Our Inner Selves Influence Our Feelings,
Thoughts and Relationships.
More than ever before, mainstream culture is now embracing the reality that we all have inner-selves. The most recent move in this direction is the upcoming Disney-Pixar animation, “Inside Out”, scheduled to be released on June 19, 2015. This animation seems to follow in the tradition of up-beat movies like: “Finding Nemo”, “Toy Story”, “UP” and others. It’s subtitle, “Meet The Little Voices Inside Your Head”, gives it away. The trailer is definitely fun to watch and helps normalize what many of us know and experience on a daily basis: we are complex beings and we are not as “united” as we present ourselves to be.
We can frame the concept of inner-selves in many different ways. Culturally, we often go for phrases such as, a part of me wants to do this (…feels this, …thinks this, …believes this), while a part of me doesn’t. Scientifically, we go for terms like: neuro-networks, neuropathways, intrinsic memory, and memory capsules stored in long term memory (which the trailer cleverly includes). Many schools of psychology have renamed the concept of “the divided self” in their own way.
Whether we think of our inner-selves in a cultural, scientific or psychological language, the basic concept remains: our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviors vary depending of which selves, or which neuro-networks are at play. The joined interaction, or lack thereof, of our selves contribute to our sense of identity and to our experience of the world around us. Our inner-selves are way more complex and numerous than the 5 emotions–Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness which the trailer highlights. Nevertheless, the trailer still points to a direction coherent with what many schools of psychology have asserted, and what neuroscience has revealed to us in the last few decades.
Continued from Newsletter…
From the “Psychology of Selves’” perspective, each self sees and experiences what is happening to us from its own distinct point of view and each self has its unique role to play. At the root of it all, each self contributes in keeping us safe and getting our wants and needs met; whether they be our physical needs, our needs for individuality, independence, belonging, power, control, sexual and/or emotional connection, etc.
Some selves show up in certain settings, certain aspects of our lives or with some people. Other selves hide in these very settings and with these specific people. For example, the selves that take the lead at work and allow us to perform as we are expected to (like the inner Pusher, the Perfectionist, the Team Player, among countless possible selves), are not the same as those who show up when we are with our intimate partner, family members and best friends (like the Lover, the Good Husband/Wife – Boyfriend/Girlfriend, the Good Son/Daughter or the Confident, among many other selves). Obviously, the kind of work we do, the people we work with and for, and the state of our friendships help to determine which selves get air-time and which selves don’t. Lastly, the influence of our upbringing and of our culture also have an impact on which selves we are more identified with and proud of (known as primary selves), and which selves we are ashamed of and push away (known as disowned selves)
Even Rumi, the wise and highly celebrated 13th-century Persian poet wrote about the reality of our internal family. When certain selves take control of us without our awareness, they can have us say one thing to a person one minute and totally mean it; while other selves will have us take it back the next minute with as much intensity. This can easily make us look and feel like we are wishy-washy, untrustworthy, unstable or even a liar. In most cases, the deeper truth is that two different selves with different needs, wants, fears and concerns influenced our mind and actions during these two different moments. And let’s remember, neuronal time is fast. Very, very fast! Since we have no idea of what’s going on in our psyche, we brush it off as a “I don’t feel the same way anymore… I don’t know why but that is just the way it is”. The deeper truth is that different inner-selves are in conflict with each other, and that we have no idea of what’s going on. The end result is that we feel confused and divided.
Now, to add an extra layer of complexity, imagine that all of the people we are interacting with are also wired in the same way; their psyche is also made of little voices inside of them that get activated for reasons out of their control. Just like us, they too have neuro-networks that hijack their minds and, just like us, they have no awareness of what’s going on. When we look under the hood, we see a bunch of inner-selves interacting inside of each of us and with the people in our lives. No wonder relationships can often be so difficult to navigate. One minute we are doing great with the people in our lives, while the next minute we are at each others throats wondering what the hell just happened.
All of the above makes it sound like we don’t have much awareness and control over our internal wiring. If that were the only truth, it would be sad and dis-empowering. The greater truth is that we have a pre-frontal cortex and an Anterior Cingulate Cortex that allow us, when we bring them online, to become aware of our inner-family and to have real choices–as opposed to being hijacked by our inner-selves. Among the different modalities that allow us to get in touch with our neuro-networks, Voice Dialogue is the one I favor most. It is a psychological method practiced and taught throughout the world. Simply said, Voice Dialogue creates a safe space where we can meet each “little voice inside our head” and have a direct dialogue with it. We get to know its genesis, its needs and wants, what annoys it and what it likes, its role in our life… its truth and reality. When we honor our inner-family, we open ourselves to a richer and more integrated life.
The complexity of how our selves come to be, how they operate and interact among themselves and with the people in our lives, and how the technique of Voice Dialogue works is beyond the scope of this blog post. However, this short YouTube interview with Hal Stone, Ph.D, co-author with his wife Sidra Stone, Ph.D., succinctly puts together many pieces of their elegant psychological system also known as “The Psychology of Selves and of the Aware Ego”. The Stones are authors of numerous books on the subject. They are most known for: “Embracing Our Selves”, “Embracing Each-Other”, “Embracing Your Inner Critic”, and “Partnering: A New Kind of Relationship”. For more information on their work: Dr. Hal & Sidra Stone’s website
Interestingly enough, comparing this old grainy video with the high–tech upcoming animation “Inside Out” is sort of fun. Who could have known that a mainstream, fast paced Disney-Pixar movie would shed light on Rumi’s poem and a psychological model first articulated more than four and a half decades ago? Not moi. I can’t wait to go to the movies on June 19th!
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©