Overview of "parts work" concluded - page 7 of 7 .

this page was added on 4/21/2013

      Recall: clicking underlined links will open a new Web page. Other links will take you to a section on this page or open an informational popup if your playback device supports Javascript and Active-X controls.

      What follows assumes you're familiar with...

  • Q&A about personality subselves

  • pages 1-6 of this parts-work overview

  • this letter to curious or skeptical people

  • a list of your own subselves, and...

  • this comparison of true-Self and false-self behaviors

Troubleshooting Common Parts-work Problems

      My clinical experience with scores of people has shown several common problems with learning to do effective parts work. This Lesson-1 page describes common problems, what usually causes them, and offers options for avoiding or resolving them.

      The problems are...

      The links will above will take you to action-options on this page. As you read them, if you find yourself being distracted, "blank," or thinking things like "I can't do this."; "This will never work"; "This is way to complicated"; or "This is too much work"; you're probably controlled by a protective false self - i.e. Inner Kids or Guardians like your Cynic/Skeptic, Doubter, Pessimist, Perfectionist, Lost Child, and/or Victim. 

Trouble Staying Focused "Inside"

      Common reasons for this are...

1) subselves ignoring or disabling your true Self. arguing or debating, and causing a jumble of thoughts and feelings.

2) trying to do parts work in a distracting environment (too noisy, smelly, hot or cold, etc.),

3) parts feeling impatient and/or rushed (not allotting enough undistracted time). A variation is trying to do parts work and something else at the same time,

and/or difficulty staying focused because of...

4) significant physical discomfort/s like hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleepiness, nausea, and/or pain.


     When free (trusted) to lead, your true Self knows how to avoid or resolve the last three of these. So you can improve your ability to stay focused "inside" by learning how to...

  • become aware of your Self being ignored, overruled, and/or disabled;

  • differentiate between several parts' arguing, and parts "blending with" (taking over) your Self;

  • quiet and direct subselves who all talk at once, and resolve inner conflicts among them;

        and/or learning how to...

  • get distrustful subselves to "unblend" and free your Self to guide you; and to...

  • shift Inner Kids' and Guardian subselves' distrust in your Self to willingness to let her/him make plans and decisions for your inner family.

      Follow the links above to learn options for resolving this problem.

      Another common parts-work frustration is...

Difficulty Imaging Subselves

      Kids and adults vary in their ability to "see" inner images. Arguably, this ability can be intentionally developed. My experience is that people who can visualize their subselves are better able to dialog with,, retrain, and harmonize them. If they can't visualize well or at all, they can still focus inside and dialog with their "inner voices."

      To see if you "are visual," get quiet and undistracted, close your eyes, breathe easily, and try "seeing" Imagining)...

  • a colored ball

  • a favorite animal

  • a ghost

  • your young mother's face

  • a rabbit in a tuxedo riding on an elephant

      Some of these can be remembered, and some are created. If you can "see" both types of images in your mind, you're able to visualize. Also, note whether you can fantasize and/or dream. Both involve inner imagery.

      A way to begin a parts dialog is to relax, focus inside, vividly imagine being in a safe, comfortable real or imaginary place. Then invite a selected subself to give your Self an (internal) image to represent itself.

      Note the important difference between inviting an image to form with an open mind, and trying to form an image. The former offers a better chanced of success.

      Three possible results are you get (a) a clear image of something; (b) a vague, fuzzy, or faint image; or (c) you get no image. The last two of these outcomes may occur because...

  • the target subself is hesitant or scared to allow a clear image to form; and/or...

  • another protective subself distrusts the safety of imaging, and blocks it.


      Mentally reassure all your subselves that nothing bad can happen if they're willing to dialog, with or without an image. The more inner dialogs you have, the safer they'll feel over time.

      If you haven't recently, review these ideas about communicating with subselves. If instead of an image you get a physical reaction (like stomach tightness, a lump in your throat, tingling, goose bumps, etc) or a "sense" (e.g. of anxiety, awe, or excitement), "talk to it" with an open mind, just as you would with a subself's image.

      Try imaging several different subselves. If one or more give you an image but others don't, be patient with the latter. Someone is afraid of something, and needs respectful acknowledgement and patient reassurance.

      In your mind, ask the target subself "Are you uncomfortable giving me an image?" Trust the first thing that you become aware of - a feeling, thought, memory, and/or physical reaction. If you get a response, follow your Self's wisdom as to what to do.

      If you get no response (which is a response), assume that a ''Blocker'' (Guardian) subself is preventing any images or interaction. Ask (inside) something like "Will the subself who's protecting me...

 ...make itself known to me now (e.g. give you an image)?"

...answer a few questions?"

...let me learn more about you?"

...tell me what you're guarding me against?"

... _______."

Breathe easily, and be open to any kind of mental / emotional / bodily response.

      Be alert for a subself like your Perfectionist discounting or ignoring an image because "it doesn't make sense" or it doesn't fit some expectation or criteria. Any image is valid and useful, including abstract shapes, colors, objects, mythical creatures, and cartoons,

      Example: a client said "I can't locate (get an image of) my Scared Child." He said when he invited an image of that subself to form, he was expecting to visualize something child-like. Instead, he saw "a wide panorama of mountains that blocked me." I didn't occur to him that his cautious Child was providing that scene, and that he (my client) could start a dialog with the panorama image.

      Watch for opportunities to dialog with your Inner Critic ("You're no good at parts work"), your Catastrophizer ("You'll never be able to do this work!"); and/or your Perfectionist ("You're not doing this parts work right!"). Negotiate with each of them to try more productive ways to help you guard and comfort your Inner Kids.

      Another common parts-work problem is...

One or More Subselves Won't "Talk" with your Self

      A way of starting to work with a subself is to ask something respectful like "May I ask you a few questions?" or "Are you willing to talk with me now?" If you get "No" or no response, you have several...


  • Practice present-moment awareness: i.e. getting focused (undistracted) and saying mentally or out loud "Now I'm thinking ____; feeling ____; doing ____; and needing ____."

  • Recall the range of ways subselves communicate: thoughts ("inner voices)", emotions, memories, "senses," hunches, intuition, images, and/or physical sensations. All of these are legitimate and useful

  • With an open mind, ask (internally) "Is there someone who doesn't want this (target) part to speak with me?" Be open to any reaction. If you get one, refocus on that subself and see if it will give you an image and/or explain why it's blocking a dialog with the target subself.

  • If the mute part is an Inner Child, focus on patiently gaining its trust over time, just as you would a physical girl or boy. This may take several sessions. Spend quiet time with him or her, play quietly (with an imaginary pet?), offer (don't force) gentle touching, smile, sing or hum, etc. You can also ask your talented Nurturer (Good Parent) subself to help with this trust (security) building. See these options for working with your Inner Kids.

  • If the silent subself is a Guardian, seek to identify which Inner Child/ren it's protecting. If you can learn that, focus on making the Child/ren safe and comfortable before trying to communicate with the Guardian.

      More options...

  • Ask if any other subself can help you understand why the silent one won't or can't communicate.

  • If the subself begins to communicate, use empathic listening to validate and encourage it. Note that silence is a communication, because it invites implied (assumed) meanings.

  • Grow dialog experience with other (talkative) subselves, and come back later to see if the silent one has gained confidence and is willing to communicate.

      Notice the theme of these options, and let your Self tailor them and/or create other strategies.

      Most parts-workers experience this problem at some time:

An Influential Subself Resists Change

       Typical people - specially GWCs - have significant personal and social problems like these:





chronic lying

















self neglect



personality disorders


low self esteem




anger outbursts

pessimism / cynicism

     I propose that stressors like these are all symptoms of a disabled true Self. In other words, such problems are caused by Guardian and Young subselves who don't trust your true Self (false selves). If this is true, then you can reduce these problems by identifying and retraining these subselves.

      Parts work is the internal process of meeting, befriending, educating, introducing, and harmonizing your personality subselves. Because subselves are probably distinct regions of your brain, "retraining" them is the same as changing a computer program. It involves

  • learning a part's status, mission, beliefs, and environment;

  • correcting any misperceptions and unrealistic expectations; and then...

  • respectfully negotiating a positive change in the part's knowledge and  inner-family role and relationships.

      Some Inner Kids and Guardian parts are very resistant to change, because of fears, distrust, ignorance, and unwillingness to give control to your True Self. Patient, respectful interviews with such subselves can identify and correct their resistances, and earn their cooperation.

Options with any resistant subself

  • If your Self guides you, s/he will choose an attitude of patience and compassion, rather than impatience and blame. S/he will teach other subselves (like your Critic) to see the resistant part as misinformed, frightened, needy, and insecure; rather than "stubborn," "uncooperative," "self-centered," "negative," and/or "bad,"

  • If several subselves are resisting positive inner-family changes, rank-order them and work with them one at a time.

  • Ask the subself to give you (your Self) an image to dialog with. This is helpful but not essential. If the part balks, see the options above.

  • Check to see if the part is living in the past ("Can you tell me what year it is?") If so, work toward inviting it on a safe visit to the present - e.g. give the part an imaginary tour of your dwelling and neighborhood. The goal is to help them realize that you are now a mature adult no longer living in the traumatic environment they've been living in.

Build Trust in Your True Self

  • Respectfully interview the part to demonstrate it's safe to talk with your Self. Ask questions like these:

"What name would you like to be called?"

"How old are you?"

"Where do you live?"

"Do you live with anyone else?"

"What's your job?" / "What do you do all day?"

"Do you like your job?"

"What would happen if you stopped doing this job?"

"Would you like some help with this job?"

"What year is it?"

  • Pause and meditate: how - specifically - would you like this subself to change to improve your life?

  • Affirm you know this subself wants to help you.

  • Ask if the subself knows who you (i.e. your Self) are. If not, introduce your Self. If so, ask if s/he can say what your job is ("to make safe, healthy decisions for us all, and solve our problems.").

      Then ask the part if s/he would like to learn how to help you more effectively. If so, suggest specific changes. For example, say "Advise me once (rather than nagging), and then be quiet and watch what I do.") This is one way to have the part realize over time how wise and dependable your Self is - specially if  the part lives in the past.

      When the time seems right, ask if the resistant part trusts you (your Self) and is willing to advise you on taking over his/her job. If "No," ask if s/he is willing to relax and observe (your Self} in action for a short time - e.g. for 5", 2 hours, "a morning,", etc  If the part is willing, ask at the end the trial period "How did I do (at keeping us safe)?"

      Repeat this trial as often as necessary, increasing the trial period slowly each time. Ask the subself for advice on how you could (do their job) better.

      Consider introducing the distrustful subself to your Nurturer, and try working as a trio to keep your Inner Kids safe. As this happens over time, work toward having the original part take on a useful new role in your inner family.

  • When the time feels right, introduce the resistant subself to the other members of your inner family. Emphasize s/he is a valuable member who can help you all in her or his present role or in a new one. This can be specially reassuring to Inner Kids who have felt isolated and alone.

Options with a resistant Inner Child

  • Estimate or sense the child's developmental age, and interact on an age-appropriate level. For example, don't try dialoguing with a 3-year-old the same way you would with a teen subself.

  • Don't force your Self or your requests on the child. Respect it's fear, confusion, and insecurity, just as you would a traumatized flesh-and-blood girl or boy.

  • If the child is developmentally young, patiently use gentle non-verbal behaviors (smiles, sounds, gestures, touching) to soothe and reassure it over time. Let your other Inner Kids suggest how to play (gain trust) with the resistant young subself.

  • When the time feels right, introduce the Child to your Nurturer/Good Parent subself. S/He knows instinctively how to relate to each Inner Child. Also consider introducing the Child to some or all of your other Inner Kids - specially the Friendly and/or Playful ones.

  • If you have an impatient part, ask it to relax, trust your Self and the parts-work process, and accept that trust-building can't be rushed.

      For more detail, see these options.

Options with a resistant Guardian subself

  • Stay aware that a typical Guardian will need to be certain that the Inner Child/ren it's protecting will be steadily safe before it will consider relaxing, changing, and/or taking on a new role.

      Implication: First, identify such kids, build initial trust, bring them to the present, introduce them to your Inner family, and put them in the expert care of your Nurturer/Good Parent subself. Then focus on gaining cooperation from the resistant Guardian.

  • Remind yourself that all Guardians want to help you in their own way. Use that motivation in negotiating changes their behavior and/or internal role. ["It would really help me if you would (make some specific change)"].

  • If the subself fears that relaxing or changing will cause it to be "forgotten," "excluded," "rejected." "eliminated," "worthless," or "exiled," reassure it that that will never happen. Invite the subself to take on a new role to increase your productivity and ensure its ongoing value to you.

  • Ask if there's another subself who is warning or advising the resistant part not to trust your Self and change  If there is such a part, refocus on patient trust-building with it first, and then work with the resistant one.

Reduce Self-doubt and Skepticism  

      When you first try with parts work, you may experience one or more persistent thoughts like these:

  • "(My) subselves aren't really real."

  • "I'm not that wounded, so I don't need to do parts work."

  • ''I'm worthless. I don't deserve (to heal / be happy / be normal)."

  • "Parts work won't really help me  heal / change."

  • "I'm not doing the work right.''

  • "I'm just making up my subselves' responses. They aren't really 'talking' to me.''

  • "(Some authority) says that (a) s/he has never heard of parts work (so it can't be legitimate), or (b) "internal family systems (IFS) therapy" isn't a valid way to (help me)." - so I shouldn't try it or trust it."

      Such discouraging thoughts usually come from one or more Inner Kids, and/or well-intentioned Guardian subselves like your Skeptic, Worrier, Doubter, Perfectionist, and/or Critic. Paradoxically, subselves may be relieved someone is finally acknowledging and listening to them, and they may fear "something bad" will happen from your doing parts work. A common example is Guardians fearing that they will be dismissed, "fired," or no longer needed.

      Patiently gaining experience with inner dialogs - specially if done with a knowledgeable IFS (inner family systems) coach - will usually reduce significant skepticism and self-doubts about parts work over time.


      To reduce these common distractions...

  • review these common Q&A items about normal personality subselves;

  • accept that initial parts-work doubts and skepticism are normal, and stem from Inner Kids and Guardians trying to keep you and them safe from scary changes;

  • evolve a list of all your subselves, grouped as Kids, Guardians, and Managers;

  • practice initial inner dialogs with subselves you like and respect first. Coach your parts to accept that parts work is a learning process that takes time and experimenting to master, like any new skill.

      Identify any young and/or Guardian parts who are distrustful, skeptical, and/or scared by parts work, and learn what they're really afraid of via respectful interviews. Practice listening to each subself respectfully and acknowledging what you hear. That does not mean you (your Self) agree with it's worries or doubts!

      Ask your Inner Critic and Perfectionist subselves to observe, but not interfere, as you evolve your unique style of parts work. Teach them that you don't have to "do it right" to match someone else's standards.

  • reassure all your subselves they cannot be "killed," "fired," or "locked up," and that each of them is and will always be valuable. Explain the idea of reassigning inner-family roles (jobs) to them all;

  • Keep your boundaries with other people who scoff at the reality of personality subselves. Reread this letter if others try to convince you you're "making up"  or imagining subself conversations.

  • With an open mind, seek and evaluate the experience of other people with parts-work experience. Ask them what initial doubts they had, how they managed them, and what happened to their worries and doubts as they gained parts-work experience. You can find such people in this free Break the Cycle! support group on FaceBook

      As you see. you have many options for gaining trust that your subselves are real, and really will interact with your true Self when you're calm and undistracted.

      Reminder - the guidebook for lesson 1 is "Who's Really Running Your Life? (4th edition)," available by mail order in print and e-book formats.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

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