Befriending All the Parts of Me
Updated: May 3, 2021
As I write this, I hear the one part of me, eyes wide opened, ask, 'All of Them?, Befriend All of Them?' as if making sure that I was aware of who and what might be included in the bunch.
This concept of 'parts' as different aspects of our functioning psyche is not a new one, but it is at the core of many different psychotherapeutic approaches and modalities whose goal is to create a more integrated, holistic and functional sense of Self. To clarify, within these theoretical approaches, these 'parts' differ from the more structural personalities that may characterize dissociative identity disorders and that develop as a result of a life of severe developmental and pervasive childhood trauma. The 'parts' I'm referring to here can be thought of as a normal aspect of our psyche that in the face of challenges create a way to manage, cope and move through situations in the best way possible. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions, the methodology (inner critic, perfectionist) utilized by these parts, are often damaging to our own sense of Self or, at the very least, limit the way we see our own potential for self autonomy and change.
Within the contexts of our childhoods, we learned very quickly which parts of us were valued and recognized; which parts were shameful and which parts were rejected by others. In response and as a prerequisite for our survival within these contextual realities, our psyche's ingenious and inherent need for safety developed certain parts/roles that could deal with these situations and protect us from these unwanted feelings. These parts protect us by hiding, deflecting, camouflaging, criticizing, and burying whatever we are unable or unwilling to feel. Brilliant system when you think of it, but harmful and incomplete in the long run. Since their inception (which began in preverbal stages of our development), these parts became more sophisticated, creating stronger, quicker responses and air tight justifications that with time and practice bypassed our own ability to question their validity.
By now you may begin to glimpse the many layers and depth of this process and the ease with which we can lose sight of its limitations. For example it may not be initially easy to see procrastination, as a way to protect you from disappointment, rejection, boredom, etc. Or seeing anger towards yourself and others as a way to protect you from feeling the sadness and hurt another part of you is carrying. Equally easy to overlook is the protective nature of the judgmental inner critic that calls you names in order to motivate you towards something or keep you from approaching something that can lead to pain. Yet another example that might be hard to recognize is the perfectionist part of you, that scrutinizes your self worth in order to protect you from experiencing held shame. Despite the many different ways in which these parts carry out their roles, they all have the same thing in common; to protect the wounded, hurt and vulnerable parts of us. The parts that carry the shame, the sadness and whatever else was not accepted in our experienced childhood realities.
There comes a point, however, where the efforts to keep the hurt parts sheltered or hidden becomes unbearable and unsustainable. The strategies that were once created to survive a difficult reality have themselves become the Difficult reality. In my opinion, this can be the turning point for most of us. This level of discomfort can be an entry point into a place of awareness of ourselves, of learning new ways to acknowledge and nourish our most vulnerable parts as well as the parts that protect them.
This is where Compassion comes in. You've probably heard so much about compassion and acceptance. You might have found it meaningless and lacking in real self-reference and experience. But how could you not? There isn't a single system in our existing realities that speaks of compassion and acceptance of who we are, ALL of who we are. In fact, last time I checked most current and endorsed systems function on a high level of fear and competition (in my opinion, their days are numbered). So how can I befriend all of my parts? How can I create acceptance for all of myself, especially the vulnerable aspects of myself that carry the shame, the sadness, the pain, the rejection as well as the blame? Also, how can I befriend those parts that by criticizing, deflecting, denying, etc, try to keep me away from experiencing pain? I wonder if you'd like to join me in this exercise to get a sense of how to create more acceptance of all parts.
Imagine asking these protective parts (the inner critic, the perfectionist, the overachiever) to come into your space so you can see them, and feel them. Imagine that as you see them you begin to view these parts with compassion, gratitude and to notice the functional roles they have held and the relentless effort to keep more vulnerable parts of you protected. Imagine thanking them for their service and letting them know now that this level and style of protection is no longer needed - you now have tools, resources, knowledge and power that had been unavailable to you when they were created. Perhaps you can ask them if there is a new role that they can function in and still be part of your life but in a different way.
Now, imagine these protective parts stepping back, allowing you to see the vulnerable parts, the ones that held the fear, the sadness, the shame, the rejection and the blame. Now imagine yourself gazing at them with compassion as you would look at a loved one who is struggling, with softness and understanding. Imagine letting them know that they are also accepted and welcomed, ask them what they need and letting them know that you are now there to protect them and help them find their own sense of safety, meaning and purpose.
When you're ready, you can begin to release them back, noticing if anything feels differently now. Are there aspects of yourself that seem clearer and sharper now? Are there any shifts in awareness? I invite you to continue to approach any rising critical, controlling part with this level of compassion and curiosity remembering that developing this skill takes practice. Slowly, as we learn to provide ourselves gratitude and compassion especially when we're confronting difficult moments and emotions, we can truly begin the process of befriending all of our parts.