Thinking Toys #11 — Self-Decomposition


When was the last time that you were examining an issue and noticed yourself becoming emotional? Maybe it was something like anger or frustration. Or it was a voice telling you how stupid you were or how obvious something is. Often times, there is more content behind these reactions than meets the eye. You are examining some set of parts and are being disturbed or distracted by others. There may be some conflict here. Focusing is a great way to start understanding this but many other skills help. One of them is learning to do what I call self-decomposition. When you find yourself unable to maintain attention on an individual part, it helps to step back. Treat everything that comes up as its own distinct part. Each is separate from You, the impartial observer. Rather than feeling dismissive or angry or frustrated, try seeing it as “some part of me is feeling dismissive.” Attend to each one in order, be curious and try to see what it perceives from its perspective.


My typical pattern is to have a reaction where some part I’m examining gets called “stupid” or “silly”. The best move is to then examine that name calling part. Rather than myself calling something stupid, I step back and notice “some part of me feels this is stupid”. Right away this reduces some of the associated tension. With this distance, I can examine it impartially to try to see what else it wants to say. As an example, I used to have a dominant frame of viewing religious ritual as silly. The Sabbath, keeping kosher, etc. This reaction dominated whenever I tried to understand the value of rituals. Only when I was able to make some distance between my “self” and the “silliness” reaction was I able to hear from it. It was trying to keep me from being “just like everyone else” — that part wanted me to be special and unique. This was nice to hear, so I accepted and appreciated it. And then was able to look at the merits of ritual without interruption. This allowed me to start to see ritual in a new light.


A variety of triggers can signal a new part arising and the potential need to create distance from it. Sometimes it’s an obvious emotion that overcomes you. If examining something makes you angry or sad, consider trying to treat it as just another part of you. Sometimes parts step in more subtly. If you keep seeking distraction or feel unease, that can be a clue. Paying attention to the patterns of how your mind moves when attending to issues will highlight your own unique triggers.


It’s important to distinguish self-decomposition from the psychological defense mechanism of dissociation. It is similar since dissociation allows you to avoid certain experiences — unpleasant emotions. The problem with dissociation is it tries to completely ignore the experience — that part of you. This prevents making progress by being able to curiously examine it and see what it is trying to tell you. When doing self-decomposition, we don’t want to completely hide parts from our awareness. We seek to hold them at arms-length rather than wearing them like clothes or hiding them like a mess in the closet.


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Also published on Medium.

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