The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 6, The Non-Violent, Peaceable Self

A final post about my time at Fuller delivering their Integration Lectures.

The other breakout session I attended was led by Drs. Brad Strawn and Al Dueck entitled "Pastoring Our Personal Congregations: Clinical Integration, Multiplicity of the Self, and a Peaceable Psychology." Brad is the current Chair of Integration at Fuller and Al is a former Chair.

There were two central ideas in the session, both really intriguing.

The first idea was that the self is multiple. Rather than being a single "self" we are "selves," different selves at different times in different contexts. And often different selves vying for recognition at the same time.

This isn't meant in any strange dissociative sense, like in Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder). This is simply the recognition that we can find ourselves in inner conflict and tension in relation to our selves.

For example, I can judge myself. How does this happen, where one part of the self stands in judgment over another part of the self?

We can also disagree with ourselves. How's that possible if the self is a unity?

We also say things like, "I'm not myself today." Well, who are you if you're not yourself?

Commenting on all this Brad contrasted the metaphors we use to describe the self. A common metaphor is depth. Our "true self" is the "deepest" self. Thus, to find our "true self" we look deep into the psyche to locate the self at the foundation of our personhood. Somewhere deep down is our true, authentic self. We might call this the vertical self where the self is located along a shallow to deep continuum with the more "authentic" self being located at the deep end.

In contrast, Brad suggested that we replace this vertical metaphor with a horizontal view of self. Specifically, instead of "going deeper" to find a "true self" we should instead think of the self extended temporally, as different selves emerge over time. For example, I am a certain self now, here at home, but a different self will soon emerge when I go to work. And importantly, neither of these selves are more or less "authentic" or representative of "the real me."

And even more interesting here is how I might like or dislike these selves. I might like how I am at home and dislike how I am at work. More, these selves might want different things and come into conflict.

So that's the first idea. The self is multiple and temporal. There is no true self deep in the psyche. There are simply different facets of the self that emerge over time and in certain contexts.

Which brings us to the second idea, the way the selves treat each other.

Specifically, if the self is "multiple" then psychological distress and dysfunction can be caused when the "selves" come to treat each other harshly, judgmentally and violently.

Consider self-loathing. Here some facet of the self--the judging self--is expressing judgment and revulsion toward some other self. The selves have come into conflict and psychic violence is taking place. We are internally aggressing against ourselves.

Thus the notion of a "peaceable psychology." And the peace here is a non-violence that is practiced internally, with the selves coming to treat each other kindly and gently.

Al's metaphor for all this was learning to "pastor our internal congregation."

The idea here is that, in light of the multiplicity of selves, we might think of our inner life as a "congregation" that needs "pastoral care." Psychological well-being in this instance is achieved by learning to care for ourselves. Or, rather, to care for our selves.

Just like a pastor would gently care for the people under her care in a congregation, so should we gently and peaceably care for all the selves that make up our identities, our internal congregation. And much of this will involve learning to forgive our/selves.

In sum, we should practice pacifism...toward the self.

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16 thoughts on “The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 6, The Non-Violent, Peaceable Self”

  1. Richard, the last part of your post is something that I need to be able to grasp. My confession is "the best way to jinx myself is to be kind to myself". Yet, I think it is stemmed in remembering from where I have come. I remember well those teenage years when racism, prejudice and religion gave me a sense of pride. I remember coming out of all that and and going into the ministry, only to find my ministry and family falling apart and letting bitterness take control of my mind and tongue. Now, one of my daily prayers is, "Forgive me for not being a better man". My mind says I am forgiven; but my failure for not being a better man tells me, "You can't afford to forget". I am so grateful for you post for giving me much food for thought.

    However, I am not sure I would agree with the "Horizontal" selves as opposed to the the deeper and shallow selves. A good example, I believe, is how we look at war. In most good people there is the self that is disgusted and repulsed by it, while at the same time there is the self that is caught up in the excitement of it. It is then that children of God must recognize that the shallow self has gained the upper hand, forgetting that excitement is hell's bait for war. I do not pretend to a psychologist or a theologian, but, I do think; and it just seems to me that there is a depth in which a healthy disgust needs to take root so that when the shallow self gets all caught in power and pep rallies there is something still alive in the soul that keeps us awake at night.

  2. Marvin Minsky wrote “The Society of Mind” in 1987. Many others have held the Many-Selves view. I came upon the same view by myself many years ago while practicing Buddhism.

    In one flavor of Buddhism, No-Self is a favorite mantra. Indeed while meditating, one can quickly see that there is no stable self — but instead of heading toward no-self, it became obvious to me that a better perspective was Many-Selves.

    As you allude here, I also use this are part of my moral model: that which I practice outward will become my inward habit. So if I want to be nice to my various selves, I best practice being nice to the community of outward selves. And the reverse hold too, of course.

    Understanding our Many-Selves will undercut many theist religious positions where they think they have a soul (one true self) that gets saved. But I have used this position to also show many atheists that they fool themselves also at the very core of their existence: they think they are one unified person. What a joke.

    I have written much on my view of Many Selves because it help explain my religious, ethical and scientific perspectives. Understand mind is more important than any theology, eh?

  3. "In sum, we should practice pacifism...toward the self."

    I agree, and yet it is difficult not to be of more than one mind about this too. On the one hand, the Sermon on the Mount ought to be practiced with respect to our "selves," to the considerable extent that we do have a multiplicity of personal centers. And yet spiritual formation requires that we prefer a particular point of view--the peaceful, loving, thoughtful, disciplined, joyful, etc., one! In that case we should and must resist aspects of our selves.

    The nub seems to be the transition from the Romans 7 position--in which the self is at war with its inner nature--to the Romans 8 position--in which "we obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God." (v. 21) The Phillips versions says "The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the [children] of God coming into their own." (v. 19)

    Of course, if it happens only by grace through faith, the "integration" part is not possible, except in the sense that psychology can be "negative" in the way that biblical theology inherently is.

    That makes the earlier post on an "eccentric" identity imperative. (A self not embedded in our "inner nature," to use Paul's framing.) An absolutely wonderful, crucial set of posts. Thank you. And if you'd kindly do one more and tie this all together in a tidy bow, we'd all appreciate it. :-)

  4. I don't know if I have any tidy bows. Just lots of ideas that hang in tension. The "truth" is, I think, in those tensions. To be nerdy about it, the truth is dialectical.

    In The Slavery of Death the dialectic is between an eccentric identity (Chapter 5) and a martyrological identity (Chapter 6). There is an experience of gift and grace in receiving the self (an eccentric identity) but there is also the work of renunciation and crucifixion in dying to the self. (a martyrological identity). It's a dialectic of grace and crucifixion. This latter might get at what you are pointing toward, the need to resist or renounce the selfish aspects of the self.

  5. I hadn't set those chapters in tension as you describe, and that is helpful. In the spirit of dialectic, here's a further question. Is there a sense in which the freedom Paul speaks of so passionately in Romans and Galatians is a freedom from the tension of the very dialectic you note? Is there a sense, to sharpen the question, in which a loving attitude overcomes the "tensions" by bringing about a psychological inhabiting of the ideal self? The amazing story of Ruby in the previous post seems to depict precisely that. Wow. How humbling for a guy who's spent a fairly large portion of his adult life trying to figure this stuff out...

  6. Oh, how I could have used this advice fifty years ago--or five years ago--or five minutes ago. Better late than never; I'm going to resolve that pacifism begins at home, and I'm going to try to be the peace I want to see in the world. Thank you for this post...

  7. I think that there are moments when love and joy allow us to "arrive" at that place of "ideal love." But like with other peak experiences I think we are only able to stay in that place for a short time. Sort of like the summit of Mount Everest.

    I believe too strongly in sin--or what Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic calls The Human Potential to Fuck Things Up (HPtFTU)--to think that we could ever fully realize the ideal self in any permanent way.

    What I'd argue is that the ideal self can be attained as a peak experience, transiently because of HPtFTU, but perhaps more and more often and for a longer duration as spiritual maturity (sanctification) develops.

  8. I am curious about the effects of different religions, or variations of the same religion, on pacifism towards the self.

  9. This sounds very similar to / derivative of Compassion Focussed Mindfulness Therapy. Interested readers can peruse a helpful introduction at:

    One of the key ideas behind this approach is that we exercise very little free will over our fight/flight and neurotic anxieties. It's not our fault that we are the way we are; our brains are the product of conflicting evolutionary forces. But we aren't let off the hook. We are encouraged to take responsibility for our emotional well-being by practicing the discipline of mindful compassion towards ourselves and others. The theory synthesises Buddhist / Christian teachings with cutting edge neuroscience. It's worth a look IMHO.

  10. Very off-topic, but I'm curious as to how, well good, cognitive evolutionary psychology of religion is. I've heard many rather derisive claims evolutionary psychology as a whole (the dreaded start with a p and end with an o prefix). Is it Sam Harris levels of hostility or is it more respectful?

  11. I'm reading john a. powell's Racing to Justice, and the makes the same point in writing of Buddhist conceptions of "self vs. no-self."

    "Because Buddhism accepts the self as multiple and encompassing of elements that are at times conflicting or contradictory, it 'departs from the urge to master, override, rein in, or otherwise manipulate the self.' It does not seek a unitary, coherent sense of self....By being nonjudgemental, Buddhism also moves beyond the psychic tension that psychoanalysis believes is the source of of projecting negative traits onto the other. 'When all the voices of the self are fully owned, they are less likely to be projected onto others. In this way, self -acceptance translates into acceptance of other.'" pg. 184

    So a huge concurrent blessing of the "self" forgiveness inherent in "the non-violent, peaceable self," is that this peaceful acceptance extends into the community as who "I" am becomes less dependent on the boundary building that leads to the creation of an "other" that is necessary in the reinforcement a false individualistic, isolated sense of "self." Forgiving and living within the tension of my internal selves makes it much easier to forgive and live within the tensions of a community of external selves.

    Link to powell's book:

  12. This rings especially true for me, as an immigrant. My "self" belongs to neither my adopted culture fully (since I grew up elsewhere), but my "self" also no longer fully belongs to the culture I grew up in. Because living in another culture has changed me. Thus, when it comes to the two cultures, I am both neither/nor and both/and at the same time. (Thanks to Jung Young Lee's wonderful work of theology titled "Marginality" for the words to describe this split self-hood in my migrant context.)

  13. As a sociologist, I'm geared to think in terms of Charles Horton Cooley's "looking glass self": (1) We are not what we think we are, (2) we are not what others think we are, but (3) we are what we think others think we are. One can easily see how easy it is to misinterpret others' perceptions of us. Some interpret every sign negatively and thus create the pop psychology term "the inferiority complex," or to interpret every sign positively and thus create the "superiority complex." Therefore we have to have some internal way to assess our worth and value. Even though others' "validation" of our selves is the most powerful, I think. We are also influenced more than we admit by Mead's "generalized other," this all-seeing eye (the community and culture as a whole) that watches our every move and judges us. An over concern for this results in cultural encapsulation (imprisonment or culture bound), which interferes with a spiritual understanding. We also have to admit there are times when we attempt to manage other people's impression of us (See Goffman). I think we do this more often than we admit. Just recognizing the complexities of the self helps to develop a healthier sense of who we are.

  14. And yet nothing of 'center' is discussed here. In all things gravitational, 'center' is paramount. For all the weight that being paramount is though, a center is quintessentially, infinitesimal. A self I would offer, is downstream from one's center; the analogy of self would be solar system where the analogy of your center would be the sun. And, at the same time, the analogy would be the mathematical point-- something totally real yet has the existence of the unicorn. Yet again, without 'center' there is nothing biologic-- see Ursula Goodenough; maybe without the reality of a center, there's nothing molecular:

    The going surmise of the molecular, is that the sun has enough mass-- and thus the squeezing pressure-- to squeeze atoms into the elements of the periodic table. This top down force doesn't need centers. Yet solar systems and biology do. As does gravity.

    We would do well to differentiate between 'unities' and 'conformities'. Both are ways of being and experiencing one-ness. What separates them is how they get to "one-ness": Unities are more like solar systems-- no, they're more like cells where even the nucleus isn't its center. Conformities rely on the same color of uniform.

    Typically, we monotheists laugh at polytheism for its cacophony. What we fail to see is that polytheism has nothing to do with how many Gods may or may not exist: it has to do with a lack of some identifiable 'Center'.

    In the context of Center, any one person contains the very Mystery that Reality itself is. imho.

  15. As a Chinese person, our culture integrates much of "self-hood" with the corporate identity. This notion of caring for ourselves would be radical as we often struggle with even knowing where our self-hood begins and our relationship to family members and community ends.

  16. What about Merton and Nouwen and others about the "true self" as the one God knows, and many of the other aspects being false selves that we develop and maintain and gather around our emptinesses?

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