This article is one of a series on effective clinical
of divorcing-family and stepfamily clients. It is based on 26 years' study and live clinical experience with hundreds
of typical marital and family clients. The article assumes you
are familiar with all five elements of this
If you haven't recently, please read these introductions to
effective clinical assessments and
interventions before continuing here.
A core premise in this clinical model and nonprofit Web site is that normal
personalities are comprised of semi-independent subselves or "parts."
families, children automatically evolve three or four
including a talented leader - the
Depending on many environmental and genetic factors, such
kids are often directed by inner children ("Vulnerable subselves") and their
Guardian subselves - a "false self." These reactive personality parts
distrust or ignore (disable) the true Self, and cause the growing child's
thoughts, emotions, and behaviors - specially in stressful situations.
Typical adults ruled by a well-meaning, short-sighted false self ("Grown
Wounded Children, or GWCs") develop up to five related psychological
"wounds" - excessive shame and guilts, excessive fears and/or reality
distortions, significant trust imbalances, and possibly an inability to bond
and exchange real love - Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
Adults whose personalities are lead by their Self (capital "S") or a "false
self" display characteristic behaviors which allow a knowledgeable person
to assess which subselves rule their personality in calm and stressful
My 27-year clinical training and experience suggests that...
a high percentage
of adults who seek clinical help (professional therapy or counseling) are significantly
very few know this, what it
or what to
This creates a
paradox and major clinical challenge: I believe the most impactful cause of
most personal and family-system "problems" is significant
psychological wounds, yet typical adult clients (i.e. their ruling
subselves) are unaware of this,
and are not motivated to learn about their wounds and proactively
seek appropriate help to permanently reduce them.
We are living a version of Hans Christian Anderson's famous folktale
"The Emperor's New Clothes."
Our society is pretending that inept parenting, child neglect, and psychological wounds
are not pandemic and steadily degrading our
culture. These wounds range in severity from minor to life-threatening.
This article focuses on
intervention-options with individual clients that the clinician
deems to be "significantly wounded."
Two useful criteria for
making this subjective assessment are (a) whether the clinician
believes the client's wounds and
are significantly harming their personal
and longevity, and/or are
(b) putting dependent children at significant risk of developing
their own wounds, by promoting a
Clinicians will experience three types of significantly-wounded
adult clients who each merit unique clinical goals and
Non-receptive - the
adult's dominant subselves are too scared, distrustful,
misinformed, and/or distracted to learn about
and wounds. The clinician's best intervention strategy is
to accept this, "plant seeds" (summary knowledge and indirect
of trying to promote meaningful short-term personal healing.
Intellectually-receptive - the
adult's subselves are willing to learn about
personality subselves and wounds, but are not genuinely
motivated to assess for significant wounds and start reducing
them. The clinician's best intervention strategy is to (a)
educate the client on subselves and wounds within situational
limits, and (b) "plant seeds' about the future personal and
family benefits of wound-recovery. Trying to "sell" (persuade)
such a client to recover has more to do with the clinician's
needs to rescue or "fix" than the client's current needs;
Committed to recover
adult's ruling subselves have
and are genuinely
willing to learn about their wounds and start reduce them
(i.e. to harmonize subselves under the leadership of the
subselves) - in the midst of filling other daily primary needs.
In other words, such client adults spontaneously make personal
wound-recovery a high current life priority. The most effective
intervention strategy with these clients is to encourage a
long-term outlook and patient multi-modal individual
("intrapsychic") work over time.
I and other proponents of the
Center for Self Leadership (CSL) recommend some
sequence of planned, paced "parts-work"
interventions with adult clients who are motivated to free their
Self and reduce their wounds over time. This individual work may occur
simultaneously with intervening with the client's family
system - specially if the family lacks
high-nurturance traits (i.e. is
The best case occurs when all adult client-family members are
aware of subselves, wounds, and recovery; and genuinely
individual adults working to
their true Selves to harmonize and lead.
Intervention Options with
This section proposes four sequential interventions
which (a) teach any adult client/s about the potential benefits of
working to harmonize their subselves, and (b) may motivate them to
learn more and apply their learnings:
1) introduce an illustrate
the personality-subself concept. If clients seem disinterested,
return the focus to their presenting problem/s for now. If they
do seem interested, then...
add and illustrate the concepts of (a) psychological wounds,
(b) Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), and (c) wound-recovery. If
the client remains receptive, then...
sketch how a
false self (i.e. selected subselves) may be contributing to his
or her presenting problems, and
how wound-recovery could
benefit this client. Then...
4) Decide together whether to
pusue that now or refocus on other clinical goals.
1) Introduce the
Concept of Normal Subselves
A keystone intervention with any adult client is to introduce the
concept of normal personality subselves in a way s/he can relate to.
It can take as little as five minutes. For example:
You - "You have a unique
personality that helps define who you are, don't you?
Client - "Yes."
You - "Have you ever
wondered how your personality contributes to your (presenting)
Client - "My personality? No,
You - I want to suggest an
idea that may help you fill your needs better. You've probably been
taught that your personality is a single "thing." You have one
brain, and one personality, right?"
Client - "Yeah..."
You - An increasing number of
mental-health researchers now propose that normal -
vs."crazy" - personalities are composed of a number of specialized
"parts," or "subselves," like the members of an orchestra or sports
team. Each subself has a unique talent and role to play in the
group. This means that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in any
situation result from interactions among your "players," or
subselves. Does that seem possible or reasonable?
Client - "Well... I guess so."
(Note - in my experience, typical clients intuitively agree with
this idea, unless they're fear based.) As some clients try out the
new idea that they may be "controlled by a group of subselves," they
may ask or wonder "Does this mean I (or another person) have a
multiple personality (disorder)?" If so, an appropriate response is
something like this:
You - "Multiple
Personality Disorder - MPD" is a real psychological condition, which
psychiatrists now call
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). (Option -
in lay terms). Researchers now estimate that it affects perhaps 5%
of typical Americans. DID is the extreme form of the normal
personality-fragmentation into subselves that we're talking about
here. It usually comes from massive childhood
"I see none of the characteristic traits of this disorder in you (if
true), like memory-loss episodes, periodic disorientations; or
unusual changes in voice, mood, character, and speech patterns. Most
normal people have an array of talented subselves, and their
personality fragmentation is well short of DID."
If the client seems reassured that having discrete subselves does
not mean that they are "crazy, weird, or
psycho," then continue introducing the basic concepts as
appropriate. If a client remains apprehensive about pathology, s/he
is probably controlled by a
and/or a well-meaning
Unless the client is motivated to explore this now, it's probably
best to acknowledge and accept their anxiety, and be content with
just presenting an overview of subselves, wounds, and recovery "as
Option - one way of presenting these concepts that can
minimize a fear-based client's anxiety and alarm is to describe a
mythical or real "other person" who is controlled by a false self.
Another option is for the clinician to affectionately use his or her
own subselves as illustrations - e.g. "I have a dedicated
subself who continually monitors me and insists that I must strive
to be a 'perfect' therapist who never makes mistakes. When I do make
relentlessly rants about them - like my (childhood caregiver) used
Continue presenting the concepts...
You - "As you know, some
orchestras and teams function better than others for various
reasons. The same is true of personalities like yours and mine.
Let's say that personalities which "work well" produce feelings of
security, satisfaction, serenity, and contentment. Personalities
that are "out of harmony" cause normal people to feel significantly
anxious, depressed, angry, hurt, confused, apathetic, manic, and so
on. Have you felt any of those normal feelings recently?"
Client - "Yes, of course."
You - "This idea about
personality subselves opens up some interesting possibilities. For
example, what do you think would happen in your life if you had a
way of improving and stabilizing the harmony among your subselves?"
Client - "Pretty weird idea!
Is that possible?"
You - "Yes. I can show you how
to do that, if you're interested. Are you open to learning a little
more about your subselves and how they operate? We're building a
foundation here that can help you (solve your presenting problems)."
Client - "OK, if it doesn't
take too long or get too complicated."
You - use your own judgment
to present and illustrate some key "facts" about normal personality
subselves. Use these common
questions and answers as a guide. Keys:
explain and discuss the
concepts of "true Self" and "false self," perhaps using
the metaphors of an orchestra conductor or sports-team coach
guiding their players to peak performance. Relate these ideas to
the client's presenting problems - e.g. "So your flying off the
handle with (another family member) and then regretting it is
probably caused by a 'false self' - that is, some subselves who
distrust your true Self to lead, and 'take over' your
personality to keep you safe."
Option - ask the client if
they have ever experienced being in a group (a class, team,
family, or committee) with an effective leader. If so, ask why
the client describes the leader as "effective" - what traits did
s/he have to merit that opinion?
Option - invite the client to
experience a safe inner dialog with a favorite subself
now. Tailor this example to
fit your situation.
emphasize that having
many talented subselves combine to form a personality is
normal. A common first-reaction is to associate
the idea with having Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and
being wacko, nuts, crazy, or mentally ill"
Option - if the client
exhibits this normal reaction, frame it as an uninformed
subself trying to guard the host person against unsafe risk s
suggest that all
subselves mean to comfort and protect the host person in various
ways, and that there are no "bad" or "evil" subselves.
Affirm that false selves can do harmful things, because
they are overwhelmed, confused, terrified, and/or misinformed.
Avoid getting into a lose-lose argument (values conflict)
about whether evil and/or the Devil really exists or not.
Stay focused -
remind your client that you're inviting her or him to learn
about subselves to provide a new, effective way to help her or
him reduce their presenting (and other) problems.
If the client seems
significantly ambivalent, anxious, or skeptical about the
subself concept, consider adapting key ideas in this
letter to skeptics to widen
their perspective and options.
Reinforce the client's
understanding of the personality-subself concept by doing one or
more of these:
give the client a copy of this
and discuss their reaction to it.
ask the client to review this
Web slide presentation
- or review it with them - and discuss their reactions and
ask the client to (a) read this
Web example of how subselves
affected relationships in a real stepfamily, and (b) begin
to wonder how subselves are affecting the client's key
relationships. Option - use this
of subselves affecting a conversation between ex mates as an
illustration and thought-provoker.
Give a copy of
this article to the
client, and/or refer them to it on the Web:
http://sfhelp.org/gwc/compare.htm. Then discuss their
reactions to it.
The overall goal of these interventions is to expand the clients
awareness of how their "problems" and "happiness" are probably
strongly affected by whether their personality is usually ruled by a
true Self or a false-self.
If the client is interested, the next goal is to...
2a) Introduce the
Wounded Children (GWCs)
In my clinical experience, most typical adults seeking therapy (for
any surface reason) were raised in a
childhood environment, and bear significant false-self
They usually minimize ("It wasn't so bad...") or rationalize ("My
parents couldn't help it!") their early psychological
and/or unconsciously mute or
their feelings about it - specially their grief.
Once clients understand the concept of personality subselves,
all families (like theirs) exist
because they are (usually) better able to fill the needs of
(nurture) their kids and
than other social groups; and...
some families are better able to
nurture their members than others, over time; and...
children raised in
low-nurturance families automatically develop an array of
a "false self" - to help them survive (vs. thrive).
Do you believe this? Few parents and no kids are
aware of this, or what it means.
A primal meaning is that kids and
adults who are often ruled by a false self develop up to six
inexorably degrade their
grieving, and psycho-social development. Summarize the
wounds for your client, stressing that...
the primary wound is
a discordant, fragmented personality with a
This can cause up to five other wounds in
varying degrees; and...
each wound has unique behavioral
symptoms, allowing them
to be differentially
once wounds are identified
and admitted, any person can proactively (a)
reduce them and their toxic personal and family
effects ("recover"), and (b) guard any dependent kids
against inheriting versions of the wounds.
(GWC) and Grown Nurtured Child (GNC) or
equivalent, to distinguish adults ruled by a false-self or
their resident true Self. I suggest avoiding the label
"healthy adult (or person)" because it implies that wounded
people are "unhealthy." This can promote wound-denials and
distortions, and inhibit effective recovery.
The ideas above are usually a lot of new information for
average clients, promoting many questions, awarenesses, and possible
anxieties - e.g. "Am I (or another key person) ruled by a
false self? Do I have these wounds? If so - what does that
mean?" As you explain each core concept, ask the client if it "makes
sense," and whether s/he has any comments or
questions. Option: Ask
the client if s/he has heard each concept before or not, and/or how
s/he feels the key people in his or her life would react to these
ideas. Take your time building this knowledge foundation!
As you explain the subself
and wound concepts, note the client's verbal and nonverbal reactions.
Ideally, you will be fluent in the typical behavioral
traits of GWCs, allowing you
to judge whether your client is significantly wounded or not. If
s/he is, be alert to the person (a) c/overt discounting or rejecting
these concepts and/or their personal relevance, and (b) overwhelming
or alarming the client's ruling subselves. Perspective: typical
GWCs aren't motivated to accept or apply these ideas until mid-life
and possibly hitting a personal
There are exceptions!
2b) ...and if Appropriate, Introduce the
Concept of Wound-recovery
If your client came to therapy seeking to reduce stress among or
with other people, s/he probably isn't interested in wound recovery.
A possible exception is if s/he sees that one or more of the other
"problem" people are wounded, and wants them to know that and to
(want to) recover. If the latter is true, see and tailor this
article on relating to a wounded mate, ex mate,
focus on teaching and motivating the client to strengthen her or his
If you feel your client is genuinely interested in at least the
concept of false-self wound-
overview the concept briefly, and note his or her reaction - i.e.
skeptical / distrustful to accepting / interested. Stress that:
the core recovery goal
is to free the resident true Self (capital "S") to guide and
harmonize the other subselves in all situations. "Freeing
your Self" means patiently identifying each distrustful,
reactive subself, and inviting them to try depending on the Self
to keep them and the host person safe and healthy enough. It
also means often giving distrustful subselves new personality
roles ("jobs") to allay their fear that they'll no longer be
needed if they trust the Self.
typical GWCs cannot heal
their wounds completely, but can greatly reduce them and
their effects - permanently and gain major life
attain the benefits, they also need to study and apply effective
communication (Lesson 2) and healthy-grieving (Lesson 3) and
relationship (Projects 8 and 10) basics.
a common symptom of
psychological wounds is one or more active
(e.g. minimizing, projection, and/or denials). Wounded
people need to stabilize any addictions ("achieve stable
sobriety") before attempting to reduce the underlying
psychological wounds that cause them. A rough rule of thumb is the
client must have had no relapses for at least a year before
expecting to sustain genuine progress on freeing their Self.
Note that most (all?) current 12-step
programs don't acknowledge subselves or psychological wounds as promoting addictions.
"recovery" is the requisite gateway to full
also note that
if a client currently
relies on some prescription drug/s for "mood control"
(e.g. anti-depression, anti-anxiety, bipolar or
attention-deficit moderation, etc.),
these will usually
inhibit effective wound-reduction. Most conventional or
holistic doctors have no awareness of subselves and how they
relate to their patients' "conditions," and will propose
chemicals to promote comfort and relief (vs. healing).
If and how subselves interact with a person's biochemistry needs
much more research. I suspect that typical subselves can have
powerful neurological, muscular, and hormonal effects on average
people, and can significantly affect people's digestive, sleep,
sexual, elimination, moods, and other bodily vital processes and
the client seems genuinely (vs. dutifully) receptive, the next
intervention is to...
3) Describe How Wound-recovery Might
Reduce Presenting Problems
Typical wounded clients may understand and accept the
concepts of personality subselves, psychological wounds, and recovery,
and may not intuitively see how to apply these concepts to reduce
their current presenting problems. The goal of this third intervention is
to raise their awareness and motivation to do this. By definition,
each adult's family system, personality, history, ancestry, and presenting
are unique. Yet the theme
(vs. the details) of connecting their wounds to their presenting
problems is universal.
If appropriate (e.g. at the start of a new session), recap (a) the
client's prioritized presenting problem/s and (b) key points of the
subself / wounds / recovery concepts, and seek the client's
agreement on these. Then...
This has been a general perspective on how to introduce the concepts
of subselves, psychological wounds, and wound-recovery to average
wounded clients. When
these concepts is a subjective decision. In general, it's
best to explore the client's presenting problems well first, gain
the client's trust, and accumulate an opinion of how wounded they
are and which wounds they have, over several contacts. Clinicians
well versed in "parts work" can also guesstimate what subselves are
controlling an individual client.
After introducing these concepts and gauging the client's reactions
- and depending on their presenting problems - there are three main
clinical directions to choose between:
1) The Client's
Subselves aren't Ready to Accept Basic Concepts
2) The Client is
Willing to Learn, but not to Recover
3) The Client is
Genuinely Motivated to Learn and Reduce Their Wounds