By Paul Hubbard, MA
Voice Dialogue work is a psychotherapy modality developed by Drs. Hal and Sidra Winkelman Stone. It has roots in Jungian psychology and involves accessing different sub-personalities like the inner child and the inner critic, among many others. Most people go through their lives more strongly identified with particular sub-personalities, or primary selves, while generally dis-identifying from other, more opposite sub-personalities, or disowned selves.
In Voice Dialogue work one learns to identify both their primary selves, and their disowned selves. The primary selves are the part of the personality that one tends to be more identified with. For example, the selves that help one to better fit into and/or be more successful within a social circle or in the world in general that one moves in.
In Jungian terminology, the disowned selves are a part of the shadow (Stone & Winkelman, 1989). The shadow represents the aspects of “ourselves that we do not know or refuse to know, both dark and light. It is the sum total of the positive and negative traits, feelings, beliefs, and potentials that we refuse to identify as our own.” It is the “part of us that is incompatible with who we think we are or who we are supposed to be.”
In our relationships, we tend to attract others who reflect the disowned aspects of ourselves. The more these various aspects have been disowned or more deeply buried in the unconscious the stronger the reaction tends to be when we encounter others who live out more overtly the disowned parts of ourselves. “We can be helpless victims to the multitude of relationships in our lives that reflect our disowned selves or we can accept the challenge of these relationships and ask: ‘How is this person or this situation, my teacher?’”
What is common to all sorts of relationships is that people get in bonding patterns which are parent-child energetic dynamics wherein one person tends to be more heavily identified with a parental role and the other person tends to be more heavily identified with a child role. Bonding patterns happen in all types of relationships, including, but not limited to romantic relationships and actual parent-child relationships. The parental sides tend to be more power oriented and the child sides tend more towards vulnerability.
One of the goals in therapy using voice dialogue work involves accessing the aware ego, which is the part of oneself that has some separation from the sub-personalities and can even, through increased awareness, be aware simultaneously of two or more very different parts of oneself, like parental and child aspects, or our power and vulnerable sides. This is not necessarily an easy process and can be hard work at times, but it is possible even though generally one is not aware of a bonding pattern until after it expresses. With development of the aware ego, one can avoid getting into bonding patterns as intensely and then get out of them more quickly when they do occur. A key to this awareness is understanding the role of vulnerability in a relationship and how a disowned or unconscious vulnerability can be a trigger for going into a bonding pattern. If only one of the two people in the bonding pattern has some awareness that a bonding pattern is happening then it is much easier to avoid it being so painful. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh is a good indicator of accessing the aware ego.
Richo, D. (1999). Shadow Dance. Boston, MA: Shambala
Stone, H. & S. Winkelman (1989). Embracing Our Selves. San Rafael, CA: New World Library