“Each of us is a crowd,” writes Psychosynthesis therapist, Piero Ferrucci, in his book What We May Be. He is referring to the idea that our personalities are comprised of many different parts, called subpersonalities. We express different aspects of ourselves at different times. You may express the assertive, confident part of yourself in your supervisory role at work, another part emerges when you’re having dinner with a trusted friend, another with your relatives at family gatherings and yet another when you’re enjoying solitude. Each of these semi-autonomous selves has a style and motivation of its own. The poet Fernando Pessoa writes, “In every corner of my soul, there is an altar to a different god.”
Many of these inner selves developed in childhood from wounding and conditioning. They were the strategies we unconsciously devised to get our needs met. For example, if you consistently received approval for being nice and polite and, perhaps, were neglected or shamed when you were unruly, you may have developed a “nice guy” (or gal) subpersonality. As an adult, you may still be so identified with this part that it’s hard for you to be anything but nice. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected (as you were when you were a child) unless you’re always the “nice guy.” What we often discover when we examine these subpersonalities is that there’s a hurt or frightened child inside of them who wasn’t allowed to express all of who he/she was. When we dialogue with these parts, we discover how they came to be the way they are and we let them express thoughts and feelings that may have been buried for years. Learning to listen to these different aspects of ourselves and get to the deeper layers of wounding that are often at their core is a powerful way to develop self acceptance and move toward wholeness. As Debbie Ford says, in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, “Examining our subpersonalities is a tool to help us reclaim the lost parts of ourselves.”
In the early 90’s I discovered the power of identifying and cultivating positive subpersonalities. I was teaching a course called The Psychology of Teaching to students in a teacher credential program. In a guided meditation I asked them to imagine what their ideal inner teacher would look like, suggesting that they pay close attention to the qualities their inner teacher exemplified. The next step was to interview their ‘teacher subpersonality’, asking questions such as, What is your name? What can I learn from you? What do you need me to do to develop your qualities? How can we work together? Enthusiastic hands went up after the exercise. “His name is Terrific Stan, the Teacher Man and he’s strong, funny and has a brilliant mind!” “My inner teacher is Compassionate Carol,” said Gloria. “She has a huge heart and she’s not afraid to let the kids see it. She has a great sense of humor, too.” On and on it went. The class wanted to keep this going for themselves so we decided that those who wanted to, could start a journal in which they’d regularly meet with their ‘inner teachers’ and record the dialogues. I ran into one of the students a few years later who then had her own fourth grade class. “I still connect with my teacher subpersonality,” she said, “especially when I’m having any difficulties with my class or curriculum or just when I want a little extra inspiration.”
We have many strengths and gifts, some we’re aware of and some that are hidden, awaiting our attention. Perhaps you have an entrepreneur, writer or a financial wizard waiting in the wings to be acknowledged and invited into your life. Working with your positive qualities as subpersonalities is a way to bring them to life. I suggest that people cultivate relationships with their positive selves as they do with friends: make regular contact, ask meaningful questions, be open, honest and direct and follow their suggestions if the advice sounds reasonable to you. Each of us is a crowd – and within that crowd are artists, successful businesspeople, athletes and magicians. Who is waiting to meet you?
Positive Subpersonality Exercise
Choose a trait or quality that you sense is a potential within you and that you want to develop.
With your eyes closed, become aware of this part of you. Then let an image emerge spontaneously that represents it. It could be a woman, a man, an object or a symbol. Accept the first image that comes to you.
Let the image have a voice and express itself. Follow your natural inclinations and ask any questions that are meaningful to you, such as: What is your name? What is your purpose in my life? How can I integrate you into my life? What do you need from me?
Then open your eyes and record your meeting and conversation. You can meet with your positive self anytime that you want. Bring any and all questions. Like a friend, the more interest and care that you bring to this part of yourself, the more will be returned to you.