The multiple self theory of the mind

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Click below to listen to this article:

The multiple self theory of the mind

The multiple self theory of the mind is a psychological perspective that proposes that the human mind is not a single, unified entity, but rather a collection of different selves or subpersonalities that interact, conflict, and cooperate with each other. According to this theory, each self has its own goals, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours, and can take control of the mind at different times or situations. The multiple self theory of the mind challenges the traditional notion of a coherent and stable self-identity, and suggests that people can experience shifts and changes in their sense of self depending on which self is dominant at the moment.

One of the proponents of the multiple self theory of the mind is David Lester, who has formulated a formal subself theory of the mind with 12 postulates and 49 corollaries (see Lester, 2010). Lester argues that the multiple selves in the mind can be viewed as a small group that has its own dynamics, such as leadership, roles, norms, and communication. He also suggests that each self has a complementary counterpart in the unconscious mind that balances its traits. For example, a self that is rational and logical may have an unconscious counterpart that is intuitive and creative.

The formal subself theory of personality is a theory that proposes that the mind is composed of several subselves, each of which is a coherent system of thoughts, desires, and emotions, organized by a system principle. The concept of subselves has been used by various personality theorists, such as Jung, Berne, Maslow, and Angyal, to describe different aspects of the psyche, such as ego states, complexes, syndromes, and subsystems. The formal subself theory aims to provide a systematic and comprehensive framework for understanding the structure, development, psychopathology, and psychotherapy of the mind based on the notion of subselves. The theory consists of a series of postulates and corollaries that specify the characteristics, functions, interactions, and dynamics of subselves. The theory also has implications for various topics in psychology, such as self-complexity, multiple self-aspects, identity integration, and self-regulation.

Sign up for our Newsletter!
We will send you regular updates regarding new articles, as well as hints and tips regarding self-transcendence. We aim to limit this to once per month, though some months we will have additional special editions covering significant articles worthy of being the sole focus of a newsletter. There will be no sales spam or selling your address to third parties.

Another advocate of the multiple self theory of the mind is John Rowan, who prefers to use the term subpersonalities. Rowan (1990) describes subpersonalities as “relatively autonomous centres of awareness” that have their own history, style, and world-view. He also distinguishes between primary subpersonalities, which are formed in childhood and are related to basic needs and emotions, and secondary subpersonalities, which are developed later in life and are related to social roles and expectations.

The multiple self theory of the mind has several implications for understanding human behaviour and personality. For instance, it can explain why people sometimes act inconsistently or contradictorily in different situations or contexts. It can also help people to recognize and integrate their various selves into a more harmonious whole, or to resolve conflicts between their selves through dialogue and negotiation. Moreover, it can provide a framework for exploring the diversity and complexity of human experience and identity.


Lester, D. (2010). A multiple self theory of personality. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Rowan, J. (1990). Subpersonalities: The people inside us. London: Routledge.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content