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The Metaphor of Parts of Self: Finding Real Self and Emergent Identity

  • Don D. Rosenberg


Without fully considering its implications or possibilities, clinicians use the metaphor of “parts of self.” This metaphor is useful for understanding clients with a chameleon-like self-experience of not knowing which identity represents the real self. The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications of using this metaphor and to present insights on the use of the metaphor with clients, especially those who experience rapidly shifting states of identity. In addition, a theory of emergence of self rather than the integration of self is suggested. Winnicott’s concepts of true and false self and Erikson’s concepts of identity and identity diffusion are used in order to examine the meaning of parts of self. Much of the data for this paper derives from the “Multiple Selves Exercise” developed by the author. This exercise and some “Identity Maps” resulting from it are explained.

Clinicians using the metaphor “Parts of self” need to know its implications and possibilities. Therapists may clarify ambivalence about suicidal thoughts: “Part of you is suicidal; part wants help.” They may clarify conflict: “Part of you wants your parents’ love; part is enraged with them.” “Parts” can describe chameleon-like self-experience in which one cannot find a central identity separate from “parts,” to know “Which self is ME?” This commonly occurs in abused children, borderlines, adolescents, children of alcoholics, and many others. “Sub-personalities” is a concept related to “parts.” This paper explores a use of this metaphor based on the “Multiple Selves Exercise” (MSE) and “Identity Maps” developed by the author. Concepts of true self, false self, identity, and identity diffusion are used to explain emergence of “real self.”


Multiple Personality Identity Diffusion Sequential Appearance Loving Object Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Don D. Rosenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Family Service of MilwaukeeUSA

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