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Self awareness

The therapeutic framework I'm engaged in these days (Internal Family Systems) is really big on two distinct ideas: first, that minds contain a bundle of "parts" that have their own attitudes and agendas, and second that minds contain a core "self" that transcends all of that and is capable of exerting leadership.

The goal is to get the system to a point where it is self-led, rather than parts-led.

As I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I am all over the "parts" thing. The Council of Voles has been my working metaphor for my own mind for a long time. I'm fond of them.

And as probably comes as no surprise to many who know me, I am completely at sea when it comes to the "self" thing. If I have a unified coherent core self that is distinct from the aggregate of parts, I am completely unaware of it. My awareness of myself, my model of myself, is as an aggregate entity, period full stop.

And I get that this is common, and the IFS literature talks a lot about clients who are in that state of having no real awareness of self, but only an awareness of parts. And our response to that is basically "fuck you." Adding some hypothetical invisible "core self" to that self-model feels as unjustified to us as adding a hypothetical invisible "royal family" to our model of the U.S.Government.

For the most part, I've been able to finesse this conflict. I mean, I certainly have the experience of there being islands of greater stability within the ocean of loosely organized parts, and I'm fine with calling that a "core self" when the process requires a core self to weigh in on things. This is similar to how we did things in my college living group, which did not have a "president" but instead made decisions more collectively... when we received phone calls requesting to talk to the president, any house member was empowered to reply "Speaking!" and deal with the issue.

But it's becoming tricky (as indeed it often did in college) when those processes require that the core self commit to things. Cuz, well. We don't wanna.

Which, I mean, basically raises the same fundamental question as is common to all sorts of psychological models that posit a core self and various peripheral shadows thereof: "yeah, but what if my core self is kind of a dick?"

And, I think the traditional IFS response to this is the common one... "no, no, it really isn't. if it's being a dick, that's actually a part you're interacting with, not your core self."

Which, well, OK.

("God is Love. If what we find in our worship is not Love, then we have not found God." Etc. Which, well, OK, but don't ask me to justify the separate creation of necrotizing fascitis as an act of love.)

The thing is, I do sort of accept that as plausible, in a very theoretical way. But when I'm down in the muck, theoretical acceptance of plausibility just isn't enough. Because honestly, it really does feel in here like a Scout troop whose Scoutmaster died a while back. We manage well enough, most of the time, but nobody's actually in charge, and some tasks simply don't get done.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
polydad
Oct. 13th, 2016 04:25 pm (UTC)
Cores, vs. umbrellas
I find thinking of it as a 'core' is actively misleading. I'm not sure 'umbrella' is a better metaphor, but what it is is that this "scoutmaster" is an emergent property of the Council. If your Council is having a better time without allowing this property to emerge, so be it, but then you don't get to use the emergent property.

Am I making sense?

It seems to me likely that your council is in active rebellion *against* the emergence of this kind of property, and really doesn't want to allow it any development. And it gets to do that. But the property *does* still exist, even if it's stunted and limited, and it gets to decide whether it wants to have a bigger role. And it *is* you, as much as the Council is you (it *is* the Council, after all, coming out the back of the fun-house mirror), and you get to decide if what it can contribute is worth badgering the Council into accepting it as an organizing principle.

Again, am I making sense?

Having a Central Organizing Principle is tricky, and so is having a Council, and having *both* seems like redundant trickiness and not worth supporting. They are also both learned skills, and the better one gets at each of them the less work they are.

And while I have a lot more experience on the subject to relate, I'm hesitant to do so in a non-conversational format, because I can't tell how much of this is relating how well to your own experience. I've got a lot going on today, but I'll try to stay current on this discussion.

For the moment, in immediate summary, one doesn't need to maintain both forms of organization all the time, but 'switching' is yet another skill that requires practice. And the Central Organizing Principle *can* be extraordinarily useful every now and then.

best,

Joel
taura_g
Oct. 13th, 2016 06:02 pm (UTC)
I know I don't comment...
But I do read a lot if not most of your stuff.

I have always enjoyed your entries about the Voles, because it is very close to how I view the many voices in my head. I've sometimes illustrated that in my "conversations with myself" posts, but usually those posts only involve two or three voices.

Over the years I've had several terms of no one self-core taking charge. They have usually been times of huge disassociation. If there is one crisis, a major change going on or some form of depression occurring then the Central Self is pretty dominant. But when things are kind of day to day, the various parts that feel they've been ignored start to intrude and take over.

It seems a little contrary to what one might expect, yet at the same time, not. Without a single focus, its easy for me to get caught up in minutiae. I do know there is a Central Self around somewhere but it is extremely hard to bring it forward without that one thing to focus on.

This is something that I've been working on, by starting with something to focus upon and try to bring the voices into line. My experience only...I hope it gives you some insight.
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
Re: I know I don't comment...
I am always surprised by how many distinct voices come out to play when I actually start transcribing.

Huge dissociation is not an unreasonable label for my normal experience.

What sorts of things do you focus on?
taura_g
Oct. 19th, 2016 03:11 pm (UTC)
Re: I know I don't comment...
always surprised by how many distinct voices

Oh lords, do I get that. It is a little overwhelming sometimes when I try to sort through them when all/most have an opinion about something.

Which is where I try to start. I take something from the mundane (exercise, work, hobbies, etc) and try to sift through all the voices thoughts on that item. (lately it has been work or relationships)

It can take some pretty concentrated meditation and a great deal of talking to myself. I originally took up walking in my teens so I had a "safe place" to talk to myself. But it really wasn't until I started with my current therapist (almost 10 years ago) that I was able to direct the conversation more productively.

Overall it has been helping to bring some of the voices in line to productive movement on daily life, but I still have some long bouts of dissociation with daily life.
lillibet
Oct. 13th, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC)
Well, yes. That's something you've worked very hard at. I hold out hope that this is the season when you let yourself free.
amaebi
Oct. 13th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
That is fascinating. Thank you.
spinrabbit
Oct. 13th, 2016 07:16 pm (UTC)
For me, when shit is scary, when it doesn't seem like I can make decisions that matter because everything I do will be wrong and even if it weren't wrong, it'll be overridden or destroyed -- well, then the inside of my head is all Mrs. Thistlebottom screaming about what I should be doing to be a Real Adult; Adrian putting on his anarchy shirt, giving her the finger, and firing up the computer games; Thing 1 whispering in Adrian's ear about how much she wishes she could climb trees; the ten-year-old raging about shame, and shaming about rage; the fireman knocking holes in my ribcage with his axe; and the things that are important on balance, on a continuing basis, are being kicked around between them. And it's when it seems like I have some real chance at taking charge of my life -- other than destroying everything -- that a coherent voice that values what I value starts to emerge.

I don't know about that voice actually being in charge. So far recruiting Adrian has been the most effective tactic to change or accomplish things. (That's largely a matter of choosing who or what should be given the finger.)
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:33 am (UTC)
(nods)
Thanks for this.
minkrose
Oct. 13th, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)
Neither of those things surprise me, and I don't even feel like I know you *that* well (but I do read all your posts).

During high school, I developed two "identities" in the sense that I had the Mink personality and the at-work-with-family personality (who still has many legit traits but is overall more confined/restrained). That really messed me up for a while in college, and while I still keep my personal life very separate from both my coworkers and most of my family, I do try to blend it a bit more than I used to. There are facets to both sides, but overall, all the pieces fit into those two "groups" of things. But it does mean I make fundamentally different choices and have observably different behaviors (nevermind an entirely different NAME) when I'm at work or with family. Only a few folks bridge that gap and they always comment on it. And it's more than just "being professional" at work because it's also true with my parents.

Anyway, I keep trying to get closer to just being Mink all the time, but that doesn't always work. I think this is both different and not-different from what you're talking about. I suppose it's a bit weirder since I cultivated it myself. It's definitely something I haven't spent as much time thinking about as I'd like. But at the end of the day, even if Mink is my core, I still can't *be* Mink (in public) all of the time. And that's really hard, too.
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:32 am (UTC)
Reading all my posts is a pretty good approximation of knowing me. I don't actually talk like this in my meat-life very often, it feels way too self-indulgent. In text, people can control how much they read when, or ignore me completely, with no social penalties.

Yeah, what you describe makes a lot of sense to me. I think a lot of my model of myself comes out of the experience of being a child of Cuban immigrants attending an Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva in a more-or-less White neighborhood with a growing Hispanic population.

Depending on just where I was standing, different parts of me would swing into position, for kind of obvious reasons.
firstfrost
Oct. 13th, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)
I do have the experience of voles, but I also perceive myself as having an "I" and not just a "we". So I find the difference fascinating; I don't mean to sound dismissive or disbelieving, just curious. If you don't mind answering...

If someone were to ask me for my opinion on something complicated (Is affirmative action good? What about charter schools? What is your favorite food? Tell me about a happy memory...), then thinking about it hard can turn into multiple voles. But there other questions (Are you hungry? Was that thing you just touched painfully hot? What is your middle name? Do you know who the president of Uganda is?) that "I" can just answer without needing to consensus-build. Would you perceive those questions as being answered by a single vole and not the others? (the vole in charge of archives, or in charge of the physical plant, or just the vole who happened to answer the phone) Or is that also consensus?
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:23 am (UTC)
The short answer is that, like you, I can answer the second class of questions (and more generally perform the second class of operations) without needing to consensus-build, or at least without being aware of consensus building.

When I drill down, which I sometimes do, I perceive those operations being performed by a single vole in an appropriate role (e.g., there's usually a spokesvole that handles interactions with other people).

But also, the vole in that role is a reflection of the aggregate state of the Council, in much the same way that the Speaker of the House is a reflection of the aggregate state of Congress, which is itself a reflection of the aggregate state of millions of voters. And if I drill down deep enough I become aware of all of that, and even simple questions become complicated.

So my less simple answer is that it's all consensus all the time, but usually I don't pay much attention.
dr_tectonic
Oct. 13th, 2016 07:56 pm (UTC)
I was going to say that I don't have any experience with this kind of thing, but then I remembered that I spent the summer of '95 "taking my mind apart and putting it back together" to deal with the fact that I felt like I was developing different versions of myself for different contexts, which was uncomfortable. So maybe I have some perspective on it after all.

The stuff that polydad says makes a lot of sense to me. From reading about IFS on the web, it sounds like there may be a tendency to describe the Core Self as if it were yet another part, and I agree that has the potential to be unhelpful and sort of misleading.

Try this on for size: the Core Self is a property of the collection of parts. It's like the center of mass, or the integral over all paths. It's not a noun, but a verb. Not an object, but a dynamic state. It's a first-class function, a configuration, an energy. It's... it's Voltron, basically.

Which is how it can be definitionally healing and integrative: it's the thing that emerges from the connection and acceptance of the different voles.

Another metaphor: accessing the Core Self is getting the voles to form a choir rather than a council. They may all be singing different parts, but they are unified by the song. A conductor may be useful, but is not required; it's the singing-together that creates the choir.

Do any of those seem like useful ways of thinking about it?
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:15 am (UTC)
Usually, I model myself as an aggregate of parts whose configuration changes as various things happen. Which seems like what you're describing here, and sure, it usually gets the job done.

The thing that's being difficult at the moment isn't the ontology -- sure, any metaphor that gets the job done is fine.

The thing that's being difficult is, to use your second metaphor, actually forming a choir, rather than just kind of thinking about it as a hypothetical possibility. Or having any kind of faith that being a choir is something voles can actually do. Or that, having done it, they might do so reliably.
muffyjo
Oct. 19th, 2016 01:46 am (UTC)
I have a long thought that I'm trying to balance with your need/desire to hear it about choirs/bands and the handing over of new tools.

After having written it all I think I've come down to...
...each choir/band you hear has a sound they work hard to develop. I can pick out a Genesis song by its sound, or something that Sting wrote, or U2. I can tell Monet's work from Picasso's for similar reasons. Each uses the same medium but have different styles.

It sounds to me like you are observing your collective style at the moment and trying to figure out who that is and once you have a grasp of that style, voice, collective, what influences you want to encourage and discourage to explore the world around you.
dpolicar
Oct. 19th, 2016 04:19 am (UTC)
At the time I wrote the post, I was more despairing of whether my collective style was capable of actually committing to doing things in a way that wasn't contingent on whatever collective happened to be running the show at the time happening to feel like doing that thing.

Or, expressed in less collective terminology, despairing of whether I was able to follow through on commitments.

At the time that I'm writing this comment, I'm less despairing of that, as it seems pretty clear that yes, of course I'm capable of it (or we're capable of it, or however you want to frame it), as evidenced by the fact that I do so regularly. I just don't wanna.
andrewducker
Oct. 13th, 2016 09:19 pm (UTC)
I have a part of me which can override other bits, when necessary, for short periods of time. A bit which is more conscious than the others. It's not "in charge" and I prefer to mostly leave it in the background. It's the logical bit, which can come in very useful when I need a problem solved, or need to avoid doing something which other parts of me want to do. And I think of that bit as more "me" than the other bits, largely because it's the bit that feels like it has an identity. But obviously, all of it is really me.
come_to_think
Oct. 13th, 2016 10:44 pm (UTC)
http://come-to-think.livejournal.com/39363.html
I think of it as a kind of political process. The parts are parties, and have to form a coalition stable enough to be taken seriously by other people -- to be able to make & keep promises.
navrins
Oct. 13th, 2016 11:19 pm (UTC)
I like IFS a lot, but I think it's a good metaphor - not a perfect metaphor, and not a reality, but a helpful way of thinking about ourselves. It's a good way of exploring and acknowledging all the different, contradictory things that we feel, without necessarily asserting any of them as What I Feel. (This does not seem to be difficult for you, but it certainly is for many people. Sometimes I am one of them, though usually not, and much less often than I used to be.)

You often speak of "endorsing" various things that various of your voles say, and not endorsing others. What is doing the endorsing? Is that your Self, perhaps? Or, is the Self composed on the set of things that you endorse, perhaps?
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:10 am (UTC)
In general, "a good metaphor" -- or rather, "a useful working model" -- is all I ask. Direct perceptions of reality I leave to things other than me.

In general I endorse things, much as I do various other things. When the question arises, which it usually doesn't, I model "I" as the vole collective, operating in whatever configuration it's operating in.

This is similar to what I mean when I say "The Republican Party chose Donald Trump as its candidate in 2016." I mean, really, there is no single coherent entity that did any such thing, that sentence is shorthand for a much more complicated statement about the behavior of a bunch of individual voters. But we all understand what we mean.

It's more common to believe that "I" exists in some concrete sense than to believe that "the Republican Party" exists in that sense, but to my mind no more justified.
(Deleted comment)
dpolicar
Oct. 14th, 2016 02:34 am (UTC)
I like my voles too. And I don't anticipate them going away.
beccawrites
Oct. 14th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
"And I get that this is common, and the IFS literature talks a lot about clients who are in that state of having no real awareness of self, but only an awareness of parts. And our response to that is basically "fuck you." Adding some hypothetical invisible "core self" to that self-model feels as unjustified to us as adding a hypothetical invisible "royal family" to our model of the U.S.Government."

I love this. I hope that you find/create whatever kind of help you're looking for.

Also I know that there are consensus models out there that don't rely on one leader. I can't remember how we made decisions in the house of presidents, but I know we did... like how did we pick work week projects? I know we did things, and I remember enjoying it (in a sometimes groany way)... ???

A therapy that I did and found helpful for years focused on the group as the patient, as opposed to individual people. So part of me is like "well, maybe the self is the collectivity of voles?" And another part of me is like "eh? self? self is so over-rated. the collective [in general, of your voles, and moreso of multiple physical humans] is much more interesting. can the voles come out and play?"

And as with all things... ymmv.
mickeymao
Oct. 24th, 2016 05:21 pm (UTC)
What about the part of you that perceives the voles -- i.e. maybe they're talking about metacognition?

I've never done IFS; I'm just coming from a Buddhist orientation, where, as best I can tell, the "True Self" is something like an empty space of awareness, in which various bits you may (or may not) acknowledge as "you" arise.
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