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Plurality and trauma – 2 – practices

Plurality and trauma – 2 – practices

In this post my two most studious parts – James and Beastie – return to revisit the question of plurality and what we have learnt about it since they last got together on the topic. Particularly they discuss our learnings from Janina Fisher’s excellent book Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors. You can read their earlier Plural FAQ post, and the Plural Zine that preceded it for more background on the topic, or just start here.

It turns out these two have a lot to say so we’ve divided the post into two: The first post dealt with understanding plurality from this trauma-informed perspective. This second post deals with working with plurality in practice. A further post to follow covers how these ideas and practices link to mindfulness.

James: Are you back with me Beastie?

Beastie: Yep, time to continue our conversation. One of the delights of plurality is that different parts have different ideas about the best ways to spend our time, so it’s been a couple of days since you and I had a chance to sit down to this.

James: Fox is off in the hills or dreaming up drawings, Max is still deep in her trauma healing, Tony needed to go swimming with friends apparently.

Beastie: And Ara seems to think that sitting still is just as valuable as all the studying and writing that you and I want to do.

James: I know right? It’s an interesting co-parenting arrangement that she and I have.

Beastie: I’m struck that teasing is probably our main inner love language. I really hope that translates in our written conversations! 

James: Me too. I’m honestly not sure it would be possible to love all of you more than I do. Teasing Tony about his ego, or Ara about her openness to woo, definitely comes from a place of deep love and respect. Like what would we do without one part who actually thinks we’re awesome most of the time, or one who is open to life’s mysteries which keep hitting us over the head?

Beastie: You get to be all mushy in this post old man, don’t worry, it’s coming.

James: Alright then Beasie, heh maybe we’ll get to see the softer side of you too.

Beastie: We’ll see about that. Anyway, to recap on the last post. In that one we explained this understanding of people as being divided into parts: each of which represents one of the survival strategies of fight, fawn, flight, freeze, and attach. Child and adolescent parts of us remain stuck in those patterns – and in the times in the past when they developed, so when we are retraumatised, or triggered, they feel like it’s all still going on.

The trick is to recognise – when we’re triggered or reactive – that it is not the whole of us who is struggling, but just a part. Then we can cultivate ‘dual awareness’ where a part who is not struggling can help the part who is. In this post we’re going to dig deeper into how we actually do that.

James: Alright, let’s do this.

No part gets left behind

Beastie: I loved this phrase in the book: no part gets left behind. It reminded me of the TV show Sense8 which was a hard plural relate for us when we watched it.

James: A cluster of people who can experience the same things and occupy the same body, who all bring different skills and struggles to the team. Dunno what was familiar about that to you Beastie.

Beastie: Gosh it’s good though. A crime it got cancelled. Oof now I’m super tempted to do an aside about which of us is closest to which character…

James: I’ll take tough Wolfgang with a hint of good-guy Will.

Beastie: Tony is obviously Lito *eye roll*.

James: Jonathan’s Capheus. Aw, I love Capheus.

Beastie: I think Fox would be closest to Kala; Max to Riley.

James: Making you Sun, of course. And leaving Ara as Nomi. I’m so intrigued whether plural experience was a part of the Wachowski’s inspiration for this show. 

Beastie: Fascinating that the cluster connect through various erotic, romantic, and close friendship bonds too, no?

James: Indeed. But we got sidetracked. Our point here was that Sense8 has that same ethos of ‘no part gets left behind’. A few times they are faced with a challenge where it makes sense to leave somebody in danger, and they insist on bringing everyone along, even when that puts the cluster at greater risk.

Beastie: And by the end it is clear the same applies to the ‘sidekicks’ as well. Everybody is equally valued, equally important.

James: I guess this is another place where we were already on it with Janina’s perspective. Ever since realising that we were seven we’ve had that sense that it’s vital to bring everyone forward equally; to regard everyone as having just as much to offer.

Beastie: Whether they have been foregrounded or backgrounded through our life, whether they are grown-up or childlike, strong or gentle.

James: Janina describes a couple of challenges in this process with clients. First they have to recognise that they have vulnerable child parts, then that they have challenging adolescent parts, who often come in to block the process in some way.

Beastie: Right. With the vulnerable children the challenge is to recognise that we really have parts to us who are that vulnerable and fragile, but they tend to be very easy to love once we’ve found them. Teenage parts are often more challenging because they can seem harsh, critical, angry, even highly destructive. This maps onto what we’ve written about elsewhere about how important it is to own the parts of us who have been victims/survivors, and the parts of us who are capable of oppressive or abusive behaviour: if we are to engage helpfully in social justice, that is.

James: The trick with the more challenging parts is to assume that they are being sensible – given the life that they’ve had – and that they are probably trying to protect the whole, or the vulnerable ones, even though it may seem like the opposite. Ring any bells Beastie?

Beastie: Yeah, teen me seemed to think the way to protect us was to scream hateful abuse at us constantly. I’m not proud.

James: But it makes sense in a life where we had to learn very complex contradictory rules about how to be in order not to be attacked or abandoned by the people around us. To have a loud inner critic to keep ‘reminding’ us of the rules was essential to survival, if not particularly pleasant.

Beastie: That’s an understatement. So Janina describes many times working with a client to take care of their frightened child parts, and then suddenly an angry, sabotaging, sceptical or destructive part pops up. The thing you can do then is to shift the work to that part, treating it just as respectfully.

James: And she suggests shifting the tone too. Child parts need a really gentle, soothing tone, and simple language. Sometimes they even communicate non-verbally. Teen parts need straightforward language. Janina suggests asking clients how they would communicate with an actual troubled teen, and going with that.

Beastie: Vulnerable child parts often want reassuring that they are safe and loved, whereas tough teen parts want to know they are respected and honoured – like war veterans – for how they helped us to survive. All parts need to be spoken with truthfully too.

James: You and Max wrote last time about how things shifted dramatically for us when we befriended you Beastie. That was a turning point, when we quit fighting you and finally embraced you.

Beastie: And we’ve kept that as our rule now. Whatever part turns up, or whatever aspect of a part, however resistant or scary, we welcome them home.

James: Janina says that when we can welcome home the hurt, lost, and lonely parts, self hatred and disconnection can transform into self-compassion.

Beastie: Again deep resonance for us. The idea of loving ourselves was entirely impossible to us as a single individual. Loving our parts from the perspective of other parts is easy.

James: The metaphor of home is helpful here too. Janina notices that child parts often feel stuck in dangerous home places of the past. She helps adult clients to literally show those parts the safer homes they inhabit now, to bring them home there.

Beastie: We do some of that. Finding a safe-enough physical home space has certainly been important to us. But we also imagine a fantasy home that we live in as separate selves. That can be a safe place to go to when things get hard, a good location for internal conversations, and a space to play in our imagination. The child parts find it soothing to imagine where each of us is in that space at the end of the day, or when they are struggling. Janina says that ‘imagined experiences of safe attachment can generate the same feelings and sensations and evoke the same attunement bliss’ as actual experiences.

Holding and hearing

James: Okay we should say more about Janina’s practice. We’ve explained that trauma responses can be understood as merging or blending with traumatised younger parts, but how do we cultivate the ‘dual awareness’ or ‘parallel process’ required to un-merge? 

Beastie: Janina describes how to do this in the therapy room: the therapist guides the client to always use the language of ‘a part of me feels…’ rather than ‘I feel…’, and then to engage in internal conversation with that part. If they start to merge, she gets the client to ask the traumatised part if they would mind sitting back a little. She explains that parts usually feel safer and more relaxed when that happens. It makes them feel unsafe to be that merged, and it is a relief to unmerge.

James: That makes sense. So the alternative to merging or blending is dual awareness. As we said last time, Janina refers to this as the ‘getting on with normal life’ part taking care of the traumatised part. In our case it is whichever part – often a parental part – who feels in the ‘C’ place: able to access compassion, clarity, calm, etc. That part looks after whichever part is in the ‘F’ place…

Beastie: …freaking out or trying to figure everything out, with the five F survival strategies.

James: Mm. And the mantra here is ‘hold and hear’. A part who is struggling needs to know that they are held safe enough, and that the other part is hearing them well. It can take a while to locate which part is struggling, to separate from them enough that they feel held, and to find the way that they like to be heard. But with practice we get used to the process of finding what works each time.

Beastie: Right, it’s like being up for being flexible and shifting the container to find out what’s needed each time. Who needs to be held and heard? Who do they need it from? What does holding and hearing look like this time? And there can often be a real sense of clicking – and nervous system relaxing – when we get there.

James: I’m also struck that this process relates to what we’re aiming for in our outer relationships now too Beastie. That move from fear/shame trauma responses to a combination of protection and connection.

Beastie: Right, the holding provides that sense of being protected enough and safe enough to come forward. The hearing is the connection piece, feeling really heard and understood.

The befriending questions

James: One piece of solid gold this book has given us are the befriending questions. That’s a set of simple questions to ask the part who is struggling.

Beastie: Every time I think it’s not going to work – that it can’t apply in this case. And pretty much every time it’s been an incredibly helpful process. There are other practices that Janina suggests too, like showing the child selves that they are safe now, or working with them to figure out which aspects of everyday life they want to engage with and which they don’t. But these befriending questions would be the central practice: the questions to ask in order to hear a part once you have got them sitting with you.

James: Here are the questions. You identify a part that is in some kind of distress. Then you ask them:

  1. ‘What are you worried about if you…?’ (e.g. say ‘no’, read that message, see those people)
  2. When they reply, ask them, ‘what are you worried about if [repeat exact description they gave] really does come true?’
  3. When they reply, ask them, ‘if those worries that [repeat exact description they gave] really do happen, what are you worried will happen next?’ Keep repeating this question until the core fear is reached, often a fear of annihilation of self, or abandonment by others.
  4. Acknowledge that fear by mirroring it back to them, then ask them ‘What do you need from me right here, right now, to not be so afraid of…?’ You’re looking for a small enough, sufficiently concrete thing that can definitely be met by you.

Beastie: Wanna role play it with me old man?

James: Oh go on then, am I talking to old struggling Beastie?

Beastie: Yep and she’s a hot mess. Somebody just assumed we’d do something for them that we really don’t want to do. She wants to tell them where to go.

James: Okay Beastie. I feel your rage and it’s welcome indeed. But are you up for exploring this a bit with me first before we do anything.

Beastie: Did you see what they did? Those fuckers. I’ve got to show them how non-consensual that is.

James: I’m so up for a conversation about what we might communicate with them in a bit, but you know when these strong responses come up it’s often a good opportunity to understand each other better. I really want to understand what’s going on for you here.

Beastie: Alright, I guess.

James: Thank-you. I promise we’re going to take this seriously.

Beastie: Okay. Ask your damn questions.

James: What are you worried about if we don’t tell them where to go immediately?

Beastie: We’ll wind up doing this thing they’re asking for, allowing them to treat us this way.

James: And if we wind up doing it: allowing them to treat us that way? What are you worried will happen if we do that?

Beastie: They’ll keep doing it more and more. 

James: And if they keep doing it more and more? What are you worried will happen next?

Beastie: I hate it.

James: What do you hate?

Beastie: It’s this image of us, with like these knives getting in, like they’re intruding on us, and there’s nothing we can do.

James: I can see it Beastie, that image. Can you put a word to it?

Beastie: Invasion, annihilation, it’s like there’ll be nothing left of us.

James: That’s spot on. You described it well. That fear we have of people treating us that way and us just being annihilated by it. Can you tell me what you need from me right here, right now, to not be so afraid of this happening?

Beastie: I get what you’re saying about not responding right away, while this is so live. But could you help me write some bullet points of what I want to convey about how we need to be treated? Then we can agree to return to those in a few days and turn that into an email if it still feels right.

James: You need to know that the rest of us are going to listen to you, to take this seriously, to make sure we’re clear that we can’t offer what they demanded from us.

Beastie: Oo now you’re going off script.

James: Phew that got pretty real actually.

Beastie: You doing okay old man?

James: Are you?

Beastie: Yeah. Maybe a little pause before we continue. Thanks for being up for that.

James: You’re very welcome.

Emotional attunement 

Beastie: Ah that’s better. What’re we on? Attunement. Great, now for the bit where you get mushy.

James: Hmph.

Beastie: So these next bits relate to what we’ve been learning about shame and trauma more widely. This sense that the aim is ‘emotional regulation’, ‘expanding the window of tolerance’, and ‘earned secure attachment’. 

What you’re trying to do is to learn how to regulate emotions that come up rather than being flooded by them, so that you can tolerate them more easily over time. That involves meeting yourself like a parent should meet a child with a tough feeling. We wrote about this particularly in the post about Pat de Young’s book on shame. She said that chronic shame was caused by not having our emotions regulated as kids, and that we could learn to do it now. That would lead us towards that ‘earned secure attachment’. 

James: Kids who aren’t emotionally regulated like that are likely to form insecure attachments with caregivers – and later others – in various ways. Kids who are emotionally regulated by their caregivers can form more secure attachments. They know that they have a safe place to return to from their explorations where they will be emotionally regulated (rather than being punished or ignored, or evoking stress in their caregiver, for example). 

This ‘earned secure attachment’ idea suggests that we can learn to do this emotional regulation for ourselves if we haven’t had it as kids. Back to the neuroscience, we are retraining our brain and our nervous system by holding and hearing those trauma responses or overwhelming emotional states.

Beastie: Which we can do because of neuroplasticity. Follow a different neural path enough times when these things happen and we’ll eventually respond to potentially triggering situations with curiosity and containment rather than overwhelm, melt down, shut down, or fragmenting.

James: So I notice you’ve called this section ‘emotional attunement’ rather than ‘emotional regulation’ Beastie, why is that?

Beastie: Still trying to avoid the mushy part James? Okay I’ll bite, it’s because of neoliberal capitalism.

James: Of course it is.

Beastie: Think about the language ‘emotional regulation’. I don’t like it. It suggests that emotions are a problem, something to be regulated – presumably by rationality – rather than being immensely valuable. There’s a disturbingly patriarchal and colonialist legacy right there. We’re watching the documentary The Century of The Self at the moment. It demonstrates the roots of the consumer capitalist model – which is responsible for climate crisis, the rich/poor divide, exploitation and dehumanisation, huge mental and physical health problems

James: ..the eroding of real democracy, everything bad basically. 

Beastie: It’s rooted in psychoanalytic thinking, particularly the ideas of Anna Freud that people need to learn how to regulate their unconscious forces by bringing in the rational ego. Anna and co encouraged people to do this in order to conform to normality (which at the time meant a whole bunch of misogynist, homophobic, racist ways of being). And many of the people who drew on her ideas back then believed that they – as the elite – should control the irrational unconscious forces of the masses, making them into docile consumers who would cause no trouble and keep the economy going.

James: And we’re living through the terrifying end result of this approach to humanity. I can see why you’re not keen on ‘regulation’ Beastie.

Beastie: It also doesn’t accurately capture what these authors are actually describing James. I think ‘emotional attunement’ is a much better word for it.

James: Agreed. When we are holding and hearing one of us who is struggling, we’re not trying to regulate them into shutting up. In fact, trying to do that was the problem. When we used to try to repress these parts – and their feelings – that damaged us, leaving us disconnected from ourselves and from others. 

Beastie: Or the parts and their feelings just got louder and louder because they were being ignored, or ended out reacting when in such states. Not helpful either

James: So the aim of attunement is that we stay with that part, demonstrating to them how much we welcome them, how we are able to hold them, and how we are interested and committed to hearing them.


Beastie: And when we find that click moment, where they feel truly held and heard, that is emotional attunement…

James: Okay now I’ll get mushy about it. So the books we’ve been reading describe emotional attunement as like the feeling a parent gets with a child. It’s that state that a parent and child go into when the parent has figured out exactly what that child needs and has provided it.

Beastie: ‘Are you crying because you’re tired? Because you need changing? Oh no you’re hungry, here’s your bottle…’

James: And then both parent and child go into that blissful state. That’s emotional attunement.

Beastie: We had another smug moment realising we’d already got to this with each other before reading Janina’s book.

James: But that’s been the part of plurality that we’ve perhaps found most difficult – embarrassing even – to convey to others.

Beastie: Indeed. We’ve gone from not even being able to conceptualise what loving ourself could be like, to experiencing moments of deep emotional attunement with ourself, which feel precisely like that feeling of parent/child bliss, falling in love, or the afterglow of sex.

James: Indeed they sometimes actually are those things, if they’re between parts which feel a parent/child bond, a romantic bond, and/or an erotic connection.

Beastie: Tell us about your feels old man!

James: Okay well this week I had the parent/child version with Fox. They’d dragged us up to one of their favourite outside spaces and taken a bunch of pictures of flowers and animals, and we were walking home all sun-soaked and tired, and they were chatting away to me, and… honestly Beastie when it’s like that I just find it hard to believe that somebody looking at us would not see a tall man walking hand in hand with a little kid. It feels so vividly like two different people. And I looked down at them with such love and fondness, and such wonder you know? That this delightful part of us exists and wants to be with me. Is that mushy enough for you?

Beastie: You did good *grin* So I guess we’d already found our way to attunement moments with each other in various different ways. We can also get there by joking together…

James: The teasing. It’s like we’re getting to know each other better and better so those jokes come from that place of deep understanding of each of our foibles.

Beastie: Like knowing it’ll embarrass you to be so open about your feelings, for example.

James: Like that, yes.

Beastie: And we can reach a similar sense of attunement in romantic or erotic moments, whether in fantasy or reality, or the in-between.

James: The other day I pulled you up to dance with me after we finished writing.

Beastie: To Stevie Wonder no less, very smooth.

James: I love that it’s me you come to to have these conversations Beastie.

Beastie: And I love that our inner prof respects me and my ideas so much, it’s a good counterbalance to all the patriarchal bullshit we’ve had to endure.

James: I do respect you Beastie: deep respect for your ideas and how they develop our thinking.

Beastie: Okay, okay enough. So I guess we’re saying that any kind of emotional attunement you can get between parts is awesome. And specifically – drawing on Janina’s work – it’s good to aim for that when a part is struggling, in other words when any tough emotion, thought, or sensation comes up.

James: Which is a great way of flipping that experience, so that each time it happens it’s an opportunity to find attunement, and to keep moving towards that part with curiosity until we’ve found it. That’s a radical shift from any tough experience feeling like it’s a bad sign, or something we should avoid.

Earned secure attachment and inner parents

Beastie: A little more on earned secure attachment and inner parents?

James: This perhaps relates more to Pete Walker’s work on cPTSD, although Pat De Young writes about earned secure attachment too. One of the bits of Pete’s book which really stuck with us was the idea of ‘reparenting yourself and reparenting by committee.’

Beastie: That’s what we’ve been aiming at since reading his book. How to provide yourself with care and protection, and to cultivate multiple relationships where you receive that kind of care and protection too.

James: Reparenting by committee means that you don’t put that on one person – as we can so easily do in codependent-type relationships – but rather you develop your support system of people who you turn to for care and protection, as well as offering that too.

Beastie: Hold your horses James, we’ll get to plurality and external relationships in a sec.

James: Okay, okay. So the sense we have is that a key aim here is to cultivate an ‘earned secure attachment’. This would mean that we were less flooded by tough emotions and trauma responses because we would trust our own capacity to attune to ourselves, and to care-for and protect ourselves, when those things came up. Practising emotional attunement with all parts of us, in all situations, is the way of moving towards that earned secure attachment.

Beastie: And inner parent parts are pivotal in that – we think. There isn’t much about that in Janina’s book – it’s more a sense that the ‘getting on with normal life’ adult part is the inner parent. But Sarah Peynton, Pete Walker, and others have more of a sense of cultivating specific inner nurturers, protectors, or wise witnessing parts, however they describe them.

James: And I guess that’s what we have done with me and Ara.

Beastie: It almost felt like building you out of patchwork. Mm, like we said in our previous conversation James, an act of excavation and creation simultaneously: finding what was always already there, and deliberately shaping you both and bringing you forward. You feel like a combination of memories of attuned moments we had with actual family members, teachers, companion animals, etc., as well as our relationships with a few great therapists, supervisors, and mentors along the way, and a lot of examples in fiction that we draw on.

James: My starting point being queer James Bond, although now our littlest one is addicted to hospital dramas I’m becoming more of a combination of Richard Webber from Grey’s Anatomy and Daniel Charles from Chicago Med.

Beastie: Fox is bizarrely obsessed with Dr. Charles right now. 

James: Our first experience of Ara was one of emotional attunement huh? Jonathan felt that sense of being cradled, after we started our process towards gender surgery.

Beastie: Now we have that cradling feeling more and more. I guess the point here that all people have these potentials in themselves, even if woven together from the merest scraps of memories and fictional examples. And we can all work on developing and strengthening parental parts, or whatever we want to call them. Perhaps caring and protective parts is less loaded.

James: I can’t even with the shift we’ve experienced in this. A few months back we rarely felt me or Ara around much, whereas now we can have whole days where one of us is to the fore in our everyday life, and/or much of our time is spent in dialogue between one of the two of us and other parts.


Outer relationships: Delegating our parts to others

Beastie: I think this gets us to the final issue that we want to touch upon, although I expect it’s one we’ll return to in more depth in future. One reason why we didn’t have much access to you and Ara in the past is because we didn’t understand how we needed to cultivate parental parts for ourselves.

James: Right, so one thing we did was to look for other people – mainly partners – to be that for us. And another thing we did was to offer us – me and/or Ara – to other people, rather than learning how to be that for ourselves.

Beastie: I guess this is the piece we’re least proud of. It seems so obvious now that we’ve done all this reading. But we’ve hurt others and ourselves a lot by trying to be that kind of parent for them, and by trying to find that kind of parent in them. What does Janina have to say about this?

James: She cites Judith Herman who said that trauma leaves us with desperation for an omnipotent rescuer. She also points out that therapists have often done damage in the past by assuming that their role is to become that attachment figure for a client, and to work with the relationship in that way. She sees the therapeutic role instead as facilitating the client to find the capacity in themselves to parent their traumatised inner child and teen parts. She writes a good bit about how to explain this to clients, and to side step attempts by them – and temptations in yourself – to take on that role.

Beastie: This has been so helpful in understanding how we want our relationships of all kinds to be. When we feel drawn by somebody else into that kind of role, perhaps through them pedestalling us or assuming that we can parent them, we now feel highly uncomfortable. We try to discuss openly where our boundaries are, and how we might facilitate them finding that capacity in themselves, if indeed we have that to offer in that relationship. We can also notice when one of us has fallen into projecting this kind of thing onto somebody else.

James: That one of us often being Tony.

Beastie: Now we realise that he’s our ‘attach’ part, yep.

James: There’s something so important about empowerment and disempowerment here. To take on a parental role for another person’s child parts is inherently disempowering, however great it might feel for all concerned. It so easily leads to dynamics where the child parts become dependent on that person to feel safe, or where that person simply can’t sustain that level of ‘parenting’ and the child parts become retraumatised. Instead we need to trust others to find their own inner parents, whichever way works for them. That’s far more empowering for them, and less risky for everyone involved.

Beastie: Writing like Janina’s, and hopefully ours, might help people to find something of a route-map for this, but nobody should ever be offering to do it for another person, or telling them how to do it. Everyone has to find their own path, ideally well-supported with others who understand this work and are doing it alongside them, and/or facilitating them in it.

James: I’m struck that the internal process Janina describes requires de-blending, or un-meshing from our parts, and how that relates to doing the same in relationships with others. It doesn’t help anybody to become blended or enmeshed, as we do when we unconsciously enter stuck parent-child dynamics in relationships. Remaining separate and mutual is the thing.

Beastie: Back to being both protected and connected.

James: Okay another 5000 words for part 2 of our epic blog post Beastie. Time for another break before we come back, write a summary, and put it out there.

Beastie: Plan.

Plural superpowers

James: So we’d like to end by suggesting that plurality is a superpower.

Beastie: I mean we would say that wouldn’t we? But I think Janina agrees. First she points out that fragmenting or compartmentalisation is only ‘pathological’ when it is unconscious. It is a natural response to trauma. It enables us to survive. And when we make conscious use of it, it can make us incredibly strong.

James: For a start, cultivating dual awareness means that we’re far less likely to get reactive and hurt others and ourselves out of that reactivity. But beyond that, when we’re conscious of all our parts, and able to bring them forward or allow them to retreat, we can find the ‘right part for the job’: the part with mastery in that area. Like the times we’ve found Tony for public speaking, or Ara for facilitating a workshop, or you for holding our boundaries Beastie. The feeling is extraordinary when one of us is in their element, and it connects way better with others too.

Beastie: I think there’s way more to discover here. Like the kind of art that might emerge from playful Fox rather than productive Max, or what it will be like to bring Jonathan’s capacity for emotional empathy to relationships when he’s not so overwhelmed.

James: Heh right now it’s more like the bit in the superhero movie where the hero realises they have powers but has no idea how to use them.

Beastie: Spidey crashing into buildings and getting goo everywhere.

James: We’re so using that superhero theme for our next graphic guide on mental health Beastie.

Beastie: I can’t wait. Let’s end with a list of the key practices here.

James: Great writing with you Beastiegirl.

Beastie: Right back atcha.

Repeat the following (repetition is soothing and required for neuroplastic shift) 

  • Recognise all feelings and triggered reactions as sensible communications from a part (e.g. expressing worries, attempting to find solutions, up/down regulating emotions)
  • Elicit a felt sense of that part and respond curiously from differentiated adult part
  • Emphasise the togetherness of adult and child: holding and hearing
  • Encourage reciprocal communication, attending to how each part feels and responds
  • Use the four befriending questions
  • Anything that doesn’t work is an opportunity to learn and develop trust (e.g. if a part backs away let them know you understand why)
  • Maximise moments of attunement, stay embodied
  • All parts are equally valuable so bring them forward equally – no part gets left behind
  • Check in with everybody regularly to let them know that they are held in mind and get curious how they’re doing
  • Cultivate compassion for all parts and communication and trust within each dyad

Check out the first blog post in this series to find out more about the theory around plurality and trauma.

Patreon link: If you liked this, please feel free to support my Patreon.

Plural tag: This post was written by Beastie and James.


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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