Embracing All Our Selves
We met one another in the early seventies and, from the very beginning, our personal lives and our professional lives have been inextricably intertwined. Hal had been a Jungian analyst, committed to the individuation process. He had enjoyed teaching and consulting from his earliest years. Sidra had been trained in a more eclectic fashion with an emphasis upon some of the more practical aspects of psychology such as community mental health. She particularly enjoyed her years as executive director of a residential treatment center for adolescent girls. When we came together, we began a period of exploration and innovation that has continued ever since.
Our relationship has been a teacher for both of us from our first contacts with one another. We decided at the outset that we wanted to open ourselves completely to the relationship, to let it lead us where it would. We tried to be as honest as we could and to explore what was really happening both intrapsychically and interpersonally rather than what we wished were happening. This commitment has led to some very exciting discoveries as well as to some rather “dicey” moments. The basic ideas in the following article are the outgrowth of this joint personal exploration.
Since Voice Dialogue and its accompanying theoretical framework have evolved out of our relationship and out of love and acceptance, it is a work that is basically non-judgmental and non-pathological in its approach to the human psyche. It seeks to discover what is rather than what is wrong. It is committed to the belief that there is no correct way of conducting one’s life, there is just the process of life, itself.
In our own clinical work, we have both continued to use a wide range of therapeutic and teaching modalities in addition to Voice Dialogue. We never saw Voice Dialogue as a therapeutic system that must stand alone or conflict with any other. It seemed to us that a practitioner of any form of therapy, healing or consciousness work could use Voice Dialogue in his or her system. Furthermore, it became clear that non-therapists could learn the dialogue process as well. Couples could be trained in the work and it would serve to enhance their relationship. One of our aims has been to establish as clearly as we could the lines between Voice Dialogue training and psychotherapy.
In our travels around the world, and as this work has become better known, we have taken a very strong position on these issues. We have taken the position that Voice Dialogue is not a therapeutic system in and of itself but belongs to all systems as an effective tool for enhancing consciousness and objectifying the many selves that inhabit the psyche. When an individual needs therapy, he or she must see a therapist and should not get locked into Voice Dialogue as a substitute for therapy. There is no substitute for good psychotherapy when this is required. In the hands of a competent psychotherapist, however, Voice Dialogue becomes a particularly effective and powerful tool.
Despite a good deal of encouragement from many of those whom we have trained in our methods, we have consistently refused to institute any kind of formal certification training in regard to Voice Dialogue. We see the facilitator as a creative musician, if you will, and Voice Dialogue as the instrument that is to be used. It is clear to us that any kind of certification process would effectively kill the spirit of this work. In this way, we have found that the Voice Dialogue process has been used quite imaginatively and innovatively not only by psychotherapists of widely differing backgrounds, but in areas as far afield as business consultation, astrological analyses and sculpting. We like to think of this work as belonging to everyone, as our gift to the seekers of the world.
Hal Stone, Ph.D. Sidra Stone, Ph.D April, 1997
The consciousness process as it relates to the complexity of the human psyche and its many disparate facets has always been a source of fascination to us. During the early seventies we were struck by the realization that our psyches contained many individual selves, each with its own way of perceiving the world, each with its own personal history, physical characteristics, emotional and physical reactions, and opinions on how we should run our lives. Since then, we have spent much of our time, both professional and personal, in studying these selves.
Because of this interest, we have been delighted to note that one of the areas of psychotherapy receiving increasing attention today is the phenomenon of multiple personalities. Not only are multiple personalities being studied in terms of their theoretical implications and the appropriate therapeutic interventions, but there is also a growing literature of brain research that seems to demonstrate the existence of physiological correlates of these psychological entities in all of us.
Up until now, the multiple personality has been seen only in terms of its pathological implications. What we have discovered in the course of our personal and professional life is that we are all made up of multiple personalities — all of us with no exceptions! The essential difference between ourselves and an individual clinically diagnosed as being a multiple personality is that we have an operating ego of some sort that can observe and reflect on the fact that we are not a single psychological entity, but rather, as Walt Whitman would say, we contain multitudes. That is the only difference. We are, each of us, inhabited by an inner family of selves no less real than the outer family of individuals into which we were born.
The Emergence of Voice Dialogue
The discovery of the reality of these inner selves was quite dramatic for the two of us. Our relationship has always been one in which we spent a good deal of time doing personal work with one another. In one of our very early work sessions, Hal asked to speak to Sidra’s vulnerability in what he thought would be a Gestalt mode. What emerged, however, was a very little girl, probably a year to a year and a half in age. We realized, much to our amazement, that this child was quite real. She was a total surprise to both of us. She was totally different from Sidra who, at that time, was a pretty rational Eastern establishment type of lady. She looked different from the way Sidra usually looked, and she saw Sidra’s life quite differently from the way in which Sidra usually saw it. At first, as a matter of fact, she did not talk at all, but remained silent. She thought her thoughts to herself and sometimes she wept. It was only later that she began to speak to us. We had expected something a bit more theoretical. Neither of us could quite believe what had happened.
In subsequent work sessions with one another, the same kind of Vulnerable Child emerged in Hal. We then began to experiment with other selves. We explored the Inner Critic and Pusher. We talked to each other’s Pleaser and Mother and Father Voice. We had never truly experienced the reality of these energies before. With all the dream work and visual work and Gestalt work that we had both done, why had these selves never been real to us? We began to research the literature and found very few references to the reality of these parts. Maurice Nicoll, a follower of Gurdieff and Ouspensky, described the reality of the parts in the first volume of his Psychological Commentaries. 1 Nicoll spoke of observing the selves with a kind of analytical precision. Yet it was clear to us that even the Gurdjieff system, over time, had become too analytical and had lost the awareness that these parts were quite real.
In the early years of our work together, there was very little theory and a great deal of practice. We worked in many different ways with one another as we explored these selves. Gradually, we evolved a new way of working with these selves which we named Voice Dialogue. This method is described in the last section of this chapter. A more thorough discussion can be found in our book, Embracing Our Selves, published by Nataraj Publications in Corte Madera, California.
Once the basic form of Voice Dialogue was established, we began our investigations of these selves in earnest. When we used Voice Dialogue, we had the “subject” move over to a different place whenever we talked to, or “facilitated” a different voice or self, very much as in the Gestalt mode. There were important differences, however. If, in the facilitation process, we related to each new self as a real person who was totally alive and wished to be heard, then the way that self emerged was qualitatively different from the kind of self that emerged if our perception was that the self was “just a part” and “not real.” We cannot emphasize enough how critical this point is. If you are facilitating a self in someone that is associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sensuality, what you will constellate in the subject will be a function of how real that part is for you. If you know about archetypal energies and the reality of Aphrodite, then you can help to induct the energy of Aphrodite. If you know the reality of the Pusher, then you will constellate the Pusher. If you are working with a Killer then what you get will depend on your relationship to your own inner killer and how real this is for you.
There was another subtle quality that began to emerge in our work that was different from what we had done before. We did not try to change the parts or to get them to become friendly with one another. When we did, we found that they reacted just like people. They did not like to be manipulated and, as a matter of fact, they were more sensitive to manipulation or disapproval that most individuals seemed to be. So we decided that a Pusher was entitled to be a Pusher and could do its level best to get us to work all the time. Conversely, the Beach Bum, was entitled to be a Beach Bum. The Power Voice had a right to be just the way it was and the Vulnerable Child on the other side had a right to be the way it was. We began to work more and more with opposites, helping them to clarify their viewpoints, always trying to balance the different energies, but never trying to change them.
We did not have opposites try to talk to each other because we found that the purpose of having the parts talk to one another was usually to help effect some kind of reconciliation through change and accommodation. Instead, we allowed each self to remain true to itself. There is nothing inherently wrong with having two different selves talk to each other, however, so long as the autonomy of each self is respected and the therapist’s underlying motivation is not reconciliation.
We showed the same respect to each self that we would show to a person. We allowed each self to grow and to change at its own rate and in its own way. Trying to get opposites reconciled seemed to us to be a way of trying to control peoples’ lives, a way of controlling the therapy. We became aware of the tension created in us when we had to live with the reality of opposites in another person. We began to see how our need to reconcile opposites and thus solve problems for others was a function of our own inability to live with the tension of these opposites in ourselves.
The Jungian framework provided yet another dimension to this concept of allowing the opposites to remain as opposites. Let us say, for example, that we are working with two selves that would be related to the archetypal figures of Apollo and Dionysius, two irrevocably different energy systems. Apollo was the Greek god of the mind, clarity, organization, and pure thought and Dionysius was the god of expression, ecstasy and release. In the ancient holy city of Delphi, both gods were worshipped, but worshipped separately. Each had his own shrine and each had his own time of the year for worship. Apollo’s were the summer months and Dionysius, the winter ones. Thus, we can see the respect accorded to opposing energies on an archetypal level. The gods and goddesses of mythology are simply the projected images of our own inner selves.
As we continued to work in this way, we began to see the psyche as a vast array of energy patterns manifesting in a variety of different ways. These different energy patterns could express themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, imaginally, or through the direct experience of energy. We saw that we needed to become aware of all of these different energies/selves and that we also need to experience them. They each wished to be honored, very much as the gods and goddesses in the tales of ancient Greece. Each new part that we met and spent time with added a new color to the psychic palette of the individual.
How, then, was one to hold the tension of these irreconcilable opposites? To do so, one needed a new kind of ego, one that we named an “Aware Ego”, an ego that was always in the process of becoming more aware and one that was able to experience a greater and greater variety of these selves or energies. We began to see with increasing clarity that what most people refer to as an “ego” is, in fact, a cluster of dominant or primary selves. These selves represent the traditional ways of being and operating in the world that have characterized an individual over time. Until the work is done that separates one’s ego from these primary selves, the Aware Ego does not yet exist. The Aware Ego is born out of the separation from the
We continued to use Voice Dialogue, along with other approaches, to explore ourselves. Our primary objective was the maintenance of the vitality of our own relationship. We also used it in our clinical work with clients. As a result of these explorations, we began to formulate new ideas about the selves and how they operate in our lives and we developed much of the theoretical material that now underlies our work. We were particularly curious about why a relationship would shift from a place of the deepest love to total negativity in the space of seconds. In looking for an answer to this, we examined the interactions of the different selves in relationship. We looked at our relationship at first and, later, we looked at the relationships of a multitude of clients. It was out of this exploration that we developed our way of thinking about bonding patterns and how they affect relational issues. This article is too short to allow time for a complete discussion of bonding patterns in relationship, but let us look now at some of the basic concepts underlying our work. A more complete discussion can be found in our book — “Embracing Each Other” published by Nataraj.
Theoretical considerations – the birth of personality
The key issue in thinking about the development of personality is the understanding of vulnerability and the pivotal role that it plays. We are all born totally vulnerable and in our early months and years of life, we must be taken care of by other people. Our very lives depend upon this. We must begin to develop a personality that will protect this vulnerability. This vulnerability remains as the Vulnerable Child that operates deep within each of us for the remainder of our lives.
The cornerstone of this personality, the core of our Operating Ego, and the first selves to develop, are a group of primary selves that serve to protect this child from pain and to control our behavior in such a way that we can avoid pain and begin to reach our goals. This Protector/Controller group of primary selves emerges very early in our lives. It looks about, notices what behavior is rewarded and what is punished, it figures out the rules of the world around us so that this world is predictable and makes sense, and it sets up an appropriate code of behavior for our specific environment. These primary selves are constantly on the lookout for more information and, when they are functioning appropriately, they will change the rules to accommodate any new input. These primary selves explain our world and ourselves to us and provide us with the basic frame of reference within which we will view our surroundings. It helps to keep life coherent, and it is basically rational in nature. Let us see what this might look like for the developing child.
Alicia is lying in her crib. She is six months old. Her mother and father are standing over her; they are gurgling and cooing and she is gurgling and cooing right back. Sometimes, however, she does not feel like gurgling and cooing. Her Protector/Controller system of selves notices a change in them when she stops being happy. Her primary self system begins to come into operation at this time and it lets her know that she needs to gurgle and coo, that they like this and expect this. Her feelings are less important in the long run than their feelings and they clearly expect something of her. So the gurgling and cooing becomes a kind of overriding behavior, built on top of her natural inclinations to gurgle and coo. This voice that starts to talk to her and guide her is the beginning of what we refer to as the “Operating Ego.” When most people refer to the ego, they are actually talking about the operating ego. By definition, the operating ego is the group of selves that define our personality, how we operate in the world and how the world perceives us. Our initial primary self is already supporting the development of another sub-personality here, and that is the Pleaser Self. This Pleaser usually gets started quite early for most of us generally becomes a significant part of the primary self system.
Johnny is two years old. His father is a very physical man and he is swinging Johnny around the room holding him by his arms. Johnny is not a physical child and this behavior frightens him. His Protector system says to him — ” Now look – this man likes swinging kids around – maybe he thinks he’s Tarzan – whatever the case, you’ll do better to enjoy it, to go along with it. He’ll be happier. If he’s happy, then you’re safe. You can’t be hurt. If you’re unhappy there will be ridicule and criticism. Who needs it?” The Protector/Controller helps Johnny to develop a Brave Young Man self. Needless to say, we are being a bit humorous in our presentation, and we hope it is obvious that the Protector/Controller self system of a two year old would not speak in exactly this way. What we wish to convey is the general sense of how this Protector/Controller and the dominant selves of the Operating Ego evolve within each of us.
As time moves on, other parts of the personality develop, each contributing its own flavor to the Operating Ego. A Pusher may develop to make sure we get done what has to be done, and more besides. If it pushes us hard enough, then we will be so successful that no one can criticize us or attack us. A Money Self may develop because if we have money we are safer and less dependent upon others. A Pleaser develops, as we have seen, that makes sure we are nice to people and please them. Our basic protective system assumes that if we are nice to people, they must be nice to us and this is a way of keeping ourselves safe in the world.
Along with a Pleaser might be a Loving Self. After all, if we are loving then we are loved in return and the child is happy. Each of these Selves develops in relationship to, and under the aegis of, the original voices that emerge to protect and control and guide our behavior. These original selves create the rules that determine how we live or lives for a long time into the future, sometimes forever.
In other instances, at a later time in life, a competing primary self may emerge, a rebel, who declares war against all rules both outside and inside. In this case we have two primary selves inside constantly at war with each other.
Together this combination of selves comprise what is known as the Primary Self system or the Operating Ego. It is this Primary Self system that provides us with the basic conception of who we are in the world, and, generally speaking, it also determines how we are perceived by others.
Hal Stone, PhD and Sidra Stone, PhD