"I've put my best foot forward in my life; in relationships, my career goals, in parenting and even in spiritual pursuits but I'm hitting a wall. Yes, I'm progressing externally, but if I'm honest, something on the inside ain't budging."

John is a brutally honest fella who has been wanting to deepen his experience in life, love and work since his dad died but today, he's speaking openly about his struggle, and asking for help. As we worked together, we began using parts therapy which proved to be the method John was needing to resolve his "inner conflict" that was at play beneath the "stuck-ness".

 

What is an inner conflict ? The underlying cause for “stuck points”

If you’ve been focusing on a goal in therapy, in business or in any area of your life and you feel like you’re spinning in circles despite great efforts, you may want to assess for an inner conflict that may be present. The inner conflict is one that is happening between “parts”.

What are “parts”?

Parts Therapy Explained

There are many different methods that address working with parts including Internal Family Systems {IFS} by Richard Schwartz, Ego State Work, by Watkins & Watkins, 1997, Gestalt Therapy by Perls, 1973, and the Structural Dissociation Model which was designed for clients with dissociative disorders and post traumatic stress by Nijenhuis, Van der Hart & Steele 2005.

Inner Parts- Not Multiple Personalities- Rather a “sum of one unified whole”.

Most of us have parts, and it does not mean that you have different selves, rather that you are human. Working with your inner parts allows you to uncover the most beautiful elements of yourself, that often have been buried. When unleashed, you access a newfound ability to shine, connect and relate- to self, others and the world.

Parts work is a kind of therapy that addresses differences and conflicts in “agendas” between parts that are usually responsible for gridlock in your emotional healing.

Take Samantha, for example. She comes in super motivated to resolve a childhood trauma and reprocess a specific memory and resolve the anxiety she feels, as she describes “my skin often feels like it’s crawling, and I know there’s an underlying reason for it.” We begin to do some work but there always a distraction, a blockage or a self sabotaging behavior that comes up that interferes with what Samantha came in to resolve.

When we slowed down, dug deeper and got curious about the parts at play, we identified a worry that if she were to get healthier, she may jeopardize her love-relationship with her boyfriend if she changes too much. In this instance, there were some other valid concerns held by other “parts” of her that needed to be addressed so we could smoothly proceed with the work and help her successfully attain her treatment goals.

Successful treatment - giving a voice to all parts of self- developing an embodied self that holds both vulnerable and strength.

As a trauma therapist, internal conflicts are to be expected. I steer away from labeling clients “therapy-resistant” or “difficult to treat” when conflicts come up, rather, we shift to noticing the parts that are standing in the way.

Most often, there are worries, fears or insecurities that need to be reassured, honored and given space before plowing through with the treatment. This is relevant in Cognitive Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Somatic Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy.

You have an “internal system” that has learned to protect you and beginning therapy or diving into something that is raw and fragile may kick up a worry that you’re jeopardizing your current safety and sense of self.

Explaining“Parts Work”

Inner Child- An Active Part of Self

One of the most commonly known terms is “inner child”. This refers to a younger version of yourself that has experienced life from birth. There may be one specific inner child part that you’ll be working with, or sometimes there are different “child parts”- a baby part, a toddler part, a school-age part, a teenager and evolving adult part. These parts hold happy moments as well as challenging, scary or traumatic events that were unresolved, and hold them until you’re ready to process and resolve them as an adult. This is why sometimes emotions and/or memories come up when you’re an adult {more on that here}.

Your Inner Parts System- An Internalized Family System

You may also develop internal family system of those who you were surrounded with as you grew up. It’s almost like a copy-and-paste version of those closest to you- where you internalize personality traits and characteristics of those closest to you. You might see this clearly when you have a part that mimic a member from your family of origin, or someone who played a large role in your developing years.

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

What “parts” do you notice in yourself?

According to Internal Family Systems Therapy (Schwartz), there are three primary categories of our “parts”. Exiles, Managers and Firefighters.

Exiles are the younger parts of self that hold emotions, vulnerabilities, needs and and memories that went ignored, unresolved and went to “exile” or put them away because there was no space to process the needs or the trauma experienced.

Managers are the ones that keep the person “going”. They help put the exiles aside so that the functioning part of self can go on with life. Managers can be healthy or unhealthy. Being able to compartmentalize is a good manager skill, but constant pressure or perfectionism is a burdened form of managing that adds stress.

Firefighters are extreme versions of “managers”, they act more impulsively and engage from a desperation to make any pain or hurt go away. They might present with addictive behaviors, completely shutting down {dissociating and disconnecting from self and others} or self-destruct. All of this is to keep “exiles” away, fearful of what will emerge if they arise.

Richard Schwartz describes the goal of IFS therapy to be where the individual can resolve conflicts between parts so that the person can live life from it’s core Self which is compassionate, wise and confident.

An Inner Rebellion - A Hint That Something Needs Attention

When there is an inner conflict it can feel like there are parts rebelling against each other. As uncomfortable as this may be, it is often the best way to know something is needing your help, which can be addressed and resolved in therapy.

4 Silent Signs of Inner Conflict + How to Resolve Them

1) Internalized Aggression

You feel anger, and you’re lashing out at yourself. You’re being super hard on yourself, you’re have thoughts of self-harm, suicidal fantasies or severe self-criticism. It feels like there’s a seething anger beneath your skin. Usually, anger turned inwards is a sign that you didn’t have permission to be angry as a child. It wasn’t safe enough to express anger when you were younger, because the adults around you could not tolerate the intensity of the experience, and therefore it’s been turned inward instead of expressed.

To work with this, you may want to first give that part a space in the room.

Bring the emotional bully into the room, give it an empty chair and invite it to a conversation {gestalt therapy}.

It may be using words that were told to you by a caregiver, someone who was abusive or absent { and the message could be anything from “you’re not worthy of my time” to “you’re a bad boy”, or “you made me hurt you/yell at you”}.

Giving this part space and inviting it to a dialogue allows you to reassure the worry, challenge the beliefs, and come to a healthier “agreement”. When you do this, you will begin to start answering who it is that you’re truly angry at. It may be someone who didn’t protect you, care for your or maybe even harmed you. You’ll notice that the self blame may be misplaced as it wasn’t feasible to expect your own {often, younger} self to protect yourself in that specific incident.

Sometimes this isn’t about person, but rather, sadness that god, society or the world didn’t protect or defend you.

...and your healing will be about slowly rebuilding trust in the universe as you heal.

Your disappointed or anger may be with the world, society, god, or with some other form of construct that “should have” protected you- and you’re wondering “how was this “allowed “to happen” and “why was I not protected?”… and in your healing you'll slowly reconstruct a sense of safety and trust with personalized experiences and resources.

 

2) Unshakable Shame.

Shame makes you truly believe that you’re bad at your core. It’s an emotion that distorts your entire identity, making you believe you’re damaged, no-good and unworthy of love and goodness. Often, if you were ignored, hurt or shamed as a child you will carry shame as an adult. Shame expresses itself in may ways; the way you interact with others, the kinds of relationships you believe you’re deserving of, how you speak up in the workplace, ask for that promotion and how you parent you kids and set boundaries.

 

Shame has a way of digging itself deep on the mind and body; it impacts how we carry our bodies, our muscle tone and the stability in our voice.

Notice if you hunch over when you’re asking for that promotion, if your voice quivers when telling that child to stop hurting yours or if you doubt yourself when presenting your work at a conference. You may also carry shame about your body, and this impacts how confident and forward you are regarding expressing and asking for intimacy, physical contact and how present you are when you have sex.

One of the ways to unravel the shambles of shame is catching yourself when your mind starts spewing negative, shame filled thoughts, and replace them with more appropriate ones.

You can also do this by expanding your body’s bandwidth for emotions and change how you interact. If you notice that somatically you lean over, lower your voice or hesitate when engaging with others, you can teach your body to keep going, speak up and stand tall- and notice how empowering it is to try a new way of being.

3) Regression in Time

Ever feel like a little kid in a grown up’s body? Ever had a full blown tantrum that would seem more appropriate for a five year old than a forty year old? Ever find yourself back in an old power struggle you had years ago when interacting with someone who reminds you of a family member, or when visiting family you haven’t seen in a while? There are times where you might regress back to a younger self-state than you’re chronological age. You may also notice that you’re suddenly craving certain foods, are not sticking to your regular schedule and are getting into a dynamic with your loved ones that are not aligned with who you are as an adult.

If this happens, ask yourself “How young or old does this part feel”?

Often when there is a regression, there’s something that brought it on. It could be a time of year that is reminding you of something that happened, maybe there was trigger to a loss or trauma or maybe there was something related to an event that shifted you back to a younger emotional experience.

When this happens, take out a piece of paper and literally draw an adult part gently holding or sitting next to the younger part that’s been activated.

Younger emotional parts need to be reminded they are not alone.

They need to be reminded that there is an adult who can guide the way and offer compassion.

4) Perfectionistic Pressure

Catch yourself setting the bar higher, then higher and higher? You want that perfect meal-plan, the “just right” parenting intervention, the latest business technique and impeccable meditation or prayer to your morning routine? Of course you want to see yourself as put-together, capable and strong, and you probably want others to see you in that light as well, however, when you start feeling like a car running on no gas, that’s a sign of too much pressure.

It’s ok to allow the imperfect, the humane, the messy parts of yourself to come out.

When we stop hiding, we allow our creativity and individuality to come out and shine.

Try doing one thing today on purpose that is imperfect. Watch to see what that’s like. You may not love what you see, but it may not be as scary as you had imagined….you may even uncover a new lovely part of yourself. And that part may not have some golden skill, but it may be a more comfortable, less judgmental part of self that makes life a little sweeter.

Warmly welcome the richness your life has to offer.

To build a successful life you’ll need to iron out the creases along the way. Real growth and transformation can be frightening and bring lots of unknown, and it’s normal to be hesitant.

However, by working through conflict you untangle the webs of sabotage and allow new opportunities to unfold.

Ready to do the work to show up to love, life and possibilities with more clarity, strength and confidence? Therapy can help. Therapists who are skilled in using trauma-informed methods and utilize parts-focused work can help you. Some of the scientific therapy methods used are EMDR Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Expressive Arts, and Parts Work.

 

Esther Goldstein LCSW is psychotherapist and trauma specialist who runs a private practice called Integrative Psychotherapist in Cedarhurst, NY. At Integrative Psychotherapy we are passionate about helping adults reduce anxiety and find a richer way of living, loving and "being" that promotes joy and connection. Our therapists use science based methods and modalities such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (somatic), Expressive Arts and Parts work (Ego State Work) to help clients feel relief that last way beyond their time on the therapy couch.

Specialties include treating anxiety, trauma survivors, relationships issues, family-of-origin work, Inner-Child work, Attachment focused Therapies, Healing for Complex PTSD And Dissociative Disorder Treatment.

We also offer Trauma Informed Consultation To Therapists Committed To Improving Their Trauma-Informed Practice And Attachment Focused EMDR Consultation To Therapist Attaining Hours Towards EMDRIA Certification.

Website: Integrativepsych.Co