We all have different parts. There’s a part that wants to go to work, and a part that wants to stay in bed. There’s a part that wants that extra donut, and a part that doesn’t, and maybe a part that is already regretting having the first one.
We have conversations with ourselves just like the ones in this trailer for Pixar’s Inside Out:
The movie’s a pretty good place to start imagining how it is to be human. In the heads’ of the characters in Inside Out there are different emotional parts: sadness, anger, joy etc. Does anyone else remember The Numbskulls? It was a comic strip here in the UK with a similar idea, but with a different spin. In The Numbskulls there was a brain part, and ear part, an eye part and so on.
Some scientists recognise the modularity of the brain and traditional cultures speak of different parts, whether it’s having several souls, or the shamanistic work of retrieving cut off parts of a person. In their e-book Many Minds, One Self Richard C. Schwartz and Robert R. Falconer explore how different cultures and scientific models make sense of this idea that we are all made of parts.
Richard Schwartz is the creator of Internal Family Systems, or IFS, a therapeutic model based on working with parts. I’m studying his work at the moment, through his books and through some online seminars I’ve signed up to.
I’ve always worked with different parts of people in my therapy practice. For example, having different parts in conflict with each other is a common reason people come to counselling. I’m used to getting to know the different parts of a person, without judgement. Listening to what the voices have to say and learning from them can offer a way forward.
Learning about IFS has refined my ‘parts work’.
In the IFS model there can be many different parts, and some of those parts might feel the same emotion, but be triggered or active at different times. So it’s a little more complex than Inside Out suggests. The part that’s frustrated when I can’t complete a work assignment is different to the part that’s frustrated when I overeat, for example; both frustration, but both with different stories to tell.
Schwartz suggests that as well as different parts within each of us there is a place that is curious, calm and compassionate. If you have practised mindfulness meditation you might have found this place within yourself – the place from where you can see yourself and others without judgement. This ‘parts free zone’ is called the ‘self’ in IFS terminology. IFS therapy invites each of us towards this place, so that we can learn from our own parts and allow any wounded parts to heal.
It’s a powerful model, and as someone who has spent a decent amount of time watching my own processes, it makes intuitive sense to me.
If you want to learn more I’d suggest starting with Tom Holmes book Parts Work. Or come along to a therapy session with me and begin the process of getting to know your different parts, and healing the parts that need healing.