Who’s On Stage?

Who's On Stage

Who’s On Stage?

By Nancy Rosenberg December 6, 2022 12.06.2022 Share:
Communication Compassion Conflict Counseling Couples Growth Internal Family Systems Parts Work Reflection Therapy

Set the Stage

At a moment’s notice, any given situation can elicit a variety of different reactions from within. Think for a moment about such a situation. You encounter an aggressive driver as you commute to work. You might react in any number of ways. Maybe you flare up in anger (“what a jerk!”). Perhaps you wonder if they’re having a hard day (“they might be late for a meeting so that’s why they cut me off”)? Ultimately, all of us have a chorus of voices in our minds. There is great value in realizing you have a choice about which voice you listen to, or who’s on stage, at any given time.

Richard Schwartz, who developed Internal Family Systems, pioneered this type of therapy, often referred to as “parts work.” The idea is that we can become intentional about who is on center stage in our minds, and whose voice we listen to.

Check the Cast

Imagine this: your conscious mind is a circle with a horizontal line drawn through the center. The top half of the circle is the stage, and who is on stage is the voice you are currently listening to. Meanwhile, the remaining 10-15 characters fill the bottom half of the circle. You might recognize some of these characters. There’s a fierce critic, a generous helper, a caregiver, a wounded child, and a harsh taskmaster. Maybe there’s an aggressive fighter, an organized manager, an accountant, or an impulsive teenager. Maybe within you is a wise sage. You might recognize a lazy and unmotivated character, one who drinks too much, or one whose motivation is wealth, status, and appearances. All of these characters serve different purposes in our lives. Some are helpful, others are hurtful, and some are useful depending on the circumstance.

Pick the Part

Parts work can be particularly useful with couples who struggle to connect and communicate effectively. In choosing who we allow on stage, we can decide whether we listen to a destructive character or give voice to that which is useful and deserving of being heard. Practically speaking, in conflict, do you wish to allow your wounded child on stage? Alternatively, is it possible your wise sage would serve you better by being in the spotlight?

With parts work, we aim to help you take control of the stage in your mind as you learn to choose whose voice gets to be heard. Parts work can help empower you to choose how you want to show up in different interactions. Becoming aware of your center stage may alert you to a character who’s been in command, yet isn’t serving you anymore.

The next time you find yourself in a challenging interaction, consider asking yourself, “Who’s on stage?”


If you’d like to discuss Internal Family Systems, Parts Work, or any other matter in more detail, schedule an appointment with Nancy here.

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