Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sense of Self

"Sense of Self"
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

When trying to describe the sense of Self words seem inadequate; like trying to communicate an exact shade of color to someone who hasn't seen it. It helps to imagine talking to someone who is truly confident and self-assured. They would describe to you a feeling deep inside their body, a gut instinct, a quiet, peaceful place of wisdom that holds all the answers. In this place they just know who they are and, based on who they are, they know what is right for them - not a "thinking" kind of knowing, but an "intuitive" kind of knowing. People illustrate it in many different, but similar ways: "It's like the base of a pyramid that is always there and can never be knocked over", "…like a solid column of strength inside my body", "…like a spiritual channel that allows wisdom to speak to me". Clients have also portrayed it in emotional terms as well. "It's a belief that I can handle whatever comes along." "I feel calm and peaceful inside." "A quiet feeling of assuredness comes over me."

In my practice, I have been trained to use a model of therapy called "Internal Family Systems", which was developed by Richard Schwartz, PhD. Your "internal family" is the numerous inner personalities who you may refer to as "parts": "A part of me wants to go to the concert, but another part feels that I should work on that report." Sound familiar?

We all have many parts. It is normal to have parts. Everyone you know has parts. Even "normal eaters" have parts. (I jokingly wonder if there are any "normal eaters" in the US, maybe a few hiding in the mountains of Idaho.) Our Self is one of our parts - although it is different from all the other parts.

Dr. Schwartz compared the relationship between the Self and the parts as similar to an orchestra. Our Self is the conductor of the orchestra and our parts are the many instruments. Think of the most magnificent symphonic music you have ever heard. Its just so wonderful - the beauty, the harmony, the passion! (You may want to put on a classical cd now so that you can experience this with more of your senses.)

Just as an orchestra needs the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion, all the different instruments, to achieve the richness and depth of the symphony, we need all of our different parts to fully experience life. If all of the instruments were the same, (imagine an all tuba orchestra!) it would not have the same profound beauty. It is the differences among the instruments, just as it is the differences among our parts, which balances and complements each other to achieve this.

The musicians appreciate the differences between the instruments because they know that the other instruments balance and complement their instrument. Our parts can appreciate the different roles of the other parts, knowing that each can "shine" while carrying out it's particular job.

As you listen to the music, you'll notice how some instruments are playing, but others are quiet. While an instrument is quiet, the musician sits calmly, knowing that soon she will again have another passage to play allowing her instrument to "shine". The same is true with our parts; they know that they all have a unique purpose and that at times they will perform that purpose and at other times they will take a backseat while another part is performing.

If you think about what an orchestra is and what it does, it's incredible. Numerous musicians, all performing different scores of music, on various instruments, at the same time, in rhythm and in tune, together. How does that work? How do they perform to sound as one? They are following the lead of the conductor; just as our many different parts work together when they are guided by our Self.

When you listen to an orchestra, you don't hear the conductor; but the conductor is an integral part of the orchestra. The musicians follow cues from the conductor to keep in sync with the other musicians. The conductor has a deep love, understanding and appreciation for each of the different instruments. She also chooses what music will highlight the orchestra's talents and knows in which direction the orchestra needs to go. The musicians respect and trust the leadership of the conductor; and the conductor appreciates and trusts the musicians. This is truly a symbiotic relationship. The musicians need the conductor, just as the conductor needs all of the musicians.

If one of the musicians has a problem, let's say the piccolo is having trouble keeping up with the rhythm of one section of music, the conductor will take the time to stop the orchestra and give her attention to the musician in need. They will work cooperatively together, while the other musicians either wait patiently or give support and encouragement. When the problem is resolved, the piccolo returns to her rightful role in the orchestra, and the conductor will have the musicians commence playing together again.

Our Self appreciates and trusts our parts and they, in turn, listen to and respect the judgment of the Self as well. If one of our parts needs help, she can turn to the Self for guidance, with encouragement, suggestions, and advice from the other parts. This respect and assistance allows the parts and the Self to remain in supportive cooperative relationships.

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