“Your emotions and thoughts are much more than they seem [they] emanate from inner personalities I call ‘parts’. (…) What we call “thinking” is often our inner dialogue with different parts of ourselves. (…) What would it be like if you knew that your most repulsive or disdainful thoughts or feelings were coming from little parts of you rather than being the essence of your identity? “Richard Schwartz
Despite my aspiration to play big and aim high in life, there is a part of me believes it would be so much better to stay small and play it safe.
Despite knowing that self-care and down-time is key to my wellbeing, part of me wants to be constantly striving and working and believes that I am far too busy to meditate, do a yoga class or enjoy a good book.
Despite my commitment to growth, yet another part of me seeks out distraction or the nearest escape route when things feel hard.
Despite knowing that alcohol takes way more than it gives, part of me is feels desperate for a large glass of red wine at the end of challenging day.
Despite knowing that I am a loving, compassionate being, a super-judgmental part of me is quick to think horrible thoughts about the people I love the most.
Can you relate?
Many years ago while I was working full-time as an Executive in the corporate world, a mentor, Alex shared the following piece of advice with me.
“There is a Small Cassie and a Big Cassie. Learn how to keep Small Cassie in your pocket so that Big Cassie stays in control.”
I have thought about this a lot advice and what Alex was trying to tell me. I have since discovered a whole branch of therapy based on this concept that we all have smaller, less empowered versions of ourselves – or ‘parts – ’ inside us. Discovering this framework called Internal Family Systems Therapy (or IFS) that has been pioneered by Richard Schwartz has been a game changer for me.
By working with the IFS framework, I have discovered, in fact that are more than just two versions of me. Please don’t be alarmed, but I have discovered that there are at least three smaller, younger, less resourceful versions of me that live inside of me.
These ‘parts’ are the voices in my heads, the DJ”s I write about in Self-Fidelity that spin their tunes and their 24/7 Fake News in my inner radio station 101.9 Cassandra Goodman Easy Listening, Hard Living.
None of the parts within me, none of the ‘voices in my head’ represent the real me. In fact, these smaller versions of me very often pull me away from my most positively powerful ways of being as an strong, resilient and resourceful 45-year-old woman.
However, despite my best efforts to keep these pasts ‘in my pocket’, from time-to-time these “little Cassie’s” hijack the system, and take control of the wheel – even though they are far too young to even hold a drivers license let alone steer my life.
It is important to appreciate that these smaller versions of myself because they have played important roles in keeping me safe. In fact, as someone who has lived with domestic violence for extended periods of time, I suspect that by taking control of the wheel in dangerous and volatile situations, the smallest version of me might have actually kept me alive.
However these smaller, younger versions of me have an unfortunate tendency to take control of the wheel and keep me playing safe and small when I don’t need them to.
Here is how Richard explains what ‘parts’ are:
“Parts at subpersonalities, or aspects of our personality that interact internally in sequences and styles that are similar to the ways that people interact with each other. All parts are valuable and want to have a positive role. We are born with them or their potential; it is the nature of the mind to be subdivided. Parts become extreme and can be destructive because of life experiences.”
We all have the ‘parts’ that want us to play small or keep us protected and safe. Perhaps these parts of us might convince us to wear masks and armour at work, or to keep quiet even when we know we have something important to say. They might warn us to keep others at arms length or pretend like we have all the answers and have everything under control all the time. They might convince us that we can’t handle challenging emotions and drive us to numb, avoid or flee. They might tell us that we are not experienced/smart/credentialed enough to write the book we are yearning to write.
The thing is that these parts don’t actually realise that you are all grown up – that you are resourceful and you are powerful. As they learn to know and trust the fully empowered version of you, they are transformed.
In the words of Richard Schwartz “the protective parts that run your life must come to trust that it’s safe to permit more Self-leadership. (…) We all have qualities like curiosity, compassion, calmness, confidence, courage, clarity, creativity, and connectedness at our core”.
As you get to know your parts you can begin to extend appreciation towards them for the valuable role they have played. Then, you can introduce them to “Big You” (your true Self) and gently suggest that it is OK to get into the back seat (or into your pocket) and relinquish control of the wheel.
In the past, I allowed the smaller versions of myself to spend extended periods of time in the drivers seat – but every day I am getting better at taking back control of the wheel.
Learning to observe and understand your thoughts and the fears and motivations of the inner beings that are thinking them is what I describe in the practice of self-fidelity as ‘waking up’, It is the skill that takes you across the threshold of your self-fidelity practice and opens up a whole new way of working and living. It is the gateway to both freedom and true belonging.
Self-Fidelity Practice To Play With This Week
The self-fidelity practice I invite you to begin to tune into the voices in your heads and to become curious about who these little ‘inner beings’ are.
Here are a few questions you might like to explore, inspired by the book Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model by Richard Schwartz.
- What are some of your ‘parts’?
- How might you extend genuine appreciation towards these ‘parts’?
- What might be possible if you could release these ‘parts’ from their extreme roles?
- What more valuable roles might they adopt in your life?
In you are interested in learning more about IFS and the great work of Richard Schwarz, listening to his recent conversation with Tim Ferriss is a good place to start. There are also lots of great resources available from the IFS Institute. I also highly recommend the audio book Greater Than The Sum Of Our Parts.
THE PRACTICE OF SELF-FIDELITY