A few weeks ago, we looked at the subpersonality process as experienced by Maria and her integration of two subpersonalities, Miss Victorious and Miss Silent.
As previously mentioned, the subpersonality integration process includes the following stages: recognition, acceptance, coordination, integration, and synthesis.
This week, let’s look at each of these stages in detail.
We begin to recognize our subpersonalities when we consciously choose to identify the different roles we are playing in different situations with different people. A good place to start is with any conflicts you might be facing at the moment. In particular, what roles seem to no longer be successfully working? For example, one client strongly identified herself with a subpersonality called Stella who wanted no problems and needed perfection, control and certainty. This subpersonality was obviously challenged by the uncertainty and ambiguities we all must face in our everyday lives.
Once the subpersonality is recognized, the next step is to give it a name – The Rebel, The Joker, Princess, Mr. Perfect, etc. Humor is useful during this stage to help you dis-identify from the subpersonality and more playfully engage in relationship with it. Once you name the subpersonality, you can then create its character sketch, make a drawing of it, and write more about it in a personal journal.
After recognition, the next step is to accept your subpersonality. Part of accepting your subpersonality is to observe what triggers its appearance and to simply watch and allow that subpersonality to exist. This exercise of skillful will helps to strengthen the observer “I.”
Alongside acceptance, you must learn to identify your subpersonality’s wants and needs and how each of these needs are typically fulfilled. Coordination starts when you creatively imagine fulfilling your subpersonalities’ needs in new ways. One technique used to playfully search for new solutions is to answer the question, “If I had a magic wand, what would I do?”
For example, the client with the Stella subpersonality more consciously addressed Stella’s needs for control and certainty by practicing acceptance in her life. In fact, acceptance was the need of Stella’s polar subpersonality, The Dreamer, who was often dominated by Stella. Hence, by consciously developing an attitude of acceptance, this client was able to simultaneously offset the needs of one subpersonality while fulfilling the needs of its polar opposite and bring both more into balance in a new way.
For a deeper exploration, you might want to investigate your personal history to better understand where your subpersonality orginated. Subpersonalities develop based upon individual tendencies, inner gifts and talents, and the environment in which you have been raised. Typically, a subpersonality is formed to help us as children to survive in the outer world, and at the same time express part of our identity and protect a higher quality. Through uncovering your childhood story behind each subpersonality, you may begin to more clearly identify with the observer “I” and choose to act out the behavioral pattern of the subpersonality or not. Note, however, that this step is not mandatory and depends entirely on your own will, psychological maturity, and what you consider desirable and helpful.
Integration and Synthesis
The final stages of the subpersonality process –integration and synthesis – are lifetime endeavors. While coordination deals with the development and understanding of specific subpersonalities, integration is concerned with the relationship between subpersonalities as well as each one’s activity within the personality as a whole. Integration typically takes place with pairs of opposite subpersonalities since their wants and needs are usually in conflict, for example, the last blog’s story of Miss Victorious and Miss Silent.
Synthesis involves the culmination of individual growth that allows for balance and harmony of the entire personality as a whole . As a result of synthesis, the life of the individual and his or her interactions with others become increasingly characterized by a sense of responsibility, caring, co-operation, love and transpersonal qualities.
To initiate these final stages, you can use guided visualizations, role play, imaginary meetings, conferences between different subpersonalities, letter writing from the observer to the subpersonality (and visa-versa), and evening reviews. Throughout such interactions, you can strengthen your role as the observer and, consequently, to consciously and more creatively fulfill any conflicting needs.
In particular, the self-identification exercise can be used to identify with and then dis-identify from a subpersonality being explored. In this way, you can practice distancing yourselves from the subpersonality and strengthen your “I,” the observer and director of all your subpersonalities. As stated by Assagioli:
“Although it seems paradoxical, … the less we are identified with a particular role, the better we play it.”
Accessing Higher Qualities
Ultimately, you begin to assess, appreciate, and come into relationship with the higher quality held by each of your subpersonalities. For example, through the continual integration of the polar subpersonalities Miss Victorious and Miss Silent, Maria was able to create a sacred space in her home where Miss Silent could draw, meditate and be silent, tapping into her higher quality of creativity.
Special thanks to all the clients who allowed me to use their drawings and testimonies in this post. This post is an edited excerpt from the 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.