My Thoughts on the Structure of the Mind


Allow me to ramble a bit about a complex concept regarding the structure of the human mind.   I will start by defining the concept of multiplicity of the mind and then giving some common examples that might aid in understanding. 

Multiplicity of mind is a central concept of psychology that refers to the belief that our single brain has distinct parts with the ability to think in different ways and arrive at competing perspectives.  We refer to these minds when we say things like, “Part of me wants to go to the beach and part of me wants to stay at home and watch a movie.”  In essence what we are saying is that “One of my minds is arguing for the beach while the other is arguing to stay home.”  With some conscious thought and analysis, the different arguments, thoughts, and feelings about the beach or the movie can be separated and looked at, not unlike two lawyers arguing two sides of a case.

The advantage of multiplicity is that it gives human’s the advantages of empathy, tolerance, and reasoning.  We are litteraly able to hold multiple states of mind at the same time.  Now, invariably, the topic of multiplicity stirs images of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and people talking to themselves.  This is very different, this is when a person does NOT have access to all of the parts of themselves at once but is forced to BE one person at a time.  This is different from healthy multiplicity of mind in that a healthy mind can maintain a dialogue within the mind like a roundtable board meeting of internal parts of the psyche.   The person suffering from MPD has a boardroom of one and the leader is most likely somebody that you would not want to have as your boss.

Examples of Using Our Multiplicity

When therapists refer to the “inner child” they are referring to a part of the mind that is very young and primitive.  This emotional and impulsive part of us wants things now, hates waiting, and generally fights against a more adult mind that may feel it has to follow rules and obey.  Once looked for and identified, these parts of the mind become pretty easy tokeep track of.  In fact it can even make us feel a little less crazy when we feel "torn" or "stuck".

If the inner child brings up the concept of Frued’s Id, you are on the right track.  Freud is one of the first proponents of multiplicity when he proposed that the mind has a libidinal Id which desired power, sex, and destruction.  He postulated that we all have an Id inside of us and that what makes us different from other animals is the fact that we have developed an Ego to control or tame our Id.  Presto, multiplicity.  Once we have an Id and an Ego controlling it, we have Freud's idea of "parts" of the mind.  English abounds with references to the split up of the mind “I feel conflicted.”  “I can’t make up my mind.” “I am scatter-brained”  All of these sayings reference this same concept of multiplicity, basically saying “I can’t get all of the minds inside my mind to agree.”

When research surfaces pointing to the fact that we have a left brain and a right brain it became apparent that we are not of one mind.  While the logical left brain hammers away at writing down all the problems and possible solutions, the creative right brain is wondering what color the paper should be.  Of course, different people have more powerful sides of the brain or at least sides that they identify with in the case of artists(right brain) and lawyers (left brain).  To digress, if you want an easy way to remember the hemispheric differences you can use the tool "logical left".  But, lawyers and artists still have both sides of the brain, perhaps one side is simply quieter or more passive.  It always makes me think of the political slogan used during war where we attempt to win over the hearts and minds of  the enemy.  My guess is that we do not win over their whole minds, but in particular the part of their mind that says, “I want to be on the winning team.”  While the part of their mind that says, “Don’t invade my country” pouts in the corner.

Analogy of Multiplicity of the MInd
The way I see it, we can think of our mind as a board room in which different characters of our mind with different sets of opinions, thoughts and feelings sit around debating what to do, what to eat, who to date, and all other choices. Some parts of our mind are dictators, some teenagers, some timid avoiders and others will avoid the table all together.

What about the Unconscious
Ahhh, here is where it gets a little bit complicated.  The unconscious is like all the other offices around the boardroom that are unseen and cannot be fully heard.  Think of the unconscious as a random rogue participant that sneaks into the board room and puts in his or her two cents without anybody noticing that they are unwelcome or uninvited.

So, using this model, it becomes easier to conceptualize why we are so different all of the time.  Why somebody who is generally depressed can have a good day, or a good hour every once in a while.  Or why somebody who is mostly anxious can be a great public speaker.  Let’s break down that example. 

Imagine that an anxious person’s boardroom is filled with anxious, frustrated, pessimistic officers and one silent officer.  So all of the talk, ideas, and feelings eminating from the boardroom are anxious and fearful. Then, it comes time for a speech to be made, and this one silent member stands up, says “Quiet, its my turn,” walks to the head of the table and takes control during the speech.  Virtually squashing, 'repressing', 'suppressing' the anxiety during the course of the speech.  Who is this confident, powerful person in the board room and why does he or she not have more power?  Well, here are the questions of therapy.  What inner confidence does that mind have?  Who does it sound like?  An old teacher, a parent, a grandparent?  Does he or she conserve energy?  What gives the rest of the boardroom the power to keep him or her quiet? 

Now, following this example, one of the issues with a temporary seizure of power such as in this example, a virtual coup-de-etat of a part of the mind is that the rest of the boardroom may comply and sit quietly during the speech, but once that powerful mind sits back down, mayhem breaks loose.  This is a way to describe why we get the shakes, minutes or hours after a traumatic event.  During trauma, most people have a quiet member of the boardroom with extraordinary power that can create a calm, authoritarian regime in which feelings are banished such that rationale thought can pervade the boardroom.  Generally the inner child is asked to leave, fear is asked to leave, and only logic, speed, and decisiveness remain.

Do we all have a full boardroom?

Yes!  This is a common misconception, that somehow we don’t have all the pieces for an efficient boardroom.  We do, it is just that some of the members are basically mute, others are imprisoned, while other members have extraordinarily loud voices or powerful voices.  Some members use tactics of fear or intimidation, some lie to us.  That is why a portion of us is always aware when we are lying to ourselves and lowers overall morale in the mind.

Thanks for reading this rambling and I promise to continue this discussion in the future.  If this article interests you and you want to explore your multiplicity of mind, feel free to give me a call and setup an appointment.