One of the most harmful illusions that can beguile us is probably the belief that we are an indivisible, immutable, totally consistent being. And finding out that the contrary is true is among the first tasks and possibly surprises that confront us in our research.
We can easily perceive our actual multiplicity by realizing how often we modify our general outlook, changing our model of the universe with the same facility with which we change dress. Thus, life may appear to us at any time as a routine, a dance, a race, an adventure, a nightmare, a riddle, a merry-go-round, etc.
Our varying models of the universe color our perception and influ¬ence our way of being. And for each of them we develop a corresponding self-image and a set of body postures and gestures, feelings, behaviors, words, habits, and beliefs. This entire constellation of elements constitutes in itself a kind of miniature personality, or, as we will call it, a subpersonality.
Subpersonalities are psychological satellites, coexisting as a multi¬tude of lives within the overall medium of our personality. Each subpersonality has a style and a motivation of its own, often strikingly dissimilar from those of the others. Says the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, "In the very corner of my soul there is an altar to a different god."
Each of us is a crowd. There can be the rebel and the intellectual, the seducer and the housewife, the saboteur and the aesthete, the organizer and the bon vivant, each with its own mythology, and all more or less com¬fortably crowded into one single person. Often they are far from being at peace with one another. As Assagioli wrote, "We are not unified; we often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs, and because one hand doesn't usually hit the other. But, metaphorically, that is exactly what does happen within us. Several subpersonalities are continually scuffling: impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle."
1- Consider one of your prominent traits, attitudes, or motives in life.
2- With your eyes closed, become aware of this trait, attitude and motive… feel and focus on Its energy in you. Then let an image emerge representing it. It may be a woman, a man, an animal, an elf, an object, yourself in disguise, a monster, or anything else in the universe. Do not consciously try to find an image. Let it emerge spontaneously, as if you were watching a screen, not knowing what will shortly appear on it.
3 - As soon as the image has appeared, give it the chance to reveal itself to you without any interference or judging on your part.
Let it change if it tends to do so spontaneously, and let it show you some of its other aspects if it wants to. Get in touch with the general feeling that emanates from it.
4 - Now, let this image talk and express itself. Give it space, so to speak, for doing so; in particular, find out about its needs. Talk with it (even if your image is an object, it can talk back to you; anything is possible in the imaginary world).
You have in front of you a subpersonality , an entity with an energy, a life and intelligence of its own.
5 - Now, open your eyes, and record in a notebook everything that happened so far. (keep a special diary to discover more about the different subpersonalities that cohabit and form your ego)
Then give this sub-personality a name any name that fits and will help you to identify it in the future: the Complainer, the Artist, the Bitch, Santa Claus, the Skeptic, "Jaws," the Insecure One, the Octopus, the Clown, "I Told You So," the Judge, the Victim, the Rebel, the Mother, the Boss and so on. Finally, write about its traits, habits, and peculiarities.
6 - After you have identified and exhaustively described one sub personality you can go on to the others. But take your time and work on each one alone until you feel finished. The process requires merely picking a few more of your prominent traits, attitudes, or motives and going through steps 1 to 5 for each one.
You can also discover other subpersonalities by taking stock of the various ways in which you look at life, by reviewing your behavior in various situations, and by considering your various styles of being you.
Discovering our subpersonalities in these ways gives us a quick means to gain a relatively clear picture of our inner life. In turn, this clarity can enable us to be more at home with all those unknown inner guests having their own party or battle inside us.
When we recognize a subpersonality, we are able to step outside it and observe it. In psychosynthesis we call this process "des-identification." Because we all have a tendency to identify with to become one with this or that sub-personality, we come implicitly to believe that we are it. Des-identification consists of our snapping out of this illusion and returning to our self to the real Presence within and its level of consciousness. It is often accompanied by a sense of insight and liberation.
At certain other times subpersonality recognition is also accompa¬nied by a healthy feeling of dismay or alarm, as, for instance, when a woman who had suddenly recognized her “Victim” subpersonality exclaimed: "If I stop complaining, what else can I do?" Still other people, after having recognized a sub-personality, especially a very deeply ingrained one, suddenly feel naked and defenseless, as if their armor had dissolved, which is exactly what .has happened. In all cases, however, no matter what the initial emotional response, there is more real awareness and, therefore, more freedom. But let's look at a concrete example.
Andrew, a young doctor, is blocked by an inner rigidity, which interferes with his relationships and is otherwise a nuisance. A subpersonality is continuously judging and criticizing whatever he and others do or say. It's like having a nonstop internal moralist preaching all the time.
When he deliberately evokes this quality and tries to let an image emerge, Andrew sees a respectable, old-fashioned priest, grim, stern, and dressed entirely in black. As soon as he can see the image clearly, he also discerns the outlines of the rigidity, which has been controlling him. While before he would feel this as a vague discomfort and merely endure it, now for the first time he is able to shake it off.
We must remember that there are no good or bad subpersonalities. All subpersonalities are expressions of vital elements of our being, however, negative they may seem to us at first. After all, the “Saboteur” or “judge” may have a strong sense of humor, and the “Mystic” may at times only a boring moralist. The “Rebel” may come handy once in a while and even save a life.
Sub-personalities become harmful only when they control us. One of the aims of our workshops is to prevent us from becoming dominated and consequently limited by them, and to aid us in identifying with and des-identifying from them at will.
The ultimate aim in sub-personality work is to increase the sense of self or center of Being by deepening our awareness and acquaintance with our own subpersonalities, so that instead of disintegrating into a myriad of sub-selves at war with each other, we can again be one.
From the center of Being, we can get into this subpersonality or another one, we can regulate them, correct them, care for them. The skill to be learned is flexibility, so as not to be dominated by our subpersonalities, nor to suffocate their expression and ignore their needs. In other words, to have a sense of compassion, playful mastery.
Working on each of our sub-personalities one by one is the first, essential step. Later we may become aware of the dynamic interplay between them and notice the ways in which our wholeness is violated and stopped.
Although the possession of several sub-personalities makes us rich, their many different needs may also cause dispersion. Such an inner experience of dispersion is especially likely to occur during times of great outer changes and activity.
Before we work with subpersonalities they seem to us to be fairly distinct universes, ignoring or misunderstanding each other. But as soon as awareness penetrates them, their communication tends to increase. AWARENESS not only liberates, it also integrates.
Often sub-personalities are degradations or distortions of universal qualities existing in the higher levels of the psyche. For example, the hyperactive sub-personality can be seen as a distortion of the archetype of energy. The compulsive seducer is a distant relative of love in its higher aspect. The obstinate subpersonality may be seen as a distortion of will, and so on.
Hence, we could say that subpersonalities are like exiled gods and goddesses – caricatures and degraded specimens of the original, luminous archetypes. But there is a difference: while there seems to be little hope for the exiled gods, subpersonalities are clearly susceptible to transformation. Instead of degraded archetypes, they can be regarded as psychological contents striving to emulate an archetype, as a gross version of what is to appear later in a much more refined form.
If we keep this dynamic conception in mind, subpersonalities won’t look to us like a bunch of nonsensical patterns anymore. On the contrary, they will reveal to us the hidden potential they carry. However far a subpersonality may be from its origin, it may well come to serve us as a means for reconnecting ourselves with it.