Richard Schwartz compares your internal system to an orchestra. An orchestra contains multiple musicians, sections, and instruments. If the musicians decided to sit wherever they wanted and play whatever they wanted, the result would be cacophony. An orchestra conductor is necessary to turn noise into music. Schwartz writes: “A good conductor has a sense of value of each instrument and the ability of every musician, and is so familiar with music theory that he or she can sense precisely the best point in a symphony to draw out one section and mute another . . . this kind of system is (literally) harmonious . . . Thus, I am suggesting that we all have within us a capable conductor.”
The “capable conductor” is known by many different names—the Essential Self, the Higher Self, the Soul, inner wisdom, the Buddha nature, Christ consciousness, Atman, unus mundus, the True Self, the inner teacher, the Holy Spirit, the inner leader . . . and the list goes on. Call it whatever you want—the point is that Self–leadership is required to manage our shadow impulses and to get unstuck. Self-leadership is the practice of responding to stressors rather than reacting to triggers.
The goal of therapy (or any inner work) is not to change yourself, it’s to know yourself—and to then conduct your inner orchestra with skill and compassion. We often think of self-compassion as the practice of saying “nice” things about ourselves, but genuine self-compassion is more than that. Genuine self-compassion is a daring quest to know every corner of your inner world. It is a journey to befriend all of the parts of yourself. Genuine self-compassion requires you to refuse to abandon even the most shadowy parts of your psyche. All behaviors are not acceptable, but all parts are valuable.
As we discuss throughout this book, you aren’t lazy and you don’t lack motivation—you have parts who think the best way to help you is to shut your system down. These parts may act out with destructive behaviors, but the parts themselves aren’t bad—their intention is to protect you from your shadows. When your parts are in charge, you can feel crazy, out of control, dissociated, indecisive, and overwhelmed. When your inner conductor—your capital S “Self”—is in charge, suddenly you have an all-access pass to the 8 C’s of Self-Leadership.
The 8 C’s of Self-Leadership are:
Getting to know your “parts” can admittedly feel a bit strange in the beginning. My client JD, forty-two, a day trader with a brilliant mind and a proclivity for self-destruction, said,
“At first doing shadow work was maddening. I felt like this was going to make me even more crazy.”
During our work together, he eloquently reflected in his shadow journal (shared with permission):
Meeting a shadow part was like meeting a child for the first time. I wasn’t sure how to interact with them and they weren’t sure if they wanted to interact with me. Once I gained a level of trust with my parts, I realized who they were. They are all me, at different moments in my life, who have all formed opinions based on how the world and the people in it treated them. Having access to those moments and the person I was during those moments allows me to understand myself—I no longer sabotage my work, relationships and other areas of my life, because I am in touch with the parts of me who only knew how to express themselves by breaking stuff—my “little ones” now trust me to take care of things.
The Science of Self-Talk
We talk to ourselves all the time. Often our self-talk is hostile and unhelpful. Have you ever thought, OMG, that was so stupid. Why did I say that? or I’m so lazy. How am I supposed to find energy to clean the garage today? Critical self- talk is ineffective and keeps you stuck. If you’re thinking, But I’ve tried self-talk to get myself motivated and it never helps and then I just feel worse, I hear you.
There’s a secret to self-talk that makes it work for you rather than against you.
The secret to effective self-talk is to turn your inner monologue into an inner dialogue.
The way to turn your inner monologue into an inner dialogue is to use your name (or your pronouns) when you talk to yourself. Research indicates that changing your self-talk from first person (using the word I) to third per- son (using your name or pronouns) is a powerful way to shift your system.
First Person: “I’m so overwhelmed with everything on my plate.”
Third-Person Name: “Britt is really overwhelmed with everything on her plate.”
Third-Person Pronoun: “She’s really overwhelmed with everything on her plate.”
You can also use second-person language and talk to your parts using the word you. When you first start using second and third-person self-talk, you’ll likely feel ridiculous and embarrassed.
Why should you even bother with this practice? Viktor E. Frankl wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When you have psychological space between you and your stressors, you are less likely to get stuck. Second and third-person self-talk helps to create psychological space. There’s even a formal term for third-person self-talk—illeism. Research lends credibility to this practice.
Per an article in Scientific Reports, “[Recent] findings indicate that the language [people] use to refer to the self when they engage in [self-talk] influences self-control. Specifically, using one’s own name to refer to the self during introspection, rather than the first-person pronoun ‘I,’ increases people’s ability to control their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under stress.”
Why does this practice work? We are generally nicer to other people than we are to ourselves. Talking in third person allows us space to provide the same compassion and kindness to ourselves that we’d extend to others.