The Town Hall Meeting
As promised last week in “The Shed”. Today we will be visiting a Town Hall Meeting in the small town of Youville. Youville, a little town between here and there, is unique because due to a series of hi-jinx, this small town has existed for years and years with absolutely no central form of leadership. Over time, the townspeople all just started picking up the jobs that were necessary for the town to survive and for the needs of the community to be met. Michael, the artist, dropped his paintbrushes and picked up a pair of scissors and a comb and figured out how to give hair cuts. Kaitlyn, the bright-eyed student, figured out how to maintain the catalog system and dropped out of school to run the Library. People noticed problems that arose and started handling them the best that they could. As you can imagine, not everyone always agrees with how another person decides to “fix the problem” and so conflict runs high. Claire, the party planner, realized that people were stressed and overwhelmed with the lack of leadership so she started running the bar to make sure that everyone could always be good and drunk. Owen, the local yoga instructor, is furious with Claire for encouraging this behavior and has started hosting a yoga class right outside the bar and chastising people as they opt for the martini over the downward dog. It’s a really confusing scene. These conflicts abound everywhere. Neighbors fighting with neighbors over what’s the best, most effective, most necessary task to be done, by who, when, in what order, and at what cost.
NOW. Imagine that many years into this unusual way of living, you receive a Mayoral appointment to Youville. You have heard about this place, seen some news stories, but functionally know very little about the town or its people and they do NOT know you. It’s your first day in office and you are tasked with holding the first Town Hall Meeting in over a decade. Admittedly, I am a fan of Parks and Recreation, so whenever I personally enter this space in my own system, I think of walking onto the stage of an auditorium in Pawnee. If you are not a Parks and Rec fan (What are you doing? Get on that, ASAP), you may have your own image or idea of the place and setting for this Town Hall.
What a STRESSFUL experience. Everyone’s pissed, lots of yelling, arguing over the microphone, fighting to be heard, and ultimately distrusting you to do absolutely ANYTHING helpful. Chaos. Confusion. You might feel overwhelmed, hopelessly lost, and helpless, You might even be thinking, “F*** Youville, I am not doing this”. And I totally hear you. Believe me. But take a moment to consider that, as my girl, Leslie Knope would say:
Stick with me.
Take a moment to consider your own Inner Youville. Remember last week when we talked about those polarized thoughts?
I should help my co-worker with this project but I want to tell him to shove it.
I should go to the gym but I want to lay on the couch and eat potato chips.
I should go to bed early tonight but I want to stay up and play my new game.
Imagine that instead of that being you as a singular person in a split decision, that it is actually two separate parts of you. One townsperson who says that the best thing to do is to make choice A and another separate person confidently knows that the best thing to do is to make choice B. This inner conflict between parts of you or various of your townspeople all of a sudden makes way more sense. Owen and Claire are in a stand-off over whether the right way to deal with stress is to have a drink or go to yoga, but all you feel at the surface is undisciplined, lazy, desperate, and confused about how to manage stress and like you don’t know how to make the right choice.
I know what you may be thinking: “well, Lisa, ya, cool. But this is reality. Not a fake make-believe town and when I am torn between two ways of acting, it’s just because I don’t know how to make good choices.” And I hear you, I do. But it’s not make-believe. That is actually, functionally, exactly what I am suggesting. Consider that the expectation to be of a singular mind or way of feeling about ANYTHING is completely out of touch with every person's actual lived experience. I bet that if you really slow down to think of it, you might struggle to find even one thing that you don't have at least two feelings about simultaneously. I want to go to the party but I also want to stay home. I want to get paid but I don't want to go to work. And on and on.
What I have found to be true is that all folks bring into session various parts of themselves that are in so much conflict leaving them feeling hopeless and stuck because they believe they should only be ONE thing. If your inner system functions much more like this town of Youville, then our actual lived experience makes so much more sense - conflict, alliances, scapegoating, pedestaling, etc etc etc. A common misconception about this is that I am suggesting that people have Multiple Personality disorder, and I am not. What I am saying is that each of us is actually inherently and naturally made up of a multitude of parts. These parts hold different roles, do different jobs, carry different experiences/emotions -- much like the townspeople in Youville. In doing this work, I have found time and time again that, underneath all of these discrete parts, exists a core Self that feels different than these other parts and can help guide the system. Due to Big-T and little-t Traumas, the simple task of living on this planet, and other various life experiences, parts of our system are forced into taking on certain roles to protect the system and serve the needs of survival of the whole.
I find these things easier to conceptualize in real life scenarios. For example, consider a 10 yo girl whose mom is incapacitated by depression and functionally “checked out”. A part of this girl would be forced to step into the role of “Caretaker” and make sure that meals get cooked, homework gets done, and younger siblings’ are bathed, tucked into bed, and feel loved. She needs to do this in order to survive. The Caretaker part is absolutely necessary and is doing a major job for both the girl's internal and external systems as a whole. Despite the girl’s feelings of sadness, fear, or anger, the Caretaker is showing up to “manage things” and make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. She operates this way for years and years until her mom receives treatment and can resume caring for her younger siblings. Now, she’s out on her own and not responsible for her siblings but the Caretaker part has been in that role for so long, it doesn’t know what else to do. So the Caretaker picks friends and partners that need LOADS of help so she always has someone to look after and do things for. Some of her friends really like this and take full advantage of her kindness and outstretched hand. Some reject this Caretaker and get angry with the girl for overstepping, being “motherly” and might even end the relationship.
Consider the bind this girl is in: She learned that she needs to take care of others in order to survive but as an adult is losing relationships when she does just this OR she stays in relationships that can be abusive, non-reciprocal, and dissatisfying because the friends and partners that stick are ones that are happy to have the Caretaker handle everything.
I should meet every person’s needs/always put others first but I want to be in a loving relationship where I can have my needs met, too.
I don't want to be responsible for others but people will leave if I don't.
Sound familiar? Conceptualizing the Town Hall can really help work with exactly this dynamic. Not through replacing thoughts with others, going cold-turkey on caring for others, or trying to silence either side of that conflict. Instead, you will walk with your therapist into that scary Town Hall Meeting and begin the process of individually connecting to and listening to EVERY. SINGLE. TOWNSPERSON. You will begin to build a relationship with all of your parts and establish a greater understanding of 1. What parts you have 2. What they do within your system 3. How they have been trying to help and 4. What they are afraid will happen if they stop doing their job. You will work to learn the intricacies of what parts are in alliance, which ones despise each other, which ones don’t know that others even exist, and more. The ultimate goal of holding these weekly Town Hall Meetings is to eventually establish trust with those parts and allow them to see you as their reliable, consistent, trustworthy leader and to resolve the chaotic conflict that has been erupting between parts for some time. You will learn what Youville needs and what parts are best suited to meet those needs. You will assist rogue and intense parts from putting out trash can fires with a firehouse. You will help parts live and work in collaboration with each other. You will listen, empathize, and support every part of your system and promote the overall de-escalation of Youville.
Due to the multitude of parts that most of us have and the years of inattention and isolation they've experienced, this initial phase can take quite some time. Parts are not likely to trust new leadership with their promise that things will be better and easier and you are likely to get embroiled in very convincing stories from parts about how other parts are no good. Developing working relationships with every part is a critical first step to feeling like your interpersonal and emotional life are less overwhelming and painful. From there, the task becomes much easier. Listen to your parts, meet their needs, provide support. Repeat.
You might be thinking this sounds ridiculous, too good to be true, or maybe you’re recognizing a sense of connection to the idea. Wherever you might be, I encourage you to revisit next week and learn more about what this process looks like and how this work will be done. We’ll explore this Town Hall concept as it relates to food, alcohol, habits, relationships, and more.
Tell your Skeptic part, your Critical part, and your Hopeful part that I see them and that I welcome hearing from them at the next Town Hall.
Next week, we'll explore how to support parts through conflict at The Mediation.