Patrick McCurry Counsellor Eastbourne Canary Wharf

Counselling and Psychotherapy in Eastbourne, East Sussex and Canary Wharf, London and Online.

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Using the language of 'parts' to communicate emotions

I sometimes suggest to clients the value of describing their experience in the language of ‘parts’, such as ‘A part of me feels sad’ or ‘a part of me was angry’. 

 The advantage of using this kind of language is when we may feel overwhelmed or dominated by certain feelings. By using the language of parts we are able to acknowledge our experience without being completely ‘in’ it. 

 It also helps us allow in feelings that we may be uncomfortable with, such as anger, envy, jealousy, hatred. By saying that a part of us feels jealous, envious, or furious, we remove some of the judgment we may hold.

Elizabeth O’Connor, quoted in John Rowan’s book Subpersonalities*, talks about jealousy: “[If I ] no longer see my jealous self as the whole of me, then I have gained the distance I need to observe it, listen to it and let it acquaint me with a piece of my own lost history.”

 When we use the language of parts it helps open up new possibilities. It is not that we are a monolithic personality that cannot, or does not, change. But rather that we may have certain parts that tend to dominate but that does not mean we cannot also respond more flexibly to life.

 It also recognises the complexity of our emotional life. For example, we may have a part of us that is angry with our partner and at the same time another part of us that feels sad. Or there may be a part of us that feels excited about a new job offer, but another part of us that is sad to be leaving our current job.

 This is particularly the case in intimate relationships, where a part of us may long for closeness with our partner but another part may be scared of that closeness because we don’t want to lose control.

 Recognising that we are made up of different parts can also help us when something unexpected happens in our lives that disturbs us. For example, we may see ourselves as a generally calm person but then find ourselves in a sudden rage about something, maybe when we’re driving our car.

 Or we may think of ourselves self-confident but then we fail an exam or receive a criticism and for some reason our confidence seems to have disappeared and been replaced with panic.

 While these experiences may feel unpleasant, they are also valuable in pointing our awareness to parts of ourselves we may have repressed and that need to be integrated into our personality. By allowing in these parts of ourselves into our awareness we become ‘bigger’, more integrated people.


 *  Rowan, J., 1990,  Subpersonalities, Brunner-Routledge.