Beneficent Parts with Extreme Roles

Positive Intent versus Extreme Behavior

Parts should be appreciated for “why” they are doing what they do, and not necessarily “what” they do and/or “how” they do it. More significant than this, however, is how the parts react when they finally start feeling understood. They have been trying to tell their stories for many years but couldn’t get through. All they need is for the Self to understand what happened and to appreciate how bad it was. Once that takes place, many of the parts will immediately be transformed.

Clients who have done parts work reported that their image and experience of the part changed. It was as if a part had released a burden that, like a computer chip or curse, had been governing its existence. Many parts became joyful, as if liberated from bondage like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz after the Wicked Witch melted. After being unburdened, many parts just wanted to play, dance, or rest. Surprisingly, others took on a role opposite to the one they had been in. For example, Diane’s critic wanted to become a supportive cheerleader that encouraged her to do her best.

Witnessing these transformations in clients’ parts led me to the view of parts that I hold now—as full-range inner personalities that accompany us in life to provide all manner of valuable service. Some are young and full of innocence, awe, and delight. They add a robustness to our existence, helping us play, create, relax, and enjoy intimacy. Others are good at sizing up situations and people. Like valued advisors, they can plan and problem solve. Still others bring perseverance during difficulties and the strength to face challenges. Some are very sexual, while others are more interested in artistic pleasures.

It’s as if we each have within us a collection of people of various ages, temperaments, and talents who, when they aren’t burdened by the past or fighting with each other, can assist in any activity. When our internal families are relating harmoniously, a part with a specific talent will come forward when that talent is needed, and others will recede.

For example, I have worked with sports figures to help them find a part that has extraordinary athletic prowess so that when they perform, it can enter their body reliably and consistently rather than only occasionally. My own athletic part is so effective partly because it doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks about my performance, so I’m able to enter the flow of a game with minimal performance anxiety. That kind of imperviousness is not useful, however, when I’m making up with my partner after an argument. In that context, things go well when my parts that are sensitive to how I’ve affected others show up and the impervious athletic guy steps back.

Ideally, your Self is present for every activity and interaction, and the appropriate parts are close by, offering suggestions, blending their emotions or abilities with your Self, or sometimes even fully taking over your body. In this ideal scenario, when a part does take over, it’s with permission of the Self rather than being an automatic reaction to step in and protect. It can be great fun to fully embody playful parts, and it can also be healing at times to give grieving parts full expression. Thus, a Self-led person is not detached from the world, with emotions always in abeyance. Instead, such a person drinks deeply from the bittersweet fountain of life while simultaneously maintaining a center of equanimity.

If you are like me, you are far from that ideal. There are some challenging contexts in which I am almost always able to remain Self-led, other times when Self-leadership is inconsistent, and still other situations, such as when my partner is furious with me, when I usually lose Self-leadership. Her anger trigger parts of me that are stuck at different points in my childhood and carry intense burdens of fear, shame, rage, or self-hate. When any of those parts gets upset, it can flood my consciousness to the point that my Self is temporarily obscured and I think, feel, and act as that part. These are very dark times for me because I can’t see beyond the hopelessness and limiting perspective of these parts and feel overwhelmed by their emotions. I become the young boy I once was, afraid of my father’s spanking or my mother’s scolding and certain that my relationship with each of them has been irretrievably destroyed. I’m awash in a sea of feelings and experience no “I” in the storm.

Fortunately, since the time I mentioned in the mid-1990s when I healed some parts, these episodes no longer last as long, and my Self pops back to the surface more quickly than before. While the dark nights of my soul are shorter, they are still unpleasant. Depending on which part takes over, I might shut down and sulk or lash out at my partner in a verbal counterattack. I can lose any sense of my love for her in the swirl of anger and hurt, and begin to wonder why I ever got together with her. Inevitably her parts are further triggered by mine, and we are off to the races.

Given how much parts can interfere in our lives and make us feel horrible, it makes sense that we wish we could get rid of them. It’s hard to see any value in an inner voice that constantly berates you or a fear in your gut that makes you withdraw. These parts have such devastating power over us that the natural impulse is to hate and fight them. And it’s true: they often are destructive in their present state. I am not asking you to accept your depression or learn to cope with your racism. I’m suggesting that if you relate to any part differently, it will unload its destructive burdens and transform into something valuable.

As difficult as this may be to believe, even the most diabolical of them is a good part forced into a bad role. I feel like the Will Rogers of this phenomenon; I never met a part that ultimately I didn’t like. And I’ve met some nasty parts—some that wanted to kill my client and others that had molested children. Even those apparent inner demons, when approached with nonjudgmental curiosity, revealed the reasons that had forced them into those roles and their shame at what they had done. Even those very extreme parts eventually transformed.