How often do you find yourself saying, “Part of me wants to this, but another part of me wants to that”? This and that might be stay home or go out, order dessert or “be good,” find a new job or stay put.
And how often does saying or thinking that way leave you more than a little frustrated?
That internal tug-of-war actually serves a powerful purpose in your life. There are literally parts of you that are giving you information. This isn’t about multiple personalities or hearing voices; that’s a completely different ballgame. These parts are actually selves, and we have hundreds, if not thousands, of selves bouncing around inside us. Since the mind can’t handle all of those voices talking at once (imagine being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during trading hours), our psyche has separated them out so that we are in close contact with only a few at a time.
The method for getting in touch with and listening to these selves is called Voice Dialogue. It was developed by psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone in the 1970s, and continues to evolve and be practiced today, by therapists and coaches alike.
A very simple definition offered on their website reads “Voice Dialogue is the basic method for contacting, learning about, and working with the many selves that make up each of us.” In a Voice Dialogue session, a facilitator works with the client to bring out different selves for conversation. (This is a very simplistic and limited description of Voice Dialogue; for more information, I highly recommend visiting the websites of Hal and Sidra Stone and The Voice Dialogue Institute.)
A key part of Voice Dialogue is that it’s an opportunity to identify and give a voice to our primary and disowned selves. Our primary selves are the ones that come forward when someone asks you, “How would you describe yourself?” and you respond with words such as “responsible, fun-loving, honest, trustworthy, nurturing.” Those traits each represent a Primary self. They are how the world sees you, and how you see yourself in the world. These selves emerge relatively early in life, because they are the traits that were affirmed and encouraged by your parents, teachers and friends. These selves keep you safe from rejection or harm; they make sure you are socially acceptable.
On the flip side, disowned selves are the parts of you that were deemed socially unacceptable. These might be the selves who are adventurous, silly, shy, loud, creative, assertive, pessimistic, the drama queen or the class clown. Those same influences that inform the traits that emerge as our primary selves also inform what we disown, through discouraging particular behaviors, expressions or feelings.
And that brings us to the insight I had in the wee small hours of the morning. A few days ago, I read Sophia Dembling’s article, “How to Piss Off an Introvert.” She highlights several grievances that she has about how people respond to introverts. One of my favorites, which I’ve personally experienced on many occasions, is when someone learns I’m an introvert and replies (or exclaims with surprise and dismay), “You’re not an introvert!”
What does that have to do with Voice Dialogue? It’s an obvious example of how the introverted part of introverts (because we are not 100% introvert) is rejected and disowned by other people. When someone says “You’re not an introvert,” it’s like they’re saying, “Being an introvert is not OK. Don’t put yourself down like that. You’re not one of them.” And in fact, they may think that they are paying you a compliment!!
Since they disown and reject our introversion, we often disown it as well. The clear message is “it’s not safe or acceptable to be introverted.” So we go against our nature and try to be extroverted, in order to be more socially acceptable.
The truth? It is natural and acceptable to honor your introverted preferences! What would happen if introverts everywhere developed personal Pride of Ownership? What if we all were secure enough to really own our introvert strengths, our unique and quiet energy?
Part of being able to do that requires taking time to notice and appreciate the gifts our introversion gives us. Voice Dialogue, completing an assessment and coaching are several ways to shine the light on hidden strengths.
The more you understand, own and appreciate your introversion, the more you’ll be able to step in to who you truly are. And then, statements like “you’re not an introvert!” can roll off you like water off a duck’s back, instead of prompting the tempting response Sophia shares, “shut your piehole.” 😛