The Beginner’s Guide To Self Energy

Tanner sitting by couch

I want to teach you how to discover your Self Energy. Self Energy is the magic to recovery. It’s what heals, what restores, what allows you to show up as your wisest self. 


I first experienced Self Energy while participating in a demonstration session playing the role of the client during my Level 1 IFS training last year. Despite reading extensively about IFS and working independently on Parts Work for almost a year prior, I lived my entire 45 years with virtually no access to Self Energy.


What is Self and Self Energy?


Let’s begin with some definitions: 


Self is your core that’s undamaged by trauma; innately what we were born with. It’s always there and, over time, Protective Parts and Wounded Younger Parts can make access to it challenging, as this is an adaptive developmental response to childhood trauma. True Self embodies, naturally and effortlessly, eight qualities: Compassion, Curiosity, Calm, Clarity, Courage, Connectedness, Confidence, Creativity.


Self Energy is the activation of True Self. Self Energy doesn’t have an agenda,  so it doesn’t maneuver for a specific outcome, and is not tied to things going a particular way with some sort of charge to it. Self Energy holds an open-hearted, deeply present and connected understanding that  whatever happens,, “It’s going to be okay.” Other literature and spiritual frameworks call it your “wise adult mind” or your “higher self.”


Self Leadership is the embodiment of the presence of Self Energy. Self Energy is the activation, the fuel, or the energy source, and Self Leadership is the day-to-day embodiment of Self Energy. For those of us recovering from complex trauma, this is what we’re so desperately seeking, even if we haven’t named it yet. Self Leadership is arriving at the place where you have such confidence and clarity, and you’re not continually second guessing yourself. It isn’t driven by frantic concern or doubt; rather, it’s calm, confident, and clear headed. You’re able to do hard things, you’re able to make challenging decisions, you’re able to create. I’ve come to understand how it’s super important for survivors to hold these energetic boundaries: “I’m here, I’m going to hold space for it, I’m not going to deny or dismiss your experience, AND I’m recognizing it’s not mine to take on.” Another way of putting this is “I care and I don’t carry.” 


How do we develop and tap into Self Energy?


First, identify your Protective Parts and your Wounded Younger Parts. Create space between the various Parts in your system and “you.” Once identified, you can work to “unblend” from them in your mind’s eye, witnessing and experiencing  them as separate Parts of you. If you haven’t experienced Self Energy before you can keep practicing this independently and eventually you will find Self Energy. Though not necessary, you can speed up the process by finding an IFS-trained guide, preferably with extensive experience working with complex trauma or a survivor with complex survivor and strong referrals.


As you practice Parts Work, notice the physical sensations in your body and identify any emotions you’re feeling. Repeat this several times a day for a few days. Setting an alarm on your watch or phone is helpful.


Next, close your eyes and scan your body for sensations. Often Parts express emotions, their point of view, or current experience through physical sensations. By identifying the Parts’ felt sense within your body, you start to personify your thought processing patterns.


Finally, experiment with “breathing” some space in your inner world. If you’ve never practiced meditative breathing, this looks like imagining your inhaled breath landing in a targeted spot within your body. It’s a way of bringing focus to a certain body part or sensation. The goal is to invite expansion and offer space for all Parts to exist. We never want to push parts away. Set an intention to create a little space between you, Self, and your Protective and Wounded Younger Parts.If you keep practicing this regularly, you will start to notice familiar feelings and thoughts.


How will you know you’ve tapped into your Self Energy?


An important thing to remember is that the presence of Self Energy does not equal the absence of Parts. Your Parts are always present (until they are unburdened and/or released from your inner world, which comes much later in the process).


Self Energy leads to Self Leadership, and Self Leadership provides you the energy to work with and for your Protective Parts and Wounded Younger Parts in real time. You can witness, validate, and befriend these Parts of you.


Here’s an example:


Let’s say my daughter freaks out because she hadn’t studied for a test.


At that moment I felt panic. A critical and worried Protective Part comes up critiquing me: “You’re responsible for this. You are a terrible parent.”


Connected to my childhood trauma, this part doesn’t trust Self. The Part is implying “I did this bad thing, I am a terrible parent, I should have…”


Self Energetic Self Leadership would sound like: “I hear you, and I think what you’re responding to is this big energy from [my daughter] and it’s a little overwhelming. I see this. It is real. I appreciate that you’re taking this so seriously, because it’s a big thing. And I want to validate that it is scary when our child is suffering and scared. It makes sense why you are panicking and trying to motivate me to act. If you could soften just a bit I know we can help her.”


Self Leadership allows me to hold space for the Part of me that is panicked by my daughter’s problem. The well-intentioned Part wants to solve the problem by shaming Self into action. With Self Leadership I can validate that Part’s perspective without taking it on as “true.” This is the embodiment of Attachment Restoration, because you’re doing internal work to restore trust in your own ability to lead yourself through things wisely, and you’re also leading yourself in the outside world. I’m building that relationship, continuing work towards restoring attachments between my Self and my Parts, and I’m also actively earning secure external attachments.


How do you know you are accessing your Self Energy?


You gauge Self Energy as a proportion, not an absolute value. What proportion of Self Energy is present in my system, compared to what proportion of Protective Part or Wounded Younger Part energy?


The higher the proportion of Self Energy, the calmer, clearer and more connected and confident you feel internally. How others respond to you can be a good benchmark for the presence of Self Energy. Even in challenging, stressful situations, Self Energy feels safe and secure. Other humans calibrate to this energy. It is attractive because of its soft strength.


Discovering and accessing Self Energy is a critical first step to recovery from complex trauma and experiencing optimal mental health. Without learning this foundational skill, you won’t have the Self Leadership needed to do the deep inner work of healing and do the tough outer work of building a life outside of your existing trauma ecosystem. When you access Self Energy you become your own most powerful recovery coach.

Before you step away and start tracking your physical sensations and emotions, make sure you leave a quick comment to let me know what you think of “The Beginner’s Guide To Self Energy.”

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1 thought on “The Beginner’s Guide To Self Energy”

  1. Thank you so much for this thorough and practical breakdown, Tanner! It helps me to understand more of what Self energy is and how it is the foundation for healing in parts work. The example of what Self Leadership would sound like is particularly useful, as it provides an outline of Self Leadership actually consists of – I always knew my younger wounded parts yearned for validation and I couldn’t quite make sense of it until I read your post. 🙂

    Thank you for this blueprint into how attachment plays into Complex PTSD recovery. Your generosity of knowledge helps to weave together the loose strands of information regarding healing I have gleaned over time into a more cohesive whole that starts to make sense in a whole new way. I really appreciate your work. Thank you and peace to you.


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