‘Voice Dialogue.’A Journey to Uncover the Self.
Illustration © André Hiernaux
‘Voice Dialogue’ supports individuation
It explores our Inner family of selves, defined as subpersonalities, and spawns the resulting Aware self process. The essence of the work is spontaneity, freedom to feel and share: Two people are face-to-face and allow a creative exchange to emerge. It enfolds as a ‘game of life,’ wherein humor, surprises, gravity and respect find their place. All facets of the personality can express, link and interact in a dance where one will experience a deep connection to oneself, to one’s emotions and the creativity dimensions that lie dormant in us.
‘Voice Dialogue’ is a vision of the psyche, a tool and a process for developing self-knowledge, self-relating and self-growth. Its practice gives insight into one’s personality, into the motivations and energies that move us, contract or expand us, or remain disowned in our psyche. These energies express and transmit our resources, values and thoughts; our desires, fears and hurts; our feeling tones, our bodily sensations. Via personal skills, behaviors and reactions, they manifest the often unconscious and automatic physical and psychological ‘survival devices’ of our character. Unless we learn to know them and relate to them with awareness, they will to a large extent govern our lives and restrain our free will and our aliveness.
By consciously identifying with and subsequently dis-identifying from the energies that drive or inhibit us, a gradual strengthening of ‘central awareness’ occurs, with an ability to hold the tension of Inner opposites within the psychic structure. By discovering the vulnerability that underlies our reactions, we will learn to acknowledge and care for our Suffering selves and so relate to ourselves and others with understanding and empathy.
We will discover Inner selves of an unpredictable sensitivity and freshness which wait patiently to be welcomed, so as to evolve with all the magic of a seed that germinates, a flower that blooms. We will progressively awaken to a much longed for encounter with our Deeper Self. Intimate inner bonding will arise from the choice to cherish oneself without judgment or fear. Impulses will again spring from abundance rather than from paucity, reviving our childlike innocence and trust.
Practicing ‘Voice Dialogue,’ leads to treasure the infinite resources of one’s own being. It is to participate in what one feels, whether in fragility or in strength, in happiness or in pain, in flow or in limitation. To know oneself is to love oneself. Out of this closeness in the now with whoever we are, grows closeness with the other, an intense and unconditional embrace of all that is.
‘Voice Dialogue’ was created by a couple of American psychologists: Hal Stone PhD (trained in Clinical Psychology at UCLA, and at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles) and his wife, Sidra Stone PhD (trained in Psychology at the University of Maryland). After more than twenty years of personal and professional experience, they developed, since the seventies, the theory and practice of ‘The Psychology of Selves and Bonding Patterns, and the Psychology of the Aware Ego.’ They created a simple and concrete method, accessible to all, called ‘Voice Dialogue.’
At first they put it to the test in their own processes as individuals, and as a couple… subsequently developing it in their professional practice and their joint seminars and teachings. Together they have written a number of ground breaking books about it. (See the Bibliography).
Three Key Concepts
Self-Understanding, Self-Acceptance, Self-Relating.
In my personal life and in nearly twenty five years of professional experience with it, ‘Voice Dialogue’ work has proven, from the very beginning, to accompany a spiritual path based on detachment, love and tolerance. Indeed, its goal is not to correct oneself, like one would snip with a pair of critical scissors, or re-tailor a character trait that is not to our taste. It aims, on the contrary, at developing a caring mindfulness for how we feel and who we are from one moment to the next. It supports a tangible relationship between a ‘centered space of inner witnessing’ and any given ‘mental, emotional and behavioral pattern’ that inhabits us. This process leads to a self-awareness and a self-relating based on lucidity and responsiveness.
We learn to meet our vulnerability, to acknowledge our perceptions, reactions, desires and fears - in heart, mind and body - not as things, nor as mere objects, but as ‘flesh and blood persons’ inside us. We can then relate to these Inner persons with kindness; we can respect them as Allies. We realize that self-inflicted criticism and indifference do hurt us even more deeply than when they strike us from any outer source.
The practice of ‘Voice Dialogue’ helps us experience ourselves intimately, rather than through dissociated mental analysis. Our understanding arises from a conscious embodying of who we are; this awakens empathy; it motivates self-acceptance and results in inner peace. Better than any striving to be different, it is precisely such lucid compassion that will naturally transform us.
To be really conscious of oneself on manifold levels of experience, leads to being touched by one’s own humanness and invites us to take ourselves into our own hearts and embrace. Welcoming and cherishing oneself, opens the door to love and tolerance toward the other: We recognize the other as an equal, sharing the same joys and pains, fears and hopes in life.
A Few Definitions: Subpersonalities / Selves,
Defense Mechanisms, Complexes, Energies.
By selves, or subpersonalities, one means the various facets of one’s personality. The sum of their interactions makes up what we consider to be our identity; that of which we say: ‘But that’s me!’ Yet our subpersonalities cover also the attributes of self we deny or leave dormant within.
A subpersonality will carry, for example, a specific suffering self or a pattern of adaptation, a mental interpretation, an emotional reaction, a self-protective resource, an instinctual energy or a disowned energy. Academic language will use the terms ‘complex’ and ‘defense mechanism.’
A complex is defined as a cluster of feelings and associated behaviors, triggered by some past difficulty in which one has remained caught. From there on, when there is a similarity of circumstances, we go through a reactivation of the emotions linked with past experiences and repeat associated behaviors. Consequently, more often than not, we act and react, unaware of what more deeply drives us.
‘Voice Dialogue’ explores our physical, emotional and mental ‘energy flows.’ Energy, from the Greek energeia, means ‘force in action.’ What ‘Voice Dialogue’ calls energy encompasses our reactions and our silences, our impulses, our inhibitions, whatever blocks or frees us in our daily life and our personality.
The practice of ‘Voice Dialogue’ gives our different selves the opportunity to be heard separately and then to be integrated in a new way on the inner plane. Under the guidance of a facilitator, our subpersonalities will experience and express themselves—one at a time—convey their points of view, their feelings and sensations. Some of them are quite familiar to us, powerful and welcome; others are more discreet, others still are unheard, repressed or perceived as burdens, in reason of their poor health, low spirits, faulty behavior or vulnerability. Nevertheless they all belong to our Inner family. Eventually - provided everyone is given a voice and is heard - wisdom, solidarity and some degree of consensus will naturally arise out of such multi-faceted sharing.
A Complex, a Defense Mechanism, a Perception
Is Always a Person
To look upon a feeling, a thought, an attitude, as an Inner person, rather than as a complex, a defense mechanism, a righteous or faulty conduct, breaks new ground. To personify our psychological dynamics is to move from ‘object oriented analyzing’ to ‘subject oriented relating.’ In this lies the whole difference: We begin to discover and welcome in our inner world the expressions of a whole human family; we begin to consider our ‘ways of reacting’ as persons per se and start to meet them accordingly, in a clear, compassionate and pragmatic way.
Experiencing what we feel, think and do as an Inner family, creates a heightened quality of connection with oneself and others. Now transference and the empathic feedback we hope for, will not for the most part be focused on responses by others or on the patient-therapist axis, but will be directed back to a face-to-face between a central dis-identified awareness and the various selves that manifest within us. Therein lies a precious possibility of maturation and change.
‘Voice Dialogue’ processes invite you to cease to primarily depend on outer mirroring, on validation by others or on ‘educative self-correction.’ You learn to build on your own response to your wounded and anxious Inner selves… and on their spontaneous relaxing as they are met by your caring.
Because we start to experience our needs and fears consciously, we can become self-mirrors. We become partners and neighbors to our Inner selves, in particular to our Vulnerable selves; we begin to respond to them, to hold them, with rooted and containing affectionate gestures and words, rather than with driven self-enhancement or pitiless self-criticism.
This is not only an approach for those who feel in difficulty. It is also a spiritual path for those who aspire to know and free themselves at a deeper level, tending towards equanimity and serenity. It encloses the total person, in both its human and cosmic dimensions. It highlights the fullness of our potential; it gives us a deeper sense of the meaning of our life; it allows us to develop feeling relationships with our fellow men that enrich and renew us. We discover that we are - and that every person is - a microcosm reflecting all that the universe contains.
The Range of our Subpersonalities:
A Tribal Counsel
Our Inner voices - as Spokesmen for our Energies - can be divided into several groups.
Group I : The Primary selves.
They Insure our Protection, carry our Power and our Resources in Life.
Our Primary selves compose what Carl Gustav Jung has called the ‘persona,’ meaning thereby the way in which we present ourselves to others, function and find our place in the family and in society. These are the subpersonalities that develop our assets and protect us. They concretize our talents, our ways of mastering our lives. They monitor us to exercise control, avoid errors, exclusion and suffering.
Here we meet our Skillful selves, our Pusher, our Perfectionist, enticing us to do well, to do more, to do even better. We will also experience our Inner warriors, heroes and rebels, who fight our battles, or our Pleaser who agrees with the other and too often goes quiet in order to avoid conflict. They include also our spiritual, altruistic and idealistic selves who would solve the difficulties of human condition. Together they form a ‘super-ego board’ of Primary selves… directed by our Rule maker who carries the values we identify ourselves with, and surveyed by our Inner critic who ceaselessly points out our slightest past and future failings and sins. They also include an Inner judge who protects us by finding fault in others.
For the most part, these Powerful voices are ‘parental, educating voices;’ they reflect our cultural, religious and social settings. They give us structure, teach us, drive us, shield us. When we feel hurt or threatened, they express our survival strategies, like aggression, flight, submission, disguise and playing dead. They insure our physical safety and the recognition of our values, identity and self-image. Deep down they are well-meaning, yet their input necessarily limits us, making us in many ways guilty, judgmental and untrue to ourselves.
A Strong Inner Critic: excessive Adaptation, rigid Values, a danger...
for our Immune System, for our Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health.
More than we would admit, we are blind to what we really feel, want and are. This often has its roots in distressful and confusing experiences of the past, especially during childhood. In order to be loved and accepted, to prevent pain, to establish our identity, assert our values, find our place in our environment, support our desires and ignore our fears… we develop the Primary selves that best serve us in our given circumstances.
Such complying traits, resources and self-protective responses are standard and necessary, but they can become depriving and self-maiming when they escalate. Indeed, they do cause us to develop strong censors, in form of Inner Critics and Judges, who will blame whatever and whoever doesn’t correspond to our needs and values. Our constraints and doubts, our compulsions to do better, prevailing guilt, fear of failure, poison our daily lives, undermine our happiness and self-esteem or nourish our grandiosity, while also rejecting our fellow men, creating thereby a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Let us take a very basic example: With the arrival of springtime and its first warmer days, our Inner critic has an anxiety attack: ‘Have you seen yourself? That pale sickly skin, this roll of fat on your belly, these wrinkles… your tendency to overweight?’ Every aspect of one’s appearance gets evaluated; every physical detail analyzed, from the single grey hair to the slightest flaw in the face. Hurry! Aerobics, diet, tanning booths! Whether we are reputed for our beauty or just an average mortal makes no difference; the anxiety is the same. It can take on such proportions that it reduces some women and men to despair, convincing them that they aren’t so young and lovable anymore … not even worthy of being seen. Self-confidence and self-respect get lost.
Whatever we perceive as ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’ imperils us, becomes a source of internal conflict, of disconnection from self and others and can render us antisocial or co-dependent. To satisfy cultural, social, religious, ideological imperatives and the standards of self-image, we are in danger of becoming blind slaves to them. By coercing ourselves, we suppress our true potential, our ‘richness of being,’ and we may end up by becoming literally ‘someone else.’
The censorship exerted by our Inner Critic, the denial of our vulnerability and of our disowned energies, the projection of guilt on others, entails one-sidedness, psychic impoverishment, self-exclusion and mutual exclusion. The strain and control this exerts on us can result in burn out, depression, sickness, addictions and destructive acting out.
When difficulties arise, we automatically disavow our weaknesses and our shadow sides; we automatically stiffen our resources and defenses, provoking reactive opposing forces in inner and outer world. These can suddenly burst forth, wreck our family life, ruin our professional career, shatter what we’ve worked so hard to construct.
Blocked and unrecognized energies are a source of pain in body and soul, of illness and existential crises. Their irruption takes us aback, in particular if we were unaware of the inner pressure they cause or when we deliberately ignore them. Suppressed vulnerability impedes intimacy, true closeness with self and others and the letting go of fear, mistrust and control. It is a source of loneliness, isolation and loss of creativity.
Group II : The Vulnerable and Sensitive Selves.
They are protectively hidden behind the Primary Selves and often denied.
Our Vulnerable selves are characterized by their sensitivity. For the most part they manifest as Inner children. There we meet our playful, magical, innocent and unsuspecting Inner children. They harbor our aliveness, our spontaneity and inspiration, our capacity for bonding. They show up when we feel welcome and safe. As long as they feel secure they will express our loving, trusting, responsive nature.
Yet, being sensitive, they feel easily hurt and will therefore also manifest as our Wounded child, our Abandoned child, our Abused and Guilty child, our Despairing child. Powerless, imprisoned, mute and dysfunctional, they are suddenly upfront when we feel rejected and betrayed or endure loss.
We also carry Adult suffering selves in areas of doubt and anguish, in particular those connected with womanhood, manhood or parenthood. Yet, even as adults, we can observe - when unforeseen pain, confusion, fear or aggression shock us - that we lose ground and may, in a split second, regress into a ‘Helpless child.’ As this happens, such Inner infants, disguised in adult clothing, will remain unmet by us, paralyzed and alone… while our Protective primary selves try to step up to the barricades.
For Hal and Sidra Stone the elaboration of ‘Voice Dialogue’ began in a very experiential and personal way. After they met, being both long term psychologists, they dedicated themselves to facilitating each other in all fields of their relational process. This intense joint exploration unveiled for them the primordial role that vulnerability plays in our ability to bond, in our problems, reactions and conflicts.
One day, Hal suggested to Sidra to choose a place in the room to embody her vulnerability. Hal relates how surprised he was to come face-to-face with a very small pre-verbal baby-girl; withdrawn into herself, incapable of communicating her suffering with words. The concepts of subpersonalities and of complexes were very familiar to them. But that these could personify as a real child, fully present in the here and now of an adult… completely baffled both of them! This discovery was to be the foundation of the ‘Voice Dialogue’ process that they developed over the years.
Inner selves are not merely complexes hidden behind acquired skills and defense mechanisms. They are human! And this means, that if something has a chance to help them to step from fear into trust, from aggression and flight into connection, and from pain into joy, it will only be relatedness and love.
When we start to face our Inner selves with non-judgment, understanding, clear limits and respect, they can begin to move from Suffering selves and from Conflicting voices to ‘Dear ones’ and Allies in the context of an Inner family of energies. Whatever our pain and our shortcomings, it is precisely such conscious and compassionate self-relating that will further our healing—as surely as it does when we lovingly connect with any biological child or person in the outer world.
Each of our subpersonalities embodies a specific trend of energy and a particular form of fear and suffering that we can become aware of, by exploring ‘how, why and when’ it feels, thinks and acts through us! Questioned, via ‘Voice Dialogue’ facilitation, our subpersonalities will define themselves by age, sex, specific bodily sensations and emotions, beliefs and dealings. They have hopes, pains, worries and goals of their own… and a very precise role and impact in our life.
They can change, and they do!
Provided we put across a caring, conscious, personified linkage,
between our Witnessing Awareness and the Selves that arise inside us.
Our Disclaimed Vulnerability. Our unseen and Abandoned Inner Child :
Its sensitive Heart, lost in the Stronghold of our Fortress.
Our Inner child, so helpless at birth, nevertheless carries the Source of our true beingness, the seed of our spiritual evolving. To save it from harm, our ‘survival personality’ builds up and gravitates around its needs and fears. Our suffering selves have their roots in our inheritance from preceding generations and in many of our painful experiences early in life, repeatedly confirmed as we grow up. Even though our story and its events are long gone, our ‘Inner children of the past’ wait to be truly mirrored and cherished. They wait at the core of our bodies, fully alive in our here and now, responding in our very cells.
At birth, we are a little being that doesn’t yet have a separate sense of self, that doesn’t really know how to distinguish itself from the mother. As infants—to survive, physically and psychologically, we entirely depend on the love and approval of our caretakers. To ensure love, acceptance and power in the world, to safeguard the delicate nucleus of our being, we set up the entire group of our Power selves and reject into the shadow their opposites. We cannot, however, save the cost of all the hurts.
Little by little, protective shielding camouflages the child’s natural liveliness, its spontaneity. We entomb it, abandoning its treasures of creativity to oblivion and loneliness. Our vital impulses towards the sharing of love, remain captive and in waiting. Throughout life, such buried hopes are steadily projected onto others, onto our parents first… later onto our partners and even our children. We solicit outside - too often in vain - what our Inner child still misses. And yet, in spite of all, woven into the soul of every powerless newborn, lies the untouched Source of our Life, the Divine Child, forever innocent, intuitive, loving, all-knowing.
Who then will respond to it? Others can’t do it all, especially as they also suffer from similar wants!
If life is hard on us, our protective reflexes, the automatic disowning of our vulnerability, end up resembling electric fences that isolate us. We become a self-built stronghold at the centre of which lives an Invisible child we are no more conscious of—busy as we are, ensuring its defense from the heights of our watchtowers!
At every real or imagined threat, our Powerful selves make use of attack or flight or play dead, or play victim. But defending is not a relating! To fight, or to be conciliatory by taking care of the other, does not mean that we take care of ourselves. And our sensitive selves remain cut off, deprived of love and attention.
Ancient emotions and strategies endlessly repeat themselves.
Unless we gently and decidedly connect with all these forms of me - whether they are vulnerable or defensive - they will hardly evolve. They remain frozen in their given contexts and complexes. Being prone to spurn any weakness, we stay unaware of them; we fail to notice that, at times, we are as inexperienced and bare as we used to be as babies.
We do not realize that loving and mirroring ourselves consciously, could render such high and well-guarded enclosures superfluous. We do not take hold of our capacity to re-parent our Inner child. We do not trust that our Inner child is still undamaged at its core; is endowed with the courage, love and strength of Life itself, and that it will boundlessly draw on it—provided we resolutely hold his hand!
Owning our vulnerability can transform our Fortress into a Garden,
can awaken in us a secure, trusting, joyous and creative budding...
and with it the richness of our feelings and gusto for life.
Group III : The Disowned Selves as ‘Opposites’ to our Primary Selves
Our Disowned selves are usually out of sight. They embody energies opposite to those we have favored and developed. They are our excluded, unknown and dormant voices. We disown them for ethical, educational and religious reasons; because they stand for styles and values we disapprove of or have difficulty to access. We come up to them in persons we react to—by attraction or repulsion. They correspond to people and attitudes we judge or over admire.
Evolution is a tricky game of apprenticeship. Opposing energies magnetize each other, and therefore we find our disowned selves represented, not only in those we condemn… but also in the primary selves of those we fall in love with or are drawn to. And if we don’t use the opportunity to assimilate the skills and energies ‘the other’ has developed – particularly in couples – such assets will soon cease to be felt as compensatory and become a source of mutual irritation and reproach.
If we fail to acknowledge our disowned selves, fail to learn from opposites present in the primary selves of others, conflicts will arise in our relationships, turning our respective primary systems against each other.
Yet, when given a place in us, however small, disowned energies will enrich us, catalyze and fertilize renewal. By opening ourselves to undeveloped energies in our lives, we will feel younger, healthier, more balanced and less judgmental.
When we omit to learn from them and to integrate them into our lives - at least at homeopathic doses! - it is our own denied selves that we project onto others, condemn and attack in the outside world. Escalating opposites signal unmet vulnerability; they breed conflicts, lead to ruptured relationships, divorce, ethnic cleansings, wars, and all kinds of exclusions.
Group IV : We can extend our experience to Archetypal and Transpersonal Selves.
Our psyche covers the boundless variety of energies present in creation. We also carry Archetypal, Transpersonal and Spiritual selves. The Archetypal selves personify in us the collective imprints of humanity, our basic forces: The universal mother, father, woman, man; the heroes of our myths, legends and fairy tales; they comprise mankind’s instinctual drives, the powers of light and darkness in our psychical realms.
Our Transpersonal and Spiritual selves can be vectors of the divine and the sacred. They manifest in us as the Soul voice, the Wisdom voice, the Healer’s voice, the Voices of saints, of wise figures and deities.
The range of our subpersonalities is timeless and limitless. We can dialogue with the Voices of our dreams, of our inspirations and intuitions; or with those of our physical pains and illnesses and even with the Voice of our old age to come or the Voice of our death. Indeed we can explore via our sensitivity and perceptions, the energies of all impulses, emotions and feeling tones; the energies of animate and inanimate objects; of man, animal, rock and tree; of near and far, of past and future times.
We will experience that every human being contains all that the universe contains. Provided we meet everything as a Person, with the love, respect and sacredness that this implies, we will discover a fascinating world, where every aspect, every force, can be our Ally and our Teacher.
The Dance of Polarities in the Psyche
The facilitation and observation of the different selves shows how their dynamics rest on duality. Like night and day, wake and sleep, warm and cold, masculine and feminine, birth and death… we structure ourselves within a system of balancing opposites that dance together and polarize each other. These ‘energies’ in our psyche can be compared to ‘beams of contrasting impulses.’ What we know of ourselves, what we convey and achieve, represents only part of us; this can be compared to the light side of the moon, whilst its other side lies in the shadow.
We are hardly aware of these polarizations, and yet - in accordance with the laws of physics (law of Newton) - each of our ‘visible poles’ constellates an ‘opposite pole, an energetic and emotional charge’ that is equal in power… but held tight, until eventually the momentum reverses. Owing to the tension between our primary, vulnerable and disowned selves, we may suddenly swing from one position to the other. This is especially marked when we powerfully identify with a given self. Such an increased drive - our going too far in one direction - will finally toss us to the other side, like the swing of a pendulum. Violent shifts in polarities can be terribly destructive… for example, when some seemingly unobtrusive and well meaning citizen suddenly becomes ruthless and kills innocents with a machine gun.
Such dramatic reversals can also trigger deep and healing shifts. We can see it in the lives of certain saints, like St Paul who changes abruptly from unbeliever and Christ offender to a life of piety and holiness. We can also observe it in terminal illnesses or major trials, when lasting peace and a remission occur at the favor of a radical change that turns us, so to say, inside out.
To invite and facilitate our powerlessness, by means of ‘Voice Dialogue,’ will naturally give us access to some aspect of our strength and vice versa. To facilitate an intense Activist, will spontaneously trigger on the other side some slow down self advocating rest and leisure. We can equilibrate our inner duality and so further our wholeness, by respecting both sides, by welcoming our power without scorning our weakness; by working with pleasure, while granting recreations to our minds and bodies! Following the example of communicating vases, pressure will adjust, our strong points will be more measured and our lacks less harmful.
‘Voice Dialogue’ doesn’t aim to alter or amend a person, but uses this ‘law of polarized energies’ and the laws of love, to facilitate a progressive and wise integration of a much wider range of selves. This will help us to release bottled up needs and resources, to diminish blockages and to prevent the risk of an abrupt loss of stability! Unexpected and violent eruptions of coerced energies can prove disastrous, i.e. in mid-life crisis… or by causing illnesses, depressions and dismantled relationships.
To work with ‘Voice Dialogue’ enlivens our potential and opens us up to new horizons of wakefulness. We give ourselves choices. We expand our repertoire. We become more feeling, free and flexible.
A. ‘Voice Dialogue’ Facilitation
Meeting and Experiencing our Various Selves
A session begins and ends in the centre seat, facing the facilitator. The centre seat is the locus of the Aware self process. To mark the entry into a subpersonality, the facilitated person will take another place in the room. The facilitator supports this self-exploration with empathy, deepening questions and mirroring. During the facilitation, and until the person returns to the centre seat, the Aware self process will be, so to say, its Invisible witness!
At the beginning of ‘Voice Dialogue’ practice, our Inner world resembles a mesh of woolen strands of varying colors and textures. Little by little, one will unravel this cluster of selves that we claim as ‘Me!’ We will free these ‘threads and shades of who we are’ from their entanglement and they will arrange themselves around one’s central pole of witnessing awareness.
‘Voice Dialogue’ is a living tool that helps us to become conscious of what repeatedly fills us or drains out of us. It helps us discern the succession of impulses, inhibitions and behaviors, carried by the mental, emotional and physical selves, we identify with. For example, someone hurts our feelings: For a split second we are overtaken by pain and hopelessness and then, immediately bursting with anger or freezing inside; we may first deny the hurt or justify ourselves, then switch to conciliation, then harbor resentment, and finally ebb towards indifference. Such ‘reactive sequences’ happen so fast that we often don’t even recognize the wound that initially triggered them! We are largely unaware of the genesis of our automatic reactions. And they will be disproportionate when the initial wounding originates in some painful past or early childhood experience.
Facilitation gives us the opportunity to meet and to relate to our vulnerable selves, to face our reactive defensive selves and to integrate our disowned selves, exactly as one would with real persons. We will understand how we unknowingly give birth to them, how we perpetually replicate similar responses and how this makes us and others suffer in our daily lives.
With the help of the facilitator, each subpersonality will deepen self-experiencing as far as possible. The subpersonality will say ‘I,’ and when referring to the person taking the session, will use the familiar first name. For example an Inner critic might say: ‘’I cannot stand how Jim procrastinates. He is such sloppy guy when it comes to doing something straight away!’’
One could also compare what happens in us with driving a car. The car symbolizes our life, and from moment to moment our question should be: ‘But who is now at the wheel?’ If one refers to the sequence cited above, our car is first steered by some Responsible adult, then suddenly by the Wounded Child, then replaced at the wheel by Burning Anger, then by Indifference or by a Conciliator… and so on. What we call ‘me’ is made of these drivers competing for control on our existential road. Most of the time, we are on automatic pilot and unaware of it. And this exposes us to accidents.
‘Voice Dialogue’ invites us to question ourselves: ‘Who, in the house of ma psyche, occupies which room, and how many square meters? Who monopolizes how many of my daily allotted hours? Who is confined to the broom closet or the basement? Who enjoys all of the ‘living-room’ in my life?’
A ‘Voice Dialogue’ session takes on average two hours. The facilitation of a given self, can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more. The facilitator holds and mirrors every subpersonality. He shares, enters into resonance with the different selves. This initiates a dynamic present moment experiencing—in body, heart and mind. The context, the problems, the related events of a recent or distant past, will be part of the work, shedding light on energies and selves that repeatedly surge up in our reactions. Associations will spontaneously emerge within the memory through bodily sensations, images and feelings. The facilitator listens to the whole range of your perceptions, to your entire, physical, emotional and verbal register.
The acquired capacity to distinguish who is operating in us, the capacity to respond to our needs, without projecting them onto others or circumstances, will change our lives and guide us from dependency to self reliance. We can alleviate and stabilize what distresses us by acknowledging what we feel. By envisioning our psychical family with clarity, compassion and measure, we will evolve and make choices, rooted in a real understanding of ourselves and others.
B. The Aware Self Process
Separation and Individuation: The Leaven of True Love
At the end of a session, the facilitator thanks the subpersonality and invites the person to take a final step back into the Aware self process. This is a crucial move. Provided you have intensely expressed a specific energy/ subpersonality, you will - as you return to the centre seat - naturally experience the contrast between the two positions and sense an ‘energetic shift.’
The distinction between one’s Aware self process and one’s subpersonalities is based on this spatial, experiential and voluntary separation from the facilitated selves. Back in the central position one observes what is now different - in sensations, emotions, and thoughts - compared to the self which one has just left. By separating from your subpersonalities, while at the same time feeling deeply touched by what they go through… you become your own mirror and develop a non-fusional, dis-identified, relating to yourself. You can now recognize the difference between an energy-driven stance and the being quality of your Core-self.
The liberation that comes with it will be surprising and is the essential key to the whole process. You are more centered, more rooted and calm; more spacious and alive. Instead of feeling torn apart in between opposite directions, you discover yourself as a ‘volume of beingness.’ You have just switched from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional experiencing. You are now totally present in your physical body and in your consciousness body; fully in touch with your five senses; in touch with yourself, in touch with the facilitator and in touch with your surroundings—instead of unaware and disconnected ‘urbi et orbi.’
Once a self has been clearly perceived in its energy, its behavior, its aspirations and motivations, it will be seen as a person per se for whom one has real feelings and understanding. This face-to-face with one’s Inner selves becomes the leaven for an evolving connectedness with one’s Inner family and particularly with one’s Inner child. We hear and acknowledge what we feel; we name and describe it. We become a partner and a co-creator of our personal venture.
‘Voice Dialogue’ grounds on this mindful differentiation, without which one cannot risk true closeness with self and others.
The little snail sheltered in the rose
It might be the very first time that you face yourself as the non-judging and attentive trustee of your own experience. This reflective and sensitive process frees you and dissolves your undigested burdens; it helps you to uncover the truth of who you more deeply are and to recover a sense of serenity and intrinsic oneness.
C. Lucid Witnessing
Rounding up a Session, as the Viewer of One’s own Motion Picture
After the last return to the center seat, after having completed there the Aware self process, a ‘Voice Dialogue’ session will best be concluded by a final rounding up. The subject will stand beside the facilitator, facing all that has taken place during the session. He will now be a spectator, an auditor, without any other task than to be the Silent viewer of his own life. He envisions the place of the Aware self, the places of the different Voices, and listens without intervening to the summary of the session that the facilitator will do.
This last position is called Awareness level or Lucid witnessing. It contributes to further clarity and detachment, and helps stabilize emotions. Compassion and non-judgment, for all that lives within us, are reinforced.
Strengthening the Aware self process
Self-Mirroring. Separating. Self-Relating. Self-Reliance.
Because our parents have their own desires and fears, because they have to educate and adapt us, they seldom mirror us without preconceived notions and biases. A lot of our suffering and identity problems are due to this. A child that wasn’t reflected enough in its own reality, with love, while at the same time given clear limits, may remain emotionally stuck at different levels. In time, as we grow up, it becomes an Inner child, unseen, frozen in some of its feelings and behavior patterns. This is what can be referred to as an autonomous complex or a conditioned reflex. And it might never evolve, unless we use one of the most effective tools available to us: ‘
Mutual bonding’ between one’s Aware self and one’s Inner child.
‘Voice Dialogue’ helps us recognize how the Primary selves act as ‘interjected parents’ inside us. The Aware self is invited to be - from now on - the main beam of our inner structure, the reference of one’s inner relating. The ‘biological child’ we were, is still present in our Inner child of today as an ongoing cause of recurrent suffering. The good news is… that at any moment, we can take its hand into ours and become its ‘loving and mirroring vis-à-vis!’ By cherishing it now, we will heal its past and present wounds; we will help it to feel secure, trusting, creative and joyful again.
Whenever we address who is lonely
and stuck within us,
we embody The Inner Friend
and so undo and assuage
our ills and sores.
Why do Mirroring, Separating and Relating go Hand in Hand?
Intra-psychic differentiation and subsequent inner relating take their model from life itself. Let’s remember a law of evolution that impacts the development of every biological child and the unfolding of our existential path. From conception to birth, from birth to death, we convert symbiosis into individuation. This is a dance between being close and making a distinction. Both are necessary to our full flowering. We gain self-awareness by combining ‘separating from’ and ‘relating to’ …our environment and our perceptions. This is indeed, why it is crucial to be mirrors of love and pain for our biological children; mirrors through which they can build their basic trust and a coherent identity.
This same principle proves itself when we engage into self-parenting by consistent and affectionate self-mirroring, in particular regarding our Inner child. The moment we respond to it in the same way we should optimally respond to a biological child, our Inner child starts to recapture its creative liveliness and trust. In the timeless realm of our psyche, we can re-parent our ‘child of the past’ today. This insightful practice will also show us how to connect with those around, respecting what others feel and loving them ‘as they are,’ rather than ‘as we wish or require them to be.’
‘Intimate connection,’ between one’s own Compassionate awareness and one’s Inner selves, alleviates excessive projections. Our overt and covert expectations exert pressure; they lead to painful disappointments, heartbreaks and a lot of mutually inflicted distress. We need to take responsibility for actively cherishing ourselves as well as others. And when we do, our demands regarding our partners and dear ones lessen, become more balanced. Resentment fades, linkage grows, bringing with it peace and serenity.
Self-Relating: Three Steps in a Nutshell
Learning to know our Inner family is the first step. The second step is non judgment and compassionate detachment arising from awareness. The third step is the tender connection we can establish between one’s more and more Aware self and one’s subpersonalities.
We all dream of the person who will accept, respect and treasure us unconditionally, despite our limits, errors and weaknesses. We project this expectation onto our parents who cannot fully meet it. And we are angry at them! Our hope to be unconditionally loved and at the same time left free is in constant contradiction with our trials, with educational priorities, with the necessity to adjust to who and what we come across.
As we grow up, we project our deep set desire onto our partners, spouses, children, friends and colleagues, and they will not be able either to quench all of this thirst. We then suffer from repetitive disappointment, unrequited needs and presumed or actual betrayals that poison our happiness.
Being responsible for oneself implies taking back our projections, becoming The Friend for our own abandoned parts. It means responding to what we feel by way of a more and more Conscious and Loving Self. In so doing we start giving back their freedom to our near and dear ones, taking from their shoulders the weight of our anticipations and subsequent blaming.
Let us realize that there are only two persons who can deeply and consistently meet our inborn thirst for undivided love and acceptance: God, The Ever Present - whether we are believers or not - and our Own Tender Attendance that holds in itself a spark of God’s Love. Indeed, these are our closest and truest Neighbors, inhabitants of our heart twenty-four hours a day from conception to death and beyond. Let us invite, both God and our Core-self, to hold and embrace our distressed and erring world! It is this path of love, faith and forgiveness that ‘Voice Dialogue’ brings alive in us.
The Aware Self as the Peacemaker
As men oppose each other on the outer plane, so are we divided within.
In times of trial we become aware that joy and sadness, love and hate, genuineness and deception, trust and doubt, alternate and compete inside us. Our smile is forced, covering up anger, misery, emptiness. We feel far from our own truth, trapped by incompatibilities, estranged from ourselves and cheated. We feel powerless to solve the world we live in; powerless to change ourselves. We desperately try to suppress, deny, reject, whatever weighs on us. Compulsive improvement and bitter criticism abound. The partner turns against his mate, the child against the parent.
Our differences become a source of conflict and pain and cease to be sources of enrichment
‘Voice Dialogue’ practice is a radically novel approach to our difficulties. It no longer primarily builds on analyzing and solving. It invites us to discover the sensitive, creative and loving Core-Self that awaits us beyond our desperate quest for power and recognition. Little by little, with the unfolding of the sessions, our Inner selves experience being heard, understood, witnessed without judgment, by the facilitator on one hand, and by our growing Self-awareness on the other hand.
The Spiritual Friend
Stepping in and out of our subpersonalities builds and sustains our Aware self process, our sense of expanding consciousness and freedom. As this ‘inner widening’ repeats itself, we grow into a calm, lucid Womb of compassionate awareness. We become the Spiritual Friend who responds to who and what inhabits us, the Wise Leader holding council with his Tribe. We welcome, listen, give word, set limits, until everyone has refined his own stance by a progressive assimilation of the points of view of others. Particular attention will be given to vulnerable members, to those feeling orphaned and distressed inside us. Rounds and rounds of different opinions, situations, fears and hopes, will gradually lead to mutual adjustment and peace. Decisions will arise out of a growing team spirit. This is how the Aware self process can become the pilot and the containing vessel of one’s whole range of selves.
To use still another metaphor, the Aware self process marks the centre and draws the boundaries of our psychic Mandala, while our various selves gravitate around it like atoms around their nucleus—safely harbored in its precinct. The symbol of the ‘mandala’ illustrates well how ‘Voice Dialogue’ - far from fragmenting the perception of who we are - insures the integration of opposites, of ambivalence and of vulnerability into our dynamic wholeness and balance.
The Awareness Process
The Aware self process can be compared to a transparent vessel which fills, colors and empties again as our various selves constellate, change and dissolve inside us. Suddenly we are nothing but anger, or elation, or sadness, or flight upon the piano. Our perceptions, our thoughts and our projections are shifting constantly. They alternate or superimpose at high speed. They are not felt simultaneously: When one of our selves plays up, all other selves recede into the background, are not perceived and not taken into account.
The Aware self process unveils our Nature of intrinsic Oneness, of stable and profound serenity. It underlies our restlessness and anxiety, like the calm deeper waters underlie the waves at the surface of the ocean.
Our Aware Self can also be compared to a neutral screen upon which the story of our life, and the subpersonalities that personify it, are projected. One illustration follows the next, but the screen of consciousness upon which they appear remains virgin, untroubled and changeless. This is close to the vision of oriental spirituality: Our thoughts and emotions are acknowledged and yet will fleetingly cross the limitless sky of our inner space.
From such a perspective, ‘Voice Dialogue’ offers a metaphysical insight and a spiritual discipline; we learn to revert to the empty matrix in which all and everything can take shelter and be harbored as it is.
Who Am I?
We encompass all our facets but cannot, however, be reduced to any one of them in particular. As a conscious vessel we grow towards infinity and transcend the sum of our contents. ‘Voice Dialogue helps us to apprehend a threefold experiencing around the question:
- Who am I… when I am intensely identified with a given aspect of my psyche?
What do I perceive of myself; of the world around me; of the other?
- Who am I… when I am all this, but also more than the sum of my parts?
What do I perceive of myself; of the world around me; of the other?
- Who am I… when I am none of my subpersonalities; neither this nor that?
What do I perceive of myself; of the world around me; of the other?
By and by, this consciousness procedure will become less and less abstract and Inner Freedom and Vastness more and more tangible. Rather than being the toy of our impulses, we access - in our depth - the being quality that underlies all our moves.
Honor All the Gods
Hal and Sidra Stone compare ‘Voice Dialogue practice’ with ‘honoring all the gods.’ To honor all the gods is to listen to all the voices, is to respect all energies, even if they are unwelcome. In ancient Greece, the numerous deities and their temples were assembled in large sacred areas. And visitors made sure to mollify them all, by making offerings to each of them—however obscure, feared or menacing.
Like pilgrims in our inner world, we have to advance through our own mystery, contradictions and diversity, and to reject no one and nothing totally. Every subpersonality is a facet and a force of our human nature; each has to be acknowledged; each has to become an Ally rather than an adversary. Honoring every one of them, doesn’t mean we cannot have our favorites.
Not to proceed in this way proves risky. History, fairy tales and myths, illustrate in innumerable ways the danger of ignoring or rejecting the other side. In the tale of Sleeping Beauty, the Thirteenth fairy - which the King neglected to invite - takes revenge. She puts a spell on the family, on the well regulated life in the castle, by plunging the princess and her entire entourage into a profound sleep… image of the powers in our subconscious that overwhelm us when we don’t respect them or exclude them.
The tale also offers a remedy: One hundred years later, a Prince - more mature and more loving, than those who previously had failed to free Sleeping Beauty - overcomes the hedge of thorns that encloses the Princess. With a ‘kiss of conscious love’ he awakens her, and with her the castle and its inhabitants.
Loving ourselves as we are, failings included, seeing our own Beauty, the courage to know, the resolve to care, are unavoidable steps towards an Awakening to our deeper Self. ‘Voice Dialogue’ supports this coming together, without judgment, of all that lives in us, of all our energies… be they of shadow or of light, joyful or sad, powerful or fragile, known or unknown to us.
Know Thy Self. Love Your Neighbor as Thy Self
To know and love oneself… is to love the other, is to initiate peace. To recognize the underlying suffering behind all violence, to extend empathy, even whilst setting limits to damaging behaviors, is deeply transformative in our lives, couples, families and communities.
This may be the wisest way to become less judging and more understanding toward those we regard as distasteful or offensive in the outer world. Inner balance, built on lucid self-care rather than on self-rejection, is the touchstone of harmony. It also provides a model for peaceful communication and cohabitation on our planet.
The maxim ‘Know thyself and you will know the universe and the gods,’ etched into the pediment of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, was the motto chosen by Socrates. Christ in the second commandment, tells us: ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’
Far from being a selfish endeavor, self-knowledge and self-love, are the very foundation upon which love for others can be built. If I don’t extend love to my abandoned Inner child and suffering selves, if I don’t understand and set fair limits to my Power selves, like the Rule maker, the Desire driven, the Critic, the Activist, the Perfectionist, the Aggressor, the Pleaser, if I don’t give some space to my disowned selves… how will I be able to comprehend them when I come up to them in the outer world?
Isn’t the definition of selfishness ‘to privilege an isolated element’ to the disadvantage of the whole?
But if we make the experience of a growing comprehensiveness and inclusiveness that treats oneself and others equally - excluding neither -, we will link our personal good with the good of all.
We can say: ‘I am the world, the world is me.’
A Spiritual Practice for Expanding Consciousness
Man is somehow at the measure of the universe, including in his finitude all the characteristics of infinity. Today scientific research offers evidence that in our body each cell carries, in its genetic code, information covering perhaps the whole organism. Can one imagine that the knowledge of the universe itself could be inferred from one single cell, one single atom? Following this proposition couldn’t each of our energies shed light on the nature of all others, as well as reveal some aspects of the deeper meaning of one’s wholeness?
Our physical bodies are formed from a single cell, the ovum, fertilized by another single cell, the spermatozoid. From that point on, there is a dividing, a multiplying, a differentiating… the cells interlock, gather into organs that develop into high performance systems connecting inside us. Then there is this miracle: A complete being gifted with transpersonal Consciousness. It is not similarities which create unity, but interrelating. An interrelating that links divergent data, that constantly drops obsolete elements, constantly includes new elements, constantly gives birth to one’s renewed dynamic wholeness, to a creative totality.
Some physicists put forward that an implicit order underlies the universe and gives a direction to the elements which divide and reassemble, shaping and ever recreating new structures. Our expanding consciousness possibly evolves in an analogous manner: By separating and connecting the elements in our psyche in an endless process of relatedness to ourselves and others. ‘Voice Dialogue’ is in this image.
But we are not familiar with practicing - or even imagining - what a ‘relating to oneself’ could be and bring. We are too identified with our egoic selves, too automated in our reactions. Like someone putting his nose directly on the page, we fail to decipher our own book. To see clearly requires distance, a distance that we then bridge with aware love: Love that embraces the freedom and beauty of diversity. This will be felt as a breath of fresh air in the dungeon of inner prisoners. The bird will find its wings; the vulnerable child will recapture its joy and its tears, its spontaneity and inventiveness.
Each and every one of us contains the whole of creation, all people, all energies.
To understand and welcome them in ourselves, leads to understand and accept them in the other.
It means to open up to a dialogue which turns the stranger, the enemy, into a brother.
© Adelheid Oesch 1993
Illustration © André Hiernaux