Overview of "parts work" - p. 3 of 7  /  Updated  March 07, 2015

      The next preparation step to take is to decide...

How Important Is Your Parts Work?

      Reflect and decide "What life activities are generally more important to me these days than inner-family work, and which are less?" A few activities will usually  come before this personal-growth work, like your job, your physical health, caring for dependents, and nurturing other important relationships. Consider making a commitment to yourself to invest regular undistracted time and effort in hi-priority inner-family harmonizing work for a specific time period, or until... (what?)

      Affectionately expect some skeptical, anxious, and catastrophizing Guardians and Inner Kids to try to sabotage your commitment. How would your model hero/ine and team leader handle such anxieties and doubts? Try trusting that your Self knows just the right way to respond if s/he is free to do so.

       Another important preparation is to...

Overcome "Resistances"

      Some of your subselves will normally be scared, skeptical, and even hostile to your inner-family work - specially if it involves a professional helper. To keep you and themselves safe, they will probably give you some intense initial thoughts like these:

"This (parts work) is stupid. You are a real jerk to believe this junk!"

"You donít have time (to do it)"

"You know youíve never been any good at meditating."

"(parts work) wonít work for me."

"Nothing comes - and nothing will." (when trying to contact a part);

"Youíre going to release or discover something bad (terrifying or fatal)."

"I just canít do it alone."

"Itís too abstract - I canít do that kind of stuff."

"If I ígo insideí, Iíll go crazy (or Ďget stuck in thereí). Iíll certainly be put away."

"Other people will surely: laugh / say "you are weird!" / tell me to stop / reject and abandon me / get upset."

      As you notice any well-meant inner warnings like these, notice the pronouns: "I," "you," and "me" refer to the part thatís "speaking," not your (unblended) Self. You refers to your whole inner family or self (little "s").

      Some of your parts (subselves) may communicate their anxiety ("resistance") through physical symptoms, like aches, twinges, muscle tightness, yawning, and headaches. Your Self and they can learn to understand and resolve each of these, with time, empathy, teamwork, and patience. See what these attitude statements bring up among you (all):

"Some subselves may try to sabotage my parts work. When they do, I know they are unaware or misinformed, and are trying to protect me and themselves."

"None of my parts are evil or bad now - nor have they ever been. My subselves always mean well, from their (limited) point of view. They can learn to change their views when they feel safe, respected, and genuinely heard."

"I can respect and empathize with each protective part of me, as it expresses itís fear and distrust, without agreeing and impeding our inner-family teambuilding."

      To respect any pessimistic (i.e. scared) Guardians, meditate or journal. Give them a chance to express their views on the specific risks they see to your doing parts work. Whatís the worst thing that could happen, according to them? Why should you not do parts work? Now invite the other "side" of you to speak: what could happen if you donít free and empower your wise resident Self, and increase your inner harmony? 

      Option - write both views down in your journal. log, or notebook, and review them regularly. Monitor your attitudes for change as your experience grows. Remind yourself that a normal symptom of significant attitude and belief changes is temporary confusion and anxiety.

      Finally, who should you invite to share and support your parts work?

Picking Initial Supporters

      A core theme in effective parts work is growing senses of genuine trust and safety among all your subselves. The people around you are a vital element in nurturing these two key resources.

  Who Should I Tell?

      The idea that we are walking collections of "inner voices" and "subselves" is pretty weird for typical people. Recall your own initial reactions: Detached amusement? Cynical skepticism? Curiosity? Disbelief? Hostility? Righteous indignation and criticism?

      Most subselves are acutely aware of how other people seem to feel about "you" (i.e. them). If you describe subselves and/or parts-work to people who jeer, shame, discount, or threaten you (all) - it will scare certain young subselves, activate their Guardians, and risk inner chaos and disabling your Self.

      Be selective about whom you confide in, and what you confide. As you sense another personís genuine interest, empathy, and support, trust them with more. Other people who are doing their own parts work are probably safe, unless their Self is disabled. Doing parts work with one or several others can be a rich and intimate experience. Trust your own intuition on whom to trust, with what, when - and "take it easy!"

      There are many alternatives. One is to tell close others "a little" about your parts and inner clan. That can sound like ...

"Well, Iím just meditating and learning about myself in an interesting way these days. Iíll let you know if anything intriguing comes up." 

      You donít have to tell anyone about your work. However, getting trusted othersí caring reactions, validations, and encouragements can deepen your insights, and speed your inner harmonizing.

  Whom to Ask For Help

      For those of us who survived low-nurturance childhoods, our Guardians' and Inner Kids' combined fear, distrust, and shame can hinder or block our natural growth towards wholistic health. We try diets, and the pounds and bulges return. We take assertion courses, and the shyness and anxiety renew. We go to counseling and key relationships still donít "work" well.

      Because of this, it can help to have an experienced, Inner Family Systems (IFS)-aware counselor keep you focused, motivated, and confident in doing (some of) your parts work. Borrowing their Selfís clarity, nurturing motivation, and clear leadership for a while can overcome your other partsí fear until they trust your Self to guide them.

      Because parts work is not yet widely accepted among clinicians, clergy, or family-life educators, finding a qualified professional to help can be hard. One place to look is the Self-Leadership Web site.

      If you do find someone with parts-work experience, look for these things in deciding whether to ask their help:

  • Can the person describe parts theory coherently (i.e. some version of the basics in this overview and this summary) in some detail?

  • Have they done their own personal parts work, and are they willing to describe some of it? Does their true Self seem to be consistently guiding their inner crew? 

  • Can they coherently describe the main goals and steps to follow in doing parts work?

  • How does s/he propose to handle parts of you who may be in major (initial) conflict? (How does your Self want them to be treated?)

  • Does s/he believe we each have a naturally-effective executive true Self - or does s/he feel inner families are leaderless and run by group consensus? (That idea works fine for some people!)

  • Does s/he agree that the counselor's role is to empower your Self to promote the changes you want, acting as a skilled "co-therapist" who knows what you need better than s/he (the professional) does?

  • Does the person include some form of redoing and rescuing subselves stuck in the past (p. 4) in their inner-family techniques? If "no" - look elsewhere.

  • Is s/he willing to flex (within "reason") and work with your inner family beliefs, or does s/he require you to adopt her or his beliefs?

      Notice the theme of these questions, and develop your own. If you have an anxious People-Pleaser subself who quails at assertively questioning "an authority" - reassure that subself you (all) have an indisputable right, as a worthy human and a consumer, to evaluate whom you ask for help. Youíd do that with a car mechanic, dentist, realtor, tax advisor, or a plumber, wouldn't you?. Hiring a professional parts-work consultant is no different.

      If you canít find a qualified and experienced professional, then seek a trustworthy, experienced therapist who accepts Inner Family System (IFS) concepts and is motivated to learn about them with you. Some people eventually free their true Self without doing some version of "parts work." Many others never do. If you can find a grounded, centered therapist whom you (all) trust, see if s/he'll companion you as a supporter, guide, and IFS co-learner.

+ + +

      We just reviewed specific preparations you can make before meeting your dynamic group of subselves and patiently harmonizing them under your Self's expert leadership. If Inner Kids or Guardian parts want  you to skip some of these initial steps, know that you can pause anywhere along the way and do (or re-do) them then. My experience is that the earlier you do these preparation steps, the more effective your work will be.

      As you do each of these steps, note with interest any inner voices, images, and impulses (like defocusing) that tend to hamper or block the step. Imagine that each of these reactions is a protective Guardian subself who is distrustful, uncertain, and scared about what youíre doing. Be alert for patterns of inner "resistance" - theyíre fertile areas for significant parts work and growth!

      Now - after picking your initial inner-family goals, clarifying key attitudes, picking your supporters, and "ranking your inner-family work," you're ready to meet some subselves. Your personal uniqueness guarantees that the way you do parts work will be unlike anyone elseís way.

      The following summarizes key elements in doing effective parts work. Tailor them to fit your unique situation. Scan this whole article to get a feel for itís scope, and then reread in whatever level of detail that feels right.

 Parts-work Techniques

      Underlined links will take you to pp 4-7 of this article.

Be Aware of Your Language

      Expanding your personal awareness is key to effective parts work. An important awareness to grow is of the language you use to think and tall about yourself and your subselves.

Use "A part of me" Instead of "I," "Me", or "My"

      Watch for the old habit of using the pronouns "I,*:"me," and "my," when you think and speak -e.g. "I'm so upset!," / ."You make me so frustrated!"  /  "My memory is terrible." / "I'm really ambivalent about ____."  / "I feel I'll never _____." Notice the difference between these and

  • A part of me (or 'One of my Inner Kids') is really upset."

  • "My Impatient subself (or Inner Child) gets really frustrated with you!"

  • "I have a subself that hinders my remembering certain things." 

  • Part of me agrees with ____, and another part disagrees."

  • Part of me feels I'll never ______."

      Most early parts-workers have told me that they "feel better" when they adopt  this way of thinking and speaking. It takes conscious practice to change your language like this. Option - ask supportive others to alert you if you fall back into using the old descriptors.

      This change can also be useful talking about someone else - e.g. instead of saying "You really lost it!", try something like "Part of you took over and caused you to ('lose it')." Experiment w2ith thus and see what happens.

Once you accept the reality of your subselves, "I," "Me" and "my personality" now refer to all your dynamic, talented subselves as a group + your body + your soul or Spirit. How does that feel?

Use "My" vs. "The"

      People beginning parts work often talk about "the Self" or "the Scared Kid," as though their subselves existed somewhere "out there." This promotes thinki8ng of your personality parts as abstract concepts rather than aspects of you as real and vital as your liver or lungs. I assume you wouldnít say "the (vs. my) head aches."

      When encouraged to consciously shift their pronouns to "My Self," "My Guardians," and "My Scared Kid," most people have reported a positive shift in  their parts work. It becomes more intimate, personal, and real. Try shifting your pronouns and see what happens.

Naming Your Subselves

      Another way of making your subselves more real and personal is to experiment with naming them. Your inner-family work may feel and proceed differently if you think and say (for instance) "Rhonda" rather than "My sad little six year-old." If parts are asked and feeling safe, some will quickly announce a name and/or title theyíd prefer to be known by. Others will have no preference, so you can assign a name that describes their function - e.g. "My Procrastinator." 

      Forcing a name or title ("my Couch-potato") on a subself without consulting them can feel insulting and disrespectful. How would you feel if an a key person declared "Iím going to call you Sluggo from now on, because I just like the sound of that"?

      In settling on subselves' names and titles, recall that key inner-family goals are to build group identity, pride, trust, and respect, over time. As a subself's self-image improves via parts work, it may be appropriate to have a christening party or ceremony to adopt a more respectful and dignified name and/or title. One client (spontaneously) did just that, calling an inner "Board meeting" to announce and celebrate the transition of "My little Saboteur" to "Cindy, our Prayer Director."

      Inner-family names and titles are powerful because of un/conscious emotional associations. For instance, if the name "Lucy" reminds you of the daffy, lovable TV character played by Lucille Ball, it may feel shaming if applied to a female part of you who currently feels insecure or stupid.

      Periodically review the + / - emotional "tone" of the names and titles youíre using in your parts work. An option at any time is to ask one or all your subselves what they think, feel, or want about these important symbolic labels. It demonstrates your Self's respect for them and their individuality.

Preparing for a Parts Session

      Optimize the results of your parts work by making some simple preparations for each inner-family session. The more you do the work, the more automatic these steps will become:

  • Key: do an honest Self-check

  • Reserve enough undistracted time

  • Gather helpful materials

  • Pick an appropriate site,

  • Review your attitudes and wound-reduction (recovery) goals. and...

  • Pick a specific subself to work with, and plan your interview.

Do a Self-check

      An unavoidable paradox: the main purpose of parts work is to free your resident true Self to guide, retrain, and harmonize your other subselves. Yet doing this requires your Self to be in charge! So an Initial step before a parts session is to sense whether your Self is present now, or - if not - which other subselves (usually one or more Inner kids and their dedicated Guardians) currently control your thoughts and feelings.

      If you sense that a protective false self is in charge as you start a parts session, evolve a way of unblending (p. 4) that works well enough. Bypassing this key preparation step risks your experiencing dissatisfying results from a session and losing your motivation to do this priceless healing work.

Reserve Enough Undistracted Time

      Like meditating or praying, if you try to jam parts explorations in between other pressing life activities, you risk inner distractions diluting your concentration and efforts. With practice, youíll evolve a sense of how much time to allocate comfortably to meet with your inner team. Initially, try at least 15". Expect some distrustful, anxious subselves to resist, and reassure them that thereís time enough to attend "the other important things." Next,...

Gather Helpful Materials

      These can include your journal and a pen/cil; art markers or crayons; a newsprint pad; clay; magazines for pictures; photographs of key people or places; soothing background tapes or CDs (e.g. harp music, wind chimes, Nature sounds); candles or incense; an alarm clock; sacred items (e.g. a Holy book, crucifix, icon, crystal, or amulet); toys or stuffed animals; a footstool, tissue; a blanket and pillow; slippers; a special garment; water or fruit; a book of meditations or affirmations; and this article. Don't bring your cell phone, checkbook, iPad, or cat!

      Any objects that add to your subselvesí comfort and enhance ways they can safely express them-selves are helpful. As your parts-work style develops, youíll evolve your own resource kit. Know that at some point, it may be helpful to add tools to allow safely expressing partsí repressed anger - like a tennis racket and target pillow, a rolled-up newspaper or magazine, or a padded "encounter bat" (bataka).

Pick an Appropriate Site

      "Appropriate" means a place that...

  • is free enough from distracting noise, smells, lights, mementos, movement, and interruptions;

  • is comfortable in temperature, illumination, decor, space, and furnishings. Ideally, furnishings will include several comfortable sitting places and a couch, bed, or futon where you can lie down if (someone) needs to. And choose a place that...

  • feels "right." Parts work can be intensely personal, and increasingly spiritual. Doing it in a place that feels like your safe and sacred space (a den, study, alcove, or sanctuary) is a great help. A setting near or in Nature is often optimal. And "appropriate" also means a place where...

  • your subselves can express themselves (rage, sob, yell) loudly without disturbing or arousing other people or animals.

      Where possible, do your work in the same location. Accumulating positive inner-family experiences there will strengthen anxious partsí expectations of safety and good outcomes. A strategic exception is when your current work may benefit from visiting places associated with prior traumas. These can include early homes, schools, neighborhoods, churches, cemeteries, and other evocative sites.

Review your Attitudes and Goals

      When youíve allocated enough time, arranged for no interruptions, and are settled in your "parts space," then...

Read or review your initial beliefs and attitudes (p. 2 or your journal) - perhaps out loud;

Close your eyes if that suits you, and mentally get clearer on what you want to do this session. Optionally, invite your inner Health Director to guide the session, trusting that parts who need attention will appear and help form your work.

Notice without judgment any distracting thoughts, feelings, or sensations that some parts may be giving you. Calmly accept any doubts, fears, worries, or confusions, as their legitimate reactions, and use them as opportunities to guide your work.

Pick a Subself to Work With, and Plan Your Interview

      A common error first-time parts-workers make is to pick their most troublesome parts to work with right away. A better choice is to interview several subselves that you really like and appreciate first, so you (all) gain confidence and experience with the interview process. Start with several Inner Kids and/or Manager subselves, like your Playful or Friendly kids and your Organizer/Planner, Nurturer, and Observer. Gain interview experience before working with your Guardian parts and trying to negotiate changes

      Three kinds of dialogs between your Self and other subselves are: (1) fact-finding and befriending (trust-building); (2) retraining and negotiating with a subself to change; and (3)  identifying and resolving inner-family conflicts. Before each inner dialog, clarify which of these you want to do: e.g.: "I want to...

  • learn about this subself, and start trust-building." Option: list the questions you want to ask mentally or on paper;

  • invite this subself to join me in the present." Option: mentally invite the part to tour my dwelling and workplace or school first;

  • introduce this subself to one or more other subselves." Option: introduce the part to all your subselves in an inner council meeting;

  • learn which Inner Child/ren this Guardian part is protecting."

      or I want to...

  • introduce my Self to this personality part and explain my role."

  • correct this subself's misinformation or ignorance on (some topic/s)."

  • meet with two or more subselves to resolve a dispute."

  • get an agreement to change some thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors temporarily or permanently; 

  • motivate this subself to accept a new role and/or title in my inner family." Option: before negotiating, guess the subself's objections, and role-play how to respond to each of them; and/or..;.

  • other strategic goal/s.

      After an interview, reflect on whether you met your objectives. If not, try to identify specifically what (or who) got in the way, and what you might have done differently. Keep in mind that building trust, educating, and gaining cooperation from some skeptical and scared Inner Kids and their Guardians takes patience and creativity, If you get stymied, see this and/or consider using an experienced IFS coach to help.

      As you gain experience, youíll develop your ability to do effective parts work in an increasing range of situations and places. Evolving your own "teambuilding space" is a helpful way of getting started.

      Recall - we're reviewing useful parts-work techniques here...

Communicating With Your Subselves

      Every personality part has unique feelings, wants, and opinions. When they feel safe - or excited - enough, they express these as thoughts, day and night dreams, hunches, intuition, "visions," "senses," "moods," memories, "urges," "impulses," "knowings," and (some) physical sensations. As you explore your inner world, youíll discover that thereís a lot going on at any given moment!

      The next discovery is that - if subselves feel safe - they will respond to communications from your Self, each other, and "outside" people. Your parts "talk," listen, argue, interrupt, whine, whimper, moan, bellow, demand, and question, all the time!

      Reality check - be still, breathe easily, and notice your emotions and thoughts ("self talk") now. Imagine each feeling and thought is brought to you by a subself. Ask (think) "who are you?" or any other question that occurs to you. Notice any reaction - like another thought, a shift in feelings, or a body sensation. Option - let an inner dialog develop. If emotions occur as you do this, those are your selves "activating." Whatís going on in there?

      If "nothing," recall that some Guardian parts have the protective ability to "drop a curtain," ''numb out,'' or block your inner perceptions. If thatís your experience now, respectfully ask the part responsible to tell or show you why it needs to do that. It may or may not feel safe enough to answer in some way. Trust the first response you get, without computing or analyzing.

      If it still seems really weird and unlikely that your Self can talk to other subselves, experiment further. As you do, you should be able to increasingly trust that your Self and your parts really can communicate. Interview them individually  and get to know them. For more perspective, see the parts-work "troubleshooting" options on p. 7 and return here.

How Do I Communicate? You can...

  • have internal thought dialogs'

  • write down subself monologs, dialogs, or council-meeting transcripts;

  • use memories and pictures or other media;

  • notice and use your emotions and body sensations;

  • ask one part to pass communications back and forth between you (your Self) and another part who isnít ready to interact directly yet. Some subselves will tell you things about other parts which may or may not be accurate; And you can...

  • work with a trained parts-work counselor or guide to interview, instruct, or negotiate with parts.

      Each subself may have a preferred way of communicating. Some will do so via thoughts and/or inner images, some will use your vocal cords, and some would rather write prose or poetry or sketch in your journal. Some Inner Kids are pre-verbal (or even pre-birth). They can communicate via body sensations, emotions, or mental images, not with words, so your awareness of these is vital.

      As your parts-work experience grows, youíll develop a facility with each of these communicating "channels". Letís take a look at the main modes:

Use Your Inner Voices

      What's a thought? We all have them, yet itís hard to describe exactly what they are. Theyíre (usually) coherent streams of words and phrases - sometimes linked to images or emotions, other times not. The inner-family concept suggests that our thoughts are the voices of our parts. Before accepting the reality of subselves, most of us say (or think) "Iím thinking." Here, that becomes "part of me is Ďtalkingí."

      Notice your current thoughts, and say out loud "One of my subselves is causing these inner word streams." Notice also that you can allow inner talk to happen or divert it. You probably can't completely stop thinking - right? Try it. Also experiment with "creating" (imagining, remembering) inner sounds, like laughing, bellowing, bells ringing, water moving, thunder, animal sounds, and favorite tunes or lyrics.

      Parts work uses this universal ability to communicate "inside" to interact with subselves. To meet one, you (your Self) focus on them, and think an inner question or comment, like "Are you the one whoís waking me up at night?" Breathe easily and notice any inner response without judgment: a thought, feeling, body sensation, or several of these. "No response" is a response.

      If a thought, image, or "sense" occurs, thatís a subself replying to you. By alternating comments or questions from your Self and sensed responses, you can dialog with selected subselves. Accept that this may feel alien and weird at first. You'll soon get used to it, and may wonder how you got along without these rich inner dialogs. Typical kids are quick at learning to talk fluidly with their subselves.

      Parts conversations can be internal (silent), and/or spoken out loud. Iíve shared profound moments with clients who encouraged a subself to use their lungs and vocal chords to make sounds for the first time in their life. Instead of "Iím talking to my self" which may feel silly or weird, try saying "Iím giving one of my subselves a voice." Experiencing inner conversations, alone or with a helper, can feel much different!. Pause and notice your thoughts and feelings now. Is anyone commenting on the ideas we just covered? Who?

Changing Chairs or Locations

      Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone have developed an inner-family process they call "voice dialog." In "Embracing Our Selves," they write about many clients who would change their seats during a parts session to access different inner "voices." Iíve experienced the same thing.

      A woman Iíll call Joan would have inner-family shifts regularly during our sessions. An angry adolescent part would talk on the left end of the couch; a sad one spoke with a very young voice from a separate chair, and Joanís true Self would speak confidently from the right side of the couch. This evolved spontaneously - it wasnít true when we began, nor did I coach it.

Imaging and Sensing

      Some people are more visual than others. Others are more responsive to sounds or touches. Visual people easily image or sense inner pictures of real things ("picture" your mother), and non-real things like dream scenes (fantasies) and imagined sights .

      For instance, try imaging a mouse and an elephant having tea. if you canít, youíre still OK! Visual people can develop the ability to see or sense symbolic images of their parts, and often the partsí actions and surroundings. Such images are rich sources of information about your inner team and its dynamics.

      If you are visual, your Self can (a) invite the subself to show you its preferred image, or (b) choose an appropriate image. I recommend the former, because asking a part how it wants to represent itself is more respectful than "forcing" an image on it.

      My experience is that - depending on subselves' sense of safety, some will pick an initial image (or none), and then adopt a more "real" one later in the work. Others donít need to do that. Some subselves  can use several different images at different times, depending on inner and outer circumstances.

      Typical subself images people describe are of full or partial human adults and children, including infants and even embryos. Other images have been "a pile of black dirt," "a ferret," "a huge gray boulder," a "soft white light," "a fairy like Tinker Bell," and other non-human forms. There is no right way to image a subself other than what they and you feel is fitting.

      Note also that, like photographs, the image of a subself is a symbol - itís not the part itself. As with many inner-family explorers, one client discovered that her "Guilt Tripper" (Inner Critic) subself used the image of her younger real-life mother, frowning and angrily critical. Stay clear that such a part is not "my mother." It is a unique subself who uses the image of "my mother" to represent herself, like a costume. This distinction is important to avoid projecting feelings you have about the real person onto a subself.

      Recall - we're reviewing the ways your Self can communicate with your other subselves.

Imaging a Subself

      If youíre visual, use steps like these to develop your ability to "see" or "sense" the images your parts want to use:

Get quiet, relaxed, and physically comfortable, in a non-distracting place. Breathe comfortably from your belly, vs. your chest.

"Clear your inner space" in your own way. Perhaps imagine erasing a blackboard, clearing a table-top, being by a calm lake or pond, raking sand into smooth patterns, or focusing on a pleasant pastel color. Quiet your thoughts. Think or say softly something like "I am still now" several times. Breathe easily and naturally.

Focus your thoughts on the subself you want to "see." With peaceful interest and expectancy, invite an image to form or ask the subself to give you an image it would like to use to represent itself. Trust the first thing that happens, including "no image."

Be alert for other subselves having a significant reaction to the image. If some judgmental or analytic part wants you (your Self) to edit or reject the image that comes (inner voice: "That doesnít fit - thatís crazy!"), acknowledge and decline their urge. If some parts are upset, scared, or even disgusted by the image, acknowledge and reassure them - and stay focused. Use such reactions to learn more about those subselves after youíre done with the current task.

Focus on the image and its surroundings. Neutrally notice as much as you can, like an objective reporter. For instance: "My sad part looks like a barefoot 7-year-old girl in a brown dress. She has stringy blond hair, and is sitting hunched in a corner with her arms around her knees. I canít see her face yet. The corner is sort of dark gray, and bare. The floor seems to be wood. I canít see anything else now."

Notice your feelings and attitude about the part. If other than compassionate interest, know that another subself may have blended with your Self. Work with that part to see what it needs, if that feels right at the time (see "Unblending" on p. 5).

      If you have trouble imaging your subselves, see these options and return here.

      When a parts session ends, journal (soon) about what you experienced and any emotional or physical reactions you noticed along the way.

      Another way subselves communicate is via...


      A phenomenon thatís so common as to be unnoticed is our ability to remember past inner and outer events. A related phenomenon is "forgetting." This may be seen as a Guardian's or Inner Child's habitual reflex to protect us from expected harm or pain.

      Some people doing patient meditation and parts work can safely regain some repressed memories - i.e. a subself can gain enough trust in current inner and outer safety to "release" the old images and related emotions. Typically the repressed material is about events which were experienced at the time as specially painful, scary, or overwhelming.

Body Memories

      Premise - some (all?) people store records of past traumatic events in certain muscle groups. These body memories can be triggered by external events (music, activities, sights, smells, etc.), internal events, or tactile experiences. Massage therapists and chiropractors are familiar with clients feeling spontaneous waves of anger, sadness, or fear when certain body areas are touched or manipulated.

      Amputees report body memories of their lost limbs. Physical and sexual-abuse survivors often experience uncomfortable spontaneous body memories (like burning, hyperventilating, pressure, pain, gagging) - without any clear connection to related thoughts or memories.

      These experiences may be caused by activated subselves who need inner and/or social attention. They use certain body parts or sensations as communication channels. As with flashbacks (below), these signals can be understood and acted upon appropriately, with patient practice.


      A flashback is a spontaneous multi-sense reliving of (vs. remembering) a past trauma. It is a powerful combination of physical sensations, memories, thoughts, and emotions that can feel momentarily overwhelming. Sexual and ritual abuse-survivors often report unexpected flashbacks, which can feel disorienting, frightening, and embarrassing. They may increase for a while with parts work before receding. 

      Flashbacks may be caused by Inner Kids and/or related Guardian subselves living in the past, who are agitated about an actual or expected event that reminds them of a past trauma. Flashbacks and body memories are common examples of normal false-self dominance. 

      They each offer the chance to go inside and ask "Would the subself whoís giving me (the specific sensations) make itself known to me now?" When a part responds, the next step is to ask "Why are you doing this? What do you want me to know (or do)?" Over time, dialogs like this often invite well-planned redoings and/or rescuing subselves (p. 4) from eternally reliving past trauma.


      Using your parts-work journal or log, focus on a given subself and invite it to express itself by writing its current thoughts, feelings, goals, hopes, fears, and needs. A key here is to accept and write or draw anything that comes up, without editing or analyzing. As you do, other subselves may want to critique, comment, or block the Writer.

      Reassure them (your Self) that thereís enough time for each part to be attended to, and stay focused: honor the subself thatís currently communicating. As you do, your other subselves will gain trust over time that Youíll honor them, too (if you do!). Thatís part of effective inner teambuilding.

      As your experience with parts-work grows, you may notice that different parts have unique handwriting, vocabularies, and styles. This helps in times where youíre not clear on whoís communicating.


      Sometimes itís helpful to let a conversation between two or more subselves develop on paper. One way to do this is to divide a blank page into two equal columns with a vertical line. Invite your Self or another subself to write on the left side, and record another partís responses on the right side. An alternative is to let a dialog unfold on the page the way the lines in a play or transcription are written:

S(elf): "Are you the part whoís giving me the angry feelings?"

P(art): "What if I am?"

S: "Iíd like to know more about why youíre angry. Will you tell me about that?"

P: "Maybe. I donít know..."

Using Physical Feelings (Body Signals)

      Noting physical reactions can be specially helpful in initial contacts and trust-building with cautious subselves. If theyíre not ready to use thoughts or images, they may give you a body signal. For instance, if you get quiet, and ask within: "Will the part of me who causes me to procrastinate show itself now?"

      Note any reaction like a headache, stomach ache, facial tic, muscle tightness and cramps, diarrhea or constipation, tingling, goose bumps, "skin prickling," rashes, jaw clenching, flushing or coldness, eye watering, dizziness, numbness, heart pounding, nausea, faintness, and other physical reactions.

      If you do notice a physical reaction, work with it: e.g. "Are you causing the tingling in my right hand?" If you get "Yes," ask "What do you need from me now?" - then listen. If "No," try "Can you show or tell me who is making my hand tingle (or causing a flashback, headache, or any other sign) now?"

      Once your subselves begin to know and trust your Self, they often like agreeing on a safe way to get your attention if they need something. One way of doing this is to have them give you an acceptable physical signal - like a yawn, a sigh, a muscle twinge, an itch, or whatever.

      The next time you notice the sign, get quiet, breathe easily, and focus on that subself to see what it needs. For subselves who have never felt empathically noticed or valued before, this can feel as miraculous as an island castaway finding a working videophone.

      More ways subselves communicate...

Dreams, Hunches, and Intuitions

      Imagine that one of your subselves is your Dream Maker / Fantasizer who wants to help you in its unique way. What is it trying to tell you with dreams and fantasies? What if every element in a dream is a part of you, perhaps using a symbolic image? Gestalt therapy uses this idea to help clients gain self-awareness and insight.

      Do you have hunches, intuitions, and instincts? Most of us experience mild or strong "senses" or "knowings" at times, which may be signals from one or more subselves. These may be...

  • the "still, small voice" of a Spiritual part (e.g. a Guardian Angel, Indwelling Christ or Buddha, Higher Power, Spirit Totem, Wise One, or Higher Self), and/or...

  • another way our Self uses to guide us; and/or...

  • communiquťs from a pre-verbal subself.

      Becoming intentionally aware of these non-verbal inner messages is one benefit of personal meditation. Many seekers of such awareness practice focusing on relaxed breathing from their belly. Options -

  • practice non-judgmental awareness of these "inner telegrams"

  • experiment with (a) identifying and dialoging empathically with the subselves that cause them, and (b) reacting to their messages and noting the outcomes, and ...

  • note and learn from your subselves' reactions to doing these steps.

Malcolm Gladwell's interesting book "Blink - the art of thinking without thinking" (2007) suggests trusting our instincts and hunches even when we have "too little information."

Writing and Drawing

      Some members of your inner family are most comfortable and fluent communicating non-verbally. Here are some options:

Right or Left Hand

      Experiment with writing or drawing with each of your hands. Many subself-explorers discover some inner members have a clear preference or aptitude for one hand over another. Using your non-dominant hand may empower some parts to communicate for the first time. If you have protective parts who scoff at this, acknowledge that with affection - and try switching hands anyway.

Using Different Media

      Try writing or drawing with a variety of media. Some parts may feel freer to express themselves with a pen, a marker, crayons, a pencil, or paints. Some may like prose, others poetry, while still others want to draw, sculpt, make a mural, a collage, compose music, or just scribble

Continue reviewing parts-work techniques on page 4. Do you need a break first?