For All

How to Befriend Challenging Parts of Yourself in Therapy

Daniel is a Body Psychotherapy with a trauma focus who works in German and English, Berlin or online.

Last Updated on February 22, 2024 by It’s Complicated

Recognise internal conflicts in the self

A major reason for seeking therapy is realising that we are stuck and can’t solve the problem we are facing with more of the same that we have already tried.

Depending on your situation this can take many different forms: A stalemate, a cycle you can’t get out of, feeling torn because you are so ambivalent, there is a habit you can not break or a strong reaction you don’t understand.

All of the above creates suffering, especially if this state has continued for a long time.

The lens of parts

Consider the following example. Somebody coming to therapy might say:

“I love my partner, I really do. We are going to get married in a couple of weeks and I can already see us starting a family – it’s going to be great, but yesterday, I just wanted to run away.“

It is very clear that these two statements can not easily be reconciled, but let’s treat this as an accurate description of how this person feels right now.

One approach to get more clarity and insight is to look at this through the lens of parts.

A quick side note on parts: Many schools of psychotherapy (and coaching) have developed the concept of personality parts or ego states or schema modes or there’s an “inner team”. Let’s just go with the term “part” for now.

If you are curious and want to learn more, two popular schools in the world of trauma therapy are Ego State Therapy and Internal Family Systems.

Let’s assume there really is part of the client that wants to run away. We can imagine it like a person on an inner stage with their own view of the world, their own worries, wishes and experiences.

Go from conflict to curiosity: a part as a person

Meeting this new person can help us transition to a state of curiosity and compassion. We can start to ask questions and slowly understand the world of this part better. When met with respect and general openness, maybe it will turn out this runaway part got scared in yesterday’s discussion with the client’s partner. This might have left this part with the impression of having to take on too much responsibility. They just wanted to run away to keep things manageable and preserve personal liberties and not get boxed in. Maybe there’s a feeling connected to this to getting suffocated, of potentially needing to rescue the partner and having to be there for them all the time.

At this point it might dawn on us that this part has a way more dramatic expectation of what this marriage is going to look like and that it’s not the consent-informed choice of two adults on an equal footing who are actually looking forward to having kids. This part cares about its liberties and room to manoeuvre. Did it ever have to rescue someone in the past? It turns out it was their mother who went through a very difficult time when the client was 10 and too often needed their help at the time. In this way, we can at once recognise and connect with the part of us causing internal conflict.

Reducing shame through compassion for your inner 10-year old

When we are faced with dramatically ambivalent feelings, it often brings up powerful feelings of shame on top of it all. The flight impulse in this very serious relationship and the irrational expectation the partner will need to be rescued, will when inspected rationally seem over the top to the client as well. But the impulse to run and the connected sense of fear felt so real…

In a different scenario it could be a knee jerk response like snapping back at your boss after a simple suggestion, an addictive tendency like eating candy when it is already causing stomach aches and more. It might feel like being out of control and leave a feeling of embarrassment and shame: „What am I doing here?“

In the example above, we can clearly see that we have a 10-year old in front of us, who is worried they will need to look after their mother again. From a grounded place, the adult client will very likely know how to turn to this part, and tell it what this part needs to hear: that it is OK and that they will handle the situation, that the part has nothing to worry about and it can go on doing things the 10-year old enjoys doing instead. This can be a very touching and healing place in the process.

Taking time to imagine the run-away part in its safe place will also help calm down and regulate the nervous system response. After all, it was a stressful, potentially traumatic time for the 10-year old and the discussion yesterday triggered a flight impulse, so very likely the client was in a sympathetic response in the situation.

Grounding yourself in your adult experience

It is very empowering to directly experience how the worries and reactions belong to a different time of a life. It helps to draw a clear line between the adult experience and that of the child back then. It is often less overwhelming to turn to and accept the fear and pain of our younger selves this way, because we do it from the grounded place of an adult.

In addition to that, it is also empowering to be able to turn to this challenging part, tell it what it always needed to hear and experience how the nervous system calms down. It can be very immediate and instil a feeling of “I can do this” again.

From a Body Psychotherapy angle, it also makes sense to inspect how the experience of embodying the part and that of the adult feel and differ. How is the posture, how does it feel in the body, which emotions are accessible, what is the atmosphere and perspective like? Clients often navigate this space very intuitively and find it helpful to get a sense of what the experience of the run-away part can be identified by in the body. It can serve as a somatic marker, so that in future, in similar situations it gets easier to catch this earlier and notice that our inner 10-year old wants to speak to us and needs some reassurance.

This in turn strengthens our position as the grown-up, who knows how to talk to a 10-year old to give it the peace of mind, and we can go back to living in and shaping this relationship as an adult. Maybe the run-away part even picked up on a detail that hasn’t been fully discussed yet and some clarification will help this couple to have similar expectations. In any case, it is something for the adults to discuss.

Parts work in therapy

The above was a small example that was quite straight-forward. In the therapy process it might take more than one try to get a real connection to a part and win its trust, or it might take a while to make sense of its experience. For many clients though this method can start a productive connection to their inner dynamic and be compassionate towards a response which stems from a different time in their lives. After all, the 10-year old from above was just trying to help.

  • Q: What can be reasons for feeling stuck/torn/conflicted and how can the language of parts help?
    A: This is often a sign of an inner conflict where we want one thing, but can’t move past another strong impulse. Employing the language of parts puts us into a position where we can more easily get to know “the part of me that does not want to do X” by imagining it as a person or a character on stage.
  • Q: Why should I get to know this part of me and how do I do that?
    A: In a situation where you can’t move past a strong impulse, it might be useful to read this as part of you desperately wanting to be heard. Often this goes hand in hand with a feeling of confusion, desperation, fear or pain. By imagining it as its own person, we can make it easier for ourselves to relate, to be curious and compassionate and to come up with solutions.
  • Q: Once I understand this part better, where do I go from here?
    A: As part of getting to know this part, you will likely have learnt more about what informed the strong impulse or fear response, and likely from which time or previous experience it stemmed. Through this experiential process it becomes easier to help to uncouple today’s wishes and plans from the impulse, so what this part “wants to help with”. It helps ground us in our adult experience.

If you are interested in getting to know and befriending some of your challenging parts, come and find me on It’s Complicated. I work in German and English, in Berlin in person, or online. Find the link to my profile below.

[5] Sources: 

Advantages of Discovering Your Therapist via It’s Complicated

  • No Setup Costs: Creating an account and reaching out to therapists is entirely cost-free.
  • Transparent Pricing: You’ll only pay the session fee, with no concealed booking fees.
  • Precise Search: Utilise our robust search tool to pinpoint therapists based on your specific preferences.
  • Thorough Listings: Easily explore therapists categorised by their specialty, approach, location, and language.

It’s Complicated is a therapy platform that not only helps clients find their perfect therapist but also supports therapists in their craft of helping others. Featuring over 2,000 mental health professionals from 80+ countries, counselling is available in almost 100 languages, both online and in person. A GDPR-compliant video solution, encrypted messaging, and easy invoicing guarantee a private and seamless counselling experience for therapists and clients alike. If you are in a serious crisis and need urgent help, please use one of these resources instead.

Write A Comment