There are many ways we could try to explore the depths of us that require some sort of translation process — the process of trying to connect with felt experiences that go beyond words (See Translation I for what I mean by “translation”).
Some of my favorite access points include…
(1) there’s the way of understanding different parts of the brain, and that the parts of the brain that have to do with attachment and emotions don’t know verbal language, but are prominent in our relationships and daily life. How do we translate what positive or negative interactions in relationships mean to us at a deep gut level? How do we translate that association or experience of relational dynamics that send strong signals in our brain and body, and hold significant meaning in our brain and body — all deeper than words can easily describe?
(2) There’s the way of looking at how we carry younger versions of self with us — no matter how old we are, we are still somehow the same person we were when we were one, five, or thirteen years old. One year olds can’t clearly articulate what they’re thinking and feeling, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deep feelings or significant experiences happening inside of them. How do we translate the legacy of earlier life experiences that we have carried with us, stored as implicit memory rather than explicit memory? How do we understand and translate what we are experiencing in the present when it’s tied to years and even decades of strung together pain or emotion that doesn’t have one word to describe it?
(3) There’s the way of looking at how we can feel something in our body, down to the core of us, whether it’s a pit in our stomach, or warmth from the comfort of a hug. We can try to describe these sensations, but often they’re deeper than words. What does that feeling in our gut mean? How do we translate what happens as our body is soothed and relaxed by the embrace of a loved one? How do we translate what happens in our body that is so clearly felt, but doesn’t have exact words to describe or explain it?
What I love about “parts-work,” is that it gives us a framework to combine all of these facets together for a clear and grounded picture of what’s going on inside of us. It takes what can otherwise feel elusive, ambiguous, and overwhelming, and gives us a more concrete image of these embodied experiences in the form of parts of ourselves. These parts don’t mean we have some scary multiple personality disorder. It’s simply part of being human to have lived through many ages, stages, and life experiences that create and form parts or dimensions of us. It’s also part of being human to have different facets of self when considering the different parts of the brain, experiences in our body, and variety of emotions. Parts work gives us a framework that reflects the multifaceted nature of our embodied being — more simply, what it’s like to be human.
I see the three facets I mentioned above as three windows into the depths of us, asking the questions like: (1) What’s going on in the depths of my brain? (2) What younger version of myself is woken up from the past and engaging here? (3) What’s happening in my body?
If I’m trying to understand what’s going on in the depths of me from all of these perspectives, we can ground these facets in a “part” of self (for a brief introduction to parts, see this post). I like to think of a part of self almost like a portion of a larger tapestry of the self. There are threads that are possibly unique or common to the rest of the tapestry, portions of the tapestry that seem completely different from the rest, yet all the threads are interwoven and form a whole together.
When thinking about this metaphor, it can be overwhelming to try to take in the whole tapestry. There are too many threads, too many details — and that’s even just looking at it from the front side. If you turn it around and look on the “inside” of the tapestry, it can feel even more complex, messier, and overwhelming. When thinking of translating what’s happening inside of us, this can feel like getting dropped in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, and trying to get by without a translator. So, how do we take this one thread at a time, taking bit sized portions of the larger tapestry?
Here are some of my favorite ways to connect with and try to translate what’s going on inside…
If someone is talking about what they are experiencing in a relationship, or trying to describe a strong emotion, I might pause and ask, What does it mean to you that _______ ? (insert whatever happened/didn’t happen in their relationship). If it’s mainly an emotion they’re trying to describe, I might ask, What is it like to feel _______ ?
If it seems like a strong emotion is coming up that might be driven by a part of themselves (think emotions in the movie Inside Out — if you haven’t watch this, go watch it!), I might ask, This part of you that so deeply feels _______, how old does this part feel? Or, Have you ever felt this way in your life before? Was there ever a time or relationship when something felt similar to this?
And as always, I ask about the body. I often start here actually, not sure why I typed it out as third in the list in this post. I often lead with the simple and beautiful question, What do you notice in your body? I might invite clients to close their eyes and just notice what’s happening inside, giving them room to express and describe what they are feeling somatically.
Once we have answers to questions like these, we can assemble the pieces. I’ll close out this mini-book of a post with an example…
Say a person feels a tightness in their chest or their throat. They pause and notice that there’s stress, anxiety, and it’s intertwined with this tension. To slow down and really feel it, it feels like fear, they’re scared. To slow down and feel that tension and that fear makes them realize that this is how they felt when they were little, really little. This fear that they also felt in some scenarios as a kid overwhelmed them then, and overwhelms them now. It’s not comfortable to feel. And as they’re noticing all of this, they notice there’s actually part of them that doesn’t want them to feel the fear. This part of them is critical, harsh even. This part of them tells them they are weak, tells them they need to just get it together and be ok, they’re not allowed to have issues, they need to be strong.
And all of the sudden they realize why they’re carrying around so much exhausted heaviness that they can’t describe. There’s a war raging inside. A young scared part of them and a critical part of them are at odds, and no one has entered in to help these parts work together rather than against each other.
In a future post, we’ll explore what it’s like when parts can be free from stress and conflict, and work with each other rather than against each other, and how this frees us from internal conflict, stress, and tension that can otherwise feel like it’s suffocating us.
Learning to explore the uncharted depths of ourselves is scary, relieving, and fascinating. It’s an adventure like no other.