[Neurotics are] torn by inner conflicts ... Every neurotic ... is at war with himself.
Karen Horney, psychologist
According to some respected psychologists our self is not one entity, but rather is more like a committee of different parts – a bunch of emotions, thoughts, values, and ways of being, clamoring for attention. The committee, like most committees, seems to be going in all sorts of directions.
The idea of us having these multiple interior parts (and that they can have different aims) can feel whacky even though most of us have probably experienced being conflicted – part of me would like to live in Baja, part of me wants to tend the home fires. I was officially introduced to the concept of many selves through a process called “Voice Dialogue” many years ago in a small workshop. Despite my reservations, I became a quick believer.
I partnered up with my friend, Nancy. Nancy was having difficulty with herself. Her goal was to exercise each morning. When the alarm rang at 5:30, however, she rolled over and turned it off. Later, Nancy was extremely angry with herself. Why was she so lazy? She simply couldn’t understand herself. Why did she turn off the alarm when she was so committed to exercising? That was the problem we decided to work out through voice dialogue – or talking with her inner parts.
When we took a little time to let the part of herself talk who wanted to exercise, everything seemed in order. Both of us could hear the voice of sincerity and desire. After listening to the dedication of this part that wanted to exercise so badly, we were really put out with whatever lazy, internal part was turning off the alarm. That is, until we really listened.
As it turned out, that so-called “lazy” part saw things a whole lot differently. This part was rather upset at being called lazy. She thought a more accurate name for her would be “Fun.” Fun threw up her skirt and acted like a little kid. Fun was sick and tired of being bossed around by the tyrannical, imperious part of the committee who wanted her to get up at the crack of dawn every day. Fun was fed up with doing nothing but work and study. “Bossy” never let her dance or get the rest she needed.
Ok. Let’s stop here for a minute. Take another breath. I can only imagine how crazy this all might sound if you have never been introduced to this concept before. No, I am not smoking pot. And no, I’m not talking about someone with a multiple personality disorder.
What’s the rational explanation then for why we have these different parts? Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says these different parts exist in normal people for various reasons. The reason he mentions which makes the most sense to me, is that parts of the brain evolved at different times. Some parts of our brain are quite old, while other parts are relatively new. The parts aren’t all synced up.
Just play along with me for the moment and consider the implications. If we want to be more self-aware, more able to achieve our goals, and live at peace with ourselves and others, we must notice and better work with these parts. Here are five ideas.
1. Notice when we are thinking, feeling, or acting in ways we don’t like or can’t understand.
2. Stop the intentional, berating, name-calling we are saying about ourselves to ourselves. No more calling ourselves “lazy” (or stupid or hot-headed).
3. Use compassion and curiosity to understand the part who seems to be sabotaging us – what are its needs?
4. Consider how all the parts can get their needs met. For example, how can the one who wants to exercise and the one who needs more rest and play in her life live together in harmony? One option might involve setting a date to go on vacation.
5. Make an agreeable plan. The part that seems to be sabotaging can then calm down. Fun can relax, drop her gripes, and stop turning off the alarm.
How might you better work with your inner parts and Journey to The Good Life?