For an audio version of this post, read by Dr Jenner, listen here.
I have been quite active lately promoting the use of tools and methods to challenge and potentially overcome blocks in thinking that keep one stuck in the proverbial “hamster wheel” of inaction and overthinking. Partly inspired by reading and the influence of such therapies as psychoanalysis and internal family systems, I have been quite happy to help clients see how the parts of the personality were formed and how these parts affect their view of the world. How the critical “protectors” (or parts) send constant messages to stop us getting to the real truth, that is, the childhood pain we all carry in terms of trauma, guilt and shame. As a quick reminder, I truly believe that defense mechanisms formed in childhood develop into parts of our personality to protect the Self, the true, compassionate, logical, inquisitive part of us. When they feel the Self is threatened, they influence thinking to avoid pain and hurt. They also keep us trapped in that thinking and tell us how we and the world “should” be and behave. When is the Self threatened? When the subdued parts of our personality (sometimes called exiles or sub personalities) are triggered. These “exiles” carry our deep wounds that we are generally not too keen on facing. It is multi-faceted, multi-level thinking designed to keep us away from our own truth. We listen to the protectors because it is the easiest thing to do and because we are conditioned to do so, sometimes through parenting styles, sometimes through forming our own protection schemas. They are strong, loud and often in conflict. No wonder we often find the world a difficult and confusing place!
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So in therapy, we look for the parts that are present and the “exiles” they are subduing while promoting the definitive action that is associated with being in “Self” mode. The first part can be a difficult exercise. The messages are not always clear or obvious or one part may be working with another or as often happens, are in conflict. It is important to recognise these before recognising the “exiles”.
I strongly believe that therapists should open themselves up to relevant and constructive self-analysis as often as they can. Any method they are using should carry not only a knowledge based element but also that they have used the same method to analyse themselves or have undergone supervision or counselling themselves using it. This puts a therapist right in the middle of a client’s journey in terms of understanding. An essential process. This is what I intend to do with the remainder of this post.
I have identified my “protectors” as a very strong part of my personality. Being someone with codependent tendencies, there are very strong critical elements to them. Here are the main ones I have identified and the exiles that I believe they are subduing. In this post, for sake of length, I have not added how I promote Self mode.
The Judge: I am very judgmental towards myself and my achievements. I am generally not happy with much that I get done even if I have done what I set out to do. I hear often “that might have been better” “could you have done that in a different way” “you should do it this way next time”. While in Self mode, I can see the learning aspect from this, it often comes across as criticism in my mind. Consequently, I sometimes expect not only myself but those around me to do better as well. This is protecting my “not good enough” exile that I often had to encounter in my childhood and teenage years, consolidated by abusive parenting. Consequently, I am often down on myself and have anxiety about my place in the world.
The Slavedriver: I am a workaholic and I know it. Even when I am not working, I am writing, reading or planning something about work. I find it hard to let go. It has meant that I run a successful business but my mind is on the “go” full on. I identify myself in my work and what that means to me. I often note the difference between my private and public side. I appear extremely confident while working. This is in contrast to me in private. I fear the consequences of failure (exile) and all that entails. The positive side is that it keeps me focussed and this spins over into other things as well.
The Codependent: This is the biggest “voice” in my head and one that often dominates my thinking. I was put into a caretaker role early in my life for siblings and parents while being punished and reviled when things out of my control went wrong. I am, at times programed to give and feel guilt and shame when receiving. I am not a victim and nor do I wish to paint myself as one. The price that people pay when around codependency is the level of return needed for this “giving” in terms of the need for constant validation, reassurance and control. As trust is not easily formed, these “voices” will constantly remind me that small conflicts mean something much bigger, that people cannot be trusted and they only want you for what they can get from you. My unlovable exile is often triggered and this voice steps in. The reaction is that you give “a little more” and then have to deal with the guilt. A very powerful and destructive voice that is guaranteed to provide dysfunction if listened to.
The Fantasist: Many of us have an “escape” voice that lets us free from the strict critical voices. Called the “firefighter” or “inner rebel”, it can drive us to distraction, impulsive behaviour and ultimately addiction of different types. It is the other end of the continuum and while it carries positive elements in terms of self-care, it often comes along to redress the tight control of the critics. While I have never been an addict (unless you count Amazon shopping for books), I have spent a lot of time ruminating and daydreaming about being someone or somewhere else. This was very strong earlier in my life and I realise now that it was a form of dissociation. Sometimes, the lines of fantasy and reality became blurred. This, I believe was stopping me looking and dealing with my “self-esteem exile” that has roots in the three previous elements mentioned.
Wow, that was refreshing!
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com