NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

In a prior blog article, I began a discussion about parts work, also known as ego states work, in psychotherapy and how working with the various aspects of yourself in therapy, particularly the unconscious parts, can help to discover and overcome many emotional problems.  In this article, I'm expanding upon this topic with regard to understanding the different aspects of yourself that make you who you are (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

What Does It Mean to Have Different Aspects of Self?
We tend to think of ourselves as being unitary beings, but we're really not unitary beings.  We're made up of many different parts that make up the whole.

In this article, when I refer to "parts," "selves" or "aspects of selves," which are all different ways of referring to the same thing, I'm not referring to multiple personality disorder.  Instead, I'm referring to what is common in all of us--the fact that within each of us there are many subpersonalities which make up who we are.

At any given time, one or more of these subpersonalities might be predominant.  Most of the time, we don't notice these changes, unless it is such a departure from how we normally are that it gets our attention.

How Does It Help to Understand the Different Aspects of Yourself?
In a prior article, Overcoming the Internal Critic, I discussed a particular aspect of self that is problematic for many people, the internal critic.

The internal critic is an example of a part or aspect of self that comes to the surface at certain times and undermines a person's confidence.

Another example of a part is the "inner child," which John Bradshaw writes about in his books.  We all hold within us the "inner child" as well as the "inner teenager" and many other parts.

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

It's helpful to understand the different aspects of yourself in order to understand yourself and what aspects might be operating at any particular time.

So for example, if you're continually getting into unhealthy romantic relationships, even though you keep telling yourself that you want to make healthier choices, chances are good that there is a part of yourself that is unconscious, and it is at the root of the problem.

Working with a therapist who does parts work (also known as ego states therapy), you can get to know this part better as you work with your therapist to make the unconscious conscious.

The idea isn't to demonize or pathologize this part.  On the contrary, the goal is to be compassionate and get to know what this part needs and how it can be fulfilled in a way that is healthy instead of going from one unhealthy relationship to another.

All of this might sound very abstract, so let's take a look at a fictionalized example of how an unconscious part can operate in a particular situation and what can be done in therapy to overcome this problem:

Alice came to therapy following the end of another unhappy relationship.

At the point when she came to therapy, she felt hopeless that she could ever be in a healthy relationship because several prior relationships ended in the same way, leaving Alice feeling hurt and disappointed. She also felt that maybe there was something wrong with her since all of her relationships ended in disaster.

I introduced the idea of "parts" to Alice, which she intuitively understood.  She knew that she felt different ways at different times--some days she felt more confident than she did on other days, sometimes she was particularly critical of herself, and so on.

She described her last three relationships as being emotionally abusive.  Her boyfriends tended to be self involved men who cheated on her with different women.

Even after she discovered the infidelity, Alice's pattern was to remain in these relationships to try to win back the boyfriend that she was seeing at the time.

Even though there was a part of her that knew that her boyfriend would keep cheating on her, she felt compelled to stay in the relationship and try to win her boyfriend back.

When I asked her to remember how she felt about herself when she went against the part of her that her urged judgement, she described feeling a combination of self loathing, anger, sadness and fear.  She said she felt these emotions in her chest and upper stomach.

We used the affect bridge technique, which is a method that is used in clinical hypnosis (see my article:  What is Clinical Hypnosis?).

While she was in a relaxed hypnotic state, I asked Alice to go back to her earliest memory of feeling these emotions, the self loathing, anger, sadness and fear, in this way.

Alice remembered the time when she was five and her father was packing to move out of the family home.  Alice overheard her parents' arguments, and she knew that her father leaving the family for another woman.

At the time, as most children do at an early age, she blamed herself and begged her father to stay, but her father paid no attention to her.  He packed and left without saying a word.

At the time, her mother was depressed and tended to isolate herself in her room, so she wasn't emotionally available for Alice.

Throughout her childhood, she blamed herself for her father leaving.  She was convinced that if only she had tried harder to be a good girl, her father would have loved her more than he loved the other woman, and he would have stayed.

Alice described her father as being a handsome, intelligent man, who could be charming when he wanted to be.  She also described him as being highly narcissistic.

Later on in the session, as we were debriefing, Alice recognized the connection between her former boyfriends and her father.  Her boyfriends also attended to be handsome, charming, intelligent men, who were narcissistic.

She also recognized that she experienced the same intense feelings with her boyfriends as she did with her father and this was why she became so determined to hang in and try to make the relationships work despite the infidelity (see my article:  Discovering the Unconscious Emotions at the Root of Your Current Problems).

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

Alice realized that she was recreating the same childhood experience in her adult life and hoping for different results.  In psychotherapy, this is phenomenon is known as repetition compulsion.

Alice realized that there was a part of her from childhood that was active in her unhealthy relationships.

Alice had to work hard to develop compassion and curiosity about this young part and not to be critical.

We continued to work with this part of Alice to discover what this young part needed.  In doing so, we discovered that this young part needed nurturing parents.  So, we used imaginal work to help Alice to imagine ideal parents.  Alice imagined parents who were loving, nurturing, understanding and who would never leave her.

Even though Alice understood the difference between her actual family history and the imaginal work that we were doing, and that her real parents were nothing like the ideal parents that she imagined, the imaginal work was still healing (see my article: Healing Trauma With New Symbolic Memories to understand how this therapeutic technique works).

The ideal parents that Alice created while doing imaginal work were internal resources that she could call on at any time.

As we continued to do this imaginal work, Alice was able to overcome the childhood trauma that was at the root of her relationship problems (see my article: Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma).

When Alice was ready to date again, she no longer felt drawn to men who were self involved and unkind, so she was able to enter into a healthy relationship for the first time in her life.

Recurring problems that haven't been resolved in regular talk therapy often have an unconscious aspect that remains undiscovered and which is at the root of these problems.

Using various therapeutic methods, like clinical hypnosis, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Coherence Therapy, help to get to the root of these unconscious aspects.

Once the unconscious aspects, or parts, have been made conscious, a therapist, who uses these treatment modalities, can help the client to discover what the part needs.  Imaginal work is one way to provide for the part's unmet needs.

Usually, once the part's needs have been met, the part no longer gets activated to create problems.

For the sake of simplicity, I gave a scenario where there was only one unconscious part, but there can be more than one.

Whether there is one or there are many, the therapeutic work is usually the same:  Using experiential therapy to make the unconscious conscious, discovering the unconscious part, finding out what the part needs, and using therapeutic methods, like imaginal work, to help heal that part.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've tried on your own to work out your problems and you've been unsuccessful, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional.

Problems that have remained unresolved in traditional talk therapy often respond to experiential therapy like clinical hypnosis, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Coherence Therapy.

Rather than continue to suffer on your own, you could benefit from getting help in therapy and working with a psychotherapist who works in an experiential way.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.