Everyone seems to describe his or her family as kind of crazy. There’s the uncle no one’s seen in years. A “black sheep” cousin. Two aunts who don’t see eye to eye. An overprotective parent. A wayward sibling. Sometimes, it feels like we carry those people, or aspects of them, inside of ourselves. How we describe those aspects of ourselves is known as “parts” language (Schwartz, 1995; 1999). While we are integrated individuals, there are also aspects of ourselves that vary in terms of sentiments, motivations, and needs that often echo in small ways the variety one finds in a family. These aspects of ourselves reflect the ambivalence and complexity of our human experience; however, they may be all the more salient and troubling for those who are conflicted about experiencing same-sex attraction or identify as gay.
An individual experiencing challenges regarding a same-sex attraction may feel a range of emotions, like fear, shame, peace, longing, and uncertainty. The process of addressing these “parts” in sexual identity therapy involves identifying what activates each “part,” what each part’s drive is, and what it wants for the person. Perhaps the individual fears alienation from family or scrutiny from his or her religious community. Perhaps he or she longs to feel accepted by other communities and experiences a strong need for emotional intimacy with a significant other. Inevitably, the individual develops self-soothing habits to nurture or manage those parts along the journey for reconciling his or her multi-faceted identity. Disregarding the need to address or respond to these parts can lead to heightened psychological and emotional distress. Also, using maladaptive strategies could potentially harm the individual. Understanding one’s parts in this way enables an individual to truly appreciate his or her experience and most fundamental identity while traveling down the path of reconciliation between the various parts.
Schwartz, R. C. (1999). The self-to-self connection: Intimacy and the internal family systems model. In J. Carlson & L. Sperry (Eds.), The intimate couple (247-262). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal family systems therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.