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Subpersonalities and Ego States

By Thea Iberall

Have you ever felt like there are different parts of you that are sometimes at odds with each other? One part of me wants to be rich; another part doesn’t. One part of me wants to be skinny. Another part of me wants to eat all the time. These personality parts are aspects of my subconscious, and each has their job or function. I remember when I was trying to quit smoking. Sometimes I’d find a lit cigarette in my hand wondering how it got there. The smoker part of me had taken control when the non-smoker wasn't looking. Hypnotherapists say that our behavior at any given time is influenced by whatever ego state is the executive. Then there is psychosynthesis which values the body, mind, and spirit. This type of counseling calls these ego states subpersonalities. We have lots of ego states or subpersonalities. It's normal to have these. Some are normally active, others are buried deep in our subconscious. Many of us have done inner child work, talking to and listening to our inner child. This is the same idea. These ego states can be our inner infant, toddler, school-age child, adolescent, and so on. Who hasn't experienced a conflict between their subpersonalities? The adult in me says snack on an apple while the wild child in me goes after a hot fudge sundae. And then I label it a guilty pleasure. The pure spirit in me says treat everyone with acceptance while the scared adolescent wants to dish dirt on everyone who slights me. There are people who continually get involved with abusive partners even though they don't want to be abused. And others who can never reach their goals no matter how hard they think they are trying. Who is the real me? They all are. And it's normal that they are, as long as I am happy in my world. But if I keep winding up in a situation where I'm not happy, then maybe looking at the desires of my ego states can help. For example, I want to weigh less. I know, if I am abstinent in my meals, eating three meals a day and nothing in between, I can separate eating for sustenance from eating over my emotions. But this last year, I got into really enjoying eating. I started walking to Whole Foods every morning during the senior hours and would buy anything I wanted. The walking felt good because it would help me lose weight. What I would buy filled a pleasure I wanted. In reflecting on my predicament, I see the conflict between some of my subpersonalities. As an exercise this week, I've tried to tease them apart. I have a pleasure seeker. I think she's my 12-year-old self. My sister and I used to put 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles together on my bedroom floor and I'd make model airplanes in the basement. I loved reading science fiction. Our family had evening musicals, me on the piano, my dad on the mandolin, my sisters on other instruments. But then a couple of family crises squashed all that, and the trauma has left me unable to find pleasure in my life without guilt or pain. I have a freedom seeker, maybe my 17-year-old self. I was itching to get out of high school, off to the freedom of living in the big city of New York. The summer before I graduated, I was a camp counselor-in-training in upstate New York. I wanted desperately to go to Chautauqua to see a play and they wouldn't let me. My freedom was squashed and as a result, when I went to college, I began my adult life out of control and I went too far into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Dropping out of college was just one symptom of my unhappiness. I have a person wanting to be pretty. When I let go of my addictions in my 40s, I finally felt pleasure from how I looked. I bought a new wardrobe, enjoyed being feminine in the world, even spending a whole day in a bikini at a water park. I hadn't felt that way since being 10 years old. I’ve lost sight of this person. Then there’s my wise loving parent. She's 50 years old. She has learned the wisdom of trusting a higher power, of living in acceptance. She has a strong spiritual deep core I can rely on. I used to keep a small hammer in my pocket from the See’s English Toffee candy box to remind me of her. But I no longer need the reminder. I will always have these parts, these ego states, these subpersonalities. The key issue is how to resolve their conflicts. A hypnotherapist would help them all feel heard and honored. And psychosynthesis counseling would help me talk to my subpersonalities and let them express themselves. I'm trying it myself. I've spent three days talking to and listening to these four subpersonalities. It is through this reflection that I see how my 12-year-old pleasure seeker was squashed and how my 17-year-old freedom seeker went too far. As a result, I've begun to really listen to them. To honor my 12-year-old pleasure seeker, I'm checking in with myself when I do things I enjoy. I'm starting to talk to her more while I do puzzles, play music, and read. I’m working on comforting her and empowering her to make sure she is having fun. As for my 17-year-old freedom seeker, that's a harder question. I'm not sure I know at the moment how to feel really free. It's not about choosing a flavor of ice cream at JP Licks or deciding when and where to vacation. It’s something deeper. I don’t know the answer yet, but I think this new awareness is a huge key. It will take some time.

Will honoring and comforting my traumatized ego parts relieve my addiction to food? I don’t know, but stay tuned.

Participants' Reflections

  • Thank you for sharing this hard journey with us. It took me to a time when I had arguments around food. First as a teenager. I liked being so busy it bothered me to have to stop and eat. I was just the opposite. I couldn’t understand why God made us have to eat. I was into sports, creativity, music. Eventually, in my 50s, it finally dawned on me eating is an interactive, interdependent thing. It brings humility when we pause, reliance on nature, grocery stores, people who know how to cook. It’s an ecosystem of people feeding us. I remembered a song from The Fantasticks that telling ourselves no will guarantee us to want that thing.

  • I think you and I have had factors in common along the way and I’m glad we are at this point where we have more maturity. We went through all these other things and we can revel in the fact that we are where we are at this point. We’ve all gone through journeys to get to who we are now.

  • I’m going to think and reflect on what you wrote today. I want to reread it. It allows me to look at all the multiple voices I have going on. I have many. Somehow, there is a pathway to peace in embracing that.

  • A pathway to peace. My writing was quite a shock to me. I started at one place. I’m studying hypnosis as a research project and I decided to try one of the techniques on myself. It took me on a journey that I had no idea where I was going with it.

  • It’s good to be here today. Thank you for the reading and sharing and the chance to reflect. I’ve been in a crazy state of ‘human doing’ and I am ready to slow down. I heard Gloria Steinem reflect on being past the age of childbearing years. She said you can become non-gendered and go back to your adolescent self because you aren’t being sized up for how many babies you are going to produce. Go back to your ten-year-old. I’ve thought about that, being on this side on menopause and how happy I was when I was not gendered. When I was about 12 years old, I was whoever I wanted to be, a tomboy. I’ve given myself quite an allowance to do that and started a business, allowing me to use all the power tools I want. I’m more active and doing whatever I want as I heal. It’s allowed me to eat whatever I want.

  • That reading was very powerful. It reminded me of an awareness. I have many subpersonalities. How it used to be, in films of multiple personalities, the goal was to integrate them into one. I remember thinking why just one. I’m struggling to understand this. I realized yesterday, when I had to visit my mom at the hospital, that I was thinking only of myself and one of my subpersonalities. The work is to honor the subpersonalities, to acknowledge them, and to recognize them, but to also figure out when it’s appropriate for which subpersonality to be honored at which point. If everyone inside of me knows and I am acknowledging them, then maybe they won’t be so terrified of being lost in the shuffle.

  • That’s right. That’s what the therapy is all about. Honoring, comforting, empowering these ego states so that they don’t inappropriately drive us. I spent the meditation time listening to one of my subpersonalities, talking to her, comforting her.

  • Thank you so much for sharing so much of your inner life with us. It’s amazing. My mother used to say she didn’t know what to do with me because I was so complex as a child. I told her near the end of her life that she could have held me more. I know we are all complex. Because some of us have different expressions and ways to communicate, it’s easy for me to think that others are smarter than me, that others have had more experiences than me. I’m jealous almost. And yet, I know I too am smart. I know I am not what I think. That’s comforting to me. I’m not more or less complex than anybody else. The older I get, the more I love myself. The path gets sweeter and easier as we get older. Who I am and choose to be, it gets sweeter.

  • Every time I write one of these meditation essays, I think that’s it, I have no more stories or insights. I’m always surprised when another one unfolds. I think we can all write reflections about how we are learning to be healthy, happy, human beings.

  • Thank you all for joining today. What an incredible morning. I hope you all have a joyous and blessed day, being aware through your day, how your different ego states march in and out of your life as you react to life, as you bump up against life. Just be aware. I’d love to hear your reflections on how your subpersonalities are interacting. Have a joyous, blessed day, you and all your parts.

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