make friends with your difficult part

Our own internal families of parts can be like a school playground sometimes. There are clusters of kids who are friends and sometimes there is that one misfit kid who nobody really likes. We tell our kids to be nice to everybody at school. Should we apply that to ourselves? Should you make friends with your difficult part?

A friend’s son, Lucas, really disliked this one boy in his class. Let’s call him Joey. Lucas didn’t think it was fair that Joey was allowed to leave class whenever he felt too angry. The other kids were also jealous. Joey would get to go to the technology room and build things while they had to stay in class.

As Lucas would say, “What a rip-off! I behave myself but I don’t get to have fun like that!”

It wasn’t really helping Lucas to feel so annoyed with his classmate, and it surely wasn’t helping Joey to have the other kids in his class turn against him.

If we fast forward to the resolution of this story, Lucas ended up befriending Joey and now they draw little comic books together.

What changed? How did Lucas end up wanting to be friends with Joey? Can you make friends with your difficult part, too?

We all have parts inside that we don’t like

We all have our internal Joey parts – the ones we don’t like. Some of these difficult parts might be:

  • A part that acts lazy, or procrastinates
  • A part that overeats when it feels emotional pain
  • A critical part that’s always striving for you to do more and be better

We also have our internal Lucas parts, too, that get annoyed with the Joeys. These parts annoy us and make us feel bad.

  • That lazy part creates trouble for us when it doesn’t get something done on time
  • That overeating part makes us feel lousy after we eat so much
  • That critical part does not know when to relent and let us rest

These parts are not relating well to each other. Other parts of you may actually feel like they “hate” this part of you, and will loudly remind you of the problems with this part. Don’t worry – this is actually pretty normal.

You are not meant to lead from your parts alone (read more about that here). You are meant to listen and then make decisions from a larger you (Self).

The way to make friends with your difficult part involves understanding and empathy

Lucas felt resentful that Joey appeared to receive special favors when he acted badly in class. Once my friend understood this, she took time to talk to her son about Joey’s issues. Lucas began to see that Joey was actually having a tough time in school and that the so-called privilege of visiting the technology room wasn’t really that fun at all. Lucas felt compassion for Joey and saw how what he really needed was a friend.

What does this mean for you? Well, your inner protective system has parts that hold thoughts and ideas about this other part which is extreme. Your other parts may try to block you from getting close to this extreme part. (After all, they’re trying to protect you!)

That only makes your extreme part get more extreme. When you show Self Compassion to this “problem child” part of you, it will relax significantly.

You might need to negotiate with the part that has concerns about even listening to the extreme part. It just wants to get rid of it fast. See if it can stay present while you be there with it in a friendly caring way (read the steps for doing so here). Listening to hear its perspective too and what it is worried about.

You may need to say something like “Let’s just try this experiment of Self Compassion and see how it goes.” Meanwhile you can hold back and see how this other ways works. That way, we don’t have to punish, abuse or neglect ourselves.

Kindness and caring calm down overreactive parts

When we befriend these different parts of ourselves that seem to be leading us in actions and feelings, we are actually being kind to ourselves. Kindness and caring calms down emotional overacting nervous systems. If there is no one around but you that is still excellent. You can listen, be kind and feel empathy for how hard it is right now for you which will help your compassion spring towards yourself in this  situation.

  1. When Calm and Compassion are directed towards yourself your perspective widens and you can wonder what is going on right now that triggers up this reaction. You can get answers you never would expect that lead to solutions that fit your needs better.
  2. We can keep up this new behavior by remembering to practice Self compassion in some way every day. If we don’t practice it in some way how can we quickly use it when the going gets tough. We need to practice to get the self compassion performance to stick.
  3. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. Listen like a friend to what you hear. See if there is some way today you can support this part of you that needs something.

Recommended Reading

If you struggle to be kind to yourself, I highly recommend Kristin Neff, PhD’s Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity BehindI assign this book as homework to many of my clients. You, your parts, and your loved ones will all benefit from you practicing some Self Compassion.


Image credit

Friends” by Flickr user Paul Harris is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.