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!