Imperfect Produce: How We Can Start to Better Understand Ourselves
When someone asks you about yourself, what are some typical responses you share? Do you state your professional title? Your relationship status? Do you share if you are a parent, sibling, daughter or son? Do you disclose adjectives that describe you like joyful, optimistic, stubborn, or easily frustrated? I invite you to take a moment and imagine someone asking you to describe yourself. Take this moment and hold all the many facets and intersecting or conflicting identities, hobbies, qualities, and unique attributes that encompass your whole self. What do you notice? Do you observe any patterns in your responses? Are you surprised at all by your answers? Do these attributions seem congruent with your thoughts and feelings about yourself and/or about the world?
I recently heard that if we were to view ourselves as a bowl of fruit, we must not see ourselves as any singular piece of fruit, instead, we are the bowl the fruit are housed in. To examine this a bit further, let’s take a bowl which holds a few oranges, some bananas that haven’t yet ripened, a peach that is slightly bruised, and a couple avocados for good measure. Each fruit delicately placed in the bowl represents a part of us. A facet of our identity, a hobby, interest, or personality trait. A common phrase in Internal Family Systems theory denotes that all parts want to feel heard (Schwartz, 2001). We are encouraged to honor the many parts of ourselves resting within us, while also seeing ourselves, our sense of self, as that which holds our different parts. If all parts truly just want to feel heard, we are called to listen. We are implored to engage in listening as a process that is active, and allows each part to feel safe existing and speaking.
For example, have you ever encountered a moment where you thought to yourself “well, I think I ought to do this, but a part of me thinks I should do this instead.” Parts language is something many of us already do. We just may not have the language or conscious awareness…just yet! That’s okay! We are learning to lean into the things we may not fully know, and step into the opportunity to grow together. As you can tell by the example above, it can be so common for our parts to not always be in alignment with each other. It is normal to have parts that may have different perspectives, ideologies, and approaches.
Similar to the fruit we discussed earlier, our parts may not be ripened, and may even have some bruises. These parts may hold positive intentions, but may not have developed the skill-set needed to communicate with us in the most adaptive of ways. So what does that mean? Imagine yourself when you do not feel heard. What thoughts and feelings get activated for you? Do they differ depending on the situation? The precipitating event? Your mood that day? Parts may be affected in similar ways. It is important to approach your internal parts with empathy and compassion, as they are often doing the best they can with the tools accessible to them (much like us!). Some of our parts may be trying to protect us in the only ways they know how to. For some, that is through numbing, avoiding, or lashing out. For others, it can be through setting boundaries, stating needs, and engaging in positive self-talk. All of the above examples likely stem from a part with positive intentions and the goal to protect you. So how do we nurture and support our well-intended parts and help them develop more adaptive ways of supporting us?
Again, all parts want to be heard. I encourage you to practice active listening. In beginning to recognize each part of yourself you can do so with curiosity rather than judgment. What do you notice? What do you observe? What do you hear? What is that part saying? These skills may be useful and transferable to many different contexts, so why not begin with yourself!? We owe it to ourselves to enhance our level of familiarity with the many parts that make up our sense of self. The better we know ourselves, the better we can be with communicating our needs, wants, and boundaries to others. Getting to know the different pieces of fruit within our bowl, what they need and how they got bruised. Learning each individual part can help in understanding how each of our parts sometimes work together, and sometimes conflict with each other. I know that can sometimes feel confusing and uncomfortable, but it is normal and absolutely okay. I know this sounds like a lot, but let’s start small. So if I were to ask you to describe yourself, what would you say?