Ok… that’s a big claim. But for decades now, we’ve seen people apply our simple self-awareness model to profound and long-lasting effect.
It’s one thing to ‘deal with’ someone else’s comment or actions. But it’s an entirely different thing to look at your triggers or incidents and reflect on what part you played in the interaction. Being aware of what’s going on for you, and facilitating your own responses, can make a huge difference in how you work and relate with others.
Our Groupwork Centre Co-founder Glen Ochre was a master at helping people develop greater emotional resilience. She created a model called the Community of Selves, a gentle but profound tool to help you look with compassion at the inner drivers of your behaviour. This approach has three key benefits:
1. It’s easy, and quickly accessible for people from all walks of life
2. It rejects the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of yourself
3. It avoids the trap of putting people into pigeonholes: no-one’s restricted to a category
Our Community of Selves model is based on the common understanding that, although each of us is one person, there are many aspects to who we are. This is what makes life so complex! In any given situation, one part of us wants one thing while other parts want something else entirely different.
For example, we may go to a meeting about a controversial issue. One part of us may feel passionate about the issue, and be determined to speak up. Another part of us is scared to disagree with some rather powerful people present.
In our model, we call these different parts of us our ‘selves’. Some we’re aware of and some live in our unconscious. Sometimes they are in great turmoil and conflict as they struggle to drive our decisions or actions.
Your Community of Selves develops early
We all have our own unique Community of Selves. We develop them on our journey through life, to help us survive and prosper. We learn to bring forward aspects and behaviours that get us what we need. As infants, for example, we need approval in order to survive (if our care-givers don’t love us, they might not feed us and then we’ll die!).
With plenty of unconditional love, safety and gentle guidance, this is all good. We learn to act safely, wisely and compassionately in the world. Unfortunately, this is not how many of us grew up, even with the best of intentions from the adults around us. Some of us were shaped in unsafe environments and this affects the development of our Community of Selves.
We’d like to share with you some personal examples and reflections from Glen, taken from her book Getting Our Act Together: How to harness the power of groups:
Example: Pleaser Self
To give an example from my own life, both my parents were unable to give me praise or affection. All children need love and acceptance to thrive. The only way I could get any semblance of this was to be ‘good’ and ‘helpful’. I became overly responsible in my attempt to please them.
This left me with a tendency to be a ‘pleaser’, seeking approval (‘love’) by doing lots for others.
Each self has a gift
The challenge for me now is to acknowledge the gift of the pleaser as a helper to others, while also letting her know that she cannot dictate my behaviour every time she appears. I need to thank her for allowing me to see the benefits of helping others, and reassure her that everything will be okay. Things have changed now and I don’t face the same unloving environment that I did as a child. Understanding the origin of a self and no longer having it dictate your behaviour is one of the best aspects of working with your Community of Selves.
Beware of a self when it leads your behaviour
This Pleaser Self does bring a gift of helpfulness and can make a good contribution to a group, but if it’s unconsciously driving my behaviour, I can take on too much and prevent others from being able to make valuable contributions.
Adapted from pp 33-35 of Getting Our Act Together: How to harness the power of groups by Glen Ochre.
Example: Bossy Self
You may have a Bossy Self, which brings the gift of being focused and getting things done. However, if this self is your driver in a particular situation you can put others offside. They may slip into a Rebellious Teenager Self in response to our bossy one!
You may have a Perfectionist or Attention to Detail Self which wants everything done perfectly. This can slow the group down and especially annoy those who are in their fast-moving Let’s Just Get it Done Self!
With ownership of these aspects of ourselves, we can do the inner work to make them more conscious. In turn, this helps us change our behaviour, and we can honour each self as we see how much we needed them at the time they developed. It makes the self easier to love.
Take time to identify your ‘selves’
These examples are just possible names for possible selves; you can identify and use whatever works for you. I love the quirky names people come up with.
Define the gift of each self, and identify what happens when they’re ‘driving’ your actions or thinking. Over time, you can change their names if something else suits better. You can also discover as yet unknown selves as you go along.
We have a great deal of positive response to this model in a wide range of settings – from children to blue-collar workers through to professionals. Its simplicity has a way of giving people a framework to understand what they already know.
It’s amazing how much easier it is to look at aspects of yourself when they’re not categorised into good or bad.
Life is easier with an awareness of your Community of Selves
- You don’t ‘beat yourself up’ because you understand yourself more.
- You have more compassion for others as well as for yourself, helping you to deepen your connections.
- With greater insight, you can benefit from the message a Self tells you (eg, Grumpy Self may let you know you need a break).
- You can reduce stress levels because instead of reflexively acting out of fear or anger, you make wiser choices.
- You can become more content within yourself – a true blessing!
People often have a lot of fun with the Community of Selves model as they look at themselves with lightness and humour. I hope you do too.
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