If you look at your passport or your driving licence you can see your name and your photo (even if the photo is a bad one you can still tell that it is you).
You appear to be just one person, but is that true?
On the outside you may project an image of calm, capability, or one of the other ways we like to present ourselves to the world. Behind the eyes and beneath the skin it can be a different story.
Have you ever said or heard someone else say?
- I am not good enough
- There is something wrong with me
- I can’t forgive myself
- Nobody loves me
- I hate myself
Each of these statements is about an ‘I’,’me’ or ‘myself’. They speak about our identity, who we are. They are often described as ‘identity beliefs’, but calling them a belief really doesn’t do them justice.
A belief is a thought we believe to be true.
An identity belief is so much more than just a thought, they have their own feelings, physiology, perceptions and behaviours. They are remarkably resilient to change.
These parts: the ‘I’ in “I’m not good enough”, the ‘me’ in “Nobody loves me” and the ‘I’ and ‘myself’ in “I hate myself” are sometimes known as sub-personalities. Sub-personalities are parts of our inner selves that step up and wear the mask of our outer selves.
These parts of ourselves are usually suffering.
The ‘I’ in “I’m not good enough” is not having a good time.
The ‘me’ in “Nobody loves me” feels distress.
The ‘I’ and ‘myself’ in “I hate myself” are both feeling stressed.
These parts of ourselves are often formed in childhood at times of stress. They carry what we felt, thought and did at that time through life, in a capsule of that stress and distress.
You may remember times when it felt as if a younger part of yourself took control of your adult self. It’s as if you had been hijacked by a terrified child or angry teenager. If you’ve had this experience you have felt the presence of a sub-personality (and we all have them).
It’s bad enough that we can carry these pockets of stress and distress within ourselves, but it gets worse.
These sub-personalities can influence how we think, feel and act in our adult world.
If you have a sub-personality based around “I am not good enough” it is going to influence your behaviour to ‘prove’ itself right.
- You may find ways not to measure up. You could fail exams, choose romantic partners who agree that you are not good enough, mess up projects that seem to be going well or over-compensate to ‘prove’ that you are good enough.
- You may make sure that you avoid situations where you might be good enough. You might ‘miss’ the interview for the better job, reject promising romantic partners or avoid important projects.
If you have a sub-personality based around “Nobody loves me”, it will influence your life in many ways. Perhaps directing you to relationships with people who don’t love you, or making you avoid any love that comes your way.
It’s like having a faulty GPS in your car.
The map in the Sat-Nav is convincing, but wrong. It tells you about roadblocks, diversions, hazards and where you can, or cannot go.
Even if those problems don’t exist in the real world, we feel compelled to follow our inner Sat-Nav even if it takes us where we don’t want to go. Our identity is more complicated than it at first appears
Who are we?
Image courtesy of Jonathan Alvarez
Identity beliefs are much more than just beliefs: they are a robust constellation of beliefs, feelings, perceptions and behaviour patterns. How they work and how they formed can make them difficult to unpack and dissolve using standard EFT.
We all have an identity, we all seem to be just one person, but within the skin and behind the eyes we can experience our identity as a community of selves.
It’s easy to be deceived into thinking that there is just one of you, one “I” who inhabits and owns the body you are in.
When you look at all the people around you there seem to be just one of each, one person living in each body.
Our internal experience can be quite different. In one situation we think, feel and act like one person, in another situation we can think, feel and act in a completely different way.
The Community Of Ourselves
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Rather than just one fixed identity, or self, we are a walking community of parts or sub-personalities.
Sometimes they agree, sometimes not, sometimes these aspects of ourselves are even at war with each other.
These parts of ourselves have different names in different psychological systems. They might be referred to as parts, sub-personalities, self-states, ego-states, self-schemas etc.
The conventional use of I, me, myself leads us to believe there is just ‘one of us’, and most of the time our various sub-personalities pull off the illusion of being just one self.
Important: This model of identity does not mean that we all have Dissociative Identity Disorder, it just means that our identity is not as solid and monolithic as it first appears.
When we are born we are born whole. We don’t have a complicated personality or needs. Our whole being is oriented towards being fed, comfortable and loved.
As time went on we learnt to handle the situations we were in by creating responses and responders to our circumstances.
For example: If we are shouted at as children we may have learnt to cringe at the sound of loud voices and be fearful of criticism or attack. The response is to cringe, the responder is the part of ourselves that is on the look out for loud voices and discord. When it senses loud voices or criticism the responder takes over and produces the cringing response – whether it is appropriate or not.
The defensive strategies we put in place become part of our ‘personality’. The young part of ourselves that is in charge of that strategy (the responder) joins the community of sub-personalities in our growing selves. As these sub-personalities are often formed in times of stress they have stress based responses – fight, flight, freeze. They often only have the reduced repertoire of responses that were available to them at the time they were formed.
Over time we generate a lot of sub-personalities who respond to, and are responsible for, dealing with our life’s challenges. These parts of ourselves learn about cultural norms, family patterns, expectations and limitations. Together these parts, working in concert, produce our sense of ourselves.
In an ideal world this community of sub-personalities would handle life’s challenges in resourceful and beneficial ways.
In the real world the sub-personalities formed as we were growing up may have had to make the best of scarce resources and now struggle to cope with the demands of everyday life. They are doing the best they can but it might not be as good as it could be.
The problems that manifest in your clients as identity beliefs (e.g. I am not good enough), regression to childlike distress and paralysis, parts of themselves that are destructive or unhelpful are the results of their best efforts as children to survive in difficult or threatening circumstances. Unfortunately they persist long after the problem they were intended to solve is over.
They are solutions that are well beyond their sell by date and sometimes it feels like your past is running your present. When your identities are out of their depth
There are many ways in which our identity beliefs and identity conflicts can show up in our lives:
- Unresourceful identities In some stressful situations poorly equipped sub-personalities come to the fore to deal with those situations. For example: If you have a sub-personality that cowers when it hears loud voices it will start to struggle when it hears an argument. Our adult responses to challenges will be pushed to one side as the ‘cringing sub-personality’ takes over. Unfortunately they learnt how to deal with difficult circumstances at an early age and only have the responses and resources that were available to them at that time. In some situations it is as if we put frightened children in charge of our behaviour.
- Regression to a child like state In some stressful situations some people may feel that they have reverted to childhood. Although they look like adults doing what needs to be done, on the inside they may feel like a much younger version of themselves has been left in charge.
- Limiting identity beliefs We can have unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, which are usually formed in childhood and hard to change. For example: “I am bad”, “I am a failure”, “I am a disappointment”, “There is something wrong with me“, etc. These identity beliefs exert a strong hold on our thoughts, feelings and behaviour and can be difficult to change.
- Internal conflicts Each of these parts, formed at different times, in difficult circumstances and with different resources have to co-exist within our skin. Sometimes these sub-personalities may be in conflict or have antagonistic views of one another. How often have you heard someone say “I hate myself“, “I give myself a hard time”, “I need to discipline myself“. Each of these describes a conflict going on within the skin of one person. If you can say “I hate myself” then this particular sub-personality ‘I‘ is going to have a very challenging relationship with ‘myself’ causing stress and distress.
- Lack of self-acceptance Each of the problematic identity beliefs and conflicts express a lack of self-acceptance.
It’s hard to change our sub-personalities
Even if you want to change these parts of yourself it’s not easy. Because sub-personalities are so entrenched in our minds and brains they resist our efforts to help them.
- They are deep rooted. Usually these sub-personalities form early in life, you may not even remember how, or when, they came into being. They are so much part of the fabric of your being that you might not even notice they are there.
- They are powerful. It is hard to succeed if a part of you is convinced that you are a failure.
- They are resilient. A sub-personality formed at the age of two can be just as powerful when you are thirty, fifty or eighty.
- You can’t reassure them away. If you have ever tried to console somebody who thinks nobody loves them, or they are not good enough, you know it is hard work. You may find that even if you calm them for a while, those unhappy states will soon be back.
- Talking about them doesn’t help much. You may have talked about being not good enough, nobody loves me, I’m alone, etc, to your friends or spouse. You may even have had counselling about it. No matter how long you talked and whatever insights and understanding you gained about it, it is still there. Either lurking in the background of your life or even occupying most of your waking hours.
In standard EFT approaches the practitioner identifies and neutralises the memories that caused the person to feel not good enough, hate themselves or be gripped with childlike panic. Undoing the formation of these identities by soothing those memories allows the client to adopt new identities, free of the stress and distress of the original experience.
But working with memories can be difficult:
- What if you can’t find the memories to connect with that identity belief? Some of these beliefs are formed at an early age which can’t be remembered easily (or at all).
- How many memories are there? If there is just one ‘big T’ trauma that’s fairly straightforward, but what if there are lots of ‘little t’ traumas?
- Which memories do you choose?
- How many do you have to do?
- When do you know when you have done enough?
- What if there are no obvious memories? What if the client came to the conclusion that they weren’t good enough over a long period of time? Picking up on subtle clues: glances, tone of voice, casual remarks by their parents and siblings – no specific traumas just the steady drip, drip, drip of criticism letting them know they weren’t good enough.
- If your client says “I hate myself”, where do you even start?
Rather than identifying and working with specific memories, Identity Healing takes a different approach.
What if you didn’t need to look for any memories and could work with the younger selves?
What if you could identify, soothe and resource a younger self in five reliable steps?
What if you knew where to start, with just one question?
Identity Healing lets you do just that.
Image courtesy of Andrea