Mapping Your Parts

Now I’m going to invite you to get to know a cluster of parts that have relationships with each other. To do that you’ll need a pad of paper and a pencil or pen. Again, focus inside and think of another part—not the one you just worked with, but a different one that you’d like to start with this time. The trailhead could be any emotion, thought, belief, impulse, or sensation.

As you focus on this new part, find it in your body or on your body. And now, just stay focused on it until you get enough of a sense of it that you could represent it on the page in front of you. It doesn’t have to be high art—any kind of image is good. It could even be a scribble. Just find a way to represent that part of you on a blank page. Stay focused on the part until you know how to represent it and then draw it.

After you’ve put that first part on the page, focus again on that same one in the same place in your body and just stay focused on it until you notice some kind of a shift and another trailhead—another part—emerges. And when that happens, focus on that second one, find it in your body, and stay with it until you can represent it on the page also.

After you’ve drawn that second one, go back to it again and stay with it until you notice yet another shift and another trailhead emerges. And then shift your focus to this new one, find it in your body, and stay with it until you can represent it on the page. Then, once again we’ll go back to that third one, focus on it in that place in your body, and just stay present to that until still another one comes orward. And then shift to that one, find it in your body, and stay with it until you can represent it.

You can repeat this process until you have a sense that you have mapped out one complete system inside you. When you feel you’ve done that, shift your focus back outside to your surroundings.

It’s likely that what you found is one clove of the garlic, as we call it in IFS. You might be familiar with the onion analogy used in psychotherapy—you peel your layers off and you get to this core and then you heal that and you’re done. Well, in IFS it’s more like a garlic bulb. You have all these different cloves, each of which has a handful of different parts inside that are related to each other, and maybe are all stuck in one place in the past. As you work with one clove, you’ll feel relief from the burdens it contained, but you may not have touched other cloves that revolved around other traumas. So this mapping exercise is designed to bring forth one of your cloves—one subsystem within you. Feel free to continue and map out other cloves.

Now I’d like you to hold your page a little bit away from you, so extend your arms with your pad of paper all the way out and look at these four or five parts you’ve represented with a little perspective. How do the parts relate to each other? Do some protect others? Do some fight with each other? Is there some kind of alliance in there? As you start to form some answers, make a note on your drawing to represent them.

Now I want you to look at the parts again and explore how you feel toward each of them. When you’re done with that, think about what this system needs from you. Finally, take a second to focus inside again and just thank these parts for revealing themselves to you and let them know again that this isn’t the last time you’ll be talking to them. Then shift your focus back outside again.

I recommend this exercise for many contexts. For example, if you have a pressing issue in your life, go inside and map it out and some of the answers will come to you—either about what decision to make or about what parts are making it so difficult. Mapping your parts is another way to separate from them, as well, because often we’re quite blended with more than one.