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8 Qualities to Unlock Your True Self

Learn how these qualities can help you tap into your true self.

Key points

  • Different parts of one's internal family system can hinder the ability to access self-energy.
  • Even though one's parts may "act out," they are meant to be resources for the self.
  • Many people experience a sense of calm, centeredness, and connection to who they are once they embrace their parts and tap into the self.
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Before we get into what is deemed the "eight Cs of self-leadership" in internal family systems or IFS, we need to give a brief overview to expand your understanding of the self in IFS.

When I do this type of work, most of my patients initially doubt that they even have self-energy. They have been blended with their different parts (exiles, managers, and firefighters) for so long that they don’t know what it feels like to be self-led.

Self-energy exists in everyone. While life may have burdened us in various ways and caused our parts to act out in extreme ways, they are actually meant to be a resource for the self. Once we unburden the part of ourselves we call the "exile" and our parts no longer feel the need to act in extreme ways, all parts can settle down.

It’s important to know that all parts are welcome and this isn’t about any part of us being bad or wrong. We aren’t removing any part of ourselves. It’s like the saying, “wherever you go, there you are.” You carry yourself and your parts everywhere you go. If there is a young part of you that carries the burden of the shame you felt from your parents growing up, she’s not bad. She’s trying to help you at her core. She has self-energy, too. Perhaps she also carries much of your curiosity, which is a quality of the self we will get into as you read on. This is not about the rejection of our internal world; it’s about embracing it.

As you’re trying to learn how the self feels for you, it’s important to note that many people experience a sense of calm, centeredness, and connection to who they really are underneath it all once they tap into the self. Our different parts are usually tied to an agenda in a way that the self is not. For example, say you’ve been dating a man for a few months and he decides that he’s no longer interested. You may have parts focused on getting him back: You’re stalking his Instagram to see if he’s dating anyone else, and you’re low-key friends with his cousin on Facebook trying to catch any scraps about his comings and goings. Those are signs of your parts at play. Their agenda is to get him back regardless of if that’s actually beneficial to you or not. The self, in contrast, is able to see the whole picture in a way that parts cannot.

Now let’s get into the qualities of self-leadership. I want to be clear that there could be other ways to describe the self, but the following will at least get you started. Note that any one quality of self-leadership can lead to the others—they don’t exist in a vacuum.

1. Curiosity

The first quality of self-leadership we will discuss is curiosity. Remember that agenda I mentioned earlier? When you’re truly curious, you have an absence of an agenda to change another person’s behavior. Instead, you genuinely want to understand it. You have an openness to the world and you’re curious about other people and why they do what they do instead of being upset with them.

For example, there are politicians who I don’t agree with—and this is not to say I’m never upset because I have parts like anyone else—but mostly, I’m curious. I think about what makes them who they are, the time period and location of their formative years, their race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion—all these elements that have defined their experiences on the planet. With all that in mind, what they do starts to make sense to me.

2. Compassion

The next quality we will discuss is compassion. Compassion requires us to look beyond the reactive, angry parts of one another and recognize what's underneath. In many cases, the reactive parts are responding to a true pain or fear for that person. Compassion is also exhibiting care for the suffering of others and having a genuine desire to help.

3. Confidence

The third C is confidence. This involves relating to parts and people in ways that are effective and healing. It’s also trusting that despite making mistakes, you’re inherently worthy and good. Inside your system, the self trusts in its own capabilities and competence even when other parts may have their doubts.

I experienced this for myself recently. I was the guest speaker at an event with several amazing musicians hosted by a well-known drag queen. There were so many parts of me that were nervous, especially my introverted parts. My job was to answer questions from the audience about mental health, and that kicked up some of my imposter syndrome parts as well. In preparation and while full of these feelings, I did a mindfulness exercise and allowed myself to feel my self-energy, and I simply knew it was all going to be okay. I went on stage and was myself, and that was more than enough. I answered every question and made everyone laugh a few times. I even made a joke about my parts, saying, “I’m an introvert and I hate people, but I’ll teach you how to love yourself.”

4. Calmness

The next quality of self is calmness. I tell people all the time that there is nothing better than peace. When you experience peace inside, it’s like laying in fresh sheets from the dryer, the perfect bite of a waffle cone, or the sound of the trees when you’re in the middle of a forest. When you’re locked into this C, you can feel a sense of internal peace. Additionally, calmness is about being grounded and centered in the face of stressful parts or situations. Going back to my previous example, after the first few seconds on stage, I thought, “I’m here now,” and in that moment felt myself settle into my calm. My anxious parts thought that being on stage for 12 minutes was so long, but when I embodied my self-energy, it might as well have been 12 seconds because it flew by.

5. Creativity

Part of what I realized when I allowed myself to emerge on stage that night was that I’m naturally funny, charismatic, and can think on my feet. This leads me to the next C, which is creativity. I had to encourage my protective parts to chill and let go of these burdens about unworthiness or fears that I would be found out or shown to be not good enough. This allowed me to be free to realize my full creative potential and embrace the novelty of the situation. I was able to banter with the host and provide important mental health information to the attendees. Reading this, you may be thinking, “Dr. J, you give information on your podcast every week so you must be somewhat entertaining some of the time.” That’s the problem with parts—in their haste, they sometimes rush past the objective truth to an imaginary hellscape of our own making.

6. Courage

This is why you need courage, which is the next C. When you embrace this quality of self-leadership, you approach scary situations or parts that hold onto fear and respond to them more intentionally. You also have the ability to hold a balance when addressing them and the world. You can apologize for any negative impact of your parts while also standing up for injustices that may have been faced. If someone makes a comment that hurts my feelings and I yell at them, I can apologize for yelling while also maintaining that their comment was hurtful.

7. Clarity

Clarity is the next quality. We want to maintain an unobstructed view, a clear view of parts and situations. In doing so, we aren’t projecting any of our fears or baggage onto this reality. We are seeing everything as it truly is.

8. Connectedness

Last but not least is connectedness. This is about recognizing that we are all connected, and that separateness is an illusion. In embracing connectedness, we connect to all parts of ourselves and to other people. We also have the desire to reconnect in healthy ways if disconnection has occurred.

The eight Cs of self-leadership above are qualities everyone can cultivate, and as they get stronger, so will your sense of self.

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