Multiplicity theory says that we all have different selves or personalities showing up in different situations. If used correctly, this is an asset.
I recently read about the multiplicity of personality theory in the book The Wise Leader. I found the concept interesting and its implications for personal development fascinating.
The multiplicity of personality theory postulates that we don’t have one single personality or self but many. There is not one single Iker within me, but many different ones, talking to each other and working together to achieve my goals and satisfy my needs. I will be more or less effective depending on how well they work together and whether the adequate self arises for each situation.
This doesn’t mean we all have some sort of personality disorder. What is known as multiple personality disorder happens when the mind gets highly fragmented and polarised and becomes non-functional. Most of us have modular brains with different parts and selves but are reasonably functional.
What is the multiplicity of personality theory?
Paul Lawrence and Suzy Skinner in The Wise Leader argue that one of the main facets of a wise leader is knowing him or herself, and the first step for that is to realise that they don’t have one single self, but many.
So for them, a wise leader should know their selves, all of them. They no longer talk about self-knowledge and self-awareness, but selves-knowledge and selves-awareness.
As they write, “there is little evidence to support the notion of a single authentic self”, and there is plenty of evidence that suggests that, indeed, we have many selves co-existing within us.
There are many different multiplicity theories in psychology, all with the same foundation but with a slightly different twist. For example, John Rowan argues that we all have different “subpersonalities” specific to each of us, and they can evolve throughout our lives.
Richard Schwartz writes about a core self that is accompanied by different parts of the self. These parts can work well together or against each other but are generally well-intended.
Rita Carter believes that different personalities are constantly forming, evolving and fading away. Usually, we would have one or two major personalities, several minors and many micros, which can combine to form minors.
Unlike all the previous psychologists, David Lester doesn’t believe in a single overarching executive self. One of the different selves can be in control at any moment, but when that happens, all the other selves are momentarily suspended.
These are some of the main takes on multiplicity, but there are many more out there.
How does multiplicity theory affect you?
Multiplicity personality theory being correct means that you, like the rest of us, have many different parts, selves, personalities or sub-selves (the language used in the psychology literature to name it is varied).
A successful dialogue between those parts and their getting along will be critical for you to achieve your goals and be happy. If you are like most people, you have never thought about having different selves, and you aren’t aware of them. You are just you, right? (what makes you, you, is another question we tried to answer elsewhere).
Call them like you want, but we all have different parts. Sometimes, I am fearful and timid; others, I am a self-confident extrovert who jokes and tells stories. Both are me, but they are different parts of me. Depending on the situation, a different “me” takes over, but they are all “me”.
Other people will be very different at home or work. Depending on who they interact with or the specific contexts, they will have different personas.
This may sound daunting or weird, but it’s actually great if you think about it. It’s an asset. It means you can leverage your different selves or parts to fit the situations and challenges you face.
How to make the most of multiplicity personality theory
Step 1 – Identification and naming
The first step is to reflect on your different personalities or selves, identify them, and, why not, give them a name. This will make their identification easier. It can be a name like Mary or Mike, or an adjective like Strong, Joker, or Quiet. Try to identify the different ways you interact with other people and feel and label them.
Step 2 – Awareness
The next step is to be more aware of the situations in which your different selves arise. When is the Joker coming out? And Quiet? What are the telltales or signs of each of your selves?
Be more aware of what’s happening inside you and which of your selves is taking precedence in each situation or context.
Step 3 – Assess suitability
This step is critical. You need to assess the suitability and appropriateness of your selves in each situation. Are you using Joker when you shouldn’t? Would a specific situation benefit from you using self X, but you are using Y instead?
You have different parts or subpersonalities, so use them wisely. One of them is the most suitable for each situation, but you may not use them correctly.
Step 4 – Actions
The last step is to take the necessary actions. If you realise that you are not using the appropriate self in certain situations, start being more aware and try to surface the adequate personality for each situation. It might be challenging initially, but with some training, it gets easier.
One self for every situation
If there is one important conclusion to be taken home from this post, it is that we all have different selves, and we should try to use the most suitable self for each situation.
The multiplicity of personalities or selves is an asset and an advantage, not a disorder. Being able to pull different personalities or personal characteristics to face different situations is a valuable resource, but we need to know how to use it correctly.
A coach can help you understand better your multiple selves and make the most of them. They can help you identify your subpersonalities and bring the right one to the fore.
Alternatively, this is something you can work on alone, too, by following the four steps above and practising. It is all about being more aware of all our selves and when they become protagonists. Mindfulness and meditation can help you develop that awareness better and make it easier to label and identify your different selves when they arise.
Which of your selves is reading this article right now? Make sure it shares what they learned with all the other selves that make you, you 😉