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Who Am I? (Part 4): Get to Know Your Self & What it Feels Like to be Self-Led!

In Part 3 of this series, I shared with you an analogy that has supported me personally with the understanding of what it can feel and look like when my parts feel known and appreciated-- our inner world operating like that of a symphony.


As we continue differentiating the various parts and their roles of our inner world, as described by Internal Family Systems (IFS), we will look more closely at what is meant by the Self. If you recall, using the symphony analogy, the Self was compared to the conductor, the wise and guiding force that directs and harmonizes the orchestra of your inner world.


For many of us, it doesn't feel as if we're being guided by wisdom or stability, with clarity and courage. Instead, we feel torn, or unsure, or like we have the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. I've heard this sense of being pulled in opposite directions described in many ways by my clients, and I've certainly experienced it myself. Essentially what they are describing is what it feels like to have different parts showing up, offering their opinions, and motivating certain actions! The Self in such cases is there, but it may not feel like we have access to it. It's like the players in the symphony playing from different sheets of music, without a leader! So what do we do?


First, let's look at what the Self is and what it feels like when we're Self-led so that you can begin to recognize this in your own life.


Get to Know Your Self

A heart drawn in the fog of a window

In the realm of Internal Family Systems (IFS), the concept of the Self holds a central and transformative role in our personal growth and self-connection. Understanding the Self and experiencing what it feels like to be Self-led can bring about a profound sense of authenticity, inner harmony, and empowerment. Let's delve into the essence of the Self and explore the transformative impact it can have on our lives.


Defining the Self: The Self in IFS is the core, unifying aspect of our internal system. It is characterized by qualities such as compassion, wisdom, curiosity, and clarity. Dr. Richard Schwartz, whom I feel a kinship with for many reasons but in a big way because of his affinity for alliteration (see what I did there? 😄), established the 8 C's to describe Self-energy. There are other words you might use to describe what it feels like when you're aligned with your inner knowing, but these can help us to feel when Self is present: curiosity, calm, clarity, connectedness, confidence, courage, creativity, and compassion. When we connect with our Self, we tap into a reservoir of inner strength and authenticity. It is the truest expression of who we are, beyond the influence of our various parts.


Feeling Self-led: Being Self-led is an experience of being in alignment with our deepest values, desires, and intuition. It brings a profound sense of inner peace, confidence, and empowerment. When we are Self-led, we navigate life's challenges with clarity and grace. We make decisions that are true to what's most meaningful to us, rather than being swayed by external pressures or the demands of our parts.

Imagine you are considering a career change. Deep down, you have always had a passion for art and creativity, and you dream of pursuing a career as a professional artist. However, external pressures and the demands of your parts come into play.
External pressures: Society and societal expectations often prioritize stability, financial security, and conventional career paths. Friends, family, or societal norms may push you towards a more "practical" career choice, urging you to choose a stable job with a reliable income rather than pursuing your artistic passion.
Parts' demands: Within you, there might be parts that carry fears and doubts. For instance, the Inner Critic might voice concerns about the financial risks of pursuing an artistic career, questioning your talent or potential success. The Protector might worry about the stability and security of your future, urging you to choose a safer path.
In this scenario, if you make a decision swayed by external pressures or the demands of your parts, you might choose a career that aligns with societal expectations and appeases the fears and doubts of your internal parts. You may opt for a stable, conventional job that offers financial security but lacks personal fulfillment and creative expression. Deep down, you may feel a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnection from your true passions and aspirations.
On the other hand, making a decision that is true to the Self involves honoring your authentic desires, values, and passions. It requires listening to the wisdom and guidance of your Self.
In the context of the career change example, if you make a decision that is true to your Self, you would acknowledge your passion for art and creativity as a fundamental part of who you are. You would take the time to explore the possibilities, develop a plan, and seek opportunities to pursue your artistic dreams. Your decision would prioritize personal fulfillment, creativity, and alignment with your authentic self, even if it means taking calculated risks and stepping outside societal expectations.
By making decisions that are true to the Self, you align your actions and choices with your deepest values, passions, and aspirations. This leads to a greater sense of purpose, fulfillment, and overall well-being, as you are living in alignment with your authentic self rather than being swayed by external pressures or the demands of your parts.

A sunrise shining through the grasses

Signs of Being Self-led:

  1. Authenticity: When we are Self-led, we show up in the world as our genuine selves, free from the masks and roles imposed by our parts. We express our true thoughts, emotions, and desires, allowing others to see and connect with the real us.

  2. Inner Harmony: Being Self-led creates an inner state of harmony and balance. Our parts, instead of being in conflict or overwhelming us, are integrated and work together collaboratively. This internal cohesion allows us to respond to challenges with clarity and resilience.

  3. Emotional Regulation: The Self has a calming influence on our emotional landscape. When we are Self-led, we can navigate intense emotions with a sense of groundedness, providing a safe container for our parts' experiences without becoming overwhelmed or reactive.

  4. Compassionate Presence: The Self is inherently compassionate and non-judgmental. When we are Self-led we bring this compassion to all of our parts that show up and to others, and we can foster deeper connections and understanding in our relationships.

Cultivating a Strong Connection with the Self:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take time for introspection and self-inquiry. Explore your values, passions, and inner longings. Listen to the quiet whispers of your intuition and honor what feels true and authentic to you.

  2. Mindfulness and Presence: Cultivate present-moment awareness to connect with your Self. Engage in practices such as meditation, deep breathing, or body scans to anchor yourself in the present and foster a sense of your inner world.

  3. Nurturing Self-Compassion: Develop a compassionate and gentle attitude towards your various parts. Practice self-care, self-acceptance, and self-compassion, embracing all parts of yourself with kindness and understanding.

  4. Seek Support: Consider working with an IFS-trained therapist or coach who can guide you in exploring and deepening your connection with your Self. They can assist you in navigating your internal landscape, fostering integration, and empowering your Self-led journey.


A bulletpoint list of how to make the most of glimmers

Licensed social worker and author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, Deb Dana, describes the moments of being in Self-energy as glimmers. Glimmers are the moments when our physiology is in a state of rest, ease, calm, regulation, and connection (i.e., the tend, befriend, rest, and digest state). She compares these to triggers, in which our nervous systems are in a state of heightened activation (i.e., fight, flight, freeze, or fawn).

A bulletpoint list of how to make the most of glimmers from @centredselftherapy

As a trauma-focused therapist, she works with individuals who are very much learning how to notice even very small moments of glow or glimmer. If this is you, what a wonderful place to start, right? Even if you are perhaps further along on the continuum, maintain this state for long periods of time, or you know well the pathways that lead to this state, you might utilize these tips for noticing and extending!


Remember, the journey of honoring the Self and making decisions in alignment with it is a continuous process of Self-discovery and Self-connection. It requires a practice of awareness building and the willingness to explore, especially in the face of external pressures or internal doubts.


I would love to hear about what came up for you as you read this blog. Please share in the comments!


Stay tuned for Part 5 where we'll look at how we can create a relationship with your Self and your parts that will be the starting point for developing the sense of alignment and integration that you crave. I will share with you some practical steps you can use to begin getting to know your parts, especially the challenging ones that may have been banished or exiled!


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