How does counselling whole persons and their parts at the same time work?
I want to pick up on the question raised in the previous musing of how do we know when it’s most helpful to approach ourselves as a single, whole person or a person made up of many different and sometimes conflicting parts. My best simple answer is, for most of us, most of time, we can’t know. It takes a bit of trial and error, sometimes called floundering, to find out what’s needed.
Let me take this moment as an illustration. Right now as I’m sitting in front of my computer wondering where I want to go with this article, a small doubt worms its way into my awareness and whispers to me that regrettably I’m not up to the task of answering the question at hand, that the question itself is inconsequential, a distraction from more important matters, and that, characteristic of me, I’m undertaking a project that will lead nowhere. I recognize the accusations, they are familiar and my response to them is predictable. I become inwardly immobilised.
This kind of paralysis is a symptom as well as a description of a certain state of mind. The symptom is telling me that I am simultaneously trying to go in opposite directions. I’m wanting to perform a specific task and I’m also not wanting to undertake it because I fear it won’t end in a good enough outcome. The result is I’m stuck between my desire and my fear. I notice that the article isn’t getting written. I might start to get frustrated. I might eventually start to ask myself what’s the obstacle in my way. Why can’t I write this article? In this instance, if I’m aware only that I’m trying, trying very hard, perhaps, to get my ideas into words, but unaware that I’m trying equally hard not to complete that task, I may find that in spite of my best efforts I’m getting nowhere. It’s here that it would be helpful for me to be analytical, to break down my idea of an irreducible “I” into parts in order to see the conflict that is taking place in me. If I strenuously resist doing that, it may be done for me, in which case I will experience the same analytical process passively as a breakdown. Parts of myself try to separate out. Parts of me are not happy with an “I”, which does not represent them, speaking on their behalf. In time, they will actively begin sabotaging what I describe as my plans. If this state of affairs proceeds far enough, those disaffected parts of me will be in open revolt, in which case, like a government vainly trying to maintain law and order in the face of a popular uprising, I will lose any semblance of control over the situation.
Offering the part of me who doesn’t want to write this article an invitation to openly share what is happening for it, an invitation that is genuine enough to convince my so-called uncooperative part that I will listen to it empathically, is a first step toward creating a three-way conversation between my conflicting parts and a third part acting as facilitator. It’s a kind of internal conflict resolution, which can’t happen unless all parts are recognized and engaged with as we would engage with autonomous individuals. It is the conflict between my opposing impulses which fragments and paralyzes me. To the extent that I resolve my inner conflicts, I naturally and effortlessly return to a sense of being a whole person. Counselling whole persons and their parts requires seeing an individual from two different vantage points at once: as a whole, irreducible organism and as the product of many different influences.