THE MULTITUDE WITHIN – HARMONY OR HELL?
Many of us are aware that we have a variety of characteristics, for example, if you have the ability to sit quietly for hours steadily working away in solitude, yet also love taking the limelight in hobbies and social life. Often we never question these different versions of ourselves. Do your friends see different aspects to you that your work colleagues, or your partner know another side of you?
Sometimes the differences can be stark. Consider the police officer who in their working life has to act with authority and make rapid decisions, yet when they get home, faff around for ages deciding what to cook for tea. Or the usually meek person who suddenly makes a stand for a colleague being bullied.
Sometimes these selves are harmonious, others they create conflict – internally, for example with imposter syndrome – or externally, for example with “you are not the person I married”.
I am giving clear examples here of what we call “sub-personalities” - the different aspects of ourselves. We all have them, and most of us operate with a small core of them that we know well, and maybe have a couple of aspects that we recognise we can draw on when we have to. We also operate in teams through work, sport or hobbies where there may be a range of accepted personality traits, and varying degrees of tolerance for others.
I like to introduce people to a model for reflecting on ourselves more fully,
Imagine all the aspects of yourself as an orchestra. Sometimes they make a beautiful sound together, while other times there is a player or two that are out of tune, or dominate completely.
- When does your string section get whiny?
- Or have you ever experienced the percussion section of your personality making so much noise that the rest of the orchestra can't be heard, as in anxiety where you can't think of the obvious solution to your problem?
- Occasionally you may hear an instrument you didn't know was in your orchestra at all - “I don't know what came over me, I' don't usually behave like that”, which may leave a person shocked or embarrassed, or maybe delighted with themselves, depending on the situation.
You have probably heard popular names for subpersonalities which are familiar to most of us, such as Inner Critic or Inner Child. Sometimes these are in clusters, such as the archetypal constellation of the drama triangle: victim, persecutor and rescuer.
Being aware of who is in your orchestra, and giving them a name enables us to be more conscious of the choices we can make, or get a handle on our behaviours. However, I often find that people arrive in my therapy room wanting to eject a part of their personality they are in conflict with. I take a different approach – how can we get to know this part better, understand what it brings to the table, and recognise how it can fit in?
Also, in my play work, Improv, we have full permission to explore all these aspects, and put them down again, with a little more self awareness.
There is one aspect which makes this possible:
This aspect may be called the Observing Self, and oversees what needs to happen in the orchestra. It knows when more volume is needed from a section, or when a musician needs toning down or extra practice to become competent.
The Observing Self is the ability to assess how you are in any situation without judgement, with the aim of getting beautiful music out of a disparate collection of characters working together, and knowing when to concede space and when to take it.
Being able to identify with the conductor of the orchestra enables us to recognise all our aspects, and what we can call on. It is the essence of resilience and emotional intelligence. It underpins each individual and each organisation. Yet without the various parts of the orchestra, the conductor has nothing. How might this analogy help you better understand your business, family or yourself?