Did you ever hear someone say “Part of me feels scared, because…” or “Part of me really wants to go, but…” or “Right now, I feel like part of me needs to…”? It’s a very common phenomenon for a person to feel like they have many parts. Almost everyone I’ve ever worked with as a professional counselor has had this awareness, and I’ve certainly had it myself. It probably doesn’t mean that you have multiple personalities or that you are hallucinating, but merely that you have inner protective parts of yourself that are there to keep you from harm. The parts might seem to be developed from adverse experiences in your childhood, or they might feel like motivators that keep you going. You might feel like you’re pretty good at keeping them all organized, or you might feel like some parts are dominant that should not be. You might feel limited by your parts or empowered, or perhaps even feel both ways at the same time. The important thing to remember is that the parts are there for your protection, although sometimes we have to ask them to be a little less protective.
John Mayer’s song “Half of My Heart” touches on this phenomenon in a really clear and relatable way:
“Half of my heart’s got a grip on the situation,
Half of my heart takes time.
…Half of my heart’s got a real good imagination
Half of my heart’s got you Half of my heart’s got a right mind to tell you
That half of my heart won’t do.” - John Mayer (Half of My Heart) -
It can be very difficult to feel like our parts are in conflict with one another. This can cause anxiety, distraction, confusion, depression, and any number of problems from feeling disjointed and fragmented. Anxiety seems to be the most common problem that results. When us therapists address anxiety, we often do it through “parts work”, or helping someone understand that competing voices in one’s own psyche present different opinions that often lead to inner conflict. In the words of James Clear, “Anxiety isn’t you. It’s something moving through you. It can leave out of the same door it came in.” It’s important to remember that your True Self is different from your many parts.
Your True Self is the most adult, mature, healthy person in your head. Your True Self knows how to parent, what needs to be done, and the importance of empathy, compassion, and understanding. It is life-giving and helpful, nurturing, validating, and affirming. Your True Self finds the strength to love the other parts, gently correcting them when needed. The True Self is capable of sitting with the scared, childish parts, rubbing their backs, holding their hands, letting them say their piece, and speaking to their overwhelm with comfort and love. This self-given love is the anxiety anti-drug. It is strong enough to know that come what may, you’re going to be OK.
The trick is to first identify and understand and integrate your parts. This is where a therapist can help you safely trace your anxious, depressed or avoidant feelings to traumas, difficult seasons, growth points, or any number of things in your life experience. Many times it is best to have a therapist walk this road with you to help ensure safety and to help you avoid the emotional vortex that results in some cases. In particular, therapists who are trained in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy can help you delve into this more.
Give me a call if you’d like to talk about this further! Therapists are always learning and staying educated on new perspectives and ways of doing our work. I’m admittedly still learning the IFS model. For some people, the work of integrating parts is less intense and simply easier. For others, a more highly qualified IFS therapist is needed. If I can’t help you, then I can point you to some much more qualified therapists who can. It’s fascinating stuff! Give me a call at 770 615 6300 or visit www.altmancounseling.com
Note: For people who ascribe to certain systems of faith or who are strongly religious, this may sound a bit weird. It did to me, too, frankly. It didn’t integrate with early messages I’d gotten from church settings that assumed any sense of division of parts was a sign of very dark spiritual conditions or elements. I was comforted to read later that parts were very normal and that God can sit with me and my parts together as we love those parts together.