Your Anxious Parts
We all have parts of us that can get triggered when we’re in distress, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. Lots of my clients tell me that the voices in their head make them anxious, stressed, depressed and feeling as if their brain never quiets. They report that the constant barrage of input leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.
These clients come to therapy to help them quiet the noise, to reduce their stress and to feel more connected with themselves. They also say that sometimes the things they tell themselves contradict each other. The confusing, conflicting self-talk leaves them feeling unsure about what they want or need and makes it really hard to connect with and show up as their true selves.
Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety
Most of my clients can easily identify the part that I call “the inner critic.” It’s the little (but sometimes quite loud) voice that points out when you make mistakes. Maybe it even calls you names when things don’t go well. For instance, my inner critic is quick to pile on the guilt when I’m worrying about not being a good enough mother, partner, friend, business owner… you name it. It tells me all the things I should have done differently.
My clients will often defend that voice, saying that it keeps them in line and makes them more conscientious about not making mistakes in the future. But they also say that the inner critic can make them feel “less than.” It leaves them constantly worrying and rethinking how things might have gone better, “if only they were… (you fill in the blank).”
The inner-critic part might sound a lot like a caregiver, parent or someone in your life who was critical of you when you were growing up. It’s often the loudest and easiest part to identify. However, it’s only one of many parts of you that can fuel your anxiety.
I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old
Some clients are so aware of these other parts that they can tell me how old they felt at a particular moment when they were triggered. I know that’s happened to me. My go-to response when I sense a potential conflict is to withdraw, and I feel like the hopeless, angry teenager part of me licking her wounds. The problem with responding from your wounded parts is that you repeat patterns of behavior that probably aren’t very useful, and which might even be harmful in your present life.
Family or friends who’ve known you for a long time can often trigger some of your parts, but they can also just pop up when situations make you feel like that younger self. You might find that your voice changes, or you respond with the old coping skills you used way back then, but which aren’t very productive today.
Some of my clients say that younger parts are often angry, easily offended and very defensive. Some say they’re withdrawn, anxious or depressed. So when stuff happens that makes them feel vulnerable, the parts that feel threatened want to jump in and react the way they did in the past. If this happens to you, it can lead to arguments, wanting to avoid situations, or feeling very anxious and depressed, because you’re caught up in one of your parts that wants to protect you or hide from the perceived threat.
What Is This Noise In My Head?
The different parts can make you feel overwhelmed and maybe a little worried that something might be wrong with you. “Do I have multiple personalities? Why are all these voices in my head?”
There’s nothing wrong with you. We all have different parts. Some people have an easy time recognizing them; for others, the parts are less defined. Our parts developed over our lifetime to help us cope with stressful life events. So, if you had a difficult childhood — if you were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; if your parents emotionally neglected you; or if your life experiences were difficult or traumatic, it’s likely that your various parts are pretty active.
In my next post, I’ll share how you can learn from your parts and build up your true, everyday showing-up part to help you quiet the noise in your head. When you learn to work with your parts and identify their worries, you can truly connect with yourself and live your life with more ease and purpose.