How to Begin to Heal From Your Emotional Trauma

emotional life inner child healing self-awareness Nov 08, 2021
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If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that we all have different aspects of our personality. Rather than having just a one-dimensional or single way of being, we’re all made of parts or small inner personalities.

One part of our personality, for example, may be a “go getter” and super productive. Another part may be one who just loves to do nothing and veg on the couch. Another might be a pretty kind and caring part, and another a kind of mean and cruel part. Our personality is multiplicitous and we’re not simply always “productive” or “kind”. We’re productive oftentimes, and want to veg at other times; we’re caring sometimes, and kind of mean at other times. You might even naturally catch yourself saying “a part of me feels [this way]” or “a part of me wants to do [x] and another part of me feels like doing [y]”. We have many different and temporary modes of our personality—and so, it helps us to not define ourselves by any one of these terms on a consistent basis.


The internal family that lives inside of you


Inside you are a whole multitude of parts that have developed within you over the course of your life, and that today constitute what I (thanks in large part to the therapeutic Internal Family Systems model) like to call your internal family.

One fundamental way to think about the types of parts that you have in your personality is to consider that you have:

  1.   Vulnerable parts that feel hurt and pain, and
  2.   Parts that protect these vulnerable parts from feeling more hurt and pain

And it’s one of these types of parts of our personality that tends to dominate and run our life. Can you guess which one?





Our protective parts mostly run our day-to-day life


Our who?! Do what?!

One of the main types of parts that we have inside of us and that constitute our personality are those parts who protect our vulnerable parts from feeling more hurt and pain. They’re called protective parts or protectors in Internal Family Systems therapy (or IFS), a type of therapy that has significantly influence how I practice helping myself and others to heal.

The intention of these protective parts, just as it is for all of our parts, is a good one. Just like other parts of us that may seem more hurt or vulnerable, these protective parts developed when we were young. They learned either that they needed to criticize or guard us as a means of protecting us from other people (Does this sound familiar? Do you have an inner part of you that tends to criticize you?), or that they needed to keep us away from certain experiences as a means of protecting us from feeling emotions like fear, shame, and sadness.

Despite their intentions being good, it's these protective parts that end up causing a lot of the issues we experience in our day-to-day lives. They criticize us, judge us, or lead us to people-please, for example, to manage how we come across to other people. They might also distract us and stop us from being present in our relationships, or guard us from potential pain, trauma, and triggers through various symptoms, obsessions, or aversions.

Take your inner critic for example. Your inner critic thinks that as long as it criticizes you into being who you’re supposed to be, you won’t get rejected or fail like you did in the past, and you won’t have to feel that horrible feeling of rejection again (We’d all agree that the feeling of rejection isn’t a pleasant one, right?.

Or take your nurturer for example. Your nurturer or nurturing part prefers to take care of everyone around you, except you, and this works to keep you from feeling and being with your own emotions.





What are some of your protective parts? Do you have an inner critic who badgers you no matter what you try to do? Or a nurturing part who takes care of everyone but you so that you don’t have to feel your probably uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions? Or a mean part who protects you from getting hurt by other people by keeping them at bay? Or a controlling part who manages your life and all of the people in it so as to prevent things from going awry?

No matter what they are for you, it's these parts of your personality that helped you survive a less-than-ideal past and it’s these parts of you that need the most attention when you set out to do emotional healing work.


It's these parts of your personality that helped you survive a less-than-ideal past and it’s these parts of you that need the most attention.


If You Don’t Want to Heal From Your Emotional Wounds, Do This


Our mainstream learning and media influences don’t work wonders for our self-understanding and ability to heal, and it’s because most of what we hear and see “out there” teaches us that we’ve got to force ourselves to change, to exert pressure in our transformation, and to “toughen up”, get motivated, and “just do it”. Well, I’m here to very candidly tell you that “just doing it” doesn’t work, definitely not in the long-term and very rarely, if ever, in the short-term too. Our inner family of parts doesn’t want to be pressured to change; it wants to be acknowledged and understood just as it is right now.


I’m here to very candidly tell you that “just doing it” doesn’t work, definitely not in the long-term and very rarely, if ever, in the short-term too. Our inner family of parts doesn’t want to be pressured to change; it wants to be acknowledged and understood just as it is right now.


Steps to Begin to Heal From Your Emotional Wounds





One of our first intentions then, and the focus of the remainder of this article, is getting to know the protective parts that we’ve accumulated over the course of our childhood and life… To get into an open and curious state of mind and heart and spend quality time with each of part of us rather than just trying to intellectualize everything in our life… To befriend each part of us and importantly, to understand it well enough to be able to express genuine appreciation for it. I know this very likely sounds a bit murky right now but not to worry— I show you the details of what this looks and sounds like below.


Please also know that it often helps to have a knowledgeable, loving guide along this process who can “hold space” for your thoughts, feelings, and transformation and who can help facilitate your inner work. I show you the steps that you can navigate on your own below and simultaneously encourage you to be mindful and aware of what you need personally for your own journey of transformation. Feel free to visit my coaching page and e-mail me at [email protected] with any questions or to begin working with me directly.


Here are the steps to start.


1. Get into a space of openness, kindness, and curiosity. The steps to come are somewhat of an inner dialogue that takes place between you and you, and it’s all about communicating with, understanding, and building a relationship with a part of you that has taken on a protective role in your inner family. And just like people in the external world, the people or parts in your internal world are much more likely to share and open up to you if they are approached with openness and kindness.

Find a comfortable space for yourself to be, take a few deep breaths, relax your shoulders, welcome an essence of bright light and love into your body, and let openness and kindness fill your soul.


2. Get in touch with a protective part of you that you’re aware of. When I’m working with a client, what I typically do is ask them to get a sense of how and where this part shows up in their body and mind… what thoughts and sensations accompany this part as it arises. This is a great way to engage somatic or body-centered awareness and give parts of us who want to intellectualize or analyze our experience a break.


3. Get to know what this part does for you. Every part of us exists for a reason and as I mentioned earlier, that reason is always a positive one (i.e., it wants to help, support, or protect you in some way). And so, get curious about how this protective part helps you. What does it do for you, and how?


Go ahead and ask it, for example, “What do you do for [Sophia]? How do you protect her?” [Insert your own name; I use my own here merely as an example]. Then, listen mindfully. Really hear what it does for you. Remember, you’re building a relationship with this part of you and mindful listening is a critical part of a healthy relational foundation— whether it’s between you and your romantic partner or between you and a part of you.


4. Uncover what happened that drove it into its role. It’s important to know that this protective part of you does what it does not because it’s its first choice to do this, but because it was driven into doing this based on something that happened in the past. It had no other choice. There is a need it is trying to fulfill for you and this is the way it learned to do it. And so, it helps us to find out what happened that led this part of you— whether your inner critic, your mean part, or your controlling part— to take on its extreme role.





So go on and ask it, “What happened that led you to adopt this role that you now have?” Again, listen intently and compassionately. Really hear what its history is and what led it to do what it does. If you feel genuinely inspired to do so, offer it understanding and compassion through words, gestures, or anything else that feels good to it and to you. Use this period of connection and communication to lay a foundation of trust between you and this part of you. The more that our inner family of parts trusts us, the more harmonious and balanced our movement through the world will be.


5. Understand what fear keeps it in its role. Ask this part of you, “What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t do this job or perform this role for [Sophia]?” By asking this question, you are getting to the core of why this part exists in the first place and bringing understanding to what continues to drive its behavior through this very day. When we can understand a fear that our part holds and can truly “get it” and empathize with it, we can truly support it in reaching a meaningful resolution.


6. Continue to build trust. Oftentimes parts of us get stuck in the past and as such, they don’t know that there is a wise, caring adult with an alignment to their soul who can care for the younger, hurt parts of us. To see if this might be the case with the protective part you’re spending time with right now, ask this part of you, “How old do you think [Sophia] is?” Then, you’ll know if you need to update it on your current age or if you can proceed to offer a supportive resolution of some sort (the next and last step, for now).


7. See if the protective part of you would be open to changing its behavior. Find out what change would be possible if this part of you knew that the hurt, vulnerable part/s of you that it’s been protecting were being taken care of, that their emotional burdens were being tended to by you. Usually our protective parts have no idea that they can support it in a different way than they have been. They’re tired of how they’ve been doing it, yet they don’t know that there’s another way.


So we’ve got to suggest to them that there might, in fact, be another way. Ask it, for example, “If [Sophia] were able to help the hurt part/s of her that you protect, is there anything else you’d rather spend your time doing?” Knowing that s/he doesn’t need to criticize and demean you into being a perfect person who avoids failure, maybe your inner critic wants to do something else like be an inner coach or advisor instead?


If you want to get to the heart of your issues in life, start by getting real and honest (and real honest :)) about the protective parts of your inner family that are running your day-to-day life and begin a compassionate dialogue with them, as I’ve described above. You don’t need to go through all the steps; all you need to do is start somewhere. Oftentimes, turning to a part of us and saying “I see you here and I know, in some way, that you’re trying to help me” can work wonders for how we feel and make sense of our inner world and how we act in the outer world. Compassionate dialogue with my own internal family is a major part of my own emotional healing work that I continue to do through this very day. If you have any questions about it, you can reach out to me at any time at [email protected]


I also hope you’ll share your realizations and revelations with me in my online community, The Happiness Hub. It’s where we come together and support each other to become more and more of the kinds of people we were meant to be and to live the lives of healing and happiness we were meant to live. I’ll see you there to continue the conversation!



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