Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
Similar to the way we interact with our community or family, friends and the world, we also interact with an internal community. The internal community is that group of internal parts of the psyche that direct our lives. Each part has an important purpose, without exception. Our role as coaches is to help clients learn to embrace their parts, exactly as they are. Even when a part behaves harshly, we look beneath the words or vicious behavior to understand its positive intent. If we appreciate each part’s attempt to contribute, honor the important role the part is playing and thank it for its years of service, the part feels seen, heard and understood.
The inner critic is one of the most vocal parts of the internal committee. Everyone has one. That’s why we require all our coaches to become very familiar with the inner critic and how it operates. For instance, the inner critic has a reputation for spewing out nasty comments, but underneath has the positive intent to keep us from making mistakes or protect us from embarrassment. We especially need to be aware of our own inner critic and how it impacts us while we are coaching.
As coaches, we don’t try to change the parts, get them to see things differently or modify their behavior. We don’t scold them, give them advice or try to get them to disappear. We don’t try to fix them or get rid of them. Members of the internal committee are just like people—if we devalue one member of the committee by shaming it or kicking it out, it is likely to rebel or sabotage what has already been accomplished. As coaches, we don’t act as revolutionaries who replace one despot with another, because the change does not last. Sure, ignoring a part might work for a short time, but true change cannot be accomplished by bullying or ostracizing a particular part. Instead, we actively support the evolution of the whole by embracing each part of the internal community.
In our internal conversations, some parts of ourselves dominate others, which can leave us feeling fragmented. This rejection of parts of ourselves leads to internal polarity, blind spots and imbalance. But when we go beneath the surface and really listen to our many parts, we connect vulnerably to our full humanity and begin to have compassion for all of our sub-personalities.
The simplest way to embrace the shadow is to compassionately witness different parts, by creating the space for clients to see and hear each part fully.
As clients explore inner conflict or polarities, we help them honor each voice when it shows up. What does each part have to say? What is it worried about? How does it communicate? We can simply listen to each voice or ask questions. We don’t name the parts for the client; we ask each part what it would like to be called.
Our role is to keep our client in the experience and in the conversation instead of talking about it. The beauty of the process is to step fully into the experience of the voice and become that voice. By embodying each voice, there is more possibility for developing deep self-compassion.
Parts Dialogue Example
Carlos: I’m overwhelmed at the thought of adopting a child. I really want to become a father, but I don’t want to lose my freedom. We could get a child as early as next month and Juanita would be really upset if I back out now. Why did I say yes to this? What was I thinking?
Coach: I’m hearing two parts of you—one that really wants your freedom and another that wants to be a father.
Carlos: Exactly. The part of me that wants to be a great father is excited and the part that wants to keep my freedom is scared.
Coach: Which part would like to speak first?
Carlos: The part that is scared.
Coach: Will you move to a new place in the room and step into this part that is scared? Allow this part of you to speak without censoring it. The other part will have a chance later. You are not committed to acting on what this part is saying—you are simply giving yourself permission to let this part speak.
Coach: And what would you like to be called?
Carlos: You can call me, “Really Scared.”
Coach: Okay, Really Scared, what’s it like to be you?
Carlos (Really Scared): I notice I’m feeling small. I’m completely overwhelmed and need freedom. I don’t want to be tied down.
Coach: What else do you want to say, Really Scared?
Carlos (Really Scared): Carlos is afraid to tell Juanita that he might not be the greatest father—she would be disappointed and hurt. But he should talk to her.
Coach: I hear how much you want Carlos to talk with Juanita. Take a moment to notice what you’re feeling…
Carlos (Really Scared): Relieved. I’m glad I’m speaking up.
Coach: Thanks for taking a stand for Carlos to speak up and keep his freedom. Are there any other conditions that would make it okay to adopt a child?
Carlos (Really Scared): A flexible schedule at work.
Coach: Okay, before Carlos can adopt a child, you want him to have his freedom and a flexible schedule. Thanks. Carlos, come back to your original seat… What was it like to listen to the Really Scared part?
Carlos: Interesting. I had no idea how tired this part is. I’m thankful that this part wants me to talk to Juanita.
Coach: Now let’s also create space for the part of you that wants to be a great father. What shall I call this part of you?
Carlos: You can call me “Fun Dad,” because I love having fun with kids. Even though my father was never around, I think I will be very different. We’d have so much fun every day.
Coach: Let’s hear from Fun Dad. Go to a new position in the room where you would like to be.
Carlos (Fun Dad): I’m squatting down, smiling, ready to play.
Coach: And what do you notice?
Carlos (Fun Dad): I am excited and inspired about this opportunity. I have a glimpse of what I want. To help a child have a great life. I have been waiting for this. I think it is a chance for me to trust myself more. To jump in.
Coach: What else is here?
Carlos (Fun Dad): I have wanted to be a fun dad for a long, long time. That’s all for now.
Coach: Thanks for saying what you really want. Take a moment to notice your experience at this moment… Then go back to your original seat and be Carlos. Respond to what you just heard.
Carlos: I hear Fun Dad’s excitement. I need help. The parenting classes we’ve been taking are a long way from the real thing. I’m not at all prepared for this. I want to talk to some fathers I admire and ask some questions.
Coach: Okay, so this part has inspired you to ask for support from other fathers. I want to thank both parts for taking care of Carlos. What do you appreciate most about each part: Fun Dad and Really Scared?
Carlos: I’m surprised and grateful. Both parts care about me a lot.
Coach: What do you notice about the energy you are experiencing at this moment?
Carlos: I feel calm and excited at the same time. A tension has left my belly. When I think about sharing all this with Juanita, I can relax. I can’t wait to get moving on this.
Coach: I want to acknowledge the honesty of both voices. What was that like for you?
Carlos: I liked hearing from both parts. When they are in my head, they roll around and nothing gets resolved. When I was responding to Really Scared at one point, I wanted to take care of him and not just win him to my viewpoint. I feel more real, more whole.
Coach: What’s next?
Carlos: Talk to Juanita and then invite our friends over for some fun. Create a plan to make sure I get some flexibility and still have some freedom.
Notice the coach asked the client to get out of the chair and stand in different places to represent different parts. When each voice has its own discrete and protected territory, clear boundaries support full expression. This creates the possibility to engage on a level of bodily sensation and emotion. In parts dialogue, the aliveness and direct experience of what was hidden awaken the shift. The paradox is that separation of the parts leads to integration.
As a coach, we do not need to interpret the experience at all; we just let them see what awareness is created out of the experience. Curiosity is the gateway to compassion. If we truly trust the process of Embracing the Shadow, we simply listen deeply to whatever emerges.
Getting to know their parts helps clients relate to themselves with far more curiosity, confidence, and compassion. Spontaneously, their inner dialogues change. They stop berating themselves and get to know their sub-personalities, which helps them achieve balance and harmony internally.
When we use the Embracing the Shadow process, we help clients explore polarized aspects of their personalities. Since each part wants something positive, we help them respect the concerns of each part. As we empathically connect with each part, integration of the polarities takes place. To fully integrate the shift, we encourage clients to voice or physically express what they truly appreciate and respect in each part.
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