Most people don’t realize that they have a family living in their subconscious minds. Let this be an introduction to yours.
There are multiple schools of therapy that have identified what are known as “subpersonalities” that dwell in the subconscious. Subpersonalities are not the same thing as the rare pathology formerly known as “multiple personality disorder,” but instead they simply represent different functions of the brain. These different brain functions are so distinct from one another that their characteristics seem like they have different personalities.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Freud’s 3 subpersonalities – Id, Ego, and Superego, that he first described approximately 140 years ago. Today’s most popular treatment model based on subpersonalities is called Internal Family Systems (Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.). These and a host of other models over the past century have all identified and described the names and nature of subpersonalities differently, but the similarities between them are greater than their differences.
What every model of subpersonalities has in common is the recognition that we are all made up of different parts that are similar to different members of a family, and that these parts have different ways of interacting with one another, just like in real families. When the relationships between an individual’s subpersonalities are collaborative, integrated, and harmonious, that person will be more psychologically healthy. When an individual’s subpersonalities become divided by conflict, judgement, and disdain, that person’s mental health suffers as a result.
Helping people to integrate and harmonize their subpersonalities is the goal of subpersonality treatments, and the first step in each is to name and describe the nature of these inner family members. Over the past 30 years I have developed my own list of seven core names and descriptions for the subpersonalities that I show my clients how to harmonize. So without further adieu, it’s time for the introductions.
Your Inner Child is the term many therapists use to represent the heart of emotional sensitivity, vulnerability, and need. This is where fear, worry, sadness, guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, embarrassment, loneliness, and other emotions are experienced. It is also the seat of happiness, fun, and joy. The three fundamental needs of the Inner Child are love, comfort, and protection.
Your Judge is your conscience and inner authority. It is one of your inner family’s two parents, and its function is to determine the rules, morals, standards, and expectations for you to meet. Your Judge is the subpersonality responsible for controlling you, making sure you do what you should do and stopping you from doing what you shouldn’t. It is also the subpersonality that may cause you to feel the most misery because it often relies on criticism, judgement, guilt, and shame as means of controlling and/or punishing you for not meeting its (often impossible to satisfy) demands.
Your Nurturer is your second inner parent. While your Judge controls, your Nurturer comforts. That means using the loving skills of attention, understanding, empathy, compassion, reassurance, forgiveness, affirmation, praise, and other expressions that nurture your Inner Child as well as the hearts of loved ones.
Your Warrior is the part of you responsible for your protection from threats. It might use anger, threat, or even aggression to let others know they need to back off, or else. The Warrior typically gets riled up whenever the Inner Child feels threatened in some way. It’s like a devoted older sibling who isn’t going to let anyone mess with their kid sister or brother.
Your Rebel is sort of like your inner teenager. It’s purpose is to establish your freedom, independence, and ability to put your own interests ahead of others’ expectations when necessary. Oftentimes the Rebel becomes more active whenever there is an experience of being dominated or overcontrolled. The spirit of the Rebel is what led to a young America to revolt against British rule, paving the way to its Declaration of Independence.
Your Ego is the subpersonality whose job it is to maximize your social status, rank, and reputation. By nature it is competitive because everyone else is vying for the same elevation in status. The Ego wants to win and be superior because of all the advantages that come with being looked up to by others.
The 7th main subpersonality that has a nature all its own is your Sexual Self. The purpose of your Sexual Self is the exchange of physical pleasure and intimacy. It may go back and forth between being lusty and romantic.
Not only are these seven core subpersonalities entirely different in nature and function, but the ways they regard and interact with one another can vary greatly. Because it’s the Judge’s job to keep them all under control, it may use harsh condemnation to subdue impulses of sexuality, anger, fear, egotism, and rebellion. This results in all manner of internal conflicts, confusion, anxiety, depression, and damage to self esteem.
There are other subpersonalities that can be identified and possibly require attention for the purpose of good mental health, but these 7 are the big ones that usually require the most attention. Emotional growth and healing essentially require fostering more loving and collaborative relationships between these different parts of your subconscious. You can learn more about how this is done from my outstanding book (according to my own Judge and Ego), Whole Mind Healing: A Simple Path For Changing Your Life by Healing Your Mind (Kandle 2000).