Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Most of our day is spent reacting. Events and interactions happen outside of us and inside of us, and we have reactions to those things. Watching the election coverage on the news, getting a speeding ticket, encountering your child’s grumpy, door-slamming mood, finding a lump in your breast, getting a raise at work, starting in on the big pile of dishes in the sink, then finishing said dishes...these experiences make us mad, sad, spacey or distant, excited, compulsive, hopeless, talkative or silent. Something inside of us sees fit to react to these experiences in a particular way and takes us into a specific state, automatically and immediately. Without awareness, we are thrust into experiencing ourselves as MAD, SAD, SPACEY, EXCITED, TALKATIVE, etc. And without awareness we automatically identify with our reactions, meaning - we accept them as the gospel truth.
Our reactions come from our parts. Parts are archaic, child-based energies inside of us, left over from when we were small and outwardly powerless and defenseless. In reactive moments we take on the beliefs, emotions, sensations and world views of these parts and we look out at our lives through their eyes. We lose our grander Selves and temporarily become blended with the reactive part’s perspective and its accompanying state. When we are blended with a part we might say things like:
“I’m so mad at you!”
“I’m totally overwhelmed.”
“I don’t want to talk about it!”
We think whatever is happening inside of us is representative of the truth outside and it tends to feel global, binary, black & white and absolute.
“That is terrible news.”
“I always get stuck with the hard work.”
“Finally, someone sees my value!”
We get stuck. Life seems to trap us in a painful pattern where we keep experiencing the same loops, blocks and deadends. We move through our lives operating on reactive autopilot, programmed by our formative early childhood experiences, thinking it’s true and we’re right.
In a way our parts are right - our parts are telling us exactly how it was when we were
small. They are a historical representation of what happened to us in the past and how
we survived it. But the very hopeful and good news is - our parts aren’t correct about
THIS moment, about NOW, about how resourced and empowered we are today. Our
mission then is to update our parts with this new information about our
present day capacity and safety.
If we want to grow beyond our reactive parts, we need to first get to know them. We can’t bypass whatever our parts are saying, remembering, anticipating, fearing, needing - and hope or expect to get anywhere but right back on the old reflexive loop that has us experiencing the present world through the past’s eyes. So how do we get to know our parts?
It all starts with curiosity.
Feeling curious and interested ignites a more developed and resourced part of the brain. Shifting into curiosity shifts us out of reactivity and into our larger Self. Curiosity draws attention away from fear and reactivity and channels it into a nuanced noticing of novelty that requires us to slow down and turn on a different set of eyes. The moment we are genuinely curious, we are no longer looking through the eyes of our young, powerless part. We become present. Curiosity has disrupted a reactive pattern and opened up the possibility of experiencing ourselves and our lives in a much more spacious way. As long as we stay curious, we are playing on a wide, expansive field, not limited by the undeveloped perspective of our young parts. Curiosity is a change agent in our nervous system and a relatively easy way to kick off a healing expedition.
And...it can be hard to get curious about things that bring up shame, failure, hurt and fear. Right? You may need some direction and encouragement to do the courageous work of looking into the shadows of your reactive, disempowered parts. IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy helps spark our curiosity and beam its brilliant light into the dark corners of our past. Do you need some help getting curious?
Written by Jessica Sorci, LMFT, PMH-C