Understanding your inner voices
An invaluable little tool
that you can take to every single conflict in your life.
This process helps you create the ground work to understand all the parts that are playing a role in a problem, bringing invaluable clarity, a sense of peaceful solidity from which to respond rather than react and even, at times, resolution itself.
I recommend you read all these notes before you start the exercise, so you have an overview of the process. Below is a description of the steps and, at the end, there is a list that you can use as a guide when going through it.
B. Part identification process description.
Step 1. Create a safe space.
Take some quiet time when you are not going to be interrupted. If, in spite of your efforts, you do end up having to pause without feeling complete, I suggest you make a commitment to yourself to coming back where you left it and finishing the process. Even though it is not ideal to do this in bits, it is better to complete later on than to leave it unfinished.
Step 2. Choose what to work on.
Think of a situation in the present or the past that was difficult for you. If you are not familiar with parts work/voice dialogue, or you are doing this exercise for the first time, you might want to choose a situation that is not too difficult or loaded with emotions to start with. Bring it up in your memory as vividly as it feels comfortable for you
Step 3. Take a step back.
As soon as you feel into the situation you have chosen, notice the voices in your mind making comments, giving opinions, feeling emotions and suggesting actions. Imagine they are a class of little children who are upset, and you are the teacher they love and trust who is about to listen to them and offer some soothing comfort. Bring in that calm, reassuring energy into the “classroom”.
Step 4. Name what’s present.
Take time to identify every emotion present; imagine that every single one is a separate child. This might take some time if there are a lot of them or you are not used to looking at emotions this way. Be mindful to separate emotions with different tones; often some types of emotions are deeply connected, but it is very useful to note differences, for example, between impatience and anger, or between sadness and depression. Give every emotion, positive or negative, a name that describes it as best you can. As you name them, imagine you sit that “child” in a circle where you are sitting, too.
This in itself is quite a powerful process and often just having identified all the parts inside us can bring amazing clarity and understanding. But if you wish, you can take the following further steps:
Step 5. Choose where to begin.
When all the children/emotions have been named and have taken their sit on the circle, ask who wants to speak first. Often there is one emotion that feels stronger than the others. Give the talking stick to that one first.
Step 6. Listen.
As they talk, offer a high-quality listening (i.e., don’t interrupt, analyse, try to comfort, or offer solutions). If any of the other children/emotions do interrupt, analyse, comfort, or solve, ask them to wait for their turn and honour the speaker’s turn. If something else needs to be offered to the child talking, for example when the emotion is strong, let it be just mirrors (reflections of what you heard) and understanding.
When this emotion feels heard and finished, offer the talking stick to whoever wants to speak next (go with whatever emotion feels more charged).
Step 7. Notice.
As a wise listener, your role is to hear the emotions and notice if they soften and become quieter as they are being heard, and as they hear every other child speak, or if they shift in any other way. Notice as well whether you can stay in that calm teacher role: can you feel compassion for all of the children? Do you identify too strongly with them and find it difficult to offer a high-quality listening? Do you get caught into analysis or tend toward fixing the problem.
Bringing this type of energy to a conflict is often the best first step. When we manage to hear all our parts with compassion and total acceptance, we can respond to situations rather than react. The next best step will often show itself then clearly, if the problem does not resolve altogether with just this process!
Here is a short list of the steps you can use as a guide while going through the process. Add to it whatever notes might help you remember the points that feel most relevant to you in every step.
- Create a safe space.
- Choose what to work on.
- Take a step back (like a wise teacher with an upset class).
- Name what’s present.
- Choose where to begin.
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