Mixed thoughts and feelings are what we usually refer to as ambivalence. Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines ambivalence as: “Simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action.” How can we feel opposite things at the same time? From a psychological standpoint, we all have separate, but overlapping parts of self, which we develop to serve different purposes. For example, I have a therapist, artist, wife, mother, child, and runner part, etc. You can visualize these parts of self as semi-overlapping circles that share certain skills, attributes, fears, insecurities, and habits. To get a clearer picture of this, think of how you behave at work – your tone of voice, word choice, posture, and timing. Now think of how you behave with your pet or your children at home. How would your child respond if you said, “I’d like you to consider moving nap time to somewhere in the window of 3 – 5 pm on weekends, as this would facilitate both afternoon chore productivity and morning play time.” Or vice versa, how would a colleague
respond if you approached them the way you talk to your dog? “What a good employee! You met all your productivity deadlines this week! Good employee! Come get a bonus!” Thankfully, we can choose which parts of self to use in different contexts.
Because our parts overlap, more than one part often has something to say about a given decision. Let’s say you have inherited a little money, and are faced with a choice about how best to use it. The fun-loving child part of you says, “Go on a vacation! You deserve it. Life is meant to be lived.” The responsible, parent part might say, “Don’t be so selfish, invest and build up some money for your daughter’s college tuition,” and then a fearful part might say, “If you don’t invest in your retirement, your daughter won’t have anywhere to visit you because you’ll be living on the street!” Which of these voices is “right?” All of them are. The trick is to weed through berating, belittling, or shaming voices and decide if there is a nugget of wisdom there, or just the stones of self-doubt. Once you do that, you can sift through all of the information logically and decide on the best course of action.
How do you let these parts or voices be heard? To explore them, discover how they can help you make better decisions, and use existing strengths in different parts of your life, try the following exercise.
Create a parts map:
Draw a circle on the middle of a page. This represents what I will call your “core self,” the center of you, so to speak. Now draw an overlapping circle and label it with one of your roles (i.e. daughter/son, mother/father, student, employee, cat lover, athlete, skeptic, activist, etc.) Continue drawing overlapping circles until you feel you have represented the major roles/parts of self. Now label some of the qualities, both positive and negative that each part exhibits. Use colors, shapes, and symbols to make your map more illustrative and rich. You could also draw each circle on a separate page so that you can manipulate which circles overlap, depending on the qualities they share.MaricleFigure1
You may find that different parts of self have different strengths that could be used in other parts of your life. For example, in my work life, I have always felt confident and stable. I expect that good things will come my way, and they always have. In contrast, in my love life, I used to fear being left. This clouded my choice in partners and my behavior in relationships. I frequently felt hurt, abandoned, and dissatisfied. At some point, I began using my work self’s positive and secure attitude in my personal life. Using elements of my work self, I was able to let go of my desire to meet someone on a certain timeline, and of course, that’s when I met someone. This is a “fake it till you make it” approach in the beginning, but eventually it will come naturally. These are all parts of you, after all.
Getting a good understanding of different parts can assist you in listening to your own wisdom. You can clear away voices of self-doubt and unfounded negativity, making a path for new endeavors by heeding the inner wisdom that helps you avoid pitfalls and make positive choices.
Amy Johnson Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC is a psychotherapist and art therapist in Foxboro, MA. She loves helping teens and adults find ways to live happier, healthier, and smarter. You can find out more at: www.amyjohnsonmaricle.com
(Originally posted on First30Days Blog, July 8th, 2013)
DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Maricle Counseling and Amy Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read here.