Stuckness. You may know it well: 

  1. You say you’ll do something, but then interruptions suck you in. You keep putting your ideas for the future on the backburner.
  2. You know what you need to stop doing, but you keep doing it. You struggle to say no, feel compelled to say yes, and get sucked into obligations that aren’t yours.
  3. You focus your attention on everything but what you truly long for. When someone asks you what you want, you say you don’t know, even though part of you does. 
  4. You’re torn between different paths, so you don’t move forward on either.
  5. You start, but fear stops you.

In Part One of this blog, I talked about how, when you’re stuck, it feels like two or more parts of you are in a fight with each other. 

So how do you stop the internal fight and finally move forward?

To answer this question, it helps to understand who these parts of you are and how they came to be.

How You Formed Habits

Let’s go back to the very beginning—when you were born.

When you were born, you were entirely dependent on other people to meet your needs, especially your need for belonging. 

Starting from day one, you practiced all sorts of strategies to meet your needs: crawling, walking, saying your first words, reciting the alphabet, brushing your hair, tying your shoes. 

Some behaviors were easier for you, worked better for you, or earned you praise. You decided (usually unconsciously) to practice these more. Other behaviors were more challenging, didn’t work as well for you, got you rejected, or were never presented to you as options. You didn’t practice these as much. Which behaviors you practiced also depended on the resources you had access to and your cultural context. 

You practiced some behaviors so often that they eventually became habits—automatic behavior patterns that develop when you practice them so often that they become programmed into your unconscious psychobiology. Once a behavior becomes habitual, you can perform it without conscious thought. If you drive a car, you’re probably familiar with the experience of arriving home after a long commute without remembering the drive home. That’s how habits work.

Most of our habits serve us most of the time. By putting basic behaviors on autopilot—brushing teeth, putting on clothes, making breakfast—habits allow us to devote mental energy to complex tasks and take on new challenges. Habits create a sense of continuity, stability, and predictability. However, the same sense of stability that serves us most of the time can make it scary to create change when a new behavior is needed, which is why habits can make it hard to move forward.

Meet the Strategy Children

When we were little, we started to see our habits as fundamental aspects of who we were. Now, each of our personalities is composed of multiple parts or subpersonalities with different strategies for meeting our needs and perspectives for seeing the world. I call these parts Strategy Children and often refer to them as parts

For example, if you had an easy time at school and your parents gave you lots of praise for getting A’s, you may have developed a strong inner Achiever, and if you may feel a subtle sense of guilt when you just do nothing. If you learned to make friends by making the other kids laugh, you might have developed a strong inner Class Clown. You might now worry that if you were honest about feeling sad, no one would like you. If you learned to make peace at home by taking care of others, you might have a strong inner People Pleaser or Caretaker and now have a hard time saying no to other people. Other strategy children that often show up in my clients include: The Judge. The Victim. The Intellectual. The Quiet One. The Perfectionist. The Competitive One. The Good Parent. 

Each strategy child developed to meet your needs. If a strategy child resists changes you want to make, that’s because it’s trying to meet a need. It’s afraid that your needs won’t be met if it takes a break. For example, you may realize that you need to learn how to pause and listen to your intuition to discern what’s next in your career. But rather than prioritizing the inward-looking practices I teach, your inner Task-Master clings to trying to get things done all day long. Your Task-Master is excellent at meeting your needs for contribution and efficacy, and it’s afraid that if you take time to pause, you will drop balls and no longer be effective, so it keeps circumventing your efforts to pause.

Trying to convince your strategy children to change or scolding them for bad behavior usually doesn’t work too well. Instead, the key to choosing a new way of doing things is to understand what needs your strategy child is trying to meet. Once you know what you need and take constructive steps to meet your need, the strategy child is far less likely to resist, and it will become easier to move forward.

The Shadow Parts

While some habitual behaviors took on a life of their own, some behaviors were ignored, shunned, forgotten, neglected, not supported to grow, suppressed out of shame, just plain not developed, or relegated to the shadows. I call these Shadow parts.

These parts have positive aspects that you need to be fully whole. To follow a calling, we often have to reclaim and reintegrate parts that have been in the shadows. You may need to hold a newly discovered part’s hand as if it were a baby learning to walk. 

It can be hard to reclaim your shadow parts because your Inner Judge might tell you that people will reject you if you show that part of yourself. For example, if you learned to be the Quiet One, you may need to cultivate the Proud Speaker. But your Inner Judge says that you’re arrogant or a show-off to think you’re so great. If you learned to be a Caretaker-of-Others, you might need to cultivate a Caretaker-of-Self. But your Inner Judge says that you’re selfish if you say no to that important obligation or you’re lazy for taking time off. If you learned to be a Perfectionist, you might need to cultivate your inner Risk Taker. But your Inner Judge says that if you mess up, everyone will see how stupid you are, and you’ll just wind up a failure.

Reading this, you may be asking yourself: “So what do I do about my Inner Judge?!” In The Stories We Tell Ourselves, I will teach you how to turn down the volume on your Inner Judge. However, there are several steps you must take, however, for the teachings in that chapter to be most effective, so I ask you to bear with me and engage with the practices that lead up to that chapter.

Stepping Outside of the Bell Jar

I invite you to imagine that the person you’ve been until this moment—all of your parts, habits, stories, strengths, quirks, knowledge, skills, training—are living inside a bell jar. It’s safe and familiar in the jar, but the jar has become too small to fit the person you’re called to be now. The jar limits what you can see and do, and you’re bumping up against the sides. 

To create space for the person you’re called to be at this next phase of your life, you need to lift the jar. You need to include and transcend everything you’ve been until now. 

You must answer the question: “Who do you choose to be now?” 

To become the person that you’re called to be now, you need to let overactive strategy children take a rest and cultivate new behaviors that you’ve relegated to the shadows. Each time you do, you become more whole and more capable of choosing responses that serve you and the people you care about.  

Naming Your Strategy Children

To help overactive strategy children take a back seat, it helps to do something that might feel quite counter-intuitive. 

From now on, if you’re feeling stuck, I invite you to choose a name for the strategy child who’s active. For example: 

  1. If your Inner Judge is active, rather than saying, “I could never be good enough to do that. I don’t deserve to be happy,” say, “My Judge is loud right now.” 
  2. If your People Pleaser is scared, rather than saying, “I’m going to fail the people I care about,” say, “My People Pleaser is afraid that no one will like her.” 
  3. If your Voice of Doubt is loud, you might say, “My Voice of Doubt believes that if I pursue this calling, no one will want what I’m offering, I’ll spend all my savings, and I’ll end up homeless.” 

Talking about parts of yourself in the third person may feel weird at first. It certainly did when I began. But this small shift in language can create big changes in your life. We go from being subject to our experience—so close that we can’t see it—to witnessing it with distance, and this allows us to choose our next step. 

The Subject-Object Shift

According to Dr. Robert Kegan, the subject-object shift is an essential step toward becoming a fully self-realized and mature adult. Being subject to our emotions, thoughts, behaviors, challenges, etcetera, means to be so close to them that we can’t see them clearly, don’t question them, and aren’t even aware that we’re experiencing them. For example, white people are socialized to internalize racist beliefs. Until we become aware of our internalized racism, our prejudices are implicit. We are subject to them. When we step back from our internal experience, our experience becomes explicit. We see them as objects. 

When elements in our consciousness move from subject to object—from implicit to explicit—we become able to “reflect on, handle, look at, be responsible for, relate to each other, take control of, internalize, assimilate, or otherwise operate upon” these elements. For example, when white people step back from and observe our internalized racism, we have an easier time choosing new actions that align with the values we espouse. Likewise, we might shift from saying, “I don’t belong to this group of professionals” to “My Inner Judge is saying that I don’t belong.” When we do that, we are more equipped to choose whether we hang back from networking or overcome our fear and reach out to potential referral partners.

Talking about our strategy children in the third person moves them from subject to object. It may feel silly at first, but you are more likely to notice when this part shows up and choose a response that serves you.

Your Turn

I invite you to bring to mind a strategy child of yours who’s been making your life challenging. 

One clue that you’re referencing a strategy child is that you say things like: “I’m a People Pleaser.”  Or, “I’m a Disorganized Person.” Or, “I’m a Perfectionist.” Or: “I always put others’ needs first.” “I’m the type of person whose desk is always covered with sticky notes that have countless lists on them.” “It’s my nature to think things through a thousand million times rather than leaping into the unknown.”

When you have a strategy child you’d like to work with, ask them: What do you want me to call you? 

Choose a name that corresponds to the part’s strategy, such as the Judge, Victim, Achiever, Helper, or Perfectionist. Examples of names my clients recently chose include the Rabbit Hole Child, Slider, and the Chaotic One.  

If you don’t know exactly what to call this part of yourself, go for good enough. The point of naming your strategy children isn’t to permanently classify them. The point is to have a conscious relationship with them. It’s okay if you choose one name now and discover a different name later. Just make sure to select the name without judgment, picking a name that the part would want to call itself. From now on, when this part gets triggered, greet it by its name.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

katherine-signature

 

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