For a few weeks now, we've been talking about the brain and how it can create different parts of ourselves in order to survive certain situations. In case you're just joining us, this is not what is known as split personality or schizophrenia where the parts are separate and take over the person. This is a way of looking at how our unconscious mind developed, how it works, and the impact it has on us.
Richard Schwartz developed the original model, called Internal Family Systems. Then Janina Fisher made the connection between these parts and the treatment of childhood neglect, abuse and trauma. She also articulated a number of ways that we can tell when the different parts of our selves are active. See if any of these resonate with you.
7 Signs That Parts Are Active
1. Automatic Thoughts:
Have you noticed that you can have thoughts that come to mind that you've said to yourself many times? They are often negative and can sound something like this, “You are so stupid, why did you do that?”, “That was a dumb thing to say.”, or “You are going to fail, work harder, try harder.”. In some cases, these messages have been around so long you no longer hear them.
Having these messages come to mind shows you that a part of yourself is active, and agreeing with the message validates its continued existence in your life. For example, the thought that comes to mind is, “You remember ten years ago when you go fired from that job? It is going to happen again if you don’t work harder.” In the moment, you may react accordingly and start working harder. However, stopping to dissect the message, you see that the example is old. It also does not offer specific explanation for why it happened, or acknowledge any growth or change in you since the moment that formed that message – or in other words, formed that part.
2. Automatic Feelings:
Anger, fear, shame, hopelessness: these are some of the feelings that we have over and over. These feelings will occur rather they fit the situation or not. Fear that we will be in trouble over making a mistake. Feeling rejected when there is a dinner
party that you were not invited to, even though it was for a club of which you
are not a member. Feeling lonely when you arrive home after being with
friends for most of the day.
3. Automatic Reactions:
These include, but are not restricted to, separation anxiety, self-destructive reactions, aggression, withdrawal, repetitive responses to triggers. Perhaps you get defensive when asked a question, regardless of who asks you or how innocuous the question may be. You have negative reactions to positive events. You expect to be snubbed at a party, even though your friends are at the party as well. Again, a reaction without thought demonstrates that a part of you may be active and even controlling your responses.
4. Patterns of Indecision:
The inability to make decisions or carry out expressed intentions can reflect parts in conflict. Although the situation, interaction or event is occurring in the present, when parts are active, the feelings are grounded in the past. This makes it much harder to make decisions, solve problems, and deal with life effectively. This can impact large events or everyday living – everything from “What will I wear?” and “Do I want to go out with friends?” to “Should I change jobs?”
5. Memory Issues:
I am not talking about losing chunks of time or big memory losses, but subtle memory problems. Examples include trouble recalling conversations with friends, losing your train of thought in the middle of a conversation, difficulty recalling what you did with your time during the day, or forgetting the focus of a therapy session. This is a sign that your brain's resources are being diverted to another outlet – another part.
6. Somatic Symptoms:
Stress-related pain, headaches, stomachaches, and neck tension can all indicate that individual parts are holding on to feelings that are being expressed through the body.
7. Addictive and Self-Destructive Behavior:
Unsafe behavior reflects the flight/fight response turned inward. Fight engages in aggressive behavior toward oneself to get relief from painful feelings from the past. Flight engages in behavior that will create distance from unbearable memories and feelings, such as using addictive and mind-numbing, mind-altering substances.
The different parts we have inside are designed for certain tasks. At times, the purpose, feeling, method and job that is needed to be accomplished is at cross purposes within your internal system. These internal conflicts are inevitable and predictable. The automatic thoughts, feeling and reactions will kick in to help with protection.
These parts don't work alone. Survival of any moment your brain perceives as abuse, trauma or neglect happens because of a coordinated effort between the many parts your brain has created. We'll look at that cooperation next week.