Voice Dialogue – bringing wisdom and clarity

So …. who is running your life?

Who is running your life?

Who is running your life?

Hopefully you! But the question sometimes may need to be asked “Which part of you?”

Are you are experiencing an inner conflict, for example feeling as if you are being pushed in different directions?

Do you feel as if you’re not really being true to yourself, or somehow being less of who you want to be – a limited, safe version of you?

The more self aware we are, the more choice we have

Voice Dialogue, developed by Drs Hal and Sidra Stone,** is an empowering tool for awareness, healing and change, both personally and within relationships. It has its roots in Carl Jung’s wholistic approach to the human psyche (Dr Hal Stone is a Jungian Analyst). Jung says that we all have everything within us, but that the conscious mind that we think it running the show is only about 10% of the psyche. That’s the tip of the iceberg, whereas the other 90% is unconscious. This is increasingly born out by neuroscience which has thrown up new research about the way we actually make choices.

Many of our ‘choices’ are actually being made unconsciously.

So voice dialogue will:

  • Enable you to connect with parts of you that may be making decisions that create problems and stress in your life and relationships. You can come to understand why this is, and to heal what is going on within these parts of you. Then you are free to make choices that truly work for you as a whole person.
  • Expand your sense of personal power and connect with previously unaccessed qualities that will free up your self expression. This in turn opens up your ability to relate more authentically with others and act in new ways in your life.
  • Most powerfully also, voice dialogue will strengthen your connection with that deeper part of you, a wisdom that can bring clarity, awareness and an understanding of the bigger picture – thus giving you genuine choice and freedom to be true to yourself, rather than being run by the uneasiness of conflicting voices.

How does voice dialogue work?

Which parts of you are not getting a word in? How can you free this up and gain the wonderful benefits of expressing more of who you are?

What would open up for you if new or less developed parts of you became available in your life?

A voice dialogue session is a way to become experientially aware of parts of ourselves – or selves – which may be running our lives without our realising it.  We can first notice an aspect of the more conscious of these when we listen to what has been called self talk. Self talk is the thoughts that we ‘hear’ ourselves think.

The difference between simply noticing self talk and the awareness you can gain from voice dialogue work is profound, however.

Voice dialogue broadens and deepens your awareness and understanding of self talk. It gives you a direct experience of the self who is doing the talk! You become aware of its feelings, its perpective on your life, how it affects your body  – and most intrigung of all – you can gain information as to why its way of thinking, feeling and functioning has become a part of your personality. This often includes finding out the anxiety or unconscious decision that holds it in place – and how to relieve that very anxiety.

You don’t need to get rid of the self talk – you can try like anything, but that tends to push the thoughts and feelings under and they remain unresolved. And we remain uneasy, as a result. Rather, through dialoguing with the self you can gain an understanding which alters your whole perspective and helps you handle the feelings in a calmer, self-supporting and unafraid way. And other ways of being can then open up naturally.

How a session tends to go

In practice, you begin seated in a central position which we call the aware ego. There we discuss the issue on your mind and the part (or parts) of yourself which you’d like to connect with. You then move physically to one side,and tune into that part – perhaps beginning with recalling its familiar self talk. Then the facilitator begins to have a quite normal-sounding dialogue with that part of you, asking about the part it plays in your life. We usually begin with a primary self (see below) as these are most familiar and obvious aspects of how we function in life. E.g. the achiever self, who has so much to get done.

It’s as simple as that, but the process opens up a line of communication with subconscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings that is not normally available to us. After dialoguing with the first part, you return to the aware ego place and consciously separate from that other part.

It usually feels quite different to be back in the neutral aware space. Your body is likely to feel different, for example. This awareness is important, as it will help you in future to notice more quickly when a self has its grip on you, so to speak. We then discuss the differences, and what you experienced and learnt.

Then you may go to a self who sees the world in another way and find out what it has to say. You may access a part of you which you were completely unaware of, but which can contribute significantly to your life. For example, access qualities which you had admired in others but thought you lacked. After dialoguing with another self, you again return to the aware ego place, so as to discuss, explore, make sense of and begin to put into practical use, what you have discovered about yourself.

As a practitioner, I am constantly amazed at the insight and practical wisdom that we gain from dialoguing with a self.

The process naturally brings with it an opportunity for more consciousness and choice in our actions, our lives and our relationships. We may gain increased freedom from habits we thought of as ‘that’s just the way I am’. This  simultaneously opens us up to previously unavailable aspects of ourselves, with their creativity, richness and depth which can thereafter be given expression if we so wish. And we develop our ability to be mindful in our lives, to witness thoughts and feelings without being so immersed in them,

Other selves that also play their part in the situation you are exploring may also come into awareness in a session and be dialogued with. Each part has a very distinctive energy and is a mine of information, seeing the world from its own perspective. Thus layers of self awareness and feeling come into consciousness to inform the situation.
At different times very different selves will make their presence felt and you begin to access previously unknown sources of energy, insight and inspiration which you can then use in your daily life and decision making.

Primary selves

Primary selves are usually who we actually think we are. For example, ‘I like to be reliable in my life, and I try to be  thoughtful in my interaction with others’. These are actually selves: ways of being, feeling and seeing the world, which  come into being at an early age as a way of surviving and making safe our early experience. Each self has its unique perspective and rules about how you should behave. For example, if someone has a volatile or emotionally absent parent they might develop a strong pleaser who becomes finely tuned to the parent’s various states and develops a ‘pleasing’ way of being to try and control them and win their approval by being, for example, helpful, nice to people, cute or responsible.

Along the way, we develop an inner critic who criticises us when we don’t behave according to the rules of our primary selves. Or even when we think thoughts that go against these rules (or dream about breaking them…….)!

As children we develop necessary ways of protecing our vulnerability. Later, these ways tend to limit us in our self expression, fullfilment and connection with others.

The person may then eventually behave this way automatically in most situations, unaware of their unconscious or disowned selves and the personal needs which are being suppressed – perhaps the need to be personally ambitious, mature and decisive, or free and playful.
A critical parent on the other hand may evoke a highly driven perfectionist in the child as a primary self, hiding a disowned anxious, fearful or insecure vulnerable child. The primary self system is there, and remains there, to protect us from feelings of vulnerability or other energies which it feels may disrupt our lives or cause problems – according to its perspective.

Voice dialogue is an effective way to access these selves, connect with their energy and understand the part they play as patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour. The awareness gained helps us take more control over our lives and choices and can also help to heal unresolved hurt because we (our inner selves) feel more connected with and ‘heard’.

Another common self is what Hal and Sidra Stone call the pusher. This is the part that always has a long list of things to do, a large pile of must-be-read books on the bedside table and can run our day relentlessly from the moment our eyes open. If words like ‘must’, ‘got to’, ‘have to’ dominate your thoughts, there is a good chance the pusher is in charge and will override considerations like health, rest, sleep, relationships and fun. When this happens  we feel we have no choice.
Although this is a common pattern, each person will have his or her own  experience and own story to be explored – his or her own path towards consciousness and more aware decision making. There are many selves, each unique, and each experienced uniquely by each person. Voice dialogue sessions can give you the space and freedom to make decisions from a deeper and wiser place that acknowledges the bigger picture and embraces all your needs.

Artemis, Greek goddess of hunting, woodlands and the moon

Artemis, Greek goddess of hunting, woodlands and the moon

Each self is simply a part of who we are and is neither good nor bad. We all need the Pusher to move us forward and get things done and the Perfectionist to do them really well. Our primary selves do a really good job of organising and maintaining our lives. But if we are being run by that energy because we are identified with it, we may have a very unbalanced life and are likely to pay for that sooner or later in terms of health, happiness or wellbeing.  Not only that, but we will have less access to genunine intimacy because connection with the vulnerable child is the key to this.
Similarly, other selves like our playful, creative, sexual or compassionate parts will have been forced to take a back seat and may even be completely disowned – we don’t even know they are there. Therefore we may be living as if with blinkers on, as a very limited version of who we could be and placing unreasonable demands on ourselves which also affects those close to us.

A real life example

For Mark* the main reason for the Pusher’s power in his life was a feeling of huge guilt for a relation’s death when he was a young child. He actually had no part in the death, but had felt responsible from a young age and had been trying to make up for it ever since, being driven to be impossibly accomplished, to be ‘good’ instead of ‘bad.’ His Perfectionist was another common Primary Self.

Is there a part of you that finds it hard to get heard?

Is there a part of you that finds it hard to get heard? We usually need to learn to listen to the voices and feelings of our inner selves first, before we can expect others to hear and respect them.

With the combined energies of his Inner Critic, Perfectionist  and his ethical self  at work, Mark continually beat himself up, feeling inadequate, false and ‘bad’, despite the fact that most people who knew him loved him and admired him for his kindness, courage, dedication to others and his highly skilled work.

The movement toward a more compassionate and reasonable relationship with himself could begin with being able to dis-identify from these strong inner voices.

* Details changed to maintain confidentiality

 

The Consciousness Process


Unique to Hal and Sidra Stone’s work is the distinction of the aware ego. They describe consciousness as an ongoing process which asks a constant willingness and openness and has three levels:

awareness, which is the neutral witness position from which we can observe our feelings, thoughts and experiences;

the experience of the different selves, which allows us to connect with the feeling, intensity and energy of each self – thus allowing a real relationship with life;

and the aware ego – a process in itself – which takes information provided by our experience, evaluates it and incorporates it in order for us to grow. The aware ego can also hold the tension between opposite and different selves so we can learn to accept them and live with them and make more effective and life-enhancing choices.

 

Voice dialogue and children

Although for developmental reasons voice dialogue is usually only used with adults, psychosynthesis has been adapted for use with children and I find it very effective and freeing for them, especially for understanding and handling feelings and emotions, making wise decisions and dealing with internal criticism ( as the voice of the inner critic).

Put very simply, psychosynthesis sees each person as being a spiritual Self who has a body, thoughts and feelings, but is not only a body, thoughts and feelings. The point of identity is with the inner Self, and children can easily relate to this as the Wise Part within them. This frees them to find ways to express other parts of themselves safely (e.g. angry, sad, left out, scared, worried) with a caring and non-judgmental adult. The adult’s job is to have it be ok for the child to have all those feelings, to know that they are normal, to not be afraid of them, to express them harmlessly and manageably (e.g. by drawing, running, moving, playing). The child can then let their own wise part inside think of helpful ways to deal with the situation and to take care of themselves, reach their goals, get the right kind of help etc.

 

Who sinks your boat?

Do you have someone who just drives you mad?

Or the same issue in a relationship that comes up over and over and over – regardless of how much you talk about it?

Voice dialogue can shed a light on why this keeps happening – and how to change it! It can also help you become aware of bonding patterns – unconscious ways of being in relationship with others which we can get locked into, not realising that these can be the real source of conflicts.

Click here for articles about relationships and bonding patterns

** For more information and resources about voice dialogue, bonding patterns, and the psychology of selves go to Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone’s website www.voicedialogueinternational.com/readingroom