Mulitplicity of mind

This article was inspired by the book by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., “Many Minds, One Self”.

Multiplicity and non-uniformity – these words are at the heart of the Internal Family Systems model (IFS). Why? Well, the paradigm of the multiple mind is the basis for this approach - the perspective according to which the mind is comprised of different parts, in other words, contains an inner family of sub-personalities. To understand this perspective on our own internal world, we will begin with presenting the out-dated but still present in our culture approach - the mono-mind paradigm - according to which our mind is unitary and indivisible.

Mono-mind paradigm

  • In our society, multiple personality is often regarded as a disorder, as something abnormal. It is associated with mental illness, e.g. split personality or schizophrenia.
  • People suffering from these diseases have the same parts of personality as everyone else, but due to, for example, trauma in their younger years, these parts had to take up extreme roles and got disconnected from the Self.
  • The adoption of a one-dimensional paradigm may bring a chain of negative consequences: let’s say, a part affects us in a destructive manner and we begin to take this part for our entire personality or for a specific character flaw. Then, not only that we are not able to deal with that single part of ourselves, but we also think of ourselves as a whole as somehow spoiled or defective.
  • In the result, shame, guilt, anger or fear. These feelings are all internal alarm signals which can make us strip ourselves of authenticity and try to hide our weaknesses from others behind masks of perfection.
  • Believing in the mono-mind paradigm makes us fear or even hate ourselves as a whole, although it started with a small particle of our true Self. We get stuck in an internal conflict, and our self-esteem drops drastically or becomes unstable.
  • Usually, it shows by saying to oneself: "I am damaged / sick/ insufficient / not good enough". Such generalizations not only strip us of any control over our inner part, but also make us perceive ourselves as people with a defective mind. Most psychotherapeutic trends assume the mono-mind paradigm, and solutions they offer very often foster this way of thinking. Paradoxically, in many situations, it can very much hinder therapeutic work.

Multiplicity of mind

  • Ancient wonderful thinkers - Socrates and Plato – pondered about the non- uniformity of mind and claimed that the mind is at least dual.
  • Until the beginning of 18th century, taking control by one part over the whole personality was explained on the phenomenon of demonic possession. Anton Mesmer, the modern father of hypnosis, proved that he was able, with the use of scientific methods, to obtain the same effects with "possessed" people as an exorcist. It was a turning point: from that moment on, the internal world ceased to be exclusively associated with religion, and was incorporated in the domain of medicine and science. Richard Schwartz summed up this phenomenon as follows: "Personification was moved out of the church and thrown into the house of mad men."
  • The idea of multiple personalities spread far before the late twentieth century, as it was commonly believed. Until the 1840s, many cases of disorders in this area were described, and until 1880s it was one of the topics most frequently discussed in philosophy and psychiatry in Europe and America.
  • A little later, between 1890 and 1910, many different models of multiple personalities were created. Some people dismissed the idea that it a natural state of mind, instead, perceived it as an effect of trauma, which cuts the personality into pieces, or divides it into parts. However, the view that this is a completely natural phenomenon was quite popular, too.
  • When World War II broke out, the subject of multiple personalities was forgotten and forced out by other psychological streams for more than half a century.
  • The notion of multidimensional mind can be traced also in the Freudian model of the psyche, which, according to him, consists of id, ego and superego. He treated these parts, however, more as primitive forces of the subconscious rather than components of personality. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis that we are driven by instinctive, unconscious impulses again moved the world of psychotherapy away from acknowledging the multiplicity of mind, the therapists lost their attitude of curiosity as well as the very desire to interpret and look from the expert perspective.
  • Jung recognized the multiple nature of our mind early in his career. He once wrote that "the so-called unity of consciousness is an illusion. It is really a wish-dream. We like to think that we are one; but we are not, most decidedly not."
  • After parting with Freud, Jung spent several years experiencing a "creative illness", during which he came to many internal discoveries but, at the same time, seemed to be close to madness. Jung talked with his parts and discovered that in his psyche there are things that are not determined by him but have their own lives. He considered it an autonomous phenomenon that we can only observe. He described these thoughts only not so long before his death, not having talked about them earlier because he was afraid to lose his reputation as a scientist.
  • The first theoretician, who downrightly stated that multiplicity is a natural state of mind and that the existence of subpersonalities is valuable, not at all pathological, was Assagioli. An Italian psychiatrist, founder of psychosynthesis and Freud’s follower who parted with his master 3 years earlier than Jung. He was interested in esoteric and transpersonal experiences. He spoke a lot about the disidentification from subpersonality, however, he didn’t put forward any methods for working with inner parts, nor did he write much about the very subpersonalities.
  • In the 1960s, Fritz Perls developed Gestalt therapy, which also took into account the multiplicity of personality. Perls’ technique of working with subpersonalities drew on psychodrama (developed by Jacob Moreno in the 1920s). Each person in the therapeutic group chose another person, who was to become one of his/her sub-personalities, and then interacted with that person.
  • Perls also borrowed Moreno’s empty chair technique, in which the person imagines the specific inner part sitting in the empty chair and then starts to play its role. He also spoke about the common polarization between two subpersonalities: "topdog" (harsh and critical) and "underdog" (feeling embarrassed or guilty). Perls didn’t write subpersonality theory but the popularity of Gestalt therapy has renewed interest in this topic, and the empty chair technique inspired others to experiment with these phenomena.
  • "Ego-state therapy" is an approach of working with subpersonalities with the use of hypnosis. It was created by Paul Federn and developed by John and Helen Watkins. The term “ego states” referred to a set of cognitive schemes rather than inner parts having their own personality. In practice, however, the very technique treated ego states more like parts with their own personality.
  • Eric Berne was another psychiatrist who contributed to the development of the multi-dimensional paradigm. It was in the 1960s that he developed the theory of transactional analysis, which considered three groups of ego states: Parent, Child, Adult. Berne believed that our emotional states result from the inner dialogue between these parts. Berne’s theory was most popular the 1960s and 1970s.
  • From the early 1980s, the subject of inner child became more and more popular. It was brought up for the first time in the book Your Inner Child of the Past (1962) and in the 1980s spread by the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement. Many therapists addressed this topic and most of them referred to the 12 Steps of ACoA program. It was generally acknowledged that different forms of addiction have their source in the wounded inner child. John Bradshaw was the one who brought the notion of inner child into vogue, particularly through his books, including Homecoming, which became No. 1 Bestseller according to The New York Times.
  • In the 1950s, there were many cases of the so called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Moreover, MPD was the main subject of many popular films and best-selling books at that time. As a consequence of MPD’s popularity, the multiplicity of personality was again treated as a pathology.
  • The name of the disease later changed to DID (dissociative identity disorder). The existence of multiple personalities within one person was interpreted as a symptom of a mental illness, so professional therapists were reluctant to touch upon it when there was any sign of an inner part’s activity while working with the client. They were afraid that working with parts would lead to a further dissociation of patient’s personality. Nowadays, it is known that this can happen only when the therapist enters the internal system without respecting parts that protect it.
  • In 1986, a movement called Hearing Voices Movement was established in the Netherlands, stating that hearing voices is a normal phenomenon. Interestingly, in one of the studies on the people who lost someone close, it turned out that 13% out of the group of 300 heard the dead close one's voice for some time after their death.

Write a comment