How To Work With Difficult Parts of Yourself

Do you battle against parts of yourself that you don’t like very much? Maybe you have some people-pleasing tendencies that you’ve identified as a ‘problem,’ or you hate how emotional you get when you need to assert a boundary.

Do you feel frustrated at how easily you cry when you get upset, or wish those anxious voices asking all the ‘what ifs’ would just go away for good?

It makes a lot of sense that we’d want parts of ourselves that we don’t like to just go away. It can feel as though they’re sabotaging our efforts to have healthy relationships, causing all kinds of behaviour that feels unhelpful.

Where do these parts come from?

I call these different parts of our personalities mini-characters. Mini-characters are often quite young parts of ourselves that have specific needs and fears. They show up to protect us from something that feels vulnerable or scary, in the only way they know how. Your anxious mini-character that always wants to ask ‘what if’ helps to keep you safe by making sure you consider all the possibilities… but when this part becomes overactive and out of balance it can feel draining, difficult, or completely paralysing.

Often, all mini-characters really need is to be heard and felt – not suppressed or fought against. The challenging behaviour they cause happens when they act out because they need our love and attention.

When we slide in and out of mini-characters unconsciously, we have no choice in allowing them to take over our behaviour. When we allow ourselves to get to know all of these parts of ourselves, we can take a step back and have more choice in how we behave.

Integration happens when we can welcome these parts of ourselves, give them permission to be here, and listen to what they need. This doesn’t mean that we’re indulging them, or allowing ourselves to get lost in them – it means that we’re giving them space to express what they need to express. We can acknowledge them as being important parts of ourselves, and we can choose whether to allow them to influence our behaviour or not.

Caring for difficult parts in this way usually allows them to find a better balance, where they act out less to get our attention in challenging ways.

Here is a process for bringing all of these parts back into balance, and finding integration.

Step 1: Recognising

The first step to integrating a mini-character is saying hello to it. We first need to notice that it’s there!

Which parts of your character do you find most frustrating or difficult?

(It’s important to recognise that mini-characters can feel positive and welcome too – which parts of your character do you enjoy and feel proud of? For this process I’d recommend focusing on something you’re feeling challenged by.)

Pick something specific that feels easy to access – perhaps a people-pleasing part, an anxious part, a controlling part, or something else that you can easily identify and name.

Take a moment to flesh out this mini-character in your mind: when do they show up? How does it feel to act as this mini-character? What are their go-to behaviours? What are they most likely to say when they feel challenged?

Give this mini-character a name that feels accurate and right to you. This might simply be “people-pleaser” or it might be something more personal to you. 

Step 2: Noticing

Once you have a good idea of this mini-character, the next step is to take this knowledge out into the wild and see how often they become activated. 

The aim isn’t to try and change anything here; it’s simply to become more aware of when a mini-character shows up. The practice is to become able to notice in the moment – or as soon afterwards as possible – when a mini-character has become activated. 

When you do recognise that a mini-character has appeared, all I recommend doing is noting it to yourself: “My people-pleaser has become activated,” or, “My anxious mini-character has shown up.”

If you have someone in your life who you trust enough to talk about this with, it can be helpful to be able to say this out loud too. You can explain that you’re wanting to become more aware of this particular part of your personality, and let them know that you’d like to name it out loud with them when it shows up. Make sure they understand that you’re not needing them to do anything or change anything – only witness you noticing.

Every time you do this you take a step back from identifying as the mini-character, which is a vital step in introducing more choice in how you then behave. A mini-character can be present without being “I” or “me.” When we can notice mini-characters showing up without identifying with them completely, we can choose how much energy and attention to give them.

Step 3: Accepting

By already recognising and noticing, you’ve done an awful lot of work towards integrating. Accepting happens when we can also find love and compassion for these parts of ourselves.

My favourite way to find acceptance is to open a dialogue with the mini-character and ask it questions: what does it need? What is it afraid of? This is a process I go through often in my one-to-one work, where we interview the mini-character and find out its qualities and gifts.

Ultimately, mini-characters are important parts of ourselves that we simply wouldn’t be the same without. They bring challenges, but they also bring benefits. 

A process you could try yourself is to open a dialogue with the mini-character you’ve identified by journaling. 

Let’s use the example of a people-pleasing mini-character: 

Find a quiet place where you can take some time to yourself, and bring to mind a moment when your people-pleaser becomes activated. Allow yourself to pick up a flavour of this mini-character so that you can access it easily, without becoming overwhelmed by it. Give yourself time to feel what it’s like to act as this mini-character, knowing you can step back out again when you need to.

Then, speaking as this mini-character, take some time to journal in response to these questions:

What do you really want?

If you got that desire, what deeper need would be met?

What are you most afraid of?

How do you limit [your real name]?

What gift do you bring?

What do you need most right now?

Once you’re feeling that this process is complete, take a moment to thank this mini-character for sharing their insights, and do whatever feels most helpful to say goodbye to them for the moment. Perhaps having a shake, taking a shower, or something else that feels nourishing to you. 

Reflect back on the answers you wrote down: are there are needs this mini-character has that your whole, adult self can provide? Can you meet these needs yourself?

This is a process, and you may like to revisit this exercise multiple times. Don’t worry if you weren’t able to answer all the questions this time around; allow more insights to come later, or the next time you decide to give this mini-character some space.

You can use these three steps of recognising, noticing, and accepting any time you find there’s a part of yourself that you feel resistance to, that you simply don’t like, or that you feel you’d be better off without. It may feel counterintuitive to learn to love and accept a part of you that feels difficult or challenging, but it can be an incredibly powerful way to connect more deeply with yourself and bring all the parts of your character back into balance.

Finally, if you feel that this is too big a process to go through alone and you’d like some support, you can read more about how I work here.

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