Democracy of Selves

Every person’s identity is made up of many simpler Self People who are constantly arguing and debating to help you make decisions. Each Self Person is defined by a group of related goals and desires. The Scientist Self cares about getting information, subjecting ideas to scrutiny, and intellectual integrity. The Artist Self cares about getting what’s inside the mind out into the external world and somehow representing the nature of the identity in a physical form. The Little Id Self wants immediate satisfaction of all desires, especially dopamine. Some Selves are common to all people, like the ones listed above, but then some of us have Selves that others don’t. I have a Teacher Self. Parents have a Parent Self. Some Self People emerge later in life as our goals and interests change. Self People can learn and develop the goals they aim to prioritize and the arguments they make in their favor.

The Selves meet in the Decision Room to make your decisions. In order for each to have enough energy to argue its point and influence your decisions, it needs to be fed. We feed our Self People by doing the things they care about and moving toward their goals. You may notice that this creates a positive feedback loop. The more you feed a Self Person, the more it can influence your decisions. The more it can influence your decisions, the more it will get fed. However, the opposite is also true. If you don’t feed them, they get weak and have less influence, and are therefore less likely to get fed.

The Self People can be organized in any kind of governing system. Many people find their Little Id Self has established itself as dictator and has suppressed opposing voices. I recommend that you arrange your Self People in a democracy. Make decisions based on votes, and try to keep your best Selves fed so they are the ones showing up to the meetings Leave your less effective Selves, like Little Id, tired in their beds, unable to participate in the vote. I also advise that you choose your most empathetic and nurturing Self to act as arbiter of the meetings. For me, this is my Teacher Self.

Here is a useful trick. Whatever your version of Teacher Self is, your kindest, most loving Self, have a conversation between that Self and Little Id. Little Id needs to be heard and respected, but it can’t be part of most important decisions.

A process that is fun and difficult is figuring out which Selves you have and what each one wants and cares about. It is also useful to distinguish each one’s wants from its needs.

Here is an interesting thing I have noticed: When a single Self Person is threatened in someone, that person responds as if they are in physical danger. For example, If someone has an I’m Smart Self that cares about being smart, then a bad grade on a test could threaten or even injure that Self. The person is fine. A bad grade on a test is no big deal, but the I’m Smart Self is in agony. In these kinds of situations, most people go into fight or flight as if there were a real threat or injury. Once in Fight or Flight, some of our most rational Selves get quieted, or even muted, and Little Id gets a chance to make all the decisions until rest and digest kicks back in. I like to imagine that when a Self Person gets injured, the most helpful and kind Selves rush to its side to help heal it (perhaps offering their own emergency supplies of self esteem). Little Id gets angry and is left alone to make decisions. I remember learning that our identities are more robust, harder to injure, when they are more multi-faceted. This makes sense in the Self Person analogy because the injured Self Person has more support from the other Selves.

My Self People (that I have identified so far):

  • Scientist – learning, collecting information, being honest with myself, remembering to always be skeptical
  • Artist – express, express, express!
  • Daughter – concerned with familial duties and expectations
  • Sister – always supporting and listening
  • Friend – always supporting and listening
  • Empath – presents all perspectives other than my own
  • Teacher – the most complex, concerned with language use, facial expression, body language, tone of voice, recognizing motivations, being kind but firm, not giving up
  • Little Id – wants immediate gratification and to avoid challenges
  • Cynic – goes beyond pragmatic acceptance of negativity into grouchy resignation
  • Influential – desires to make a lasting difference in the world
  • Professional – stay organized, please clients, follow rules
  • Woman – mostly biological concerns
  • Pride – be perceived as reliable, self aware, interesting, talented, funny, attractive, and, even though some of my other Selves cringe at the very word, special

What are some of yours?

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