In order to understand the model of the “I & ME” we must first decide the meaning of each element and how it affects the other. The “ME” can be seen as your social self – that part of your personality that is made up of trait behaviours such as being – good or bad – kind or unkind etc. Traits are ways of describing someone to another in order to communicate a shared understanding of that person. If I was to ask your five best friends – who are you? They would most likely describe you as a series of trait words, he / she is kind, thoughtful, active and generous. This then gives a shared view of the persons social self (ME). The “ME” then becomes the shared view of the persons character and what behaviour to expect from them if you should interact with them. It also bears witness from friends how they see that person behaving in numerous situations – therefore has a predictive value to knowing what to expect (expectations) in situations confronting that person. Attribution is the idea that we assign values to others based on very little information or insight – therefore the accuracy of the social self (ME) is subject to attribution-error in the sense of how well do people really know us?
However the concept of mirroring can occur in the client / patient in the sense that if enough friends describe you a certain way then you start to believe this is in fact who you are. In this case many people try to live up to and imitate the social self as others have seen them – in other words the “ME” become who you think you are and who you would want to be. A reflection (mirroring) of others opinion of you is also how they react and treat you on a daily basis. This can also have the effect of imprisoning the clients personality within defined ranges of how others see us such as family, close friends and colleagues, who can hem us into a person type, that they expect of us and we come to expect of ourselves. It is no accident that people who travel often and meet many strangers have a better idea of their inner self as they are free to express repressed parts of their personality without it effecting the opinion of those who know them on a daily basis. It is here that we can discuss the concept of the “I” over the “ME” in the model.
The “I” is best described as our secret self – that part of us that only we know about – that keeps our secrets from the past – whether traumatic, shameful or biographical – the “I” is the unconscious influencer that informs the “ME” silently but often effectively in its decision making. How then is the “I” created from the past? In order to understand this some examples are the best illustration.
The boy was eight years old – at that moment he stands with his younger sister being surrounded by five older boys who are intent on bullying him – in order to survive this eight year olds mind makes a decision to cry. The strategy being that if he cries the boys will leave them alone. However at the moment of tears his sister, looking assertive towards the bullies, turns to him and asks him why he is crying like a baby? The boy immediately feels shame, embarrassment and fear. Shame that his sister thinks he is a coward, embarrassment in that the boys are laughing at his show of fear and further he fears that his strategy has backfired and more bullying is going to happen. As the boy grows up to be a teenager the one moment of trauma stays with him although the actual incident is long forgotten to memory. However his “I” has retained the idea of being a coward – he cannot shake the feeling when his “ME” is confronted with situations that require him to be brave he has an unspeakable fear response, he becomes aware he may be judged (just as his sister had done) and so with great pain he tries to as an adult to do what is expected of him from the social self (“ME”) and react accordingly even though he feels just as he did at eight years old. In later life he constantly now challenges himself to do brave things such as mountain climbing, army service, potholing, martial arts training and more. All these things to constantly challenge his “I” – his true self – the boy who was seen as a coward by his sister. It can be said that bravery often comes from cowardliness for without fear how can you face a world of tough choices? Bravery without fear is just idiotic foolishness of the types who think they are indestructible we give them medals when they are dead!
The girl was young and innocent of the world. Coveted by nurturing parents, she lived a peaceful quiet life at home. Her mother’s brother, a teenager comes to stay and he is given the bed alongside hers every Friday to Sunday while he attends weekend community service for theft. At first she is excited by the company and talks with her young uncle about her school and friends and listens to his adventures of getting into trouble and going to court where he was sentenced to community service – cleaning pubic toilets over the weekends for several months as an alternative to jail. She is shocked by his wickedness and excited by his stories. His habit soon came to sit on her bed and gradually holding her in a hug with his arm around her shoulder – she did not feel this to be a bad thing – merely her uncle being super nice and kind. He then began lying next to her holding her close – she felt his hands touching her while he was seemingly sleeping! She felt some stirring of excitement and fear at what he was doing but she still felt it was alright. Over time however his touching and now kissing her became more forceful – she did not like these feelings and complained to him but he quietly explained that it was OK and he was teaching her to feel love. One evening and for many others to come he entered her and raped her. At her very young age she only felt pain and fear. For months until the end of the community service he regularly raped and abused her – all the time her confusion and feeling trapped in a confusion of emotions. One day he left and never came back again. After several months she decided to tell he mother what had happened but feared she would be in trouble or that her uncle might be punished too. Her mother’s reaction was to not talk such nonsense and that she had made it all up or just dreamed it – how could it have gone on so long without her finding out? The little girls was told to keep it to herself and never ever mention it to her father. The trauma the girl suffered was assigned to her “I” for a secret self that only she would ever know about. As she grew she avoided boys and later men – she became pretty and dressed well, being proud of her demeanor – but even at 30 years old she was technically still a virgin and had no relationships with men. She was attracted to men but could never allow any of them more than a date with mixed company. To her friends and family she was merely the shy girl who could not find a suitable man to marry her. Her “ME” was of the kind, sweet, shy and pretty girl that everyone liked. However her “I” was extremely damaged by her history of abuse. She had long forgotten (repressed) what had happened to her (as per her mothers instructions). When she was approached by nice men who liked her looks and wished to get to know her – she rejected them quickly – she feared being close – being vulnerable – and believed strongly in that she was the Good Girl and did not give in to men’s desires – even though she could not articulate exactly why she felt that way. She was often confused by her girl friends way of talking about men and their desires to have sexually relationships or romantic associations.
In each case the trauma to the “I” was either a single moment that defined a life or long term abuse that created a long term injunction of being close to men whom she felt were both attractive and threatening at the same time. In the first case it is easy to see that the biographical memory started a chain reaction of behaviours that led the boy to have to reprove his manhood (bravely) over and over again. In the second case the fear of men is easy to understand from the point of view of the long term abuse and the eventually covering up of the crime by the mother’s concern for kinship and family harmony. (Very common is Asiatic countries where face is more important than the damage to one individual). The “I” therefore is the constant unconscious informer of the social self (ME) – when procrastination is present or choices are being made that are contrary to our greater good then there is the hidden “I” waiting to inform our decision sometimes so negatively that it can impact our feeling of well-being such as mood disorders for depression or anxiety leading to eventually being labeled by our friends as weird, not normal – and our social self our “ME” becomes changed by that negativity around us – convincing us eventually that there is something wrong with us – and so we seek the insight of the counsellor, psychologist or in the worse case scenario the psychiatrist.
The “I” & “ME” in therapeutic practice
When the client / patient arrives in the therapists office the first session maybe merely the exchange of stories – the venting of feelings and emotions that have brought the person so seek help or to be rescued from the life that has turned them into that depressed person or that anxious neurotic. Diagnosis is often just a labeling process for insurance purposes but the real work begins with the past. Most “here and now” therapists miss so much of the why’s of mood disorders because they believe you cannot change the past so why bother dealing with it – it is the version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or the Freud out with the ideas).
Often a one page biography of the family, developing years and the current situation can give the therapist a good over-view of the persons history with the proviso that if they have a particular story they wish to share that could be done as a separate paper. After a review of the biographical information the therapist can dig deeper during analysis for any indication of trauma as a child – whether a single moment or a continued situation that may have occurred. In order to help the client think about and consider their personal experience the “I” & “ME” model can be demonstrated on a whiteboard and explained in terms of the secret self over the social self that is formed by the expectations of others and our purpose for mirroring those traits described. In most cases the clients listening to the explanation are already assessing their biographical memories for instances of what could constitute their secret self (“I”). It is easier to start out with a question after the model is explained, such as if I asked five of your friends who you are – what would the say or describe you as? This then is then is the personal perception of the social self as mirrored by others. (The ME).
Once you establish that they feel this is who they are and their expectations to achieve the “ME” on a daily basis – the therapist can go back to the whiteboard and ask the more difficult question – then who is your “I” – what secrets do you have about yourself that only you know about – that only you feel – that inform who you really are as opposed to what others imagine you to be through the activity of your social self (“ME”)?
Many clients initially decline to answer directly the question of the secret self (“I”) as they have kept that information closeted in their inner most mind for many years – after all that is what a secret is. It may refer to their sexuality, the idea of their values, morality and many other sensitive areas of their lives. Here the therapist must reinforce the idea of a safe place in therapy where clients can reveal their true thoughts, to be authentic and open about their inner most compulsions without fear of judgment and criticism. There are many subtexts to the “I” such as abuse, paraphelia, repressed desires, shameful acts, self doubt and a wide spectrum of feelings attached to each area of concern. However with time and trust clients can reveal that inner trauma within the secret self and so start to deal with and heal that psychological damage that was done to them so long ago.
Using this model of the “I” & “ME” for several hundred patients (2. Myler 2002 – 2018) in real practice has shown time and time again of its effectiveness in creating the right environment for change – tackling such issues as social comparison, empathy, trauma and many other social examples of mood disorders over time. Patients and clients find it simple to grasp and understands in a short period of time and so go onto explore their own barriers to contentment in life often barred from the unconscious secret self and the mirrored social self trying to meet the expectations of others confining them to a categorization of personality that goes on to define their actions when new situations of problems meet them. Sometimes keeping it simple can help a client / patient achieve a deep understanding of themselves and the effect of others on their choices in life and personality development. The best outcome would be the client who knows themselves better, understands their internal motivation and even though they cannot change the past they can at least make better informed decisions about why they behave and think in the way that they do.
1. Myler S F (2002) The Development of the “I” & “ME” model (unpublished).
2. Myler S F (2002 – 2018) Private practice notes
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