Are we there yet?
Updated: Mar 1
'"Are we there yet?" seems to have turned into '"Are we there already?' for me these years!! I never used to believe time would go fast in my youth but now I fully understand this phenomenon! Do you feel ready to move into the New Year yet? Where is 'there' for you?
As we look back over 2022, what stands out most on a personal level? An event, a situation, an emotion, a relationship loss, a learning, an achievement, a change of heart, mind or direction?
Many feelings, thoughts, sensations, responses may come up over this season as we move into a new year. I know there is a part of me that get restless at the thought of reflecting or planning, that dislikes attaching significance to the transition from one year to the next. Other parts of me are excited at this transition and the prospect of what the upcoming year may bring.
Memories come up from New Years Eve celebrations of the past and questions about what is different (and not) in the current year. As a pro-active part got me to look over the past year, I noticed another part that wonders how I ever navigated life or remembered anything at all in the past without Google Calendar to help! It is helpful to notice what parts of us take the lead in moments of review..an organiser, a planner, a critic, a daydreamer? A good perspective to invite in is gratitude. As Melodie Beattie, author says “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more.”
In a first therapy session, I usually ask a question about hopes and expectations for the sessions. We can ask ourselves the same question as we start a new year. One common way to do this is reflecting on what we want to take and what we want to leave behind. We may hear sentiments such as “I want to leave covid behind, the pain of …, the loss of… or “This year I'm going to achieve… feel….. act… " Fill in the blanks!
All of which can sound a lot like “I'm going to leave all the unpleasant, uncomfortable things behind me and focus on positivity, control and happy experiences and outcomes for next year. I'm also hoping/praying/manifesting that external events go our way and we intend to do everything possible to avoid painful situations, emotions or experiences.”
On face value this might seem perfectly reasonable..and a part of me agrees it is - loves the idea of staying away from and managing out pain. In Internal Family Systems (IFS) these are our managers..carefully implementing and actioning all sorts of strategies to keep things (ultimately our younger wounded selves) under control. Not to mention our firefighters or self soothers that come in with abundant gusto and enthusiasm to douse any flames of discomfort or pain that our hard-working managers have not caught or covered!
Yet I know that despite best intentions, this is rarely a recipe for joy and peace. It may sometimes be a temporary recipe for success in achieving goals, especially if other things fall into place. And of course we certainly need the parts of us who have taken on these protective roles in our system and serve us well in many ways. However when they take this extreme or black & white approach, there is a cost associated with this.
The overriding or sidelining of all the thoughts and experiences that don’t match the picture we want, means we are not accepting or making space for all of ourselves. Which ironically leads us into the new year on a back foot already!!
Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Non Violent Communication said “As long as I think I ‘should’ do it, I’ll resist it, even if I want very much to do it.”
The more 'shoulding' our managers do, the more fiesty and resistant our firefighters become. And in this dynamic, the more abandoned and overlooked, more vulnerable parts of us become.. parts that hold deep sensitivity, creativity and wisdom.
There is another thing about the self reflection ,self help and resolutions that social media/western culture leans towards. It is very often individually focussed. We may have heard that we can't change others and we need to focus on ourselves. This is true and it is also true that we are multiple.
Are we aware which part of us wants to change which other part of us? We grow as people in community- through our interactions, engagement and connection - and missed connections with others. That includes our inner community of critics, procrastinators, perfectionists, ambitious etc parts. To explore more about perspectives on individualism, goals and other ideas I recommend this Being Well podcast episode. The information is easily digestible and great food for thought.
Another observation about NY resolutions is they are usually behavioural focussed. What would it be like this year to move from what we want to do to who we want to be? In Non Violent Communication (NVC), I discovered a helpful concept of writing a 'needs' list alongside a to do list.
What basic human need is being met by cleaning the bathroom today? Order? Beauty? Contribution? You can find a list of our basic human needs here and maybe experiment with future ‘to-do’ lists! What needs would you like to be in touch with and have expressed through your actions and words?
As we consider the past year and the upcoming year, look at our to-do lists and even reflect on our needs, we are perhaps in a way wondering "are we there yet?' What does it mean for us to be 'there'? What parts of us want to be somewhere that we are not? What is missing for them?
Interesting (or not!) as all this may be, where does it leave us? Perhaps it offers an invitation to explore a different way of moving from the current to the new year, one that allows space for All of You. So that no parts are left by the wayside.
This is an opportunity to create an invitation to all parts of us to come along on the next part of our journey. Not just the popular, ‘cool’, positive thinking, smart, rational ones in our system. Not just the driven, good looking, productive, caretaking, 'socially appropriate', generous, warm, thoughtful, or motivated parts. But also our critical, hypervigilant, nitpicking, impatient, judging, explosive, non politically correct, compulsive, fearful, disorganised, jealous, obsessive parts. And the parts of us holding fear, sorrow, abandonment and heartbreak.
There will no doubt be some reluctance or pushback to this idea and we do not want to dismiss the concerns of these parts who see our life would be smoother or simply just much better off without these less shiny and bright parts of ourselves getting in on the act. However, we can let the concerned parts know, that, invited or not, the ‘less popular’ parts will be coming into the new year with us regardless. It is not actually even possible to just cut a part of us off and leave it in the past. Besides which, nobody and no part likes to be shut down, shut up, dismissed or ignored- even those who take it upon themselves to do precisely that to others both outside and inside us!!
The beauty of us being able to make space for all these parts of us, even when they are not impressed with one another, is that we are starting to create a sense of trust, safety and a pathway towards internal harmony, simply by this action of inclusivity and welcoming. What better way to enter into a new year?