In Part 1, we learned what it means to have inner diversity, to have various internal figures or parts. I talked about the value of becoming aware of these parts and how identifying with only one part will cause us suffering. Here in Part 2, I’ll look at the other two reasons it is beneficial to know that different parts of us have different experiences, feelings, and points of view: because when we follow only seemingly positive parts or experiences, we marginalize other important parts; and, because if we want to support ourselves, it’s important to know which part(s) of us need supporting.
Marginalizing Our More Unknown Parts
It’s easy to imagine how being consumed by the parts of us that feel hurt, anger, greed, self-hatred, insecurity, or the myriad other more painful states of consciousness can cause us tremendous suffering. What about the parts of us that seek pleasure, feel generous, act accommodating, or even feel “fine”? How could it be detrimental to our well-being to be consumed by these experiences?
Consider how many of us enjoy the pleasure associated with drinking coffee and identify with loving it, but regularly suffer from a painful, acidic stomach. We identify with one part the loves the “up,” the energetic feeling of coffee, but we don’t identify with the part that is sensitive and suffers from its acidic effects. Psychologically, this “acid” may be something that is harsh to our sensitivity and runs over it regularly, preferring instead to be tough, confident, and able.
Or consider the person who insists upon being generous all the time, being in the role of “the giver,” genuinely enjoying giving selflessly to others. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being generous to others; it is a wonderful trait. However, if we insist only on being the giver and never the receiver, we risk marginalizing parts of ourselves that need to be nurtured and fed, or cared for and passive. We might get burnt out by all the giving, when there is little to no receiving. If we only identify with the part of us that is an over-giver, we also might overlook the part of us that longs for intimacy—the intimacy that occurs when we stop giving and just reveal ourselves before another, longing to be seen and loved for who we are rather than what we can give.
It’s no secret that being too pleasing and accommodating can be detrimental, but let’s talk about it anyhow, since it’s so darn common! Women-identified folk, especially, tend to suffer from being too identified with their accommodating part because sexist values in society have fed us the myth that women should be accommodating/compliant/helpful/pleasing rather than assertive/opinionated/demanding/disagreeable. Of course, it’s nice to care for others and try to make them comfortable and at ease. But what happens when any person accommodates too much? They lose sight of their needs, their bigger dreams, their soul’s direction, their intelligence, their power, agency, and authority, just to name some of the elements! In other words, the “accommodator” part becomes central and the other parts get marginalized, and this causes depression and other psychic disturbances if left unnoticed for too long.
Lastly, how often do you get casually asked by friends or strangers, “How are you?” to which you respond, “Oh, I’m fine”? While it’s perfectly okay to tell strangers or anyone that you are “fine,” it is dangerous to always tell ourselves we are fine without further inquiry or a note of scrutiny. Many of us settle for a life that is less than satisfying, whether in our job, relationship, or inner life. I often hear people reply, “I can’t complain,” and I think Well, actually, yes you can complain! Complaining is a relatively quick way to know what we aren’t fine with in our life. Sure, there is a part of us that feels “fine” and is more or less happy. But there are other parts that might long for dreams as yet unfulfilled.
If you listen to what is behind your complaint you may hear what is missing from your life. Ask yourself, “What do I need or want but am somehow against asking for or reaching for in my life that is leading me to complain?” Sometimes relatively small complaints can be resolved with simple, practical changes. However, oftentimes even what appears to be a small complaint is actually suggesting a much bigger question. In response to a relatively minor complaint made by one of his students about what to eat for dinner, a teacher of mine, Max Schupbach, once posed the question, Yes, but what do you want for life? What about making a major life change to pursue that goal you always secretly held? What about going back to school to get that degree? What about telling your partner you really want to be closer with them even though all is seemingly going “fine”? As we go about our daily lives, complacent with what is, we often forget the parts of us that are risk-takers and dreamers.
Supporting the Right Parts
We could all use more support in our lives at one time or another. However, getting the full benefit of feeling supported means knowing which part(s) of ourselves need supporting. Let’s look at some examples.
If we are depressed, we may think we need support to be more “up,” but in fact we may need the most support for the part of us that is a dreamer, the one that loves connecting to the earth, or the one that has a perspective on life informed by our relationship to death.
If we are insecure, we may think we need reassurance that “everything is going to be okay,” but we may instead need support for the part of us that simply and beautifully has feelings and wishes to be heard and appreciated.
If we lack self-confidence or a sense of self-worth, we may think we need to be generally boosted up, but we may actually have a specific and unique part of us that needs to be seen: our particular style of intelligence, our unique brand of power, or aspects of our deepest nature.
As you can see, getting support, even if that is a good friend or therapist who listens well and cares, will feel most profoundly impactful if we get help with finding out which part of us needs the support and what that specific support looks like.
As you consider your psychic and emotional well-being and the constant pursuit to “be happy,” try focusing more of your awareness on the various parts inside of you. Build relationships with them. Get to know how they feel and think, what they say, and how much you unconsciously operate from a very limited pool of inner figures.
On a regular basis, try playing out parts of yourself that are less known (or less liked) and enjoy the benefits of moving more fluidly among the figures. Be as loose and playful as you are able to, to avoid getting stuck. Get help from a therapist to learn about these parts, paying especially close attention to the aspects of you that get marginalized or are on the fringes of your awareness. Befriend them. Getting to know your inner figures and giving them the support they need may be the fastest track to wholeness.