words, such problems are caused by
Guardian and Young subselves who don't trust your true Self (false selves).
If this is true, then you can reduce these problems by identifying and
retraining these subselves.
Parts work is the internal process of meeting, befriending, educating, introducing, and harmonizing
your personality subselves. Because subselves are probably distinct regions
of your brain, "retraining" them is the same as changing a
computer program. It involves
learning a part's
status, mission, beliefs, and environment;
misperceptions and unrealistic expectations; and then...
negotiating a positive change in the part's knowledge and
Some Inner Kids and Guardian parts are very resistant to change, because of fears,
distrust, ignorance, and unwillingness to give control to your True Self.
Patient, respectful interviews with such subselves can identify and correct
their resistances, and earn their cooperation.
Options with any resistant
If your Self guides you, s/he
will choose an attitude of patience and compassion, rather than
impatience and blame. S/he will teach other subselves (like your Critic)
to see the resistant part as misinformed, frightened, needy, and
insecure; rather than "stubborn," "uncooperative," "self-centered,"
"negative," and/or "bad,"
If several subselves are
resisting positive inner-family changes, rank-order them and work
with them one at a time.
the subself to give you (your Self) an image to dialog with. This is helpful
but not essential. If the part balks, see the options
Check to see if the part
is living in the past ("Can you tell me what year it is?") If so,
work toward inviting it on a
safe visit to the present
- e.g. give the part an imaginary tour of your dwelling and
neighborhood. The goal is to help them realize that you are now a mature
adult no longer living in the traumatic environment they've been living
Build Trust in Your True Self
"What name would you like to
"How old are you?"
"Where do you live?"
"Do you live with anyone
"What's your job?" / "What do
you do all day?"
"Do you like your job?"
"What would happen if you
stopped doing this job?"
"Would you like some help
with this job?"
"What year is it?"
Pause and meditate: how -
specifically - would you like this subself to change to improve your
Affirm you know this subself
wants to help you.
Ask if the subself knows who
you (i.e. your Self) are. If not, introduce your Self. If so, ask if
s/he can say what your job is ("to make safe, healthy decisions for us
all, and solve our problems.").
Then ask the part if s/he would like to learn how to help you more
so, suggest specific changes. For example, say "Advise me once (rather
than nagging), and then be quiet and watch what I do.") This is one way to have the part realize over time
how wise and dependable your Self is - specially if the part lives
in the past.
When the time seems right, ask
if the resistant part trusts you (your Self) and is willing to advise
you on taking over his/her job. If "No," ask if s/he is willing
to relax and observe (your Self} in action for a short time - e.g. for
5", 2 hours, "a morning,", etc If the part is willing, ask at the
end the trial period "How did I do (at keeping us safe)?"
Repeat this trial as often as necessary, increasing the trial period
slowly each time. Ask the subself for advice on how you could (do their
Consider introducing the distrustful subself to your Nurturer,
and try working as a trio to keep your Inner Kids safe. As this happens
over time, work toward having
the original part take on a useful new
role in your inner family.
Options with a resistant Inner Child
Estimate or sense the child's
developmental age, and interact on an age-appropriate level. For
example, don't try dialoguing with a 3-year-old the same way you would
with a teen subself.
Don't force your Self or your
requests on the child. Respect it's fear, confusion, and insecurity,
just as you would a traumatized flesh-and-blood girl or boy.
If the child is
developmentally young, patiently use gentle non-verbal behaviors
(smiles, sounds, gestures, touching) to soothe and reassure it over
time. Let your other Inner Kids suggest how to play (gain trust) with
the resistant young subself.
When the time feels right,
introduce the Child to your
subself. S/He knows instinctively how to relate to each Inner Child.
Also consider introducing the Child to some or all of your other Inner
Kids - specially the Friendly and/or Playful ones.
If you have an impatient
part, ask it to relax, trust your Self and the parts-work process, and
accept that trust-building can't be rushed.
For more detail, see these options.
Options with a resistant Guardian
Implication: First, identify such kids, build initial trust, bring them
to the present, introduce them to your Inner family, and put them in the
expert care of your
subself. Then focus on gaining cooperation from the resistant
Remind yourself that
Guardians want to help you in their own way. Use that motivation in
negotiating changes their behavior and/or
internal role. ["It would really
if you would (make some specific change)"].
If the subself fears that
relaxing or changing will cause it to be "forgotten," "excluded,"
"rejected." "eliminated," "worthless," or "exiled," reassure it that
that will never happen. Invite the subself to take on a new role
to increase your productivity and ensure its ongoing value to you.
Ask if there's another
subself who is warning or advising the resistant part not to trust your
Self and change If there is such a part, refocus on patient
trust-building with it first, and
then work with the resistant one.
Self-doubt and Skepticism
When you first try with parts work, you may experience one or more
persistent thoughts like these:
"(My) subselves aren't really real."
so I don't need to do parts work."
I don't deserve (to heal / be happy / be normal)."
"I'm not doing the work
"I'm just making up my subselves' responses.
"(Some authority) says that (a) s/he has
never heard of parts work (so it can't be legitimate), or (b) "internal
family systems (IFS)
therapy" isn't a valid way to (help me)." - so I shouldn't try it or
Such discouraging thoughts usually come from one or more Inner Kids, and/or
well-intentioned Guardian subselves like your Skeptic, Worrier, Doubter,
Perfectionist, and/or Critic. Paradoxically, subselves may be relieved
someone is finally acknowledging and listening to them, and they may fear
"something bad" will happen from your doing parts work. A common example is
Guardians fearing that they will be dismissed, "fired," or no longer needed.
Patiently gaining experience with inner dialogs - specially if done with a
knowledgeable IFS (inner family systems)
coach - will usually reduce significant skepticism and self-doubts
about parts work over time.
To reduce these common
review these common Q&A
items about normal personality subselves;
accept that initial parts-work doubts and
skepticism are normal, and stem from Inner Kids and Guardians trying to
keep you and them safe from scary changes;
list of all your subselves, grouped as Kids, Guardians, and
inner dialogs with subselves you like and respect first. Coach
your parts to accept that parts work is a learning process that takes time and
experimenting to master, like any new skill.
Identify any young and/or Guardian parts who are distrustful, skeptical,
and/or scared by parts work, and learn what they're really afraid of via
respectful interviews. Practice
each subself respectfully and acknowledging what you hear. That does
not mean you (your Self) agree with it's worries or doubts!
Inner Critic and Perfectionist subselves to observe, but not interfere,
as you evolve your unique style of parts work. Teach them that you don't
have to "do it right" to match someone else's standards.
reassure all your subselves they cannot be
"killed," "fired," or "locked up," and that each of them is and will
always be valuable. Explain the idea of
reassigning inner-family roles (jobs) to them all;
Keep your boundaries with other people who
scoff at the reality of personality subselves. Reread this
letter if others try to convince you
you're "making up" or imagining subself conversations.
With an open mind, seek and
evaluate the experience of other people with
parts-work experience. Ask them what initial doubts they had, how they
managed them, and what happened to their worries and doubts as they
gained parts-work experience. You can find such people in this free
Break the Cycle!
support group on
As you see. you
have many options for gaining trust that your subselves are real, and really
will interact with your true Self when you're calm and undistracted.
Reminder - the guidebook for lesson 1 is "Who's
Really Running Your Life? (4th edition)," available by mail
order in print and e-book formats.
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you
get what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your
something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question