Something that will often come up in therapy is the opportunity to look at different parts of ourselves, as opposed to only considering ourselves as one heterogeneous being. What this means is that we don’t function the same way all of the time. Depending on a multitude of factors we present ourselves, feel, make decisions, engage in behaviors, and interact in many different ways.
We learn early on, often in relation to parents, guardians or caregivers, that certain ways we operate result in different outcomes. Long before our brains are fully developed we are already determining that expressing certain parts of ourselves will result in love, affirmation and praise, while other parts of ourselves will result in rejection, punishment or feeling disconnected. This process continues to develop over time. As we mature, we find ourselves more easily and willingly accessing different parts of ourselves, or “self-states” as I will call them, based on who we are with, what our objectives are, what we are feeling and what we want to avoid. I will often recognize a “younger” version of yourself as a means for your adult self to connect with and identify the needs, desires and fears that were present when you were younger. Perhaps these were not met, only occasionally met, or you were unable to make them known to the people that mattered. Through therapy we get an opportunity to look more closely at these parts of ourselves, as they often do not completely evaporate as we age, while our personalities become more integrated and solidified. Our younger parts have a way of sticking with us over time and playing a role in how we develop; reminding us what is successful in fostering a safe and healthy attachment to another person and what may result in our being hurt, abandoned or let down.
We are more sophisticated beings as adults. However, the imprint of our childhoods plays a significant role in cultivating our personalities as we continue to evolve and mold what our histories have told us is successful in finding love, happiness and safety. From experience, we become more adept at shifting from one self-state into another based on the circumstances we find ourselves in and what we are hoping to obtain. Therapy helps to give us the tools to recognize these different parts of ourselves, what function they serve, and if they still carry a needed purpose, as opposed to being no longer relevant as our relationships and needs have grown and changed since we were younger. It is an important part of accepting one’s self to see these younger parts and engage with them through kindness, acceptance and understanding. By tending to the needs of our younger selves we are taking back control over how secure and accepted we feel. It is completely normal to shift from one self-state into another as we navigate different relationships and environments. What we strive to obtain is the development of a connection between these different parts of ourselves, as if they can talk to one another, so that we operate more fluidly and with more confidence in knowing what we want to get out of each experience we encounter.