Read an Excerpt
Embracing Each Other
Relationship as Teacher, Healer & Guide
By Hal Stone, Sidra Winkelman
New World LibraryCopyright © 1989 Delos, Inc., Sherman Oaks, California
All rights reserved.
The Psychology of Selves
This chapter summarizes our way of looking at the development of personality. It introduces our concept of selves and of bonding patterns in relationship and presents our particular view of the consciousness process. This is the basic theoretical framework into which the remaining chapters fit. For those readers familiar with our work, this can be used as an update as well as a review, because we have expanded our thinking about bonding patterns considerably. Most of this material, however, is given a more comprehensive treatment in our book, Embracing Our Selves, published by New World Library. It is intended as a companion to this book. It not only presents a thorough picture of the different selves that inhabit our psyche, it also provides a definitive description of Voice Dialogue, the process we developed that has been the main tool used in our explorations of relationship.
The Development of the Selves
Most of us are familiar with the outer family into which we were born. We have parents and grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins, aunts and uncles. We may also have close friends who function as family members and who, at times, are closer to us than our actual families. Learning about our families and how we fit into them is a very important part of the growing-up process.
What is fascinating to consider, and what is a new idea for most people, is that we have an inner family as well as an outer one. This inner family is influenced, first of all, by those closest to us. It consists, at first, of selves that resemble the personality patterns of our family members, friends, teachers, or anyone who has had any kind of influence over us, or, conversely, it consists of the personality characteristics (or selves) that represent the exact opposite patterns.
Learning about this inner family is a very important part of personal growth and absolutely necessary for the understanding of our relationships, since the members of this inner family, or "selves," as we like to call them, are often in control of our behavior. If we do not understand the pressures they exert, then we are really not in charge of our lives.
How does this inner family develop? As we grow in a particular family and culture, each of us is indoctrinated with certain ideas about the kind of person we should be. Since we are very vulnerable as infants and children, it is important that we be the "kind of person we should be," and we behave in a way that keeps us safe and loved and cared for. This need to protect our basic vulnerability results in the development of our personality — the development of the primary "selves" that define us to ourselves and to the world.
We each are born into this world in an extremely vulnerable condition. This initial self remains as a vulnerable child, a child of the utmost sensitivity, who carries with it the ability to relate intimately to others. This child can be seen as the doorway to our most profound states of being, to our souls, if you wish. It is this child who essentially carries our psychic fingerprint, and it is this child that we spend our lives protecting at all costs. Other selves develop within us early in life to stand between this child and other people so that nobody will ever be able to harm it. This is both natural and necessary, but by the time we are adults and are functioning well in the world, the selves that were developed earlier have a tendency to be overly protective.
These selves have usually decided that the best way to protect the vulnerable inner child is to keep it well-hidden, fully out of the reach of any other human being (though it may be acceptable for the child to interact with a pet). Unfortunately, this also keeps the vulnerable child out of relationships and deprives it of what it so dearly wishes — a deep and honest connection with other human beings. This keeps many of us from the intimacy we seek in relationship, since intimacy requires the presence of the vulnerable child. It is only with access to this child that we can truly know ourselves and others.
The first of the protective selves to develop is called the protector/controller because it protects the vulnerable child and controls both our behavior and that of the people around us. This protector/controller emerges surprisingly early in life. It looks about, notices what behavior is rewarded and what is punished, makes sense of the rules of the world it sees around it, and sets up a code of behavior for us. It is constantly looking for more information and will change its rules to accommodate it. This basically rational self explains the world, and ourselves, to us and provides us with the frame of reference within which we will view our surroundings.
When the protector/controller is in complete charge of our lives, as it so often is, no input is permitted that might upset the status quo or lead us to question cherished beliefs and characteristic ways of being. The role of this self is to protect the child and, in doing so, it usually keeps the child from real contact with others.
The protector/controller has as its major ally, the pusher. This self is ever-alert to what must be done next. The pusher makes lists, prompts us to complete tasks, keeps us busy and productive so that our vulnerable child will feel that we are good and that people will admire us. It is less than helpful, however, when we are trying to relax. It also tends to interfere with intimacy. If we are never in a relationship, the pusher can continue to run our lives; there is nobody to question its pre-eminence. We are prodigiously productive and greatly admired, but have not learned how to stand still long enough to make meaningful contact with someone.
Another major ally of the protector/controller is the perfectionist. Just as its name implies, this part of us sets goals of perfection, usually on all fronts. We must look perfect, be perfect, have the perfect relationship, work flawlessly, produce perfect children, so that nobody will ever criticize us and the vulnerable child will remain safe. The perfectionist has no tolerance for human frailty, little appreciation of reality, and can be pretty harsh in its view of relationship.
This self is greatly rewarded by our society and usually encouraged by our families, since it makes their internal perfectionists feel successful. The perfectionist has its place, of course. We certainly need it to set standards in some areas, such as performing surgery or designing earthquake-proof buildings, but it can be a tragically inappropriate taskmaster in our personal lives. A deeply committed relationship will lessen the power of the perfectionist and allow us to explore ourselves and others in a more forgiving fashion.
The inner critic works along with the perfectionist to protect the vulnerable child. If the critic catches all of our mistakes and inadequacies before anyone else does, or so the reasoning goes, there will be nothing about us to displease anyone, and our vulnerable child will be safe from criticism.
Unfortunately, by the time the average inner critic is finished with us, our self-esteem is shot to pieces and we feel totally unlovable. We must then go back to our old friends, the pusher and the perfectionist, and work even harder to make ourselves acceptable.
Another self that helps to make us acceptable is the pleaser. The pleaser is exquisitely sensitive to the needs and feelings of others and gently guides us in the delicate task of meeting those needs, so that others will think highly of us and be similarly understanding of our needs. This, too, is designed to protect the vulnerable child. Unfortunately, if we listen to the pleaser all the time, we tend to forget our own needs and to totally neglect our inner child. In a committed relationship we are required to look past the pleaser within ourselves and see what it is that is truly important to us. This often results in the greatest spurts of growth for both people concerned.
When these selves, and the many others whose job it is to protect our vulnerable child, are used in a constructive fashion, they can aid us on the journey of self-discovery. However, when they take over completely, they can prevent us from experimentation and can keep us from bringing the totality of our imperfect, complex, contradictory and exciting selves into our relationships. They may prevent us from realizing the possibilities that exist beyond the known and the familiar.
The Primary Selves: The Development of Personality
By the time we are adults, we have an amazing family operating inside of ourselves, generally much larger than our outer family. We usually are identified with the value structure of our original protector/controller and the parts that he or she has helped bring into the world in order to protect us. These represent our primary selves.
There are also the parts that represent the opposite value structure, that which had to be rejected in the growing-up process. We call these parts the disowned selves. Each of us has a surprising array of disowned selves. Learning about these selves is an important part of personal growth.
Let us look at how the protector/controller operates in the life of the child. Tommy is two years old. He is playing with his building blocks in his room, when his one-year-old brother Jerry comes into the room and wants to play with Tommy's toys. Tommy does not want him there, so he pushes him away and Jerry starts to cry. Their mother comes upstairs and tells Tommy he must learn to play with his brother, whether or not he likes it.
Tommy's basic feeling is that he'd like to punch his brother in the nose, but his protector/controller takes in the information from his mother and translates it into a formula for behavior. It now says to Tommy something like this: "Tommy, whatever your feelings about your brother, it's clear to me that your mother is going to give us a lot of trouble if we're not nice to him. It hurts too much to have your mother angry with us; it feels better when she loves us. So let's be nice to Jerry. You can hate him on the inside, but don't show your feelings directly anymore."
The protector/controller does not speak literally in this way at very young ages, but by the time we are adults, the voices of the selves are quite well-defined and it is relatively easy to talk directly to them. Such formulations are fairly typical of them.
We want to make clear that the development of this protector/controller is a major part of the development of personality. It becomes what we call the acting ego. It encourages other selves to develop and support its aims and aspirations. It sets the tone and the value structure of the personality. In the case of Tommy, it would encourage the self that has to do with "pleasing." Later, its emphasis would change and it would encourage the self that had to do with becoming ambitious and being successful and making large sums of money. This ambitious self grew in response to Tommy's father, who encouraged his son to be the best in everything. Tommy's father was fond of saying, "There are winners and losers in this world, Tommy, and I'm proud to see that you are one of the winners."
The protector/controller is a major part of the primary self system. Tommy grows up to be an aggressive and quite successful lawyer. His primary selves are associated with success, ambition, money, and rationality. These selves regulate his life and determine the way in which he sees himself. Tommy behaves well toward people — his pleaser sees to that — but he needs to be in charge and to control people. He may know that he is this kind of person, or, more likely, he may be unconscious of the fact.
The Disowned Selves
Each of the primary selves has a complementary disowned self that is equal and opposite in content and power. Tommy has identified with being an aggressive and ambitious type of person. In the service of power, he has disowned his vulnerability and his ability to communicate his neediness because, to the power sides of his personality, this is a sign of weakness. The opposite of his ambition is a disowned beach bum self that loves to be lazy and not do anything. Because this is so disowned in him, he often speaks proudly about his inability to unwind when he is on vacation and notices that when he does finally unwind, it is about time to return home. We will see shortly how important the understanding of these primary and disowned selves are in understanding our relationships.
Throughout the course of this book we shall see many examples of the relationship between primary selves and disowned selves. For the moment, it is important only to become aware of the fact that there lives within each of us a multitude of disowned selves, rejected parts of our inner family that most of us know nothing about. These selves remain in our unconscious, waiting for a chance to emerge and have their needs and feelings considered. Although they are unknown to us, they often have a surprisingly powerful impact upon our lives.
Those selves that are unconscious in us are automatically projected onto another person or another thing; our inner pictures are literally projected upon the other person as though the other person were a screen. These projections act like a bridge that extends out from us to meet that other person. It is one of the significant ways in which we make contact with other people in the world. Let us look at how this works.
John is an engineer who is successful in his work and who lives very much identified with primary selves associated with rationality, adventure, and travel. In the growing-up process he shunned the softer and more vulnerable parts of himself. His father was a strong, rational type, and the softness and femininity of his mother became increasingly alien to John, in large measure because he saw her as such a victim to his father. John is surprised to find that he is constantly falling in love with women who are very feeling-oriented, very feminine, and, as he would describe them, very soft.
Falling in love is, to a large extent, the projection of our unconscious selves onto another person. All of the softness and sensitivity that lie within John as disowned selves are projected onto these women. Sally, his latest love, has an additional feature; she is spiritual, an area of life that John has never touched and about which he has considerably negative feelings. Although John finds himself arguing with Sally for hours at a time about her spiritual viewpoint, he loves her deeply and is at some level fascinated by her unfamiliar way of looking at life. It is his own unconscious, then, that draws him into the relationship to Sally, via the mechanism of projection. By projecting these unconscious contents onto Sally, John has the chance to realize them in himself, if he uses their relationship as an opportunity to grow.
Sally grew up in a family where she was raised to be a loving daughter; all intellectual pursuit and personal achievement were discouraged. Finding the proper husband and raising a family were all her family encouraged. She got the message from her parents, over and over again, that she was very special and some man would be truly lucky to have her.
Sally's primary selves were loving and pleasing and caring. Her disowned selves were her rational and analytic mind, and her drive for professional achievement. We can easily see how these qualities in her unconscious would be projected onto John, while his opposite selves would be projected onto her. This kind of mutual projection is the natural start of many relationships, but it can be become damaging when we do not understand how it works.
These mutual projections can bring with them much richness when we see that they represent a natural tendency toward growth, a direct and exciting path for our evolution of consciousness, a chance to integrate unconscious material into our own lives.
Sandy worships his boss. He sees him as wise, fair, powerful, intuitive, sensitive, and godlike, the father he always wanted and never had. Then Sandy and his wife are invited to the boss's home for dinner. Sandy is horrified to find that his boss is henpecked, ridiculed, and seemingly-ineffectual in the home situation. His idol has crumbled. The strong father he always wanted is no longer there for him.
This crumbling of our heroes generally happens when we have projected too much power and authority onto them. But this kind of projection is a natural act, occurring constantly in our relationships. It is an integral part of our own personal development because it is through this projection that we can gain back our own power, the power that resides in our disowned selves. If we understand something about disowned selves and projection, then we can learn much from these projections and we have a better chance of reclaiming these selves.
Excerpted from Embracing Each Other by Hal Stone, Sidra Winkelman. Copyright © 1989 Delos, Inc., Sherman Oaks, California. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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