The complexity of an individual can be described by illuminating the internal cast of characters that come to the fore in various situations, clarifying what part each plays, and noticing how they interact with each other.
Just like Shakespeare’s verse, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” Eugene Sagan conceptualized our inner characters similarly. He introduced me to the idea that each of us has all these characters inside ourselves. Calling them self-styles, he and his wife, Juanita Sagan, opened the door to a mode of self-reflection that didn't involve getting rid of any internal characters, but rather finding out how to befriend them and make the most of them.
For those of you who have followed the PeRL, you may remember that awareness comes first, understanding follows, and then appreciation ensues. This movement, from lack of awareness to appreciation, is the essence of freedom and self-development. It is only when we are able to welcome all our self styles to the round table that we can get the value they each bring.
This is truly the path of internal inclusion and diversity.
Imagine that you have a cast of internal characters that are interacting with each other on your life stage. Just like any cast of characters in a play, some of the characters cooperate, while others quarrel and compete. Still others negotiate and mediate. Some of the characters are always positive and some are always negative. Some serious, some silly. Many are like chameleons, taking on a negative or positive role depending on the situation.
When I first learned of this approach from A.A. Leath at the University of Wisconsin, I had great difficulty admitting that I had any characters who were negative or self-sabotaging. As I worked with this approach, I was finally able to move out of shame and blame and come into a deep appreciation for what each character brings. Though self-compassion was not being researched and written about then as it is now, it was definitely an important part of my process in accepting the various characters and inviting them to have a seat at my round table.
The movement from inclusion to appreciation of the different characters is profound. It is probably the single most important step after awareness.
When I first learned of Sagan's approach of self-styles, I immediately imagined that all my internal characters were sitting around a round table. There was a backstage closet in which characters that I had not yet identified or accepted were locked. Here is an example of this:
This was and continues to be a simple way of organizing the various internal characters. Each character has a voice, a look, a gender, a size—really, each is an entire character.
Before learning this approach and creating the round table, there was a cacophony of voices, intertwined and yelling over each other. With this approach, I was able to separate the characters, hear what each said, and work with them all. Rather than feeling tortured and unable to make a decision, I started feeling clearer and could move forward more easily. That led to greater ease and finally, freedom, peace, and joy.