Sunday, January 07, 2007

On Multiple Selves...

I am feeling out of sorts at the moment. Not quite myself. I feel bleak. Perhaps even melancholic. I know it is the time of year and that most people feel at their lowest ebb in the middle of our dark, grey winters. I just don’t like it when I don't feel like the me that I know best. Psychology has not escaped the influence of post-modernism and contemporary psychotherapy is rather abandoning the notion that we experience ourselves as having a unitary, cohesive sense of self. (For a Janet and John version of this see here. For those who prefer a bit more substance see here.) I like the idea that we are comprised of multiple selves. Our different selves have contradictory experiences of the world: different frameworks, different beliefs, different affect, different ‘me’s. The bleak me no longer scares me in the way that it used to. I quite like to talk to her, engage with her and get curious about who she is. All she wants is to withdraw from the world and quietly hibernate, without anyone making demands of her. I know that’s not possible. She doesn’t quite know it but as it’s not her job to know it, that feels OK. My observing self knows it and that is what matters.

It is a useful exercise to engage with these different aspects of self. The more we try to deny or repress them, the more they leak out unconsciously and cause problems for us in our day-to-day life. By engaging in an internal dialogue with them, we bring them forth into our conscious mind and can consequently integrate them into our known experience. I don’t especially want to indulge this bleak aspect of me. But if I show it tolerance I find that it will once again become a background self, and, importantly, will retreat of its own volition rather than because I am asserting control over ‘it’. I observe it, I listen to it, I respect it, but I don’t indulge it. (Buddhism calls this mindfulness, by the way, and psychology is currently advocating it as a ‘new’ treatment for depression. Funny how Eastern cultures were there several thousand years before us.) As long as we can maintain an observing ego to regulate our internal world, these different aspects of self will bring us richness, complexity and depth. I console myself with this now as I sit here feeling at odds with the world.

8 comments:

Atyllah said...

So sorry to hear you are feeling gloomy. Good though that you recognise the internal selves and can dialogue with them. Our recognition of those different parts of us makes us, I think, more connected and whole and, as such, more vibrant beings - sort of like multifaceted crystals :-)

Caroline said...

I enjoyed this post.
It has allowed the thinking 'me' to speak.
I think that the 'observing ego' is the key. I am learning to accept and listen to the 'me' that has a depressive flash and to accept that this 'me' exists within my complicated structure. In the past I have seen that part as negative and indulged in a spiral focusing on it. I am trying to accept that the many personalities add up to the 'me' as a whole. I am trying, but on days like today, it's hard to get out of bed.

That's so pants said...

I feel very one dimensional. I think I'm probably just crazy.

Clare said...

Fascinating. Am struggling to apply it to myself, but am at work and suffering from sleep deprivation, so not in best context to concentrate on it.

But there is a way in which I can relate to it. It's been pointed out to me that of late I've been suffering from a lot of guilt and self loathing. And I've been trying to counter this by reminding myself of that very sensible and rather lovely Buddhist maxim, "be kind to yourself." Indeed, I was going to write a blog post about it.

Rather than berate myself for failing in all the areas I consider myself as being rubbish, I am trying to stop giving myself such a hard time. Which is similar to your idea of acceptance but without indulgence. And ocming from the same source.

It's really hard though. I'm so much meaner to myself than I would ever dream of being to anyone else.

Reading the Signs said...

Keats wrote an ode to melancholy. I think he saw it as something that can nourish the soul. I think that may be so, but there are different kinds of melancholy and the January kind can just be - bleak. Consolation is good, though. Poetry, chocolate and more poetry (or a good book or film). And taking some hours to make a collage. Sounds naff, but it once worked for me.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi folks - thanks for taking the time to respond. I know in my head that we all face an ongoing struggle with different aspects of ourselves, but it's nice to have it confirmed by people who I believe are relatively sane (and not to mention talented...)Clare - I agree that we are capable of being much harder on ourselves than we would ever dream of being to another. But those that aren't that way are usually unbearably cruel to others so maybe it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Ms P - perhaps you are not crazy. Perhaps you have achieved a blissful oneness with yourself??!

RtS - thanks for dropping by, you are most welcome. Chocolate works well for me, as does a hot bath and a good novel. Speaking of which, Clare's novel is currently gripping me... I can thoroughly recommend it.

Dandelion said...

Well, we have reflexive verbs - what is that about, if not multiple selves?

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