The people in my village
Who are you as you are reading these words? What mood or state of mind do you notice in yourself in? Are you reading this feeling tired or emotional, anxious or sad?
Are you perhaps in a curious mood, or in a hurry, or confused? Have you noticed yourself feeling angry or resentful, happy or joyful in the last 24hrs? Have you felt scared and vulnerable or are you feeling pretty “Adult” and empowered today?
As we go through our day, if we pay attention a little, we begin to recognise that we have different personalities depending on our mood or environment (and this is especially evident depending on who we are with at any point in the day). This is not the same as a “split-personality” or schizophrenia or other distressing mental health issue. These different states of mind are very much part of the feelings and thoughts that accompany the different social conventions and roles we enact throughout our day. We are so used to them that we hardly notice when we shift from one role to the other, but they are quite distinguishable if we take time to note their characteristics.
For example, if you reflect on your day today you may notice that you have already worn several “hats”- maybe you’ve been an employee, an employer, a parent, a friend, a neighbour – in all these situations we tend to act in different ways – sometimes with great ease and satisfaction, at other times with great difficulty and pain.
We also behave or act in ways that continually frustrate us; we intend to act in one way, but end up acting in another. I intend to speak assertively to a colleague about an issue, for example, but instead end up behaving (and feel) like a Child, or Teenager. Why is that?
Similarly, I intend to take up a sport, or a new hobby with great enthusiasm but find a few weeks in to it bored or interested in something else instead. Again, why is that?
Living harmoniously with our many self- states.
One helpful way to explain this and to have some control and insight over our moods and behaviours is to think of ourselves not as one self, but many.
I first heard the metaphor “the people in my village” to describe the different parts of the self from my own therapist at the time, who had heard it from a tutor of his many years ago. His recollection of the metaphor was of a village run by a Mayor (the self, or “I”) whose job it was to get the best out of his villagers, knowing that there were both good and bad residents, rebels, conformists, recluses and show-offs. I was struck by the idea and remembered a similar analogy in which an orchestra represented the different parts of our inner selves and the conductor was the centre of awareness whose job was to realise the potential of her orchestra.
So, one approach to coming to know ourselves better is to begin to notice and name these different selves as they show up in your life. Names like The Critic, The Wicked Witch, The Helper, The Joker or The Sad One, whilst sounding a little childish or playful can begin to shine light on feelings, thoughts and behaviours we enact in life.
Then get to know these characters – have a conversation with them – what do they want? What are they afraid of? How might they assist you in different situations? Be open-minded and receptive to these different self-states, give them some space and time – let them be a guide.