Personality is one of the biggest paradoxes in humanity. Typically, it gets explained in absolute terms. Someone is a happy person, another is angry, she is larger than life, while he is nervous. It often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you constantly hear people say or tell yourself that you are stupid or selfish, the label gains power and soon it is the primary lens you view yourself. At times you might feel frustrated by people’s over generalizations of you and correct them. Hearing your partner ask “Why are you angry all of the time?” could lead you to rebut “I’m not angry all of the time, but I am frustrated by not feeling like I’m living up to expectations.” If we could look at personality as more nuanced then we could have discussions that could lead to collective healing and understanding.
Thankfully, in the early 1990s a psychological school of thought arose called Internal Family Systems. This approach looks at one’s personality like a mosaic. Much like how a mosaic is a picture created by small pieces of glass, tile, stone or even pictures to create one large artwork., so too is the masterpiece that is our personality. We are quick to see the large image, but with patience one can see the beauty and the purpose with the placement of each smaller item.
Internal Family Systems states each person is comprised of number of distinct subpersonalities. When triggered each subpersonality affects how we process and interact with the world around us. A great example is the Pixar movie Inside Out, written as a love letter by a parent trying to understand the inner world of their tween daughter. The movie’s main character Riley has her personality and experience of the world driven by the five subpersonalities: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. There were even a few moments in the movie when we saw the inner world of the mother and father, and how those subpersonalities impacted their relationship!
Think about the last time you got upset. The whole of you wasn’t truly upset. Facets of you were, while other facets might have been able to process the situation differently. Sally is experiencing tension with her partner Tom who both have managerial roles in their careers. Sally is fed up with Tom. She feels she is constantly doing household chores, and it seems like every time she needs help; Tom is in the living room playing video games. Typically, Sally lashes out at Tom and accuses him of being lazy. Tom reacts and tells Sally he needs to destress from his day. She needs to leave him alone and quit sounding like a parent. Can you name other parts that might be contributing to both Sally and Tom’s feelings and reactions?
Sally could be experiencing feelings like tiredness, need for connection, need for relaxation, jealousy and of course frustration. Tom could be experiencing a need for self-care, need for escape, lack of external awareness, and a need for isolation. However, by not being in touch with these feelings, let alone speaking them out loud to their partner, hurts being to fester and assumptions begin to form. Consider what it could mean for the couple if Sally approached Tom and said “Honey, I’ve had a really long day and a part of me is really tired. I’m sure you had an equally trying day. If you could pause the game at the next save point and take out the trash it would really help me out.” Perhaps Tom could reply with a statement like “Thanks for understanding. I got reamed by my boss today and I just need an hour to myself but afterwards I’ll be glad to take out the trash and maybe we could fix dinner together.”
When it comes to interacting with yourself and your subpersonalities think about your favorite superhero. Superheroes are often born from trauma origins, and struggle with integrating their hero and alter ego personas. Their superpowers help them bring purpose to their pain, and to benefit those in their communities. Understanding how you interact with the world and your inner essences is tough enough, but trauma often creates long lasting fissions in how one sees themselves. By finding centers of calm and peace you can begin to get to know your various subpersonalities. They are all there to help care for your spirit and allow you to grow. As you begin to name and interact with your subpersonalities you can see the superpowers that they bring you and those you may encounter. Even feelings like Anger have benefits, allowing people to strengthen their awareness, resolve and activist or empathetic spirit.
Like the comics, we are superheroes.We have experienced trauma and in response use our pain and hurt for growth and light-bearing.We refuse to be victims and employ our thriver-mindset to help embolden our community and bring an end to the shame and secrecy of sexual abuse. We at Survivors to Thrivers want to be a Justice League for light and love for all those effected by sexual abuse.We want to know more about the mosaic that makes you, you.Post a comment, email, or engage with us on our social media channels on how are you using your superpowers to empower your community.Thank you for being a part of this uplifting movement.