Embracing the Shadow: Transformation of Parts
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
Most parts do not want or need to be transformed. They just need to be heard. Once clients integrate the information from multiple parts, they can make informed decisions about what changes they wish to make.
Above all else, parts need to be loved exactly as they are. If they get a hint that we are trying to change them, they interpret that as judgment, and rightly so. Coaches can get into trouble if we imply there is anything wrong with the part. One whiff of that and the part feels misunderstood and loses trust.
Once parts are deeply understood, they can relax, and that can be all the transformation they need. The purpose of Embracing the Shadow is not to transform troublesome parts, but to appreciate each part’s contribution.
As agents of change, we need to check our impulse to try to get parts to relax, reform or retire. If we find some parts too unruly or think of them as destructive, it can be helpful to do our own inner work with our disowned parts. It can be difficult to embrace our clients’ parts until we have embraced our own. Until we can love a part unconditionally, we cannot possibly support its transformation.
When parts come to the conclusion that they want transformation on their own, there are many ways we can serve. Because most of our dominant parts are working 24/7, they become exhausted and can’t even imagine taking a break. When we welcome home and honor the parts that they have been trying to protect, they gain confidence that the child-parts can heal. Only then can the protectors relax. They begin to collaborate and rely on other parts to keep the vulnerable parts safe. In that way, we can expand the capacity of the psyche to access creative solutions.
All parts have important jobs, but most of those job descriptions were created long ago, when we were children. Life has changed, but some parts remain unaware that they are following outdated rules. Because each part is completely dedicated and has an underlying desire to serve, it may begin to recognize better ways to serve. When a part indicates it wants a promotion to a more valuable role, we can hold space for the part to expand its capacity to serve, without asking leading questions.
For transformation to be sustainable, we explore the past, present and future. We start by asking questions about the past so that we understand how the part came into being, its intention and how it operates. From there we look at the present by asking the part for its purpose or its deepest wish. Often there is a disparity between the part’s intention and its impact. Looking at the gap invites the part into the space for change.
When we look at the future, we keep the part’s purpose and skill set and help them redefi ne their role. The part may change its name in recognition of its new position. It can become a powerful ally when it rewrites its job description, so that it can become even more valuable. When asking questions, we empower the part to make its own decisions regarding a new role.
Parts Transformation Example
Coach: Last time we spoke, your Critic wanted a new role. Want to look at that now?
Mia: Yes, that would be good because I could use a break from all my negative self-talk.
Coach: Okay, let’s start by honoring the Critic. Can you go to a place where the Critic wants to sit or stand?
Mia (Critic): I’m definitely standing. I can’t sit down for a moment.
PAST (Get to know the part’s role, and appreciate it, without trying to change it in any way.)
Coach: What’s been your job?
Mia (Critic): I point out mistakes and get Mia to change. I let her know when she looks ugly, fat or stupid. I tell her when she is lazy. I point out her flaws and tell her when she should shut up.
Coach: How has all of this helped Mia in the past?
Mia (Critic): When I criticize Mia before other people do, I’ve kept Mia from suffering. And I’ve made sure that people like her. Because of me she knows when to change her behavior.
Coach: What’s your earliest memory of the first time you helped Mia?
Mia (Critic): I made sure she didn’t take too many cookies.
Coach: What happened that first got you activated?
Mia (Critic): Mia’s mother told her she was being selfish and Mia was devastated. And I wanted to make sure that never happened again.
Coach: Thanks for all that you’ve done to make Mia a better person.
PRESENT (Discover the part’s higher purpose and deepest desire to serve.)
Coach: What do you like to be called?
Mia (Critic): Critic is fine.
Coach: Okay Critic, how do you currently serve?
Mia (Critic): Anytime I think Mia won’t be liked, I intervene.
Coach: What do you really want?
Mia (Critic): To keep Mia from being selfish and get her to care about others.
Coach: What’s even more important than that?
Mia (Critic): That she have friends who care about her.
Coach: What’s your highest purpose?
Critic: To make sure Mia is loved.
Coach: You sound very satisfied with your role and you are fulfilling an important
Mia (Critic): I do a good job. But I could do a better job… by helping her make friends and create loving relationships.
Coach: What do you really want, more than anything?
Mia (Critic): To stop working so hard! To relax once in a while.
FUTURE (Creating a more collaborative future by helping the part write its new job description. Only do this if the part indicates it wants to make a change.)
Coach: What would be the best use of your talents?
Mia (Critic): To help Mia discern how to make lasting friendships.
Coach: What is a way to achieve your purpose?
Mia (Critic): Criticizing her so much doesn’t work so well, so maybe I could help her be more discerning in how she relates to people.
Coach: What role could you play in helping Mia relate to people?
Mia (Critic): I’m very discerning, so I could help her notice injustices and speak up in loving ways.
Coach: If you could do any job for Mia, what would you choose?
Mia (Critic): Activist.
Coach: Would you like a job promotion?
Mia (Critic): Yes, it’s not that useful for me to constantly criticize Mia when I could be doing so much more. I want to help her build bridges and create great relationships.
Coach: Given your new role, would you like a new name?
Mia (Critic): Yes, I’d like to be called the Activist.
Coach: Okay, Activist, I want to express gratitude from my heart. Not only have you served Mia diligently for years, but you are willing to step into a new role to help her create better relationships.
Just because a part experiences an epiphany, is profoundly moved and accepts a job promotion, doesn’t mean the work is done. For transformation to take root and be sustainable, follow up is essential. In subsequent sessions we can ask the part:
How is your new job going?
What do you like most about your new role?
How could we tweak the job description so it’s even more enjoyable for you?
What support do you need to be successful in your new role?
I’ve noticed that you have been collaborating with other parts.
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