This article was inspired by the book by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., “Many
Minds, One Self”.
Multiplicity and non-uniformity – these words are at the heart of the Internal
Family Systems (IFS). Why? Well, the paradigm of the multiple mind is the
basis for this approach – the perspective according to which the mind is
comprised of different parts, in other words, contains an inner family of sub-
personalities. To understand this perspective on our own internal world, we
will begin with presenting the out-dated but still present in our culture
approach – the mono-mind paradigm – according to which our mind is
unitary and indivisible.
• In our society, multiple personality is often regarded as a disorder, as
something abnormal. It is associated with mental illness, e.g. split personality
• People suffering from these diseases have the same parts of personality as
everyone else, but due to, for example, trauma in their younger years, these
parts had to take up extreme roles and got disconnected from the Self.
• The adoption of a one-dimensional paradigm may bring a chain of negative
consequences: let’s say, a part affects us in a destructive manner and we begin
to take this part for our entire personality or for a specific character flaw.
Then, not only that we are not able to deal with that single part of ourselves,
but we also think of ourselves as a whole as somehow spoiled or defective.
• In the result, shame, guilt, anger or fear. These feelings are all internal alarm
signals which can make us strip ourselves of authenticity and try to hide our
weaknesses from others behind masks of perfection.
• Believing in the mono-mind paradigm makes us fear or even hate ourselves
as a whole, although it started with a small particle of our true Self. We get
stuck in an internal conflict, and our self-esteem drops drastically or becomes
• Usually, it shows by saying to oneself: “I am damaged / sick/ insufficient / not
good enough”. Such generalizations not only strip us of any control over our
inner part, but also make us perceive ourselves as people with a defective
mind. Most psychotherapeutic trends assume the mono-mind paradigm, and
solutions they offer very often foster this way of thinking. Paradoxically, in
many situations, it can very much hinder therapeutic work.
Multiplicity of mind
• Ancient wonderful thinkers – Socrates and Plato – pondered about the non-
uniformity of mind and claimed that the mind is at least dual.
• Until the beginning of 18th century, taking control by one part over the whole
personality was explained on the phenomenon of demonic possession. Anton
Mesmer, the modern father of hypnosis, proved that he was able, with the use
of scientific methods, to obtain the same effects with “possessed” people as an
exorcist. It was a turning point: from that moment on, the internal world
ceased to be exclusively associated with religion, and was incorporated in the
domain of medicine and science. Richard Schwartz summed up this
phenomenon as follows: “Personification was moved out of the church and
thrown into the house of mad men.”
• The idea of multiple personalities spread far before the late twentieth
century, as it was commonly believed. Until the 1840s, many cases of
disorders in this area were described, and until 1880s it was one of the topics
most frequently discussed in philosophy and psychiatry in Europe and
• A little later, between 1890 and 1910, many different models of multiple
personalities were created. Some people dismissed the idea that it a natural
state of mind, instead, perceived it as an effect of trauma, which cuts the
personality into pieces, or divides it into parts. However, the view that this is a
completely natural phenomenon was quite popular, too.
• When World War II broke out, the subject of multiple personalities was
forgotten and forced out by other psychological streams for more than half a
• The notion of multidimensional mind can be traced also in the Freudian
model of the psyche, which, according to him, consists of id, ego and
superego. He treated these parts, however, more as primitive forces of the
subconscious rather than components of personality. Freud’s theory of
psychoanalysis that we are driven by instinctive, unconscious impulses again
moved the world of psychotherapy away from acknowledging the multiplicity
of mind, the therapists lost their attitude of curiosity as well as the very desire
to interpret and look from the expert perspective.
• Jung recognized the multiple nature of our mind early in his career. He once
wrote that “the so-called unity of consciousness is an illusion. It is really a
wish-dream. We like to think that we are one; but we are not, most decidedly
• After parting with Freud, Jung spent several years experiencing a “creative
illness”, during which he came to many internal discoveries but, at the same
time, seemed to be close to madness. Jung talked with his parts and
discovered that in his psyche there are things that are not determined by him
but have their own lives. He considered it an autonomous phenomenon that we can only observe. He described these thoughts only not so long before his
death, not having talked about them earlier because he was afraid to lose his
reputation as a scientist.
• The first theoretician, who downrightly stated that multiplicity is a natural
state of mind and that the existence of subpersonalities is valuable, not at all
pathological, was Assagioli. An Italian psychiatrist, founder of
psychosynthesis and Freud’s follower who parted with his master 3 years
earlier than Jung. He was interested in esoteric and transpersonal
experiences. He spoke a lot about the disidentification from subpersonality,
however, he didn’t put forward any methods for working with inner parts, nor
did he write much about the very subpersonalities.
• In the 1960s, Fritz Perls developed Gestalt therapy, which also took into
account the multiplicity of personality. Perls’ technique of working with
subpersonalities drew on psychodrama (developed by Jacob Moreno in the
1920s). Each person in the therapeutic group chose another person, who was
to become one of his/her sub-personalities, and then interacted with that
• Perls also borrowed Moreno’s empty chair technique, in which the person
imagines the specific inner part sitting in the empty chair and then starts to
play its role. He also spoke about the common polarization between two
subpersonalities: “topdog” (harsh and critical) and “underdog” (feeling
embarrassed or guilty).
• Perls didn’t write subpersonality theory but the popularity of Gestalt therapy
has renewed interest in this topic, and the empty chair technique inspired
others to experiment with these phenomena.
• “Ego-state therapy” is an approach of working with subpersonalities with the
use of hypnosis. It was created by Paul Federn and developed by John and
Helen Watkins. The term “ego states” referred to a set of cognitive schemes
rather than inner parts having their own personality. In practice, however, the
very technique treated ego states more like parts with their own personality.
• Eric Berne was another psychiatrist who contributed to the development of
the multi-dimensional paradigm. It was in the 1960s that he developed the
theory of transactional analysis, which considered three groups of ego states:
Parent, Child, Adult. Berne believed that our emotional states result from the
inner dialogue between these parts. Berne’s theory was most popular the
1960s and 1970s.
• From the early 1980s, the subject of inner child became more and more
popular. It was brought up for the first time in the book Your Inner Child of the
Past (1962) and in the 1980s spread by the Adult Children of Alcoholics
movement. Many therapists addressed this topic and most of them referred to
the 12 Steps of ACoA program. It was generally acknowledged that different
forms of addiction have their source in the wounded inner child. John
Bradshaw was the one who brought the notion of inner child into vogue, particularly through his books, including Homecoming, which became No. 1
Bestseller according to The New York Times.
• In the 1950s, there were many cases of the so called Multiple Personality
Disorder (MPD). Moreover, MPD was the main subject of many popular films
and best-selling books at that time. As a consequence of MPD’s popularity, the
multiplicity of personality was again treated as a pathology.
• The name of the disease later changed to DID (dissociative identity disorder).
The existence of multiple personalities within one person was interpreted as a
symptom of a mental illness, so professional therapists were reluctant to
touch upon it when there was any sign of an inner part’s activity while
working with the client. They were afraid that working with parts would lead
to a further dissociation of patient’s personality. Nowadays, it is known that
this can happen only when the therapist enters the internal system without
respecting parts that protect it.
• In 1986, a movement called Hearing Voices Movement was established in the
Netherlands, stating that hearing voices is a normal phenomenon.
Interestingly, in one of the studies on the people who lost someone close, it
turned out that 13% out of the group of 300 heard the dead close one’s voice for
some time after their death.