Claire’s husband was wrapped up in his work and not paying much attention to her. Then he forgot her birthday. That was the breaking point. She stood up and yelled, “You don’t love me anymore! All you care about is your work. You spend all day in front of that *&?!*! computer and have no time for me. You are so selfish!” The Temper Tantrum Part of Claire was activated. At that moment, she was so seized by it that she became the Temper Tantrum Part and lost access to her Self.
Sometimes we can stay in Self even though a part of us is angry. Claire could have said, “I know he loves me, but he’s not paying attention to me right now because he has a really important project with a tight deadline. He is a good man.” The calmness and caring of her Self would have allowed her to relate to her husband in a reasonable way. She might even have reminded him about her birthday after asking him how his project was going.
So what do we mean when we talk about Self?
We can explain this in another way using the concept of the seat of consciousness. We each have a place in our psyche that determines our identity, choices, feelings, and perceptions. This seat can be occupied by Self or by a part. Whoever resides in the seat of consciousness at any given moment is in charge of our psyche at that time. Whether it is a part or the Self, the occupant of the seat determines how we feel, what our intentions are, how we perceive other people, how we relate to them, and what our choices and actions will be.
At any given moment, all activated parts have some influence over you, but the occupant of the seat of consciousness has the overriding influence. It determines your dominant emotion and your actions.
We aren’t necessarily aware of the occupant of our seat of consciousness at any given time. In fact, it tends to be invisible to us because it is the one who looks at other things. The occupant of the seat of consciousness is the one who is aware or conscious. We take it to be ourselves. It is the observer, or witness, and it wields the flashlight of consciousness. We are conscious of whichever part is illuminated by this flashlight, but it rarely gets pointed back toward the one who holds it. So we tend not to be aware of the witness. The witness sees but is not seen.
Ideally the Self is the occupant of the seat of consciousness. In Claire’s case, this would mean that the Self would be in charge of how she interacted with her husband. The occupant of the seat of consciousness determines how Claire perceives her husband (as busy vs. uncaring), how she feels toward him (concerned vs. angry), how she acts toward him (reasonable vs. blaming), and what she is trying to accomplish in her interaction (connection vs. revenge). The seat of consciousness even determines your identity—that is, who you take yourself to be. For example, in this situation, if Claire were in Self, she would take herself to be a connected partner to her husband, even if feeling a tad irritated with his behaviour, but if she were the Temper Tantrum Part, she would identify with being a victim who was being mistreated by him.
The Self is the natural occupant of the seat of consciousness because it is who we truly are. It is our essential nature, our spiritual center. This means that the Self occupies the seat of consciousness unless a part (such as Claire’s Temper Tantrum, or Blaming Part) takes over the seat and pushes the Self into the background. Then that part is in charge of your psyche for a while. This can happen in an instant and usually without our realizing it. However, as we will begin to explore in couples therapy together, if you pay close attention, you can notice the shift and work with it. If the part steps aside, the Self will automatically occupy the seat of consciousness again. Any work we do together, or that you continue doing through the week, will help you to better occupy that seat of consciousness with your Self, rather than with a part.
We need Self predominantly in the driving seat, becasue at any given moment, you are identified with the occupant of the seat of consciousness. If the Self is in the seat, you are identified with Self. If a part has taken over the seat, you are identified with that part; that is who you take yourself to be in that moment. We don’t usually notice these shifts in identity; we think we are always the same unitary personality. Instead, we could say that whoever occupies the seat of consciousness at any moment becomes the “you” you think and feel yourself to be at that point.
Sometimes, this will be the Self; sometimes it will be a part. In Claire’s situation, the Temper Tantrum Part took over the seat of consciousness almost completely, and the Self was pushed into the background behind the seat. Claire became identified with the Temper Tantrum Part. In our sessions, I might say that the part became blended with the Self, and the Self was no longer determining how Claire related to her husband. She wasn’t able to be separate from her anger, to understand her husband’s behavior from his point of view, or to act in a reasonable way. She couldn’t even talk about being angry. All she could do was act out the rage and denigrate him.
Here is another way to understand blending. Think of the Self as a clear cup of water, calm and centered. If you put a teaspoon of instant coffee into the water, it immediately turns dark and smells strong. The coffee (part) has blended with the water (Self) and completely changed its appearance. The water is still there, but it is totally obscured by the coffee.
It is an hour later, and Claire’s feelings toward her husband have shifted. Now that she has calmed down, she is ashamed of how she reacted. “I hate it when I get that way. I know he loves me. He has just been really busy and distracted lately. I don’t know what came over me. I wish that part of me that gets so enraged would go away.” At this point, the Temper Tantrum Part is no longer blended with Claire. That doesn’t mean, however, that she is in Self, because now another part is blended with her. Claire is judging her Temper Tantrum Part and wishing it would go away. This is coming from another part of her, not from Self. We know this because Self is open, curious, and compassionate toward each part as well as toward other people. It is never judgmental and never wants to abolish a part. Claire has been taken over by a judgmental part.
This example shows the two most common ways we relate to our difficult parts—either we are blended with them or we judge them. However, neither attitude is helpful in getting to know a part and connecting with it. To do that successfully, we must be centered in Self so we can relate to the part with curiosity and compassion. So this week, you will learn how to recognize these two attitudes and how to return to Self.
Below, I will explains how to recognize when the target part is blended with you and how to unblend and access Self.
A part is blended with you and has taken over your seat of consciousness when any of the following is true:
1. You are flooded with the part’s emotions to such a degree that you aren’t grounded. You are lost in those feelings. For example, if the part feels resentment, you are fully caught up in its anger without having any reflective distance.
2. You are caught up in the beliefs of the part so that you lose perspective on the situation. You see the world through the distorted perception of the part. In addition, you aren’t able to recognize that this is one of many perspectives—you simply see it as the truth. If the part believes that the world is dangerous, that is the way you see the world, without any thought that you might be projecting your own beliefs onto the world.
3. You don’t feel enough of your Self. You don’t have enough access to a place in you that is separate from the part from which to witness it and understand it. You have no center or ground.
Blending is a more extreme form of activation. Even when a part is activated to the degree that you feel its emotions and it influences you, you may still feel separate from it. You may be able to see that your emotional response is exaggerated or that your perspective is skewed.
Imagine a scenario in which your boss tells you that you have to rewrite a report you submitted. You feel inadequate and a little depressed, but you still have enough perspective to recognize that this is a passing reaction. You have thought about the supervisor’s criticism, and you understand what happened and can think through what to do in the future. Your inadequate part is activated, but you have some distance from it. It isn’t completely blended with you. Your Self is still occupying the seat of consciousness, which allows you to see that you are basically competent. Even though you feel down, you know it will pass.
However, suppose you react to your supervisor differently. The criticism of your report stings, and you have barely walked out of the office before you are in a state of deep depression. You sit at your desk and throw the report into the wastebasket, certain that you are completely incompetent. You cannot see the feeling of inadequacy as something that will subside by tomorrow. You don’t see the belief in your incompetence as just a belief. It is just the truth; you are incompetent. Your world looks bleak, and you feel terrible about yourself. Life seems hopeless, and you feel empty and listless. This indicates that the inadequate part is blended with you. It has taken over the seat of consciousness. Your Self is obscured.
At this point you may fully buy into the part’s perspective—its beliefs about you and other people. For example, if a part of you believes it is hopeless for you to ever find love in your life, how much do you accept that perspective? Have you given up on finding a satisfying relationship? Have you come to believe this is your lot in life? Or do you have some sense that this is just an irrational idea? In Claire’s case, how much did she buy into the Temper Tantrum Part’s belief that her husband didn’t love her?How much are you centered in a place in you that is separate from the part, a place from which to witness the part’s emotions and belief? Can you find an inner space that is larger than the hopes and fears of the part, a presence that is relatively calm and clear about what is happening? This is the Self occupying the seat of consciousness.
What you are feeling toward the part? Not what the part is feeling, but what you are feeling toward it, as if it were sitting in front of you. If you are focusing on a sad part and you feel sadness, that is the part’s emotion. You need to know how you feel toward the sad part. Do you like it, appreciate it, judge it, hate it? Do you care about it? Are you curious to learn more about it? Or do you want to get rid of it? If you receive a clear answer to this question, the part probably isn’t blended with you. If it is blended with you, it will be hard to answer the question. After all, if you are the part, it will be hard to feel something toward it. Sometimes just asking this question serves to help you unblend from the part because you must step into a separate place in order to answer it.
Sometimes just inquiring into whether a part is blended with you creates enough separation that you can work with it, but at other times you must do more in order to unblend.
THREE WAY TO ACTIVATE SELF
Ask the part to separate from you so you can get to know it. It is important to understand what this means. You aren’t asking the part to go away. In fact, you want to connect with the part and understand it. But in order to do that, you must be separate from it. It takes two to relate. You can’t have a relationship with a part if there is only one of you. So you are asking the part to separate enough that you have a place to stand from which to con- nect with it. Parts generally understand this, and they are willing to sepa- rate once they see what they will get from this—someone to understand them. There are other ways to phrase this request, if you prefer. You can ask the part to contain its feelings or to not flood you with them. You can ask the part to move out of your body.
Let the part know that you are asking the part to separate from you just for the next few minutes in this session, not for good. You aren’t asking it to take the gigantic step of giving up its emotions or beliefs. You certainly aren’t asking it to transform; that takes a whole session or series of sessions. You can explain to the part that it can blend with you again after the session is over, if that is what it wants. All you want right now is a little space from it so you can become acquainted with it.
This is a request. The part may say no. If there is no change in your inner state, that means that the part hasn’t separated. In this case, ask it, “What are you afraid would happen if you separated from me?” Most likely the part is afraid that in creating the space, it will give you the opportunity to push it away or ignore it. Many of our parts feel alienated from us because we have never taken the time to get to know them. We really have pushed them away and tried to disown them. The only strategy they know for being seen and heard is to blend with us. Explain to the part that you want to get to know it. In fact, that is why you want some separation—so you can relate to it. This will reassure the part so that it is willing to separate.
Sometimes a part won’t separate from you because it is afraid you will do something unwise if it does. It believes it is protecting you from taking a dangerous or foolish action. Explain that you just want the separation for a few minutes during this session, and reassure it that you won’t do anything foolish. You’re not asking it to give up its protective role; you just want some space to get to know it.
This may seem a little strange, but it can really help. If you’d prefer to practice this together in our next session, we can do so. Sometimes it’s difficult doing this alone.
If the part won’t separate from you, you can separate from it. You can take a more active role in creating the separation and accessing Self. There are a number of possibilities for doing this.
You can create an experience of separation inside yourself so you feel your Self as different from the part. You might experience this as moving back from the part into a grounded place, or shifting into the stance of a wit- ness, or moving deeper inside to a centered presence. Some people sense this as a stepping back away from the part into themselves. One way to look at this is that you are moving the seat of consciousness back from the part so that the Self can occupy the seat.
Here’s how you can do that:
Visualizing the Part as Separate
Allow a visual image of the part to arise. This will give you the sense of it as a separate entity. This approach is even more effective if the part is clearly a certain distance away from you. The further away it is, the more separation this creates.
Another way to accomplish visual separation is to draw or paint an image of the part. Or you can choose an object from your home that represents the part for you or find an image of it in a magazine or on the Internet. Having a concrete token of the part helps to create separation.
Finding an Opposed Part
Look around inside for a part of you that is the opposite of the target part or a part that is in conflict with the target part. For example, Claire might locate a part of her that wants harmony with her husband no matter what. She would access that part and hear what it has to say. This would help her to realize that there is more to her than the Temper Tantrum Part. She would then find a place inside her that is neither the Temper Tantrum Part nor the Harmony Part. This is likely to be Self.
Let go of your focus on the target part for a moment and guide yourself in a meditation in which you become grounded and present in your body. If you are familiar with meditation, you can use whatever form works for you. If you aren’t, you can use the following MP3 as a guide. When you are located solidly enough in Self, end the meditation and return your attention to the target part. See if you now feel separate from it.
Once you are unblended from the target part, you can start creating a friendly dialogue with your Protectors with the aim of getting them to work more in harmony with you and your partner, as well as healing the Exiled (hurting) parts that often underlie much of the internal conflict we’re experiencing.
If this also sounds a bit confusing at this point, don’t worry. We can talk more about this in our next session as we continue to explore how recognising and working with these different parts of us in new ways can bring us the peace and happiness that seems, at this moment perhaps, to be out of our reach.
Exercise: Daily Parts Check-In + Self-Activating Paced Breathing
For the next week, take a little time each day to do some Self-Activation (at least three times a day) and also to check in with your parts. Notice which parts are activated at that moment . By doing this regularly, you will get used to paying attention to your inner family. Plan a certain time each day linked to another habit that you do at least three times a day. So for example, you might decide to do this every time you take a tube journey (if you take at least three journeys a day). Or during/after every loo-break.
Please access the document to record your daily practice HERE (copy the document into another Google doc or Word doc) and bring this with you to your next session.
Final (but perhaps most important) words on Self-practice:
Activating Self and responding towards ourselves and to our partners from Self, is an ongoing skill-building process and journey. It is most likely one which we’ll be still be working on when all of us are very old and grey.
It’s not something to perfect, but rather an ongoing practice. So try not to beat yourself up for not being in Self.
Just noticing when you aren’t, is often enough to unblend you and bring you back into Self again. Kindness and self-acceptance are key aspects of Self, so if you can bring even 1% more of that into your relationship with the different parts of you, you’re going to feel a whole lot better right away.