The Many Faces We Wear (Part 2 of 2)


By: James P. Krehbiel

Continued from Part 1.

As I mentioned in Part 1, a subpersonality is a constellation of feelings, attitudes and behavior which is solidified and emerges out of a specific need. Subpersonalites develop as a way of getting along in the world, and are the faces that we project to others. Each subpersonality is a distinct energy system. Each represents "a person who lives within us" or our various styles of relating to the world.

Most subpersonalities crystallize and grow early in life as coping strategies or protective mechanisms in response to meeting our needs and wants. They emerge as our styles of "being in the world". We all have many of these distinct energy patterns and unfortunately they make no commitment to cooperating with each other.

According to Betty Bosdell, psychotherapist and teacher of Psychosynthesis, there are five stages in doing subpersonality work. They are:

  1. Recognition — This is the stage of being aware that a particular subpersonality is indeed a part of our personality.
  2. Acceptance — Acceptance means that no matter how wonderful or horrible a part is, we honor that part as much as any part of the personality.
  3. Coordination — During this stage we learn more about the subpersonality, how it operates, what its needs are, and how it developed. One purpose of coordination is to discover the basic needs, to make them conscious, and to find acceptable ways in which the subpersonality can satisfy and fulfill its basic needs.
  4. Integration — This stage is concerned with the relationship of each subpersonality with other subpersonalities and the place of each one in the context of the total personality.
  5. Synthesis — The focus is on bringing into awareness the self and characteristics including responsibility, caring, cooperation, altruistic love and other qualities of the transpersonal self.

Through identification work with our subpersonalites, we become more aware of the array of inner selves which strive to capture out attention and run our lives. We may find that one or more selves may seem to dominate in our personality. We may feel "swallowed up".

Through dis-identification work with our subpersonalites, we are able to step outside a specific energy system and observe it. Because we all have a tendency to become overly identified with various subpersonalities, we come to believe that we are what a specific energy system represents. Dis-identification consists of snapping out of this illusion and returning to our centered self.

The subpersonality wheel is an exercise designed to help people understand some of their energy systems and their interrelationships. The individual is asked to take a sheet of paper and to draw a circle. The circle is then divided into six parts, much like a pie. The center is left clear as an indication of the self, or center of one's awareness. Next, the individual is asked to make a list of seven or eight of one's major parts or subpersonalities. The person is asked to decide on five subpersonalites that they will work with. After bringing one the energy systems to mind, they are asked to think of its traits and characteristics. With that in mind, they are asked to draw an image representing the subpersonality in one the segments of the circle. These steps are repeated for all of the remaining subpersonalities that have been chosen. The sixth place is left blank, as a symbol for any unknown parts of the self.

The person is asked to imagine the different parts interacting, and to eavesdrop on what they may be saying about each other, what they think about each other, who is calling the shots, and who is disagreeing or agreeing. The participant is to witness these parts as they interact and take notes regarding their activity. Finally the individual is asked to share their subpersonality wheel with their facilitator and/or support group.

This activity assists the individual to recognize and understand the various parts of the self. It helps one to become cognizant as to how various parts of the self interact with one another. The goal is to learn to identify with this inner process of the self and to learn to dis-identify from any given energy system while creating a sense of harmony among parts.

Voice dialogue is another technique for using energy systems as a basis for working with individuals interested in self-improvement. Voice dialogue was created by Hal and Sidra Stone. This is a process whereby a trained therapist dialogues directly with the energy systems that appear to be creating difficulties for a client. The therapist first explains to the patient the Voice Dialogue technique and the therapeutic benefit. With the patient's permission, he is asked to move to a different spot in the counseling office and dialogue with the therapist about energy expression from a particular subpersonality. For example, a female named Sally may come to therapy and be very compliant in her relationships with others. She wants to be more assertive in her relationships. Together, the therapist and Sally are able to establish that she has a part of the self that is "wild and rebellious." After moving Sally's place in the office, the therapist helps Sally to recognize and identify with that part by dialoging with it. The therapist converses with the part of the patient referred to as "the rebel". "Hello rebel, tell me how old you are? Why have you been in hiding? What fears do you have about expressing yourself within Sally's life? If you come out of hiding, what positive purpose do you think you might serve for Sally?" After working with the part until it is fully recognized and given expression for the patient, Sally is asked to return to her normal place within the office. It is important that Sally returns to her original spot in the room so that the counselor can help her to feel grounded. Together they discuss the experience of the energy system work from the perspective of an observer and they brain storm the implications of how "the rebel" might play a greater role in Sally's life. The technique ends with increased awareness on the part of Sally and eventually a transformation in her ability to be more assertive with others.

Helping clients to become aware of energy systems allows them to alter or transform patterns of thinking and behaving which affect daily living. Many subpersonalities may have been out of awareness for so long that it is difficult for the patient to accept its existence. Helping people to recognize, accept, and integrate their various subpersonalities is the key to behavioral change.

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an author, freelance writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.

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