Many therapeutic approaches deal with our thinking as a major part of the work needed to recover from our ills. CBT, especially, doesn’t look at events but how our perception of the event affects us. It looks at layers of thinking from automatic thoughts to core beliefs as an aid to this. CBT, however, works at changing those thinking patterns in the “here and now” without purposely delving deeper into why those thoughts exist. This is an ideal “brief” therapy and has helped many people get through a crisis. Sometimes, it is not enough and much deeper explanation is needed for the cause of our thinking and behaviour, especially in terms of behavioural issues such as codependency.
Many theorists when talking about how we think have worked on the premise that our mind and personality is unitary. That means that we process in one mode of thinking before it moves onto another part, rather like lights switching on and off before it is either processed or subdued. I believe in multiplicity. I believe that our thinking and personality are similar to a family or “tribe” of thinking modes or parts (one could use elements, concepts, etc) that all have their own personality, needs and wants. Very similar to being part of a family or collection of people with different personalities who see the world in a specific way. Sometimes, they agree, sometimes they are in conflict (polarised), sometimes they are friends and sometimes they are enemies. Each “part” is formed, initially in childhood but also as we grow and gain experience. They could be different genders, ages or maturities but they frequent our thinking and dictate our behaviour. As we get to know them and understand them (usually a task for therapy), we can label them and personify them. The Manager, The Procrastinator, The Striver, The Angry Child, The Monster, to name but a few. They all carry negative and positive aspects of us and are so strong sometimes that they are capable of exiling other parts so that they cannot move into consciousness. The Scared, The Abused, The Neglected are often banished along with the Healthy, The Compassionate, The Inquisitive and The Decision Maker. These exiles need to be found and either healed or encouraged to aid recovery.
One thing, they all have in common is that they are protecting the Self. The Self is the healthy, inquisitive, compassionate part of us that sees the world as challenging but exciting. However, at some stage, the Self has been threatened or abused and the “parts” have developed themselves to protect it. These “protectors” are so good at their job, they have in effect put the Self into hibernation, almost like worker bees around the Queen of the hive. However, the Self is not a separate “part”. The Self is the “whole” and the “parts”are elements of it. We can liken it to a family house where different people with different ideas and views are residing, trying to get along. However, they all at times look after where they live.
This may seem rather complex but the fact is that if we can, in a therapeutic process, understand what these “parts” are protecting us from and how they relate and work with and against other parts, we can start to move towards “freeing” the Self. This means in real terms, taking charge, leadership and being the compassionate, inquisitive, decisive being we once where long ago. You will notice, these qualities being displayed in children from a very young age. Freeing the Self means negotiating and working with the parts just as you have to in a company at work or in your family (incidentally, many of the parts that clients describe mirror family members)
In this case, the sum of the parts is certainly not greater than the whole…unless you choose for that to be the case.