Sub-personalities (or Personas) are the range of different sides, aspects, roles or fixations we all have. We may consider them a mood, a preoccupation, a dream or a fear of something. They exist as elements within what I am calling here the Autopilot type aspects of self. They include a wide range: the styles to be found in our strengths, vulnerabilities, hopes, expectations - even our personal or cultural myths. A key first beginning aspect of psychotherapy (or of your own personal growth journey) is about helping yourself find ways to get these part-selves more "together" - in harmony.
What this will mean at first is helping them to not be fighting each other - or else in conflict with a persona in someone else in your life! From there one is then assisting them to have increasing cross connection, thus to have access to your inner place of integrity, what I would term your Middle - frequently referred to as one's Gut... In the model I have developed of this Autopilot ecosystem, while the Personas interact with each other in numerous ways, one finds them operating from two "levels" in experience, one based in our biological reality, the second created by one's reflective thinking and feeling. I call these the more Base, i.e. Dinobrain "knee jerk reactive" type layer and then the relatively more mature Inner Balance - clearer "mind and heart" layer. We experience the two types of Personas (in self or others) respectively as the more Mindless parts of us and then the more attempting to be Mindful parts. Harmony comes as we are more able to balance all of these aspects of ourselves...
Please note: Meeting with someone in person I would not necessarily be mentioning Personas and so forth unless someone asked. I'm offering that here for those of you looking for a perspective or for this kind of resource on the web, whether or not you see a therapist.
In order to be able to find out which of these aspects of self are creating which dilemmas that you'd like to resolve, it can sometimes help to know more about who all is there within you(!) You can reflect on what types of hopes, fear and ambitions are there, what is important to you in how you see yourself. You can try our seeing how you would "name" who's there. Please note, however, for some people having an explicit "naming" of one's personas will not feel helpful... so listen to your own reactions to that idea here - as to whether it feels like it may help.
As I address on the "Images" page here, Persona type aspects of self at the perhaps more Dinobrain level (like the dominant "I want to always be in charge" or else one's sense of victim self, "I could never be in charge") can keep us stuck, unable to grow. There may well be some of these sub- personalities that you don't even know about... Unfortunately, it can be those ones which might be the most problematic! If you reflect honestly you may perhaps uncover a "Nasty" or a "Hopeless" side (i.e. a persona) to yourself that you would prefer not to see yourself as having! There can be a vast range: say from an Always Pleasing Others persona to one who is Jealous of Everyone. So as you reflect on this, a good starting place is to first of all take a conscious inventory (as much as you can) of your various sides, moodinesses; your hopes, dreams or fears you work on. This can include the ones that you Know About You( ! ) as well as ones who are less obvious - say by considering what some other people might accuse you of having in the way of personas. For that last option, please include the possibility that the other people are inaccurate - or else seeing In You what they do not want to see In Themselves (!)
You can start this by simply sitting with yourself and making a written list. You could even diagram them (make pictures to represent them) and how they work or don't work ( ! ) with each other - who they like in your outside world and who they don't. For instance, take a look at the image at the top of this page or at some of the artwork or pictures I've put here on another page. You may be able to imagine some of my or your own different aspects, what stage of development they've reached, how they interact or react with each other.
Alternatively, you can try a journey through the Dreaming page. As you encounter certain images, you might find yourself somehow "pulled" into a daydream or fantasy journey process (as I've outlined in a script form at the bottom of this page.) You could find (or maybe did find?) yourself imagining different memories or aspects of you you had not recalled - aspects living through different types of relationships or scenarios. Those, then, are sub personalities... personas. They can be vague as a daydream or (on the other hand) have really clear edges, boundaries we can experience of "who we seem to be" in those circumstances...
Another way to start this is to first categorize who "may be there" as you explore this - to consider which more active, which more passive and which more of the neutral types of characters you may have that you've noticed in pivotal situations. Tyrant, Judge, Critical Parent, Rebellious child and such are more active, dominant aspects of self. Victimself, Avoider, Depressed Despairer and Couch Potato are more passive (but still cause trouble!) Aloof, Cynic, Intellectual and the Rescuer types of personas are more into attempting to find a more Middle, balancing neutral ground...
Think of different relationships you have with a variety of types of people and Feel For what type of moodiness you have in which type of situation. Perhaps give them descriptive names that help you get a handle on them. Read internet sites on different Personality Styles and see who you identify with! (But please note that such personality disorders are usually depictions of What's Wrong and are not so helpful if you are looking to find and enhance what is Right with you - i.e. don't take those descriptions toooo seriously...
Then, from there, you can figure out, for example: "I seem to have an angry little girl (boy) part of myself from that lousy incident with my dad when I was 12, so if I have a dialogue with him (i.e. a real or imagined talk with that "part of you" or else with your actual dad) I may be able to move past being stuck there." Consciously engaging these Parts of Self with their dilemmas is already half the battle. When They hear You are going to take them more seriously, they'll start to reveal more of what way they can be of help to you - or what way they have been undermining your efforts at change...
I remember that when I first encountered this way of thinking of oneself as having differing subpersonalities it threatened me because I felt, I guess, that I would fall apart! That hasn't happened and even though I am sometimes frustrated by realizing "There goes that Anxious part or my Depressive or Obsessive aspect" and I wish I didn't have to acknowledge them - I do know I am better off for having at least a Heads Up that there's something " I " am not looking at... From there, I am often now able to adjust my overall perspective and return to a better place of balance.
That " I " with the quote marks (in my second to last sentence there) is a good example of the part of oneself that has at least a bit more access to one's higher self - the more Overview Endowed part of you. You start to get to it through a Balanced Observer part of you which has more perspective, able to consider more of the array of personas - the Cast of Characters - who are juggling to be heard (or to escape notice ! ) From that Fair Witness or Balanced Observer position in self you can then start to sense the more comprehensive, higher aspect - the Inner Tao or Middle - which I've also humorously characterized as the Detached Enthusiastically Initiating Oserving Self. (See the Resources page for more on this.) This is because when you feel that D E I O S layer - or perspective - of yourself, you'll feel that it has a harmonizing worldview and energy.
In my poetic attempts I often term this the Expansive Self. Even some first thinking/feeling about this can give you more of a feeling of connecting with that. Then, as you listen more to your intuition, your higher self, you'll hear or feel impulses to try out this or that different tactic, behaviour, thought or feeling that will seem new and outside of your Normal Routines (it means that they are not within your traditionally accessed Personas' scripts ! ) This is what often happens at times of such things as marital breakups, decade changes in age, deaths or other rites of passage... Feeling yourself break new ground, you'll know these risks are shifting some of your more rigid identifications - the habituated ways of doing things that have made personal flexibility less available to you.
When you've done as much (for the moment) as you can with the aspects of yourself that you already know about, you can move on to working at unmasking hidden aspects of self. These are the subconscious or deeper layer parts of you. Conceptually, one could say they are subpersonalities that have roots in the unconscious that make them appear to be Not Part of your conscious life. Of course these layers or aspects can turn up spontaneously in our lives, say when the forties or fifties individual suddenly gets that flashily different type of car than they have had before. For me it was a '93 orange/red Geo Metro with a license plate that read XPANDD !
So as you begin uncovering these differing aspects to who you are, you'll see how they Fill in (like jigsaw pieces) the Blanks (the mysteries) as to why you've found yourself in this or that pickle. It then becomes a fascinating multi-layered Unfolding of You... Your life can feel like a fascinating contemplation on the mixture of happy and not so happy elements! It's like Dreaming your life through the rough spots, watching for more of what adds to your sense of your Expansive Self.
I'll note here that although all this may sound like a Work project, as you feel the expansions to your Options for Yourself they become a more inclusive, energetically honest way of daily living. In Taoist terms it is like finding a Way of being able to Unfold your own life in these ways. Instead of following the predetermined Scripts you had from your parent, parents, culture (or some limiting model of the world) you become able to be In Charge of your own personal Batteries... i.e. - it feels good.
So. First let's look at some overall considerations if you're going to consider 'unmasking' more of these sides to you that are not yet conscious. 'Working' on this is really just you or I enacting more 'consciously' something the Universe is going to inevitably 'do to us' anyway! We discover new layers and parts of life at each new 'stage'. When you look at it carefully, any moment can surprise us - IF we let it. Good movies or stories do this. The trick - the problem - is how to 'let' that surprise happen. If you were watching the greatest movie that there 'could ever be' for developing your understanding of life but you were 'preoccupied' with 'looking good' to your date or partner, you'd probably miss the Epiphany that Life had in store for you. The Autopilot self is completely equivalent to that 'preoccupation'...
This conditioned, scripting process of the autopilot is so ensconced within our style of 'modern' civilization that we find it hard to uncover something new about ourselves. Unfortunately a lot of our customs and culture are thus a 'structuring' of our personal options in this way. The British 'Stiff Upper Lip' is an Autopilot self classic! ALL cultures have some such structures - a lot of which are meant to 'help' - but most of them tend to deaden our deeper contact with Self (or with what I call the DEIOS) if we LET them... This is, I think, a big part of why we (Westerners particularly) are often obsessed with Purchasing, Consuming and Possessing. We're looking desperately for The New - in ourselves and the world. That 'new' is an unhappy substitute for living in the NOW. To live daily in that 'now' means we discover new layers of self. We expand our feelings of purpose and worth through those moments.
So a way to help The Now Moment 'unmask' us a bit more like this is to let ourselves try something outside our norm - it's called 'taking risks'... The Dreaming page is meant to be this kind of challenge to your 'automated viewing' - to help you get off Autopilot at least a bit... I arrange my 'poetic pieces' (as at the bottom of this page) to help jar the autopilot self out of it's program for automating life. I take my camera out into a beautiful warm day to wander around taking pictures and I'm filled with being in that Now. You can simply drive a different way home or kiss your partner from a slightly different angle and discover a new part of self you hadn't realized was there. This is also why new love relationships can be so enticing...
Please let me (!) also mention in passing here that Balance is still KEY. Some people become so embracing of the NOW that they don't let themselves have anything much of a mask or 'social self' at all. In our style of 'civilization', until you can negotiate a new style of living more mindfully, not having a more practiced mask can create big problems. Imagine telling your boss comprehensively - in the NOW - how you feel. This is why we have the autopilot - to 'deal' with these societal dilemmas. You can also get caught by having so little continuity from your complete focusing on the Now that you lose the reliability of your significant relationships. The drug addict or alcoholic certainly does this. So I'm not saying, in other words, that we can Do Away with the Autopilot. I'm saying we need to clarify, change and 'manage' our relationship with that part of ourselves. To do away with All Routines we'd need to be living in a tropical paradise which, unfortunately, most of us are not...
Returning to some 'maps', then, for mindfully adjusting our relationship with these parts of self: there are numerous exercises, fantasy journeys, biofeedback and technical inventions that are designed now to assist us with this. One option you can look at is to try using an exercise like the one that I've included below - or one that you set up for yourself. These fantasy/imaginal journey exercises (plenty of which are available on the web) are each a chance to enter into a deeper dialogue with your inner life through a 'non-drug' way of altering your normal consciousness. You can vary the process in whatever ways that fit your issues or situation. The underlying strategy you'll be looking for, though, is to let yourself be surprised/educated/interested by the emergence of previously undiscovered aspects - which is exactly why a daydream like process helps.
A very obvious example of an unknown aspect would be the person who tends to be an alcoholic and has not yet come to fully realize that they have this "tendency"... Such an aspect of self (the alcohol dependent sub-personality) will have been significantly derailing the person's life - but until they know about it, the derailing will keep on happening. Another example is the individual who's been abused but has 'locked away' the awareness of that - as it would have been too scary or disruptive to deal with that earlier in their life. We can also have been being abusive while thinking we're 'rescuing' others... More often, for most of us, it would be some more subtle aspect of self that we haven't understood is there inside and that also pulls us 'off balance' without our awareness. A working background hypothesis for Who Might Be There ( :>) ) that can help is to figure that you probably have the Whole Range of Human Feelings! So if you 'don't like' Anger or Sadness or Closeness or Conflict (or whatever...), although you may have aspects that feel that way, somewhere inside you, you may well have the reverse! (Sorry about that!!!) Personally I've found that there is a life long journey through uncovering more and more of these 'sides to self'... Another little 'key' is the notion that anger and depression are often 'two sides' of the same coin - repressing anger leads to depression and vice versa.
Clarifying these layers of self/Self is really kind of 'built in' - it's part of our Life. The way that Nature seems to have most clearly included it in our lives is through our use of the night time visionary experience which we commonly call dreams. In dreams we are presented almost always with aspects of self which are familiar - we identify with - as well as ones we 'don't like': ones we fear, others we can't imagine as self or may even want to obliterate! Yet a starting place for working with your dreams is to take the hypothesis that you are 'all of the dream aspects and/or characters'! Consequently, recording and then 'processing' (or thinking and feeling about) our dreams can be a 'royal road' to exploring self and/or higher self. Alternatively, imagining and dreaming - yet while 'conscious' and awake during 'waking' hours (as below) - is a way of extending those night time dreaming opportunities.
This is one outline for what a self-guided fantasy journey could include:
- Make sure you're alone and won't be disturbed by a phone or people in your environment.
- If it helps you, put on some very quiet, relaxing, somewhat monotonous music and darken the room.
- Do some deep, relaxed breathing to begin letting go of your unconscious (or conscious) focus on your body.
- Close your eyes and let yourself bring up the most peaceful relaxing environment that you can - one that you can most clearly visualize.
- FOCUS as much of 'you' as you can (without any straining!) into that place - say a sunlit sandy beach.
- IMAGINE putting All your distractions or 'worldly concerns' into a large glass jar - you see them vaguely but they no longer hold you.
- EXPLORE that environment and as you feel comfortable, let yourself 'discover' some other visitors there.
- DIALOGUE with them and let an interaction (verbal or non-verbal) happen and 'take note' of it. It may be fleeting or prolonged.
- Say your 'good-byes' to them and let yourself mindfully return back to your actual physical environment and write out what you experienced.
- Now take a look at the vague or explicit characters you encountered there. Just by the nature of how this works - at least some of them will be 'aspects' - sub-personalities of yours and they will have had some information for you. You can return through this exercise to this or other fantasy places and learn more each time you do this.
Plenty of the fantasy journey CDs and audio files are (perhaps more elaborate) versions of this. You can even make your own recording of suggestions to yourself to go through your version of this type of journey.
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