- Case Study: Chris Releases Chronic Shoulder Tension
- A Public Interest Lawyer’s Road Out of Burnout
My friend Chris is also a coach, so we decided we would each give each other a session. With her permission, I’d like to share with you the heartwarming and remarkable story of the session where I coached her.
She told me that she was going through a transition period and feeling confused, like she used to have all the answers and now she “doesn’t know shit.” So I suggested we talk to the part of her who thinks she doesn’t know shit.
After some guidance to access the part, she found it as a feeling of heaviness in her chest.
Fred the Soothing Elephant
She shared that she had done similar work before and discovered another part that felt heavy in her chest. That other part appeared to her as a friendly cartoon elephant named Fred.
Fred would sit on her chest to soothe her. If we were only paying attention to physical sensations, we might have thought this part was Fred again, but Chris was able to tell that this part was different.
Villie the Protective Anvil
Chris saw the current part as an anvil with the voice of Patty and Selma Simpson. This part goes by Villie.
Where Fred uses weight to soothe, Villie uses it as a shield, because Villie’s job is to protect her from danger.
Parts Work Keeps Us On the Right Track
If my job were to analyze and make guesses, I would have guessed that Villie was vigilant, as many protective parts are. But fortunately, that’s not my job, because it would’ve been wrong. Villie isn’t on the lookout for the occasional danger; Villie believes that danger is always present.
I asked a common parts work question: when did Villie start doing her protective job? Chris said at age five, and told me a bit about her childhood.
This is another moment that could have led us astray in another modality, but parts work gave me a way to keep us on track. I noticed that Chris was answering questions in a matter-of-fact way and seemed to be speaking from her memory about childhood rather than reporting Villie’s answer. I suggested this and Chris immediately saw the difference and asked Villie. Villie said she had started doing her job at age two and a half.
Getting to Know Villie
We asked Villie a variety of questions and got answers about the harsh truths of the past and present that Villie protects Chris from.
Not one to mince words, at one point Villie told Chris to fuck off. But that wasn’t a problem. I suggested that Chris just tell Villie “I hear you, you want me to fuck off.”
The anger gave way to sadness, and we validated that, too. Soon, Chris said “I think she’s starting to trust me.”
Trust Opens Doors
When Villie started to trust Chris, Villie said she wanted help doing her job. This is common for protective parts – they feel isolated, so they take on too much responsibility, thinking “it’s all up to me.” When they meet the core self of the person, they realize they don’t have to do it all alone.
Letting a Scared Part Off the Hook
So I suggested that Villie could give some of her responsibility to Chris, and Chris said she felt daunted by the idea of taking that on. This tipped me off that another part of Chris had stepped in, believing it was the one who was going to have to take on this responsibility.
I asked Chris if she could find this scared part, and it appeared to Chris as a cartoon mouse. We let it know that it didn’t have to take on this responsibility, and it went to hide safely in Fred’s ear.
Her Upper Body Releases
We turned back to Villie, and Chris said she felt exhausted. As we checked for whether the exhaustion was purely physical or coming from a part, she started to stretch her arms. I encouraged her to move however she felt the need to, and she stood up and continued to stretch.
As she continued, she realized that her shoulders were releasing tension and she was able to breathe more deeply.
“I’ve been trying to release my shoulders with massage and PT for years, and now my shoulders are released in 30 minutes!”
This doesn’t always happen, but I have seen it before. My husband has had chronic muscle tension for years, and when he does parts work, he often finds that some of it spontaneously releases. His massage therapist has been impressed!
It’s particularly cool in Chris’s case. Villie protects a vulnerable part of Chris that we didn’t work with in this session, and usually the biggest releases and changes come from working with those vulnerable parts. But as this case shows, wonderful things can also happen just from getting to know protector parts.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
When Chris felt ready to sit down again, I suggested one more question for Villie: “do you want anything from me over the next week?”
I don’t generally give my clients homework, but I like to ask their parts if they want to give any homework. I find that a part that has been seen and met with compassion typically asks for something beautifully healthy, even though these are the very same parts that people come in wanting to get rid of because of the problems they cause.
Villie asked for Chris to check in on her, and Chris agreed and set herself a reminder. This is a common request from parts. Deep down, we seem to want to have these inner relationships.
“That was efficient!”
We had planned to spend an hour together, but Chris was still adjusting to the changes in her body, so we ended about fifteen minutes early. Not everyone will have a remarkable release in the first 30 minutes, or as vivid an image of their parts, but the rest of the session was quite typical.
Parts regularly give people new insights into why they’re feeling the way that they are. Working with parts regularly leads them to relax, which can be felt emotionally and physically. And once parts start to trust the core self, they regularly choose to continue having a relationship with the self and to use that relationship to share their responsibility.
Sharing that responsibility often opens up more flexibility—in terms of decision-making and perspective-taking, and sometimes, even physically!