There are many tools for navigating our human thoughts and emotions so that we can stay grounded, balanced and empowered on our life journey. I know many people have an idea that they are looking for something outside of themselves to assist them but I have found that (most) everything I need is right here inside of me.
There have been many different practices, therapies and events from which I have discovered the particular tools I utilize and how to improvise with them. One of my favorite and most helpful tools is the relationship I have with what I call my ‘Inner Tribe’. I have written about this before but I thought it might be helpful to write more about the way I work with my Inner Tribe. The particulars of how I have figured this out for myself have changed my life immensely and my relationship to it continues to evolve every day.
Often when I refer to my ‘parts’ it seems a bit confusing for people to understand the extent to which I work with this metaphoric tool but I have found such incredible insight and ability to fully love myself through my growing into it, that it seems significant to say more.
When I speak about my ‘parts’ I am basically referring to the abundance of dynamics, emotions, thoughts and ego nuances within myself that can include or influence such things as belief systems shaped in my youth, self-protecting mechanisms picked up through my life, any form of conditioning or consistent ‘inner voice’ that influences my behavior or emotions. I feel there is really no limit to the many overtones that comprise our personalities and inner landscape. Some of these are more obvious while others are often moving and shaking behind the scenes but influence us none the less. My curiosity is around the parts and inner dialogue that cause me to contract or feel small…..parts that get in the way of my loving and accepting myself fully and without judgement.
I first articulated this sense of Inner Tribe to myself about 10 years ago. The discovery came from noticing that when I would have any self deprecating thoughts there was typically a voice connected to them. This less than nourishing inner commentary or belief would be fairly consistent and there was no removing it by force or convincing it through rational mind. I finally realized these outspoken ‘parts’ that were creating limitations or depressions in me actually believed they had a valid reason for what they were saying and imposing. It was at this point I had the idea to ask them directly what they needed from ‘me’ and then actually listen to what they told me. (The radical piece of this was the ‘listening’ to them and truly caring.) Over many months I persisted in asking, being curious without judgement and being patient. They didn’t always say much or even acknowledge my question (and yes, there is a healthy amount of allowing for imagination, trust and intuition in this practice) but with patience I gradually found they would talk to me and tell me about how they were feeling and why. I would even make dates with them if they were feeling quiet and make sure to keep that date. I never stood them up for any reason…..especially if I was feeling better or perhaps they were no longer acting out. I did this because I recognized that the key here was in developing the relationship through trust and consistency not to mention the opportunity to talk with them during neutral & untriggered times when I would actually have more resource. I needed to show these parts I cared and didn’t just want to get rid of them and I needed to be able to learn and open in the process. I gradually came to understand that more than anything the majority of my parts simply wanted to be heard, most importantly, by me. When they began to trust I was actually available for them (and listening) they slowly began integrating with what I call the ‘wise woman’ me. They were no longer trying to get something and act out for their ‘needs’…..they felt more complete and could then include themselves in the ‘me’ that is wise and fully present in the NOW…..the me that feels no sense of lacking or limitations and is fully in the present moment. The Wise Woman is all of my Inner Tribe or parts working in unison without distress.
I want to keep clarifying that ‘parts’, ‘inner tribe’ and ‘me’ are all the same (along with any number of other metaphors or labels). These parts or inner tribe are comprised of my younger/adolescent feelings, the self depreciating thoughts, the emotions that take over in any moment that can disconnect me from my power or create a sense of inadequacy or ‘less than’. (It also includes all the vibrant and joyful aspects)…..it is everything I experience and the thoughts and emotions connected. In this writing I am specifically focusing on the relationship I have with the ones that have wreaked havoc or have had an unhealthy impact when they are left to their own devices.
Another way I can explain how I interact with this is through my relationship with my 8 yr old, Asa. Whenever he is having feelings or ‘acting out’ with sadness, anger, fear I meet him with unconditioned love. I think about how I listen to him when he shares and would never dream of blowing him off if I have made a date with him nor would I judge him for his feelings. I don’t criticize him or think less of him for his feelings and I am able to create boundaries with care and wisdom. When I realized this about my connection with him I began to imagine how I could show that same level of love, wisdom and compassion towards my Inner Tribe/parts/me. Knowing and loving him has taught me so much about loving all of my parts without conditions.
The cool thing about this practice is that it works in any situation for me. Let me offer a simple example……
Let’s say I am at a party talking with people and I notice that something in the conversation pushes a button (or two) in me because I start to observe my thoughts and/or behavior change. Perhaps I start to contract physically or the manner in which I am talking is now from imbalanced/younger parts or ones trying to prove something/or make someone else feel ‘less than’ (so they can feel ‘better’). When I notice this happening I send a general question to all my parts (all of me) and ask ‘who is talking right now’ try to see what is happening for them. (After all these years I am able to do this inner work while staying engaged at the party. I think this is due to the substantial amount of mutual trust with my parts so they speak more readily and share their perspectives.) The general reason quite often is that this part(s) feels inadequate in some way or ‘less than’. I don’t try to talk them out of their feeling but instead I acknowledge what they share without judgement, perhaps hold them or hold space for them and simply show up with unconditioned love.
I engage in this practice of dialogue to cultivate my relationship with this part(s) of me (the inner tribe) and so that the part can hopefully reach a point of integration with the whole and have less need to act out.
The main experience I want to convey here is more about the empowered and direct sense with which I address these thoughts/parts. I recognize these emotions or thought patterns as active parts (or members of a tribe) within me and engage them as I would a child with which I feel unconditional love and I am never trying to ‘get rid’ of them or ‘fix’ them. The honest challenge here for me is to simply Love them…..and continue to bring more love to each scenario where they act out or impose their needs or beliefs.
Another metaphor I use is called ‘driving the car’. When I notice something is ‘up’ for me or I am feeling agitated, sad or challenged in any way……I send out a general question to my Inner Tribe that basically asks ‘who is in the drivers seat right now’ because I know it isn’t my fully integrated Wise Woman. I recognize some other part has taken the wheel and is driving the car (aka: driving how I am feeling). I generally don’t get some detailed image of the part (it is sometimes a sense or a form but not clear identity or specifics) but I get the gist of their energy, why they wanted to drive/take control and I simply ask if I can ride shotgun. This approach started as a surprise to these parts as they had been used to a less welcoming acknowledgement in the past. But I typically get in the passenger seat without trying to take the keys or take over. I sometimes ask if I can turn the radio on, make small talk and generally hang out with them…..I just give them space all the while keeping everyone safe and a sense of boundaries for reckless driving. Eventually I let them know I enjoy driving and if they ever get tired I would be happy to take the wheel. Amazingly, these parts almost always hand over the keys and are happy for me to drive. And the important aspect of this is I don’t kick them to the curb and drive away as fast as I can…..I make sure they are with me riding shotgun now and we continue to hang out together. We get to bond and this bond is what nurtures the trust and mutual respect and compassion between us. Somewhere along the drive they integrate back with the Tribe and I have found they have less and less need to actually want to drive the car or act out. My sense is that they are getting their needs met, they are being heard and held and that is all they ever wanted in the first place so now they can simply relax and ‘evolve’ into the full ‘me’.
I realize a metaphor is only as helpful as it relates to the individual so I would encourage you to riff on these or feel creative with customizing new ones. As I said at the beginning of this writing….I believe most of what we need to learn and the tools for it are already within us. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the words and images that become bridges for this practice of the self.
The metaphors I have shared here have been amazing bridges and allies for teaching me there is no reason for not fully loving myself every moment of the day. And this has changed my life.
Truly, all of my parts are a blessing and challenge and the tribe is ever changing…..but like raising a child…… I fully commit to being there through it all.