Our Many Selves
Have you ever considered that you have many parts to your personality?
(*and no, I am not referring to dissociative identity disorder (once called “multiple personality disorder”).
Think about times when you may have felt challenged or conflicted. A relatable example of this might be: a part of you wants to leave your current job, but part of you craves something new, or a part of you wants to break up with your partner, but another part of you is fearful of being alone.
Parts Psychology is a psychotherapy treatment model that suggests that while it is common to label personality as unitary, the idea of Self is better conceptualized as an agglomeration of many selves. This is helpful as we can shift viewing our less desirable parts (often referred to as our “shadow selves”) as “bad” or something that needs to be hidden. When we can foster acceptance, we are more at peace. All our parts offer value to us.
Take for example Anxiety. While anxiety can behave like an unruly toddler at times, we all NEED anxiety in our lives. When our anxiety part is operating optimally, it helps to keep us safe. Rather than viewing anxiety as something to deny or suppress, we can view it as a part of our personality “family”. When a loved one is feeling anxious and fearful, chances are you would not berate or judge them. Instead, you would want to give them what they are needing at that time: comfort, love, and compassion….exactly as you should be treating yourself when your Anxiety part comes to play a leading role in your life.
Another way to conceptualize our “parts” is to think of yourself in a variety of settings or with different people. My professional self is “Christine”. “Christine the Professional” brings forth the expert, more polished parts of my personality family; these parts are much more serious than those of my casual self of “Chris”. Another set of personality parts that are seemingly even farther removed from my professional parts is how my very close friends know me as: “Smarty” (a long-time nickname, which as the moniker implies, denotes my playful, free-spirited, smart-aleck-y parts).
Societally, there is a limiting penchant for stereotyping people. If we only know someone in one setting, we may assume who they are is a static concept, which is rarely the case (the banker who appears so “serious” might be an extreme sports enthusiast outside of work, or the comedian that is so good at making people laugh may also suffer with debilitating depression). Even though some parts of ourselves cause us distress, we can always find exceptions where other parts appear and play another prominent role. A part of that comedian is depressed, but the big-hearted part of him delights in making people laugh – HE is not depressed, depression is only one part of him. This lens can gift the comedian with recognizing that while depression will always be a part of his (and everyone’s) personality “family”, there are other parts of him as well that can start to take bigger roles to help him journey to his preferred way of being.
Sometimes I hear clients state that they feel like a fraud or a phoney. It is terribly challenging in society to be 100% authentic all the time. Let’s be real: our struggles would be increased if we explicitly went about telling others how we felt about them (for example: we simply can’t tell our boss we think he/she is an idiot and expect to remain employed). But that doesn’t mean that your self-possessed parts can’t play a role in asserting healthy boundaries and advocating for yourself for the times you experience oppression and other injustices.
We all suffer from time to time thinking our core Self is negative, leaving us with minimal hope to grow. However, when we view ourselves made up of multiple parts, we can broaden our lens to consider that each of our parts developed from our lived experiences, our strengths and vulnerabilities, and our values and beliefs – empowering stuff!
Noricks, J. (2011). Parts psychology: A trauma-based self-state therapy for emotional healing. Los Angeles, CA: New University Press.