We’ve been on quite a ride here for the past few weeks. I have given you a significant amount of information to take in, download, and process. How are you doing? What Townspeople are stepping forward with a feeling about all this? Anyone overwhelmed? Confused? Excited? Remember that these will be here for you to read whenever makes sense for you. If you need to go back and reread to keep processing, do so! If you need to just take a break, do so! If you feel ready to keep on rolling, then come with me and we’ll jump right in.
I was never cut out to be a lawyer. While I can sometimes be quite persuasive or argumentative (depending on the day), I couldn’t quite wrap my head around fighting for “my side” often at the expense of the “other side”. I am generally NOT a competitive person in that way. As I got older, I learned about the concept of mediation and that made so much more sense to me. All parties sitting down at a table to go over the facts, identify wants, and collaborate to find a solution that was somewhat acceptable for all (rather than completely or significantly more optimal for just one).
As you begin your Youville Mayoral duties, you might find that there are some parts that just cannot come to collaborative terms around what to do. Some of these parts might be using shame, manipulation, threats, and other forms of intense pressure to keep their job exactly the way that it is. You’ve tried hearing from them on the floor of the Town Hall but they hog the mic or just won’t stop name-calling another part whenever they get your attention. With this type of conflict (and like many of the ones mentioned in the Shed), you are likely to benefit from doing some separate mediation with the guided support of a therapist.
Consider that there are two restaurant owners in your town. One serves only locally sourced, farm-to-table, organic meals and the other is a greasy diner whose only vegetable is a potato and those ALWAYS come deep fried. Each owner is ADAMANT that they are the only necessary restaurant in town. Emily, the owner of Kale Kale Kale speaks disparagingly of Betti, the owner of The Greasy Spoon, every chance she gets. And while there is no video evidence, Betti has been accused of drunkenly breaking into Kale Kale Kale late at night and deep frying all the onions. To add to it, Jesse, the trainer, is banding together with Emily and telling all his customers to boycott The Greasy Spoon. Meanwhile, Claire (the bar owner) is shouting that if The Greasy spoon is put out of business, her customers won’t survive their late night binges which they usually manage with sloppy diner visits at 2am. Messy stuff. This is the kind of conflict that can threaten to tear Youville apart.
What is one to do? While I have a fond spot for the idea of a good, old fashioned Parent Trap, I don’t think that will work here. The citizens of Youville are best served by having a mediation with Betti and Emily facilitated by their fearless Mayor!
A significant portion of the work in therapy that produces real, lasting change requires us to make peace of the conflicts in our system. We are so used to Townsfolk running the show and using clever tricks to vie for power over choices. Consider the emotional and cognitive experience of the conflict I described above. You wake up Monday morning adamant that you are going to ONLY make good food choices this week. You threw out all the carbs, stocked the fridge with veggies, and made it IMPOSSIBLE to make a “bad choice”. Oh, and you’re gonna exercise every day. And go to bed at 10pm. The fierce commitment to these “lofty goals” on Monday morning feels strong and clear and feasible until you get into that 10a meeting and that “breakfast weight loss shake” is long gone and Malcolm in marketing brought donuts in. All a sudden, that repressed part that makes different choices for you lights up and you scarf down 3 donuts before the meeting even begins. Almost immediately, the guilt sets in and you start to criticize yourself for “having no self-discipline” and expand out to allllll the ways in which this means you’re ultimately a worthless piece of human garbage. Right. Well after you receive that message, the only thing that can cheer you up is pasta. So the rest of the day is spent searching out carbs and trying to self-soothe all the while you’re berating yourself for doing so until you cry yourself to sleep and promise to do better tomorrow. I’m exhausted. Are you exhausted?
Now, let’s take that same system and allow the Mayor of Youville to mediate between those two discrete parts (Emily of Kale Kale Kale and Betti of the Greasy Spoon). Ultimately, nothing can be done or will change unless all parties come to a clear understanding of each other. Mediation with parts looks and feels like individually interviewing parts to better understand why they feel so strongly and what feels so important about their stance. We let each part know they will get a chance to speak but that we need each person’s permission to be with each person one at a time. When we get to know Emily, we hear her fear of “making unhealthy choices” and ending up with chronic illness like many other family members. She is tasked with never letting the system forget how bad and dangerous “unhealthy behaviors” are because of all the possible risks to her health down the line. She was always praised for being thin and “disciplined” even though that largely was the result of chronic anxiety and fear. Betti, on the other hand, learned how to bake and cook comforting foods when she was a teenager in an emotionally abusive home. She learned that food was more reliable than people when she was sad and desperately fears being without this source of relief. We also learn that Betti was shamed for this behavior and often criticized for “being gross, unhealthy, and undisciplined.” She would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and eat a whole bag of cookies in secret just to make herself feel better and avoid criticism.
Once these parts begin to see each other more clearly and hear the fears of the other, it is easier for them to feel compassion (and even some sadness) for the other. They begin to collaborate on finding balance between the two needs with less extreme behaviors and begin to build a more trusting relationship. The Mayor can now utilize both Betti AND Emily as advisors on food choices for the system. Today, in this moment, what would be best? Just got back from a vacation where no fresh fruits and vegetables were available? Emily knows how to handle that and Betti agrees. The system went through a break up and feels overwhelmed? Emily is willing to allow Betti to bake a cake and use food as a source of some self-soothing during a tough weekend. Less fighting, less arguing, less manipulation. Each parts’ strengths can be utilized when they are needed and parts are willing to cede the floor when it is best for the system as a whole.
I like to use the food example here because it is one that many people can relate to but this same process can be applied to any internal conflict. Using this basic frame for beginning to understand parts and their objectives can significantly reduce the experience of feeling “out of control,” “crazy,” and “nonsensical.” When Self is brought in to mediate these tough inner conflicts, parts are able to feel seen, validated, appreciated, and are more willing to collaborate.
Working in therapy to get curious about the reasons why certain choices make clear sense and are, in fact, trying to help the system in some way, is a critical step toward healing.
The more that you actively work to identify polarizations and conflicts in your own system, the better able you’ll be to start doing some inner re-arranging. One of the most powerful tools for working through places of frustration or "stuckness" is to get curious. "If I am doing this same thing over and over despite not wanting to, what other part of me is active here making sure that I absolutely do not stop?" This question can be a game changer for opening up clarity, bringing more compassion in, and helping parts that might be deadlocked in conflict to develop a relationship to each other.
Getting more comfortable with this idea and process is a huge step toward healing. Things and parts that have been relegated to the Shed can be welcomed back into the house some of the time or all of the time. It will start to feel more natural to let others know that you have multiple feelings at a time about something without thinking that means there is something wrong with you. You will begin to heal and clean off some of the guilt and shame and fear that has settled over parts of you in the Shed like thick dust. The work of therapy is creating greater comfort with people in your life seeing a more genuine (and therefore more messy) version of you and your house. When ALL parts are welcome, true autonomy is available for deciding what feels like the most authentic version of you.