“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
In our last article, we discussed how every person contains an inner strength that can be harnessed to guide healing. Helpful Parts play an important role in the growth process because they have all the necessary tools and knowledge to assist unhelpful or distressed Parts. Previously, we shared Mike’s journey in overcoming his internal “Bully” by using “Mr. Fix-It,” his knowledgeable, problem-solving Part, and “Pop,” a compassionate, nurturing Part. Together these helpful Parts allowed Mike to trust his own competence and self-worth.
Helpful Parts can have an array of qualities and are unique to each individual. Let’s look now at Jennifer and her journey to authentic self-expression to illustrate other kinds of helpful Parts.
Jennifer’s Story: Wise J and Flow take care of Little J
When Jennifer first started therapy, she had ended a long-term romantic relationship that was so emotionally abusive it left her feeling depressed and racked with self-doubt. She was looking to understand how she was able to endure this kind of treatment for as long as she did in order to ensure she would not do it again. Jennifer’s exploration in therapy looked at her childhood experiences – witnessing domestic violence, her parents’ eventual divorce, being moved suddenly with no explanation out of the only home she knew, being raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, and the inconsistent presence of her father.
Little J was looking for love and acceptance, and was willing to keep her voice small to receive it.
Guided by her therapist, Jennifer uncovered a wounded Part of her that had difficulty trusting people. This Part, who she called “Little J,” felt unworthy of love and constantly had thoughts like, “There’s something wrong with me,” and, “Everyone leaves me.” In order to protect Jennifer from feeling abandoned, Little J would try all sorts of strategies to receive love – being extra “good,” following all the rules, and not speaking up for fear of offending anyone. It worked well at times.
Jennifer was often praised by her mother and extended family for being studious and well behaved. But when her father would appear for a brief time then disappear again without warning, Little J could not reconcile why and would blame herself. Jennifer learned that it was small, frightened Little J- the part that was looking for love and acceptance and was willing to keep her voice small to receive it- that kept Jennifer in an emotionally abusive relationship for four years. Not surprisingly, Little J didn’t get the acceptance she was looking for in that relationship. She only got more confirmation in thinking that there was something wrong with her.
Somehow, Jennifer mustered the courage to leave the relationship, despite being told, “You’ll never do any better,” and, “No one will love you.” This was the first clue to Jennifer’s therapist that a helpful Part was trying to be heard. With his guidance, Jennifer realized that deep within her was a Part that was intuitive and wise beyond her years. She referred to this Part as “Wise J.” Wise J was grounded, calm, spiritual, and sure of herself. Wise J, quietly, always knew that Jennifer’s first boyfriend was not as he appeared on the surface. Although Little J wanted to believe he could love her, Wise J knew otherwise. Jennifer simply could not hear this intuitive Part. It was following an intense argument one night that Jennifer finally heard Wise J speak loud and clear: “Get out now. It’s only going to get worse!”
As Jennifer learned to tune in to Wise J and follow her inner guidance, she also discovered another helpful Part. “Flow” was the Part of Jennifer that was creative and expressive. For as long as she could remember, Jennifer loved to draw and paint. She remembered spending hours as a child with paper and markers, creating an imaginary world to escape to. In therapy, Jennifer fostered this innate love and began to pursue other creative endeavors. She realized she was a gifted dancer, could hold a tune, and even make jewelry!
Ultimately, Jennifer used her most healthy Parts to heal Little J. Wise J, in her intuitive manner, would stand up and speak loudly when Little J felt small and voiceless. Flow allowed Little J to explore her feelings and express her needs when words failed.
As we have demonstrated in our articles, everyone has several Parts to who they are. The problem is that if we do not have an awareness of the good and the bad, then we are unable to minimize the destructive Parts and grow the Parts we love about ourselves. Therapy helps you to become aware of all aspects of yourself so that you can learn to get your needs met like Little J did.
Our final article in this series will give different therapists perspectives on what it is like to facilitate Parts work with a client.