Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
At the center of the psyche is the Self, which is compassionate and wise. The Self integrates the work of the parts as they help us to cope, deal with difficulties or protect us from pain. The Self is not a part; it acts as a witness or a conductor who becomes increasingly aware of parts and can bring all parts into alignment. The Self sits in the seat of benevolent sovereignty. When the coach helps the client separate parts from the Self and listens to each other, it creates opportunities for choice that benefit the whole system.
According to Schwartz, the Self is the natural leader of the psyche, and different from all the parts. The energy of the Self is calm, balanced, vibrant, connected, confident, joyful, peaceful, and more. The Self has the capacity to take leadership of the parts, resolve inner conflicts and return balance to the system.
Embracing the Shadow becomes a spiritual practice of continuously opening our hearts to all parts. Not by forcing the Self to be more loving, but by allowing compassion to naturally arise just by listening to and accepting all parts. The awareness that we all have similar parts supports the sense that we are all connected. From a reservoir of deep wisdom, the Self serves the whole as a compassionate witness. The Self is not attached to a particular agenda but is a resource for centered action.
When a part finishes speaking and we thank the part, we can give the Self-time to reflect on what’s been said. Given a chance to speak, parts often have profound insights, so giving the Self a chance to reflect creates the opportunity to cherish all parts and integrate their collective wisdom.
Richard Schwartz says, “the goal is not to fuse all these smaller personalities into a single big one. It is instead to restore leadership, balance, and harmony so that each part can take its preferred, valuable role.”1
Helping clients interact with their protectors—to understand, appreciate and honor them, no matter how destructive their behavior has been—is a way of helping all parts to trust the Self to take the lead.
1 Schwartz, Richard, Ph.D.. (1995) Internal Family Systems. The Guilford Press, New York, N.Y.
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