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Why Do the Same Patterns Keep Repeating? Here’s One Explanation.

Counseling, Parts Work, Human Emotional System, Nikki Eby, MDT, ATR-BC, One Heart Counseling Center, Manhattan Beach

You know how people sometimes say:  “a part of me feels ___, while another part of me knows ___”?

Have you ever stopped to wonder what this could mean? 

You actually do have many different internal “parts”.  And, this doesn’t point to a serious mental health issue. 

In fact, being in touch with your internal parts is very healthy. And, the way these parts interact actually form patterns in your behavior.

So what does it mean to have different parts? 

Essentially, your different parts are different aspects of your personality. Personality is the general term used to describe organized patterns of behavior that emerge over time and become the quality or state of our personal existence.  

Lots of factors go into influencing personality like genetics, environment, parenting, and societal variables. It is actually the ongoing interaction of all of these influences that continue to shape your personality over time. 

This is where your different parts come in.

These parts were probably created for different reasons like survival, comfort, protection, or even maximizing potential and enjoyment in life. Whatever the initial reason(s) for the part, what becomes important in the day to day is how your parts interact with each other.  This is how patterns in how you respond to things form. Sometimes creating results that work for you and sometimes not.

One of the founding father’s of “parts work” in psychology, Richard Schwartz, developed his theory titled “Internal Family Systems”.  The theory comes from observing individual parts relating to each other in a manner similar to the way individuals in families relate to one another. 

For example: 

Feeling like your mother is your best friend one minute, and the person you resent the most the next. You can experience her in different ways within a short period of time.   This can happen within our internal “parts” or aspects of ourselves too. 

This is essentially what’s happening when we say; “a part of me feels… while another part of me wants…” It’s like the differing opinions, values or desires that can occur among any two or more people in relationship with each other.   For example, as a mother, you may feel the need to uphold a boundary or schedule for your child, but as a person you want to just crawl into bed after a long day.

Not unlike what happens within a family, there is usually one part that dominates at a given time. 

The part that’s “in charge” and is consequently heard the loudest over others, depends on the amount of healing work we’ve done with our parts. 

Which parts of you do you want “in charge”?

For many reasons, including some of those contributing to personality development (genetics, environment, parenting, and societal variables) and others like trauma and abuse, our parts can end up wounded. When we’re guided by, or ruled by these wounded parts all the time, the actions we take may end up being inauthentic or misaligned with what would otherwise be our true selves.

If a wounded part doesn’t heal, it will continue to act out in ways needed to get attention and get its needs met. 

Think of a dog with a bum leg. If the leg never heals, it will likely dictate the dog’s choices. The dog won’t be as eager to go for walks, it’ll be guarded and defensive, perhaps even snarling or acting aggressively anytime a human or another dog comes close. However, prior to the injury, the dog was very friendly, loved going for hikes and playing at the dog park.  That is more aligned with the dog’s true self, before the wounded part (the leg) needed so much attention or protection, which, in turn, shaped the dog’s behavior. 

So how do we heal our parts and allow the true Self to emerge and be in charge? 

While our parts are certainly connected to our whole, we are more than just the sum of our parts. Underneath our individual parts, is what Dr. Schwartz would call our Self.

This is where therapy comes in.

In therapy, we get to know your parts. Similar to any other type of relationship, we learn how your parts relate to each other and why they exist. We will explore your parts while asking such questions as: “What is this part doing for me?” “Why are you here?” 

In therapy we will often ask a part or parts to take a step back, and give space for another part to emerge. For example, you may notice that an angry part is frequently in charge, perhaps demanding or dictating your actions. It could be that the angry part pushes people away or causes disruptions at work.

Therapy sessions provide a safe space for the angry part to express itself, and then step aside to give space to other parts that don’t show up as frequently. In this way, we might discover that directly under the anger there’s a very vulnerable part of us that’s being protected by the anger.

We can then get to know your vulnerable part, and better understand why the angry part feels the need to constantly be in charge. It’s through this process that appreciation for the angry part starts to develop. Instead of fighting against it by resenting the times you feel angry or attempting to push your anger aside, we can help all aspects of self work together to improve your relationships and work experiences.

When our parts are tended to in this way, through the therapeutic process, they will feel safer and more relaxed. From this position, such qualities as confidence, openness and compassion can take front and center, allowing us to be our Selves.

*Written by Nikki Eby, M.A., MFT, ATR-BC, therapist on staff at One Heart Counseling Center**

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