Dr David Bruce Banner is a gentle, caring man when all is well in his world, but when triggered by stress he becomes the violent green giant known as Hulk. As he famously said to Jack McGee, the reporter who doggedly follows him around hoping for evidence to reveal his identity in the 1970s TV series, “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”.
All of us have different aspects of our character that we exhibit at different times, and parts of ourselves that we feel inside, yet we keep private. This phenomena is not unique to humans. Islam has 99 attributes for Allah, as varied as The Restorer and The Bringer of Death. Hinduism has multiple deities with distinct and complex personalities, which are often viewed as aspects of the same Ultimate Reality, Brahman.
The Hulk is a metaphor that we all recognise in ourselves, and in others. Importantly, we know that our different selves are never all present at the same time: people are rarely always angry, and it is impossible to feel angry and happy at the same time. Those who feel insecure at work on a Friday may feel confident and empowered when playing their favourite sport on Saturday afternoon, or when dancing on Saturday night.
Experience shows that our lives become more resourceful when we accept and understand our different selves consciously. When we become more conscious about the different aspects of our personalities, we can be more purposeful in the decisions we make. In this way more choices become available to us, and our lives become richer.
What if you could better understand your confident self and use it as a resource in situations when you feel insecure? What if by better understanding your insecurity, you could reframe it, or release yourself from it, so that it no longer hindered your progress or drained your resources?
A systemic perspective helps us understand the reasons for our different selves by providing a key to unlock the motives behind our behaviour. For example, an insecurity about work may come from a loyalty towards a father who was always telling their child that they could do better. The child grows up honouring their father’s voice, never satisfied with their own achievements, and always fearful that they have not done enough.
If the father’s voice can be reframed as the voice of loving support wishing the best for their child and acknowledging that they had great potential, a more joyful and resourceful platform can be found to power the adult’s achievements.
As another example, someone who suppresses their creativity in the office environment may be honouring an upbringing that placed a high value on conventional academic achievement, conformity and “fitting in”, where difference and hence self-expression was dangerous because it risked exclusion. But if the adult can recognise creativity as a resource of value to their profession, therefore enhancing their sense of belonging, they can bring their full selves to work.
There is no right or wrong or good or bad in any of these examples, there is simply what is. By taking time to explore, understand and acknowledge ourselves we reveal what was previously hidden, and in this way we can be more purposeful in how we behave. While complexity of being is a fact of life, being held hostage to our different character traits is not. Through coaching or therapy we can release ourselves from a particular trait or learn to harness a trait purposefully to support a better life.