How Many Parts Do You Have?

Have you ever asked yourself– how many parts do I have? How many sub-personalities are living inside me? And what do these parts want? Do any of them have desires and agendas that are different from ‘my’ desires and ‘my’ agenda?

If you are like most people (which you probably are) you have several parts, and yes, some of them probably have desires that would surprise you. Many of these non-ego parts are likely to be fully or partially unconscious, and therefore quite unknown to you. Some of them may be very ‘young’, aspects of you, they are somehow frozen in time and emotional development. Some of them may have a different gender from you, some may seem utterly foreign, some may be self-harming, even outright dangerous.

Now I’m not saying that we are all suffering from multiple personality disorder, or Dissociative Identity Disorder as it is now termed. A true multiple is quite rare, though they certainly do exist; and perhaps the distinction is only a matter of degree and severity. It can be argued that all humans have a “host” personality and a community of sub-personalities that continually bring forth different feeling states, different perspectives on what is real, different needs and desires, and different agendas. This is the ‘normal’ sate of humanity.

Is it important to know about these parts that dwell within the totality of our selves but are normally outside of our waking ego consciousness? I think that it is very important, because any one of these parts can take over the helm and start steering your ship in an unexpected direction (the direction that it wants to go in). You probably would want to know which part is at the wheel at any given time, and where it wants to take you.

One of the best ways to achieve this kind of self-awareness is by following your dream life. The ‘playing of parts’ that constantly happens in your dream life will help you identify your inner cast of characters; they will literally be personified as figures in your dreams. The first time you meet one of your sub-personalities in a dream you may have trouble recognizing it as a part of yourself; we often tend to externalize and project these figures onto others and the world ‘out there’. Here’s my advice– when you meet a new kind of dream figure always pose the inner/outer question: “is it possible to look at this figure as an aspect of me?

Once you have had a few dream meetings with a certain part of yourself you will come to know it, and you will have a sense of what its agenda is. You may want to give it a name at this point, this helps to acknowledge its autonomy and its realness. And now you can start thinking about how this particular part of yourself operates in the waking world. How does it influence your outlook on life? Your decisions? Your feeling body? Your habits and addictions? Your relationships? This goldmine of self-knowledge is available to you through your dream life.

I work with a 52 year old woman (we’ll call her Grace) who has made very good use of her dreams to get acquainted her sub-personalities. Grace has excellent dream recall, in fact sometimes she feels it is too good and can overload her with information. Over the last two years Grace and I have worked together to identify 5 or 6 dream figures that have appeared with enough consistency and autonomy to be regarded as sub-personalities. Grace is the captain of her own ship much of the time, but any of these parts can take over the wheel and cause significant changes in her feeling body, her behaviors, and her sense of the world.

Grace suffered both physical and emotional abuse in childhood. Because of this she has more sub-personalities than a not-abused person, and 3 of them are young– a baby, a 4 year old, and a young teenager. In my experience this tendency to form sub-personalities to ‘hold’ unbearable feelings and experiences related to trauma is a universal defense mechanism. This mechanism allowed Grace to remain sane and to cope in an extremely difficult situation, but the cost was a compromise of her wholeness. Decades later these trauma-holding parts are appearing in her dreams. Why? Do they want something from her? I believe they do–they want to be re-united in some way, they want Grace to get back to a state of being whole.

If a baby takes over the helm of your ship you will suddenly feel like a baby. Your experience of the world will be baby-like and your choices will be motivated by the baby’s needs and desires. That’s why you need to know about the existence of your inner baby, if you have one. You need to know what it wants, and you need to be able to recognize when it has taken over the bridge. The same goes for all your sub-personalities, any parts of you that are sufficiently autonomous and unconscious to ‘take over’ and cause a change of course.

Have you ever made a ‘map’ of your inner life? A list of your cast of characters? It’s a very good thing to do. Grace did this, in the form of a collage which depicts all her parts. This is the piece that appears in front of this blog post. Adult Grace is there, the captain of the ship, holding the center of her personality. Other figures depict some of her strong roles and identifications– the worker, the hockey player, the writer, the fearless dreamer. Her animal allies the wolves are also there. And so are her sub-personalities, including a couple of dark and mysterious ones that we don’t know much about yet.

We are all a House of Many Parts, some of us with more or fewer parts than others; some with more dark and difficult parts to contend with. But to be human is to be multi-faceted. You are in a stronger position if you know who is in the house and what they want. We don’t yet have a technology that can give us a print out of all our sub-personalities…but we do have the next best thing–our dreams.

-Christopher Sowton

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