Working with the Wise Self and Your Parts

By Kathleen Dunbar, MFT #39880 Certified Hakomi Therapist

One of the most important transformational acts of healing happens as you: 

  • Identify your "Wise Self" or "True Self." 
  • Become conscious of your reactive selves, or voices, or “Parts”—those habitual patterns you adopted long ago to protect yourself from getting hurt, though in current time they keep your world small. 
  • Acknowledge the original hurt and piercing of the heart that caused you to adopt the Parts. 
  • Thank yourself and these Parts for doing the best you could do at the time given the limited support you had. 
  • Come home to your aliveness and live from your True Self.

The True Self 

Being in the True Self or Wise Self is the state when brain function is balanced, and when we have access to our resiliency, creativity, compassion, aliveness and presence. 

  • The Wise Self allows intimacy, compassion, vulnerability and love. 
  • It is not, however, a spiritual bypass clinging “only to the positive.” The Wise Self makes boundaries including using anger wisely. 
  • Seated in our Wise Self we have enough grounding to let our hearts mourn and to be pierced by sorrow, not turning away from the ache, but neither succumbing to it nor numbing. 
  • The Wise Self allows the entire polaroid snapshot mandala of a given moment to be present—the mud and flowers, the demons and angels, our critical selves and our compassion, our experiences of fun, joy, sadness, death, and mystery. 
  • Our Wise Self knows sometimes we will go down a rabbit hole of self deprecation or unhelpful habits, and also knows we can say Oops! and return. 

One main function of somatic and experiential therapy is to help you have a felt sense knowing of when you are in the Wise Self and when you are in a Part, and how to return to your Wise Self. During sessions I offer interventions that help you increase awareness, self compassion, have felt sense, keepable healing for old wounds, and practice in returning to and living from your Wise Self. In the therapeutic work I offer, I want you to walk out of the door of every session with a felt sense of how to come home and stay home in your own unique being!

A Little More about The True Self and Parts 

The True Self 

Do you know the feeling of engaging in something and you just feel “right unto your bones?” You may give a lot of energy, but it doesn’t feel like effort. Instead, whatever you are engaged in brings you energy because it is an expression of your True Self. We are all born with this sense. 

Our Child Self Gets Hurt 

Our True Self is our birthright—we are born with it. However . . . we have these things called . . . families, mean teachers, bullies, illness, divorce, accidents or death in the family, abuse, abandonment. Sometimes our families love us but we are just so different from them that we feel brokenly alone, like a harpist in a family of trombone players. 

Where Our Parts Come From 

Kids can’t handle getting hurt. They’ll die or crazy! However, we have a third option as humans—we  hire guys! Depending on our natural proclivities and the situation we find ourselves in, we develop ways of coping that are brilliant in a limited situation. As kids, we can’t just say, “I’m tired of all of you, I’m moving to Hawaii to find a new family!” It’s complicated—you often love them a lot—the very same people who also hurt you. That’s very confusing for a child. 

In therapy, do you know what the first thing is that we do with these Parts that helped you make it through childhood and youth? We say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Because it was their job to say, “I’m never going to let you get hurt like that again! I’m going to protect the treasure that is you, and do what I can to protect you from being hurt.” 

However, it’s like if we receive $10,000 a month in income and we spend $9,500 on our security team, our Parts, the remaining five hundred bucks isn’t much to play around with. When we’re hurt as kids we put aspects of our True Self away. That is the Treasure that our Security Team of Parts protects. However, the Parts don’t know that we actually made it over the wall and are safe! At least, we won’t ever get hurt in the same way we did as a child, because we have our adult self to protect us, love us, and support us, and to make good choices that bring us alive. Eventually, as you learn to live from your True Self, you’ll get almost all of the ten grand to spend. Your Parts can go off in the barracks and play cards and be ready if you really, really need them. But meanwhile, you have reclaimed your Treasure—you can live as your True Self.

One Map of Parts . . .     

These are some common ways our Security Team of Parts protects us:   

  • Get Out of Dodge: This is too scary, I’m going to run away. Or I could just live in my art, computer programming, music. Humans are scary and I am from another planet. (Protected Treasure: Incredible creativity tempered by the ability to connect).   
  • Space Out: This is overwhelming, I’m going to binge on Netflix, or take heroine, or go numb. (Protected Treasure: Great sensitivity tempered by the ability to be present).   
  • Compliant: If I’m really cute, sweet, and please others, they might love me. I’m so afraid of being disappointed, and what they offer will be sure to go away. (Protected Treasure: Kindness, friendliness, youthfulness tempered by the ability to have boundaries and be empowered). 
  • Do-It-Yourself: It’ll only get done if I do it myself, I can’t rely on others, and I sure won’t ask them for help. I help others, but I feel resentful even though I won’t ask for help. (Protected Treasure: Great capability tempered by softness and the ability to receive). 
  • Get Smooth: I will charm lest I be charmed; I will manipulate lest I be manipulated. Smoke and mirrors! (Protected treasure: Good leaders tempered by the ability to be genuine).  
  • Get Tough: I'm in charge. I’ll be the baddest baddass and no one will mess with me! More smoke and mirrors! (Protected Treasure: Courage, good leaders tempered by the ability to be vulnerable).  
  • Underground Freedom Fighter: Why do bad things always happen to me? I can’t say no directly, so I’ll find a sideways way of doing it. (Protected Treasure: Loyalty, humor, keen sense of justice unfettered from guilt and tempered by the ability to be direct).     
  • Get Busy: The only way I’ll be loved is if I work hard. Work, work, work! Work! (Protected Treasure: Capability tempered by an available heartfulness and love and ability to rest and be).  
  • Attract Attention and be Really Interesting or Funny: If I tell the most interesting story, with multiple chapters and verses, I might get a little bit of attention. (Protected Treasure: Ability to perform and entertain tempered by the ability to receive and be present).  

. . . and The Corresponding Healed Self:   

  • I’m safe and welcome. I belong. I can be here. I can trust.   
  • It’s okay for me to be powerful.   
  • It’s okay to need others and to ask for help.    
  • I can be real and vulnerable.   
  • I can be direct, do it my way, and still be loved.   
  • I know I am lovable just as I am, without having to do anything.   
  • I feel understood and seen. 

Experiential and somatic therapies offer expedient methods which go beyond talk therapy. They offer a wide palette of techniques to help you transform your hurt self into your healed self, Parts to True Self. The trajectory of this work, over time, and during a session, includes the following: 

  • Recognize your longing for your True Self. 
  • Recognize the habitual ways you protect yourself, the Parts. 
  • Do a “take two” like in Hollywood to transform pivotal scenes from your early life so that you finally have the expressed, lived sense of receiving the healing experience of what was most needed at the time of the original hurt. Hakomi even has a name for this: “The Missing Experience.” It is the medicine that is received with a felt sense “Ah ha!” that offers transformation and healing. 
  • Sometimes this may mean saying things to the family members or to the people who shaped us, even if they are no longer living, even if it may never be appropriate or useful to actually speak to them in real time—but you can do this in our sessions. You absolutely need a safe place to find your voice, your physical responses, and claim your birthright and your treasures. 
  • It may mean rewriting your story, through experiential work, so that you finally feel the protection of an advocate, are able express your anger or sadness fully, make a boundary, or give back whatever you are carrying to the people whose real work it is, etc. 
  • This long overdue witnessing and completing enables you to let go of old limiting beliefs and habits and to embody the alive, nourishing beliefs and ways of being that were always your birthright, your True Self. 
  • Practice being your True Self! 

* NOTE: Perhaps you have heard of IFS or Internal Family Systems, the work of Dick Schwartz? Ron Kurtz’ Hakomi and Jon Eisman’s ReCreation of the Self or RcS work is both similar and different to their cousin IFS. Ron and Dick were friends and were inspired by one another’s work while at the same time following the direction of their own visions.

The Parts work I do is an Eclectic Palette drawn from: 

  • Jon Eisman’s RcS or ReCreation of the Self—embody the Wise Self. 
  • Ron Kurtz’ Hakomi and its character maps—work with mindfulness, kindness and curiosity to support and transform habitual and limiting “Parts” or “voices” into a nourishing sense of the True Self. 
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy/Traumawork—embody resources, be witnessed, bring online orienting and defense responses, finally complete old physical and neurological responses to trauma, return to a sense of aliveness. 
  • Psychodrama—a variety of techniques to talk with parts of yourself, dream figures, family members, animals, various states of consciousness, etc. in order to transform and release stuck patterns and return to wholeness. 
  • Sacred Drama—shamanic and archetypal drama techniques to embody a returned soul part, an animal, or a gift from a shamanic retrieval session, or to talk to a spirit helper. 
  • Family Constellation—uncover and release trapped energy from the lineage of your family. 
  • Dreamwork—enact characters, animals, symbols, images and energies from your dreams. 
  • Family Systems—recognize and shift your role in family patterns, expectations, and alliances. 
  • Sculptures—sculpt yourself, or a partner in couples therapy, to physically embody an element of a system and work with it to transform it.