Lesson 1 of 7  - reduce psychological wounds

Q&A about Personality Subselves - p. 1 of  2

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this 2-page article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/IF/faq.htm

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        This brief video overviews Q&A about personality subselves:

        This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 of 7 in this Web site - (a) free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and (b) reduce significant false-self wounds. All seven other course Lessons are founded on this one.

      A key premise in this nonprofit wound-prevention Web site is that the personality of normal adults and kids is composed of a group of semi-independent subselves or parts, like talented players in an orchestra or sports team. Thus locally and over time, your personality can range from harmonious to chaotic, depending on who's leading your subselves - your true Self or ''some-one else.''

        This concept is new to most people (like you?), and raises some common questions. This article offers brief answers and links to more information. If you're skeptical or curious about normal personality subselves, read my letter to you, and try this safe, interesting exercise after finishing this article.

        These Q&A items assume you're familiar with...

       Common Questions About Subselves

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What are my personality subselves like?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  If I have all these parts,  who am "I, myself" - who's ME?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What's my true Self (natural-leader part) like?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How do I know if my true Self is in charge?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  Where did my subselves come from?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How can I "meet" my subselves?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What do my subselves want?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  Do your subselves and mine interact?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How do typical subselves behave? Will they change?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  Is there any danger in meeting my inner team?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes) What do people think about this concept?

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  What Are My Personality "Parts" Like?

           Our subselves or personality parts are unique within us, and yet they seem to have common traits between people. From the reports of hundreds of people who have done parts work (inner-family harmonizing), our subselves all seem to...

  • be energies that are naturally built into our mind/body systems. As such, they can not be killed, fired, or ejected.

  • be benign: from its own perspective, every subself means us well;

  • be well-developed or not, depending on inner and outer events and environments;

  • be active or inactive (quiet), depending on perceived current inner and outer life conditions. And each subself...

  • have individually-unique talents and abilities, and a primary job or mission that uses these. Typical subselves can be paralyzed, overruled, and retrained. They're often eager to replace outdated or harmful old roles (purposes) for healthier ones, once they trust this is safe and promotes the host-person's welfare.

        And typical subselves...

  • have their own thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perceptions of the inner and outer world, which can be based on childhood perceptions and biases, and may be very distorted;

  • are able to quickly change to new inner goals, when they appear safe, useful, and viable;

  • need inner and outer recognition, respect, and appreciation for their efforts, and respond to these "just like people do";

  • are extremely protective of themselves and their host person - though paradoxically, their skewed ideas of protection may cause the person (you) pain and injury;

            And each typical subself appears to:

  • be of equal value to us. As in any true team, there is no one "best" subself overall. Each one  ex-cels in certain situations, and adds to overall group effectiveness and success;

  • live in the present or the past. Those dwelling in the (usually traumatic) past, when feeling safe enough, can come to live in the present. Until they do, they cause us chronic "trouble";

  • communicate with each other and with "us" via thoughts ("inner voices"), hunches, feelings, ima-ges, visions, memories, day and night dreams, and physical sensations (e.g. "tight" stomachs and throats, neck and back pains, cramps, headaches, tinglings or numbness, "floating anxiety", "panic attacks", warm or cool skins, thumping hearts, "crawling" and "light" feelings, and many others);

  • be male, female, or neither, regardless of the gender of the body they live in;

            And our subselves…

  • may not know some other subselves; form loyal alliances with some, or they may misunderstand, fear, distrust, ignore, and compete with each other;

  • can disguise themselves and/or hide from "us" and each other, if feeling confused or unsafe;

  • have preferred names, developmental ages (the same or different than our body's actual age), and (sometimes) favorite locations in our bodies, which can change;

  • perceive that they have their own body parts (i.e. face, limbs, torso, etc), which may be "lost" via real-life trauma and regained via inner-family therapy;

  • be able to return to remembered real traumas, and - with planning and new inner-family aware-ness, leadership, and alliances - "re-do" these events to experience better outcomes and reduce or end old fears and compulsions;

  • be able to cause us, and relieve us of, some physical and emotional symptoms; and subselves can...

  • (eventually) function productively as a true co-operative team, led by our true Self (capital "S") or a trusted delegate in any situation.

    Common Subself Traits

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Communication: our subselves vent, demand, whine, plead, question, request, listen, interrupt, dis/ agree, hint, persuade, threaten, etc. with each other all the time. Our conscious mind and our body pro-vide two ways to "hear" their rich, dynamic interchanges. The common conditions of "mind racing" or "churning," "confusion," and "not staying focused" are symptoms of several subselves trying to commu-nicate at once without the skillful moderation of the resident true Self ("HEY - one at a time!") 

        Subselves will often give us "voices" (thought streams) and/or "images" of themselves on request: clear and accurate, or symbolic or disguised. They (usually) want to be noticed and heard! Some dis-trustful personality parts may hide until they feel it's safe to be known by other parts or outer people. One protective subself may block another from identifying itself. Some "non-visual" people have different inner "voices," while other people have images, feelings, or a combination.

       The inner "images" subselves use can be of real or imaginary children or adults; cartoon or fiction characters; males, females, or neither; plants, animals, or objects in Nature; geometric or abstract shapes - just about anything. One client's subself chose the image of "a pile of black dirt."

        Another used "a pack of ferrets." Subselves can change their images as they feel more trusting, or use alternating images, depending on how they feel. Your parts are probably brain-regions, not the inner images they present - so if a subself "looks" or sounds like your Father, it's not him!

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Timeframe: Some of your inner members live in the present, while others may be stuck in the past. The latter are usually young Inner Kids and/or their Guardians who literally don't know or believe that the world is different than when they started to develop. That may have in your mother's womb, or when you were four days, or three, seven, or 13 years old. 

        They pursue their goals based on beliefs that are no longer true, but they minimize or don't know that. People who "can't let go" of an old habit, attitude, or event (like the loss of a prized relationship or dream) often have one or more dominant subselves stuck in the past.

       Subselves may know they're in the past, but can fear shifting to the present, or not know how to. In parts work, such parts can tour your present life with your Self, and can ultimately come here to live with the rest of the inner team when that feels safe to everyone. When parts come to live in the present, peo-ple usually report feeling noticeably more "together" and better. Does "get it (your 'act') together" take on a new meaning here?

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Talents and gifts: each subself brings you one or several special abilities, like compassion, wisdom, joy, humor, concentration, playfulness, curiosity, creativity, patience, bravery, and so on. Building inner-family awareness and cooperation lets these gifts be used in combinations that best fit any moment. These gifts and the energies that power them can be directed to harm or help you in any situation. When your Self is in charge, the latter is much more likely.

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Flexibility: Our devoted subselves can learn, and change their minds about themselves, each other, and the real world. They can switch goals and strategies within us quickly, and work cooperatively and peacefully with each other. Like most team members who feel useful, challenged, and appreciated, they really prefer this, once they believe it's possible. This cooperation can build over time, with loving patience and intentional inner-family education, negotiation, and problem-solving.

       What are you thinking and feeling now? Who's "speaking"? More common traits of personality sub-selves...

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Intentions: Though some subselves may seem "bad" or "evil," they all truly mean to help inner kids and the host person in their unique way. Subselves believe that some catastrophe will happen to you if they stop what they're doing, even if it causes pain or harm.

        Guardians who distrust or don't know of your Self and other Manager subselves see no acceptable alternatives to their way of keeping you safe. They also greatly fear losing their "job." When they learn of believable alternatives, there's often another inner-family role that they'd much rather do.

       For example, a woman plagued by repeated "uncontrollable" failures at work eventually found a Saboteur (Guardian) part that was responsible. It feared that if the woman was as successful as she was capable of being, she would "get a swelled head," reap scorn and ridicule - and be rejected again (as in the woman's real childhood). The Saboteur used the inner image of a curly-haired five-year-old girl.

        She acknowledged that by making the woman "forget" things, procrastinate, and not propose innovative ideas she was stressing her, but she saw no options to protecting her from certain rejection. After meeting the woman’s Self and some negotiation and retraining, the Saboteur said she would rather become a spiritual director for all the other parts. With their agreement, she tried that out. The woman reported feeling "different" about herself, and that her life changed "for the better..."

      A controversial implication of this idea is that there are no intrinsically "evil" or "bad" people. There are deeply wounded people from exceptionally traumatic low-nurturance childhoods, whose dis-integrated subselves live perpetually in a distorted, terrifying, shameful inner past. These fragmented, tormented souls do cause real pain and suffering to themselves and others.

       Other people have genetic or acquired neuro-chemical imbalances and deficits. They do "bad" things too, but (I believe) are not immoral or "evil" by nature. Parts-work offers genuine hope of positive change to the former people, while new psychotropic drugs and medical procedures can relieve some of the lat-ter. 

        After 19 years' study and experience, I now believe (a) there is an ongoing dynamic interaction be-tween our several minds (conscious, unconscious, and pre-conscious) and our body; and that (b) emo-tional traumas and wounds can trigger or amplify physiological body changes, and vice versa. See, for example, "Fertile Minds" in Time magazine (6/24/01); and this sobering research summary

        Recall - we're reviewing common characteristic of normal personality subselves.

lttl-i.gif (70 bytes)  Control: When enraged, terrified, or deeply hurt or ashamed, our subselves can try to "take us over." Like physical people, subselves fight with each other regularly, each believing it's right, and wanting its way with and for you. Without internal trust and leadership, these inner battles often hurt us and others. When they occur we feel torn, confused, "uneasy," and perhaps buffeted by conflicting feelings about a person, idea, or event.

       These incidents are just like having a group of passengers wrestling over control of a van or bus: one subself wants to go faster, another to hit the brakes, a third holds their head and screams, while a fourth pulls on the wheel and yells "We've got to turn, right now!" Ever feel anything like this? Who "wins"?

       Because our true Self is distrusted and disabled at such times, we lose our ability to react calmly, make wise, balanced decisions, and coordinate and use our subselves' talents wisely. A common reac-tion at such times is "I don't know what got into me (or you)!" Parts who take "emergency" control may only appear at times of great stress or threat.  

      Dr. Richard Schwartz and inner-family colleagues call these takeovers blendings. He believes (as I do) that one or more overexcited parts can fuse with our Self. We (the person) then feel and think just as these controlling subselves do. It's not really us (our true Self and Managers), but one or several overexcited subselves. If asked "Who's scared in you?" we reflexively answer "I am!," vs. "Jinx, my abandoned, overwhelmed four-year-old inner child."

       Someone living in fear all the time (i.e. constantly blended with a terrified Inner Child and/or Guardian subself) may never realize this is happening. S/He may have never experienced the serenity and power of having their talented true Self trusted and charge! Without inner-family awareness, such people live life as terrified and deeply unhappy children, guiltily masquerading as adults their entire lives.

        Parts work (inner-family harmonizing) helps people see their frequent inner conflicts in a new way, and helps their Self and/or a competent, trusted delegate to lead. This skilled team-leader subself con-siders the advice of other subselves and people involved, adds it's own wisdom, and calmly makes de-cisions that best fit short and long-term neweds and goals. The more this happens, the more the other subselves trust the Self's ability to value and listen to them, guide them, and keep everyone safe.

       Before doing meaningful parts work, the average dis/harmony among your subselves usually mi-mics the psychological environment you experienced as a young child. A dominant false-self will create and/or seek similar conditions in your physical family and work environments, even if that's stressful. Until in meaningful inner-wound recovery, our ruling subselves often reproduce our real early-family nurturance level despite conscious vows not to...


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Updated March 24, 2013