In the two previous Field Notes I suggested as follows: 1) cultivate consciousness, your in-the-moment awareness; 2) identify and name your sub-identities (egoic structures), as they emerge; 3) discover, cultivate, and learn the nature of each sub-identity, and recognize how to give life to these personality structures in the service of your own development, wholeness, and aliveness. Any sub-identity you have not recognized and engaged with, like any person, does not grow and develop, and inevitably lacks vitality. It will most assuredly become “sullen,” even resentful, and suffer the commonest of maladies for human beings; loneliness, alienation, and isolation. Positive, appreciative, and nurturing attention facilitates your growth and the growth of your sub-identities, towards integrated wholeness and vitality that is inherent in your original nature. Integrated wholeness and vitality require a process of growing ‘into,’ and they are definitely not ‘instructions’ on how to be. They can however most constructively be seen as high dreams to grow into.
What I am offering is not a prescription for inner work: rather, guidelines and some starting points. Eventually you will be refining your own way of reflecting on, and working with, your inner world, and translating this into your way of being in your inner and relational world. You can learn increasingly to take the feedback in whatever form you receive it back into your inner world and inner work.
This Field Note is really about getting to know in a much more detailed and intimate way your sub-identities, and their great potentials. I recommend two approaches to this ‘getting to know’ project: 1) by observing with your consciousness; namely using your awareness in ways that are increasingly skilful; 2) by identifying with the identity: that is, knowing it by getting inside of it. In common language, owning it.
Perhaps you’re wondering what the purpose of all this discussion and framing is. I think it is fair to say that we, that is, you and I, have a tendency at times to say and do things in a way that could be described as automatic, or in psychological language, unconscious. Such happenings are, in my view, dictated by these egoic states that have existed in us for a long time, and that were developed from our earliest days in the service of emotional and/or physical survival. These egoic states take possession of us, and affect our lives and the lives of those around us most strongly. They are characterized by automaticity and a lack of awareness and control. The understanding of these parts in their nature and depth and breadth opens up the possibility that what is essentially their arrested development can be reinitiated: that is, they can grow, or perhaps it is even better to say, they can grow up.
Your Sub-identities Don’t Make you a Case of DID
“Sub-identities?” Hearing me mention these entities may suggest to you that what I am talking about is “multiple personalities,” or as it is now named in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, “Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).” No! What I am really saying is that we all have multiple identities or, as I have been calling them, sub-identities, and yet we may not be articulately aware of them. These identities are formed in adaptive response to life’s vicissitudes and varied challenges, as well as to everyday situational role changes required of us. I can say a lot more about this, but, for our present purpose, let me just simplify and state that these identities are really the multiple ways of being that we all have and that help us get along in the world and get through the day. For example, I am a psychotherapist, teacher, husband, friend, worrier, confident person, critic, self-critic, hypochondriac (at times!), brilliant now and then, slow-witted here and there, and so on. Those who ‘achieve’ the diagnostic label, ‘multiple personality,’ or ‘dissociative identity disorder,’ are those who are most extreme in the way their sub-identities have diversified and more or less dissociated from each other. Those suffering within the DID experience may have a day job and a night job, live in two different locations, have a grown-up self or selves, some very young selves, and any number of other personalities/selves. For the most part, some parts may know about other parts, but mostly there is no central consciousness that knows about all these identities, and they may be living very separate lives; and for the most part unconsciously. As you can imagine, this can lead to immense problems for them and for those who know them but cannot comprehend the large shifts in behavior and connection. (Send me an email if you would like a copy of an article that I wrote on this subject, and that I believe will shed some further light on what is being described here in this Field Note.)
‘Advantages’ of Having Multiple Selves (and Not Being Had by Them)
Indeed, there are advantages, really necessities, to having multiple selves/identities, as long as there is a central awareness that is conscious of them, and, moreover, that can facilitate their growth and connection with each other as an inner community in an ongoing process of development. Each of these selves represents a part of you that has abilities and potential, and at times liabilities, as well. A very crucial point of understanding is that even those parts of you that earn the term, ‘negative,’ from you and/or others invariably represent potential, or in other words, ‘deep in the dark lies gold’—gold that can grow and glow.
For example, the internal critic that many of us may have developed represents some very deep and early learning that is seamlessly insinuated into who and what we have become, and who we may believe ourselves to be. Most likely, we developed this self-critic sub-identity to adapt to the environment of our family of origin in the cultural context within which making mistakes was at best not rewarding and at worst deadly, and hence, for survival, we needed to learn to be extremely careful. Developing your awareness of this part and being compassionate and tolerant towards it rather than the more common practice of trying to overcome, destroy, and ignore it is a far more effective way to loosen the grip of this self-critical sub-identity. Furthermore, and most significantly, this is the way to discover the unacknowledged otherness within, in the present example, the one who is criticized, the relationship between these two, the potential growth of each part, and the great potential for their relationship. The potential of the critic to constructively analyze and evaluate people and circumstances, and for the criticized one to become more familiar with their own vulnerability and to help this vulnerable self transform into a truly open and aware person is an important example of inner work.
Another great and rich possibility is to ‘get inside’ these parts, that is, to identify and enact them as if you and they are one being, and then discover who they are from the inside, what constitutes them, and their developmental history, stopping point, and all in the service of knowing yourself more fully and moving towards your great potential and wholeness. For example, your inner critic is ‘moving’ you towards seeing the issues in a situation that require examination and understanding. Thus moved, you become an astute critical thinker; one who sees the wholeness of this self and the situation, both the pluses and the minuses.
Another fertile opportunity is to note when these selves arrive and begin to enact them, albeit in a new and conscious way, in the world. This is an opportunity to expand your repertoire of being. This may seem like a bit of theatre for you. Why not? Indeed, it is a powerful way of understanding the self: as an actor in the theatre of life, your life, upon whose stage sub-identities act to be fully engaged with life. Through it all, your deeper self and selves emerge from their cocoon, and after enough ‘practice’ this will be the newer, more expansive version of you. That possibility has always been there waiting to be assisted with its emergence, like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon to become a butterfly.
For those who tend to be expressive and, even, argumentative, it may well be that your experiments will involve slowing down your responses and quieting them. For those who tend towards quietness and withdrawal, you will find opportunities to be more expressive.
The effect of such inner and outer theatre is to expand your horizons, which will give your body and life force more energy and encourage fuller expression. This is a significant way to take the usual pressure off yourself, the pressure that restricts and constricts your being.
Here is a small example of inner work:
I am aware of a vague sense of dread. It emanates from the center of my chest, the area of my heart. I am also feeling some fatigue. I have vague thoughts of a somewhat gloomy nature; “Something not too good is going to happen to me. I wonder what is going to happen.” I am increasingly convinced that whatever it is will surely happen. I can feel the tension in my entire body. I am aware of an issue that I am dealing with thatinvolves an entity that definitely has larger resources at its disposal, and that has no real feelings about what this is really about, or any concern for me the human being on the other end. I feel myself shrinking. There seems to be increasingly darkening cloud over me.
Suddenly I recall my early life where I was always the smallest kid, and my fears of big boys. What is my sub-identity? I am a scared little boy. I can feel the fear in my body. I wonder how I can save myself. I can feel the charge of energy that motivates me to run and hide.
Consciously now, I shift my awareness to the other identity. I can feel this larger, or powerful entity, in this moment Goliath is emerging. I have a certain ruthless feeling. I’d like to get my hands on that little kid. Perhaps I will beat him up. He is so small and I am so big. I have a feeling of power.
As I feel into these two identities, I am aware of their separateness, and at the same time, of their mutually unfolding existence in the overall field. One is predator and one is prey. These two sub- identities exist within me and have an ongoing relationship. I am aware that this inner conflict is reflected in the outer world and simultaneously in my inner world.
I am aware that my consciousness at the moment sees both identities and the relational field. How do I grow the relational field?
I will stop this Field Note here for now and invite you to send any comments, questions, and feedback.
In the Field Notes for October, November, and now December, I have written an introduction to some central aspects of inner work. I will stop my writing on this theme in this very direct way for now. My intention going forward is to expand what I have written so far into an inner work booklet or handbook. I will invite Heesoon to co-author it with me, and also perhaps we will develop an inner work course. Such course could be for personal work on one’s own. It could also be for counsellors to use in their work with their clients.
Please do send questions, comments, and feedback to me, and feel most free to post these in the Comments section. I will be glad to respond to you.
Many thanks to you, Heesoon, as always for your support with this Field Note.
I will take a break from writing Field Notes in January and resume in February. I wish you all the best for the Season, the New Year, and increasing excitement and the adventure of discovery with the Big Experiment: your life, and the larger community of all beings and existence…
A further announcement: as some of you are aware I am now involved in the development of the Maslow Centre for Leadership & Coaching (https://www.maslowleadership.com/).
In 2021 I will be teaching Inner Work for Coaches for Maslow. Please feel free to inquire about this and to let others who may be interested know about it.