Primary Selves

Each personality contains a number of different ‘selves’ or subpersonalities. In this chapter we will focus on the more dominant parts of your personality. We will discover an intriguing system of selves that is working together to protect you to keep you safe in the world. These chapter exercises will help you to find out who these subpersonalities or selves are, where do they come from? And how do they influence you in the choices that you make?

When you will get to know your dominant selves it will give you some insights in yourselves;

  1. How do these dominants parts prevent you from doing things that you really want to do?
  2. How to think ‘out of the box’ and make other choices that suit you better in achieving your goals that you really want?
  3. How to reduce the negative impact like stress by staying close to your inner goals because you feel that is better for your wellbeing.

Exercise 1. Finding out your Primary Selves

Imagine that you are meeting somebody new and you have to give 6 of you personality qualities that make you an attractive person? Take a piece of paper and write these six qualities down. If you need help, take a look below at what Peter wrote down.

Exercise 2: How your Primary Selves are taking charge

“The personality qualities that you wrote down in part 1 of the ‘I, Me and my Selves’ exercise are representing the values, beliefs and behaviours that are important for some of your Primary selves. 

  1. a) Reflect on the past two days and identify the times when any of these Primary selves took charge automatically. Describe the situation; which Primary self took you over; and what it had you think, do or say.

Example: Let’s say that you stayed late at work to get a job done, even though you felt very tired, it can tell that your Perfectionist took control. 

  1. b) In the next few days, as you become more aware of how and when your Primary selves take charge automatically, record your observations, repeating the steps above.

How the Primary Selve took charge automatically:

Marian is a woman in her early fifties. Her question concerns the problems she experiences in working together with her co-director. It causes her a lot of stress. The co-directorship is the result of a recent reorganization. Marian describes her colleague as an authoritarian, manipulating personality, who is ambitious and not friendly. In our first session we make an inventory of Marian’s values; they consist of cooperation, openness, supportiveness and recognition. So, her values turn out to be the opposite pole of the values she attributes to her colleague. Marian says she wants to learn how to deal with this.

We start with one of her own values, i.e. ‘being nice’. She says she likes to be nice to others. Moreover, it turns out to be a survival mechanism that predominates in stressful situations. In the second session we examine what purpose ‘being nice’ has served in her life up till now. 

Marian will now choose a different position in the room (sitting, or standing up) which she feels is suited to the part of her we now want to address. By literally ‘giving a voice’ to this side of herself, a number of things will become clear. She tells us why this part is present, and what it has meant to her. It will also become clear why this part is defending her, and against what. In her case, the origin could be found with her parents, who were quarreling all the time. She wanted to protect them, and herself, from this, by putting an emphasis on being nice. In this way she becomes aware of the fact that ‘being nice’ is an important part in her, which she has developed strongly.

This part of her has been listened to carefully, and Marian has experienced how she feels when it is allowed to take up all the space. That helps in becoming aware of it, and recognizing it, in daily life. After all, we are often dealing with subconscious patterns of which we can become more aware.

In the next session we pay attention to her vulnerability, which was protected by the survival mechanism of always being nice. If she is able to consciously take care of her own vulnerability, this will remove the sting from her conditioned behavior. Her nice side can stop working overtime and will be able to relax more.

This process by itself creates an opportunity to examine the less developed, ‘disowned’ part in a next session.

This part is exactly the opposite of ‘being nice’ (and therefore the other side of the polarity), and we can label it as ‘setting limits’.

It is given its own voice, too, and it will become clear that this part is definitely there, but hardly gets a chance to express itself. If it is allowed to be more present, Marian will have less stress and more energy.

By consciously learning to feel and experience both sides and becoming aware of the differences, Marian has more choice now to be nice or to set limits.

Presently it becomes clear that her collaboration with her colleague is improving because she sets more limits, which makes her more autonomous. She chooses not to discuss the teamwork itself with her colleague, because she feels he will not be willing to do so.

In the end, she prefers another position to her present one, because working together with her colleague continues to be a problem. But it is now an aware choice, not one made out of powerlessness.

Marten has achieved a lot in life. He is 35 years old, has successfully set up a business in the communications sector, and employs twenty people.

He would like an answer to the question why he is always tired and lacking energy, and out of inspiration. He has been referred to us by a friend who has gone through the same thing, and is familiar with working with polarities.

When Marten arrives for his first session, he is not far from having a nervous breakdown.

Together, we examine which values are important to him. They turn out to be more than a few, for his strongly developed sides are:

  • working hard, perfectionism and taking one’s responsibility;
  • being liked.

Jointly, we establish that this combination of values offers every chance of having a nervous breakdown, and may explain why Marten is feeling the way he does.

Next, he gives a ‘voice’ to one of his developed parts, the ‘hard worker’.

By engaging in conversation with this part, it becomes clear where the origin of the ‘hard worker’ lies, and what makes him tick. As a result, Marten will later on be able to better recognize this side of himself, as it appears. And something else happens, too, by giving a ‘voice’ to this part. Giving this side of himself all the space in the world, will allow him to take himself less seriously. It is as if the ‘voice’ exhausts itself and permits his opposite to appear.

Marten then experiences his other, less developed side. He feels sad and tired, and sees no way out. Nevertheless, he decides to keep examining this part and thus develop it further. He will spend more time doing his own things, doing nothing and being alone. At this point it is a conscious choice for him, something completely different from having a nervous breakdown and involuntarily ‘shifting’ to the other side by becoming ill and powerless. In this way he learns to take care of his vulnerability by himself, instead of letting his primary survival pattern deal with it.

In the next session, Marten examines how it will be if he is more often at home, taking time off for himself, having less social obligations. Will people still like him? For that was one of his values, too: ‘being liked’.

He wants to try to find a balance, within a ‘healthy egoism’.

We list Marten’s polarities once more:

  • working hard, perfectionism and taking responsibility, as opposed to ‘letting it happen’ and ‘letting go’, or ‘not everything needs to be finished all the time’;
  • the need to be liked, as opposed to ‘setting limits’ and ‘putting yourself in first place’.

The primary parts (the concepts on the left side) of Marten do not have to disappear, on the contrary, they belong to him. But having too much of them is not healthy, as he has experienced. It appears important to find a balance with the other side, the right side. This becomes possible because Marten has become aware of his vulnerability and his fears, which were protected by the survival pattern and which he can now deal with himself. Marten decides to keep the weekends for himself, to delegate more at work, plan his time with more discretion (for instance, limit the amount of business dinners) and in general have much more fun.

The Perfectionist wants everything to be ‘just-so’. From how you look, to what you wear,

to everything you do, there are standards and anything less than perfect just won’t do.

Whether as housemother or housefather on the one hand or neurosurgeon on the other hand, the Perfectionist expects you to be the best and when you are, it will think you could be even better! A great editor (and re-editor) the Perfectionist spots the smallest imperfections and judges people whose standards don’t match up as ‘sloppy!’.

The Perfectionist makes a formidable double act with the Pusher, but when it’s out of control, it can make life a misery. It never lets up and is impossible to please, so when

the Perfectionist is around and you’re just starting out or learning new skills, it’s easy to get demoralized.

The Responsible self takes life seriously. It knows that there’s a right and wrong way to behave and it makes sure that you act ‘appropriately’. If it had a motto, it would be ‘do the right thing’. For the Responsible self, safety and order are very important. It will always have you think ahead and cover all bases. There’s no limit to how responsible it would have you be, but when it comes to letting your hair down, limits are what it’s all about. If your Responsible self is out in force it’s not easy to be in the moment or to have too much fun, and there’s nothing the Responsible self likes less than people who are foolish and ‘irresponsible!’

The Rational Mind thinks things through and works things out. Knowing ‘how’ is important but knowing ‘why’ is more important still. It is concerned with facts and reasoning; with clarity and making sense. When it’s in control life becomes more black and white and decision-making feels a whole lot easier. Cool and impersonal, it connects better with ideas than it does with people, so when the Rational Mind dominates, emotions get pushed aside. ‘If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count’ might be its mantra. So when people start talking ‘feelings’ and ‘intuition’ it laughs and dismisses them as ‘irrational!’

The Inner Critic is truly single minded. All it does is criticize! It’s the voice in your head that points out every one of your mistakes and weaknesses. It looks at other people and finds you lacking in comparison. You’re never as sophisticated, as good-looking, as wise, as wealthy, as happy, as generous… as the next person. And when the critic is around and running wild, it’s a lose-lose situation, because if you ever did become the best at everything it would criticize you for being too perfect! The Inner Critic makes it easier for you to deal with judgments that come from the outside – it hurts less when you tell me I’m no good when I’ve already told myself the same thing. But when the Inner Critic takes hold it makes life miserable, diminishes selfesteem and can lead to depression and despair.

The Seeker has its eyes set on the future – a future of more understanding, more happiness, more connection, more fulfillment. Often linked with the Spiritual self, its concerns are less on the here and now and more on how life might be. The Seeker (aided by the Pusher) demands courage. It keeps you moving forward, always looking out for whatever it is that will help you to ‘grow’.

From the Seeker’s perspective, the journey never ends. It knows that there’s a better you around the corner, so its bags are packed and it’s ready to go. When the Seeker has the power, it’s hard to settle down or to feel content. It looks disdainfully at the ‘settlers’ and moves on.

For the Playful Child, life is joyful. In fact, there’s hardly anything that it can’t turn into a game. Spontaneous and creative, it laughs a lot, and the glint in its eye makes its energy infectious. Ever searching for like-minded playmates, it will do its best to bring out the kid in everyone. There isn’t much the Playful Child likes more than the head-in-the-clouds feeling of early relationship. But when there are so many games to play who’s got the time for serious things! Unburdened as it is by everyday concerns and responsibilities, an unboundaried Playful Child can wreak havoc when there are serious ‘grown up’ issues to deal with. The Playful Child looks at people with furrowed brows and calls them ‘boring!’

The boss of it all! That’s what the Protector/Controller wants to be. And who can blame it when there is so much at stake. Its job is to protect your vulnerability by keeping you safe in the world. Forever monitoring and evaluating danger, it’s a master controller the head of a network of big guns (your Primary Selves team) that it keeps on alert 24/7.

The Protector/Controller has a clear vision of the kind of behaviour that gets rewarded and that which gets punished, and is quick to judge and disown any self that it deems embarrassing or inappropriate. With the reins held tight and Be Prepared emblazoned on its crest, an all-powerful Protector/Controller makes it tough to be spontaneous or to embrace the new.