Sometimes we are taken over by a part of ourselves that we don’t want to recognize. Various “selves” can show up for different situations and relationships. “Something came over me,” we say. It can be a helpful part (altruistic empath) or a shadow side of our personality (self-centered narcissist, needy child). “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less conscious of it we are, the blacker and denser it is.”
The myth of a unified self has us believe there should be one “real me” — a consistent face to the world, a projected self-image that we want others to see and believe. We expend great effort to pretend that’s who we are. But it’s not the whole story. Have you ever been surprised by how you acted, or felt confused, conflicted or uncertain about who you are or what you’re feeling? This thing we call ‘self’ is tricky. Many different and competing facets make for an often conflicted personality.
Subpersonalities are different aspects of a multi-faceted mind, each with a psychic life of its own. When we misunderstand or reject these energies, they become major obstacles to success and happiness. We easily become emotionally conflicted within ourselves.
The ego projects a mask over our whole set of subpersonalities in order to be as consistently attractive as possible. This is what you call your ‘personality.’ In the process we try to disown parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of or insecure about. But we can’t just claim one overarching “true self,” and discard the parts we’re not so proud of. Like it or not, we own it all.
To protect ourselves from disapproval (including our own), we suppress our insecurities by pretending they don’t belong to us and going numb. The needy inner child, the perfectionistic critic, the control freak — we don’t want to admit that we have such capacities. Meanwhile, the ego claims grandiose levels of our lofty aspirations. Oh, we do have good parts … it’s just not the whole story. Sometimes we are generous. Sometimes our compassionate selves are operative. And sometimes we are vengeful or unthinkingly selfish.
In order to evolve into a more integrated personality, we need to own as much of ourselves as we can. The more we shed light on all our parts, the less power the shadow will have. For instance, when the hurt inner-child starts acting out, when we are feeling needy or desperate, we may block feelings out of shame or embarrassment. But this doesn’t work because the child part runs off and disrupts things in an effort to somehow get what it needs. Inadvertently, this sabotages relationships and often generates psycho-physical symptoms like anxiety or depression or IBS.
Too often our lives are run by inner critics, taskmasters or perfectionists, and we are dominated by hidden parts. In this case, choices become blunted and limited — our inner and outer lives controlled by scared, unconscious, often angry, little ego-maniacs. But shaming and chasing away subpersonalities only makes them act up and get stronger. Try to accept and honor them. Listen to them when they are agitating and gently soothe them. Let your Compassionate Self say, “Come here little guy, sit on my lap and let me hold you.” Unconditional self-acceptance is courageous integration. As the I Ching says, love and no blame.