First Person Plural

In his piece entitled The Many Faces of Dennis Hastert, Frank Bruni wondered how Mr. Hastert was able to partition himself in ways that allowed him to appear pious when he had done terrible misdeeds, and arrives at a conclusion long-known within Psychosynthesis: that we are all a multitude of selves living within a singular person.

The concept of subpersonalities is quite straightforward: Every person has different sides or facets to their personality, and each one plays a particular role within the person’s life that they may or may not be aware of. The person you are in a professional work environment might be different from who you are at home with family, who might in turn be different from who you are when in the company of your friends, or when you are surrounded by strangers. We can delve even deeper and delineate the subpersonalities who are critical, angry, defeated, upbeat, worrying… That human beings have a sophisticated way of compartmentalizing ourselves allows us to work with each discrete subpersonality, to better understand it — when it comes into play and why — and in so doing, to become free from its thrall.

The danger of any specific subpersonality is when it stops serving us, and begins to hinder us. For example, having a critical subpersonality might be really useful when surveying one’s work with an eye towards improvement, or when judging appropriate behavior in public; but when the critical subpersonality goes overboard and the person is made as if nothing and no one is ever good enough, that is when lives turn toward misery and despair.

In counselling and therapy, we work with subpersonalities as unique, fully formed parts of the person — sometimes, subpersonalities might even have their own posture, way of talking, or behaving — so as to help them integrate and consciously choose when and how to express those facets of themselves, rather than be unconsciously beholden to them. The person who is aware of their inner critic and how it is triggered and manifests is then in a position to choose, based on circumstances, whether or not it is helpful or appropriate or desirable to let the inner critic take over, or if perhaps a different subpersonality might be more suitable for the occasion.

Ultimately, the study of subpersonalities is about conscious integration — allowing the person full mastery of all the different selves within, so that they can live life to the fullest with awareness and choice.

Originally published at