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The importance of sub-personalities

Psychologists have recognised for many years that one person will have many sub-personalities.

Sub-personalities are the different parts of ourselves; these ‘sub-selves’ have developed unconsciously throughout your life. It may sometimes feel like you have a whole ‘sub-committee’ of personalities all within yourself.

Each sub-personality may take on a different role at any one time. When several are present within you, they may even seem like dominant members of a board of directors who all have competing interests and with a set of priorities based on their own viewpoints!

Examples of sub-personalities

An example of a sub-personality may be that you have a ‘performer’ side to you. This means you may like being the centre of attention. But this side may not always dominate, sometimes a ‘shy’ part of you may be more present.

Other examples of sub-personalities:

  • Follower
  • Worrier
  • Rebel
  • Adventurer
  • Tolerant
  • Pleaser
  • Manager

It’s useful to notice these and ask whether you are different on distinct days, in certain circumstances and with diverse people.  It will raise self-awareness, which is really key to understanding yourself and so that you can, as much as possible, ‘be your best self’.

You can use these four stages to work with  and to get to know how to use your sub-personalities:

Stage 1: Recognition

Write down your sub-personalities, take some time over this and come back to it on different days. If you like you can give them names and you could even picture them as separate ‘bodies’ or ‘beings’. For example, your ‘performer’ sub-personality could be imagined as yourself in stage dress.

Stage 2: Acceptance

During this stage you will look at your sub-personalities without judging them. This can be hard, since a sub-personality may be a part of yourself that you don’t like and have repressed. Often, the more it is repressed, the more it can assert itself and if you can start to understand its origins, you can see how it has served you in the past and may continue to serve you in the present and future. Accepting your sub-personalities, without judgement, is essential at this stage.

Stage 3: Coordination

The next step is to think of the basic urge or need for the sub-personality. Take some time to recognise when a sub-personality is taking over. Can you take a conscious decision whether or not to stay in this personality? It’s good to recognise the trigger.

Try to be less reactive to a situation and see if you want to decide to embody this part of you, or is there another sub-personality that might be more useful at this point in time.

An example is that if you are fearful of something, it might be that you have to go for an interview, then this might bring out a sub-personality (e.g. the worrier) that came from an experience you had as a child that didn’t go well. For example: where you were in an oral examination (or a music exam). This sub-personality may come out as you are under a similar pressure to perform. If this sub-personality is taking over, then thinking about a time when you were successful in a meeting, try to bring out a side of you (e.g. the manager sub-personality) that might help the situation. N.B. You will have your own names for your different sub-personalities and they may be different to the example above.

If you notice that a sub-personality is taking over, can you stay detached from that part of you? Especially if it isn’t serving you at that moment?

Stage 4: Integration

A fourth stage is when you get to know the different sub-personalities, can you try to experiment with combining them? If two are working together in a co-ordinated way, might this help you?

We all have these different sub-personalities and the ideal way to deal with them is not to suppress them, but to acknowledge them. If you are really in control of them, it could even be seen as you conducting your own orchestra. In that way all your different ‘selves’ will be ‘playing’ in perfect harmony with each other!

Primary and hidden sub-personalities

Recently I have read a book called ‘the final 8th’ by Bridgit Dengel Gaspard. She writes about how our sub-personalities can sometimes thwart us from achieving the last seven-eights of whatever we have set out to achieve. Gaspard divides sub-personalities into two categories: primary and hidden. The primary ones are the parts of ourselves with which we are most familiar. These sub-personalities are in charge of how we act and react to most situations. The hidden ones are those that have been suppressed e.g. the angry, or the envious self. This might be because we have told ourselves to only show our ‘nice, happy’ self to the world. Getting to know our many selves, including the hidden ones, can allow us to consider how we choose to be in a particular moment, rather than just going into the usual typical automatic reaction of a primary self.

Making use of your hidden sub-personalities

A situation might be that someone has been quite rude to your face and when this has happened, through shock, you might have just nodded and smiled. An example could be where someone says something about you that was really quite blunt, even though they don’t know you very well. It could come out of the blue, so perhaps you didn’t react in the way you wish you had done, i.e. by calling them out. However, if there is a pattern to this, and it happens more than once, then you really might want to use one of your hidden selves deliberately to let them know that this type of behaviour is not on.

Another example of a hidden sub-personality is the envious self. If you are jealous of someone, this is a good indication of something that is lacking in your life. It can tell you something about yourself – i.e. about your needs and wants. This lack could be for something material, or it could be that you are jealous of someone that has more free time than you. Therefore, it’s good to think about this tells you about yourself? Could you, therefore, set some goals based on this?

Goals that can cause tension between your different selves

Have you ever gone really quite far with a goal and then not completed it? The book, the ‘final 8th’ cites examples where there might be competition between the different parts of you that might mean that you don’t complete your goals. An example may be where you are an artist, who should be very successful, but you never quite follow through with getting a gallery show together. This would be the first step to success. In this case, it could be a battle between the two different selves – one that is ambitious and one that is happy with having art as a hobby. You can call the selves by their names ‘ambitious self’ and ‘content-to-dabble self’. Your different selves will go through a tug of war and one will eventually win over.

Self-awareness of the ‘tug of war’ between different selves

The battle going on between our different selves can lead to paradoxes and indecision. In every decision, there’s the good and the bad, so it’s not always easy to make these choices. An awareness of where these different selves come from can help shed light on whether they should be turned on or off, amplified or dimmed.

With goals, it’s good to tap into our core values and what’s important to us. If we continually don’t reach our goals, then it’s good to ask ourselves if there is some self-sabotage going on? Is there some core negative belief that is leading to this procrastination? Core negative beliefs are internalised ideas that we may or may not be conscious of, such as ‘I am not worthy’, ‘nothing works out’ or ‘I don’t deserve much’. These very often come from parents/care givers, whilst they were raising us. Unintentionally, they may haven given us some of their rules to live by. Examples of these could be: ‘don’t make a fuss’ or ‘when things are going well, life always throws us a curveball’.

Sometimes, it might even be best to let go of a particular goal. That’s if it’s something that, after some self-exploration, it seems that it might not be really what we want.

Self-awareness of our primary and hidden selves can help us to understand ourselves better in order to get on with our lives as best as we can.

The ‘Inner Critic’ and the double bind

Our ‘inner critic’ can be considered as one of our sub-personalities that has a role of enforcing internalised rules, such as core negative beliefs. It is important to be aware of your inner critic, as it can also protect you by getting your sub-personalities to help you, such as your perfectionist, your can-do attitude, and protector/controller. Therefore, it can push you to get things done. However, as I mentioned above, our inner critic can be ruled by these core negative beliefs, so it means that we forge ahead with our goals, but then fail at the final 8th and end up not completing them.

Gaspard calls this a double bind and this can force you to be at a standstill. Completing the final eight, often will involve putting yourself out there. This will make you better known and therefore feeling more exposed and vulnerable. If you are stalled at this final eight stage, then you may wrongly think that there is something the matter with you. You end up accepting your core negative beliefs. This is a double bind, because you want to finish your goal, but at the same time you feel you can’t.

Once you realise you have this double bind, then if you have done some work to identify your primary or hidden selves, you can recruit some ‘self’ or part of you that can work against your core negative belief and can support your final eighth goal.

Conclusion

I hope that this article helps you to think about the different parts of yourself. By focusing on each one and the positives that they bring to the table can help you to achieve your future goals.

You might be interested in these other blogs I’ve written:

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