Julia Vaughan Smith

Working with ‘Parts’ of our selves

I have become aware of how often I refer to ‘parts’ of our selves when working with coaches in supervision and with clients and how it is always met with ‘that is so helpful’. I thought I would share this approach and my thinking more widely.

Examples include:

 A coach saying, “the client is very lacking in confidence”, reframed as “part of the client is very lacking in confidence”.

A client saying, “I feel overwhelmed by this situation” becomes “part of me feels overwhelmed by this situation”.

Hearing ourselves say “I feel so despondent” and reframing it as “part of me feels so despondent”.

A coach saying, “this client can’t access his feelings” becomes “part of this client can’t access his feelings”.

The first statements imply the experience is all encompassing and suggests an identification with the feeling or narrative. Such identifications come from the survival self.  It is not true that ‘all of us’ is caught up in this experience, we have access to other resources which can reflect on and engage with the context we are responding to.

Franz Ruppert modelIn trauma the ‘psyche’ splits, creating the survival and traumatised selves. The healthy self continues but access to it has been diminished by the trauma (see previous postings). This figure (© Franz Ruppert), illustrates that split. Due to the fragmentation that occurs with trauma, within each of the survival and trauma selves there are different ‘parts’, different expressions of the survival self and strategies, or the trauma self. Each ‘part’ carries memories, beliefs and feelings which connect to the ‘there and then’.  By talking of ‘part of you/me’ we recognise that this part exists, and leaves the possibility open of other parts emerging from the healthy self as resources to be accessed. The healthy parts are more consistent as they are unaffected by the trauma, other than being repressed by the survival self. From that self we know what is healthy for us, can think clearly about what is our business and what is the business of others, and what action is in our best interests.   In coaching, we want to encourage the healthy parts to have a voice, to challenge the survival part narrative.

Whenever you hear yourself make statements which sound all encompassing, change your language to ‘part of me feels’. Encourage those you supervise or coach to experiment with that as well. It is a simple way of reframing and recognising the splits in the psyche.

It is important also to welcome all parts, while we are reframing to ‘part of you feels overwhelmed’ we need to make it clear that that part is welcome, it is not being rejected. This is because many people dislike or want to reject the parts that are present, particularly those from the trauma self, but also those from the survival self.  All parts are important in terms of understanding the internal system. We can ask the client to say more about a part, and explore what other parts are also present.  A client the other day arrived saying “part of me is fine, the other part of me is wobbly”, my response was both parts are welcome. That allows both to be present.

In his book Internal Family Systems Therapy, Richard Schwartz takes this to a further stage by identifying and naming parts as sub-personalities within the internal psyche-system of the individual. He talks of trauma causing the self-system to break down, with parts of the self becoming polarised and at war with each other. I read this as being similar to Franz Ruppert’s approach with the splits in the psyche and the fragmented selves.  Schwartz identifies three categories – Exiles, Managers and Firefighters. Within Ruppert’s model, Exiles are trauma parts, with Managers and Firefighters being survival parts.  Schwartz also talks of the undamaged essence-self, in Ruppert’s terms the healthy self, that is confident and can emerge to lead the healing process. He refers to this as self-leadership. The parts that emerge, he states, may not be aware of other parts of the system, hence the naming of them and allowing for other parts to emerge.

While he is writing for therapists, if coaches are interested, there is much that can be transferred appropriately and usefully within coaching practice.

Julia Vaughan Smith  September 2019