How to Recognize and Reconnect with Split-Off Parts of Yourself

Blurred view photo of back of young girl sitting on swingSome of the most powerful work I have seen accomplished in therapy involves a person reclaiming parts of themselves that they have disowned. Splitting off parts of ourselves, specifically parts of our younger selves, is a common issue that people seek to resolve in therapy, even if they are not fully conscious of it.

In fact, many therapy theories and techniques use this concept as a way of addressing concerns. Below are a few ways of describing this concept.

  • Internal Family Systems model: Refers to this concept as exiled parts created out of traumatic experiences. These are parts we are afraid to look at and expose (Schwartz, 2009).
  • Object relations therapy: Refers to this as splitting, defined as the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a realistic whole (Hamilton, 1990).
  • 12-step program for addiction: In alcoholism-afflicted/dysfunctional families (2006), one of the main issues is considered to be the inner child that has been hidden because of shame, abuse, or fear. To be free from addictive behaviors, reconnecting with the inner child is a necessary part of treatment.
  • EMDR therapy: In this approach, Shapiro (2012) points out that memories, especially traumatic ones, are not integrated with the rest of the general memory networks. As a result, these memories can feel “frozen” or “stuck in time” and no matter how much time passes, bringing them up again can be painful—thus, often, we don’t deal with traumatic memories. The eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) approach helps a person to take these memories and reprocess them into general and adaptive memory networks.

So how do you know if there might be a split-off part of yourself? One way is by recognizing there might be denial about the past in the present. This can look like, as examples, refusing to admit or acknowledge childhood experiences; trivializing behavior or remarks that were hurtful; or attempting to explain away the behavior of others or offer excuses.

The overall goal at the end of this work should be integration. Integration means being able to own all parts of yourself, whether “good” or “bad,” and understand how they make you the person you are today.

This also presents itself in how we describe ourselves when we were younger. For example, a statement such as, “I don’t know who that person was,” or feelings of intense shame about the person you were in the past, can be a sign that you have cut off parts of yourself. Another strong indication of this is if you avoid people, places, or things that might bring up memories from the past.

When you or your therapist has recognized you have cut off a part of yourself, there are many tools you can use to begin recognizing those cut-off parts and work toward healing. Below are some ways to begin identifying and connecting with parts of yourself:

  • Looking at photos of yourself from the past.
  • Listening to music from that time period.
  • Giving yourself affirmations such as, “I will love all parts of myself unconditionally,” “I will protect myself to the best of my ability,” or “I will take time to integrate all parts of myself into my life experience.”

The overall goal at the end of this work should be integration. Integration means being able to own all parts of yourself, whether “good” or “bad,” and understand how they make you the person you are today.

It is important to note that reclaiming split-off parts is difficult work that can take a long time. If you are thinking of attempting this work for yourself, consider enlisting the help of a licensed professional or finding a group therapy setting that can help you through this process.

References:

  1. Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. (2006). Alcoholic/dysfunctional families. Torrance, CA: Author.
  2. Hamilton, N.G. (1990). Self and others: Object relations theory in practice. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  3. Schwartz, R. (2009). Instructor’s manual for internal family systems therapy. Retrieved from http://www.psychotherapy.net/data/uploads/5113ce91c0a4d.pdf
  4. Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. New York, NY: Rodale Books.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Quinn, MA, MS, LMFT, therapist in Newport Beach, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 2 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Callie

    Callie

    October 30th, 2017 at 11:25 AM

    My daughter uses EMDR for help with anxiety at school

  • Amy Quinn

    Amy Quinn

    November 7th, 2017 at 2:16 PM

    Thank you for sharing Callie! I hope it has been helpful for her.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.