Stuckness is an attempt to meet a need.

When we realize that a part of ourselves is resisting change, it’s normal to want to kick them off the bus or force them to behave.[1] But if you’ve ever tried to get rid of a part of yourself or punish it into conformity, you may have discovered that doesn’t work so well. We can’t just break a bad habit or erase existing neurological pathways.

In fact, if you try to silence a part of yourself, it’s apt to act up even more. That’s because every habit forms to meet a need. Every behavior—even life-threatening behaviors such as addictions and eating disorders—is an attempt to meet a need.

Until you understand what need the stuck part of you is trying to meet, it is unlikely to desist. But if you turn toward yourself with love and kindness, you’ll have an easier time understanding what you need and supporting your parts to release their grip on their preferred strategies.

Practice: Listening for What a Struggling Part Needs

You’ll find a recording of me guiding this practice on my website. You can go there now if it helps to follow my guidance.

  1. Find a time and place. To begin, I invite you to find a quiet space free from distractions. This practice can feel vulnerable, so choose a space where you have privacy and a time when you don’t need to rush off to another obligation. When you’re ready, get your journal and a pen.
  2. Take a moment to get centered. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel your breath. Let your mind know that you don’t need to figure anything out or fix anything. If random thoughts are floating around in your brain, jot them down so you can tend to them later.
  3. Bring to mind a situation in which you feel stuck. This may be a situation in which you’ve decided that you want to do something, but a part of you resists. Or a situation in which one part of you pulls you in one direction, and another part pulls in another. Jot down a few words to name the situation.
  4. Gently, invite the part of yourself who is struggling to be present in your body.
  5. Notice the sensations that arise in your body in response to the invitation, without diminishing or exaggerating them. Notice any sensations you feel in your belly, heart, lungs, throat, face or any other area.
  6. Place the palm of your hand where you feel the sensations, offering yourself soothing touch.
  7. Turn toward the sensations with love and kindness and say hello to each one, as if you were greeting a friend.
  8. One at a time, make guesses about what words the sensations would use to describe how they feel, and ask what resonates. For example, ask the sensation: “Is it tension that you feel? Or constriction? Maybe tightness?” Listen closely for a yes, no, or clarification from your body. If it helps the parts feel heard, write down what you hear.As you listen to the sensations, you may discover that they start to shift. They may get louder as they have the opportunity to communicate with you, or they may soften as they receive your love and kindness.Remember that you aren’t listening to change how you feel. You’re listening to hear what they want to tell you. Body changes are just part of the conversation.
  9. Once you’ve greeted the sensations and found descriptions for what they feel, choose one sensation to stay with for a little while. Invite the other sensations to find a safe place where you can visit them later.
  10. In your mind’s eye, sit beside the sensation, observing the sensation with love and kindness.If you begin to feel overwhelmed by emotion or feel the need to protect yourself, I invite you to stop here, open your eyes and look around the room, shake your body, and read the pieces about turning toward from Chapter 4 before revisiting this practice.If you hear yourself trying to convince the part of you that it should stop feeling or needing or thinking what it feels or needs or thinks, this is a sign that you’re not yet embodying a compassionate witness perspective, but rather that another part is speaking. For example, we might call that part the Convincer or the Concerned Part.Notice where in your body you feel the part who’s trying to convince the other part to feel differently. Rather than trying to convince yourself to stop trying to convince yourself to feel differently, turn toward the Convincer part with love and kindness. Gently say hello, and let it know that you hear its concerns.

    Ask if it would be willing to step aside for a moment so that you can accompany the part who’s struggling. If it is not willing, spend time with the Convincer part instead, noticing its sensations and asking it the questions below.

  11. With kind curiosity, ask the sensation what it would like you to call it. For example, perhaps this is the Scared One, or the Inner Child, or the Fierce Protector, or whatever feels right in the moment. There’s no need to find a perfect name, just go for good enough.
  12. With kind curiosity, ask the sensation what it would like you to call it. Write down what you hear. Even if another part of you disagrees with what this part is saying, observe what it’s saying without trying to convince it otherwise.
  13. Ask the sensation what it needs. If the answer isn’t immediately clear, make kind and curious guesses, and listen to how your body responds. For example, you may ask “Are you frustrated and wishing you could find an easier path to reaching your goals? Are you lonely and longing for deeper connection? Are you bewildered and needing clarity about what’s next?”In response to your question, you may notice words, sensations, emotions, images, stories, or movement. If it feels helpful, write down what comes up.If it feels hard to tell what this part of you needs, look at the Nonviolent Communication list of needs on page x in Chapter 2.

    If you still struggle to understand what this part needs, don’t push yourself to figure it out. This part of you might need more time to share. It can also take repeated practice to discern what you need. For now, do your best to listen with curiosity and kindness.

  14. Gently ask this part of you if there is anything else it wants to tell youWhat else? What else? Keep listening and writing down what arises until you feel complete.
  15. When this part feels complete, thank it for sharing with you. If it’s a promise you can keep, let it know that you will be back to talk with it again. Then, slowly, bring your awareness back to the rest of your body. Feel your feet and open your eyes. Allow yourself to sit quietly.
  16. Take a moment to reflect on what you discovered in this practice, asking yourself:
    • What do I now know about what I need?
    • What steps might I take to care for this part of myself while also moving toward my vision?

Write down what arises. You might notice yourself breathing a deep sigh of relief, knowing exactly what to do next. Or, you might know you need to do something that you wish you didn’t have to do. Or, you may still feel confused and long for a more complete understanding of what to do.

This can be a challenging practice to learn on our own, and it may help to have additional support from a coach or therapist to embody the practice and integrate it into your life.

With enough support and repetition, this practice can become a trusted ally that you return to whenever you feel stuck.

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