Empathizing 2.0: Listening to the Different Voices in our Heads

Part One in Three-Part Series

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
Marshall Rosenberg

Marshall Rosenberg, as part of his sharing NVC (Nonviolent Communication), talked about us all having two parts, “The Chooser” and “The Educator.” The Chooser is the part that makes choices about what we say and do, choosing what will hopefully meet our needs. The Educator is the part that is not always happy about those choices, and may have thoughts, judgements, blame and even demands about how we acted and the choices we made. The “Educator”  (although not using the most constructive or compassionate methods) is attempting to “educate” us about how to behave “better” in the future. Ultimately, the Educator wants to protect us. 

Most of us I find have multiple internal Educators. These Educators have judgments about our choices, and then also judge ourselves for judging. Then we can have Educators judging us about how long we’ve taken to “still” not know or have learned something! (“How many times until I get this right?!”). While there can be others, I find these three kinds the most common and often come together: judging our words or actions; judging ourselves for judging ourselves; and then judging ourselves for not developing mastery sooner. 

Given this, at workshops I often share a process that I call “navigating the internal committee system.” Looking at these voices as an “internal committee system,”  and mapping out what each voice is saying, helps to hear and empathize fully with each part. This is important so each part experiences being heard. It’s the same process/principle when doing a mediation. The mediator supports each party in the mediation being heard. In effect, when practicing self-empathy, we are doing an internal mediation. 


More recently (over the last 10 years) I have further deepened this “parts” or internal mediation work by empathizing with younger parts.  I find it helpful to look for these younger parts when I am intensely or habitually triggered by a situation. This activated part is connected to what I call “fossilized” needs — needs that went unheard and/or unmet years ago and got “stuck” or frozen (indicating trauma). Our unconscious is looking for an opportunity to resolve (be heard and held, compassionately) for those needs that were left “up”– sometimes decades before. We are hard-wired to seek healing and restoration. 

Photo by Jossuha Théophile on Unsplash

When practicing self-empathy in this way,  I find it very helpful to actually look for and imagine the younger part in detail. What are they wearing? What are they doing? And what would a caring adult say to that child in that moment that would be helpful or restorative? What does the child (the younger part) want and need to hear or do? Often, in some form these younger parts are desiring understanding, acceptance, love and connection — and, perhaps most significantly, to be seen and know they’re not alone. 

Alternatively, when another person is triggered, I also find it helpful to imagine in my mind’s eye that person also as a young person. What would I would say — and how would I act — as a caring adult in relation to this young person? Imagining the other as a young child helps me more easily enter the space that Marshall talked about, of “seeing each other as beautiful” and finding the best in each other. 

What if we all treated each other with the care and respect that we would want young people to be treated  — and yearned for ourselves (when we were young)?  

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

When I was in Taiwan teaching NVC this year and last, I learned that in Mandarin the word for “child” literally translates to “our little friends.” What if we all treated our own younger parts, and others’s younger/triggered parts, as “friends”? For me, this is a shortcut to empathy for myself and others. 

This blog is the first in a three part series. The next two are by guest blogger Dorset Campbell-Ross. 


2 thoughts on “Empathizing 2.0: Listening to the Different Voices in our Heads

  1. Pingback: Empathizing 2.0: Soothing our Younger Parts when Overwhelmed | Work Collaboratively

  2. Pingback: Empathizing 2.0: The Love-Fear Spectrum of Feelings | Work Collaboratively

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