The Many Faces We Wear (Part 1 of 2)
Have you ever noticed how many different faces we wear? Although the human psyche is unified, we also tend to wear distinct energy systems depending on specific situations, needs and desires. We are inclined to possess different "hats" for a variety of purposes. These identifiable parts of the self constitute energy systems or subpersonalities. The Italian physician and psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli, first noted the concept of subpersonality development and created a psychotherapy called Psychosynthesis. His theory was based on the notion of an aware ego (grounded self) coordinating and integrating the various sides of our personality.
Subpersonalities are not roles that we play, but rather are internal energy states that represent specific aspects of the self. Subpersonalities crystallize and emerge early in our development as a response to coping with various needs and wants. Most of the faces we wear are not unique, but are common energy systems shared by all. The pusher-driver, the critic and the vulnerable child are easily identified entities.
Sometimes subpersonalities work in tandem. For example, the critic and the pusher-driver tend to work in concert and have similar qualities. The inner critic is the judge and jury of our behavior. The critic generally represents the voice of a parent. For men, it is usually the voice of his mother and vice versa. There is a distinct quality to the voice which may be filled with mandates such as, "you should have", "why don't you", "how could you", and so on. By identifying and understanding the nature of the critic, one can learn to detach from its contents and be released from the "tyranny of the shoulds".
The pusher-driver tends to be an accomplice with the critic. Those who are "swallowed up" by the pusher-driver can never accomplish enough. Their motto is, "Avis, we try harder". The pusher-driver performs to please and can never do enough. The critic dialogues with the pusher-driver by saying things like, "you see, you're a no good louse who will never amount to anything".
The vulnerable child is the part of us that wants to come out and play and is open to the expression of deep feelings. This subpersonality comes into direct conflict with the pusher-driver and critic. The vulnerable child is the part of us that is affirming and supportive of our deepest longings, our truest convictions, and feelings and dreams. The vulnerable child is the part of us that desires to be assertive with others.
Other less notable subpersonalities may be the protector-controller (protects us from harm), the tyrant, the wise-one, the risk-taker, the passive person, or the rebellious child.
These energy systems represent parts of the self that may be expressed depending on specific situation that may trigger their expression.
Problems may arise when any given subpersonality takes control of the self and steers the individual. Sometimes we say that the person is swallowed up by the energy system. If the critic takes over, we actually become the critic, like a parent who has lost his mental compass. We may get engulfed in self-blame and will project criticism onto others. However, those who learn to resist the urge to be immersed into any one energy system, become like the conductor of an orchestra. Their "grounded self" is able to coordinate the percussion, the strings, the woodwinds, and the brass. Everything is integrated, authentic and works in harmony. I like to compare the grounded individual to a maestro, one who makes beautiful music.
By identifying and understanding the various characteristics of our subpersonalities, we are able to learn to dis-identify from their contents when we choose to. By learning to observe and detach, we can maintain a healthy sense of self that recognizes and can integrate the many faces we wear.
In Part 2, I will explore ways of treating behavioral health issues through subpersonality work.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC., is an author, freelance writer and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.