Individual Counseling: Tripartite Self—Simple yet Effective Way to Understand Yourself

Did you know that we are born with self-love? Did you know that we are literally pre-wired to feel the sense of calm, content, compassion, curiosity, clarity, and creativity? So why is it that we often hate ourselves, shame ourselves, feel crippling anxiety, an inability to move forward, and profound confusion?

I want to introduce you to a simple concept that might help you organize and understand yourself a little better. Let’s imagine that there are three selves—the Core Self, the Wounded Self, the Present-Day Self. One of my great teachers, SueAnne Piliero, calls it Tripartite Self.

The Present-Day Self is known as Chronological Self or the Adult Self. At any given moment, our Present-Day Self is bound up with the Wounded Self or is leaning towards the Core Self energy—optimal self.

SueAnne explained that The Core Self is the unconditional self that starts to exist at birth, and it is independent of experience. It is just who we are. Just as humans are born with an inherent deep structure of language already existing within them (and the particularities of their specific language only come to fruition through repeated acts of communication), the deep structure of the self exists at birth, and we become who we are now by repeated acts of mirroring with the caregiver.

The Wounded Self develops when trauma happens (such as being abused or assaulted, witnessing abuse, being neglected as a child, or simply being consistently dismissed or ignored). In the response to trauma the Wounded Self is created, and the Present-Day Self leaves the Core Self, even though the Core Self NEVER leaves you.

When I hear my clients say: “It was all my fault,” “I don’t deserve to be loved,” “I am unworthy,” “I am a mistake,” “I am either too much or not enough,” I know that their Present-Day Self left their Core Self (when our Present-Day Self has access to our Core Self, we KNOW deeply inside that we are lovable, worthy, and enough!). These untrue, yet extremely painful beliefs, usually get constructed when the environment around us is overwhelming, unpredictable, and unsafe. After all, if a caregiver is struggling with severe depression, for example, and the child is left alone a lot and forgotten, wouldn’t it make sense for that child to internalize that and create a belief that the reason why they are uncared for is because there is something wrong with them? Remember, children’s brains are not yet developed enough to take a wider perspective. They simply cannot yet understand that they reason why they are neglected is because their mom is sick. Thankfully, eventually, they start seeing the truth about the sad reality of their parent’s illness; however, by the time they start seeing it, that belief that they are unlovable or unworthy of attention sprouted its first roots. If, later in life they happen to get into a romantic relationship with a partner who is easily distracted, for example, they will be quicker to assume that it must be because they are unworthy of their full attention.

While doing individual counseling, I help clients see how the pain of the Wounded Self is an expression of the mismatch between the conditions that the Core Self expected to meet (to get an attuned, loving and carrying attention/feedback) and the actual traumatic experiences of life. It is also very important to notice that the biggest wound of all is derived from the meaning we all make from these less-than-ideal experiences. Have you ever asked yourself “Why me” or “What did I do to cause this”? If you have, I want to invite you to step into your Present-Day Self and answer that question from that space, and NOT from the space of your Wounded Self that holds untrue beliefs about you.

In individual counseling, we identify Tripartite Selves and practice noticing which Self is at the forefront of our attention. We work on shoring up the Present-Day Self, so that it can stand firmly connected to the Core Self. We practice un-blending and separating the Present-Day Self from the Wounded Self, so that from that place, we can heal, support, and care for the Wounded Self. We do that by updating the nervous system and surrendering to the corrective truths. Most importantly, we are actively undoing aloneness and reconnecting with the Wounded (yet often rejected) parts of us, so that they can be re-integrated to our lives.


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