I have parts. We all do. I have a part that is a scared little girl, about 5 years old, as well as a part that is a controlling nag. I have a part who is typing this blog (she is a perfectionist at times). Please do not assume that because I have parts, I have Dissociative Identify Disorder because I don't. I simply have parts like the rest of humanity. Sound crazy? Maybe at first; however, once you start to understand the parts of you that live inside and have feelings, reactions, responses, and thoughts, your world truly opens up. Things change; we start to heal.
It is pretty phenomenal.
Richard Schwartz created a brilliant method of therapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS) which explores people's various "parts" (sometimes called sub-personalities) that live inside each of us and have their own unique feelings, thoughts, motivations, and view of the world (Self Therapy, Jay Early, 2009, p.2).
The goal is to identify these parts in order to resolve the trauma that is attached and transform them into more functional, healthy parts. Some parts are little, called "Exiles"; while others are bigger parts called "Protectors". Once identified, we begin to explore how they interact in our everyday environment. It is important to know that we have multiple parts that live inside of us (not just one or two).
Still sound crazy?
This method has deepened my work tremendously with my clients. I swear by it as a trauma therapist and my clients have healed faster by using this method along with EMDR. It is amazing. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Let's explore an example:
Janie is a grown woman who has a history of sexual abuse by her uncle starting at age 5 years of age. Her parents knew about the abuse but never protected her or stopped him (they turned the other cheek). Janie married Hank when she was 18; Hank is a sex addict who spends hours looking at pornography. He was recently fired from his job for looking at porn on his work computer.
Janie finds out. She is devastated; she feels sick to her stomach and horrified by his behavior. Especially since he is the primary breadwinner. She also feels disgust and distrust in the relationship. Hank is no longer a "safe" person to Janie's little girl part, which tends to show up every time her husband is around her, and especially when he is in his "addict" part.
This impacts her behavior around him to where one of her "protector" parts comes out to check out via the television and with food. She neglects her family as a result of locking herself in her room to cope.
Hank's addict part is like a teenager. He is manipulative, sneaky, and lies... A LOT. His teen part gets triggered when Janie checks out because his mom used to do that with he and his siblings when his dad would get drunk. This feeds his wanting to numb out by looking at porn to escape the discomfort and fear of rejection.
Both Janie and Hank's parts are the main players who continually show up in their relationship. Their adult parts show up at times, but Janies' 5 year old and Hank's addict run the show.
In order to assist this couple in there healing, therapy must focus on helping them each identify these parts and heal them so that Janie and Hank can interact and engage from their healthy, adaptive adult parts. Individual and couples therapy (the latter, once each person is stable) is recommended.
Like Janie and Hank, every individual I have worked with since I started using Internal Family System's Method can relate to having parts. Both men and women describe times in their lives where they got "stuck" inside, and that part or more than one part continually rears it's head.
Some people report being able to sense that a part is out, but having a hard time identifying what it is. Instead, they often show up to therapy as a specific part, making the therapy process a replication of their childhood and relationship dynamic.
For example, individuals who have drug addiction often show up to therapy in their teenage addict part; this part is so strong that they will continually argue, manipulate, defend, lie, and battle in therapy. It often creates havoc in treatment and is counterproductive to healing. This part often protects an incredibly shame based part that hides deep inside.
Individuals that show up to therapy in their sex/porn addict part sometimes argue, blame their spouse, and are in great denial. However, more often than not, they don't stay in that part as often as individuals with drug addiction. Instead, they quickly present a part that has tremendous amount of shame and despair, looking very fragile in their presentation.
When individuals have sex and drug addictions, the drug addict part often runs the show and calls the shots in treatment until they feel safe enough to let their guard down.
Partners of addicts often show up in various parts. Some show up as a checked out, numb part; others show up as a stoic, distrusting, and guarded part. While others show up as "go getters"; in control and over-compensating for the addict's indiscretions.
We also see this in youth (children and teens). Some will show up as a smaller version of themselves, while others have already formed an addict part or other protector part that keeps them from feeling further pain and shame.
It is essential that individuals explore and heal their parts so that they can operate from their functional, authentic selves in all aspects of their lives. This will improve one's relationship with their loved ones and create a sense of internal comfort. It is also important that both people in the couple-ship learn about their parts so they both are able to understand each other better.
Here are some beginner tools to use when exploring parts:
- Do this work with a trained trauma expert who understands parts work
- Purchase a journal and Jay Early's book titled, Self Therapy (this does not replace therapy but will help you understand your parts)
- Identify Protector Parts and Exiles
Protector Parts: Explore in your journal the following questions designed for these bigger parts that live inside you:
What is it trying to protect you from? It's positive intent for you? How does it protect you from pain? How does it relate to others? What's it's role in helping you manage your life
Exile Parts: Explore in your journal the following questions designed for these smaller (younger parts) that live inside you:
What emotions does it feel? What pain does it carry? What is it afraid of? What negative beliefs does it have? What situations/relationships is it stuck in from childhood? What current situations trigger it? What protectors come out when it is triggered?
By learning about the various parts, both the adaptive and maladaptive ones that show up in your life each day, as well as how they interact inside of you, you will be able to take your recovery to a deeper level. In order to heal completely, we must heal ALL parts of ourselves, not just "the addict" or "the scared partner" parts.
*For more information on parts work or to schedule a consultation/therapy session, email Cari at firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, remember, you are SO worth it!
Candice Note: This blog references Jay Early's book Self Therapy, 2009).Photo by mariashriver.com
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