Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mentors, Kids and Advocates

Mentors, Kids and Advocates
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

A Note From Amy: As I’ve mentioned in the newsletter before I’m writing a book about recovery from eating disorders. The following is another excerpt. You can read previous excerpts on our website.

….We all have a Self, a capable conductor, within us. The Self is the part I refer to as “Wisdom”. When we are in our Self, we feel centered and grounded. It is because of this centered and grounded state that we can feel calm and peaceful. An important aspect of the Self is compassion, a loving, empathic nurturance towards ourselves, the parts and others. The Self also feels courage and confidence, and possesses the clarity needed to handle whatever life gives us. Using its qualities of curiosity and creativity, the Self helps the parts resolve any problems that may arise. We are able to be current, to stay in the present when we are in our Self. And through the Self we connect to who we are, to our parts, to other people and to our place in the bigger picture of life. When we are in our Self, we have the capacity for objectivity – the ability to step back and observe our parts, other people, or ourselves, without criticism or judgment.

The second premise is that each of the parts has a positive role in the system. In an orchestra, the tuba’s role is to add depth by contributing low bass notes to the music. Another role of the tuba is to emphasize the beat. While other instruments may also have similar roles, only the tuba can do it in its own unique way. Our parts also have a positive intention behind all that they do. When the parts are cooperative and working together, it’s easy to imagine what the intention is. If we asked the tuba what it is trying to do for the orchestra, the musician would answer, “My bass notes add depth and rhythm to the music. I’m trying to help the orchestra as a whole sound as wonderful as possible so that the audience thinks highly of us.” It’s when the parts are not cooperative and are not working together, or when the conductor isn’t present that the positive role and intention may be harder to find.

Just as musicians are organized into identifiable sections of the orchestra, our parts can be organized into groups as well. It is entirely possible for you to experience one, two, or several parts in each group with slightly different roles. For example, in the Mentor group you may have one who manages your finances, while another monitors your career path.

One of the difficulties of describing each group of parts is making it easy enough to understand without oversimplifying the parts’ complexities. When you read about the different groups of parts, please trust your own inner wisdom. If I say Mentors often feel adult in age, but one of your Mentors feels young to you, so be it – have faith in your own experience. You don’t have to force your parts to fit my description. The descriptions that I give are rough guidelines, not rigid rules.

I’ll start with the parts I call the Mentors. These parts often feel adult in age and are often experienced as cognitions, or thoughts. Their positive role is to manage our day-to-day life while motivating us to learn, grow and to be the best we can be. They possess the ability to organize, plan and problem solve. These parts are very productive and promote “doing”. In the long run, the Mentors want us to find fulfillment and meaning in our life.
But, all work and no play make Jill a dull girl, right? While the Mentors keep us moving forward in life, the Kids make life enjoyable along the way. You know by their very name, Kid parts usually feel young. More often than not, these parts are experienced as emotions and sensations in the body. When in balance and in harmony with the other parts, they feel fun and playful. Your sense of humor comes from the Kid parts. They possess an awe and wonder of life. A deep sense of self-worth, contentment and a love of life can come from the Kid parts.

The last group of parts is the Advocates. The Advocates remind me of adolescents; they bring an enjoyable kind of “spunk” and energy into the mix. These parts can speak to us through our thoughts as well as through our body. The Advocates push us to take care of ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, and to protect ourselves. They remind us to have balance in our lives and encourage our parts to be in balance as well. Remember “all work and no play”? The Advocates also remind us that “all play and no work” doesn’t feel well either. The many roles of the Advocates can be as varied as reminding us to rest when tired or to speak up when someone takes advantage of us.

There is an openness to the relationship between the different parts. The parts communicate freely with each other and with the Self. The parts want the Self to listen to them, it’s important that they feel heard. They want the Self to appreciate what they do for the system as a whole. And the parts want the Self and the other parts to take care of them when they need it.

When the system works it’s wonderful! But when the system doesn’t work, when there is no sense of Self and the parts leap in to fill the void, it’s painful, chaotic and frantic!

Notice I said, “no sense of Self” instead of “no Self”. It’s not that the Self is entirely absent; it’s just hidden away. In another of Dr. Schwartz’s analogies, the Self is like the President of the United States. If the United States were under attack, the President would be whisked away to a safe place for his or her own protection. After the crisis, he or she would return to his or her leadership role and everything would return to normal. So your Self is there somewhere, hidden away for it’s own protection.

Returning to the orchestra analogy, if the conductor of the Chicago Symphony didn’t show up for a performance one day, the musicians probably would perform as professionally as usual. The audience most likely wouldn’t be able to hear any difference. When the conductor returned, the musicians would be concerned and would want an explanation. The relationship between the conductor and musicians would be back to normal quickly.

If the conductor started to miss performances sporadically and was inconsistent at attending rehearsals, the trust between the musicians and the conductor would break down. Some animosity would begin to develop. In the conductor’s absence, sooner or later one of the musicians would take over, “Okay, I think we should all turn to page 34 and start from measure 178. Let’s play it a little jazzier.” Because the musician is not trained to be a conductor and does not have the qualities needed to be the conductor, eventually another musician is going to say, “Why are you conductor? Why aren’t I conductor? I don’t want to play it jazzy, I think it should be more formal!” Since more than one musician may rebel against the pseudo-conductor, we’ve got chaos and anarchy.

When I describe an orchestra without a conductor, in my mind I picture Junior High School band. Without the teacher, some bully will grab the piccolo and throw it in the tuba. There will be some anxious kid saying, “Oh, we should keep practicing anyway. We’re going to get in trouble!” Another student shouts, “Who cares! I never liked you anyway, get out of here!” Then the drums will play as loud at it can to drown out everyone else.

What happened to the beautiful music that the orchestra is capable of playing? It’s lost! They stopped working together; they each have their own agenda that they feel is more important than any other musician’s agenda. They need the conductor, just as our parts need a capable leader to keep them working together. They need the Self.

Without a sense of Self, we feel hollow and empty, directionless and lost. The connection with our parts and with others is gone. This is the void that Emily described so vividly in chapter 1. I’ll talk about what causes the Self to get hidden away in the next chapter. I want to describe briefly what happens to the parts when the Self is missing. It helps if you think of the parts as existing on a continuum, with being in balance (I may even assert that the part is in it’s “self”) on one end of the continuum and becoming more and more extreme in it’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors as it moves away from the Self, towards the other end of the continuum.

For the sake of simplicity I’m going to start with the Kid parts. Since our parts act just like their “real life” counterparts it helps to imagine how real kids think, feel and react. Let’s imagine that something happens that is upsetting, someone gets mad at you over a misunderstanding. Without the Self’s soothing reassuring presence, the Kids feel frightened. Realizing they are alone, that there is no one to take care of them, they become anxious. They don’t know how to handle the situation because they are young and inexperienced. They begin to doubt themselves and feel worthless, “What’s wrong with me? I’m not good enough.”

When the Kids are more extreme, I call them the Exiles. This is because the more frightened and helpless they become, the more the other parts push them away in an attempt to help you to not feel these uncomfortably intense emotions. The Exiles also hold our memories from our past. The more traumatic the memories, the more the other parts try to lock the Exiles away in order to not face the feelings that arise when the Exiles get close to a memory.

Usually the anxiety felt by the Exiles will activate the Mentors who rush in to try to take care of the situation. Because they do not possess the soothing reassuring wisdom of the Self, their care taking is often not what the Exiles need or want. Mentors, when they become extreme, can become the Bullies. As they become more extreme, their behavior and thoughts become more and more critical and judgmental. “Stop being such a baby! No one else is acting like this. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just get over it?” They can become perfectionistic, punitive and loud. Again I will remind you that our parts act and react like their real life counterparts. The Exiles, looking for soothing and reassurance, become more agitated and fearful as the Bullies start yelling at them. The Bullies react to this with more perfectionism, which elicits more anxiety, which elicits more perfectionism… Round and round they go. 

Finally, the Advocates step in. As extreme as the other two parts have gotten, the Advocates become extreme as well. Advocates often take on two extreme roles, one of which is the Rebel. They rebel against the Bullies. “If you can’t be perfect, then why bother! Who cares? It won’t make any difference anyway.” Their other extreme role is the Numb-er (as in Numbing). The Numb-er says, “I can take all the feelings away. I’ll make it all better. You deserve to eat this (or starve, or purge, etc. etc.).”

And you know what happens next. The Bullies jump in and berate you for eating (starving, purging, etc.). The Exiles feel even more anxious and worthless. The Rebels and Numb-ers convince you to eat (starve, purge) even more….

The relationship between the parts become rigid and inflexible. When their words and behavior doesn’t elicit the result they want, the parts get locked into just doing more and more of the same. They become even more extreme. They seem incapable of trying anything different.

Establishing a firm sense of Self and getting the parts back in balance, back in their part-self, is the goal of recovery.

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