How to Listen When Parts of You Need Attention


There are parts of me that are fearful and others that are adventurous. Some parts are angry or critical. Others are hopeful or wise.

Sometimes certain parts show up more dominantly than others—in my life the fearful parts tend to be the loudest. Whether a specific parts seems to be the only one visible or hard to even find, they are all parts of who I am.

It’s tempting to want to shut up, squash down, or completely get rid of certain parts of ourselves and to only acknowledge the ones we like best. But all parts of us are there for a reason and we can learn a lot by actually listening to what they have to say. That can mean addressing the concerns of the loudest voices so they can relax a little bit or making space to hear the parts of ourselves that tend to get buried under all the noise.

One of my favorite ways to listen to what the different parts of myself have to say is through the dialogues journaling technique. Dialogues are basically written conversations between ourselves and another entity or even between two of those inner parts.

In your journal you can dialogue with a part of yourself, such as your inner critic, or an emotion, such as fear or anger. You can also dialogue with your career, an illness or body part, an object, another person, an aspect of society, or a creative block. The possibilities are really endless.

On the page dialogues look much like the script for the play, going back and forth asking questions and giving responses. It can feel strange at first to have a conversation in which you are writing the words of both sides. I’ve definitely wondered what the point is since all the words are coming out of my own head. And yet, I find that I learn so much from making space to listen to one part of myself without any distractions.

Looking back at the fable from last week, I might spend time in conversation with the timid little mouse to find out exactly what she’s so afraid of and how we might start to address those fears. I might also talk to the big brave adventurer to discern what specific things I long to explore that are getting covered by my fear so we can make a plan to start pursuing them. I could even set up a conversation between those two parts of myself to give them a chance to speak freely to each other.

Most frequently I use dialogues to converse with my inner critic to get to the root of where her criticisms are coming from and to establish boundaries for how she talks to me. I also spend time dialoguing with my inner mentor. I’m learning to coach myself through situations when I feel stuck and need some guidance. It’s surprising how helpful I can be to myself when I focus on listening to the wisest parts of me instead of just the loudest.

This week I’d like to invite you to try having a dialogue with a part of yourself. Again, this might feel strange at first, especially if you’re not used to journaling. Remember that your journal is for your eyes only and we can learn a lot when we’re willing to be a little uncomfortable.

Treat this exercise like you would a conversation with a valued friend. Choose a pleasant space to write and a time when you won’t be rushed. You might find it helpful to take a moment to visualize the part of your personality or emotion or whoever it is you’ll be talking to. Maybe give her a name or ask him what he would like to be called. (My inner critic appreciated a chance to choose a new name for herself after we’d had a few conversations.) Then say hello and get started.

Ask questions and listen to responses. Feel free to share your own opinions and be willing to answer questions asked of you. Listen carefully and don’t let other parts join the conversation. They can have their turn to speak later. It’s important to be respectful—remember that you are communicating with a part of yourself and the point of this exercise is to make space for that part to be heard without judgment or repression.

That said, you can absolutely set boundaries around how those parts can talk to you. No one likes to be called names or treated rudely. Kate Swoboda suggests that we ask our inner critic to Redo, please when it isn’t speaking to us in a respectful way. It is absolutely ok to say something along the lines of, I really want to hear what you have to say, but it’s hard for me to listen to unkind words. Would you please tell me again in a respectful way?

At the end of your conversation finish up the exercise by thanking the part for her time and asking whether she would be willing to talk again in the future. This not only helps that part feel heard, but also starts building trust that you will continue to be listen in the future.

How did this exercise go for you? What did you learn? How did it feel to interact with a part of yourself in this way?