Multiplicity I
3 Dec 2015


Multiplicity is increasingly the way counsellors are taught to think about the Self. That we are made up of parts of self has been accepted for some time. Freud, Jung, Eric Berne and now many writers are using this notion as a framework to help us understand how humans work. (Think Id, Ego, Superego, the Shadow or Parent, Adult, Child.) This belief about ourselves is even in the Bible: God is 3 in one and we are made in His image; St Paul talks about the inner turmoil when one part of him wants to do one thing, and another part wants to do something else. Theology has often been preoccupied with the question of the One and the Many. One person, one body, many parts.

Most of us have used terms like, “I was beside myself”, or “I wasn’t myself” or “I surprised myself”, all of which imply that our SELF and another part of us exist simultaneously.  There are therapies that emphasise this experience of our SELVES. Think of Voice Dialogue, Multiple Chair work, Ego State Therapy and Inner Family Systems.

Now neuroscience is backing up this idea. In our brains we are not a single amorphous blob of personhood; we are made up of clusters of neurons which are linked together over time, and which light up according to which bit of life feels juicy or needful at the time. If you like, you could say that having parts gives the rest of us a chance to recover or go off line. One brain, many clusters.

Back in the early days of discovery of the inner workings of selves, a writer called Janet worked and wrote about multiplicity as a normal way of being. His work in the area of hypnosis revealed that we have more than one “self” in some ways. Yet in a healthily integrated human being these parts work together in a co-operative way to give us a rich, complex, multi-faceted experience of reality. Somewhere along the way, the multiplicity he named was stored in a dusty box like cherished love notes until the time was right to bring his ideas to light again.

Many of my clients can recognise that there is a “work self”, a “friend self” and a “child self”. Recently it snowed in the Blue Mountains where I live. It was my first winter living here, and it was the biggest fall in decades. My “child self” was so excited I forgot the time and thoughtlessly sent texts to friends at midnight. Perhaps if I had engaged my more “thoughtful friend self” I might have censored my actions. On the other hand, if my grandchild drops in when I am writing, I find it tricky to immediately be present to her as my “Nanna self”.

It is equally important to acknowledge that whatever I am doing, and whomever I am being I am still me, a multi-faceted Jewel.  (tee hee) We usually experience our parts of self as hazy around the edges, merging and blending seamlessly. It can be hard to discriminate a difference between parts inside us, unless we set out to do so deliberately. We might need to acknowledge different parts to sort out an inner conflict, or an unresolved interpersonal issue. So we are back to counselling, counsellors and what we do.

Of course working with parts is not the only way, or even necessarily the best way to work with someone. Often the usefulness of this framing of an issue is brought into the room by the client: “I think I want to change this, but on the other hand, what about…?” Or I might hear, “Why do I beat up on myself so much?” Sometimes working with parts is the most effective way to work with these issues, and sometimes not. It may be helpful to have parts work in your tool kit.

Carter, Rita Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality

The Bible