In the last blog I discussed how to overcome anxiety. In this blog we will try to understand what is at the core of self sabotage and addictions.
Our Internal Parts
Richard Schwartz (1995) explains in his book called “Internal Family Systems Therapy”, how when any human system, whether it’s a family, company or country suffers some kind of threatening or overwhelming trauma, that system organises itself to protect its leadership, as well as its most sensitive and vulnerable members. He goes on to say that our internal system of parts operates in the same way.
These parts are seen as more than just states of mind with thoughts and feelings, and are more like distinct personalities with emotions, desires, temperaments, talents, beliefs and ages. This concept may be new to some and may seem fascinating, however it’s quite normal for people to have these different parts of themselves. This is quite different to people diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder), which have been hurt so badly that their parts have become polarised to the point of being completely isolated from one another.
A good example of our parts is when we lose our temper. It’s as if we become a totally different person when a part of us takes over and we lose our temper. Our loved ones can be left thinking, what happened there, who is this person?
Even though our system has this protective mechanism, the youngest, most sensitive and vulnerable parts can be affected by a traumatic experience, causing them to be frozen in time at the point when the trauma happened. When this happens it’s as if those parts continue to live with the emotions and feelings as if they were still fixed in that situation. This creates the subconscious programs and beliefs that run our life!
After the traumatic event, if the child is helped to accept and understand what happened and returned to a caring safe environment, with love and understanding, then their true self is able to respond to the hurt parts in much the same way, but if this nurturing does not happen, then the individual is forced to make sense of it all in their own limited way.
Our Disconnected Parts
As we discussed in the April blog, there are instances in our childhood where we are not able to stay true to the instinctive wholeness of who we really are, our true self. This is because we may experience critical criticism, teasing, bullying, rejection, abandonment, fear or abuse. We manage this by disconnecting from the hurt parts of ourself, like pushing them out of our awareness so we don’t have to feel the fear and pain. This is called polarisation. These disconnected parts generally have feelings of guilt, shame and being unlovable associated with them.
We may disconnect from our self-expression, our authenticity, our playfulness or vulnerability, because it may have not been safe to show these parts in the past. So we end up disconnecting from our true self, who we really are and we start wearing “masks”, pretending to be someone we are not, just to keep everyone else happy.
Our Protector Parts
It’s not our true self that has pushed away and abandoned our disconnected parts, it’s other parts or sub-personalities of the child, that try to manage the difficult situation at the traumatic time, with often quite limiting strategies. We will call those parts our protector parts.
Our protector parts develop a number of strategies to deal with our environment and protect ourselves, which we automatically take into adulthood without realising. These strategies may embrace a particular belief of ours, such as not being worthy of love. Some strategies that I habitually brought into adulthood without realising were: not expressing my self, not being able to say no, disconnecting from emotions, disconnecting from others, always working hard, the need for achievement and perfection, pleasing others, not trusting others, not relying on others and hiding who I really am. When we polarise ourself and disconnect from our sensitive parts, the protector parts with all their strategies become necessary.
So these protector parts try to get the person to avoid any situation that might activate the disconnected parts, so that trapped emotions and memories don’t come into the person’s consciousness. The thing is, these protector parts don’t even enjoy their roles but they believe they are necessary to control the person, so that the sensitive, disconnected parts don’t get activated and bring up all their shame, guilt, fear, pain, emptiness and sense of being unworthy and unlovable.
Self Sabotage and Addictions
The other parts that become necessary when we polarise ourself and disconnect from our sensitive parts, are what Schwartz calls the firefighter parts. The firefighter parts are activated to extinguish feelings and emotions whenever our protector parts, with all their strategies aren’t successful in containing the disconnected parts. The firefighter parts do whatever they believe is necessary to help the person dissociate from or douse the buried emotions if they start to come up. Some techniques of the firefighter parts are numbing activities like self-mutilation, binge eating, drug or alcohol abuse, excessive masturbation or promiscuity. Ahh, so that’s were our addictions and self sabotage come from!
I’m sure we can all relate to when the fire fighter parts take over and all we feel is an urgent compulsion to engage in one or more of these addictive behaviours, to disconnect from and soothe our emotions. The thing is however, the more we do the addictive behaviour, the less effective it becomes in making us feel better and the more we suffer the side effects of the addictive behaviour.
Other techniques of the firefighter parts include outbursts of rage, the exhilaration of stealing and the excitement of gambling. Now we can explain why everyday on the news we read or hear about how some so called successful people go off the rails with “bad” and dangerous behaviour. It’s their firefighter parts taking over and attempting to soothe things over. It also explains so called “evil” behaviour.
People who struggle with addictions and self sabotage are dominated by the firefighter parts. People who are depressed are dominated by the protector parts and people who experience intense sadness or fear are often dominated by the disconnected parts. The struggle between our inner parts is what ultimately leads to inner conflict and we end up feeling confused, stressed and agitated. We use up a lot of energy, but it seems like we have no direction and are not getting anywhere in life.
The reason why many of us have a low self-worth, is that when we do go within, all we can hear and feel are these internal parts of ours in an internal war. We associate who we are with these internal parts, rather than who we really are, our true self. This internal war plays out with a very busy mind with negative thinking, stress and a host of limiting emotions.
Our True Self
Everyone has a true self, no matter how polarised or fragmented they have become, no matter how bad their symptoms are, no matter how lost they currently are. The true self has the compassion, perspective and vision that is required to lead both our internal system and external life with flow, confidence and creativity.
When you are whole or healed, it’s not that your parts disappear, however their extreme roles do, as they take up preferred valuable roles. It’s like they regain the respect of the true self to lead the system. The parts cooperate with each other instead of being in conflict and self-love is present, which also brings a sense of high self-esteem. Once you are whole or healed your whole system quietens down, because the inner voice is just each part trying to express their thoughts and opinions. The disconnected parts come out of hiding with many resources that have been buried. Resources like authenticity, courage and vulnerability. The roles of the protector and firefighting parts are no longer required, hence the self sabotage and addictions are overcome.
So how do we become whole or heal ourselves? We will talk about that in the next blog 🙂
Schwartz, Richard C. (1995) Internal Family Systems Therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Author: GABRIEL PERGAMALIS
About Gabriel Pergamalis
Gabriel Pergamalis is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Self-Mastery Coach at the Perth Hills Mindfulness Space. He is passionate about helping people empower themselves to quieten their mind, tame their emotions and transform their limiting beliefs. He understands how the mind works, especially the influence of the subconscious mind. He is constantly upgrading his level of training to bring his clients the most simple, yet effective techniques to develop mindfulness, connect with their true self and overcome conditioning of the subconscious mind.
For more information on Gabriel’s “Know Thyself Program” visit the SELF MASTERY COACHING PAGE.
You can download Chapter 1 of the program for free including a 30 minute guided mindfulness meditation by Gabriel.