by Maaike van Dijk
Once upon a time there was a tiger cub whose mother died during labour. A herd of goats took him amongst themselves and he grew up thinking and acting like a goat. One day an older tiger chased the goats and caught one of them. The young tiger, not sensing any danger, did not feel the urge to run. The old tiger was surprised to see this young tiger walking, talking and acting like a goat. He wanted to show him his true nature and took him to a pond to watch his reflection. The young tiger was not impressed.
Then the old tiger took him back to his prey and shoved a piece of warm goat’s flesh into the young tiger’s mouth. At first he rejected and felt repulsed, but the old tiger did not give in and made sure the cub ate the meat. When the young tiger finally allowed himself to taste the raw meat and warm blood he actually started to like it. He let out a powerful roar for the first time in his life and the two tigers disappeared into the jungle together.
Hal and Sidra Stone use this story from India in the beginning of their book Embracing Our Selves to illustrate the idea that we take on identities that inadequately express our essence. In the story the young tiger discovers he is not really a goat, and by thinking he was a goat he could only experience a fraction of his total being. The old tiger helped him to find his true nature and by doing so the young tiger let out a roar of awakening.
We as human beings tend to do exactly the same by identifying ourselves with only a certain part of who we are. For example we play the role of the good mother that always gives or the perfectionist who is best at everything. According to Hal and Sidra Stone our personality consists of different selves or subpersonalities.
Say for instance you are caught up in traffic and will be late for a meeting. One voice in your head will be raving; “Why doesn’t that damn train move on!” another voice will say “Oh no, I’ll be late, my boss will be furious!” and another voice will say “Well darling you should have left home earlier, I’ve told you many times.” These are many different views on the same situation. The first voice could be compared to the voice of a pusher, the second one of the pleaser and the third one of the know it all parent.
We have start to develop these subpersonalities in our early childhood. As a baby we are extremely vulnerable and need to adjust ourselves to the our surroundings in order to protect ourselves. For example, a baby will learn very early on that when it smiles it will make the mother happy and she will give the baby the attention it needs. Soon the pleaser is born who is rewarded by being nice and pleasant to other people.
When a child grows up some behaviour will be encouraged and other behaviour will be punished, so some selves will be strengthened and others will be weakened. A boy who gets attention from his parents mainly for his great grades will probably strengthen his achiever, the ambitious side, and may weaken the vulnerable or sensitive side. The last two are parts of our personality we need in order to establish intimate relationships.