Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Exercise: Interview One of Your Personality Subselves

Experience an Inner Dialog

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/IF/dialog.htm

  Updated  01-20-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological wounds.

      This brief YouTube videohttps://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0078069050/Satisfactions.aspx previews what you'll read in this article:

      Premise - the personality of normal adults and kids is composed of a group of subselves or parts. It also proposes that many relationships and families are significantly troubled because adults' personalities are conflictual and dominated by "false selves" - several short-sighted, reactive subselves who lack skill at group leadership and wise long-range decision-making. On first hearing these alien premises, typical people (i.e. their ruling subselves) are often skeptical or disbelieving.

      To explore whether talented subselves do govern your personality and behavior...

  • adopt an open mind ("I'm not sure whether subselves exist or not, so I'll learn more before deciding.") and...

  • review these everyday symptoms. Then...

  • experience a safe inner "dialog" between your true Self (capital "S") and one or more other subselves.

This article offers guidelines on how to have such a dialog. I suggest you read this whole article before trying to have an inner conversation. Note that (personality) parts and subselves mean the same thing.


      An essential first step is to adopt an attitude of nonjudgmental curiosity. If you try an inner dialog assuming "This can't work" or "I can't do this," you'll probably get what you expect. Choose a mindset like "I don't know what will happen. Let me try this experience and find out." Difficulty adopting a neutral attitude probably means your ruling subselves are afraid of something.

Pick a Trait (Subself)

      Pick a time and physical setting where you won't be distracted for 10 or 15 minutes. Get comfortable, and identify several qualities or traits that contribute to your unique personality. For example, you might think "I'm ... 

well organized





usually optimistic

a hard worker





creative / artistic


nurturing / caring


      Try out the idea that each personality trait is caused by a talented subself who specializes in that ability or quality, like a player in an orchestra or a sports team. To expand your awareness, take a few minutes and study this list of common subselves.

      Each person has a unique mix of some of these subselves, not all of them. Note that one group of subselves is inner children. They're very reactive, and "specialize" in bringing you primary emotions like curiosity, awe, anxiety, silliness, sadness, rage, guilt, love, fear, confusion, loneliness, and shame. If you're curious about your subselves, read this and return here.

      Now imagine choosing one of these subselves to interview, like meeting a distant relative for the first time. Pick a "neutral" or helpful subself, not one which causes you significant problems. Pause and reflect: how do you usually behave when you meet someone for the first time? Meeting a subself is just the same.

      Have you ever been in a class, team, committee, or group which had a really effective leader? Recall why you felt s/he was "effective." Now try out the idea that one of your subselves is a naturally talented, motivated, wise group leader.

      A premise here is that every adult and child has such a skilled subself - their true Self (capital "S"). In this inner dialog exercise, your Self will interview another of your subselves. If you're curious about your Self, read this and return.

      Another premise is that subselves communicate with us and each other all the time. For perspective on "talking" with a subself, review this and return.

Questions to Ask

      Before your inner interview, clarify what you want to learn about this subself. Here are some useful questions. Keep in mind that each subself has its own unique values, goals, attitudes, and perceptions. These may differ a little or a lot from your Self's view of the world.

"Is there a name you'd like to be called?" Some parts feel very strongly about this and others are indifferent.

"How old are you?" Each subself has its own developmental age, which often differs from the age of your body.

"Where do you live?" Some subselves may believe they're living in one of your past dwellings. For now, just accept that.

"Who do you live with"? Subselves may live with people you know or knew, animals, strangers, or "no one."

"Do you know who I (your true Self) am?" Some subselves don't know your true Self exists - or they do, but aren't clear what the Self's leadership role is in your inner family (personality).

"What year is it?" It's common for young and Guardian subselves to believe it's some year in your past. Trust the first thing that comes into your mind. If you get some past year, postpone trying to teach them the truth in this first dialog - just learn.

"What is your job - what do you do?" Every subself has a main function or role, which they may or may not be able to articulate.

"How do you like your job?" Be open to any answer...

"What would happen if you stopped doing your job?" Typical subselves feel some catastrophe will occur to you, including social rejection, poverty, injury, loss, or death. If so, don't dispute that or reassure them for now. 

"Is there anything or anyone that makes your job specially fun? Specially hard?"

"Do you know you're part of a family or team (of subselves)?" Some subselves believe they are all alone. Others know vaguely or clearly of (some) other subselves, but don't feel included among them. A long-range goal is to have all your subselves appreciate each other as a group of specialists with a common purpose.

"What caused you to appear?" Often the answer is some trauma or stressful period in your childhood. Be open to anything - a thought stream, a memory, an image, or something else. Avoid pre-assuming.

"How do you feel about me asking you these questions?" Expect an answer ranging from "I don't know," to "I don't care" to "I've waited so long to talk to somebody!"

"Do you worry about anything in particular?" Some subselves may never have thought about this. Others may not want to disclose yet.

"Is there anything you want me (your true Self) to know about you or your job?"

If you're interviewing a young subself, you can ask "Do you know where (your) Mom / Dad is now?" It's common for subselves to have a distorted answer.

"Is there some change you'd really like?" If you get an answer, affirm it, and ask the question again.

"Would you be willing to talk with me again?" Once subselves believe such dialogs are safe, they usually say "yes."

Note the respectful theme of these questions, and ask any others that occur to you. Keep the questions simple  - i.e. one sentence or less -  without explanations.

  What to Expect

      Before your interview, prepare for any of these common outcomes:

      1) The subself you choose is willing to respond (give you thoughts, senses, and/or images) without conditions or interference from other subselves. This is the best case!

      2) Your subself will talk, but sets conditions ("OK, but I'm not going to talk about _____.") If this happens, honor the conditions for now. A main objective here is for your subself to feel heard, respected, and safe.

      3) Your mind "goes blank" when you try to focus on your chosen subself. This usually indicates a  protective subself doesn't trust this alien new experience, and is blocking it. If this happens breathe well - Blocker or Numb-er subselves often inhibit normal breathing to minimize scary emotions.

      If this happens, shift your focus to interviewing your protective Blocker subself without judgment. ["Is there someone who doesn't want me to talk to (the subself you chose)?"]. If the Blocker will talk, ask her or him respectfully to describe what s/he thinks might happen if you had the original dialog. Your goal here is to listen and learn, not to argue, debate, demand, or persuade.

      Another possible inner-dialog experience you may have is...

      4) You keep thinking about ''other things'' (can't concentrate) as you try to interview your subself. This may indicate that several subselves are activated by what they think you're doing, and are all "talking at once." Options: ask them all to get quiet, and speak one at a time.

      Ask each subself to identify itself by name, an image, and age; and to say what s/he needs, thinks and/or feels. Just listen empathically for now - make no promises, explanations, or requests. Then if it feels right, you may ask them to be quiet so you can conduct the original interview. Either way, you experience communicating with your subselves.

      5) With any of these outcomes, you may experience subtle or obvious physical reactions like shifts in your heartbeat, breathing, skin temperature, and muscle twinges or tensions. If so, they may or may not be caused by the subself you're interviewing or another subself who's "listening in."

      Option: ask that subself if s/he is causing the physical reaction/s, or if s/he knows which other subself is. If such reactions become too distracting, end the interview respectfully. A future option is to focus on the subself causing your body reaction and ask what s/he's trying to communicate. Stay aware that all subselves are trying to help you in their own unique way! See this for more perspective.

Dialog With a Subself

Pick a Safe Meeting Place

      When you feel ready, notice what time it is, get physically comfortable, and close your eyes. Vividly imagine being in a comfortable, safe, distraction-free meeting place indoors or in nature. It may be a place you've actually been or imaginary. If the latter, your Self is doing the imagining. If you choose a Nature setting, consider a mountaintop, a forest clearing, a peaceful beach, a quiet lake or river, a beautiful canyon, or any other serene setting. Avoid any place that has human activity or noise.

      Whatever place you choose, take a moment to look around. Notice the quality and source/s of light, the temperature, any aromas, and any soothing background sounds like a fountain, calm waves, gentle breeze, or quiet music. Notice the floor or ground, and decide if you want to sit, recline, or stand. If you're special place is indoors, enjoy choosing the furniture, colors, decorations, and amenities (but no TV or PC!). If there are windows or skylights, notice what you see through each of them.

      Whatever meeting place you choose, know that this is your own sacred space and refuge. No one else can intrude here unless you invite them. Enjoy realizing you can come here any time of the day or nite to get calm, quiet, grounded, and reflective. You may choose to invite your Higher Power here to welcome and guide you and any subselves you invite.

      As you design your meeting place, take a few moments to be there. Breathe easily from your belly, and let the concerns of the day recede without anxiety or guilt. Be still.....

Inner Imaging

      Verify that you can form inner images by picturing your partner, favorite child, special friend, or a cartoon figure. Focus on the subself you want to interview, and ask if s/he will give you an inner image. Be open to the first thing that appears, even if it "makes no sense."

      Images may be of a real or imaginary person, a memory or fantasy, an animal, or cartoon figure, an abstract shape or color, or an object. If you don't get a stable image, that's OK. Focus on a memory that hilights the personality trait you've chosen. Remember how it felt to be that trait.

      Ask the image or the feeling (i.e. think) "Are you willing to talk with me for a few minutes?" Trust the first thing that occurs, without judgment - a thought, image, sense, or feeling. If you have an image of the subself, notice if it changes - e.g. if the image is of a person or animal, whether it looks at you (your Self) or not.

      If you sense a "yes" response, explain what you're doing, just as you would with a physical person. That might sound like "I'd like to learn about you, so I'd like to ask you some questions. Is that OK?" Notice the first thought or feelings that happens, and react accordingly.

      If it is OK, then ask the questions (above) you've chosen, one at a time. After each one, be still, and notice the first thought/s, image/s, and/or feeling/s that occur without judgment. If you get a thought like "That's weird / stupid / impossible...", know that another subself is commenting on the first subself's response - not your Self.

      Ignore the judgment, and continue. If a response merits it, ask a related question. For example, if you ask "What's your job?" and your subself answers "To keep you safe," you might ask "Safe from what?" The idea here is to act just as you would talking with a physical person.

      If your subself says "No, I don't want to answer any questions now," acknowledge that with respect. Then ask something like "Is there something I can do to make you feel more comfortable?" or "What might happen if you did answer?" Stay empathically aware that this initial experience may be too alien or scary for this subself now. If so, thank the subself, and consider focusing on another one.

      As you start to get responses, notice how you're feeling about this subself of yours. If you feel any-thing but neutral interest, compassion, or appreciation - e.g. scorn, dislike, anxiety, guilt, or distrust - another subself has probably blended with (taken over) your Self.

      Subselves are alert, and react fast as the environment changes. If you get judgmental feelings, pause and ask the subself that has taken you over to "step aside" or ''unblend'' and let you continue the interview. See if your attitude toward the first subself shifts. If the judgmental subself won't step aside, shift your focus and interview him / her.

      Be comfortably alert for your Blocker or Numb-er (Anesthetist) activating and interrupting your interview - e.g. you get "no response" to a question, you lose the subself's image, or your mind "goes blank." If that happens, refocus on your Blocker, and ask what s/he needs.

      As always, trust the first thoughts or feelings that occur, without judgment. Stay focused: experiencing the process of dialoging with your subselves is your primary goal here, not getting answers to your questions.

      When you feel "done" or the subself indicates s/he wants to stop, ask two final questions: "How did it feel to talk with me?" and "Would you be willing to talk with me again?" Option - ask "Is there anything you want to say or ask before we end for now?" Be open to any response. As you would with a physical person, thank your subself for the interview, and say goodbye.

      Reconnect with your body by flexing your fingers and toes, moving your torso and head, opening your eyes, and breathing from your belly. Notice any thoughts or feelings about this experience, without judgment. Option: write down what you recall about the dialog, and any reactions you have about it.

      Recall your initial attitude about whether personality subselves are real or not, and see if anything has shifted. Notice what time it is. Often, doing a subself interview ("parts work") evokes a mild or deep trance (inner focus), which may cause "time distortion" - e.g. "a short conversation" may take 15 or 20 minutes in real time.

What Next?

      The purpose of this exercise is to help you decide whether normal personalities - like yours - may really be composed of subselves or not. If you feel this is credible, the next step is to decide whether the concepts of true Self and "false self" are believable. If so, then see if false-self "wounds" make sense (a) in general, and (b) in your life.

      The ultimate goal here is for you to decide "Who has been running my life - my true Self or some other subselves?" For perspective on what it's like to be dominated by a well-meaning false self, read this comparison, this summary, and this true example when you finish here.

      If you suspect your Self has been disabled too much, then decide whether or not to assess yourself for false-self dominance (wounds) by using the worksheets in self-improvement Lesson 1. If you're sure a false self has been running your life, then decide if you care enough about yourself and any living and future kids to commit to personal wound recovery - i.e. to freeing your Self to guide and harmonize your group of talented subselves over time.

       As you confront these profound decisions, some frightened, distrustful subselves will probably try to deflect you from working at true recovery. Also expect the people around you to be skeptical, anxious, or critical of these ideas and your recovery - because their subselves are unaware, scared, and/or dis-trustful.

      Options: if you are or were in a committed primary relationship, assess whether your partner is or was ruled by a false self. If you're co-parenting a troubled child, assess whether s/he may have accidentally inherited psychological wounds. If any of these people are significantly wounded, see this.

      In the last generation, many resources have appeared to help wounded people heal and live more centered, authentic, contented lives. From 21 years' experience, I recommend "inner-family therapy" or (personality) "parts work" as an effective way to heal over time. The guidebook for this life-changing work is "Who's Really Running Your Life? Free your Self, and guard your kids." (Xlibris.com, 2011, 4th ed.).

      If you still doubt the reality of personality subselves, read this letter with an open mind. Otherwise, try this Reality Check to see where you stand.

       Is there someone you want to discuss these ideas with and/or show this article to?

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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