Like particle systems, The Faces We Live are Systems Too

bigstock-Surreal-Cubist-Eyes-And-Faces-7736887 (1) “Like particle systems, our selves are partially integrated systems of subselves that still from time to time assert their own identities.” Danah Zohar

What would it look like to have a ‘subself” or ‘part’ assert its own identity?

For an example, you have a part of yourself that is fiercely independent and loves privacy. Unexpectedly, you are faced with a failing elderly parent who needs you to care for them.

Having exhausted all possible alternatives, the situation falls solely on your shoulders alone. You sincerely want to help your beloved parent AND you have another part of you that fears your life will be completely absorbed by the enormity of this new care-giving responsibility.

You feel trapped, torn between your love and desire to help your parent and your fear of enslavement, being taken hostage by the magnitude of this situation. You feel overwhelmed, distraught.

You are experiencing two absolutely understandable internal subselves/parts that are begging for recognition and support from you. Much of your available energy to conduct your everyday life is now focused on this pending dilemma. What to do?

You may be so troubled by this predicament that you even appear to others as ‘less together’, even fragmented.

Your light has diminished. The boundaries between your subselves/parts have suddenly shifted and merged like particle systems as your mental and emotional energies are struggling towards an answer.

This is an example of why it’s important to acknowledge your parts/subselves. Because it is often at this point in your internal conflict, while attempting to reach a solution, you might “should” on yourself, thinking “Don’t be so selfish”, or, “After all your parent did for you…”, drowning in guilt which usually leads to overriding, denying, and/or shaming one or the other part.

Parts relax when we listen to them without judgments.

Instead of rushing to find a solution, what if you could just acknowledge and accept both parts. Treating each part respectfully, you could write a letter to yourself (a friend or god) describing how each part feels/thinks/believes WITHOUT JUDGMENTS.

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  1. Dawn,

    How can you ever decide which part to follow? And should you resolve to revisit your decision on some regular basis?


    • Hi Ron,

      In this model (Internal Family Systems) the object is simply to acknowledge and accept that we are divided within ourselves. There are no “bad/good” parts, rather parts that are vying for equal acknowledgment and acceptance. For example, I may feel morally obligated to tend to an elderly parent AND feel resentful because the parent was absent or mean.

      Usually, we override, stuff, guilt trip or beat up on one of the feelings instead of simply accepting these competing feelings. FEELINGS are never good or bad except to the extent that we make them so.
      I hope this helps to clarify this particular blog post.
      Thanks again for responding. Dawn

  2. I watched my wife fade away with a terminal cancer. The process took about 4 years. The system (Internal Family Systems) became part of (though I didn’t know it at the time) the grief. I found my emotional, psychological, and spiritual and physical self in places I could have never fore seen. Fear became a huge emotion and hope did too. To this day I believe love is the strongest emotion of all. All I can say is thank god for all the parts of the self. One thing for certain too: life is a unique experience and we don’t have to do it alone.

    • Hi K,
      Thank you for commenting. I’m sorry for your loss and the myriad of feelings & thoughts (parts) that I’m imaging you experienced during those four years as you accompanied your wife on her long and arduous journey.

      Often times, some of the most difficult parts to accept are those feelings of relief when the journey finally comes to an end.

      I know parents suffering from the long term exhausting consequences of their drug affected children. Sometimes they have a part that wishes their child were dead. I’m saddened when these parents can’t find any peace because of these “bad” feelings.

      If only we could learn to accept/acknowledge ALL of our thoughts and feelings without such harsh judgment and condemnation.

      Warmly, dawn

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