Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Effective Parts Work
with Your Inner Kids

Heal Psychological Wounds

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/IF/kids.htm

  Updated 01-20-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of the articles in self-improvement Lesson 1: reduce inherited psychological wounds and free your wise true Self to guide you. The article...

  • summarizes traits of Inner Children and their Guardian subselves,

  • proposes parts-work steps to reduce excessive shame, guilt, and fears and to release repressed sadness and anger; and...

  • outlines guidelines for doing effective parts work with pre-verbal Inner Kids.

      This article assumes you're familiar with these:


      Let's review some key ideas:

      "Parts work" is an effective way to identify and harmonize the talented subselves that make up your unique "inner family" (personality). Your subselves fall into three or four functional groups: Inner Children (plural), Guardians who protect these young ones, and Managers. Some believe a fourth type of subself is spiritual.

Your Inner Children

      Your unique crew of Inner Kids have common traits: they:

  • are developmentally young, ranging from a fetus to late teens;

  • are very naive - they know little of the real world. This means they're often very impressionable, gullible, and vulnerable to older subselves and "outside" people. And Inner kids...

  • are strongly affected by your real early-childhood environment (nurturing to toxic); and they... ..

  • are very sensitive and reactive, going from quiet to active in a heartbeat;

  • when they activate, each Inner Child causes you to feel one or more basic emotions like fear, guilt, anger, sadness, overwhelm, and shame, These trigger related thoughts, memories, and mental associations, and cause neural, hormonal, and muscle responses.

  • Inner Kids communicate with you (your Self) via inner images, memories, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, or a combination of these; Once they trust your Self, they'll readily respond to questions and instructions if you really listen..

      And typical Inner Kids...

  • may or may not know they're part of a group of subselves, and/or may not trust your true Self to guide and protect them; and they...

  • often live in the past (against all logic), which means they have no idea how wise and competent their host person's Manager subselves are; and...

  • Inner Kids' gender may or may not match your body's gender, or they may have no gender; and...

  • they may or may not reveal themselves to you for inner dialogs, depending on whether they feel safe or not.

      The young subselves of Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) are often starved for attention, affection, companionship, and security, They can be very mistrustful if someone offers these things, so it may take patience, compassion, and time to earn their trust. Other Inner Kids eagerly accept inner contact, and say "What took you so long (to notice me)?"

Your Guardian Subselves

      Because Inner Kids are so vulnerable and reactive, Nature provides the protection of another dedicated group of subselves: Guardians, or "Firefighters.". They watch for potential or current danger, and activate quickly to soothe and protect one or more inner Kids.

      Everyone has a unique mix of these tireless specialists, tho some are common to most of us: e.g. the Inner Critic, Perfectionist, Magician, Procrastinator, Doubter, Worrier, Fantasizer, and Pessimist. Guardian subselves monitor inner and outer environments and spring into action if they perceive possible or current danger to Inner kids, themselves, and/or their host person. Their perceptions are often distorted - specially when they live in the past and/or distrust your true Self.

      A paradox: zealous Guardian subselves' attempts to help can often cause us major personal and relationship problems, like addictions, "laziness," "depression," dishonesty, jealousy, forgetting, compulsions, delusions, promiscuity, "disorders," and so on. When Guardians learn to trust the wisdom and leadership of the Self (capital "S") and other Manager subselves, they're open to relaxing and/or taking on helpful new personality roles.

What's the Problem?

      Inner Kids and their Guardians can promote significant psychological wounds in kids and adults. Common wounds are excessive shame. guilt, fears, mistrust, reality distortion, reactivity, numbing, and difficulty empathizing, bonding, and loving. Patient parts work can permanently reduce each of these wounds over time.


Guidelines for Working with Inner Kids

      Tailor this general outline to fit your unique personality and situation. Option - use this as a checklist to record your progress. Note that "(Personality) parts" are the same as "subselves."

      Overall parts-work objectives are:

  • Assemble all your subselves in the present, introduce them, and help them realize they form an inner family together led by your true Self;

  • Facilitate putting each inner Child under the expert care of your Nurturer (Good Parent) and other talented Manager subselves

  • Heal each child's burden/s (like shame, guilt, fear, numbness, despair, anger, distrust, loneliness, and sadness)

  • Teach your Guardian subselves to trust that your true Self and other Managers will keep the Kids safe., Retrain key Guardians, and when appropriate, find new inner-family roles for them. Free your Self to guide you in all situations.

      To achieve these goals over several months...

_ 1) Study Parts 1 to 3 in online Lesson 1. Identify your psychological wounds, and learn about subselves and parts work.

_ 2) Accept that ALL your subselves are valuable assets and are trying to help you. There are no "bad" or "evil" subselves - only misinformed ones and some who live in the past. Accept that subselves can't be "killed," but can be retrained and change their "jobs,".

_ 3) _ Identify all your subselves, and _ group them as Kids, Guardians, and Managers. _ Identify specific Kids you want to work with. Commonly these will include your Shamed, Guilty, Scared, Abandoned, Lost, Sad, and Lonely ones. Sense (vs. compute) the gender and developmental age of each one.. 

_ 4) Learn how to tell who's controlling you in various situations: your true Self, a hyper Child, a well-intentioned Guardian subself. and/or an over-zealous Manager (like your Analyzer).

_ 5) Learn how to image and dialog with your subselves. The two phases of dialoguing are (a) introductions and trust-building, and (b) negotiating desired changes in the subself's attitudes, values, knowledge, behaviors, and inner-family role (function).

_ 6) In your initial interview with a part, ask "What year is it?" Be open to anything that pops into your mind, no matter how odd. If a part is too young to understand or answer the question, assume s/he is living in the past.

_ 7) Interview your most active, influential Guardians one at a time, and _ learn if any of them are living in the past. Also _ learn which Inner Child/ren they're protecting.

      Recall - these are options for doing effective parts work with your inner Children

_ 8) Interview your Nurturer (Good Parent) part. Confirm that s/he wants to guide and protect your Inner Kids. Option - interview your Spiritual One (Manager), and learn what her/his/its special talents and goals are.

_ 9)  After establishing trust between each Child and your true Self, introduce the Child to your Nurturer and Spiritual One. Negotiate permanently transferring the Child's care from her/his Guardian/s to these experts.

_ 10)  If any Inner Child has traumatic memories from your real past (like violence, abandonment, losses, or abuse) consider providing one or more ''re-doing'' experiences for them to free them up to heal, grieve, and stop endlessly reliving their traumas.

_ 11)  If any child (like a ''Little Adult''') feels inappropriate responsibility for your (or someone's) safety, health, and welfare, help them trust that your Managers can handle that reliably, and teach the young ones that 'their job is just to play and learn about the world.

_ 12)  Patiently invite each Child and Guardian living in the past to tour the present (e.g. mentally tour your present dwelling and introduce them to people and pets you live with). Answer questions, and ask if they're willing to stay here with you (all). Emphasize that your childhood adults and siblings no longer live with you (if true), and your Managers are wise, strong. and mature now. Past stressors are gone for good!

_  13)  Over time, introduce each child to the others, and help them find games and materials they can play with and learn from together. Option - ask your Nurturer to take the young ones on "field trips" to interesting places to help them learn about the world. If appropriate, show selected Kids (in your mind) where key relatives are living or buried in the present.

_ 14) Grow a sense of inner-family pride and teamwork by having periodic inner council meetings of all your parts, led by your Self. Help each Child and Guardian feel known, accepted, valued, and safe in your inner family.

      Recall - an overarching goal of parts work is to permanently reduce inherited psychological wounds A related goal is to prevent the young people in your life from inheriting these wounds and ignorance.

 Wound-reduction Strategies

      Inherited psychological wounds are usually caused or strongly influenced by Inner Kids and key Guardian subselves. Common examples:

  • The naive Shamed and Guilty Kids are repeatedly stressed by well-intentioned Critic, Perfectionist, and Preacher/Moralizer Guardian subselves, and by critical and shaming outside adults and kids;

  • The Anxious, Scared, and Hopeless Children are regularly retraumatized by the Catastrophizer, Worrier, and Cynic/Pessimist Guardian subselves, and by insecure and fear-based (wounded) people;

  • Sad and Angry Inner Kids can be inhibited from expressing their thoughts, needs, and feelings by a Numb-er and/or Blocker Guardians. This can greatly hinder healthy grieving, specially in an anti-grief family environment.

      Let's look at each of these briefly: Do not feel you have to rigidly follow these parts-work steps like a cookbook. Note the theme of these steps and improvise and tailor them to fit you and your situation.

Convert Excessive Shame to Healthy Self-love

      For background, read this and this now and return here. Then view this brief YouTube video about loving yourself:

      The keys to making this vital inner-family conversion over time are

    _  Put your True Self in charge;

    _  Bring your Shamed Child and any Guardians to live into the present. Be aware that some people have a preverbal Inner Child who has aquire4d a "bad me" feeling through parental behaviors. Healing such very young Inner Kids requires some special work (below).. 

    _  Patiently negotiate transferring the care of this Child from your Guardian/s to your Nurturer (Good Parent) subself

    _  Retrain your Critic, Perfectionist, and Preacher to tone down and change their language from scorning ("I am so stupid!") to encouraging ("next time it's be better if we..."). Work patiently to grow their t4rust in your true Self's ability to keep you all safe;

    _ Grow the habit of thinking and saying "A part of me feels ashamed," rather than "I feel so ashamed / embarrassed)."

    _  Encourage all your subselves to steadily affirm your talents and inner and outer successes. Option - reassign a Guardian to the role of "Cheerleader" who's job is to note the good things you do each day and night.

    _  Look for ways to teach your Shamed Child that the negative messages s/he got when you were very young were not true  Frequently let this child know you value and love her/him unconditionally.

    _  If appropriate, revise old misconceptions about personal pride ("It's a sin!") to nurturing ("Non-egotistical pride is healthy and nourishes self-esteem.")

      Note that reducing the crippling wound of excessive shame over time involves working with your Shamed Child/ren, several protective Guardians, your Nurturer, your Self, and perhaps your Spiritual One.

      Reflect on what you've learned here. Do you believe it's possible to convert low self esteem (excessive shame) to genuine, healthy self love? 

Reduce Excessive Guilts to Normal

      If you know someone who feels too guilty too often, keep them in mind as you read this.

      Guilt is the normal mental-emot1onal reaction to believing we have "done something wrong" i.e. broken some rule. Normal guilt helps to guide our behavior. Excessive guilt is crippling, partly because it promotes excessive shame.

      For perspective on reducing this common psychological wound read this and this now and return here. Then watch this brief YouTube video on reducing excessive guilt: The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons: I've reduced that to seven.

Parts Work Options

    _ 1) Make progress on reducing excessive shame (above)

    _ 2) With your Self in charge, bring your Guilty Child/ren and their Guardians (e.g. your Critic, Perfectionist, and Preacher-Moralizer) into the present.

    _ 3) Patiently work to build their trust in your true Self and other Manager subselves so they don't take you over. .

    _ 4) Grow the habit of thinking and saying "Part of me feels guilty," rather than "I feel so guilty)."

    _ 5) Interview your Guilty Child/ren and their Guardians to identify the specific rules (should/not, must/not, cannot, ought not, etc.) they're using to judge your behavior. Write these rules down, and note where you got each of them.

    _ 6) As a foundation, thoughtfully draft a Bill of Personal Rights. Use it to justify and validate all your new rules. A basic new rule is "It's OK and healthy for me to create and live by my own (and society's) rules."

    _ 7) Thoughtfully revise each outdated rule to a new one that fits your personality and accumulated wisdom. For example, convert "Never confront my parent/s" to "Get clear on my needs, values, and rights, and assert them respectfully to my parents without shame or guilt even if they disagree with me.";

      More options for reducing excessive guilts to normal...

    _ 8) Hold inner council meetings to inform all your subselves of the new rules and answer any questions.'

    _ 9) Work patiently with your Inner Child/ren and their Guardians to get them to adopt and try out the new rules. Expect protective resistance.

    _ 10) With your Self guiding you and your personal Rights in mind, explain your new rules to key people. Use respectful empathic listening if some of them protest, criticize, and/or lecture you.

    _ 11) As you implement your new rules, notice how you (all) feel. "Success" occurs when your guilts and related shame no longer dominate you and your relationships, including with your Higher Power.

    _ 12) As you live by your updated rules, adjust them as needed as you age, learn, and the world evolves..

    _ 13) If there are young people in your life, encourage them to...

  • evolve a personal Bill of Rights;

  • respectfully question the rules they are given,

  • learn how and when to forge their own rights and rules, and to...

  • take responsibility for the consequences of their actions with minimal shame and guilt,

      Reflect on what you just learned. Do you think steps like these really can reduce excessive guilts? Which of your subselves is answering?

Reduce Excessive Fears to Normal

      "Fear" is a primitive survival reflex that ranges from "uneasiness" to anxiety (worry) to fright to terror. Pause and reflect: what are your current significant fears? Which of your subselves brings each of them to you? Usually there are one or more Scared Inner Kids and their ever-alert Guardians, like the Pleaser, Worrier, Catastrophizer, Doubter, and Pessimist.  

      A pre-verbal Inner Child may contribute "free-floating" (general, unfocused) anxiety to fear-based people. Working with pre-verbal Kids requires some special techniques (below).

      The parts-work goal here is not to eliminate worries and fears but to reduce and manage them so they don't dominate your life and relationships. As your true Self becomes freer to lead, Self-confidence grows and your subselves' anxieties recede.

        For perspective, read this, return here, and then watch this brief YouTube video:

      If you have symptoms of excessive (vs. normal) fears, experiment with  these...:

Parts-work Options

    _1)  With your true Self guiding you, _ meet with each scared, worried, and abandoned Inner Child, and grow their trust in your Self. _ Learn their specific fear/s, and _ whether they're living in the past. Consider journaling about key interviews.

    _2)  Identify which well-intentioned Guardian subselves are protecting and affecting each of these Inner Kids. Typical Guardians are your Worrier, Catastrophizer, Pessimist, Distracter, and Doubter. Interview and establish trust with each of them through respectful inner dialogs.

    _ 3)  Invite each Child and Guardian living in the past to tour your present home and world. Help them realize the current year and how old (and wise) you are now. Invite them to live with you and your other subselves in the present and integrate them into your inner family

    _ 4)  Grow your Guardians' awareness that their over-zealous attempts to help are scaring your Inner Kids. _Ask them to moderate their warnings and predictions, and _ to trust your Self and other Managers to keep you all safe.

    _ 5)  Introduce each Child to your Nurturer and Adult (Manager) subselves, and negotiate transferring the care of each Child from their Guardian/s to these dedicated subselves.

    _ 6)  If you have an Inner Child who fears trusting, committing, and abandonment, introduce her/him to your whole inner family and reassure the young one they will never be alone and abandoned again! If appropriate, consider re-doing any traumatic real-life abandonments in your past..

    _  7)  See if you have a ''Peaceful Warrior/Amazon'' among your Manager subselves. S/He provides strength, determination, and courage to face threats and stressors. If so, introduce this One to each of your Inner Kids, and let them know s/he is there to protect you all.

     If you don't have a Peaceful Amazon/Warrior subself, consider  changing the role of one of your Guardians to fill that post. If you have a real-life or frictional Hero/ine who is strong and reliable, use her/him as a model. The movie "My Bodyguard" dramatizes this powerful role.

    _ 8)  If you believe in a benign (vs. punitive and vengeful) Higher Power  teach your Inner Kids that Power is another reason to believe they (you) are truly safe. Include your Spiritual One (Manager) in important inner conferences and dialogs.

      Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. You've just learned a framework for reducing excessive fears caused by Inner kids and their Guardian subselves living in the past and distrusting your Self to keep them (and you) safe from harm. This framework is meaningless until you actually experience your subselves!

Release Repressed Sadness and Anger

      Some kids are raised without consistent encouragement to feel, identify, and express their full range of emotions ("Kids should be seen and not heard!") That can result in repressed sadness, which can be misdiagnosed as "depression." Repressed frustration and anger can promote behaviors ranging from passive or active aggression to tantrums and "rage attacks," to ulcers, teeth grinding, addictions, and "digestive problems."

      Nurturance-deprived children can grow a stern Inner Critic and  Preacher, and a protective Numb-er which continue to suppress their Inner Kids'' feelings and expressing in adulthood. If you have "trouble" feeling and expressing appropriate sadness, frustration, and/or anger, consider these...

Parts-work Options

    _ 1) Progress on healing and integrating your Shamed, Guilty, and Scared Inner Kids (above).

    _ 2) Confirm that you have one or more Sad and/or Angry Inner Children, and. _ assess if you have an Good (obedient) Girl or Boy who fears disobeying family (and other) grownups;

    _ 3) Assess whether you have an Impatient Child (or Guardian). If so, s/he is apt to cause emotional surges that feel like anger, but are really frustration

    _ 4) (Your Self) Have initial trust-building interviews with each such Child. Learn if they're living in the past - which is likely. If you can't tell, assume they are.

    _ 5) Introduce each Child to your Nurturer and other key subselves (like your Peaceful Amazon/Warrior) when appropriate. Consider creating a Guardian Angel (Manager) subself to help.

    _ 6) Interview your Inner Critic, Preacher, Perfectionist, and People Pleaser to learn their rules about (kids) feeling and expressing sadness, anger, and frustration publicly.

    _ 7) Hold one or more inner council meetings to discuss and agree on a Bill of Personal Rights to guide you all. Include the right to feel and express all emotions! Help your subselves be clear on the difference between feeling (an automatic reflex) and expressing (which can be controlled) emotions.

    _ 8) Perhaps with expert advice, form specific new rules about kids feeling and expressing all emotions privately and in public. Groups of related rules form personal "policies." Gain insight on how to form a healthy personal and family ''anger policy'' when you finish this.

    _ 9) Patiently bring each Child and Guardian into the present when they're ready. Prove to them that _ you are a mature, wise adult now, and _ their original (childhood) adults (rule-makers) no longer need to be obeyed (!)

    _ 10) Patiently teach these Kids and Guardians your new rules about feeling and expressing all emotions privately and publicly. Work with each subself to get them to accept and try out these rules. Practice following your rules, and note improvements in your self-respect and healthy pride.

    _ 11) Confront people (like parents and grandparents) who want you to follow the old repressive rules. With your Self in charge, use your Personal Rights and assertion and empathic-listening skills to set and enforce respectful boundaries with each such person.

    _ 12) If other able adults are uncomfortable with your emotions, give them full responsibility for their reactions (like guilt, anxiety, or hurt). You are responsible for you, but not them!  Kids are an exception.

    _ 13) _ Be alert for inner and social values conflicts about expressing emotions, and _ evolve a strategy to manage them and protect your integrity. Use the communication skills in Lesson 2 to do this.

      We just reviewed guidelines for working to free up repressed emotions - specially sadness, anger, and frustration. Now let's  explore...

Parts work with Pre-verbal Inner Kids

The needs and emotions ("moods") of some Grown Wounded Children may be significantly influenced by Inner Children ranging developmentally from a fetus to an infant to a toddler without language. It's possible to do effective parts work with such subselves: The general goal is to integrate them into your inner family in the present, and help them maintain self-acceptance and contentment

Parts-work Options

    _ 1) make sure your true Self is in charge

    _ 2) If your invitation for parts to give you an image results in "seeing a fetus, baby, or toddler," accept that without judgment. Do the same if you get no image but "sense" the subself is pre-verbal.

    _ 3) Focus on the image or sense, and ask simple respectful questions. Be alert for responses in the form of body sensations, images, or emotions - not "words," If you get "words" (thoughts), the young subself is not pre-verbal. Respect the responses anyway.

    _4) Sense the mood of your subself. If it seems upset in some way, cautiously approach it (in your mind's eye) and see if s/he will tolerate a gentle touch. If so, make soothing sounds and hold and rock the child if possible.

    _ 5) If your Child is in an uncomfortable setting (cold, dark, damp...) mentally create a quiet, warm, comfortable setting in the present. Include clean clothes, a blanket, and colorful soft toys.

    _ 6) If your subself is a fetus, plan and mentally experience a safe, healthy birth (with a skilled midwife?) into your present world. If you're a biological mother, draw on your real-life experience. Otherwise, scan the Web for tips on how to do this primal guided imagery safely.

    _7) When the time feels right, introduce your Nurturer to this young one, and transfer care of it to her/him. Some people have also created a Guardian Angel to protect and comfort the little one.

    _ 8) Have an inner council meeting to let all your subselves know about this Child. Decide on a fitting name and perhaps imaging a naming ceremony.

      Use any other real-life nurturing behaviors you've learned or experienced to soothe and comfort your pre-verbal Child. Maintain regular contact to monitor its mood. Notice your thoughts and emotions as you do this over time. Keep your perspective: s/he is a part of you, for whom you can grow unconditional love.

      Pause and reflect - what are you thinking and feeling now?. Do you have one or more pre-verbal Inner Kids? Does someone else?


          This Lesson-1 article offers steps for doing effective parts work with your dynamic Inner Children and their Guardian subselves. It summarizes key parts-work goals and traits of Inner Kids, and focuses on reducing four common psychological wounds: excessive shame, guilt and fear; and repressed sadness and anger. The article ends with suggestions for effective parts work with preverbal Inner Kids.

          Four keys to this vital work are:

    • keep your true Self in charge (i.e. free of false-self blending);

    • patiently build Kids' and Guardian subselves' trust in your Self through patient, respectful inner dialogs;

    • bring Kids into the present, correct false beliefs, and introduce them to your inner family; and...

    • over time, transfer the care of Inner Kids from their Guardian subselves to your Manager team - specially your Nurturer (Good Parent).

          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''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful     

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 1

Also see these parts-work strategies to reduce common personal problems.


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  glossary  /  chat contact