I have been thinking a lot about parts of a psyche lately. My therapist often asks me what part of me is thinking/speaking/acting/reacting, or how old is the part of me that is thinking/acting/speaking/reacting. She asks me “who is that speaking?” And even though the question is almost as annoying as “how do you feel?”, I’ve been using that idea to explore my reactions to daily events and my life in general.
I look at my parts as pieces of the puzzle that make me, me.
When the printer doesn’t work, for example, I get frustrated, then panic, then cry. “I’ll never be able to get the document I need. This sucks. Everything sucks. Nothing ever works! Why is the world against me? It’s so unfair!!!” With a whole lot of work, guidance, and support, I have learned to ask myself, “who is this? how old am I right now?”
Many times I am able to identify what part of my psyche is reacting. This then allows me to remember that I am 42 and that the printer is not the rock tumbler that broke when I was 10. It’s just a printer. There are a lot of printers I could access. So what’s REALLY wrong?
I have been working on paying attention to my reactions to things. Do they feel like my adult self reacting? Maybe it feels like an angry part or a scared part. Do I feel adult scared? Or do I feel like 4-year-old lost in the playground because I can’t find my parents for a minute?
I have had a theory for most of my adult life that no one actually matures past 12. I’ve had so many interactions with adults who behave like 12-year-olds if I offend them in any way or have a disagreement with them.
Now I think that my theory isn’t entirely inaccurate. What was missing was the idea that we are made up of different parts. Parts that developed by an instinctive coping mechanism. Meaning, when something traumatic happened when I was 3, the feelings/thoughts/reactions started a neuropathway. (Note: “trauma” in this case doesn’t necessarily mean something major) When I was 3 and it turned out that The Lunar Eclipse was in fact NOT a rock band, it certainly wasn’t trauma in any clinical sense of the word. It was, however, a pivotal moment in how I now react to disappointment. The more I reacted to disappointment with a similar response, the stronger that neuropathway became. Continuing to react to disappointment like a 3-year-old discovering that her parents wanted her to get up in the middle of the night to stare at the moon instead of a rock concert on the front lawn of the cottage … well, that seems rather silly now that I am able to identify different parts of myself.
I am in no way an expert on neuroscience. I love it. I am passionate when it comes to learning about brains. I’m also terrible with remembering the names of things. I managed to spectacularly fail a course in Neurobiology in the Fall. I think having a 0% is a pretty awesome accomplishment what with it being an online course and my access to google.
I truly believe that healing requires me to explore these parts created by events that formed neuropathways that I have reinforced over months, years, and even decades.
What’s amazing to me is that brains can be rewired. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” wrote Norman Doidge. I react to anger by crying and that could be rewired so that a feeling of anger leads me to take deep breaths, or have a kitchen dance party, or whatever non-harmful I could do to get the anger out of me. The more I do that, the stronger THAT neuropathway becomes and the old one just dies out.
It is pretty fantastic that our brains are mailable. Instead of feeling like oh crap my neuropathway takes me from sad to enraged in 30 seconds … I can celebrate the fact that being gentle and curious about myself can allow me to think of new neuropathways that I want to create. This is like taking control over what for a long time was thought of as uncontrollable.
I are in charge of my reactions to my emotions.
I hate Eleanor Rosevelt’s quote “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I completely and whole-heartedly DISAGREE. Anyone in a position of power or perceived power can absolutely make you feel inferior. Children don’t have the capacity to follow that quote. I DON’T have that capacity!
If a society treats a particular demographic in a negative way, and those marginalized people are made to feel inferior through systemic processes and micro-aggressions, then their “consent” to feel shame is deeply ingrained and beyond personal control.
What I DO mean by I am in charge of my emotions is that our brains were not hard-wired at birth. I wasn’t born knowing how to ride a bike or knowing how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. With dedication and perseverance, my brain can grow and change. I have the power to make that growth and change happen. And that to me, is amazing.