Sunday, May 06, 2007

Loss, Subpersonalities, and the Core Self

[Yeah, yeah, I said I was going to take some time away from blogging, and I am -- I won't return to full-time blogging for a while -- but I wanted to share this experience.]


Each of my three primary subpersonalities [Apollo (the little professor), Cyman (the cynical young man), and Sophia (the wise emotional one)] developed in one way or another as a result of facing loss and fear. When I experience loss in my life, each of these subs thinks it knows best how to deal with it and get me through it.

For the last 48 hours or so, these subs have been at war, each one trying to dictate how I navigate this challenging period in my life.

Apollo wants to think it all better, argue with logic for how things should be, and avoid allowing emotions to cloud the situation.

Cyman thinks it's all fucked and I should just accept that I will never have anything good in my life. His approach is to avoid the pain by any means possible, usually in self-destructive ways.

Sophia wants me to dive into the pain and let it work itself out. She doesn't care if I am unable to function in my daily life as long as I don't ignore how I am feeling.

None of these approaches can work on its own -- they may have been appropriate responses at one point in my life (given who I was then and the tools available to me) -- but they are no longer healthy ways to deal with loss and pain.

Each of the three major schools of subpersonality work (Psychosynthesis, Voice Dialogue, and Internal Family Systems) suggest that we are not just a collection of subs. Within the swirling voices of our subs, there is a core self or authentic self that can manage the voices. This deeper self is who we really are beneath all the voices.

In Psychosynthesis, this core self is called the Higher Self. In Voice Dialogue, they talk about an aware ego that is not attached to any one subpersonality but has access to higher awareness, a kind of observer self. In Internal Family Systems this function is referred to as the Self. In Ken Wilber's integral model, this function is named the anterior self (the I/I of awareness).

One of the primary goals of subpersonality therapy is to help the person identify and gain access to this core self. In doing so, the client can learn over time to disidentify with subpersonalities and intense emotional states in order to gain some much needed perspective.

I've been working with this process on and off for more than six years. Each time I go through something challenging, it becomes easier to find access to that core self.

Last night, as I was sitting outside enjoying the cool night air, my core self spontaneously emerged. From the vantage point of higher awareness, I could see all of my subs fighting for control. And I could see that no matter how much pain I am feeling, I will survive this challenging time.

But I was also able to see that the happiness of the woman I love is crucial to my own happiness. I could see that it would not serve me well to let Apollo try to logic her into agreeing that she should stay with me. She would end up resenting me at some point. I saw that I have to allow her to choose her own path -- and to hope that she will not let fear dictate the decision. If she does, there is nothing I can do about it. I have to trust that she knows what will make her happy.

Most importantly, I was able to see how blessed I have been to have her in my life these last months. I still hope there are many months and years to come, but if not, then I will cherish this time and move forward with my life, a better person for having known her.

This morning I am still operating from this space. At the same time, I am allowing myself to hurt and feel sad that this relationship may be over. Disidentifying with pain does not mean it goes away, it simply alters the experience from one of "I am hurting" to one of "I feel sad, but I am not my sadness."

One last note. Subpersonalities aren't all bad -- they have positive qualities that we can access when we operate from the core self. This post comes from Apollo's love of systems and making sense of things, but also from Sophia's need to extend compassion to myself and to the woman I love. When we can step back from our subs and see them as tools and not as who we are, we can use the gifts each one offers to navigate challenging times.

I'm going to spend the rest of today reading Pema Chodron and meditating on equanimity.


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