Our Psychology Has Many Different Parts
Years ago when I started exploring my psyche through spontaneous collages, writings, drawings and paintings, I was astounded to discover all of the different parts of self that I had inside of me. As they all spilled out in visual form, I saw that not only did I have parts of different ages and temperaments inside, but also I had male and female aspects of self that were all struggling for expression.
Many parts that I had so expertly tucked away out of sight in the aim of living a highly functioning life, were often the younger, more hidden and hurting parts. There were many parts that I had exiled away because they felt unacceptable sorrow, loss, shame, fear, hurt, and anger.
Often popular psychology will not readily acknowledge that we all have a host of different characters inside of our psyches. Perhaps people fear the notion of having many different parts inside of the mind because of the stigma of multiple personality disorder, or as it is now called, dissociative identity Disorder.
All of us of us have part inside of ourselves that want different things, and we also have access to our True Self - our Core Self - that can witness our multiplicity with great care, creativity, and curiosity. Our Core Self is a dynamic and powerful force that can not only witness our parts, but can also lead them, re-parent them, and re-mentor them to heal, integrate, and give the gifts and strengths to our life that they were meant to bring.
Because we repress what we cannot accept about ourselves, those hidden parts of ourselves beg for self-expression and tend to distort themselves into what we might call our "inner demons". I am grateful to "Inner Family Systems" author, originator, and therapist Richard Schwartz for explaining how the family system of our inner parts interact so clearly.
Unfortunately most of us silently struggle with our repressed "inner demons" and secretly fear that we are crazy when the various repressed parts of ourselves become activated. It is common to hear people say after they do something extreme, "I just wasn't myself."
Most of us live highly controlled lives with only occasional emotional lapses into our inner pain. As we navigate through our lives, we develop very honed managerial parts of self that keep us functioning, working, paying the bills, and navigating our family dynamics. When we do something "crazy" or become flooded emotionally, our managerial parts of self become overwhelmed and lose control. We feel like we were "not ourselves".
Understanding that we have many selves inside can free us to explore and balance ourselves. Our multiplicity, once harmonized and accepted, makes us into one whole integrated piece. All of our parts are a valuable part of our inner ecosystem and they all want to play constructive inner roles. Problems arise when our inner parts are forced into extreme roles, especially if our lives have been influenced by trauma, difficulties, repression, disapproval, or challenges in our outer family system. Current challenging life events can activate our inner parts in an extreme way as well.
The theories encapsulated below are based on my understanding of the excellent work of psychologist Richard Schwartz:
Multiplicity is the inherent nature of the human mind. We all have an indeterminate number of sub-personalities, each having their own age, desires, temperaments, desires, goals and talents. These sub-personalities form our inner family system. Each part of ourselves - when accepted, listened and tended to - has a powerful gift to bring to our daily functioning in the world. When you create a life that allows safety of self-expression, you can begin to creatively map out how you work on the inside. You can learn how to be inclusive of all of your parts and discover the gifts and strengths inherent in the currently extreme and protective behaviors that wreak imbalance in your life.
The True Self is Larger than its Parts
In addition to the collection of parts that make up our psyches, each and every one of us has a True and Authentic Self. This is the wholeness that you are born with and the wholeness that you will return to when you die. The Authentic self has all of the potentiality to be a good leader of your internal system of psychological parts. If the parts of your personality can come to trust your True Self - you can experience a life of harmony, creativity, and profound self-love.
A beautiful and noble truth is that the inner parts of your personality are not bad or dangerous. Your inner parts love you and organize themselves to protect your Authentic Self at all costs. They will sacrifice themselves and their own safety to remove your Core Self from the awareness of emotional hurt and painful secrets. They will hold difficult emotions for you so you can function. They will help you disscociate from danger in the face of trauma. The tricky thing is your sub-personalities will often blend their extreme feelings and thoughts with your True Self, so that you think that you authentically your parts.
This is especially true of your "manager" parts of self. We all have very concise and controlled parts of our selves that manage a major portion of our functional lives. Our job is to differentiate our Authentic Self from our managing, protective, and emotional parts. Once the True Self has separated away from the feelings and thoughts of your personality parts, the parts regain their trust of the True Self and Authentic Self-Leadership and inner harmony is restored.
You can think of your authentic self as a mediator that seeks to depolarize the conflicts of your inner parts and helps to sort out all of the varying needs that you have inside. Our parts of self do not disappear when our True Self takes up leadership. They simply become less extreme and they begin to reveal their unique gifts and purposes within their less extreme roles. Sometimes particular parts of ourselves can develop their gifts so profoundly they can even step into the leadership at times when given permission from our True Self. They will also withdraw from leadership when the Self requests it.
When outer influences intrude, either from our current life or from our family of origin, such as in outer derogatory attitudes, prejudices, unrealistic expectations - or when unkind or traumatic interactions happen - our inner parts can take over leadership from our Authentic Self. These inner parts can also take on historical family losses and burdens and outer family system depressions and emotional heaviness. As one part of self takes on an extremely protective role it unbalances the entire inner system and takes over the leadership responsibilities from the Authentic Self. When the parts of self become polarized, intense inner conflict and inner competition ensues within the psyche.
When the people that we love primarily live, identify, and express from one extreme part of themselves - we will find ourselves adjusting our personalities to balance them. This throws us out of balance - or off center. When our outer interactions are unbalanced and non-inclusive, we move out of our center Core Self to compensate and harmonize with our group or family system. The same thing happens in our inner system. When trauma occurs and we are abandoned, rejected, shocked, scared, or abused physically, sexually or emotionally - our inner systems polarize as well.
It is quite profound how the parts of our psyche mobilize forces to protect the precious Authentic Self. As Richard Schwartz explains it - any human system will mobilize to protect its leadership - which is the the Core Self. "Imagine a tribe of inner people of various ages and degrees of vulnerability, led by an Core Self." Schwartz writes, "In the face of danger, the tribe moves the Self to a place of safety and certain parts come forward to deal with the danger."
The Three Group Ecology
Highly polarized inner systems are very rigid and defended. To try to change any part of yourself without considering the inner system that it operates in - will activate resistance. It is helpful to be respectful towards the parts of yourself that feel scared and defended as they are just trying to do their job to keep you safe. Most people are polarized in their internal systems. Here is how Swartz describes the Three Groups:
Any part that was hurt, rejected, scared, or shamed as child will often go into hiding and be repressed. These highly charged emotional sub-personalities become the exiles of our inner family system. These exiles are often overwhelmed with feelings of rejection and unlovability. Like any exiles, these parts become desperate to express themselves. They long for opportunities to break free and share their stories and their pain. They desperately want to be loved, listened to, accepted, and cared for. Often exiles also carry most of the feelings for the inner family system, because the other more managerial parts of self often dump their unwanted feelings onto the exiles to get on with the process of functional living.
These hurt and rejected inner parts are very vulnerable and if they are not brought forward into the light of consciousness with care and maturity they can flood us with uncomfortable feelings and memories. They are also in danger of looking for love in unhealthy ways. They tend to want to look to redeem their inner pain in same kinds of unhealthy situations that hurt them in the first place. These hurt and exiled parts of self will seek love, acceptance, and protection from the very types of people that cannot give it to them. This sets up a hopeless and repeating pattern of both inner and outer rejection.
Many people mistakenly think that their manager sub-personalities are their Authentic Selves as they can often be quite highly functioning and even inspiring at times. Managers however, live in constant fear and dread of the escape of the exiles. It is important to note that manager parts of self do not accept all parts of the self like the Authentic self does. Managers try to control life in such a way as to avoid any person or situation that might trigger the pain of the past. This control and repression can often look very noble, spiritual, creative, and highly achieving. Highly functioning manager selves can fill our lives with edifying and creative activities that in the end feel empty, because they are done from avoidance, instead of self-acceptance.
Managers can be highly functioning and efficient in the world. They can accomplish great things - but in an unbalanced way - that is out of touch with the Authentic Self. Managers in contrast are a forced and extreme role that polarizes away from inner pain and inner self-rejection. Managers must expend enormous amounts of energy to keep the repressed need, hurt, fear, and painful memories and sensations buried. From this managerial place we strive, control, try to be a perfectionist, or to gain approval, or we live in a rigid denial of what is arising within.
Managers must sacrifice themselves for the internal system and they can rarely relax. The more competent these managerial parts become, the more the internal system relies on them and the more the Authentic Self is denied. Most often from a managerial part we can feel lonely, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Like the exiles, our managers need love, balance, nurturance, fun, acceptance, care and rest. These managers - only being a part of self - come to believe that everything depends on them. The more they accomplish the less they believe in - or are willing listen to - the wisdom of the Core/Authentic Self.
When our managers become overwhelmed and exhausted with all their responsibilities, the exiles can become activated and can threaten to take over our internal psychological system. When the exiles take over we can be uncontrollably flooded with difficult feelings. The emergency firefighters will then swoop in to help us dissociate, or to douse the dreaded exiled feelings, with little regard for their consequences. The techniques that the firefighter uses, include extreme and numbing activities such as self-mutilation, binge eating, drug or alcohol abuse, or excessive eating or sexual activity. The aim of your firefighter part of self is to engage in any dissociative, distracting, or self-serving activity that will take you out of your intense emotional pain.
This mode of coping with inner pain is the place that all addictive and obsessive behaviors come from. And while mangers are controlled and organized and highly rational, firefighters will use any means to numb our emotional pain. These extremely self-focused behaviors often leaves a wake of destruction in a person's psyche and relationships. You can see why going within and feeling and listening to your inner pain is a necessary practice to incorporate into your life. Most people, even those who have not been severely hurt, organize around this three-group system. Most of us struggle against some form of self-rejection and repression and work within these three groups.
Restoring Balance, Harmony, and Leadership
Our psychological system already has everything encoded within itself to heal. Even the most conflicted inner internal psychological system can heal itself if the process of listening to all sides of your inner world is honored. When your Authentic Self takes It's true seat of leadership you will likely enjoy the process of seeing and expressing the creative multiplicity of yourself. Through inner self-acceptance, the gifts and strengths that you buried along with your pain are finally able to come to the forefront for expression in your daily life.
It is profoundly relieving to discover firsthand that all parts of yourself want to harmonize and contribute to your best life. Every part of us has a valuable role to play and each part will eagerly leave their extreme roles given the love, self-acceptance, and inner nurturing that you can provide from your Core Self.
It is most helpful however, to do this inner work when you are not living in a dangerous or triggering environment. Parts will have a hard time leaving their roles when they are continually be activated by other people. Often it is important to find a quiet time away from the stresses of your life to explore your inner parts.
Learning to unravel all of the different stories, imagery, and voices of my own and other people's inner landscapes is something I feel creatively passionate about. I have found spontaneous collage and free-form writing for example to be very effective tools for revealing the hidden and repressed parts of the self. Private journaling is often an excellent option to explore yourself in private to learn how to love and positively create from the profoundly designed and well-meaning multiplicity of yourself.