Embracing All Our Selves
Hal Stone, PhD and Sidra Stone, PhD


We met one another in the early seventies and, from the very beginning, our personal lives and our professional lives have been inextricably intertwined. Hal had been a Jungian analyst, committed to the individuation process. He had enjoyed teaching and consulting from his earliest years. Sidra had been trained in a more eclectic fashion with an emphasis upon some of the more practical aspects of psychology such as py work. When we came together, we began a period of exploration and innovation that has continued ever since.

Our relationship has been a teacher for both of us from our first contacts with one another. We decided at the outset that we wanted to open ourselves completely to the relationship, to let it lead us where it would. We tried to be as honest as we could and to explore what was really happening both intrapsychically and interpersonally rather than what we wished were happening. This commitment has led to some very exciting discoveries as well as to some rather “dicey” moments. The basic ideas in the following article are the outgrowth of this joint personal exploration.

Since Voice Dialogue and its accompanying theoretical framework have evolved out of our relationship and out of love and acceptance, it is a work that is basically non-judgmental and non-pathological in its approach to the human psyche. It seeks to discover what is rather than what is wrong. It is committed to the belief that there is no correct way of conducting one’s life, there is just the process of life, itself.

In our own clinical work, we have both continued to use a wide range of therapeutic and teaching modalities in addition to Voice Dialogue. We never saw Voice Dialogue as a therapeutic system that must stand alone or conflict with any other. It seemed to us that a practitioner of any form of therapy, healing or consciousness work could use Voice Dialogue in his or her system. Furthermore, it became clear that non-therapists could learn the dialogue process as well. Couples could be trained in the work and it would serve to enhance their relationship. One of our aims has been to establish as clearly as we could the lines between Voice Dialogue training and psychotherapy.

In our travels around the world, and as this work has become better known, we have taken a very strong position on these issues. We have taken the position that Voice Dialogue is not a therapeutic system in and of itself but belongs to all systems as an effective tool for enhancing consciousness and objectifying the many selves that inhabit the psyche. When an individual needs therapy, he or she must see a therapist and should not get locked into Voice Dialogue as a substitute for therapy. There is no substitute for good psychotherapy when this is required. In the hands of a competent psychotherapist, however, Voice Dialogue becomes a particularly effective and powerful tool.

Despite a good deal of encouragement from many of those whom we have trained in our methods, we have consistently refused to institute any kind of formal certification training in regard to Voice Dialogue. We see the facilitator as a creative musician, if you will, and Voice Dialogue as the instrument that is to be used. It is clear to us that any kind of certification process would effectively kill the spirit of this work. In this way, we have found that the Voice Dialogue process has been used quite imaginatively and innovatively not only by psychotherapists of widely differing backgrounds, but in areas as far afield as business consultation, astrological analyses and sculpting. We like to think of this work as belonging to everyone, as our gift to the seekers of the world.

Hal Stone, Ph.D.                 Sidra Stone, Ph.D              April, 1997.


The consciousness process as it relates to the complexity of the human psyche and its many disparate facets has always been a source of fascination to us. During the early seventies we were struck by the realization that our psyches contained many individual selves, each with its own way of perceiving the world, each with its own personal history, physical characteristics, emotional and physical reactions, and opinions on how we should run our lives. Since then, we have spent much of our time, both professional and personal, in studying these selves.

Because of this interest, we have been delighted to note that one of the areas of psychotherapy receiving increasing attention today is the phenomenon of multiple personalities. Not only are multiple personalities being studied in terms of their theoretical implications and the appropriate therapeutic interventions, but there is also a growing literature of brain research that seems to demonstrate the existance of physiological correlates of these psychological entities in all of us.

Up until now, the multiple personality has been seen only in terms of its pathological implications. What we have discovered in the course of our personal and professional life is that we are all made up of multiple personalities — all of us with no exceptions! The essential difference between ourselves and an individual clinically diagnosed as being a multiple personality is that we have an operating ego of some sort that can observe and reflect on the fact that we are not a single psycholgical entity, but rather, as Walt Whitman would say, we contain multitudes. That is the only difference. We are, each of us, inhabited by an inner family of selves no less real than the outer family of individuals into which we were born.


The discovery of the reality of these inner selves was quite dramatic for the two of us. Our relationship has always been one in which we spent a good deal of time doing personal work with one another. In one of our very early work sessions, Hal asked to speak to Sidra’s vulnerability in what he thought would be a Gestalt mode. What emerged, however, was a very little girl, probably a year to a year and a half in age. We realized, much to our amazement, that this child was quite real. She was a total surprise to both of us. She was totally different from Sidra who, at that time, was a pretty rational Eastern establishment type of lady. She looked different from the way Sidra usually looked, and she saw Sidra’s life quite differently from the way in which Sidra usually saw it. At first, as a matter of fact, she did not talk at all, but remained silent. She thought her thoughts to herself and sometimes she wept. It was only later that she began to speak to us. We had expected something a bit more theoretical. Neither of us could quite believe what had happened.

In subsequent work sessions with one another, the same kind of Vulnerable Child emerged in Hal. We then began to experiment with other selves. We explored the Inner Critic and Pusher. We talked to each other’s Pleaser and Mother and Father Voice. We had never truly experienced the reality of these energies before. With all the dream work and visual work and Gestalt work that we had both done, why had these selves never been real to us? We began to research the literature and found very few references to the reality of these parts. Maurice Nicoll, a follower of Gurdieff and Ouspensky, described the reality of the parts in the first volume of his Psychological Commentaries. 1 Nicoll spoke of observing the selves with a kind of analytical precision. Yet it was clear to us that even the Gurdjieff system, over time, had become too analytical and had lost the awareness that these parts were quite real.

In the early years of our work together, there was very little theory and a great deal of practice. We worked in many different ways with one another as we explored these selves. Gradually, we evolved a new way of working with these selves which we named Voice Dialogue. This method is described in the last section of this chapter. A more thorough discussion can be found in our book, Embracing Our Selves, published by Nataraj Publications in Corte Madera, California.

Once the basic form of Voice Dialogue was established, we began our investigations of these selves in earnest. When we used Voice Dialogue, we had the “subject” move over to a different place whenever we talked to, or “facilitated” a different voice or self, very much as in the Gestalt mode. There were important differences, however. If, in the facilitation process, we related to each new self as a real person who was totally alive and wished to be heard, then the way that self emerged was qualitatively different from the kind of self that emerged if our perception was that the self was “just a part” and “not real.” We cannot emphasize enough how critical this point is. If you are facilitating a self in someone that is associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sensuality, what you will constellate in the subject will be a function of how real that part is for you. If you know about archetypal energies and the reality of Aphrodite, then you can help to induct the energy of Aphrodite. If you know the reality of the Pusher, then you will constellate the Pusher. If you are working with a Killer then what you get will depend on your relationship to your own inner killer and how real this is for you.

There was another subtle quality that began to emerge in our work that was different from what we had done before. We did not try to change the parts or to get them to become friendly with one another. When we did, we found that they reacted just like people. They did not like to be manipulated and, as a matter of fact, they were more sensitive to manipulation or disapproval that most individuals seemed to be. So we decided that a Pusher was entitled to be a Pusher and could do its level best to get us to work all the time. Conversely, the Beach Bum, was entitled to be a Beach Bum. The Power Voice had a right to be just the way it was and the Vulnerable Child on the other side had a right to be the way it was. We began to work more and more with opposites, helping them to clarify their viewpoints, always trying to balance the different energies, but never trying to change them.

We did not have opposites try to talk to each other because we found that the purpose of having the parts talk to one another was usually to help effect some kind of reconciliation through change and accomodation. Instead, we allowed each self to remain true to itself. There is nothing inherently wrong with having two different selves talk to each other, however, so long as the autonomy of each self is respected and the therapist’s underlying motivation is not reconciliation.

We showed the same respect to each self that we would show to a person. We allowed each self to grow and to change at its own rate and in its own way. Trying to get opposites reconciled seemed to us to be a way of trying to control peoples’ lives, a way of controlling the therapy. We became aware of the tension created in us when we had to live with the reality of opposites in another person. We began to see how our need to reconcile opposites and thus solve problems for others was a function of our own inability to live with the tension of these opposites in ourselves.

The Jungian framework provided yet another dimension to this concept of allowing the opposites to remain as opposites. Let us say, for example, that we are working with two selves that would be related to the archetypal figures of Apollo and Dionysius, two irrevocably different energy systems. Apollo was the Greek god of the mind, clarity, organization, and pure thought and Dionysius was the god of expression, ecstasy and release. In the ancient holy city of Delphi, both gods were worshipped, but worshipped separately. Each had his own shrine and each had his own time of the year for worship. Apollo’s were the summer months and Dionysius, the winter ones. Thus, we can see the respect accorded to opposing energies on an archetypal level. The gods and goddesses of mythology are simply the projected images of our own inner selves.

As we continued to work in this way, we began to see the psyche as a vast array of energy patterns manifesting in a variety of different ways. These different energy patterns could express themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, imaginally, or through the direct experience of energy. We saw that we needed to become aware of all of these different energies/selves and that we also need to experience them. They each wished to be honored, very much as the gods and goddesses in the tales of ancient Greece. Each new part that we met and spent time with added a new color to the psychic palette of the individual.

How, then, was one to hold the tension of these irreconcilable opposites? To do so, one needed a new kind of ego, one that we named an “Aware Ego”, an ego that was always in the process of becoming more aware and one that was able to experience a greater and greater variety of these selves or energies. We began to see with increasing clarity that what most people refer to as an “ego” is, in fact, a cluster of dominant or primary selves. These selves represent the traditional ways of being and operating in the world that have characterized an individual over time. Until the work is done that separates one’s ego from these primary selves, the Aware Ego does not yet exist. The Aware Ego is born out of the separation from the

We continued to use Voice Dialogue, along with other approaches, to explore ourselves. Our primary objective was the maintainance of the vitality of our own relationship. We also used it in our clinical work with clients. As a result of these explorations, we began to formulate new ideas about the selves and how they operate in our lives and we developed much of the theoretical material that now underlies our work. We were particularly curious about why a relationship would shift from a place of the deepest love to total negativity in the space of seconds. In looking for an answer to this, we examined the interactions of the different selves in relationship. We looked at our relationship at first and, later, we looked at the relationships of a multitude of clients. It was out of this exploration that we developed our way of thinking about bonding patterns and how they affect relational issues. This article is too short to allow time for a complete discussion of bonding patterns in relationship, but let us look now at some of the basic concepts underlying our work. A more complete discussion can be found in our book — “Embracing Each Other” published by Nataraj.


The key issue in thinking about the development of personality is the understanding of vulnerability and the pivotal role that it plays. We are all born totally vulnerable and in our early months and years of life, we must be taken care of by other people. Our very lives depend upon this. We must begin to develop a personality that will protect this vulnerability. This vulnerability remains as the Vulnerable Child that operates deep within each of us for the remainder of our lives.

The cornerstone of this personality, the core of our Operating Ego, and the first selves to develop, are a group of primary selves that serve to protect this child from pain and to control our behavior in such a way that we can avoid pain and begin to reach our goals. This Protector/Controller group of primary selves emerges very early in our lives. It looks about, notices what behavior is rewarded and what is punished, it figures out the rules of the world around us so that this world is predictable and makes sense, and it sets up an appropriate code of behavior for our specific environment. These primary selves are constantly on the lookout for more information and, when they are functioning appropriately, they will change the rules to accomodate any new input. These primary selves explain our world and ourselves to us and provide us with the basic frame of reference within which we will view our surroundings. It helps to keep life coherent, and it is basically rational in nature. Let us see what this might look like for the developing child.

Alicia is lying in her crib. She is six months old. Her mother and father are standing over her; they are gurgling and cooing and she is gurgling and cooing right back. Sometimes, however, she does not feel like gurgling and cooing. Her Protector/Controller system of selves notices a change in them when she stops being happy. Her primary self system begins to come into operation at this time and it lets her know that she needs to gurgle and coo, that they like this and expect this. Her feelings are less important in the long run than their feelings and they clearly expect something of her. So the gurgling and cooing becomes a kind of overriding behavior, built on top of her natural inclinations to gurgle and coo. This voice that starts to talk to her and guide her is the beginning of what we refer to as the “Operating Ego.” When most peope refer to the ego, they are actually talking about the operating ego. By definition, the operating ego is the group of selves that define our personality, how we operate in the world and how the world perceives us. Our initial primary self is already supporting the development of another sub-personality here, and that is the Pleaser Self. This Pleaser usually gets started quite early for most of us generally becomes a significant part of the primary self system.

Johnny is two years old. His father is a very physical man and he is swinging Johnny around the room holding him by his arms. Johnny is not a physical child and this behavior frightens him. His Protector system says to him — ” Now look – this man likes swinging kids around – maybe he thinks he’s Tarzan – whatever the case, you’ll do better to enjoy it, to go along with it. He’ll be happier. If he’s happy, then you’re safe. You can’t be hurt. If you’re unhappy there will be ridicule and criticism. Who needs it?” The Protector/Controller helps Johnny to develop a Brave Young Man self. Needless to say, we are being a bit humorous in our presentation, and we hope it is obvious that the Protector/Controller self system of a two year old would not speak in exactly this way. What we wish to convey is the general sense of how this Protector/Controller and the dominant selves of the Operating Ego evolve within each of us.

As time moves on, other parts of the personality develop, each contributing its own flavor to the Operating Ego. A Pusher may develop to make sure we get done what has to be done, and more besides. If it pushes us hard enough, then we will be so successful that no one can criticize us or attack us. A Money Self may develop because if we have money we are safer and less dependent upon others. A Pleaser develops, as we have seen, that makes sure we are nice to people and please them. Our basic protective system assumes that if we are nice to people, they must be nice to us and this is a way of keeping ourselves safe in the world.

Along with a Pleaser might be a Loving Self. After all, if we are loving then we are loved in return and the child is happy. Each of these Selves develops in relationship to, and under the aegis of, the original voices that emerge to protect and control and guide our behavior. These original selves create the rules that determine how we live or lives for a long time into the future, sometimes forever.

In other instances, at a later time in life, a competing primary self may emerge, a rebel, who declares war against all rules both outside and inside. In this case we have two primary selves inside constantly at war with each other.

Together this combination of selves comprise what is known as the Primary Self system or the Operating Ego. It is this Primary Self system that provides us with the basic conception of who we are in the world, and, generally speaking, it also determines how we are perceived by others.


We can see, then, that what is generally seen as the ego, or as one’s personality, is basically the Protector/Controller selves and its friends. The job of the ego, as always, is to provide an executive function for the psyche. It needs to make choices, like a good CEO, to drive our psychological car, to bring order to the conflicting parts of the psyche. If the ego is the in fact the primary self system. the choices that we think we are making in life come from the consciousness and basic psychology of these particular selves. This is why people are so convinced of the rightness of what they feel and think. They are living in an identification with the primary self system and this is their reality.

Whatever the value structure of these “owned” Primary Selves, there are contrasting selves of equal and opposite energy that are disowned (or repressed. If a strong Pusher develops in order to have John be successful in the world, then the part of John that does not like to work, the part of him likes to play or just to “be” will be disowned.

The most common personality developed in our culture is one in which there are strong Power Selves and where vulnerability has been totally or largely disowned. In this situation, the Primary Selves allow an individual to operate in the world with authority and power. In this way, one is safe and less likely to be hurt or victimized. The selves that lose out in this process are, of course, ones that have to do with vulnerability, sensitivity, shyness, “beingness” and the expression of real feelings and emotions. These are the selves that are seen as subversive and possibly even dangerous by the more powerful Primary Selves. Judgment towards others always comes from our primary self system.

Jane is identified with her Pleasing Mother self. She is always available to people and doing things for people and never gives priority to her own needs. Her Selfish self and her Vulnerable Child are both disowned. How is Jane to ever know this? Her concept of her personality or ego is, of course, this Pleasing Mother self. She would not call her behavior by that name. She would just say that this is just who she is, that she has always been this way. It is not a problem for her. It is true that she gets migraine headaches and is not sleeping well at night, but since her Primary Selves determine her perceptions of her world, she would not connect these difficulties to the way in which she behaves in the world. These Primary Selves are the window or the glasses through which each of us sees the world. They represent our ego reality until we do the work that separates us from this limited reality and helps us to give birth to a new Aware Ego. The following technique can help us to discover the fact that we are, indeed, identified with a group of Primary Selves and can help us to determine what, exactly, they are.

We begin by searching for our disowned selves, the ones that represent values that oppose those of our primary selves. This is relatively easy. Just take a moment and ask yourself the following questions. Whom is it in your life that you cannot stand? Whom do you hate? Whom do you judge? What political figure pushes your buttons? If you can discover the quality that you hate, judge and cannot stand in another person, then you have the essential ingredient of one of your disowned selves. Conversely, whom or what do you overvalue? Who is so wonderful that you are a mere nothing in comparison? Is there somebody you would like to resemble, if only it were possible?

If you can discover and isolate the quality or qualities that you overvalue, then, too, you have a disowned self or selves. Let us see how this process works.

George is a very successful trial lawyer. He has the reputation of being tough but fair. He hates “wimps”. A “wimp” is someone who is weak and vulnerable and who cannot take care of himself or herself. A wimp cries a lot and always seems to be victimized by the world. Unfortunately, George’s daughter fulfills all these requirements. George is very hooked into her because she suffers terribly at school and with her friends. Everyone seems to take advantage of her. In his growing years, George had parents who were very strict with him, especially his father. George’s Primary Selves were very much identified with power to make up a powerful Operating Ego. These included a Pusher, a Money Maker, an Ambitious self, a Perfectionist, a Controlling Father self, and a very strong Power Broker. Vulnerablity, weakness of any kind, shyness, all became an anathema to these Primary Selves.

Every disowned self returns to haunt us in our lives over and over again. Whatever we disown, life brings to us in relationshhip. As we have said in our “Embracing Our Selves” book, every disowned self becomes one of God’s little heat seeking missiles. We marry our disowned selves or we hate the people that are in our lives that carry them. Our children often live them out or they become our business partners or our enemies or all combinations of the above. George’s daughter lives out all his disowned material. Until George is able to separate his Aware Ego from his Primary Selves, he will never be able to learn to honor the selves on the other side and, perhaps in that process, free his daughter from her role as the family victim.

We feel that these disowned selves present each of us with an unparalleled opportunity to learn and to grow. We must, however, stand back from the people in our lives that cause us pain and stress and recognize them as teachers that are essential for our own personal development. The greater the hatred and judgment, the more powerful is the disowned self operating within us. George’s daughter provides him with a map to his disowned selves and, through these, a recognition of his primary selves and the possibility of developing an Aware Ego.

Jane hates powerful dominating women. She sees herself as being more loving, spiritual and compassionate. Her system of Primary Selves developed as a reaction formation against a forceful and dominating mother. Now she hates aggressive, dominating women. We may be sure that life will bring her a series of aggressive dominating women for her to fight with and suffer over until she learns the lessons of disowned selves. Her best friend is such a person. Jane says, “I can’t understand why I’m friends with her. We’re so opposite. Most of the time I don’t know if I’m loving her or hating her!” On the other side we have her oldest daughter, a willful, dominating young lady who, at the age of five, is already creating for Jane a stormy household, the opposite of what she always wanted in her own family.

Embracing and honoring a disowned self does not mean that one needs to become that self. It simply means that one must disengage from the Primary Self system and learn to honor the selves on the other side. It is not necessary to try to change one’s behavior or to become somebody different. One need simply say something like, “Look, I recognize you. You terrify me and I cannot let you take over my life, but I do know that you are there and I will be aware of you and I will listen to your words. I will feel your feelings and I will honor you as best I can.”

When disowned selves first come out, they are often absolute terrors. Once they are out, however, we find that what they want is to be acknowledged, to be honored, to be listened to and taken seriously, just in the same way that you and I need to be taken seriously.

Here, of course, is crux of the matter. These selves, as we have said from the beginning, are real people. They inhabit our bodies, but they are real people. When they are ignored, they get nasty and they become vindictive towards us. The longer and deeper that they are imprisoned, the crazier they tend to become so when they finally emerge, it is often in a very primitive form, “proving” for the Primary Selves that they were properly disowned in the first place!

If one has been forced to disown natural instinctual energies as most of us have, these energies build up power in the unconscious and become frightening, perhaps even destructive. In this disowned state, they may develop unnatural power over us. They become our hated enemies. In their extreme forms, we sometimes refer to them as “daemonic.”

A Protestant minister has disowned his sexuality over many years. In the course of his therapy, he dreams that he is trying to wrestle a drunk penis into a cold shower. His sexuality was not drunk to begin with. It was just sexuality. Disowned over time, the sexuality accrued greater and greater energy and became more and more difficult to control. It picked up the power of the Dionysian archetype and now it is a drunk penis and he is having great difficulty wrestling it into the cold shower. In a few years, if nothing were to change, we can probably assume that it would no longer be manageable and then there might well be a more serious consequence of this disowning process.

Does this mean that our minister has to live out his sexuality in the world? Not necessarily so. It means that he has in him feelings and a voice that wishes to express those feelings. It means he has phantasies about sexuality, yearnings about sexuality. He must separate the Aware Ego from the Primary Self System and begin to embrace both sides. He has to learn to live with his Monk and with Dionysius. He must learn to honor both selves and what they represent. What he will actually do to honor these energies is his to decide. We cannot tell him what to do. Hopefully, he will have an Aware Ego making this decision for him. As therapists, we see our job as facilitating the energies and helping to clarify the nature of these conflicts. Honoring the selves does not mean letting them take over one’s life. If someone is very constricted and suddenly discovers the freer, more flowing selves, our job as therapists is not to support the new flowing selves against the constriction of the more traditional selves. All this would do is substitute one extreme for the other. Both sides have a right to live, and we see our job as enabling people to embrace these opposites by helping them to learn how to hold the tension of these opposing forces.

None of us can be saved from the reality of our disowned selves. There is nothing pathological in this situation. Each of us at this moment is identified with a Primary Self system and each of us has a disowned or less-owned self system that is operating. No amount of psychological work can save us from this condition. The unconscious is unconscious! We know what we know and we do not know what we do not know. Wisdom is, at least in part, the knowledge of this reality. And what a relief we can experience if we truly accept this!


In every relationship there is a dance between the Primary and Disowned Selves. The understanding of this dance is critical to understanding the kind of parent/child bonding patterns that are with us constantly in relationship. These bonding patterns occur between the parental self of one partner and the child self of the other. Let us look at how this operates.

George and Sue have been married for three years. George is a successful professional man, identified with a strong Protector/Controller System, Pusher, Perfectionist and and generally Ambitious Self. Sue, naturally enough, is identified with his Disowned Selves. She is artistic, creative, highly sensual, not organized — in short, she is identified with everything that he is not. In the falling in love process, the Primary Selves tend to dissipate for a period of time. Her lack of order in the house is seen as cute and he adores her for her flakiness. His more uptight behavior is simply a challenge for her and makes seducing him even more fun.

As time passes they begin to feel more vulnerable. The pressures increase. They may have a child or buy a home and matters begin to change. They are both feeling more vulnerable and when we are more vulnerable we revert back to our primary selves ever more strongly. George comes home one day and the house is a mess. Suddenly things are not cute anymore. He reverts to his Primary Selves in a very negative form and he criticizes Sue for being so messy. “Why don’t you get the maid for another day? I can’t stand this place. It’s like a pig sty!”

At first Sue becomes the Guilty, Apologetic daughter. They bond to one another as parent and child, with George’s Negative Father bonding into her Guilty, Apologetic Daughter. Sue is not one to be uncomfortable for very long, however, and soon she comes out fighting. “Who the hell are you to complain? If you weren’t so goddam compulsive and if you knew how to have some fun, things would be different around here!” She now has flipped into Rebellious Daughter and it is not far from there to the attacking Negative Mother. We have all seen these bonding patterns develop and know how powerful and destructive to relationship these fights can become if one never learns how to deal with the underlying issues. What, then, are the underlying issues?

The bottom line issue for both George and Sue is vulnerability. Falling in love had put the Primary Selves to sleep for awhile and made some level of vulnerability acceptable, but the stress of a child and new financial burdens began to throw George back into his Primary Self system. Under stress, the Vulnerable Child is threatened, perhaps even terrorized. There may be financial fears or the fear of abandonment by Sue because of the new child. One must talk with George’s Vulnerable Child to find out. When George walks into the house and feels the mess, he becomes even more vulnerable. Creating order was always his way of handling the chaotic feelings of his early life. His Orderly Self (or Perfectionist) comes back in now in an attempt to help him. If George does not learn about his Vulnerable Child as a disowned self and about his Primary and Disowned Self systems in general, he is very limited in his options as to how he can work on his relationship. He might expand his options by learning that the disorder he hates is related to a disowned self in him. He might learn that the time Sue spends with friends and on the phone is also connected to a disowned self within him, his own social side. He would then view his marriage relationship as a teacher, and see that Sue is his teacher as well. All of his strong reactions could be re-examined in this new light to learn about his disowned selves. This does not make his reactions invalid. It just means that there is another way to view them.

Sue, on her part, is quite overwhelmed with the new child. She returns to her primary selves as her main defense system. She becomes more laid back, more social, more creative and begins to spend more time painting. She loses her disciplined eating habits and begins to eat cakes and candies. The more George becomes the Negative or Critical Father, the more she eats and the less she takes charge of the house. This is actually a fairly typical pattern. In order for Sue to extricate herself from this bonding pattern, she would need to see her own Vulnerable Child and how overwhelmed it feels at the task of being a mother. She would then need to examine her reactions to George’s need for control and structure, his perfectionism. Instead of hating them, she would begin to see them as disowned aspects of her own nature. She, too, could then begin to view the marriage as a teacher and she would be able to see how George can be a teacher for her as well.

In every negative bonding pattern in relationship there are two kinds of fuels available for burning. The primary fuel is always disowned or not-fully-owned vulnerability. The secondary fuel system encompasses the disowned selves that the two individuals involved carry for one another, like George’s Perfectionist and Sue’s Relaxed Self. This knowledge of Primary and Disowned Selves, and of Voice Dialogue, gives the therapist some excellent options in working with couples and with relationship in general.

We have included this one example in order to give you a feeling of how the understanding of the Primary and Disowned Self systems can be applied to relationship issues. Bonding patterns are perfectly normal and natural happenings in all relationship. All of us will always have them. We will never grow out of them. We can become aware of them, however. With awareness, we can begin to examine the selves that are operating in us and in the other person and what it is we need to embrace that the other person is carrying. This presents some truly exciting possibilities of enhancing the growth process, or, as we like to call it, the consciousness process.


The first point to consider is that consciousness is a process, not a static entity. There are three distinct levels or processes that make up the basic process of consciousness. The three levels are : The Awareness Process; the Experiential Process; the Process of the Aware Ego.

  1. Awareness is a point of reference that allows one to view with objectivity whatever is happening, inside or outside of oneself. We see Awareness as similar to the Witness State of meditation or the experience of pure insight as in psychotherapy. There is no judgment and there is no attachment as to how one should be in the world. There is just the act of witnessing what actually is in one’s world. Awareness is simply a point of reference,a place of pure insight. It is not an action state. This, last, provides one of the fundamental distinctions between Awarenss and the Aware Ego.
  2. The second level of our definition concerns the actual experience of different selves or energy patterns. The experience of anger is different from the awareness of anger. The experience of jealousy is different from the awareness of jealousy. If one experiences anger and has no awareness of it, then one remains locked into this affective state and consciousness cannot evolve. If one has an awareness of anger with no experience of it, then one remains locked at an awareness level and consciousness cannot proceed. This is the reason why so many strong meditators that we see in clinical practice often have no relationship to their passions. They define consciousness as awareness and reject the act of experiencing the emotions. By the same token, we often see individuals who have worked with a therapist or teacher who is identified with the expression of emotions as the fundamental transformational path, and these people remain locked into the emotional plane, forever reacting emotionally with no ability to witness this experience and to be aware that this is only one aspect of the consciousness process.
  3. The third component of consciousness is the process of the Aware Ego. Historically speaking, the ego has always been defined as the executive function of the psyche, the choice maker. This definition is as good today as it was at the beginning of the century. We have already differentiated between the Operating Ego and the Aware Ego. The Aware Ego, as we have seen, grows little by little as it is able to separate from the Primary Selves and learns to embrace the opposing disowned or less developed system of selves. The Aware Ego then has the task of becoming aware of, and experiencing, the primary self with which it has been identified and the disowned self that has been negated while the primary self wasin charge of the personality.

Paradoxically, the Aware Ego grows as it is able to be able to be separate from and to embrace any pair of opposites.

The process of transformation or personal growth can occur at any of the three levels we have described in our definition of consciousness. Change takes place as Awareness enlarges. Change occurs as we have more experience of life, whether this be through the direct experience of living or through working with the different selves in therapy. Change also occurs as the Aware Ego develops and becomes more able and willing to discover and embrace the multitude of opposing energies that exist in the psyche. Whether or not one uses this terminology, all of us in the psychotherapy profession are working at these different levels with ourselves, our clients and our students.


In the last section of this chapter we wish to describe to you the method of Voice Dialogue and how it may be used in clinical practice with individuals and, to a lesser extent, with couples. It is the basic attitude towards the work and the selves that is most important, the details of the work are somewhat less so. That is why we have devoted so much of this article to an explanation of the selves and how they develop.

Introducing the Work

In the course of general discussion with a client, a pattern of behavior and thought may begin to emerge. For example, the client may report many instances of low self esteem and much self criticism. The therapist, sensing the power of the Inner Critic lurking behind the scenes, might say:

Therapist – I have the sense that there is a very powerful voice in you that loves to criticize you and make you feel badly about yourself. Is this true? Am I hearing correctly?

The client’s response to this often determines whether or not Voice Dialogue is appropriate in this situation. Some clients willl jump on this and provide a natural lead in to Voice Dialogue. For example, let us call our client Ruth and see how she responds:

Ruth — You’re hearing correctly, all right. I hear this voice all the time. I never really thought about it as a voice before, but that’s certainly what it is.

Ther. — Do you think I might meet this person? Does it feel like a he or a she?

Ruth — Oh this one’s a he — It’s my father. I can hear him right now.

Ther. — How about moving your chair over to wherever it is that he is sitting. I’d like to talk with him. ( Ruth moves over to another place and sits there. Her body posture changes. She appears to be much more powerful than in the ego place ) Good morning. How are you?

Critic Voice — I’m fine. What can I do for you?

Ther. — Well, you were listening to my discussion with Ruth?

Critic — Yes — I was listening — So?

Ther. — I just had the impression that you were the one who was always criticizing her and I wanted to meet you and hear from you directly. What really is wrong with Ruth? What is it that you don’t like about her?

Critic — You’ve got to be kidding! It’s better that you should ask what isn’t wrong with her? There’s nothing right about her.

From this point on, the therapist’s job is to guide the voice, to let it unfold. The therapist is talking to the Critic but, at another level, the therapist is also connected to the Awareness level and to the Aware Ego of the client. It is as though the Aware Ego is being taught while the voice is being addressed. Thus, the discussion that ensues is ultimately for the benefit of the Awareness level and the Aware Ego.

John comes into his session always racing and always at the last minute. The facilitator might introduce the session in a number of different ways. He might say: “I wonder who it is that always gets you to race the way you do. Do you think I might talk to that person?” If the client has to leave early or there is a suggestion of overbooking, the therapist might ask: “Could I speak to the person in you who fills out your appointment calendar?” Here are some other possible lead ins to Voice Dialogue.

Could I talk to the part of you that doesn’t like you to act in a shy way in the world?

Could I talk to the part of you that hates your parents?

Could I talk to the part of you that feels critical of me? (the therapist) The Voice Dialogue process creates remarkable opportunities for working with the transference. Each part has its own unique reaction system to the therapist.

Could I talk to the little girl who used to love to hide in the closets and play? Could I talk to the little boy who used to make up stories all the time?

Could I talk to the one who loves to punish his wife? Could I talk to the part of you who likes to be taken care of by your husband? Could I talk to the part of you who does not want to have sexual relations?

Could I talk to the part of you that is impersonal — maybe like a business person or an inner psychoanalyst?

Could I meet the part of you that would just like to be — just be, nothing more.

Could I talk to the part of you who goes into the bookstore and buys all the consciousness books to read? Could I talk to the part of you that keeps the list of what books and articles you should read?

There is no end to the selves that can be contacted. If they feel treated with respect and honor, if they feel that the facilitator is treating them as real people, these voice systems open up in the most remarkable ways. The ingenuity of the therapist can make the work a lot of fun.

Some General Rules

Never judge a Self. When a part feels judged, it gets very upset and often disappears. If a facilitator feels too judgmental about a particular part, the work should be stopped and the individual put back into the ego place. It would then be appropriate for the facilitator to think about doing some work with his/her own Judgmental Self in order to find out about the disowned self that had been operating in him/her. As one does this work over time, one becomes less judgmental quite naturally because each self that is worked with in another person is waiting in oneself to speak.

There is no attempt to change a particular self. As we mentioned before, there is no attempt made to reconcile the differences between two opposing selves. It is the job of the Aware Ego to learn how to stretch long enough and far enough and deeply enough so as to be able to hold both selves.

Work with opposing energies wherever possible. It is disconcerting for a client to have one part worked with and the other side ignored. For example, let us say the client is identified with a Nurturant Self. The therapist might want to balance this and so might ask to talk to the Selfish Voice. This is likely to be a lot more exciting than the Nurturant Self. It is best not to be seduced, however, because if the Nurturant Self is not given a chance to speak, or not honored appropriately, then it will contract against the work and become even more powerful as a primary self.

A fundamental rule of this work is the honoring of the primary self system. If the Protector/Controller does not want a particular self or selves to come out, respect this totally. If the Protector/Controller says that it does not want the client to cry or yell, make sure, if at all possible, that this does not happen. In this way the Protector/Controller learns to respect and trust the process. This is what keeps the work safe. The Protector/Controller, after all, has been in charge of the safety of the psyche since a very early age. It is doing the job that has to be done until an Aware Ego is born and can take over the basic regulation of the psyche.

Allow at least ten or fifteen minutes’ time at the end of the session for wrap up and discussion. Remember that when a client is in a Voice, it is very much like an altered state of consciousness. One needs time at the end to feel the opposites, to share thoughts and experiences, or just to sit quietly.


Once the dialogue session is complete and the voices have all been addressed, we have found it valuable to have the subject move over to where the facilitator is sitting, stand beside the facilitator, and face the empty “ego chair.” We call this the Awareness position. By having the subject stand, we are separating the Awareness level from the Aware Ego and the different selves that have been addressed. The facilitator then sums up the selves that were addressed and shows their general meaning and interaction. How extensive this is depends on the experience of the facilitator. Obviously, a good therapist can provide an excellent psychodynamic summary of the parts.

In the standing position of Awareness, the client is encouraged just to witness. Back in the “ego chair” there is, of course, an opportunity for general discussion. This opportunity to stand and face the selves is generally a positive experience for people. It is not a hard and fast rule, only something we have found valuable. Standing next to the facilitator also creates the feeling of a shared journey which, in fact, it is.


We want to mention one final part of the process which is quite sophisticated and requires real sensitivity to energetic changes. Let us say we have worked with an Action system on one side and a Being system on the other side. We have had the subject stand in the Awareness position and then go back to the “ego chair” which is now the Aware Ego. We may talk a little bit. Then we ask the subject if he or she can feel the energies of the two selves. If this is so, then we ask the subject to bring in the energies associated with the Action self. This gives the Aware Ego a chance to experiment with the two selves. After the Action side is brought in energetically through the Aware Ego, we then ask the Aware Ego to move it out again and in this way the subject returns to the Aware Ego resting between opposites.

We next suggest that the subject allow in the Being state. Then the subject is asked to release this and return to the Aware Ego. We usually repeat this one more time, ending up back in the place of the Aware Ego. Working in this way gives the subject a direct experience of the actual energy of the particular self and a sense of being able to bring this in and exclude it through the newly found Aware Ego. It is generally perceived as a very rich and creative part of the process. It should not be done by inexperienced therapists who have not had some level of training in the energetics of the process.


Voice Dialogue is fun and is not tiring to the therapist. If you feel tired, it is likely that you are trying too hard and your own Pusher is activated. The other possibility is that you are trying to solve the problem. These two often occur together and they are guaranteed to create exhaustion. When every voice that you talk to sounds the same, it means that some aspect of the primary self system is very powerful and is infiltrating every system. One might then say — Could I talk to the part of you that is in charge of this whole session? Could I talk to the part of you that is observing all this? Could I talk to the part of you that is thinking all the time, even when the other parts are operating?

It is important not to force the work. If the Mind Self is too powerful and is infiltrating every part, then the Mind is what you work with. If the Mind Self can be separated from the Aware Ego, a remarkable shift in consciousness will result. Most important of all, at the risk of redundancy, don’t be seduced by the big bang. Honor the Primary Selves and recognize that they need to feel good ahout the process.


Whether or not one works with Voice Dialogue, the understanding and appreciation of these different selves gives remarkable insights into ourselves and other people. We have presented something of our personal process, a brief summary of some of our underlying theoretical framework and, finally, a summary of the Voice Dialogue process. From our perspective, the pursuit of consciousness is the number one priority for each of us on the planet and the discovery of the multiple selves that inhabit the psyche and run our lives without our knowledge is the number one task of consciousness. Whatever our theoretical orientation as clinicians, we are all engaged in this task at some level. We hope the ideas presented in this article will be of help in this truly important endeavor.

1Nicoll, Maurice. Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjief and Ouspensky. London: Watkins, 1952.

copyright 1991 by Delos