When Childhood Memories Throw You for a Loop
As we learned in this interview with David Richo, we can learn to befriend inner parts of the self that have experienced grief or hurt and re-integrate them into the larger, wiser, whole adult self. Here’s an exercise from Resilience to do that be-friending.
Befriending the Many Parts of Yourself
This exercise helps you not only to see and integrate the positive traits that others see in you and that you are proud to claim as true for you, but also to acknowledge and allow parts of you that you don’t necessarily want other people to see, and which you may not want to acknowledge either. This process frees up some of the enormous psychic energy that it takes to keep these parts hidden or split off, so that your brain will be less fatigued. It also frees up the energy it takes to clean up the messes that these parts of you can create when they act out and derail your resilience, so that you have more energy to live your life.
Your larger, wiser adult self can manage the behaviors of your various inner parts when you are aware of them and tolerant enough of them to stay in charge of them, even when they really, really want to act out and run the show.
1. Sit comfortably. Allow your eyes to gently close. Relax into the awareness of being at home in yourself.
2. When you’re ready, imagine you are standing on a sidewalk outside a theater. Imagine the building, the marquee, the people walking by. Walk up to one of the main doors, open it, and walk into the lobby. Walk through the lobby — it’s empty — to the door into the theater. Open it and walk into the theater — it’s also empty. Walk all the way down to the third or fourth row and take a seat in the center of the row. An empty stage lies in front of you. All is quiet.
3. In this visualization, a series of characters will come out on to the stage representing your wiser self and various inner parts. You will be able to have a dialogue with each of these parts.
4. The first character to come out onto the stage is your wiser self. This character embodies all the qualities of resilience you can already claim for yourself. This wiser self creates the safety for all of the other characters in this exercise to come on stage. Temporarily, your prefrontal cortex doesn’t have to be in charge; it can relax and enjoy the play.
5. Now imagine other characters coming onto the stage one by one. Each of these imaginary characters embodies a particular part of you. Each part might be represented by someone you know; yourself at a different age; someone you know from the movies, history, or literature; an animal; or a cartoon character.
6. The first character embodies a part of yourself that you really, really like. It’s truly a part of you, and you are proud that it is. Let that character take the stage and remember it (perhaps make a note).
7. A second character joins the first on the stage, embodying another positive part of yourself. Again let that character materialize on the stage and remember it.
8. Now bring a third character onto the stage that embodies a part of yourself that you really don’t like all that much. In fact, you wish it weren’t part of you, but you know that it is. Let this character materialize and take a moment to remember it.
9. Bring on a fourth character onto the stage that embodies another negative part of you. Observe and remember it.
10. Now you have on stage your wiser self, two parts of yourself that you really like, and two parts that you don’t like so much, that you maybe even dislike or disdain. You may even wish these last two weren’t part of you at all, but they are.
11. One by one, ask each character what particular gift they bring to you by being part of you. Ask the parts you like first, and then the parts you don’t like as much. Listen receptively, open-mindedly, to the answers from each part. Thank each part in turn for their answers, and sit with the answers you’ve heard for a moment, noticing any grain of truth or wisdom in them.
12. Ask your wiser self what gifts each of these parts may bring to you. Listen receptively to these answers, which may be different from the answers from the characters or your own perception of these characters.
13. Briefly thank each character for participating in this exercise with you. Watch as they leave the stage one by one, the wiser self last.
14. Imagine yourself getting up out of your seat and walking back up the aisle, through the lobby, and back outside. Turn around to look at the theater where all this happened. Then slowly come back to the awareness of sitting quietly. When you’re ready, open your eyes.
15. Notice and reflect on your experience of this exercise. Notice any insights or shifts. Remember and embrace the lessons of each of these five characters, especially the ones you originally didn’t like so much. Each one is an integral part of you, essential to your wholeness. This time of reflection helps your brain integrate the learning into long-term memory.
In this exercise, you release the energy it takes to repress or split off negative parts of yourself because you aren’t repressing them anymore. They are recognized and accepted as part of the family system. That energy is now available to you to grow, thrive, and flourish.