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Has a part of you ever felt this way?

Today, we're talking about some of the ways in which our mind works. And how we can harness that understanding to build a deeper, more peaceful relationship with ourselves.


A conversation about these topics started with a client a couple of weeks back, where she was describing her reaction to a something that happened at work.


She described feeling an initial 'emotional onslaught' that felt fairly reactive and out of her control. She described being able to come to a more balanced place, after some time, and wished she could get there sooner; to the 'more rational' part of herself.


One useful idea to understand what's going on here is the idea of 'parts'. Have you ever said something like 'a part of me feels really happy about this, but another part of me is worried?'.


Or this festive period, you might be thinking 'part of me is looking forward to having everyone round, and part of me really doesn't want to make Christmas dinner for everyone!'.


I know I definitely have.


When I left teaching so many asked me whether I felt happy, and the answer was yes BUT it feels more complicated than that. There's part of me that feels sadness and loss about separating from a place and people that have almost been a version of 'home' to me for a decade. There was a part that was worried about the future and insecurity. And there was a part of me that felt the freedom and the happiness.


We rarely feel just one thing, we rarely are of 'one' mind.


These parts of our minds all have very important roles to play: there are truly no bad parts.


For my client, it sounded like, with the initial reaction she was experiencing, was a protective part of her. (There are different types of protective parts, but we won't go into that here - we'll consider them together at the moment).


We all have these protective parts, and many of us even know and have a relationship with some of them. Ever been aware of your inner critic? Yep, it's a part of you.


These parts often try and manage your life: they're the parts that seek out the systems and control, that give you criticism, and that cause coping behaviours. They are also sometimes the ones who lash out and react to something quickly.


We're not going to go into where these parts come from and how to help them (after all, I'm not a therapist) - but a deeper relationship based on compassion with these parts of yourself can only have a beneficial effect on our lives. Beating the critic into submission never works.


Here's what we need to know about our protective parts:


- they often protect more vulnerable, hurt, younger parts of ourselves

- they operate on 'never again', the criticism, management, control etc. are so that you'll never again feel some way that you did before.

- they are working really, really, really, really, really, really, hard to try and protect you

- they think they're on their own in doing this.

- they often therefore feel incredibly exhausted and lonely


So what do we do when we feel these protective parts show up in our lives? The reactions that might feel like a flip has been switched, like anger, or emotion, or the more controlling, persistent, critical, manager parts of you.


Firstly, find them: often they are in and around your body somewhere. You might experience the critic as constant thoughts in your head, or a weight on your chest, or a sinking feeling in your stomach, or jittery energy around your limbs. Find the sensation, if there is one, and if you feel able to, sit with it. (If you feel overwhelmed at any point, or it's too much at any point, then stop).


As you sit with it, is there anything that part of you would like you to know?


Offer them some compassion: it's been working REALLY hard for you for so long. It's helped you survive, it's got you through incredibly tough stuff, and the last thing we want to do is beat it round the head and say get down, in order to try and fight our way through back to our rational/balanced mind. Let's be curious about this part of you. What can we learn about it?


Acknowledge it for the hard work it's doing for you, and don't try to change it. Don't judge it. Don't try and get rid of it. If you can, just be with it.


Check in on this part of you whenever it shows up (or it can even be a daily practice to check in on this part of you).


Once you get to know this part of you, you may eventually, if it feels right to do so, ask the part what it might be afraid of if it stopped doing its job for you (but don't ask it to stop doing it's job).


Remember, there's no bad parts of you.


Bring some open-mindedness to these different aspects of you: you never know, learning more about them just might help.


A place of deeper-seated compassion for ourselves?

My vote is for that.


Important P.S.: this blog post is not a substitute or constitute for counselling or therapy. Please get in touch with a mental health professional to access further help for yourself.


P.P.S. If you would like to know more about this model, it is called internal family systems, which I am currently training in.


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