Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dialoguing with Your Subpersonalities (and Liking It!)

Over the last two weeks we've been looking at "parts," or subpersonalities that exist in our psyches and potentially have conflicting wishes for how we live our lives. Examples of common parts include Protector, Wounded Child, Critic, Pleaser, Perfectionist, and many more. This week, I wanted to outline the basics for working directly with these parts.

Let's start by differentiating between two basic types of parts:  those who are in alignment with us, and those who are not. Our aligned parts happily operate behind the scenes, and present no problem. They are content and successful at doing their job and aren't pushing on us to change or behave differently. They may be invisible to us, and that's fine.

In contrast, other parts might be stirred up and have a tendency to react and create conflict in our lives. This doesn't mean they're "bad" parts or that they need to be shut down. No. It just means that they're feeling the need to exert control or challenge what's going on.

For instance, your inner Protector, whose job it is to keep you out of harm's way, may pitch a fit when you enlist in the army or decide to hitch hike across Central America. This Protector is there for a reason, but you might also have a Hero or Adventurer part that has it's own reasons for pushing you in a different direction. This creates conflict and misalignment within.

What to do about it? There's a method called active imagination, that was first developed by Carl Jung in the early 1900's, whereby we inquire into the unconscious mind for information and resolution.(Note that the following exercise should only be done by psychologically healthy people. Also, it's always a good idea when meditating, doing energy work, or delving into the psyche, that you protect your "space" by visualizing white light around you, or saying a quick protection prayer).

In the case of using active imagination (sometimes called voice dialogue) with conflicting parts, we can simply sit down with our computer or a pen and paper, and ask to speak with the part in question. We may write, "I'd like to speak with the part of me that is afraid of commitment," or, "I want to talk to the part that is critical of my work performance," or, "I'd like to talk to my frustration." (If you have a name for the part, go ahead and use it, otherwise feel free to address it by it's apparent function, feeling tone, or belief.)

Next, just wait until you feel a response forming, and then write down whatever you see, hear, feel, or whatever pops into your head. I always get sentences, but some people receive other forms of expression, so just be open to whatever comes through. Let it flow and try not to judge or evaluate what you're receiving. This isn't magic, it's just your subconscious mind speaking to you, like what happens every night when you enter the dream state.

Have a dialogue with this part to find out what it's role is in your life, as well as what it thinks, feels, and believes about life and about what you're doing. If you're open and curious you'll soon discover that this part is there to help you in some important way. Granted, the manner in which it's trying to help you may be outdated or ineffective, but by dialoguing respectfully with the part, you can begin to negotiate new ways of working together that will create a win-win situation in your psyche.

Don't be surprised if this part has conditions, such as, "I'll help you lose weight, but only if you: 1) Get plenty of good nutrition and don't starve yourself. 2) Stop putting yourself down and making fat jokes. 3) Promise not to get self-righteous and judge others about what they're eating." You then have the choice of whether or not to accept these conditions.

This week, I invite you to try this out. It can be extremely illuminating, but be aware that it can also open up Pandora's Box, as other parts may want their voices to be heard. If you want to learn more, please check out the amazing work of Hal Stone, PhD and Sidra Stone, PhD. (I just ordered their book, Embracing Our Selves: The Voice Dialogue Manual). 

Have a great week!