It has been proposed that we all grow up in situations where, to a varying extent, there are certain aspects of our natural selves that are in some way ‘unseen’ or not accepted by our primary care-givers. This dynamic drives the formation of an entire personality that hides the deeper feelings of isolation, low self-worth and emptiness this creates. Firman and Gila call this the ‘survival personality’ (Firman & Gila, 1997 p162-167) and Dorothy Firman goes on to suggest that:
‘in being un-mirrored as they try and express themselves, children, by the very necessity of survival, cut themselves off from Self and build the defensive structure of subpersonalities that manage the world in which their natural knowing is shut down (Firman, 2008).’
[She proposes that] these subpersonalities, this splitting of inner knowing from safety in the world, create those same intractable identifications that bring clients into therapy.
Jean Hardy, in A Psychology with a Soul, writes that ‘each of us is a crowd: we all contain many different selves, which are formed around the drives that are inborn and potentially creative’ but that the quality of these ‘may easily become distorted’ during the course of a life, ‘particularly in the relative helplessness of childhood’ (Hardy, 1987, p34). Another way of saying this could be that a subpersonality is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that has crystallised into an automatic pattern. Daniel Stern states that it is now largely accepted that there are multiple selves that can interact, observe and converse with each other out of normal consciousness (Stern, 2004, p128).
In order to work with sub personalities as therapists then, it’s necessary to initially set a Transpersonal framework which presumes the existence of a ‘self’ (which is then expressed in the world through our various sub personalities) and a ‘Transpersonal Self’ (which has the function of ‘observer’ and ‘director’ of these sub personalities) (Rueffler, 1995).
The ultimate aim in sub-personality work is to increase the sense of self or centre of ‘being’ by deepening awareness and acquaintance with subpersonalities. So that instead of disintegrating into a myriad of sub-selves at war with each other, we can again be one, to ‘free clients from dominating and limiting behaviours that a subpersonality may cause.’ (Whitmore, 2004, p87)