Sub-personalities & Integration

Ken Wilber Quote on Sub PersonalitiesAuthorities on the subject say that every adult has at least 12 subpersonalities, and often more. In extreme situations, these subselves might become completely dissociated, resulting in Multiple Personality Disorder. But in most cases, we simply dissociate, or ‘split off’, parts of ourselves, as a defense mechanism, or as a result of internalization of a role we play.

Whenever we experience cognitive dissonance, a subself is evolving. In US society, if Facebook posts are any indication, there has been an awakening of empathy, particularly for African American victims of police brutality (Black Lives Matter) and  police under attack (Blue Lives Matter.) Traditionally, people would have taken sides, but now, many are seeing the need to include both Black and Blue for healing. From a holistic perspective, what is happening in society is a macro perspective of what goes on inside of each one of us, on a much more personal and intimate scale, every day. In understanding this scenario within ourselves, it might be possible to bring peace and healing all the way up to the external world and our society.

For example, within the subpersonalities most adults are said to possess: a parent ego state, a child ego state, a top dog, an underdog, a conscience, a false self, an idealized self, a harsh critic, and so forth. It is often useful to address these selves, and to give them expression through what psychologists call ‘Voice Dialogue’. It is only through acknowledging the existence of these subpersonalities, and finding out what their purpose is within us, that one can achieve total integration of the self.

Imagine a child who is routinely hit by a parent for whatever reason. The child has two defenses – first, to dissociate, that is, not to be ‘there’ for the beating. So the original self, flees. The self that is present for the beating is a new self, one literally ‘born’ for taking beatings and dealing with the aftermath, one who ‘deserves’ these illogical and painful things. This new self is now called forth whenever ‘a beating’ is about to happen. The original self has been split off, and is probably screaming in protest, out of hearing.

Healing only occurs when these two parts of the self later acknowledge each other, have gratitude for each other’s purpose or existence, and negotiate between themselves what their needs are. Sometimes it’s helpful to go back in memory to when the personality split-off occurred, in order to recall and appreciate the usefulness of this subpersonality, who may be a part of oneself that one despises, and therefore ignores, or self-abuses. In other cases, going back to the memory where the split-off occurred may be too traumatic, so the organizing personality, or controller, may be asked to imagine situations in which this subpersonality might be helpful to the whole being.

For example, a survival self might be a pleaser. This pleasing self might have served the totality of the child, keeping her alive and psychologically whole through harrowing situations. But the situations pass, and the adult person retains this pleaser subpersonality as a coping mechanism. She repeatedly fails to stand up for herself when necessary. She may hate the ‘weak’ survival part of herself that causes her to avoid conflict. As an adult, she may even have acquired better, sharper, more precise tools for dealing with situations similar to the ones that triggered her before. But the defensive self, the pleaser that deals with boundary violations, jumps in, and takes control.

And the entire body-system revolts. Because, as a totality, we know better.

So a new personality takes the reigns, after the conscience speaks.

Until we recondition these automatic parts of ourselves, until we reclaim our subpersonalities, we will not be able to use our new tools and updated understandings.

In some forms of therapy, ‘Voice Dialogue’ calls forward reactive subselves, and asks the Controller, or organizing personality, to listen to the concerns of the reactive one. A negotiation is then facilitated between parts of oneself, as if they are disagreeing children on a playground. Whether through therapy or by some other means, this acknowledgement, listening, and negotiation between selves must happen, in order for the whole person to thrive. It is an integration.

We do not marginalize selves. We do not drown out voices. We don’t shoot the messengers. We LISTEN. We open our hearts, our minds and our arms, and we take in Butterfly reflectionall the orphaned selves, working so hard, for so long, and without acknowledgement or appreciation, to keep us alive. We acknowledge the parts of us that were shoved into shadow, because they were ‘unacceptable’, whether to our families or our society, or our other internal selves, when they appeared. We also acknowledge that we have new ways, better ways, for dealing with conflict.

“As above, so below, as within, so without.”

To be a healthy person, we need to be united within ourselves. And this, too, is what we must do in our communities, and in our societies in order for them to be healthy. There have to be re-negotiations between the government and its constituents, the people and their representatives, the police and the communities that they are intended to serve and protect, and so on, until a negotiation tolerable to all selves impacted, and beneficial for the entire organism, person, citizen, family, nation, and world, is reached.

All selves have voices, all selves have needs, requirements, and contributions for the whole. We honor them all. Even the brutal terrorist. He wouldn’t exist, if he didn’t have a vital reason for being, an essential message for humanity. So wake up! Pay attention, listen, and include everyone, or suffer the consequences!

This is how the world looks, when you realize that all is one, and one is all. Give thanks in love, if not to all beings everywhere, to all the selves within you, that they may achieve understanding, peace, unity and abundance, for a healthy total self. And that this unity may extend upwards and outwards, to all of life.

For More Information

Integral Psychology, Ken Wilber

Integral Spirituality, Ken Wilber

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