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January 28, 2013
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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 of 7 in
this Web site - (a) free your
to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and (b)
significant psychological wounds.
All six other course Lessons are founded on this one.
as a family systems therapist since 1981 is that
~80% or more of typical men and
women and many kids bear significant psychological
wounds caused by fragmented
personalities - i.e. groups of reactive, well-meaning subselves or parts.
Most people - including many
mental-health professionals - have no awareness of their subselves and the six common wounds
they can cause.
This article provides an historical perspective onnormalpersonality subselves, three functional groups of subselves,
and suggests where to learn more
about this keystone to
wholistic health. The article assumes you're familiar with...
recognize a source of many of the ideas below: psychologist Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., and the clinical colleagues with whom I studied the "Inner Family System
during 1990-92. Richard had developed the model for over a decade then, as a therapist,
researcher, and teacher. He said "My clients taught me about their inner-family
of 'parts' and how to work with them."
His concepts closely match my own experience as a
recovering person, a therapist since 1981, and a lifelong student of human relations. I've blended my
perceptions with his and several other theorists, and am responsible for what's presented
Ever Argue With
the last time you momentarily "hated" a beloved person? Or the last time you wanted
to go to an interesting event, and an inner voice said "Oh, come on, stay home and
rest!" Have you ever struggled between longing for a delicious treat and
"knowing" that it was "bad for me"?
When was the last time you said
(or heard) "I don't know what got into me!" or "She really seems like two
people"? Do you ever have whole dialogs with your Self, or talk to your Self out
loud? Ever wrestle with "breaking a bad habit," or wonder where your dreams
come from and what they mean?
Most of us have inner
discussions and battles many times a day. They're so
routine as to be almost
unnoticed. Yet most of us don't know who these inner "voices" are, or how to
harmonize them and effectively use the very real gifts our many "speakers"
Like many other researchers, I propose that these "voices" in us belong to a real inner family
or team of semi-independent personality "parts" or subselves. They can learn to be peaceful,
cooperative, and highly productive in astonishing ways.Meeting yourinner familyand organizing it to function as a clearly-motivated,
well-led team vs. a squabbling set of individuals is called "parts
work" and "inner-family therapy" here.
This article introduces you to your devoted
team of inner specialists that shape your daily life, and hilights some implications of learning to
harmonize them. To set the stage,
let's briefly review five evolving ideas about how we all
Sigmund Freud's theories,
transactional analysis (TA),
(dissociation, or "splitting"), and...
First, know that ...
Subselves Aren't New
Around 400 AD, the Roman Christian poet Prudentious wrote "Psychomachia",
which personified seven human vices and virtues (i.e. subselves), and
described a battle (internal conflicts) between them. Socrates writes us
across the ages that his inner life was controlled by "daimons."
people have tried for millennia to explain their thoughts, dreams, actions, and
"natures." All cultures have evolved beliefs that spirits, gods, imps, stars,
leprechauns, fairies, goblins, cosmic and planetary rays, witches, angels,
"ethers," ghosts, and space-beings cause humans to feel, experience, think, and
do weird and wonderful things. In most developed countries, this crazy-quilt of explanations
began to change a century
Freud's Three "Parts" and
In the early 1900's,
Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud proposed a startling new idea: that we each have
three personality parts that determine who we "are:" our
Id, Ego, and
These, he felt, cause us to act from "instincts" and "drives," with
pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding as their goals. He also proposed that
we all have three minds: the
unconscious (contents never "knowable"),
the preconscious (eventually knowable), and the (fully)
conscious (knowable now).
Freud felt that
these three interact in ways we can't comprehend, causing inevitable mystery
in what we think and do, or don't. His ideas and the emerging art of
hypnosis revolutionized at least the Western world's
views on how to understand and heal "madness" and many human
scientists began an increasing exploration and use of "psychotropic"
These reliably relieved depression, controlled violent mood swings, and improved other
troublesome human emotional behaviors. The combination of Freud's ideas and the new
chemicals turned (many) shamans with rattles into psychiatrists with couches in just four
generations: an evolutionary finger-snap.
(Outer) FamiliesBecome "The
Patient On The Couch"
In the mid 1950's,a
few pioneering mental-health clinicians began exploring the novel idea that clients'
emotional problems could be eased by putting their whole family on
the couch at once, so to speak. Family therapy flowered, bringing impressive results
for many, specially when combined with emerging
theories. Clinicians increasingly began to work on outer families, while a dedicated core
kept focused on taming and balancing Ids, Egos, and Superegos.
Freud Revisited: Our Inner Parent,
Child, and Adult
Because Freud's ideas
were obscure to many, they were recast in the 1960's by professionals who used
"Transactional Analysis" (TA). In 1967, Dr. Thomas Harris wrote
"I'm OK - You're OK", which suggested that we each had an
an Inner Child, and an Inner Adult personality parts that collectively determined our
feelings, beliefs, and behavior.
A therapeutic TA goal became helping people
understand and balance these three inner entities, and keeping their Adult in charge.
No one that I know of proposed treating the three together with
the emerging concept of
While the TA idea was
spreading through our culture, more psycho/biological facts emerged. These
included growing evidence that alcoholism, traditionally thought to come from a "weak
will," a "defective character," or a "demon" (e.g. rum),
came from a combination of the addicts' genes and childhood (family) trauma.
It's now clear that some addicts metabolize ethyl alcohol
(which powers vehicle engines) differently than non-addicts
because of a genetic inheritance. This concept increased the clinical belief thatfamily dynamics strongly influenced
alcohol and (later) other addictions.
Our Inner ChildBecomes (More) Famous
late 1970's, a new set of mindscape pioneers suggested that the grown
children of alcoholic families (ACoAs), whether addicted themselves or not, had
common emotional traits and troubles like depression, low self esteem,
social isolation, and
divorces. It became clear that
typical kids in
alcoholic families were accidentally deprived of key
emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical
nurturing - just as their parents had been.
next decade, a flood of books, conferences, 12-step support groups, magazines, and two
national advocacy groups erupted across the country for millions of troubled
Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs) to help them toward psychological,
spiritual, and social
From this came an
explosion of interest in nurturing and healing our "Inner
Child" (singular), who
retained the fear, sadness, and shame of real birthfamily trauma and deprivation. Two
groups of people excited by this idea were adults coming from any
kind of painful early years ("Adult
Children"), and healers and entrepreneurs who wanted to help
Because of unintended childhood
abandonment, neglect, and
abuse (trauma), our
"Inner Children of the Past" were clearly wounded, orphaned,
lost. Unrecognized, they seemed to cause many of us serious personal problems.
One such problem,
viewed now by many as a relationship compulsion as harmful as any chemical addiction, is
codependence. Since the
mid-80's, hundreds of Codependents Anonymous (CoDA)
12-step support groups have bloomed in
every state, as a rainbow of people admit and struggle to break free from powerful
to a lover, parent, child, or some other person.
Theorists proposed that
codependents' inner children (plural) were terrified of
childhood, the codependent had felt searingly neglected and rejected by key
adults.Where true, it often turned out
that their caregivers' parents had been similarly abused and/or
psychologically neglected. "Toxic parenting" and the crippling
shame and guilt
that it causes were wryly labeled "the gift that
goes on giving..."
expanding public interest in and acceptance of these ideas, programs and books now abound
on healing from
abusive or "toxic" parents, and "emotionally absent" (wounded) fathers
and mothers. An awful and hopeful current offshoot is the mushrooming U.S.
awareness of how common and damaging childhood sexual
abuse has been
have recently estimated that one of four American females and one
of seven males under 18 are sexually molested.The psycho-spiritual trauma from this is usually devastating
and long-lasting. To survive any
such youthful or adult agony, people normally appear to "go to (inner)
From studies across the
world, mental health researchers now agree that typical adults and children surviving cataclysmic
natural and man-made disasters like war and personal abuse have an automatic
protective reaction. Clinicians call it
dissociation or splitting.
survive unendurable stress like significant childhood neglect and abuse,
normal young people automatically develop protective semi-independent subselves, forming a
"false self." This seems to be a natural
way we frail humans evolved to avoid being overwhelmed by intolerably chaotic, terrifying,
or painful experiences.
The fact that our brains operate modularly
has been conclusively proved in the last generation with new
scanning technology like Positron
Emission Tomography (PET). This allows photographing the dynamic thermal patterns of
living brains. Few of us are aware that many regions of our brains
are operating concurrently to create the
"simple"experience "I [see + hear + smell + touch + sense +
react to + need + love] my child."
symptom of false-self dominance is that trauma-survivors emotionally numb themselves and (temporarily) feel no
pain from a terrible physical or psychological injury. Other symptoms are
distorting reality by believing that the current horror...
that bad" (minimizing),
is happening to "someone else" (projection),
isn't happening at all (denial).
Many (most?) delusions,
hallucinations, neuroses, paranoias, and psychosomatic (mentally-caused)
illnesses stem from
this automatic reflex to protect ourselves from perceived dangers.
a person in intolerable agony to "float up to the ceiling," "become an
eagle soaring free," "visit the beach," or "become an observer."
survive, we detach or dissociate from mental + emotional+ physical agony and overwhelm,
and often develop protective local or situational "amnesia." A common
trait of unrecovering
Grown Wounded Children
(GWCs) is being "unable to re-member" -
or feel - much about our early childhoods and/or early caregivers.
unbearable terror, shame, hopelessness, and loneliness (i.e. to survive),
normal neglected and abused young kids automatically developa group of
personality subselves. They may manifest as
"invisible companions," and/or populating dream worlds which
seem absolutely real.
It's become well documented and increasingly accepted
since the 1980s that about 5% of typical
Western populations have true multiple
personalities. These afflicted people repeatedly show patterns of socially-hidden or obvious
changes in thinking, abilities, and behavior as though they literally become
"another" person at times.
have documented on video tapes that
subpersonality or alterin the host person can have its own IQ, memories, skills, voice,
likes, values, and even unique allergies and eyeglass prescriptions!
alters may not know about each other. If they do, they can be deeply loyal, indifferent, or
suspicious and fiercely competitive for control of the host person.
Research suggests that a high
majority of such exceptionally wounded people have experienced devastating traumas in their early life.
From the media, the public learns of only the most sensational of such
Rabbit Howls, and
of My Own. People who suffer from what used to be
called multiple personality disorder (MPD)
usually terrified, disoriented,
depressed, and embarrassed
by its symptoms.
They (like Socrates?) live with what feels like an uncontrollable
inner life. Understandably, they try hard to
deny or mask the evidence of their alters.
Someone in your life now may have MPD - relabeled
Identity Disorder" (DID) in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Association
- without you suspecting it.
with these trauma-survivors patiently assist them towards awareness, acceptance, and
eventual fusion and permanent integration (the opposite of
dissociation) of some personality alters. Many reports of permanent
integration are now documented.
Millennium of the Inner Family?
So in the last
century, at least (part of) Western society has gone from believing in moon rays (making
"lunatics") and devils; to Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego parts
of the psyche; to
(outer) family therapy; to inner children, adults and parents (Transactional Analysis); to
modular personalities and dissociation; and finally to adult
recovery from childhood
trauma and low nurturance.
clinically-validated concept of ordinary persons having an inner family or team of
combines, and extends these prior
Colin Ross is a highly respected veteran DID researcher and clinician, and past president of
the International Society for the Study of Dissociation. In The
Plural Self - Multiplicity in Everyday Life (1999), he writes (p.
193) that multiplicity - having a multi-faceted (modular) mind and self
- is normal. He concludes that
what colleagues and I call a false-self is a "cultural
sickness" - a widespread condition fostered by our culture's traditions
and practices, and the unchallenged old delusion that "I am one person."
evidence that few of us have true multiple personalities, and most (all?) of us do
have modular personalities. Some people have more discrete
"modules" (subselves) than others, depending on their genetic inheritance and the emotional/spiritual
got as a young child. Since I began studying this
phenomenon in 1988, Ive witnessed scores of average women and men identify 15
to 35 subselves
or parts without being "crazy" in the least - though at times
we feel that way!
Our subselves seem to be like a group of
people living in the same dwelling. They each have different skills, jobs, ages, values, and needs,
and may or may not know about, understand, like, and accept each other. They
can ally, fight bitterly, or ignore or hide from some others, like
members of any human group. Conversely, if
individual subselves are acknowledged, respected, and effectively led, inner-personal stress
drops and harmony, energy, spirits, and achievements soar!
Our language doesn't
yet have an accepted word to describe these subselves who dwell within our
brains and bodies. In
his interesting 1990 book "Subpersonalities - the People Inside Us,"
(Rutledge, London / NY) researcher/therapist
John Rowan has discovered 25 different terms for them in international
write and speak about our parts - e.g. "He was of two minds ",
"Pat is a real Jekyl and Hyde person." "She has a musical side to her"; "Im getting a
double messages from you";
"Myra's really two-faced.," "Make up your mind, will you?", "Roy
has a yellow streak," and "Sometimes
she can be very
jealous." In this Web site and
I'll use the terms
(personality) parts, subselves, inner team or inner-family members, and
inner voices interchangeably.Pick which term feels
best to you, or invent your own...
Is it possible
probable that "" are really a number of semi-independent
subselvessharing one brain and body?
What are you
("thinking") right now? Is there more than one voice (thought stream)? If so,
who are they? Where did they come from? How do they feel about each other?
What do they want? How harmonious are they? Which ones are controlling
What would your life be likeif your
unique crew of subselves willingly worked as
a co-operative, loyal teameffectively led by your talented
true Self? What might happen to your favorite "bad habits,"
anxieties, guilts, phobias, and other stresses?
Take a break and review this, and
Meet Your Inner Family
Your group of personality
as unique as your fingerprints. Yet most of us have subselves who do
standard "jobs."They may be
called by a wide range of names, but their personality functions seem the same
in average people.
subselves seem to fall into three types, which this
Web site callsManagers,
Dr. Richard Schwartz and colleagues call them Managers, Exiles, and Firefighters.
While each subself has unique talents and limitations, its function and type
seem common across typical adults and kids. Manager and Guardian
subselves have two goals: to protect
us from significant discomfort and harm (as they see it), and to survive,
moment to moment.
the "general staff" that guide us through daily life situations when
other subselves perceive no danger. A
Manager can be called our true Self (capital
"S"), whose natural talent is effective personality
Your Self can help you
be consistently effective and serene, or s/he may be
blocked from doing so by other
upset, distrustful subselves. In this context,
the words "self" (small "s") means our
all subselves as a group, and "my self" (small "s") refers to all subselves
+ your soul and/or spirit + your body.
Inner Kids (plural)are developmentally young subselves, ranging from fetuses
to infants to teens: most of us have several of them. Like physical children, they know little of the world, and are vulnerable to
unwise advice and decisions and distorted perceptions. Until
they feel internally known, valued, and consistently safe,
Inner Kids can be powerfully needy, intense, reactive, and noisy!
react to something, Inner Children can "take over"
"blend with" our
Self (capital "S"). When this happens,
we're flooded with this young part's intense emotions, needs, and naive worldview. We act impulsively and become "childish." Know anyone
protect our Inner Kids and us as a person,
our Guardian subselves stay constantly alert to imagined or actual
inner and outer dangers - even when we sleep. They're like a personal Green Beret or SWAT team of dedicated
specialists. One or more Guardians spring into action whenever they believe
that a young part is upset or may be in danger.
They too can disable our Self then,
often causing extreme reactions and behaviors that puzzle or harm us or
others ("I just don't know what got into me!").
Typical signs of Guardians in action are
spacing, blanking or numbing out, procrastinating, prolonged
apathy (grief?); rage or panic "attacks;" screaming; seduction; lying or
stealing; abuse to self or others; excessive worrying; idealizing and/or
fantasizing; some depressions; some sleep, concentration, eating, and
digestive disorders; a range of physical discomforts and conditions like migraines, tics, aches, and ulcers; delusions, phobias;
homicidal thoughts and impulses,
ad-dictions, and many more ...
Such harmful "protective"
actions may seem logically crazy or paradoxical. Most Guardian
subselves seem to have their
own kind of logic.With narrow views and often badly distorted or outdated
information,they're fiercely dedicated to protecting us and
our naive, needy Inner Kids.
Guardian subselves only relax or change their roles when they trust that
our Self and other Managers can reliably keep our young
consistently safe. Building this trust over time, and
freeing your Self from blending to harmonize and lead your inner family
of subselves, is the goal of