…well yes, that’s what it’s like with Ego States. The sentence above was uttered in a totally astonished way by one of the few persons who know me really well. Since I started my blog I’ve wanted to write a post about Ego States but never really knew how to approach the topic even though I’ve read several books about it.
Even as a child I noticed how I act/dress/feel/…differently when I am/was together with different (groups) of people but never was able to put a finger on what that meant. At the beginning I was split into a “mum-version” and a “dad-version” of myself and those two drifted apart further and further as time went on. Later on, many other “roles” were added: School, friends, even books or movies influenced me to a point where I was somebody different every day.
So far that’s not really spectacular, after all a well-respected accountant will hopefully act in different ways depending on his being in the office or his sweetheart’s bed – everyone has different roles, behaviour modes, Ego States, whatever you want to call it. For me personally it started being problematic when:
1. I got terribly stressed or dissociated when two of my “worlds” collided (for example friends visiting me at work, members of family A meeting members of family B, parent meeting teacher etc.) and
2. I had no idea which of these modes was ME after all – some of my Ego States contradict others, I can’t seem to reconcile all my roles, I don’t see one whole person made up of them all…
Now I’m not a psychologist who can explain this in professional terms but what I understood from my clever books is this:
Ego States seem to be the result of a severely disturbed development of a stable identity, for example when there are traumatic events in one’s childhood.
The most extreme form of these non-integrated parts is the Dissociative Identity Disorder, so basically what could be called a “multiple personality” (and no, Schizophrenia is not the correct word for it!!!). Here it can occur that different parts don’t know about each other and most notably there are blackouts when there’s a change between different parts. Please read the appropriate specialist literature if you want to know more about this as I don’t want to give any false information here.
Then there is a very new term about which I didn’t find all that much as it is not an official diagnosis (yet): Ego State Disorder; this seems to be hotly debated by professionals and viewed as a sort of preliminary stage of DID.
And then there are Borderline and Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (this one isn’t firmly established as well but due to the partly similar symptoms it is often mixed up with BPD and the classic PTSD). There are no strongly differentiated personality states, no blackouts but it is possible that there are different “Ego States”, parts that are not fully integrated into a stable self.
Like I said, I tried to explain this in my own words, experts are discussing this quite much and my blog is not the right place for complex psychological models. I hope everything was understandable enough to get a rough idea. What does all this mean for me as a person?
First of all, over the last few years I have tried to organize my life so that different (groups of) people that don’t fit together don’t meet. As many members of my family don’t talk to each other and I have many “island friends” (that’s what I call people that don’t belong to a circle of friends but are isolated acquaintances) this works quite well. But if two of these “worlds” collide, this is extremely stressful for me – I am insecure, don’t know how to act, drift away, dissociate, self-harm in order to stay “here”. My “roles” give me a sense of security, even my clothes might define who I am today at the moment. The contra is that people who know me in one or two of my “roles” get very confused when they see me in another one. That’s how the sentence in the title happened: Whilst talking about my holiday I slipped into the mode I’m in with the person who travelled with me – but that’s not how the person I was telling the story to knows me. Friends who visit me at work (happened quite often in retail) might think I seem distant and are confused by the way I’m talking, family members who see me with friends feel rejected etc.
For me it’s very difficult when someone says “The way you acted just now – that wasn’t you at all!”. Cause it’s right – that’s not how the person in question knows me. But maybe – and that’s what makes the house of cards that should be my identity collaps within seconds – maybe the mode the person was talking about actually is wrong. I just don’t know! If I knew who I was I would always be me, even if I’m dressed differently at dance class or on the couch. For each person I know I can tell you at least one “Ego State” that would totally disconcert that person. What is the intersection of all those roles? What remains when I take away every influence?
Another problem is that people seem to think I’m doing this on purpose. I get that, after all the word “role” suggests that I play it like an actress. But that’s not what it feels like – it’s more like the role is playing me. When there’s no one who tells me how my voice, my gestures, even my attitude change in certain situations/with certain people I don’t even notice it. That’s not “I’m working with customers so I’m not swearing right now.”, it’s rather “Now I am the customer-compatible person.” I don’t know how to explain it but I know that it’s “more” and “different” than the accountant from my example above. I hate it, this chameleon-existence, I’m longing for a stable self – especially as other people who always behave in different ways confuse me quite a lot. This is why it’s so hard for me to find self-worth…I like some of my roles, I totally dislike others but that’s not even the point: After all, my “real me” could be completely different and how can I like something I can’t even detect? How can I like something about myself I hate in others?
I think this post is long enough for now and I have no idea if it’s worth the long read as I don’t even know what I wanted to say with it. It was just really important for me to talk about this topic.