About the Division of the Mind

How are people divided within themselves?

To varying degrees, all of us are in conflict between a real self and an anti-self. The real self involves pursuing life-affirming activities and real goals, whereas the anti-self is turned against the real self and not only limits and sabotages our accomplishments, but also is hostile and cynical toward other people.  This division in our personality was developed early in life and is primarily the result of conflicting feelings and attitudes that our parents held toward themselves and directed toward us during our formative years.
How are parents’ conflicting feelings toward themselves passed on to their children?

 Parents, like everyone else, possess conflicting feeling toward themselves: they experience warm feelings of positive self-regard, but at times they also feel self-critical or self-hating.  Just as parents have positive and negative feelings toward themselves, they have both tender, caring impulses and critical reactions toward their children. They have the desire to love and nurture their children; yet they also have resentful or angry feelings toward them.

Because destructive feelings toward children are personally as well as socially unacceptable, parents are resistant to acknowledging these feelings in themselves and attempt to deny or suppress them. However, the destructive side of parents’ ambivalence is expressed in both critical attitudes and punitive behaviors that children are highly sensitive to and that lead to a division within their personality.

Parents’ positive attitudes are easily assimilated by the child and become part of the real self; whereas parents’ destructive attitudes are internalized by the child as an alien element in the personality and become part of the anti-self.

The Self and Anti-Self Systems

The self system, or real self, consists of the unique characteristics of the individual, including biological, temperamental, and genetic traits, and his or her harmonious assimilation of the parents’ positive attitudes and traits. It develops as a result of parents’ warmth and nurturance as well as their ability to repair the inevitable disruptions in attunement that occur between parent and child. The effects of ongoing personal development, education, and imitation of positive role models throughout a person’s life contribute to the evolution of the self system.

The self system is made up of the person’s goals–the basic needs for food, water, safety, and sex; the desire for social affiliation, achievement, and life-affirming activity; the expression of love, compassion, generosity, and transcendent goals related to seeking meaning in life—all are aspects of the self system. Positive environmental influences enable the developing person to formulate his or her own value system and to strengthen his or her ability to live with integrity, that is, according to his or her ethical principles.

The anti-self system is the defensive part of the personality; it develops from two sources, (1) from the internalization of parental hostility and (2) as a defensive response to the negative side of parents’ ambivalence: their rejection, hostility, neglect and unresponsiveness. In addition, parents’ emotional hunger, over-protectiveness, and lack of understanding of a child’s nature have a negative impact on his or her development. Some parents unconsciously dispose of traits they dislike in themselves by projecting them onto their children, and their children internalize these projections as part of a negative self-concept or anti-self system.

The anti-self system develops as a result of the unique vulnerability of the child, genetic predisposition, epigenetic influences, temperament as well as aversive environmental stress that can occur early in life: birth trauma, accidents, illnesses, traumatic separations, and the actual loss of a parent or sibling. The anti-self system is made up of defenses developed in relation to separation anxiety and interpersonal pain in the family, which later are reinforced and compounded by the child’s developing knowledge of death. The anti-self system is also affected throughout one’s life by the pain inherent in the human condition (e.g., poverty, economic recession, crime, natural disasters, illness, physical and mental deterioration, and death).

The anti-self system consists of the core defense, the fantasy bond or self-parenting process, which includes both self-nurturing and self-punishing tendencies. Self-nurturing, self-soothing tendencies are manifested in seemingly friendly self-protective, and/or self-aggrandizing thoughts and addictive tendencies. Self-punishing tendencies are manifested in critical inner voices and self-defeating, self-destructive behaviors. The degree of defense is proportional to the degree of damage sustained while growing up.

The two systems, self and anti-self, develop independently; both are dynamic and continually evolve and change over time.

Identifying with the Aggressor

When parents are angry or emotionally unavailable, the child stops identifying with him or herself as the frightened, helpless victim and identifies instead with the angry or distant parent. This identification partly alleviates the child’s fear, yet it also leads to a split in the personality.

During especially frightening interactions with a parent, children tend to disconnect from themselves and cease to identify with themselves as the powerless child; instead they identify with the punishing or neglectful parent. In doing so, they incorporate the hostility being directed toward them as well as other emotions that the parent may be feeling at the time, such as guilt or fear. The child takes in a complete representation or internal image of the parent’s emotional state in the disturbing situation.

The reason a child incorporates the hostile aspects of the parent is that it is too threatening to see the danger as coming from the very person he or she is dependent upon for survival. Rather than acknowledge being at the mercy of an out-of-control or negligent parent, children instead see themselves as at fault, worthless, and “bad.” Rather than perceiving their parents as incapable of loving them, children see themselves as unlovable.

The nature and degree to which people become divided are largely determined by their childhood experiences. Some people who suffered more pain and deprivation growing up are more divided than others whose childhood was more nurturing. Our approach is focused on strengthening the real self and diminishing the influence of the anti self through the process of differentiation and voice therapy.