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We Are Multiple: Discovering The Many Parts of Yourself

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
23 min read
We Are Multiple: Discovering The Many Parts of Yourself
Source: An Artist's Journey to Life (link)
Get to know that beast within
Give him love and bring him in
No, not an enemy, but a friend
-Nick Mulvey, A Prayer of My Own

As I dipped into a deep meditative state and the visualization began, I was suddenly standing on a giant stage at the Columbia River Gorge. In front of me, on an enormous hill, stood a thousand versions of myself—old, young, wild, tame, civilized, and disheveled. I scanned the crowd.

I was then instructed by the guide to walk off the stage and approach one of the many versions of myself. As I gazed into the great expanse, my eyes locked with a boy I recognized as my 10-year-old self. I was drawn right to him, remembering how he was teased for being fat, how his parents didn’t spend much time with him. There he was, still feeling rejected and unloved, still lonely. Maybe even more lonely now.

As the guide instructed, I walked over to him and asked, “Steve, what do you want me to know?” In a soft and shy voice, he said to me, “I want to be loved, appreciated, and held. I’ve been by myself for more than thirty years.”

In an instant, the others that gathered around us vanished. Now it was just the two of us standing on the grassy hillside together. For the next ten minutes, “Little Steve” and I were companions and playmates. I took on the role of a caring brother and mentor. We played catch, tetherball, and shared a soda. We laughed. I put my arm around him and I listened to him. We hugged. I could feel his soft, chubby body against mine. I could sense a warm tenderness radiating within me.

“Little Steve” had felt profoundly rejected when I was him, but in that moment I realized that I had been the one rejecting him for all these years. Spending time together and embracing him was exactly what we needed. We both felt loved and appreciated by each other. We were reunited. We belonged together.

As I came out of the visualization, a huge smile swept across my face. I began to feel a softening and lightness in my body. Something within me had shifted. I was more comfortable in my own skin. I understood myself better. I loved myself more.

We Contain Multitudes

Ever feel like you can’t get along with yourself or that you get in your own way? Though not everyone experiences consciousness the same way, it’s very common to hear commentary in your head, feel seemingly contradictory impulses, even like there’s a war going on inside you. Each of us has an internal community of many parts that make us who we are. These parts have specific roles within the system, such as protector, comforter, and motivator—none are “bad,” even the ones you don’t like, and they all serve a purpose. Every part contributes to the whole—our identity. As Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself”:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes.”

According to Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of an evidence-based psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS), “A part is not just a temporary emotional state or habitual thought pattern. Instead, it is a discrete and autonomous mental system that has an idiosyncratic range of emotion, style of expression, set of abilities, desires, and view of the world. [It] is as if we each contain a society of people, each of whom is at a different age and has different interests, talents, and temperaments.”

Some parts we identify with and some we reject. Some we appreciate and some we loathe. Some run our lives while others lurk in the background of our psyche. Some parts work together as a team. I have a protector I’ve named “Shy Guy” who prohibits me from taking actions that could leave me rejected. Shy Guy protects the part of me that fears rejection. I can sense when Shy Guy surfaces because my heart rate spikes and my body tenses up. He holds me back physically to protect this younger part of me from feeling the sting of rejection. There’s even a push and pull dynamic among parts. For example, my People Pleaser part prohibits my Selfish one. My Introvert part silences my Extrovert part. My Workaholic pushes against the one who craves balance. My Scattered one overwhelms the focused one.

Some of our parts are unconscious or difficult to locate because we’ve repressed them or deemed them to be unacceptable. They’re hiding like Little Steve was. These “exiled” or shadow parts formed from trauma, social norms, or interpersonal dynamics. We often don’t want to engage with these parts of ourselves (I have a part I loathe called the Grim Reaper, who ruminates on my death). Additionally, we can disown parts of ourselves that we actually appreciate and want around. For example, you might have a part that knows exactly what you want and how to articulate it, but another part that tells you to stay quiet. American poets have aptly described the shadow in their work. Robert Bly referred to the shadow as “the long bag we drag behind us.” Delmore Schwartz called it “the heavy bear who goes with me.”

Some parts can try to drown out all others. In fact, I’ve heard clients say, “I am this part”—an overidentification with one visible part of themselves, known in IFS as “blending.” When we think we are a part, we’re unable to see our other parts and leverage their gifts. We don’t embrace and utilize all of our inner resources and capabilities.

You might be able to recognize 4-5 parts of yourself right now–there are likely hundreds more. I’ve identified dozens in the past few years of my own “parts work.” In fact, I maintain a Notion document to track and explore my parts. I realize going to this extreme might seem cuckoo, but I’m committed to understanding each one and the system they operate within. When we name our parts, it gives them an identity and shape. From there, we can more easily locate, understand, and appreciate them.

One of my roles as a coach is to help my clients identify, understand, accept, and integrate their parts; I work to help my clients feel safe enough to open space for their parts, listen to them, and love them with compassion. I help them see they don’t have to disown or “fix” any parts, but be with them and welcome them in. Most importantly, I help them learn to summon the appropriate part at the appropriate time, and to notice and dismiss parts that may be interfering, so they can be more intentional and less reactive.

Here’s what you really need to know: our many parts play a role but they are not “us,” and we are not defined by one of them unless we allow ourselves to be. Additionally, our parts are not fixed. They can change and adapt when we begin to understand them, their roles and needs. When we get to know them and accept them, we can assign them new and important roles, ask them to step back in certain situations, and break free from old scripts. That’s the impact of this work.

History and Current Landscape

The concept that identity consists of multiple parts or personas appears in many branches of psychology dating back to the 19th century. In the 1920s, Sigmund Freud proposed that we are made up of three distinct parts, an ego (guidance and direction), superego (conscience and rules), and id (instinct). Freud’s protege, Carl Jung, introduced the concepts of shadow, archetypes, and personas, as well as the practice of Active Imagination, which “gives a voice to sides of the personality that are normally not heard, thereby establishing a line of communication between consciousness and the unconscious.”

In the 1940s, German psychologist Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt psychology, introduced the Empty Chair Technique, designed to help you work through internal or interpersonal conflict—gestalt literally means to perceive the whole as more valuable than the sum of its parts. Erik Erikson argued in the 1960s that having a strong “ego identity” meant combining the many selves of our past into one enduring self. In the 1980s, Dr. Richard Schwartz introduced Internal Family Systems (IFS), a popular modality of evidence-based therapy that helps practitioners understand and integrate all parts of the self. In the 1990s, Hal and Srida Stone developed Voice Dialogue, “a method for contacting, learning about, and working with the many selves that make up each of us.” Also in the 1990s, Ego State Therapy was introduced by John G. Watkins and Helen Watkins.

There are a variety of approaches to “parts work” that have evolved over the past forty years, and I won’t cover them all here. But there are a few techniques I’ve studied and that I frequently use and share with my clients.

IFS is currently the most popular and deepest form of parts work I’ve come across, but there are other simple and effective approaches. The Conscious Leadership Group (CLG) developed their “persona model” based on Karpman’s Drama Triangle. It helps the client see behavior patterns while in conflict and then get to know the personas that have been running the show. I also refer to Positive Intelligence, which helps practitioners cultivate “mental fitness” by developing mindfulness and identifying the “saboteurs” that block effectiveness.

Internal Family Systems

Before we dive in, I’d like to underscore an important point about IFS: it’s “non-pathologizing” which means it doesn’t reduce you to a diagnosis. IFS posits that all of your parts, even your extreme ones, play a role, have a gift, and are the response to something that happened earlier in life. There are four key concepts in IFS that you need to know—Exiles, Managers, Firefighters, and Self.

Exiles are our oldest parts and represent our youngest selves that were hurt and traumatized many years ago. They often feel rejected, punished, and humiliated. Remember Little Steve? He felt mocked, different and lonely—definitely an Exile. At a very young age, I suppressed him and banished him to the far reaches of my psyche where he remained stuck. Like Little Steve, Exiles often carry fear, shame, and a sense of unworthiness. Despite being afraid and vulnerable, they want to come out and be supported.

Our Managers protect us and prevent pain. They are assertive and take control to ensure we’re comfortable and functioning. They exist to keep the Exiles unharmed and unactivated. Our Managers usually sound like someone we know from earlier in life—a parent, other family member, coach, or teacher. Examples of Managers include the critic, the planner, the pleaser, the achiever, the hero, the controller, and the perfectionist.

For example, I have a manager who protects Poor Boy, an exile who is terrified of running out of money. When this manager is activated, he ruminates about money, reviews my account balances and crunches numbers to ensure we’re secure financially. To my wife this behavior is irrational, but to me this makes sense because my family lived paycheck to paycheck when I was young.

Our reactive Firefighters distract and protect us from the pain of Exiles. As soon as an Exile has a wound or is triggered, they sprint into action and distract, numb, and sooth us. Common behaviors of firefighters include addictions, disassociating, overspending, overeating, rage, and social media binges. Examples of Firefighters include the addict, the procrastinator, and the binger.

Finally, all parts have access to “Self” at any time. Self is who we are at our core—wise, centered, and authentic. When a part is accepted, integrated, and healed it can access the Self and all of its positive qualities—compassion, curiosity, calm, clarity, courage, connectedness, confidence, and creativity.

According to Richard Schwartz, “The goal of IFS is not to fuse all of these smaller personalities into a single big one. It is instead to restore leadership, balance and harmony, so that each part can take its preferred, valuable role.”

Conscious Leadership Group (CLG)

CLG developed their own persona model based on Dr. Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle, which asserts that we fall into one of three ineffective roles when we go “below the line” and are in a state of threat—the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer. CLG modified the names in the triangle to Victim, Villain, and Hero.

Victims are “at the effect of” people, circumstances, and conditions. They often complain, whine and argue why they can’t have what they want. They often say “It’s hard” or “I have to” or “It’s hopeless.” There are a variety of sub-personas of the Victim. These include Complainer, Worry Wart, Overworked, Overwhelmed, Misunderstood, Dummy, and Hercules.

Villains love to blame themselves, others, or their circumstances. They narrow in on one convenient answer and believe they are absolutely right. They often say “It should be different” or “Who’s to blame?” or “You’re wrong!” There are a variety of sub-personas of the Villain. These include Critic, Rebel, Cynic, Debater, Control Freak, Drill Sergeant, and Know-It-All.

Heroes seek temporary relief. They find ways to make the pain or discomfort go away — this includes their own and others. They often say “I can handle it” or “I can help” or “Poor you.” There are a variety of sub-personas of the Hero. These include the Protector, Peacemaker, Energizer Bunny, Withdrawer, Nice Guy, Multitasker, and Cheerleader.

If you want to learn more, these “Drama Triangle” cards from CLG are excellent. They go into detail about each of the roles. I have a set in my office, and whenever I feel myself going “below the line” I’ll pull them out, identify which personas are present, and do my work.

Positive Intelligence

This approach to parts was developed by author and coach Shirzad Chamine. It helps build mental fitness by cultivating awareness of our inner “saboteurs” and shifting their grasp on us. These parts sabotage our wellbeing, performance, and relationship, and cause anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, restlessness, and stress.

This model asserts that we all have a “Master Saboteur” or “Judge” and several “Accomplice Saboteurs.” The Judge berates us when we’re not perfect, constantly reminds us of potential dangers, and compares us to other people. It’s also responsible for activating one of the nine “Accomplice Saboteurs.” Here are the descriptions from their website:

  • “The Avoider drives us to avoid unpleasant tasks and conflicts.
  • The Controller drives us to take charge and control situations and people.
  • The Hyper-Achiever drives us to depend on performance and achievement.
  • The Hyper-Rational drives us to focus and analyze every aspect of life including others.
  • The Hyper-Vigilant drives us to worry about everything that could possibly go wrong.
  • The Pleaser drives us to gain acceptance by helping, pleasing, and rescuing others.
  • The Restless drives us to never sit still, always searching for more excitement or stimulation.
  • The Stickler drives us to seek perfection and order.
  • The Victim drives us to seek attention and affection by appearing needy emotionally.”

If you’d like to find out which “Accomplice Saboteurs” run your life, Positive Intelligence offers a 6-week foundation program which I’ve taken and is excellent. In case you’re wondering, my primary “Accomplice Saboteurs” include the Pleaser, Restless, and Hyper-Achiever.


No matter which approach you choose (and you may even combine many), parts work can transform how you perceive, relate to, manage, and accept yourself. It’s illuminating and empowering. Through this work, especially IFS in my experience, our parts can be healed and our “self” transformed. Here are some of the specific benefits.

Self-awareness. In just one or two sessions, we’re able to see patterns, tendencies, and “rackets” that we’ve been running in our heads for years. We’re also able to see which parts support each other and which ones are in conflict. With this work, we can begin to shed light on our parts and the roles they play in driving our behavior. From there we can choose how to respond and relate to them.

Access to the self. Any form of parts work helps us regain access to our Self which IFS characterizes as inherently wise and resourceful. All parts have access to it when they become liberated and integrated. When we’re able to access Self, we can call specific parts forward and ask others to step back. We can resolve conflicts between parts. We can get to know our parts better, we can repurpose them for different roles, and we can find compassion for them.

Self-compassion and acceptance. The more we try to make a part disappear, shame, push away, disown, or repress parts of ourselves, the more likely they will be to rebel, strengthen, or sabotage us. Ignoring or bullying a part just doesn’t work. Parts work helps us realize that all parts have a role and are trying to help us. Once we’re able to see that, we’re able to empathize with and appreciate all of our parts, even the extreme ones.

Wholeness and integration. Rejection of parts creates cognitive dissonance, leaks energy, and leaves us feeling fragmented. In other words, we feel torn, uncomfortable, and depleted. When we’re able to reclaim disowned parts of our personality, we can begin to embrace who we really are, all the parts of us. Parts work helps us recognize that we are many parts, not just one or two. Dr. Schwartz emphasizes that as we have more access to the Self, we can humanize and coordinate our parts so they can work together as a healthy team. When this happens a sense of presence and aliveness radiates from us.

Wellbeing and health. IFS has been shown to be effective for treating a variety of conditions such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and even some physical health conditions. That said, it has not been subjected to large and long-term rigorous clinical trials.

How to Get Started

Before you embark on your own journey into parts work I’d like to provide a few disclaimers.

First, I recommend finding a therapist or coach with proper training and experience, especially if you have a history of mental illness. Opening these doors without professional guidance can surface difficult and repressed emotions and thoughts. Make sure you talk with your doctor, therapist, or coach to ensure it’s appropriate. And remember to seek support if old traumas are uncovered or you become triggered during parts work at home.

That said, I’m here to share a variety of approaches and techniques so you can get started. As you go through these practices, I encourage you to get curious and compassionate. Doing this work is about increasing awareness, knowing yourself better so you can choose how you want to live.

Finally, you might be in the group that doesn’t have an internal narrative or voice. If that’s the case, these exercises and tips likely won’t be relevant for you. For those with a voice in their heads, keep in mind that some people think in images and symbols instead of words. Isn’t that neat?

Identify Your Parts

Parts work begins with cultivating awareness and presence. This can be accomplished through meditation, therapy, coaching, and personality assessments like the Enneagram. The more conscious you are to your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, the easier it will be to find your parts. When you begin to look closely, you’ll notice parts are lurking everywhere.

Start by slowing down and noticing your thoughts. What’s the content? What words are entering into my awareness? What’s their tone? How do I react to what I’m thinking?

Parts have different energetic qualities. When you notice a shift in your aliveness, it’s likely a sign that a different persona has come online. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: Am I upbeat? Am I drained? Am I focused? Am I scattered? Am I restless? What’s the quality of my energy right now?

Parts are often behind emotions and body sensations. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you tired? Are you irritated? Are you guilty about something? Are you filled with anxiety? What’s your posture? Are you open and upright or closed and slouched? Do you feel twisting in your stomach or tightness in your shoulders? What’s your body temperature? Are you cold or hot? When we notice an emotion or a sensation we can usually find a part behind it.

Guthrie Sayen, an experienced IFS practitioner and teacher who I’ve been following, recommends asking a part that does something specific to step forward. For example, “I want to talk to the part who protects me from rejection, can you come forward?” or “I’d like to talk with the one who is irritated,” or “I’d like to talk with the butterflies in my stomach. Is there something you’d like me to know?”

Another way to find a part is to notice aversions you have to certain people. That’s a signal that you may have a part within you that has been disowned. Herman Hesse, author of Siddartha, said it best, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

We learned earlier that parts tend to travel together, so it’s essential to separate and differentiate them. If you want to get to know Withdrawer but notice that you’re feeling angry or annoyed, you might have to ask that angry or annoyed part to step back so you can talk to Withdrawer. You might even want to ask its name. This will help you differentiate and personify them, giving them shape and form, and the space between them possible for a dialogue to emerge. Remember, your parts are individuals, and they might all look totally different, even nothing like you.

Interview the Parts

Once a part has been identified, we’re able to know and relate to them better.

Having a conversation with our parts is powerful because we’re giving them an opportunity to express what they want, what they need, and what role they play. As soon as we give them a voice and listen to them, they begin to feel heard and respected. I frequently interview parts during my Morning Pages routine, or when I catch them interrupting a thought I’ll say, “What do you want?” or “What role do you serve?”

Interviewing is effective because it helps you understand and empathize with the part you're exploring. It also helps you see how this part plays and takes you over at times. I learned in CLG that interviewing is effective because we can begin to see how certain parts are like  “wetsuits”— so familiar that we don’t even realize we’re wearing them.

CLG has a great “persona” interview that’s simple and brief, yet powerful. It gets to the heart of the part. Once the persona or part is identified, the client is asked to take on the tone, body posture and energy of the part. So if I’m interviewing a client with a "Drill Sergeant” part, they would take on the actual qualities of a drill sergeant—make their body bigger, puff out their chest, speak in a commanding tone.

Going through the interview, we repeat the part’s name before each question, so the client stays in the role of Drill Sergeant. In my experience, it’s common and natural to come out of a persona. It’s my job as a coach to note out when I see other personas taking the place of the one being explored. When that happens, I’ll share who I think that other persona is and I’ll ask if that part can step back. This helps my client build awareness of multiple parts even if not all are being explored in the session.

Here’s an example of the CLG interview, using their language and my Drill Sergeant” as an example:

Q: Drill Sergeant, what’s the most important thing to you?
A: Staying in line, compliance.

Q: Drill Sergeant, what are you most proud of in how you’ve served Steve in his life?
A: I kept him in line so he would show up and do the work.

Q: Drill Sergeant, when did you make your first appearance in Steve’s life?
A: Freshman year of high school.

Q: Drill Sergeant, who did you learn your style from?
A: My big brother and football coaches

Q: Drill Sergeant, what are you most afraid of?
A: Mediocrity, laziness.

Q: Drill Sergeant, in your heart of hearts, what do you most want?
A: Control, perfection.

Q: Drill Sergeant, what’s your gift and essence quality?
A: Commitment and focus.

By completing this interview, I can see the role the drill sergeant plays. For most of my adult life, this part hurt and oppressed me, so I would resist him. After interviewing him, I was able to understand the role that he played. I could see that he shared qualities with positive protectors in my life. I could then appreciate the role he was playing—pushing me and others to achieve extraordinary things.

There’s another interview approach that I learned in Coaching For Transformation (CFT) with Leadership That Works. They have a different set of questions we can ask our personas or parts:

  • “What do you want to say?
  • What is it like to be you?
  • What are your gifts?
  • What role do you play?
  • How do you help out?
  • What do you need?
  • What does authenticity mean for you?
  • What else do you want to say?”

I also ask, “Who in your life brings you out?” This helps the client see if the persona is tied to a specific person or group of people—a very common phenomenon. For example, I have a young immature part that only comes out around my twin brother Dave. I’m convinced that Dave also has a young immature part that only comes out around me.

If you want to practice interviewing a part but don’t have anyone to support you, Carl Jung’s “active imagination” technique can be effective (I learned this in CFT). When you identify a part, ask to speak to them. Once you have their approval, you can then write down your conversation with the part. Using the tips and questions I’ve shared is a good place to start.

Self: What are your gifts?

Part: I keep you safe from taking risks because I’m scared of getting injured.

Self: What do you need?

Part: I need you to stay healthy because you’re now a father and you need to be around for your family…

After you’ve interviewed the persona using any technique, it’s important to thank them and step out of the persona and then invite your Self to come back to the forefront.

Playing Your Parts

After you identify and interview a part, you may want to try “playing” them. By “play” the part, I mean lean into their characteristics and make them bigger in order to see their patterns more clearly. I learned this from Diana Chapman and Deb Katz of CLG, where we were encouraged to take on the voice, tone, attitude, body language, and energy of different parts. Some of my oldest patterns have been revealed through playing my personas—magnifying their behavior and having fun with them.

I often invite clients to play and exaggerate a persona that we identified for a week, maybe two, at chosen times and places. Start with fifteen or thirty minutes. See how it feels. Commit to bringing it out at home or work depending on where it tends to surface. Embody the persona as much as possible and ask your judge or other protective parts to step aside while you play. Introduce it to the people you spend the most time around.

The key is to play the persona in your daily life so you can see how the persona is playing you. Playing a part can be uncomfortable, especially if you have strong protectors, so there needs to be a willingness to try, laugh, and practice.

I encourage clients to find a prop or an outfit that helps them play a part. Make it ridiculous. Make it big. Have fun with it. Diana from CLG does this better than anyone I’ve seen. She loves to dress up as her personas and keeps props around her desk so she can quickly access and play a part. In fact, I was inspired by Diana to dress up as my Caveman persona at a CLG retreat. I showed up in a caveman costume and wielded a huge wooden club.

I also recommend introducing your part to the people closest to you. You can say something to the effect of, “I realize that I have this persona and it can play me. I bet you already know this part of me, and I want to understand it better, including how it affects you. Is this something you’re willing to support me with?” It’s critical to create agreements with those in your life if you’re going to play the persona with them. See if they’re open and willing. If they are, get very clear on how you’re going to play that is both friendly and supportive. When I asked my wife, she initially rolled her eyes but eventually agreed because she knew it was supporting my development.

Remember, by making our parts bigger we can see patterns that might be invisible otherwise. By playing my parts and getting messy, I’ve been able to notice unconscious behavior patterns that have been running my life. For example, when I was playing Caveman, I noticed that I would just blurt out whatever was on my mind. I also noticed that I had a pattern of asserting myself over others, including women. Once I finally began to see this part more clearly, I was then able to decide what role I wanted them to play going forward—honesty and intention yes, dominance and impulsivity no.

Accepting and Integrating Them

The final and often most challenging step is accepting and integrating our many parts.

We can start by answering questions that build empathy and compassion, like, “How’d it go playing the persona? What did you learn about yourself and the persona? Can you see the gift? Can you see how it helps you? Can you see how it serves and protects you?”

I also encourage clients to contemplate what role they would like the part to play in the future. Repurposing a part to show up differently in the future can be life changing. I also have a tendency to ask some of my parts to stop “driving the car” in certain situations and get in the back seat. It’s important to note that I’m not telling them to get lost. I’m asking them to stick around but gently step into the background or play a different, supporting role. For example, I found an armored part that was blocking access to my heart. Once I understood he was protecting me from pain, I asked him to use his energy to open my heart to others.

Acceptance of the part's existence and role it plays in your life isn’t an intellectual endeavor alone. It also utilizes the other two centers of intelligence—the body and the heart.  

For many years, I loathed the addict in me. He caused emotional and physical pain and suffering for over a decade. I also felt deep shame and carried a burden for many years, even after I got sober. I believed that I was an addict, that I was this label. In hindsight, I wasn’t able to fully heal until I understood and appreciated first that the addict was just one part of me, and then that he played an important role. During a session where I explored the Addict, I saw that he provided comfort, excitement, and made it easier for me to connect with people. He wanted to protect and numb me from fear and pain. At that moment, something shifted. For the first time, I was able to have empathy for and appreciate the Addict in me. I could see that he was just trying to help and comfort me. Once I was able to understand and appreciate this part, I was able to find a new role for him, and encourage other parts of me that seek excitement and community in healthier ways.

It’s important to thank these parts for their service, appreciate them, and love them. This is what integration and self-compassion is. It’s loving and appreciating all of your parts, even if some have caused pain and tried to kill you.

Last month, I met with a client who surfaced his "Finesser" persona. This part of him edits important memos and slide decks with an eye towards being perfect and looking good to his colleagues. When this part is running the show, my client gets tunnel vision and is unable to see the bigger picture. He obsesses over every word and sentence. What’s the impact? The Finesser might spend hours focusing on insignificant details while missing the bigger picture and narrative. In our session that day, my client and I got to know the Finesser. We had a conversation with that part and learned that it’s there to protect my client. The Finesser wants him to look impressive to his board, deliver value to his company, and keep him safe. We also explored how this feels in his body when it’s activated. Now, he can sense and feel when the Finesser is online. We also discovered that this part has real gifts and should be utilized at times in the process, but not for the entire process.

Acceptance can be challenging if you’re a high achiever and have a strong critic or inner perfectionist. You might have some parts that make it difficult for you to open your heart to yourself. You may have a part that says “opening my heart is dangerous.” Those parts will likely sabotage any kind of practice unless you work with them and understand their fears. I can't emphasize this enough: parts work an inside job that requires practice, patience, and compassion.

Keep In Mind

This is a practice that takes time and many reps. Remember to take it slow. Start with one persona who you know well. Several years ago, I started with the part of me who wants everyone to like me. It took me at least a month to really get to know and love this one. Journaling helped. That’s why I always recommend journaling or writing out an interview as a good place to start. Again, find a coach or therapist  who is trained in this work if you feel called to go deeper.


If you’d like to explore this topic beyond what I've already shared, here are some resources I recommend.

  • Dr. Richard Schwartz on Tim Ferris (link)
  • “Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts” an audio course by Dr. Richard Schwartz (link)
  • IFS directory of practitioners (link)
  • Positive Intelligence (link)
  • “Know Your Inner Saboteurs” TED Talk by Shirzad Chamine (link)
  • Drama Triangle Cards by Conscious Leadership Group (link)
  • Coaching for Self-Leadership by Gutherie Sayen (link)
  • Inside Out by Pixar (2015) (link)
  • “You and Your Grieving Parts” by Laura L Walsh PSYD (link)

The Path Towards Wholeness

Understanding what each of our parts need and want, and where they come from to form us, is how we can truly understand who we are, and why we are who we are. When we have a strong sense of Self, we’re able to understand our attractions, aversions, values, philosophies, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. And when we know who we are, personal and professional transformation is possible.

You now have a language and a good starting place when you feel called to explore your identity and begin to access your full Self. You can always contact me if you have any questions or would like to share your own experiences with parts work. May your path towards self-compassion and wholeness be friendly, illuminating, and transformative. Good luck.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
-Carl Rogers

Many thanks to Diana Chapman, Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, Richard Schwartz and the many others who have influenced me and this post.

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Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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