We have one self, but many parts

An essential part of counselling - and training to be a counsellor - is getting to know ourselves. When we embark on this journey, we quickly come to realise how complicated we are - for example, we are inconsistent, often in ‘two minds' about things. One way of making sense of this is the idea that we are made up of different parts, rather than being one single and consistent thing.

This might sound alarming but, in a way, we already know that we have different aspects to our personalities. For example, I want a new car but I can't decide what to do. One part of me wants to drive something a bit more fancy - perhaps he wants to show off; maybe he lacks self-esteem and thinks a fancy car will impress people. Meanwhile, another part wants to stick with my current car: this part is cautious and doesn't want to get into debt. So, I am in conflict - in this example, the part that lacks self-worth is in conflict with the practical part that's focused on self-preservation.

Let's look at it another way: in different situations, I behave differently. At work I'm a ‘conscientious adult' making pragmatic decisions; with my children I'm a ‘nurturing parent' or sometimes a ‘bossy parent'; with my mates I can be a bit silly and become a ‘mischievous teenager' or a ‘playful child', but on other occasions I might start to feel like an ‘anxious child' who needs looking after.

In many ways, it's good that we're like this: it means we have range and can approach life in different ways to suit the occasion. But, as described above, sometimes our different parts come into conflict or a part that is in pain takes centre stage.

Therapy can help us get to know our different parts (sometimes called sub-personalities). We can get to know what each part wants and what each part has to offer. It's a bit like an orchestra or a football team: each part is welcome but might need some training to work in harmony with the other parts. As odd as it might sound, we can get our different parts to dialogue with each other and look after each other - such as our inner parent looking after our inner child.

Getting to know our different parts can help us to understand the conflicts and conversations that go on inside of us. A lot of our thought chatter is the noise of our different parts all pressing for attention.

Like I said, people are complicated!

By Mike Brooks, Counsellor & Psychotherapist