By: Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D.
“Our expectations and experience shapes us. When we write we must find a voice that expresses our sentient self, not some idealized version of a cogent self, devoid of the exacting life-altering lessons that come with enduring a variety of experiences.”―
How Many Voices?
No, we are always a chorus of voices, a constellation of selves (or call them personalities, personae, aspects).
“Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves”
Constellations only look like constellations from our vantage point on Earth. Orion’s Belt looks like a line of three stars to us but would look like something entirely different from another planet orbiting another star.
Constellations also change based on history and culture. The Greeks drew the shape of the mythic hunter Orion using these three stars. The Babylonians saw it as part of a shepherd of the god Anu, the Lakota see it as the spine of a bison. Many cultures have their own shape and story.
So, too, do our multiple voices and selves. We draw lines between the points, link those lines to the stories we tell. They all depend on where we stand and the cultures that anchor us.
A Psychological View of Selves
Do you even believe you have multiple selves? Many forms of depth psychology subscribe to the idea of it. Multiple selves “represent our ability to respond and adapt to different situations and different people.”
This ability references how we experience as individuals, in our families, as we mature into adulthood, and in terms that derive from our cultural background. Depth Psychologist Bill Plotkin proposes four facets of the self with a distinct Jungian flair.
He associates them with the four cardinal directions. Those facets can be suppressed, become misaligned, or fall into conflict. We grow as humans when we learn to recognize fragmentation between our selves.
Maybe we realize that something we learned as a child – a voice telling us to keep quiet and stay small, for example – does not align with something we aspire to do now.
What the Voices Might Say
Sometimes the fragmentation arises in the moment, such as a case of momentary stage fright. Sometimes it fundamentally undermines our vision. I believe this is the case with many writers.
We have a voice inside us telling us to keep quiet, telling us we’ll be embarrassed or exposed, telling us we’re not good enough, or imposing a lot of conditions and ultimatums.
- “You can only write if you feel inspired.”
- “It has to be perfect.”
- “No one is going to read this.”
- “I just need to do this other thing first.”
Come on, as writers, we all know we have those voices telling us all sorts of terrible, unproductive things.
I am not saying to ignore or repress those voices, though. Just the opposite! Listen to what they are saying and look within to figure out why they are saying it. Which selves do they represent?
When I was a child, I quickly learned that I could get “safe” by knowing the right answer, getting the perfect grade, earning adult praise. It’s a common archetype – Alice Miller writes about it in The Drama of the Gifted Child. Plotkin describes a similar archetype as the “loyal soldier” mentality. Simply put, it’s a protective shell for vulnerabilities that we learn from past experiences. Your loyal soldier keeps fighting that battle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the war is over.
Bringing Your Voices Together
For many years, I kept other-selves at bay. I let one self speak – a calm, rational self, big on concepts, obsessed with rigor, convinced of one thing: that just the right words, assembled in just the right ways, would allow me to reach an equally rational audience – a naïve optimism at best. It has kept me a well-compensated commercial writer. It also has done nothing to help me reach my higher creative calling. Should I just fire the Loyal Soldier who writes this way?
I’m thankful to that Apollonian self for teaching me precision and harmony. I admit that Rational Self brings a lot of naïve biases to the table. He assumes a precise and attentive reader. He sees everything in terms of facts and logic. But he also is a creature of the bright, shining sun. He is strong and nimble. I still call on him for his support and dedication to the sound and structure of my sentences and paragraphs.
I also have a new job for him. I’m asking him to extend his calm and practiced hand to aspects of myself that feel less confident, less bold, less equipped to do things, less empowered to speak.
The Journey and the Chorus
Think of an aspect of yourself that you want to take by the hand and ask to join you on a journey to a higher goal.
As writers and creators, we can always listen to our voices, thank them for everything they have done for us so far, and enlist them differently.
We just have to ask them to sing a new part in the chorus of our selves.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph. D. is a writer and communications strategist living in Los Angeles. He works with executives and subject matter experts to help them build reputations through messages, conversations, stories, and thought leadership.
His website, Syncresis® is a consultancy focused on thought leadership, patient communication, and content strategy. Its unique virtual operating model means that teams are purpose-built to the needs of a specific client and project.
He is also the creator of Kindness Communication®, which promotes the idea that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate.