If you’ve done the first and second steps of the parts work process, you’re ready to establish an inner connection. One of the defining features of parts work and especially Internal Family Systems is the two-way relationship between your parts and your core Self. Outside of parts work, we often try to have one-way relationships with our parts, by doing things like telling ourselves to think differently (talking to a part without listening to it) or feeling for subconscious associations (listening to a part without talking to it). Imagine how hard it would be to problem-solve with a friend if only one of you were allowed to talk! Parts work makes things easier by allowing us to have dialogues.
The fact that this is a dialogue doesn’t mean it has to come in verbal thoughts. Parts can communicate in different ways: through mental imagery, physical sensations, by guiding you to move in a certain way, or by giving you intuitions. Sometimes people can’t tell what a part is saying until they try drawing. The key is just that you are aware of the part and the part is aware of you.
Ask for information
When you ask yourself the magic question covered in the last post, “how do you feel towards the part?” and your answer includes some curiosity or openness, extend that curiosity to the part. You might focus on the part of your body where you feel evidence of the part and internally ask “What do you want me to know?” But any way of inviting information will do.
Usually, you will get some kind of response. If the target part is your inner critic, you may get a laundry list of things it disapproves of. If the target part is afraid, you may start to understand more about its fears. If your Self-energy is still flowing, this won’t make you defensive or avoidant. (If you do feel defensive, avoidant, or any category 3 feeling, that’s okay! It just means a concerned part has popped up. Go back to the previous step.)
If the information the part is sharing doesn’t make sense, ask for help understanding. Sometimes a part will put forth a word or an image that doesn’t mean anything to you. Rather than throwing your analytical powers at it or breaking out the dream symbolism books, ask the part what it means.
If the information does make sense to you, then offer the part some validation. With a scared part, this might sound like “Oh, you’re afraid because this situation reminds you of that really awful one from before. Yeah, that is scary! It makes sense that you’d feel that way.” There’s no need to talk the part into feeling differently. (It wouldn’t work, anyway!)
Some parts will tell you about how hard they’ve been working to protect you. A great response to that is to share your appreciation for their hard work (even if the outcome of the hard work…isn’t great).
If you’re in touch with your core Self, validation and appreciation will flow easily. If they’re not flowing, don’t lie or try to force yourself to feel them. Just go back to the previous step.
Check for a response
Then check if the part reacted to your validation. It might feel more relaxed after being validated. It might get angry at you! Any reaction is fine. We’re just checking that the part is in communication with you. If the part does not seem to notice you, you can invite it to notice you. If it refuses to look at you, that counts as noticing you. You may need to just spend some time being present with the part until it feels ready to communicate.
If the part really isn’t aware of you, though, there might be another part creating a sort of invisible wall between you. That’s a “concerned part,” and just means you should return to the previous step.
Once you have a two-way connection between your Self and a part, you’re ready to continue getting to know the part, which will be covered in the next post.