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Tackling Anxious Thoughts with Parts Work

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Let’s talk about how Parts Work can help you get anxious thoughts out of your head.

The basis of Parts Work is simply that there are different parts of you, a part of you may be happy, a part of you may be sad, a part of you may be angry. One of the key strategies in Parts Work is to identify those parts so that we can work with them and heal them.

One of the ways I like to identify the parts and work with them is to actually externalize them from the body and get them out of your head.

Have you ever felt like your brain is full of all this Information, swirling, confusing ideas, sometimes conflicting feelings and ideas, and it’s just too much to keep track of? Well, this is an exercise that you can do to get all of that out of your head. I’m going to show you my super magical fun way of doing it. I’ll tell you ways that you could do it at home if you don’t have a bunch of toys like I show in the video.

Let’s jump in. We’re going to talk about how to get all of those chaotic feelings, thoughts and parts out of our bodies and externalize them. My favorite way to do that is using the Sand Tray.

Sand Tray is just simply a tray filled with sand. You will need two things:

  1. A Sand Tray.
  2. You need toys.

It’s an excuse for me to buy some super cool fun toys when I see them. if you don’t have a Sand Tray and a bunch of toys at home, like who doesn’t? Then I’ll teach you a way to do it with everyday goods to get this chaos out of our heads and start to work with it in a strategy called Parts Work.

An example of how I use Sand Tray with these figurines and these toys is with one of my clients. We’re going to call her Sue. Sue was having a lot of emotional angst and stress and anxiety about her mom. Her mom and her had a tumultuous relationship for many years and she was 20 something years old when she decided to leave home and pursue a life of independence.

When she was talking about the guilt, this part (the guilty part) would come up and she’d start to notice this overwhelming feeling of guilt, innocent grief, but then that was immediately crushed by this overwhelming physical symptom where her throat felt like it was constricting and then there’s this weight on her chest.

We have two different things happening here. It felt very overwhelming for her and they felt like they were kind of overlapping on each other. It was hard to talk about these different parts, so we externalize them.

We looked through the tray and every good sand tray should have a snake and maybe a bridge fence, all sorts of different things. She’s looking through the sand tray and when she picks out the representation of the guilty part, she actually picked up the frog. When we’re looking at part, sometimes what you actually select can be really profoundly helpful. 

We then set it on the tray and then we just simply examine it and we say:

What does this frog want us to know?

What are its unmet needs?

How old was I when this frog came out?

What is this frog attempting to do?

You pull that feeling, that thought, that part out of your head and you put it in some sort of a visual representation and then you just simply explore it.

As you remember, there’s another part that came up, too, and it was that part that was crushing her, her throat, her chest, and it was overwhelming her and so she went into the Sand Tray and she picked out this bear. The bear felt like it was aggressive, roaring, pushing down, and counteracting those feelings of guilt, and she put it in a tray and then when she placed them, she placed them facing each other like they’re heading off on each other, which made a lot of sense given her experience. Now we’re starting to play out the story that’s going on in her head and she’s putting it in the tray and she’s able to externalize it and examine it.

One of the gifts of parts work is that sometimes the bear part or whatever that is for you, will come up and stop the frog part from expressing. She was trying to express and deal with these feelings of guilt and this other part stopped the process. A lot of counselors and therapists will just talk to the bear, they don’t pay any attention to the frog and then people continue feeling symptomatic and they don’t get well.

This advanced technique allows us to identify there’s a frog there and there’s a bear and very likely lots of other parts. We could start to engage in this exercise with ourselves and start to externalize the thoughts and feelings we’re having and visually display them.

Not all of you have fantasies at home and not all of you have buckets of toys. Let me tell you a fun way that you can do this pretty easily. One is just simply getting a piece of paper and some colored pencils, markers, pens or just a pencil, whatever you have. When you have a feeling coming up, whether it’s the frog or the bear or anything else, write the word or draw the feeling, sometimes just simply scribbling out on a piece of paper the way that that feeling is and then just looking at it is enough. It can be so profoundly helpful and insightful.

Then you start to think of the other part and then you add it. This is another technique that you can use on your own at home when you’re having parts and feelings come up and then start to get to know them and work with them.

We talk a lot about this in the ACT method. It’s a course that I have on anxiety. Check out the Anxiety Breakthrough Program now!

Here’s to your next chapter,

Dr. Nicole

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first. Dr. Nicole Cain consults with clients locally and internationally. Dr. Nicole Cain ND MA has helped countless people take back control of their lives, and she can help you. To set up a complimentary consultation, call our office or visit https://drnicolecain.com/getting-started to schedule online.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational video e-courses, books, and exclusive free Facebook group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.