Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Bringing all our parts to the table

We have “no bad parts,” at least according to Dr. Richard Schwartz, founder of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach to psychotherapy. By parts, he means aspects of our personality, some of which evolved to support us, in ways that may not serve us well in our current lives. He teaches that:

“Our inner parts contain valuable qualities, and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. In IFS, all parts are welcome.”

Schwartz invites us to explore the role that parts we don’t like have played, rather than shaming, hiding, or trying to dump them by “transforming” ourselves.

Using the IFS way (sorry, I am simplifying), our core self is a bit like the affable maître d’ at a fine restaurant whose job is to welcome everyone regardless of their nationality, sexual orientation, or the really strange bear hat they are wearing. She requires, however, that they “play nice” and respect the restaurant’s decorum. (The analogy with IFS then breaks down because she can invite guests who break her rules to leave.)

Many of us deal with our unappealing parts by trying to shame them into submission. I think of my third-grade teacher, who sent the “bad kids” into the back corner, a humiliating spot where they stayed until they “behaved better.”

It turns out that shame is a lousy and ineffective teaching tool.

Being the smart, “good” girl that I was, I never got sent to the back of the room. Instead, I learned to hide my unsavory (and rebellious!) parts by stuffing them deep inside myself where they could be protected by a wall of shame.

A personal example

I spent a long time, during my thirties and forties, nurturing the hope that with enough time in personal and spiritual growth seminars, and psychotherapy, I could be “fixed.” I don’t regret the investment, as I developed additional self-awareness, but I never succeeded at dumping the parts I don’t like, including my tendency to be disappointed, discouraged, or judgmental of myself or others.

Given all I’ve been given in this lifetime, I feel ashamed not to be able to rise above these aspects of myself.

Yet, I would never judge others the harsh way I judge myself. I recently talked to a friend who struggles to pursue her creative work as she would like. Some parts of her personality create obstacles to doing what she wants.

I understood that this was annoying—a dilemma and something to work through—without any need for shame. “Well, that’s human,” I thought.

I also noticed that the obstructionist parts interfering with her creative intentions are only a piece of who she is. She also has many parts that have helped her to accomplish a lot and live a very creative life.

As Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes.”

In a flash of the obvious, I realized I also contain multitudes. I carry what I call “pre-emptive disappointment,” a way to guard myself from high expectations and future hurt. AND I carry joy, excitement, and gratitude.

This realization came just in time as I prepared for the launch of my art exhibit May 3rd.

Dialogue with disappointment

Not surprisingly as I approach the opening of my upcoming art show, I have anxious internal voices talking to me.

This time, instead of pushing them down, I decided to dialogue with them. Here’s how it went.

Disappointed me: People won’t be there at your opening. You’ll be embarrassed. Remember what happened when xxx…

Core me:Yes, that was difficult and painful. This time, on opening night, there will be a couple of conflicting large events. Yet, I can reach out and personally invite my friends—and enjoy the ones who come.”

I’m terrified that people won’t like my work.

“I’m also excited and joyful to be able to share it. Sharing is a big part of my development as an artist.”

I’m not going to sell anything.

“Most of the friends your age are needing to let go of stuff, including art, rather than buy more. And you know that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.

Remember that you are making art because you love it, and the process of painting enlivens and expands you.”

You’re an imposter.

“Join the club. Most creatives suffer, at one time or another, from imposter syndrome, including one of your favorite teachers. It doesn’t mean much.”

A surprise at the table

By talking with, rather than banishing, my “pre-emptively disappointed” self, I encountered a big surprise: I felt joy. It was as if I had unlocked some of the energy it took to suppress or hide a piece of myself.

Allowing disappointment a place at the table had made room for more joy. Go figure.

I realized that I can be joyous, grateful, and afraid of disappointment. I can call on one part to help when another tries to drive the action. My parts can play together. When one tries to stage a takeover, my core self can gently remind it to return to its seats.

IFS originally emerged as a form of individual therapy. Richard Schwartz is now applying the ideas to global issues.

Imagine how it would be if we saw the world as a multitude of parts and offered all groups, nationalities, and animal friends a seat at the table—at least as long as they agreed to play nice.

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