Parts Work: How Many Sides Do You Have?
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Parts work can be an important part of psychotherapy. It involves identifying and exploring different sides, or “parts”, of yourself. While many people instantly think of Sybill and Multiple Personality Disorder when they think of having distinct sides of their personality, the truth is that every single one of us has many parts. You may notice how different aspects of your personality might come out in different situations. You may be sociable when you’re in small groups, but incredibly shy in large groups. You may feel confident in front of your coworkers, but insecure when your boss comes around. You may be patient when an elderly woman is crossing the street, but easily irritable when your partner takes a few seconds too long to find her keys. You can also notice your parts at play when you find yourself having a conversation with yourself in your head. You may hear one part of yourself say, “I should go exercise right now.” Another part might argue, “But I worked out for 6 days in a row. I should rest.” Yet another part might chime in, “All this working out isn’t doing any good. I’m never going to be happy with my body.” These are three distinct parts of yourself making their voices heard.
There are a multitude of ways that you might work with your different parts in therapy. I help many of my clients label a particular part, get more familiar with when that part tends to surface, give a voice to the part, identify relationships with other parts, and learn how to incorporate the part into their lives in a way that feels healthy and manageable. For example, say you have been struggling with your inner critic. Virtually every single one of us has some variation of an inner critic. It is the voice that is always criticizing us and telling us that we are not good enough. For many of us, the inner critic tells us that we are not worthy of being loved. Parts work with your inner critic might involve fleshing out some details of this critic. Does it feel like a male or female voice? Do you know whose voice it is? Is there an image that comes to mind when you think of this part? How do you feel when you hear your inner critic? What do you think your critic wants from you? Further work might involve having you speak from the part, or having a conversation with the part, while incorporating mindfulness and awareness. We might find ways to anticipate when your inner critic may surface, and explore tools to help diminish the power of the critic’s words in the moment. Many clients discover that getting to know their inner critic helps them develop a sense of compassion for and understanding of this part.
The first step towards doing parts work is identifying your parts. If you feel curious about parts work, you can try this identification step on your own. For about a week, keep a small notebook or pad of sticky notes on you. You might also create a text file on your smartphone. As you move through the days, try to be more aware of when different sides of you surface, and keep a list of them. Try checking in with yourself a few times a day to see what part of yourself is present. There may be some parts of yourself that you are already so familiar with than you can create a list right off of the bat. Include any important details about each of the parts. You might be able to identify a prankster, a sensitive soul, a jock, a comedian, an intellectual, a pessimist, a romantic, a goofball, a nerd, or a caretaker. At the end of the week, take a look at the list and reflect on how this experience has been for you. How many different parts did you identify? What are the stories behind how each of these parts came into existence? In what ways do each of these parts benefit your life, and in what ways do they harm you? Which parts feel easy to incorporate into your life, and which parts feel trickier? Keep an eye out on this blog for further ideas for working with your parts.