I just finished reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s book Whole Brain Living and her concept of the four characters that we inherit because of our brains, and I am ecstatic!
We have Judy Zehr to thank for giving me the tip-off to read this book! Judy is someone I really trust, so when she tells me something is important to read, I listen. I’ve learned a lot from Judy and have much admiration for her. She knows a ton about the brain, how it impacts us and how to bring about more joy! And, I’m lucky to say, we collaborated to co-write our book which spells out the relationship between the brain and conflict.
I’m so excited because what Jill Bolte Taylor has done is offer a definitive model for how we all show up. We all have the same brains so we all have these sub-personalities! Knowing this can remind us that we are all connected, bring us closer together and enhance our own self-understanding.
There are also implications for how we engage with conflict.
You’ll have to read the Thriving Leadership interview to get more on that! 🙂
Meantime, what about those 4 selves!
As a passionate neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor has mapped out 4 quadrants of our brain which have 4 distinct personalities. All 4 personalities are important and need to be heard. If we don’t hear them, they will inhibit us for sure.
Let’s see if I can give you a summary of our 4 selves and why I am so happy that Judy pointed me in this direction!
Let’s start with the big picture – a simplified description of the personality characteristics of the left and right sides of the brain, then the front (thinking brain) and back (the emotional brain).
The left side of our brain, or left hemisphere, houses our individual identities or the “me-self”. This part of us sees ourselves as separate and give us that sense of separation. It is the logical part of us, the place of language, mathematics, time and space orientation. It is home to that little voice inside that is our “monkey mind” or inner chatter. This part of us thinks linearly, in the context of the past, present and future. We accumulate our life wisdom here.
What about the right side of the brain? Well, I remember diving into the book – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Kind of says it all! The right side of the brain is the place where we connect with universal consciousness, creativity and empathy. It is home to the all, where our brains are able to process multiple streams of data that simultaneously, revealing a single complex moment of experience, seeing all as part of the cosmic flow, the big picture. It’s the peak experiences we have, as well as what’s been identified that happens just before we die and when on hallucinogens.
In everyday life, we tend to suppress the right side of our brain, as most of daily modern life pulls us to the left side traits and this other side is fairly unconscious to us. We tend to identify with the “me” not so much with the playful, loving or “cosmic all.” Often this part of ourselves shows up as intuition.
One way Jill says we can think of these two sides of our brain is to see the left brain as the home of the masculine, yang, and ego-centered traits based on our individuality and past experiences and the right brain as the home of our feminine, yin, and grace of the cosmic right here, right now flow.
That gives you some sense of the right and the left, what about the front and the back.
We can think of the front of the brain as our thinking brain, or pre-frontal cortex. It is the outer part of our brain, situated behind our forehead. It is the part of us that can plan and envision, solve problems and achieve goals. It is also the most recent part of our brain, evolutionarily.
The back of our brain (actually inside) is our emotional brain is our mammalian brain and houses our emotions. We experience emotions from here. These emotions are evenly divided between our two hemispheres. The cellular networks of our emotional system never mature, so our emotional selves are always ageless and young.
One thing that’s important to note about the front or thinking brains vs our emotional brains is:
We tend to say that we are thinking creatures who feel. But Jill Bolte Taylor is clear that we are feelings creature who think.
This tells us that we need to pay attention to our emotions, that our emotions are central to who we are and that they are powerful influences and shapers in our lives.
Now that you have the territory, and it’s reflected in Jill’s illustration of the brain, it’s time to meet your 4 selves!
Jill calls our 4 personalities Characters 1, 2, 3 and 4.
She suggests we name our characters to have a better sense of who they are. I’m quite familiar with Internal Family Systems (thank you Inga Markham!) – so the idea of having different personalities inside was already familiar to me. But to have these selves so clearly defined, based on brain science, is pretty eye-opening. It’s like getting an owner’s manual for who we are and being able to notice more how we show up outside of ourselves.
Character 1 – Left-Thinking – Our Inner Spock. This part of us is located in the front of our brains – the thinking part – and on the left side of our brain. It has the traits of the left side – logical, linear as well as the front part of our brain that can plan and problem-solve. Star Trek’s Spock is the obvious character here. No emotional content. This part of us is externally focused, viewing the external world, including relationships, as outside of us. It is a part of us that is quite judgmental and critical, making right/wrong and good/bad discernments. It is competent, controlling, protective and respects authority.
Character 2 – Left-Feeling – Our Shadow Self. This part of us is also located on the left side, so it’s about us as well, but we are located in our emotions on this side, not our thinking self. We tend to see this part of us as unattractive and want to suppress it (as others see it as unattractive too!). This personality is usually the most deeply pained part of our unconscious emotional, identity brain. At its worst, this part of our brain is emotionally reactive to the external world and does not accept responsibility for its behavior. It is also inclined to sacrifice its future, blinded by the pain from its past. It brings in information from our present life and links it to emotional experiences we’ve had in the past. We feel deeply here, but only in relation to the past or possible future and this part tends to be emotionally volatile and reactive. Its happiness is based on external conditions. It wants to protect us from anything that it senses may have hurt us in the past.
Character 3 – Right-Feeling – Hello Tigger! – This is the part of us located on the right side of our brain, so it’s creative and expansive, and in an emotional way. This part of us is open, experiential, risk-taking, fearless, friendly, kind, empathic, trusting, playful, joyful, goes with the flow, awe-inspired, curious, creative/innovative, collective, sharing. This is the part of us that can focus on the present moment. It can also be quite impulsive and get lost in the moment. There is a connection to the body as it loves to be active, fun, sensual, sensorial.
Character 4 – Right-Thinking – The Divine Self – This is the part of us located on the right side of the brain as well, up in the front – the thinking part of our brain. Here, we are nonverbal, think in pictures, think holistically, are compassionate, in the flow, flexible/resilient, focus on “we”, generous, possess clarity, intention, vulnerability. This part of our brain is our gateway to the divine – a way of bringing a much bigger consciousness than our own left brain selves.
The most important message is that all 4 of these selves need to be acknowledged that they exist. The different pulls in different directions need to be integrated into a whole. That is the true definition of healing – to be wholly integrated.
When we don’t allow each of these their perspective, we become unconscious from certain aspects of ourselves. As Carl Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Some of us deny that we have any need to have goals and make advances and achievements. We do. We crave meaning and growth and learning.
Many of us deny we have a hurt little child inside, or waste a lot of time blaming someone else for those feelings. We all have that wounded little person, who just wants to be held and understood and loved. We perpetuate the worst parts of ourselves on ourselves and others when we ignore this part and don’t seek its voice.
Some of us think it’s “childish” to be playful and fun. Yet, we need that like we need sunshine.
Lastly, some deny we are connected to anything deeper or wider than our own little selves. Yet we have that other being inside us as well, the divine self, the spiritual self, the self connected to so much more than we can ever really know from our individual identities.
How is it for you meeting your 4 selves!
What are you more aware of? What is your thinking brain telling you about all this? What are you feeling as a result of discovering more about yourself and about our common humanity?
I am curious! My playful self wants to hear from you! Click on the blog and let’s share our thoughts… together!