This is an edited excerpt from my article, ‘Coping with anxiety and rebuilding identity: A psychosynthesis approach to culture shock’, published in Counselling Psychology Quarterly. I am happy to announce that it has been included in an online article collection featuring the most downloaded articles published in Routledge Behavioral Sciences journals in 2014.
The collection features the top three most downloaded articles that were published and downloaded in 2014 in each Routledge Behavioral Sciences journal.
You can download my article (along with others you might find interesting) for free until the 30th June.
Special thanks to “Maria” for allowing me to use her drawings and testimony in this post.
Usually inner conflict is a result of two or more subpersonalities clashing because they each have different needs. You can begin to recognize your subpersonalities by being honest about the roles you play in your everyday life. For example, do you always need to be perfect at everything? Then you probably have a dominant Mr or Mrs Perfect subpersonality. Do you freeze when meeting new people in social settings? Then perhaps you have a Mr or Miss Freeze subpersonality. Your subpersonalities are revealed through the different roles you play in different situations with different people.
By first recognizing your different subpersonalities, you start your journey towards creating more harmony in your life. The subpersonality process includes the following stages: recognition, acceptance, coordination, integration, and synthesis. This process does not happen overnight, but takes patience and lifelong practice.
Let’s take a look at how Maria (not her real name) was able to work through the subpersonality process and integrate two conflicting, polar subpersonalities: Miss Victorious and Miss Silent. The more dominant Miss Victorious wanted to control all situations and be the best. She needed recognition and could operate in the rational world with great success. Miss Silent, on the other hand, was sensitive, deeply emotional, and more creative. She wanted acceptance for who she was and needed safety, space and time alone.
Miss Victorious, the more dominant subpersonality, was the one who propelled Maria through her success in the outer world. But, by constantly wanting control, Miss Victorious left little space for Miss Silent. Part of Maria’s unconscious reason for entering counseling was to give Miss Silent the space she was inwardly demanding. The reason Maria initially felt depressed, sad, lost and unhappy was her not recognizing and accepting the needs of Miss Silent, compounded by the limitations of always operating as Miss Victorious.
Where Do Subpersonalities Come From?
Maria decided to more closely explore the origin of these two subpersonalities and found that both had developed very early. Maria is the first born of three daughters to parents who, while attentive caregivers, also carried psychological wounds from their own childhood. As a young woman, Maria’s mother attended university but did not finish her studies. As a result, Maria’s mother emotionally related to Maria almost entirely around her education.
In addition, when Maria was born, her father explicitly expressed disappointment that she was not a son. Parental love and acceptance, therefore, depended upon, for the most part, high academic achievement.
Maria is gifted intellectually and strong willed, so she was able to excel in school. However, her deeper emotional life and sensitivity was forced underground as Miss Silent. Here we clearly see the promise that the infant Maria made to her parents: “I will be victorious in all that I do” and the promise made to herself: “I will hide the more emotional, sensitive side of myself from the world.”
When Maria made these promises in order to survive in her familial environment, she broke her connection with the Self – which is a synthesis of the higher qualities of the two subpersonalities (amongst others). The higher qualities carried by Miss Victorious are trustworthiness, dependability, will, initiative and persistence. And the higher qualities of Miss Silent are creativity, intuition, and wisdom.
Every Subpersonality Holds a Higher Quality
Through recognizing, accepting, and dis-identifying from her Miss Victorious and Miss Silent subpersonalities, Maria was eventually able to reconnect with each subpersonality’s higher qualities. This process of integration was aided by a visualization in which the two subpersonalities dialogued with each other alongside Maria as an observer. During the dialogue, both Miss Victorious and Miss Silent expressed their unique needs and by the end of the visualization, Miss Victorious had become more humble and vulnerable and Miss Silent more assertive.
Afterwards, Maria drew the two subpersonalities in reconciliation, kneeling before each other, holding hands and smiling.
Reflecting on her drawing, Maria said:
“Miss Silent has hope now. She trusts Miss Victorious. Miss Victorious has to create space for Miss Silent. She has to be silent also. Patient. Not so anxious about things. They go good together. They should do this more often!”
Our counseling work continued around balancing, coordinating, and integrating these two subpersonalities. We also had to address the pain and sadness around Maria’s “childhood promise” to herself and her parents.
One example of Maria’s continual integration of her subpersonalities occurred when she created a space in her home called her “temple” where she started to paint and meditate. Through this new endeavor, her subpersonality Miss Silent was allowed to fulfill her needs of safety, space, and time alone in a new way, and hence integrate more fully with Miss Victorious. This new approach also enabled Miss Silent’s higher quality of creativity to be expressed in a more conscious and harmonious way.
Day-by-day, step-by-step, Maria was able to fill her life with more Joy.