Working with the Subpersonalities – An Essential Step to Self and Soul Discovery (Part 1 of a 5-Part Series)


In our own self-discovery and soul work – and in the work we do with others – things come naturally and easily when we are grounded, truly present and in our wholeness. Which is to say, when we express those qualities that define the Self, the facets of human wholeness that are found in all cultures, and that are recurring themes in mythology, dreams, and the creative arts. When we act from the heart, for example, and model an uncompromised or unconditional love for others and the world we are accessing one facet of the Self. The problem, of course, is that we are all undone more often than we’d like to admit by our subpersonalities, the wounded or fragmented aspects of our psyches. Bill Plotkin describes it well in his path-finding book, Wild Mind:

“…one inevitable and heartrending feature of being human is that we do not              live every moment from or as the Self, no matter how mature, gifted, or lucky                   we may be…All too often we’re in a fragmented or wounded state –                 physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually.”    

In this post, we briefly introduce the subpersonalities, using Plotkin’s four cardinal directions as an organizational frame. Subsequent posts will examine each subpersonality in detail and highlight the ways in which we can heal these wounded aspects of ourselves to facilitate greater self and soul discovery. And as ever, we must bring compassion to this work; the subpersonalities are not “bad”; they have played an essential role in our lives in keeping us safe, especially in childhood. Failure to acknowledge them and work with them in a healthy, mature way as we get older has, however, stunted our ability to grow into healthy adulthood.

The subpersonalities of the North, frequently called “loyal soldiers”, try to keep us safe by encouraging us to act in such a way that we secure a “place of belonging” in the world. They do this by avoiding risk, by making us nonthreatening to others – especially authority figures, by making us useful or pleasing to others, or by urging us into unhealthy positions in which we exert immature power over others. If you think of your interactions with family members, or people with whom you work, it is often telling how pervasive the influence of the north subpersonalities can be in shaping the ways in which we show up for others.

The South subpersonalities, the “wounded children”, try to keep us safe by using immature, emotion-fueled strategies to get basic needs met. They encourage us to appear as if in need of rescue, or to be harmless and socially acceptable – to “fit in”. The south subpersonalities can also influence us to be coercive or aggressive, or arrogant or condescending. If you observe small children using emotion to draw attention to themselves and their needs, or “adults” use histrionics to get what they want, you are witnessing one expression of the south subpersonalities.

The East subpersonalities are the “escapists and the addicts” and they keep us safe through evasion. If you have ever “checked out” of a meeting, workshop, or counseling session – or perhaps even physically left – the east subpersonalities are active and are “helping” you avoid emotional engagement with a potentially challenging situation.

The subpersonalities of the West, the “shadow and shadow selves”, try to keep us safe by repressing (making unconscious) certain characteristics or desires that are unacceptable or incomprehensible to our Ego. Plotkin notes that the shadow can be either “negative” (what the Ego would consider morally beneath it) or “positive” (what the Ego would consider “above” it and out of reach).

While we never eliminate or grow out of our subpersonalities, we can mature to the point that they don’t hijack us quite so often and instead we live most often from a place of wholeness. Over the next 4 weeks we’ll explore each subpersonality in greater detail.

Our next “Wild Conversations” workshop, where we do experiential work on the subpersonalities and facets of wholeness, will be in Red Deer, Alberta on July 22. Visit to learn more and to register.

Written by Rob Abbott

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