Parts & Memory Therapy
Parts and Memory Therapy is a way to do counseling or psychotherapy. It begins with two controversial ideas. The first is that the mind consists of many Parts or subpersonalities, each with its own submind. It’s not a single, consistent, streamlined thing. The second is that nearly all adult mental and emotional issues result from our histories of painful life experiences. Permanent healing of these issues comes from finding the Parts of the whole self that carry the painful emotional memories and then neutralizing those memories. The Parts or subpersonalities of a person carry the memories. The memories are the targets for healing interventions. Healing is done by visualizations that neutralize the emotional energy connected to the memories.
If you are a parent, think about how you feel, or used to feel, when you were tending to hungry, fussy, or needy children. If you haven’t tended to children, think about any experience that demanded a lot of attention from you when you had too many things to do. Or, think about how you feel when you are overwhelmed at work, or are in any social situation where you feel unappreciated or undervalued. Then, switch your focus and think about how you feel, or remember feeling, on a romantic date with someone you were attracted to. Take a moment to compare these different ways of feeling. These feeling states can be so different that you might almost feel that you are two different people. When you think about how you can experience life so differently in different situations, you are recognizing some of the Parts that make up your whole personality.
Parts and Memory Therapy is based upon the idea that it is normal for us to have many different ways of being ourselves. But some of these ways of being ourselves could use some help in psychotherapy. Each of these ways of being forms a discrete Part of us within our whole personality. One Part is dominant when we are sad and another Part is dominant when we are angry. Actually, there is sometimes a cluster of Parts that present as sad or mad, but for simplicity I will talk about single Parts. At any given moment, a single dominant Part largely determines how we act in any situation. When challenged, for example, we might react with anxiety, anger, or even with calm assurance, but we can’t act with all three of these emotions at the same time. The set of beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that dominate our response to the challenge is what I am calling a Part.
The idea of Parts is common in everyday language. For example, “A Part of me wants to tell my boss to go to hell, but another Part of me says I should mellow out because I need this job.” Or, “A Part of me wants to leave him, but another Part of me loves him and can’t imagine life without him.” Sometimes we compare a rational view to an emotional one: “My brain tells me to do one thing but my heart tells me something else.” Heart and brain here are the same as Parts. If you think for a moment about the way you feel when you take one point of view or the other, you can easily recognize how different these Parts of you are.
These are the Parts with which the Parts and Memory Therapist helps you work. Especially when the Parts are extreme in their effects on you, you probably can’t permanently heal yourself without working with these Parts. Examples include problems with rage, long-lasting grief for a loved one, panic attacks unwanted romantic feelings for past sweethearts, and porn, gambling, and shopping addictions. And there are many more. In fact, every problem that brings you to counseling or psychotherapy can be helped by working with the Parts of you that are wounded in some way.
A Part is an internal entity or structure (i.e., a “thing”) with its own way of thinking and feeling. In short, it has its own submind. It has its own way of viewing the world and its own agenda. It has volition; it makes choices. The highest priority for any given Part of you is to help you. Even an extremely critical Part of you that seems to want to destroy you aims to help you. It’s just trying too hard.
The most important content of a Part or subpersonality is a set of memories of events where the Part was present. A romantic Part has a different set of memories from that of a harassed mom or dad Part. Healing your problems requires that we work with the memories of the Part of you that carries the problem. If the problem is work stress, for example, we probably don’t need to work with the romantic Part of you.
The memories we work with could be as recent as last night’s argument with your spouse, or they may be ancient memories of your fear as a child when Mom and Dad were arguing and threatening divorce. A Part of you recorded those memories and stored them, sometimes in places where you can’t easily reach them. Sometimes you may not even remember an experience until we work with the Part of you that contains the memories. But the memories do not disappear, and they don’t heal without help. They continue to affect you in the present. In doing therapy with Parts, our job is to neutralize those memories so that they don’t make your life difficult. You will keep the memories and the knowledge that goes with them, but you’ll be able to let go of the painful emotions attached to them.
Your therapist will help you visualize the Parts of you that present problems in your life. But you may want to do some experimenting on your own. One way to recognize one of your own Parts is to think about someone you really dislike. Hold a picture of that person in your mind for a moment and check to see if just thinking of him or her causes you to feel a strong emotion or body sensation (such as chest or jaw tightness or nervous stomach). If so, you can simply direct your thoughts to that emotion or sensation and ask it to give you an image of itself in your mind. This simple request allows about 50 percent of people to immediately produce an internal image of the Part of them that feels the strong emotion. Other techniques will allow most others to produce an internal image.
The kind of image that pops up most often is simply an image of yourself at a different age in your life or an image of yourself as you are right now but with a different facial expression or body position. It’s also normal for other kinds of images to stand for the Part you’re looking for. The color red or a ball of fire, for example, are common images we use to represent anger. Clouds or grey smoke are images we sometimes use to stand for the depressed Part of ourselves. Sometimes a cartoon character or a shadow will show itself as the Part we are looking for. My own angry Part looks like The Thing of comic book fame, and the Part who guides my writing looks like a cartoon sketch of a country bumpkin with thin hair, buckteeth and a receding chin.
For some people, other techniques are more helpful in locating images of Parts. For example, if you think about major events in your life, you may be able to visualize one or more of those events in detail. High school or college graduations, the birth of your child, your wedding, or getting your first car or job are good examples of positive memories. In such memories, you may be able to see yourself from outside yourself. For example, you may be able to clearly see your high school or college graduation in your memory and might even be able to see yourself from outside yourself as you walk across the stage for your degree or diploma.
Other events that you might visualize in detail could be traumatic, such as the funeral of a loved one, a monster fight, a military battle, a beating you received or witnessed when you were a child, and so on. In any of these memories, you might also be able to see yourself in the memory from outside yourself, as if you were above, behind, or beside yourself. If so, that’s an example of a Part or subpersonality of the sort with which Parts and Memory Therapy works. The Parts therapist will guide you in having a conversation with such a Part. These are the Parts of you that need to be healed—except for those joyful ones mentioned above.
Parts and Memory Therapy aims to help you find the memories of events that created a problem Part, and then to neutralize the negative emotions and body sensations still attached to the memories of those events. The result is that the Part becomes centered rather than extreme, calm rather than agitated. When that Part and others become centered and calm, so do you.