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March 15, 2013
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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 in
this Web site - free your
to guide you and
significant psychological wounds.
Lessons 2 thru 7 are founded on this one. This article is written to people who are
skeptical (or curious) about the reality of personality subselves and psychological
The unseen [wounds + unawareness]
that may stress your family; and...
example of a real
family affected by the cycle
Premise - young human brains
adapt to a
low-nurturance environment by forming semi-independent
personality subselves or
parts. In other words, normal young brains develop like a network of
interactive minicomputers, each with its own rules and "program" (special
function). This means that the word
personality is like the terms team,
group, committee, orchestra, troop, troupe, clan, gang, squad,
band, class, crew, and family - a single thing made up of related parts.
Typical peopleare unaware of this idea, and may be initially skeptical about (or scared by) the
If this describes you, I hope this article will
motivate you to learn more about these concepts.
For perspective, almost
site visitors taking this poll say
that subselves are real, "without question."
wounded family-therapist in recovery, I've studied
and worked with clients' subselves and my own since 1992. I'm a veteran practitioner of the emerging field of
It applies the proven
family-systems therapy principles to
retraining and harmonizing
subselves interact below conscious awareness.
Each subself is probably a discrete region in the brain.
We're the first generation in history to see this modular brain functioning real-time, via Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and other
techniques. Brain-function modularity is now medically accepted beyond debate.
Different regions of your brain communicate together
to produce single sensory experiences
like "I pick up the fork." Individual brain regions collect and organize
special sensory information (e.g. shapes, colors, sizes, smells, motions,
facial expression, tastes, etc.), synthesize them into conscious thoughts,
feelings, images, and senses. Then the dominant brain
regions send instinctive or learned neural
organs and muscles ("My fingernails need trimming.) without our
The reality of
human "personality splitting" (multiple personalities) has been globally documented and
accepted for several decades.
The multiple-subself concept
proposed in this Web site is a mild version of
that natural "splitting" phenomenon.
The idea that your personality is made up of a group of
semi-independent subselves or parts is probably new to you. If so, the
self-study Lessons in this
Web site will require you to defend your present beliefs ("I have no
personality subselves"), or to shift your beliefs,
based on new information and awareness. Shifting requires you to
beliefs you've held about yourself and other people
have been wrong. This can feel scary, specially if you're a parent or
grandparent, and/or if you have a professional interest in human health, relationships, and behavior!
Premise - our cultural tolerance for early-childhood
abandonment, neglect, and abuse nurturance is a major cause of most
social problems. Disputing this idea is normal,
to avoid the awful implications. For example:
I suspect that our denial of the lethal
[wound + unawareness] inheritance harms
more millions of people than AIDS, heart disease, and cancer combined.
Notice your (subselves) reaction to this idea.
Experience Your Subselves
I doubt that you'll adjust your beliefs about human personalitiesuntil you
your subselves in action. That requires an open mind,
focus, and patience.
I propose that you've lived
with evidence of personality subselves since early childhood. It's so common
as to be invisible. Consider these...
Common Signs of Subselves
Have you ever...
Had one or several "inner voices" (thought streams)?
internal conflicts like "I should do ___ but
don't want to"?
Feltambivalent, or changedyourmind
about something? Had trouble makingupyourmind
occasionally or often? Made up your mind, and then struggled with significant
self doubt ("Did I make the right decision?")
impulsively and later regretted it, couldn't explain it, or
Sent and received
mixed or double messages (e.g. "I love you / you disgust me")?
Seenbothsides of a dispute?
- e.g. "I see why you believe that, but I don't
Behaved in ways that were dangerous or harmful to you or others, even
though you "knew better"? Common examples: lying to loved ones or
colleagues; eating too much sugar, fat, or carbohydrates (junk food); ingesting ethyl alcohol or nicotine (poisons); not
balancing work, rest, and play; and not getting appropriate
And have you ever...
Felt opposing emotions at the same time, like excitement and fear,
anger and empathy, or
compassion and revulsion? Have you concurrently loved and "hated"
someone, including yourself?
Hadobsessive thoughts and/or
compulsive behaviors (e.g.
addictions, nail biting) you "couldn't control"?
Feltchildish, overwhelmed, lost,
out of sorts, down, apathetic, confused, torn, upset, unfocused, uneasy, irritable,
depressed, distracted, or
moody "for no reason"?
avoided doing something, felt guilty, and then
perfectionism - i.e. feeling strongly that
your or another person's efforts aren't good enough?
Felt periods of intense, excessive or "irrational"
guilt, anxiety (worry), rage, pessimism, and/or
self-critical thoughts like "I am
stupid (ugly / fat / boring / inept / slow / lazy / uncreative /
...), and I could never succeed at _______"?
fears of personal or family
catastrophes ("I know one of us is going to get cancer and die. I just
know it!"; or "I have this weird feeling I'm going to lose my job and be a
Had episodes of feeling unusually clear, focused, energized, aware, serene,
confident, grounded, light, strong, resilient, clear, focused, compassionate, and
and have you...
Observed these traits in many other normal
adults and kids?
After 54 adult years observing people - including
33 years experience as a
working with over 1000 average Americans, I conclude:
average adults and kids routinely have
most of these experiences, and...
the experiences are caused by normalinner-family (subself) behaviors
most (all?) normal people
have personalities composed of semi-independent subselves, and
they are not clinically "crazy," "defective," or "sick!"(Tho
feel crazy at times.)
if you've experienced some or many of the traits above, I propose that you
are occasionally or often ruled by a well-meaning
false self.The alternative is being
guided by your wise resident
true Self (capital "S"), which yields
very different experiences
If you feel "I am not governed by a group of personality subselves!," how do you explain
the common experiences above? Responses like "I don't know,"
"I don't care," "It doesn't matter," and "That's
just human nature" protect you from looking more closely at yourself and others.
That's a normal protective false-self response.
Exercise - "Talk to"
One or More Subselves
Can you imagine having an internal conversation between your true Self
and one or more of your other subselves? More than any written words
or the traits above, this can help you validate the reality of
personality parts. To check this out, try
rough-drafting your roster of
subselves. Then experience your Self "talking"
safely with one or more of them. Then return here.
weren't able to do (or avoided) this experience, that suggests
that one or more controlling subselves were too scared to try it. If you
were able to talk with a subself, what did you learn? Option, try this
safe experience several times with
an open mind, and see if a pattern emerges.
My experience is that having
15 to 25 subselves and significant
conflicts among them is normal.
exception is the extreme case once called "multiple personality
disorder" (MPD) by the American Psychiatric Association. The APA estimate
that this condition - now called Dissociative
Identity Disorder (DID) - may affect up to 5% of living Americans.
you have traits or experiences like those above, you may have two to six psychological
wounds that you've unconsciously adapted to since
early childhood. If
so, these wounds steadily lower the quality of your relationships,
productivity, security, happiness, and your
wholistic health -
you don't know it or what it
denial of disorganized subselves also put your minor kids at risk of
acquiring the same
wounds. Before self-awareness and
recovery (inner-family harmonizing), we
survivors of early-childhood trauma
accept psychological wounds as normal. That'sbecause we didn't know about subselves, and we've rarely experienced our true Self
in charge. People raised
in darkness will
have a hard time imagining or believing in sunlight until they
thoughts now. Is there one "voice" (thought stream) or
a chorus? Do you know which members of your
See if one of these situations
describes you now:
I don't know enough yet about
subselves and "psychological wounds" to agree or disagree with the concept. I'm open
to learning more, even if
it leads to changing some cherished beliefs about myself and human nature; or...
I disagree that
the common traits above are caused by false-self dominance as I understand
I may be open to new information, or I need to disagree with
the Lesson-1 premises in this site to protect myself (symptom: "Yes, but..." thoughts); or...
(thoughts) distract me now by saying things
like "This is too complicated," or "...too heady;"
"This is boring, unimportant, and/or irrelevant," or "I should be
doing (something other than reading this.)" These are
normal false-self reactions motivated by fear of the unknown (i.e. scary new
beliefs). Your true Self will acknowledge such thoughts and seek more
The rest of this article responds to the first two of these alternatives. Before
continuing, reflect: why am I reading this? What
specific questions do you want
If you accept that psychological wounds and subselves are common, and that
they stress relationships and inhibit effective parenting, go
here (p. 2).
Otherwise, let's explore the first two possibilities above...
1) You're Willing to Learn More...
If you're an "open-minded skeptic," you may seek credible
answers to questions like these:
this 'false-self dominance' exists, what
is it, and where does it
credible research findings indicate that false-self
control is widespread, so that I should let go of the (one brain, one
monolithic personality) belief society has taught me?"
does this author believe what he proposes? What are his
credentials? Can I trust his reasoning and judgment? Is he selling
something here? What are his motives?"
"If 'psychological wounding' is real, what does that
mean to me and
others I care about?"
do 'I' (my governing subselves) resist accepting that too little early-childhood
nurturance causes psychological wounds that may
have majoreffects on my life?
What would it mean to me if these
premises are true? What do (my ruling subselves) fear?
For example -
accepting subselves and related inner wounds probably means
some core beliefs about human nature and you are
partially wrong. Most of us are reluctant to accept that any basic beliefs about our
world are distorted or not true ("I tell you the Earth is flat
- just look!") Is this true of you? Can you recall
the last core belief you changed? What does it take to adjust your explanation
of "human nature?"
Are "psychological wounds," and Where Do They Come From?
To start answering these questions, locate your current attitude about
personality "subselves" on this 1-to-10
If you haven't reviewed these
recently, do so now, and return.
Option: print those articles and read them offline. If you're
uninterested or unwilling to read these four Web pages now, continue
Did you get preliminary answers to the first two questions above? Did your position on the
1-to-10 scale shift?
Credible Research Exists?
Research on the long-term impacts
of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse is growing. For a sobering summary, see
this after you finish reading this
article. Clinical research on
brain modularity is relatively new,
as is thermal and radiographic brain-scan technology.
The research falls into two categories:
"dissociative" and "personality disorder"
phenomena. A widely accepted clinical standard on these is the American
Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
(DSM), 4th edition (1994). It lists many dissociative, mood, and personality
each have identifiable behavioral symptoms, onsets, and treatments;
At least five factors make
replicatable research in these two areas difficult and controversial:
of standard definitions and terminology. For
example, opinions and definitions vary widely on questions like these:
"What is the human mind?" "What is personality
and normal behavior?" "What is
reality distortion?'' and "What is
'wholistic' and 'mental' health
Incomplete knowledge of how the human mind/brain works and affects
human personality development, behavior, and "wholistic health;"
complex, poorly-understood interaction between genes, early-family environment (nurturing to toxic), and cultural socialization; and
how this interaction affects normal personality formation and functioning;
variations on what "normal" behavior is. For instance,
some Asian and African societies see some behavior from altered states of
consciousness as normal or prized, where other cultures would define
such behavior as "paranoid," "hysterical," and
"psychotic;" and another controversial factor is...
The role of
personal spirituality in human growth, health,
and behavior. For instance, evidence is accumulating that concerted
prayer can reduce or heal some physiological
illnesses or conditions. Many veteran practitioners of internal-family
other therapies independently report experiences that suggest the
reality of spirituality as a
factor. The healing power of faith is largely unexplored, and inquiry
and debate continue.
Despite these five factors, there is a wealth of
credible research and reference material to consider. I refer you to
five of many rich sources of research and theorizing on personality
splitting ("multiplicity"), dissociation, subselves, and personality-splitting recovery:
The Search for the Real Self - Unmasking the Personality
Disorders of Our Age; by Dr. James F. Masterson (The Free Press, New
York, NY; paperback, 1988).
Other titles on personality subselves that have influenced me are
Unless you've had a prior interest in "personality disorders,"
you've probably never heard of these titles or their authors. I
believe that they and the scores of professional researchers and authors they
cite are serious, reputable, credible scholars and reporters. Note the
recent publication dates.
- the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. In the
non-profit site you're visiting now, dissociation means "significant
conflict among subselves which
disables the resident true Self."
Why Should You Trust Me and My Premises?
If you trust me (the author) enough or don't care about my credentials and beliefs,
I've studied human
behavior most of my
75 years - professionally
since 1979. Because my premises here about personality subselves and wounds
are probably alien to you, I expect you to question whether my knowledge,
perceptions, and reasoning are credible. For an overview of my background,
read this and return. If you're
curious about my current core beliefs about
relationships, families, and
"problems," follow the
links when you finish this article,.
training and 17 years' experience in engineering validated the now-accepted
idea that the behavior of groups of people can be understood via
My social-work masters degree training (1979 - 81) and multi-year study and practice of
indirect (Ericksonian) hypnosis in the 1980s convinced me of the ceaseless
mysterious interplay between our unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious
minds. With new-therapist zeal, I took hundreds of hours of post-graduate
seminars, laced with reading several dozen clinical theory and practice
books, to try and "understand" this profound mystery.
included Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP);
personality disorders; healthy grieving, anger management, healing shame and
guilt; divorce causes and impacts; brief therapy, paradoxical therapy (the Milan Group),
Transactional Analysis (Erik Berne), and Gestalt therapies (Fritz Perls et.
al.); guided imagery; the therapeutic paradigms of Murray Bowen, Carl
Whitaker, Salvador Minuchin, Virginia Satir, Peggy Papp, Harville Hendrix,
John Gardner, Jay Haley, Richard Fisch, Paul Watzlawick, Joseph Zinker, and
I was licensed as a Certified Social Worker (CSW) in Illinois,
and as a Parent Effectiveness (P.E.T.)
Trainer and a
facilitator. I had no initial training in dissociative disorders. Like most
colleagues, I paid little attention to Multiple Personality Disorder
because it seemed rare and my instructors ignored it.
This rich stew of ideas fed my evolving a theory of family-
nurturance levels and how they
affected human personality development. I began a solo psychotherapy practice in 1981, specializing in working with stepfamily adults,
couples, and kids. I
got early clinical training in this specialty from the writings of Dr.
Sager and Esther Wald (University of Chicago), and a weekend seminar with Drs. Emily and John
Visher who founded the nonprofit Stepfamily Association of America in 1979.
My hundreds of average Midwestern clients allowed me to reality-test and
meld the ideas of all my many academic teachers into 7-Lesson
In 1986, I "accidentally" discovered
that I was the son of two functional alcoholics, and came from a very
dysfunctional (low-nurturance) ancestry. That life-changing epiphany
explained much about the painful qualities of my life, including two divorces.
I began to learn all I could about what being an
"ACoA" (Adult Child of Alcoholics) meant, and what could be done
about it. As I read and attended seminars about this and
codependence and our
Inner Child(ren), began to see a pattern
in what my clients and my own personal therapy were showing me. The
pattern had three themes:
sketched their and their mates' family trees as
having a significant number of these
clients' presenting problems and life choices had exactly the same
as typical ACoAs, though many said their early caregivers weren't chemically
dependent. One common client trait was
divorce and/or a series of
unstable, unsatisfying relationships. Another was an almost universal
inability of adult clients and couples to think clearly and
effectively. Many had minor
kids who were "acting out" or "troubled."
I began to sense a connection among these three, but didn't know what it
was. None of my post-graduate training had affirmed or described a
proposed what to do
By "chance," I attended a 1990 seminar led by Chicago psychologist Dr.
Richard Schwartz on
inner-family-systems (IFS) therapy. It provided the missing link between my troubled clients' three patterns. His IFS
concepts, based on a decade of study and clinical practice, made instant, intuitive sense to me. I signed up for two
nine-month externships with Dr. Schwartz at the University of Illinois, and
began my first faltering steps working with my clients' and my personality "parts"
watched people's physical posture, facial expression, and vocal tone change
subtly or clearly, as different parts took turns running the
client's inner family of subselves. I have witnessed several hundred troubled
people interviewing their subselves, and learning that these personality parts
were certain they were living in a time decades before - the
"bad old (childhood) days." I've listened to people
laugh as they recounted having inner-staff or
council meetings, and
between their conflicted or distrustful subselves.
I began to study dissociative disorders intensely, including multiple personalities. I
read three helpful books on
a kind of therapy by veteran psychologists Hal Stone and Sidra Winkleman
Stone. I adapted their ideas, and found the high majority of my
clients very receptive and responsive to them.
The Stones' book "Embracing
Each Other" helped me understand
"relationship difficulties." A recovering colleague gave me this poetic
about a stepfamily-couple's subselves from Michael Ventura's book Shadow
Dancing in the USA. I began to see more and more evidence of false
selves and their effects in and outside my clinical office, including in the
As Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote, "You'll See
It When You Believe It." The
fact that the
Center for Self Leadership (CSL) staff has been conducting clinical training workshops
internationally since 1995 testifies that I am one of many who
sees the reality of inner-families of subselves and
The annual CSL conferences in Chicago have been attended by hundreds of
clinicians from all over the country who are finding the inner-family
concept real, useful, and viable. International interest is growing as I
premise in this Web site is that
early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse
promote the formation of a survival-motivated
false self. This needs to be independently validated by formal
research. If this premise is true, the social implications are as
impactful as discovering fire and the wheel.
premise here is that
unaware Grown Wounded Children
(GWCs).choose each other as mates and
associates repeatedly, despite painful results. Veteran
marital counselor Dr. Harville Hendrix (Keeping the Love You Find) and
others seem to agree. Logic is
clearly not useful in explaining this.
I have studied and experiencedpersonal
recovery from a low-nurturance
(traumatic) childhood since 1986. I have met hundreds of people
(including clinicians) who spontaneously testified they came from
childhood lacking psychological and spiritual nourishment, and who were
What I can report factually is that the two premises above seem to be
born out in interviews with hundreds of average, random
stepfamily clients since 1990.
Since 1981, my stepfamily clients have been referred from dozens of different lay and
clinical sources around Chicago. I continue to get unsolicited feedback
likethis from people who are
exploring these inner-family ideas in their own lives.
As far as my motives for maintaining this Web site and my zealous focus on
breaking the silent [wounds + unawareness]
cycle, I want my life to matter by
contributing to the common good. I want to use my knowledge, talents,
and limitations (e.g. my wounds) to raise public awareness of the toxic
link between low childhood nurturance,
true-Self dis-ablement and
ignorance, and (re)divorce. In studying relationships and
family dynamics since 1979, I've never seen the link that is proposed here. This has become a
life mission for me.
At 75, I'm not interested in wealth, fame,
prestige, or power. My payoff is epitomized by a sexual-abuse survivor with
whom I worked for several years toward harmonizing her terribly chaotic
inner family of subselves. She called unexpectedly one Christmas day to say "You've
been on my mind, Pete. I just called to say thanks so very much for the
(inner-family) work we did. It has made a major positive difference in
my life! I'm passing it on to other people now..." Her true Self was