About 10 years ago I had the privilege to work with a young woman experiencing Dissociative Identity Disorder. This is more commonly known to the public as multiple personality disorder.
Sophie, as we will call her, has 3 distinct personalities. A 22-year-old woman, attending college, highly intelligent, very personable but introverted. A 22-year-old woman, Sarah, also attending college, intelligent but abrasive and at times aggressive in her approach she is on the verge of being kicked out. And a 6-year-old girl, Jane, desperate in her need to be loved, dependent but still interacting with the world as an adult through where she lived and who she socialized with. Another personality, male appears to be in the background, not fully formed but with a dominant, strong approach to life.
Sarah is aware of all personalities and very dismissive of Sophie in particular. Sophie and Jane lack awareness of the difficulties and thus of the other personalities. Jane being too young to comprehend them and being solely concerned with her own needs usually appears only briefly. Sophie, presenting for treatment is distressed, with blank spots, not knowing what is happening to her.
In college, mid-essay a change in handwriting occurs, the structure and thoughts in the essay changing from Sophie’s passive approach to life to Sarah’s aggressive one. Sitting here in the session with me there is a change in facial expression, posture, speech and she no longer recalls our conversation. Or if Sarah shows up there is dismissal and contempt for what Sophie or Jane have expressed.
The reasons for these personalities to form is complex. They develop in reactions to great stress in life, to extreme circumstances with which the person, often at a young age, is unable to process or deal with successfully. The goal of treatment is to bring awareness to all aspects and to enable integration of the personalities back to a successful whole.
I give this as an extreme example of personality. We see these people as different to us, as abnormal in some way to be fixed and cajoled back to normality. But this is only part of the story and based on the ways that our culture has taught us to react.
The truth is we all have different facets to our personalities, and we all have shadow sides.
We are not the same person at work as we are at home, or on a night out with our friends. We are not the same person with the same interests, hopes and ideals at 50 that we were at 20. They do not show up in the extreme of Sophie’s example, but difference exists within us. We all have multiple aspects to our personalities and in order to be successful, whole and integrated leaders, we must embrace all of that and use it to our advantage by fully incorporating it into our lives.
THE SHADOW SIDE AND LEADERSHIP
If we fail to acknowledge our shadow side, our less than desirable qualities, they do not disappear. They remain. Smothered for the time being but waiting under the surface. And unacknowledged they are more likely to emerge in times of stress. When the economy takes a dive and there is pressure on the business. When we are faced with challenging colleagues and conflict in the workplace. When the world is changing so fast it seems difficult to stay on top, as market leaders or keeping up with generational changes.
It is at times like these that the shadow side emerges.
As leaders it may drive us to become authoritarian in the hope of regaining control over a situation that is spiraling into chaos. To become intolerant to others who do not share our view and make us worry that they will have a negative impact which we cannot reverse.
There is an inability to trust the process and relax in the confidence that we have the expertise required to achieve our desires although in the past this confidence and assurance has served us well. Here in these times we are forced to confront our limitations. This is why self awareness is vital to leadership.
The extreme of this is of course the person with a dissociative identity disorder. They have divorced themselves from an aspect of their personality so thoroughly and well, due to a traumatic event or dark time, that it has become separate to them. Still housed in the same body. Seen as part of the same but also completely separate. With one personality possibly having no awareness of the other or others.
The task here is not to destroy one personality so the others can live on, as we see so often on TV, but to enable an awareness and a growing acceptance of these different parts. To bring about acceptance and integration. And this is no different for all of us. The work is about becoming whole. Valuing all parts of ourselves.
If we are aware of all the facets of our personalities. If we are a whole person. Then coping with stressful situations is easier. The shadow side is accepted and understood and can be used to our advantage. Accepted as a valued part of who we are and what we are capable of then in dark or difficult times it is recognized and used for good. In these ways we are able to see the value of all parts of ourselves and bring them fully into play where appropriate in the workplace.
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Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has 20 years’ experience working with individuals, groups and organizations enabling them to overcome difficulties and develop skills in life and leadership. Contact her at [email protected].
Originally published at drkateprice.com