by Diane Linsley
Voice Dialogue is one of my favorite coaching tools. This process
was developed by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone. It's a way for us to
explore our subpersonalities by speaking directly with the voices
that represent them.
As we get to know ourselves better, we develop what the Stones
call the Aware Ego. With awareness, we can make more resourceful
choices about how we think and act.
Voice Dialogue and Shadow Material
Voice Dialogue helps us to integrate our shadow material. The
shadow consists of parts of ourselves that we have disowned or
repressed. When we speak from disowned voices, they become
conscious as we bring awareness to them, and they stop causing the problems that they previously caused when they were running our lives on the unconscious level.
Carl Jung said, "We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." This is the purpose of shadow work.
Zen master Genpo Roshi integrated the Voice Dialogue process into his own process called Big Mind. I've spent hundreds of hours doing both Voice Dialogue and Big Mind, and I've found these processes to be extremely helpful in my personal growth.
I taught my kids and a couple of close friends to do Voice Dialogue so that I have people who know how to facilitate me in this process. But most of the time, I end up having to facilitate myself. This is certainly possible to do once you are experienced. But it's easy to get off track and fall out of the voice or go off on a tangent when you are trying to be both the facilitator and the client. On the other hand, it's good practice for learning how to shift perspective while keeping one foot in the Witness position.
Voice Dialogue and Self-Compassion
The practice of Voice Dialogue increases self-compassion. As we become familiar with the different voices in ourselves, we learn to accept them and appreciate them. Some voices are more difficult to accept than others. These are the shadow parts of ourselves that we are trying to hide from our conscious awareness. As we listen with awareness to these voices, we feel compassion for them, and we stop treating these parts of ourselves so badly.
Self-compassion leads to compassion for others. After a Voice Dialogue session, during which we facilitated the voice of the Pleaser, one of my clients was able to recognize this voice in other people, including her mother with whom she had a difficult relationship. Her relationship with her own voice of the Pleaser was of the love/hate variety, which mirrored her relationship with her mother, whose primary self was a strong Pleaser.
Once she understood that the Pleaser was just a subpersonality - not her whole self or her mother's whole self - she became less judgmental. We then continued our work by facilitating the voices of the Good Girl and the Rebel. These opposing voices had been causing her a lot of anxiety because she felt like she was at war with herself.
After speaking from each of these voices and then transcending them by going to the Aware Ego (the apex of the triangle), she was able to appreciate what each of these voices did for her in her life. She was also able to see how they operated in her friends, which helped her feel compassion for the "wrong" choices that some of her friends had made.
You can think of voices as employees in a company. For example, the employees that make up the company called Diane consist of all the voices of Diane's ego and personality. Some of these voices are more prominent - they are the employees that do the majority of the work for Diane. Hal and Sidra call this collection of voices the Primary Self System. Other voices are used only occasionally. And still others are disowned (Diane likes to pretend they don't exist).
To start with, here are some examples of emotional voices. One that comes up frequently in coaching is the voice of Fear. Once the fear is addressed, the client can move forward with the coaching work.
Some voices come in pairs of opposites, meaning that we tend to think of one voice in the pair as who we are while disowning the opposite side. When doing Voice Dialogue, I like to speak to both voices in the pair so the client can become aware that both sides are in them. When a voice is disowned, it limits us. For example, if you only relate to the Thinker, then you will reject the Feeler in yourself and others. As you read through this list, notice which voices you relate to and which ones feel uncomfortable.
Pairs of Opposites:
As you think about these pairs of opposites, you may recall other people in your life. What we judge in others, we disown in ourselves. Doing Voice Dialogue can help improve our relationships.
Some voices are developed for specific jobs or hobbies in our lives. For example, during my years as a gardener and seed seller, I developed the voices of the Gardener and the Business Woman. When I went into coaching, I developed the voice of the Life Coach. These voices are separate subpersonalities inside of me. They have specific abilities, desires and attitudes. I'm not the same person when I'm coaching as I am when I'm gardening. What voices have you developed in your life? Here are a few examples of voices that play specific roles in our lives. Can you think of more?
Finally, there are the shadow voices. These are voices that are universally disowned because they are unacceptable in society. Here are a few that Genpo Roshi has identified. It can be very interesting to talk to these voices and watch them go through the process of maturing as they speak.
Immature and Mature Voices
When we first start working with a voice, it comes up in its immature form. As the voice learns to express itself, it gradually "grows up" and becomes more mature and functional. Immature voices are not "bad" - they simply lack awareness. We can help a voice gain awareness by asking it questions like "What is your job?" and "How do you serve me in my life?"
For example, most people disown the voice of Anger because they were taught when they were young that anger is bad, and they were punished when they expressed anger. So this voice never had the opportunity to grow up. Immature anger can manifest as a violent outburst, or it can be so disowned that you can't feel it at all. In either case, the voice of Anger is stuck in the past at an earlier age when you didn't know how to express it in a resourceful way.
As we work with the voice of Anger, the client learns what this energy feels like in their body and what it is trying to tell them. They may experience a breakthrough when they realize how this voice can serve them and what mature anger acts like. Then their relationship to the voice of Anger changes. Anger is no longer a problem to be feared, but a source of information and inspiration. All voices in their mature forms are voices of Wisdom.
Here's a guided meditation for goal setting in which we work with a subpersonality and help it to mature. It's not the same as doing Voice Dialogue, but it's a fun process in itself :)
Voice Dialogue Resources
For more information, including books, articles, CD's, DVD's, and MP3's, see Hal and Sidra Stone's official website, Voice Dialogue International. My favorite CD, which is a great introduction to Voice Dialogue, is The Aware Ego.
As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
Copyright (c) Self-Compassion Coaching with Diane Linsley. All rights reserved.