Being Open and Curious

Self Therapy Chapter 6: Unblending from a concerned part

Suppose you were approached by someone and they invited you to open up and reveal yourself to them. If you sensed that they were angry at you or judging you, would you open up? Of course not. What attitude do you think you would need from the person you were going to confide in? You’d probably want them to be genuinely curious about you, interested in knowing who you are from your own perspective, without any agenda. You might want them to care about you and your emotions, certainly not be bored or indifferent.

The same is required for getting to know your parts. They need you to be authentically curious and caring about them. That means being in Self. They can usually tell if you feel negatively toward them, and frequently they won’t show you much about themselves if you do.

Let’s discuss Sheila, there are two parts living within Sheila. Her Temper Tantrum Part is enraged at her husband because he forgot her birthday, and a different critical part of her judged her for getting angry. In previous lessons, we learned how to unblend from parts like the Temper Tantrum Part. This lesson deals
with how to unblend from parts like Sheila’s judging part. This is a second form of unblending—where you separate from parts that feel negatively toward your target part.

Let’s assume that you have accessed a part to focus on, and you are separate enough that you aren’t blended with it. Now ask yourself how you feel toward this target part right now. Not what you think of the part or how you feel about the part. This is likely to bring up an evaluation process—is it helpful or harmful, familiar or unfamiliar? This is not what we are looking for. Instead, check to see how you feel toward the part, how you are relating to it, what your attitude is toward it. Do you like the part or hate it? Do you appreciate it or judge it? Do you want to banish it? Are you afraid of it? Are you curious about it? Are you feeling removed from it?

Don’t concern yourself with how you feel toward the part in general or at those times when it is activated. The question is how you feel toward it right now. It is important to understand that you are not checking to see what that part feels; you are checking to see how you feel toward it. It can sometimes be tricky to distinguish between a part’s emotion and your feeling toward it. For example, when you check to see how you feel toward a sad part, you find that you feel sad for it. There are two possibilities: It could be that you are experiencing the part’s sadness. Or it could be that you are feeling pity or compassion for the part. For this step in the IFS process, we want to know about the pity or compassion, or whatever else you are feeling toward the part.

The purpose of this inquiry is to discover whether you are in Self with respect to this part. A key principle in IFS is that all parts are welcome. This means we need to be genuinely open to getting to know each part from a curious and compassionate place, which will encourage it to reveal itself. This stance is not always easy to come by. If a part has been causing you problems, it would be natural for you to be angry with it. It would be understandable that you might judge it and want to be rid of it. If the part has actually done things that were dangerous, it wouldn’t be surprising for you to be afraid of it.

However, approaching a part with these attitudes won’t lead to healing and reconciliation. The part probably isn’t likely to trust you or open up. Therefore, in IFS you don’t try to get to know a part unless you are in Self, which means that you feel open to the part and want to understand it from its own point of view. From Self, you are interested in what makes it tick, how it sees the world, and what it is trying to do for you. You can sympathize with the part’s need to avoid pain and protect you from harm.

This is profoundly different from the way we usually approach our parts. It derives from the spirituality implicit in the IFS model. We approach all our parts with love and a desire to understand them. The Self reflects the deep interconnectedness of spiritual reality. It knows that, despite appearances, our parts care for us, and it cares for them.

When you ask yourself what you are feeling toward the target part, if you notice curiosity, openness, compassion, acceptance, or something similar, you are in Self, and you can proceed to the next step, P4. If you notice anger, judgment, fear, or anything negative, you aren’t in Self. But don’t worry—you aren’t doing anything wrong. It just means there is another part that is blended with you which is feeling the anger, judgment, or fear. I will call this the concerned part because it has concerns about the target part. It is fearful or worried about what kinds of problems that part will cause.

When you are blended with a concerned part, it’s like this. You are trying to get to know a new friend, and a third person keeps jumping in between you, taking over the conversation, and judging your friend. For example, remember that after an hour, Sheila judged her Temper Tantrum Part and wanted it to go away. This judgment was coming from a concerned part of Sheila, not her Self. When she explored inside, it looked like a Judge in a courtroom.