It can be pretty crazy-making when the various internal voices in our heads don’t agree with each other. Sometimes it’s obvious what’s happening, and sometimes not. When that happens there’s just an unidentifiable sense of discomfort. We’ve all got different parts of us that show up at different times. Maybe there’s a White Rabbit constantly needing to get somewhere, checking the clock, always pushing. Or how about another part that just wants to chill, be creative, and not get pushed around? And, how many people have the inner critic that is constantly judging, always having something to say? Sometimes these parts are obvious and identifiable, and sometimes they’re subtle, quietly performing a function inside us.
It’s often hard to be aware of distinct “parts”, but to just notice how we feel when they’re functioning. It’s often hard to be aware of distinct “parts;” sometimes we just know how we feel when they’re functioning. For example, many people have a strong inner critic that is so often saying, “No, don’t do that.” or “Oh, you’re such an idiot.” “How can you be so stupid?” “There you go again!” Those words can just feel like the unfortunate truth, and the state we end up in can feel like our whole being rather than just a part of us. Actually, each part has an important need behind it, might perform a valuable function, but might be way overdoing it.
A key to getting a handle on this phenomenon and adjusting its function to one that works and feels better is awareness. The various parts operating within us can easily feel like a big muddle. Slowing way down, and turning attention to inner experience (not just thoughts, but more of our experience) can help bring lots into awareness.
Externalizing a particular part, or studying it on the outside of us is one way of helping to gain more understanding. For example, one’s internal critic can be represented in a drawing, or figurine, stuffed animal, or anything else. Putting it on the outside can help create distance, clarity, and an opportunity to get to know more about it, thus hopefully gaining more understanding of what it needs and something positive it might offer. This process can evoke greater compassion for this part of us, rather than feeling stuck with a part of us we’d rather get rid of (which doesn’t work).
Actually, compassion is inherent in mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of it is “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Increased understanding and awareness supports greater choice. This process can support the Self that is making the choices and that can then be in charge, rather than letting a part of us, like the critic, run amuck. It’s kind of like letting the adult be in charge, rather than having a child run the show. Like taking the car keys back from someone who’s too young to drive.
With these smaller, younger parts running the show, we’re in reaction to our environment, usually stuck in habitual patterns. With the bigger Self in charge, we have greater choice and can create healthier patterns.
This is just a brief description of part of a process, which is actually possibly a lifelong practice, of bringing mindfulness or greater self-awareness into our lives, developing greater internal harmony as well as greater harmony with the outside world. This process can be done on one’s own, and can be supported by a therapist. These ideas are inspired by Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis, Richard Schwartz’ Internal Family Systems, Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy, and more.
“Deep within human beings is an innate drive to embrace and actualize the whole of who they are. Given proper nurture, a person develops with the power and direction of a growing seed, synthesizing emergent abilities, acquired skills, and life experiences into a whole, coherent expression of oneself in the world.” –
John Firman and Ann Gila
Firman, J., Gila, A., ( 2010). A Psychotherapy of Love. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press