And you are…?

In his book ‘What We May Be’, Piero Ferrucci writes that “each of us is a crowd”. The English humanistic psychologist, John Rowan, once spoke of an internal society composed of the different people inside us. The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa writes,” In every corner of my soul, there is an altar to a different god.” These quotations express the same idea – that a person consists of a multiplicity of selves.        

 Howard Sasportas – The Development of the Personality

How objective can any of us truly be about ourselves when ‘the self’ is so slippery and nebulous a concept? In truth we are many selves and yet for me this doesn’t conflict with the notion of ‘self’ discovery. I know that the concept of a singular me that can be miraculously known and understood is simplistic, but uncovering and learning to integrate all that we are is surely a noble aim?

Back in the dim and distant past, when I was feeling particularly passionate about astrology, I became heavily influenced by the books of the Psychological Astrologers Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas. They set up the Centre for Psychological Astrology which ran courses that creatively merged the fields of astrology, psychosynthesis, humanistic and depth psychology. I gave most of my astrology books away but retained my copies of their Seminars in Psychological Astrology: The Development of the Personality & Dynamics of the Unconscious (Arkana); The Inner Planets (Weiser) and Liz Greene’s wonderful exploration of  Pluto: The Astrology of Fate (Mandala) because they had an enormous impact on me and I couldn’t bare to part with them.

Greene and Sasportas suggested that chart positions and aspects could be viewed as psychological sub-personalities – multiple selves – some working in harmonious interaction, others in conflict. This idea posed interesting questions about how we might manage our many selves and how this might impact upon our psychological well-being and development. For instance, how would a person who had say, a lovely Moon trine Jupiter aspect – which is essentially an emotionally expansive and generous sub-personality – deal with being bed fellow to a Mars square Pluto aspect – a rather more intense and potentially difficult sub-personality to express? Ultimately the trick lies in honouring and integrating these multiple selves, being flexible in their application and remaining free from a domination of any one subself:

The value of subpersonality work is not just in identifying your subpersonalities and working with them. It helps in another way…you become aware that there is a part of you that has these subpersonalities: that you are an “I” with a hurt child, a bully, a mystic, a pragmatist subself etc…Who you are is not just any one of these things but you are the one that shifts from one to another. In this way, you are strengthening your sense of having a higher organising centre or higher unifying centre which can identify, work with, contain and make room for your various subpersonalities.

Sasportas recommends a technique of Lady Diana Whitmore (founder of the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust) whereby after identifying a subpersonality, you ask it three questions: What do you want? What do you need? What do you have to offer me? Working through a want, to discover the underlying need is psychologically freeing and in doing so, we might give ourselves the chance to benefit from a deeper archetypal energy that resides at the heart of any particular subself. I once put on two stone in weight; I just wanted to eat all the time. Eventually, my intense unhappiness about my body shape spiralling out of control became the catalyst for me to suddenly grasp that the need beneath all this relentless stuffing, was a need for nurturance, for emotional nourishment after a period of intense loss and hurt. I wanted mothering and in its crudest sense, I was fulfilling this need by feeding myself. Once I had uncovered the need, I could then plug into that archetypal energy of mothering, love and nurturance and give it to myself in a more appropriate way.

This process of bringing together, of balancing and integrating these selves that are a part of us, seems to me an inclusive and loving act, and one that fascinates; it offers the opportunity to see the value of even our most tricky of selves, those aspects that we might feel tempted to condemn:

Subpersonalities are like people: if we accept them, listen to them and treat them with understanding, they will usually open up and give us more of themselves. And, underneath it all, they all have a natural and basic archetypal drive or principle which is part of the great round of life. (Howard Sasportas)

 

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