Subpersonalities and neuroscience

We are not one unified identity but rather a collection of subpersonalities, or different selves that struggle and strive for attention and power. This has been accepted thought in psychology for a long time, but now even neuroscience is coming aboard.



I like to listen to podcasts as I fall asleep. But sometimes they’re just too interesting to doze off. Especially when, as is happening more and more these days, neuroscience manages to ‘prove’ what psychotherapists have been working with for the past 100 years.


The other night an eminent neuroscientist confirmed the psychological assumption that we all have a multitude of sub personalities that make up our sense of self.

Healthy multiple personalities

Enter David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author, who uses the term ‘inner parliament’ to describe the internal squabbles and conflicts that go on inside our mind. He says, “The brain runs on conflict like a fractious democracy. The competition among the units that make up our neural circuitry is key to understanding how the brain works.” Dr. Roberto Assagioli, the father of a psychological approach called Psychosynthesis, called this internal struggle the interaction between sub-personalities. And he suggests part of the work we do in therapy is to identify these sub-personalities to regain inner control. Much like a conductor regaining control of his orchestra, instead of flutes, drums and violins all playing at their own volition. More recently the concept has been updated and modernised and relabelled ‘parts work’, or Internal Family Systems.

When I feel that I am not being taken seriously by my usually so loving partner, there is one part, call her the sensible one, who realises he is driving down a Swedish motorway in the snow….trying hard not to kill us! But another part, call her the little sister who still doesn’t feel she is ‘important’ enough, wants to throw a tantrum and demand attention. The conversation in my head may sound like ‘come on, he’s driving, give him a break’, ‘but this is REALLY important to me, and he knows it’.

Members of the Inner Parliament

If you add the Inner critic, the Sensible One, the Bohemian, and the Responsible Mother, you begin to have an entire inner conference sitting around the table, all wanting to be heard. the trick is not to let any of these sub-parts take over the role of Chairman, but, from a place that Mindfulness calls the ‘observing self’, make decision about which sub-part has the best solution for the situation in hand. Sometimes we need the Quiet Peacemaker, and at other times we need the Hard Faced Negotiater. Either way, the trick of subpersonality work is to make sure that you stay the President of your inner Parliament and keep good order, instead of being flung about between one and the other.

Have fun!!

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