Saturday, April 21, 2007

Subpersonalities -- An Integral Theoretical Model

Until now, most of my posts on subpersonalities have been more experiential than theoretical. As a preliminary to going more in-depth into how and why subs develop, I wanted to present the model Ken Wilber offers in Integral Psychology. I've included the notes as well.

A few key terms to know:

Proximate Self: The proximate self is the intimately subjective self, which is experienced as an “I” or “I/me.” It is also the equivalent of the self-identity stream. Wilber’s fulcrums of self-development refer to the stages of proximate self-sense development.

Distal Self: The distal self is the objective self, which is experienced as “me” or “mine,” in contrast to the proximate self (“I” or “I/me”) and the anterior self (“I-I”)

Fulcrums (F-0 through F-13): A developmental milestone within the self-identity stream, or the proximate self line of development. Fulcrums follow a 1-2-3 process: fusion or identification with one’s current level of self-development; differentiation or disidentification from that level; and integration of the new level with the previous level.

I mentioned that the self contains numerous subpersonalities, and nowhere does this become more obvious than in pathology, diagnosis, and treatment. Authorities on subpersonalities point out that the average person has around a dozen or so subpersonalities, variously known as parent ego state, child ego state, adult ego state, topdog, underdog, conscience, ego ideal, idealized ego, false self, authentic self, real self, harsh critic, superego, libidinous self, and so on.1 Most of these are experienced, in part, as different vocal or subvocal voices in one's inner dialogue. Sometimes one or more subpersonalities become almost completely dissociated, which can result, in extremes, in multiple personality disorder. For most people, however, these various subpersonalities simply vie for attention and behavioral dominance, forming a type of subconscious society of selves that must be negotiated by the proximate self at any of its stages.

Each of these subpersonalities can be at a different level of development in any of its lines. In other words, subpersonalities can form at virtually any of the fulcrums: archaic subpersonalities (F-0, F-1), magical subpersonalities (F-2, F-3), mythic subpersonalities (F-3, F-4), rational subpersonalities (F-5, F-6), and even soul subpersonalities (F-7, F-8).2

Thus, considerable research suggests that not only can the various developmental lines unfold relatively independently, so can any of the various subpersonalities. For both of these reasons, a person can therefore have facets of his or her consciousness at many different levels of morals, worldviews, defenses, pathologies, needs, and so forth (which can be mapped on an integral psychograph). For example, the child ego state is usually generated at F-2 and F-3 (with preconventional morals, magic worldview, and safety needs), which becomes perfectly obvious when a person is gripped by a child ego state (e.g., explosive temper tantrum, with egocentric demands, narcissistic worldview), which can blow through the personality, commandeer it for minutes or hours, and then pass as quickly as it came, returning the person to his or her more typical, average self (which may be otherwise quite highly evolved).

Thus, when I outline nine or ten general levels of consciousness, worldviews, pathology, treatment, and so on, that does not in any way mean that a person is simply at one stage, with one type of defense, one type of pathology, one type of need, and one type of treatment. The dozen or more subpersonalities can each be at a different level, so that the individual has numerous types and levels of needs, defenses, and pathologies (e.g., from borderline to neurotic to existential to spiritual), and will therefore respond to a wide variety of therapeutic endeavors.

Subpersonalities, in their benign form, are simply functional self-presentations that navigate particular psychosocial situations (a father persona, a wife persona, a libidinal self, an achiever self, and so on). Subpersonalities become problematic only to the degree that of their dissociation, which runs along a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. The difficulty comes when any of these functional personalities are strongly dissociated, or split from access to the conscious self, due to repeated trauma, developmental miscarriages, recurrent stress, or selective inattention. These submerged personae -- with their now-dissociated and fixed set of morals, needs, worldviews, and so on -- set up shop in the basement, where they sabotage further growth and development. They remain as "hidden subjects," facets of consciousness that the self can no longer disidentify with and transcend, because they are sealed off in unconscious pockets of the psyche, from which they send up symbolic derivatives in the form of painful symptoms.

The curative catalyst, again, is to bring awareness to bear on these subpersonalities, thus objectifying them, and thus including them in a more compassionate embrace. Generally speaking, individuals will present a symptomatology where one or two subpersonalities and their pathologies are dominant (a harsh inner critic, a prone-to-failure underdog, a low-self-esteem ego state, etc.), and thus therapy tends to focus on these more visible issues. As dominant pathologies are alleviated (and their subpersonalities integrated), less noticable ones will often tend to emerge, sometimes forcefully, and therapeutic attention naturally gravitates to them. These subpersonalities can include both more primitive selves (archaic, magic) and any newly emerging transpersonal selves (soul, spirit).

Likewise, the various subpersonalities are often context-triggered: a person will do fine in one situation, only to have another situation trigger panic, depression, anxiety, and so on. Alleviating the dominant problem in one area will often allow less noticeable pathologies to surface, and they can then be worked through. The therapeutic ingredient -- bring awareness to bear -- helps the individual become more conscious of the subpersonalities, thus converting them from "hidden subjects" into "conscious subjects," where they can be reintegrated in the self and thus join the ongoing flow of conscious evolution, instead of remaining fixated at the lower levels where they were originally dissociated. For no matter how numerous the subpersonalities, it is the task of the proximate self to fashion some sort of integration or harmony in the chorus of voices, and thus more surely wend its way to the Source of them all.

1 See John Rowan's superb book Subpersonalities; see also Ego States, Watkins and Watkins. In my view, each subpersonality exists as a subconscious or unconscious "I," an aspect of the proximate self that was defensively solit off, but with which consciousness remains fused, embedded, or identified (as a hidden "I"), with its own wants, desires, impulses, and so on. The nature of the subpersonality is largely determined by the level at which it was dissociated (archaic, imagic, mythic, etc.). These "little subjects" are all those hidden facets of self that have not been turned into objects, let go of, disidentified with, de-embedded, and transcended, and so they hold consciousness circling in their orbit.

Each time the proximate self identifies with a basic wave, the self exists embedded as that wave: it is a material self, then a libidinal/emotional self, then a conceptual self, then a role self, then a reflexive self, then a spirit self, each of which holarchically transcends and includes. As each "I" self is transcended, it becomes part of the "me" self (e.g., the feeling body, which was the proximate or "I" self of F-2, becomes simply "my body" -- or part of the distal self or "me" -- when the proximate self moves on).

A dissociated subpersonality results when facets of the "I" self are split off while consciousness is still identified with them. They thus become, not unconscious objects, but conscious subjects, with their own morals, worldviews, needs, and so on (all determined by the level at which the subpersonality was split off). This is the key, in my opinion, to distinguishing between repression and transcendence. That is, dissociation (or repression) occurs when a proximate I is turned into a distal I; whereas transcendence occurs when a proximate I is turned into a distal me. In the former, the subjective identification/attachment (or I-ness) remains but is submerged (as an unconscious subject); in the later, the subjective identification is dissolved, turning the unconscious subject into a conscious object, which can then be integrated (transcend and include, not dissociate and repress). Therapy involves converting hidden subjects to conscious objects.

2 The lower-level subpersonalities are largely preverbal (archaic, uroboric, magical [UL]; reptilian/brain stem, paleomammalian/limbic system [UR]); the intermediate-level subpersonalities are verbal (mythic, roles, formal, postformal [UL]; neocortex [UR]); the higher subpersonalities are transverbal (mostly subtle [UL], theta states [UR]). Each of those impinge on consciousness in a different manner: the preverbal, often as impulses and inarticulated urges; the verbal, as vocal or subvocal narratives; the transverbal, as luminosities, higher cognitions, and transcendental affects (from bliss to cosmic agony).

A dissociated component of any level of consciousness proceeds from a facet to a complex to a full-blown subpersonality, each layered with more complexity. This is similar to Grof's notion of COEX systems (systems of condensed experience). Any subpersonality includes one or more complexes, which themselves can be layered, going back from the present level (say, F-5 or rational) back to earlier levels (mythic, magic, archaic), even back to perinatal matrices (F-0) -- and further yet, some would claim, to past life experiences (however you wish to conceive that, from literally to phylogenetic residues; see A Sociable God for a further description of this layering of complexes). Likewise, some subpersonalities contain emergent qualities attempting to "come down" (from psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual domains).
This model is a bit technical and abstract, but it offers a useful series of observations. When I post a more accessible explanation of the origin of subpersonalities, I will make some reference to this model, so I thought it useful to post it.

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