Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
The beauty of Embracing the Shadow is that we create opportunities for inclusion. As a result, people develop a loving relationship with themselves and others. This radical approach to coaching includes deep listening and gratitude for the role each part plays.
The human psyche has many parts, which are natural and healthy. All parts of the psyche have a positive intent, even parts that are stuck in contentious roles. As coaches, we listen for the noble purpose of all parts, regardless of their role. We listen to parts the same way we listen to people, picking up on their longing for transformation.
By creating opportunities for each part to be heard, the parts come to know and appreciate each other’s role. In the example that follows, the leader and resistor become valued members of the inner team instead of viciously opposing each other. When we hold the belief that there are no bad
parts, we create an environment of inclusion, which makes it safe for other parts to come forth. We honor every part because each has a desire to serve.
When we invite opposites to be heard, they often feel relieved to be understood. Wherever there’s a rule-maker, there is a rebel. If the sage needs to be heard, so does the jester. Just like most working committees, these inner committee members have never been trained to hear each other’s needs or understand the valuable role each fulfills. Often they have been using strategies since childhood and they’ve never been taught to collaborate. When we support a client’s internal parts being heard, we activate a powerful internal wisdom council where each member brings insights and support for fulfilling the client’s life’s calling.
People are often relieved to find out that they are not their parts. They have parts, but they are not their parts. Only a part of them is ruthless, another part is kind and compassionate. Only a part of them is a workaholic, another part just wants to have fun. One part is not better than another part. All parts add value to the system.
Using the body
Each member of the community has likely taken up residence in some particular place in the body, and we can use the body to access each part of the internal community. The body stores our experience on all levels—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It serves as a filing cabinet for the soul. We may have forgotten what we ate three weeks ago or an argument six months ago, but our bodies remember everything.
When clients can be present to their bodies, they have an entry point into the more subtle emotional field. Staying in the head and talking about our experience is not as effective as exploring the body’s wisdom. We often see the body shift when a new part emerges. Body awareness initiates the ability to come into the moment and go to the heart of the matter.
Types of parts
Although we all have countless parts, we focus on two main categories: protectors and those they protect. Typically, the protector’s role is to make the protected parts safe, by ensuring they do not experience pain or suffering, by any means necessary.
The Protector Parts
The protectors are the parts of us that come to our aid when the child parts have been hurt. Not only do they rescue the wounded child, but they also take extraordinary precautions to keep the child from ever being wounded again. These protectors work hard, using strategies developed when we were very young. They help us to survive—they plan ahead and ensure that we are socially acceptable.
Many of these protector parts showed up in the system when we were too young to protect ourselves.
Years later, the strategies of the protectors no longer serve us, but the intent to serve is still active. Protectors either prevent some parts from being heard or they distract us from the pain when those parts become active. We all have many protectors, and each one has a different strategy for shielding us from pain.
Some of the most common names for protectors are:
There are many more parts that protect us and we can give key players of our internal committee personalized names. They may distract us by replacing the emotional pain with various addictions, physical maladies, or keeping us so busy we don’t have time to feel anything. They come in swiftly whenever they get the scent of danger and are committed to keeping us out of trouble.
Despite some of their seemingly dysfunctional behaviors, protectors really need to be appreciated for their vigilance. They became activated during a time of stress or danger and their stance is, “NEVER AGAIN!” Even if it means armoring against all emotions or getting stoned every day, they are serious about avoiding pain. They push some parts out of the system to protect the internal family from their pain.
The Protected Parts
The hurt parts that are being protected have been marginalized to the outer edges of the internal community. These parts are usually vulnerable or child parts, frozen in time, but still carrying the burden of fear and shame from long ago. These child parts are often rejected, punished, or ridiculed for being different in some way. If they hold family secrets, they could be considered a threat to the family of origin, so they get sent away. Sometimes the only way hurt parts have been able to survive is by becoming invisible.
Some of the common names for protected parts are:
- wounded child
- bad boy
- gifted child
- too smart
- overly emotional
- too needy
These protected parts have been locked away so long that they are completely unaware that things have changed since the original incident or trauma. They remain childish and overwhelmed. For the most part, they live undetected in the far realms of the psyche and many people have no awareness that they even have a wounded child.
These child parts come alive when they are triggered by something similar to the original pain. When the protected parts bring in strong emotions such as fear, anger, or grief, the protectors act swiftly to keep danger at bay. They try to induce guilt or shame by criticizing us, punishing us, or giving directives that must be obeyed. Not surprisingly, their voices often sound similar to our teachers or parents. “Quit acting like a girl.” “Go back to where you came from.” “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about.” They protect the system from being overwhelmed by the hurt parts.
Despite these ruthless techniques and harsh words, the protectors’ goal is to protect the hurt part from experiencing powerful emotions that could lead to self-destruction. Their vigilance has kept us alive and they intend to keep doing whatever it takes to keep us safe. They are deeply committed to making sure we do not experience fear or helplessness. Ironically, the reason they criticize us is to protect us from humiliation from others. Both protector parts and protected parts can be male or female, regardless of the client’s gender. And some parts do not have a discernable gender.
A few powerful parts usually dominate our psyche, strong-arming weaker parts into submission. The dominant parts of the internal committee are those who think they are running the show and they usually take up the most air-time. We may have 4-5 dominant parts that speak to us often, but we have hundreds of other parts on the sidelines waiting to be heard. While a few parts dominate our consciousness, we remain unconscious of many other parts.
Each dominant part has an opposite that it tries to curtail, or protect, also known as a “shadow” part, or unconscious part. For instance, the Pleaser, who tries to make everyone else happy, prevents the Selfish part from speaking. The Pusher blocks the efforts of the Procrastinator. The Rule Follower forces the Freedom Fighter into submission. These polarized parts come in pairs, one dominating the other, one conscious, the other unconscious.
All these parts function like a large family, each with a vital role that contributes to the larger system. Each part is valuable to the system, the same way a healthy ecosystem needs all its parts. When we accept each part as a valued member of the family, they become more appreciative of each other’s roles and more collaborative.
Sometimes, clients identify with a particular part so strongly that they become confused or think they are the part. A one-time protective measure becomes a pattern that is difficult to change, even when the part itself recognizes that its behavior is self-destructive. The part moves into survival mode and has no intention of relinquishing its role. When a person experiences trauma or neglect, strong parts take over the personality and can overtake the leadership position of the Self. Sometimes dominant parts come to believe they are the “whole personality.” An example of this is when we describe ourselves as “selfish” or “bitter” or “proud” or “stupid” because we have identified so strongly with a part and we start to believe that is who we are. Meanwhile, other parts notice that the domineering parts have taken over, and they lose trust in the Self’s capacity to lead.
Once that compassionate internal leadership is lost, we can restore a healthy internal system by separating parts from the Self and listening to each. The heart of the work is to distinguish parts from the Self and re-create conscious, respectful relationships with each part. Once the Self resumes the role of compassionate leader and welcomes each part, the Self can make decisions that benefit the whole. The entire system breathes more deeply when the Self takes the lead.
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