In my work as a trauma specialist, I have touched into many approaches that help to re-center ourselves when we feel activated, as well as to heal unresolved trauma. During this time in our history, when so many people across the planet are frightened, angry, overwhelmed, and feeling stressed in so many ways, working with processes that support re-centering feels more important than ever.
Back in the early ‘80’s, when I went through a year-long training in hypnosis, I began to develop ways to work with “parts of the self” that seemed to help people calm themselves, to work through deep fears and then, ultimately, to resolve trauma and dissociation.
My first books, Recreating Your Self and Getting Through the Day focus on working with parts to help stabilize activation, manage dissociation, and resolve trauma. When I learned Somatic Experiencing in the early 2000’s, I more deeply understood why parts work was so effective and valuable. When we tune in to a part, say a “child part”, we open the file on a pocket of unmetabolized experience—on something that was overwhelming in some way. With the capacity of the present-day self to bring into awareness the observer function, the work of healing can go forward with a more integrated, whole-brain process.
By engaging a natural nervous-system process called coupling dynamics, we are able to identify when the adult self is “over-coupled” with one of these pockets of unmetabolized experience, as with child parts or what are called protector parts. Protector parts emerge as adaptations to early experience and one of the healing opportunities in working with them is to do some “job retraining”. Protection is something we all need, but these protector parts tend to draw on old information created by a young brain. With an update to current understandings, it is often possible to utilize the ability in that part to help with present-day life challenges. For example, let’s say a protector part’s job is to always keep an eye on people we encounter along the way because there is a fear that anyone and everyone might be a threat. When the trauma related to the creation of that part is resolved, the ability to be aware of the environment can continue to be a wonderful resource, but now without the sense that there is danger everywhere.
Work with child parts may include being able to feel, express, and resolve emotions that were overwhelming at the time. With adult awareness available, the body-mind system can metabolize what was previously too much to manage. Child parts may also need new attachment experiences, where the present-day adult self (or the optimal future self—another resource I draw on all the time) responds to the child in ways that promote a sense of security and well-being.
Then, there are parts of the self that are dissociated, pushed out of conscious awareness because they contain experiences that were profoundly overwhelming. By working with bringing awareness to the presence of these parts, and allowing the present-day adult self to experience what the part encompasses “one molecule at a time”, previously unmanageable experiences can be moved through adult awareness, sensations, and emotions in a measured, tolerable way.
For this week’s practice, I’d like to share with you a process that I have used over many years now. For want of a better term, I have called this “therapeutic dissociation”, a process of separating the adult observer from a feeling of activation or distress. Here’s how to do the process:
• Identify a feeling or state of mind that causes you some discomfort in the present moment but that has an intensity to it that you sense is more than the current situation warrants.
• Imagine that it is an energy that can flow from you, out into the space where you are, and become an image of a child or some other part of you, out there in front of you.
• Notice the part that appears in front of you—become aware of the age of the part and, perhaps, the situation or context in which you find it.
• Without leaving your present-day body-mind awareness, sense the quality and experience in the body of the part in front of you, “over there”.
• Notice what the part needs right now—comfort, rescue, whatever.
• As your present-day self, see if you are able to offer what the part needs. If you find that you can’t or don’t want to soothe, comfort, protect, or otherwise engage this part, allow your optimal future self to step into the image and interact with the part in front of you.
• Sense into the experience of the part as he, she, or it receives what is needed. Pay particular attention to sensations that let you know that the part is receiving what is needed.
• Conclude the experience in whatever way feels right to you. The part may continue to receive what it needs as you go on with your other activities; you may want to tuck the part into your heartspace, or whatever else might feel right to you.
A key thing to know about this kind of work is that, because it is self-hypnotic in nature, once you begin the process, your deep healing wisdom will continue to unfold it even when your conscious mind has to focus on other things. You can trust your internal blueprint for health to support these kinds of healing processes.
As always, remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to allow any judgments to arise, move through, and move on without your having to do anything with or about them.