How To Manage Emotional Triggers: Part 3 (Understanding our Inner Parts)

Maya has a big presentation coming up at work, and she’s feeling overwhelmed.

There’s a part of her that keeps stressing out about it. There’s another part that doesn’t want to deal with the presentation at all, so she’s busy scrolling away on Instagram.

Welcome to the world of our inner parts, or sub-personalities.

Becoming Aware of Our Inner Tribe

We are used to thinking of ourselves as uniform and stable beings. Ofocurse, we recognize that we have moments where we act completely out of character, but we tend to overlook these as discrepancies triggered by strong emotions. We also recognize that sometimes we tend to work against ourselves, like when we can’t discipline ourselves to work on our goals.

If our self-sabotage happens often, we can be upset with ourselves (“Why do I always do this? Why can’t I control myself?”)

What if I said that none of us are as straightforward as we might think, and that the conventional understanding of our nature is hindering our self-awareness?

The psyche is not a unitary entity. It consists of multiple parts, each with its own set of motivations, beliefs and emotions, and each interacting with each other to create the complex system that is us. You can think of these parts as little people living in your head. When you’re at war with yourself because some part of you wants to eat healthy, but another part of you just wants to gorge on cake, know these are not just random, occasional feelings. These are two entities that live inside you – one wanting better health, the other wanting to blanket itself in sweet deliciousness.

Let’s take a deeper look into Maya’s mind whenever she has an important deadline to meet.

Typically, there’s a part of her that keeps her distracted and scattered – doing all kinds of pointless things instead of focused on the task at hand. This is her inner escape artist, and he’s cunning. He looks a bit like Houdini, and he’ll take her down YouTube rabbit holes, walk up to the fridge every half an hour looking for something to eat or have her pop a pimple – anything that will take her mind off work.

But what is he escaping from?

Well, there’s another part of her that likes to criticize Maya all the time. This is the infamous inner critic. Everything she does is up for judgement. (“Why can’t you be more productive? You’re just lazy. That presentation is going to turn out stupid, and you’re going to make a fool of yourself.)

This inner critic is a real harpy, so you can’t blame the escape artist for trying to get Maya away from her.

But what’s activated both parts in the first place?

It turns out that when Maya was in her tender, formative years, she was laughed at by her classmates when she tried to speak on stage and couldn’t remember the words. That disastrous attempt left her with a horror of being visible. The humiliated child inside her is triggered whenever she is required to speak in front of other people.

And so, we can now see that each of Maya’s various sub-personalities, although divided in their approach, are all working towards the same goal: to protect Maya from feeling that pain of the humiliated child ever again.

The inner critic is in its own misguided way, trying to get Maya to work hard on the presentation so that she is well-prepared. It wants to minimize the risk that she’ll forget anything or blank out on what to say.

The escape artists is also trying to avoid pain – both the pain of the inner critic blabbing away, as well as keeping the pain of the child from resurfacing to Maya’s conscious awareness. So it keeps her busy doing all kinds of pointless things.

Understanding Our Inner Parts

No matter how destructive or illogical our behaviour seems, it stems from a part of the psyche that is just doing its best to protect us. As paradoxical as it sounds, even a suicidal part is trying to serve us; when all else seems hopeless, it sees suicide as the best way to ease us out from the pain.

Understanding that every single part of our mind is working extremely hard to do what it thinks is best for us leaves with a sense of compassion towards our parts. This compassion is to be felt viscerally, not realized intellectually, since real change rarely comes from intellectual insight alone.

We start to experience this compassion and clarity regarding our parts when we go into observer mode (or switch to the observing ego, as described in Part 1). The more centered we are in our observing energy, and the more we’ve unblended and separated ourselves from our various parts, the more we feel ourselves to be calm, curious, and non-judgemental.

From this state of calmness and curiosity, we can then approach our various parts and get to know and befriend them. This is a process called psychological integration. When they’re ready, we work with them to soften their rigid perceptions and misguided behaviours and unburden them of the pain they carry.

What is freedom? To me, it’s when we can observe and laugh at all what’s going on in our minds.

The next part in this series will give more guidance on how to approach and work with our parts.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Part 5