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.