Being a person is not really a unified experience. Most of the time we feel ourselves shifting from one role to another, or from one “part” to another. One minute you’re Mom, the next you’re an employee. One minute you’re laughing and happy, the next you’re in distress. What part of me is my “true self”? What parts of me are just transient experience? These are questions we explore in therapy.
I offer my clients this metaphor “The Psyche as a Bus Going Down the Highway of Life” or “Psyche as a Bus…” for short, to give you a way to relate to the different parts of you that come forward every day.
You may wake up as a partner, go to work as a labourer, have lunch as a friend, feel the effects of an inner critic when someone else is judgmental, go home feeling overwhelmed, spend your evening being a mom or a dad… and so on.
We have roles in our lives which bring different aspects of our personality forward. We also have many inner selves. If we listen, if we invite them, these inner selves, or “parts”, may also have a voice. What are our inner selves? Well, everyone has a different collection, but some common ones are: a child-self, a teen-self, a rebel, a scared kid, the one who feels unworthy, who feels they don’t belong, a depressed person, a creative self, a secretly passionate self. And so on. Each inner aspect has a contribution to make to the whole person.
I tell my clients we can invite new people on the bus, for example, a compassionate self. However, to the disappointment of some clients, we can’t throw people off, for example, the kid who was told he was “bad.” We bring along with us all the experiences we’ve ever had, whether or not we recall them, whether they’re just part of our old history or have a part in our present-day life.
By learning to be curious and interested in all aspects of ourselves, and by letting go of self-judgment, we can begin to accept our many-sided self. The important thing is to realize we are not actually any one single part of ourselves. We shift through different self-expressions in our daily life and over the length of a life. As we get to know “Who’s on my bus,” it becomes easier to let go of the fear or dislike of some particularly difficult aspect of the self. We can release judgment or shame about parts of us, as we develop compassion for them. Relaxed curiosity and compassion are essential components in this way of relating to our inner world.