What is Voice Dialogue? Who's Running Your Life?
Voice Dialogue is a communication tool created by Hal and Sidra Stone and used by many counselors and psychotherapists to accomplish a wide variety of personal growth results. In Voice Dialogue, issues are distilled down to the parts or sub-personalities that are operating (or not operating) in your life or relationships. Sessions include dialoguing with sub-personalities one at a time from the position in the room where the part feels most comfortable. The result is a clear and profound connection to the part and its purpose and perfection. By listening to sub-personalities one at a time the strength of their role becomes clear and we become able to use them optimally and without resistance.
Understanding which sub-personalities are dominant or underdeveloped within you creates powerful answers to the difficult question of what is really creating your life and relationships to be the way they are. Relationships can be understood from the perspective of how you are likely to attract a person with sub-personalities that correspond to the sub-personalities that are operating within you. To examine this, Voice Dialogue first looks at an individual as being composed of primary selves and disowned selves.
Primary selves are those we developed for the purpose of protecting our vulnerable inner child. This is a normal part of development: as we grow we develop ways of accomplishing success to increase our feelings of security in the world. We may get our sense of security by being responsible and working hard, by being nurturing and caring for others, or even by getting out of the way and learning not to need in order to avoid feeling like a burden. As we grow, these become primary selves, meaning they would be our primary way of being and expressing ourselves. They are also formed by our conforming to, or rebelling from, our parents’ and society’s primary selves. They become our inner value system and we view the world through their prejudices. One problem with this is that when one way of being becomes primary or favored, we create a resistance to the energies that are its opposite. This is what a disowned self is: the energies that are the opposite of the primary selves. They are the energies that you had to suppress to accomplish your primary way of being. So, if you were primarily responsible you would fear and disown your irresponsible side and disown the qualities that go with it, like rest, leisure, selfishness, stupidity, or laziness. If you were primarily nurturing you would probably disown your uncaring side and the qualities of selfishness, greed, thoughtlessness, or meanness. If you were primarily withdrawn so as to not be a burden you would disown issues having to do with needing, asking for what you want, being expressive or visible.
It is valuable to distinguish Voice Dialogue theories from the theories of multiple personality disorder. An individual with multiple personality disorder lacks the awareness that s/he is acting from a sub-personality and the sub-personalities do not have awareness of each other. In Voice Dialogue theory, awareness is described as originating from the aware ego and the purpose of Voice Dialogue is to develop the aware ego. The aware ego is the consciousness that orchestrates the selves: it’s the conductor that picks which selves get to play; it’s the driver of the car that contains the selves; it’s the juggler that juggles the selves. In multiple personality disorder, both the awareness and the choice are not present. The vast majority of the population needs not to concern itself with this, but it is a helpful distinction given that the fear of “being crazy” is so common.
The Voice Dialogue model simplifies relationships by looking at how the primary and disowned selves in one person tend to relate to the primary and disowned selves in the other. It explains relationships by identifying our reactions to people who hold our opposites, and it also explains how we attract people in our lives who hold our opposites for us. A primary self attracts its opposite. It is difficult to answer how and why this happens, but the most basic explanation is that people are attracted to people who have something they lack. For example, the responsible person may be more cut off from their playful, spontaneous side, so they unconsciously crave someone who is more in touch with that. Similarly, the nurturer is cut off from their own needs and responds strongly to someone who is more connected with their own needs; a withdrawn person craves the ability to come out and be seen, so they are more likely to be attracted to outgoing people. This same explanation can be expressed in more spiritual terms. Spirit or God links us up with people who have the energy we have disowned within ourselves because God wants us to be whole. For me, this explanation parallels the view that the purpose of life is to grow and evolve.
For instance, a person with a strong controlling adult part might attract a relationship with a person who is strongly connected to their vulnerable inner child. In this case, the person who is more aware of their vulnerability is attracted to the well-controlled person as they help them feel safe and secure. The more controlled person is attracted to the softness and feeling nature of the more vulnerable person as they then actually feel safer too, as if “this person will give me relief from this rigidity.” It’s not as simple to explain, but well-controlled people actually feel more secure around people who are more spontaneous, it’s as if their inner child feels more hope that it will get attention.
Another classic example is how a person with a strong pleasing part is likely to attract a relationship with someone who is more impersonal or distant. Here, the pleasing person is attracted to their opposite because they need a rest from being so nice all the time; their inner child feels more taken care of when they stop working so hard to please the outside world. The person with more impersonal energy is attracted to the pleaser in the other person because it gives them a pathway for coming out and being more intimate. One more example: someone with a strong drive to succeed will tend to have relationships with those who are more relaxed and less motivated. Here, the drive in one person results in their being attracted to a more relaxed person because they’re tired and crave a rest. The relaxed person is equally attracted to the drive in the other. Vulnerable inner children need rest but they also like the money, food and security that driving creates.
These patterns are just one slice of any relationship and, in actuality, relationships switch back and forth very frequently, even in fractions of a second. It is important to be clear that in the examples above, the person I described as strongly connected to their vulnerability also has an inner parent who may be nurturing the other’s vulnerable inner child just as frequently. In fact, it is inevitable that your parent or child parts will relate to the people in your life; what can be a problem is if your parts lead you to a role that is overly polarized toward one extreme. The key to successful relationships is to have a free flow between your parts so you are responding from both parent and child. This model is also extremely valuable for analyzing conflict patterns in relationships. If relationships become polarized with one individual being more the parent and the other being more the child, the relationship is less likely to have intimacy and is more likely to have conflict.
I enjoy Voice Dialogue because it leads to personal clarity and gives clear answers to the questions: What am I creating in my life and relationships? or Why are my relationships the way they are? This explains how we bring out the best and worst in people. By taking a position, you’re also pushing the world to relate to you from the opposite position. Your parental energy can be strong enough to induct people in the world to be helpless around you. Your fear or vulnerability can be strong enough to induct others to take control around you or invalidate you.