It Takes an Inner Village: You and Your Many Parts

It Takes an Inner Village: You and Your Many Hearts. sillhouette of four women at sunset

This morning I found myself in an unexpected argument with my husband. 😬

It was supposed to be a mildly mundane conversation about our schedule wherein I offer to take on more time with our children. But all of a sudden he's upset with me and I'm completely baffled. 

I'm convinced that I'm acting from my pure and perfect True Self, that he's rejecting me and that something therefore must be wrong with him. 

My conclusion? He's help-rejecting. He's not really listening. He's projecting onto me. (Picture my Inner Therapist at work 🤓)

Ever found yourself in a scene like this? Where you believe you are 100% "right" and the other is dead "wrong"?

[image description: two women attacking one another with office supplies]

I'm learning to be weary of these situations. With all of our focus and blame on the other, there's often more going on inside than we are aware of. It's useful in these times to bring awareness to the parts inside you.

I teach my clients that we could fill a room with the many parts of us (and sometimes, using psychodrama, we actually do!). Having parts is not a mental illness and is certainly not multiple personality disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder). It's a normal and healthy organization of the human psyche. 

Several fields of psychology use the concepts of parts. Carl Jung emphasized the many parts of us in his map of the psyche: including the Self, the archetypes, the ego and the shadow. Richard Schwartz developed Internal Family Systems theory after observing how the parts inside of us mimic the dynamics that can take place between family members. 

[image description: Carl Jung's Map of the Soul]

Even astrology holds this concept of being made up of many parts in the energies of the Sun, the Moon and planets that make up our natal chart. 

All of these theories help bring more language to the human experience and offer some description for our complex internal landscapes.

We all have parts. How these parts are labeled varies but one thing that is consistent across all models is that we are each made of something else, too; something harder to define in words. The Self, True Self, Higher Self, Self Energy, and Soul are all words that can approximate this "something else" in a way that is satisfactory for many. The qualities of this True Self can also be hard to define but words like compassionate, curious, loving, peaceful and inspired feel accurate for many.

So if we consist of this beautiful inner being that is our true and authentic essence, what use do we have for parts?

We owe a lot to these parts. Essentially, they consist of our Ego. Without ego parts we wouldn't experience the inclination to put our feet on the floor each morning. We wouldn't know how to feed ourselves or get ourselves shelter and jobs. Our True Self knows its passions, but without parts we wouldn't know how to pursue or follow through with those passions, or follow the steps to fulfilling our life purpose.

These ego parts also play an important role in our relationships as well. They inform the roles we have chosen to play in this life drama with one another. For example, when I sit down with my clients for our sessions I invite in my Therapist part. But I ask that Inner Therapist to stand down when the session is over.

You may notice this as well. There's a part of you that comes forward in your interactions with the bank teller that's different than the part that comes forward with your family members, for example.

Some of our parts, while intended to be helpful can actually be deeply distressed or even distressing. The Inner Critic is a good example of a part that exists to protect us from shame and rejection but can sometimes debilitate us. There are even wounded parts of us that are born from trauma and other deep hurts that we can spend a lifetime trying to hide, protect or exile.

[image description: illustration of person with many different faces inside the brain space. Credit Michael Pasterski]

Really there is a whole village of parts inside of us playing many important roles. Sometimes things run smoothly in our villages and other times it can be civil war in there. So how can you bring some peace to your inner village?

1. Identify your parts. Who are the members of your village? Who is really helping? Who thinks they are helping but is actually causing strife? Who is getting along and who is fighting inside? This is a very worthwhile exploration that honestly, never ends. There is almost always something important going on inside to notice.

2. Get to know and understand your parts. This is another life-long project that can be supported with the help of a therapist or other trusted guide. When we really stop to listen to our parts and are open to understanding them, the natural consequence is compassion. And when you can access compassion towards a part of yourself, do you know what we call this? Self-Compassion! 

3. Elect your True Self as the Leader. When there is someone in your unruly village that truly sees, understands and holds compassion for all of its villagers, wouldn’t you want that person to be your leader? Wouldn’t that be the Wise Elder from who you’d want to seek counsel? The True Self is a trusted resource; a deep well of wisdom and knowing, if only you allow yourself to go to it.

***

Back to my argument with my husband. So there I was believing that my True self was in the lead, offering its sagely advice. 

But after our conversation went so poorly I decided to go inside and have a look at my Inner Village. This can look a number of ways but since I’ve had a lot of practice with it, it looked like me closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and being honest with what I was noticing. 

What I saw there was a part of me that likes to be called the “Helper”. What’s true about this part of me is that it is caring toward others and truly has been of great service in the world. Ultimately, it wants to protect me from the distress of watching the people I love struggle. And it can also get anxious to fix things and swoop in to make things “better”. Even when they don’t need or want the fixing!

[image description: collage of many faces in a profile silhouette]

Getting to know and understand this Helper part allows me to access my True Self’s leadership role: to continue to observe this part’s actions and to guide it accordingly. I can even name this part aloud in my relationships with my family, friends and clients. When I see it showing up I can say to them, “There’s a part of me that finds it hard to watch you struggle and wants to offer some suggestions. But I’m aware this may or may not be what you really need right now.” 

Like many of our parts, this Helper part is probably going to stick around. That’s why this work is a life-long project. We’re in it together for the long haul, so we might as well make friends, right?

If you'd like to begin some exploration of your own parts, you may want to start with a part we ALL have (for better or for worse): the Inner Critic. This free quiz will help you shed some light on the role your Inner Critic is playing in your Inner Village and how it's relating to your True Self.

You and Your Inner Critic: What's Your Relationship Status? Take the Quiz

Adrienne Cress, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Expressive Arts Therapist

Adrienne Cress portrait (1)

Adrienne Cress is an Expressive Arts Therapist, Coach and Educator. She is the Co-Founder of The Loveliness and has a private practice in Portsmouth, NH.  


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