Do We All Have Multiple Personalities?

“There’s a part of me that knows I should do this. But there’s another part of me that really doesn’t want to.”

How many times have you said this to yourself? Does talking to yourself about “parts” like this mean you qualify for a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously called Multiple Personality Disorder)? Probably not. However, I have had the honor of working with people who have this diagnosis. I call it an “honor” because my sense is that someone who suffers from this does not let on about it to just anyone. In any case, in working with these people, it came to me one day that everyone (including me and including you) has something in common with them.

Like it or not, we all seem to have what some people call sub-personalities, or (more simply) “parts.” As an example, think about how you behave and feel while experiencing various walks of life. Are you the same when you play the role of a spouse or lover as opposed to when you play the role of an employee? How about as a parent, a child, a sibling, a gym member, or what have you? Get the idea?

I have many parts, including one that likes jazz, one that likes rock and roll, one that likes classical music, reggae, bossa nova, and so on. I am one way as a psychologist and another as a cousin, and even that depends on the cousin. Going even deeper than that, I have at least one anxious part, fearful part, what I call “corporate” part (more assertive than empathic), happy part, sad part, shamed part, angry part, and on and on.

In looking back at what I learned in psychology school, this concept of parts was not emphasized directly, even though it does seem to exist. In fact, those who concentrated on working with either “family systems” or as “behaviorists” may have been specifically told not to focus on “intrapsychic” phenomenon (i.e., parts). Further, some people blatantly denied the existence of such things as multiple personalities, saying they were hallucinations, or a “defense mechanism,” or caused by the suggestion of the therapist (iatrogenic is the fancy word for this).

At the same time, there turned out to be plenty of “parts-informed” psychological theories being taught, although no one seemed to use the word parts. Sigmund Freud (perhaps you’ve heard of him) talked about the ego, id, and superego. These are all theoretical parts of the mind. Sometime after Freud, other theories started popping up with names like Object Relations (“internal objects”) and Self Psychology (“self-objects,” “tripolar self,” etc.), both of which talk about parts (see their names for parts in parentheses).

Other non-mainstream therapy practices, such as Transactional Analysis (“ego states”) ­­­­and Gestalt Therapy (“underdog/top dog”), describe different aspects of the mind that could be thought of as parts. In some theories of the effect of trauma on the mind and body, the word parts is actually used, as in “emotional parts” and “apparently normal parts” (one of my personal favorite names). Even the venerated Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a parts concept (“schemas”). Lastly, you may have heard of the term “inner child,” a pop psychology term for a part of us.

So, what about all this? Why the big deal about “parts?” I claim that thinking about and becoming more aware of our parts can help us identify and possibly resolve many issues in our lives. You might say something like this to yourself: “When a part of me feels anxious, nervous, fearful, depressed, sad, angry, shy, out of control, a pit in my stomach, a constriction in my throat, or (you fill in the blank), another part of me wants to drink, use drugs, eat, shop, clean, organize something, gamble, talk a lot, binge-watch TV, have sex, avoid something, control something, hurt myself, or (again, you fill in the blank).”

Using the language of Dick Schwartz, who developed a therapy method called Internal Family Systems (IFS), we might call the former part an “exiled part,” since these represent experiences that we want to lock up in a metaphorical closet. The latter part might be referred to as a “protector” part, since it is trying to protect us from an exiled part. For more information about IFS, which is a mash-up of Family Systems theories and Multiplicity (another fancy word for “parts”), visit www.selfleadership.org.

You may wish to pursue this line of thinking on your own or with the help of a therapist. If you can find a therapist who thinks in terms of parts (like me) or who uses one of the theories or methods mentioned above, they can probably help you get to the bottom of your exiled parts’ issues in a compassionate, non-pathologizing manner. Does that sound worth a shot? I hope so. Give it some thought and check in with your parts about it.

As always, let me know what you think of this article. Thanks!

 

Copyright 2014 Daniel J. Metevier

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