Sybil learned at a young age that to be noticed by her busy parents, she needed to produce and perform. Get good grades, help out around the home, win prizes and competitions, make things. The better she did, the more attention she received. The subconscious lesson was that her value lay in what she did not in who she was. Now an adult, that old “not enough” programme shows up as perfectionism, overwhelming anxiety and workaholism.

Sybil is not alone.

Within you is a cast of thousands playing out old roles, whispering frozen stories and shaping the course of your life. An inner circus complete with evasive acrobats, cruel ringmasters, furiously silenced lions, delicate ballerinas and performing monkeys.

Who are these characters? You might recognise the inner critic who constantly reminds you of your failings, the wounded child helpless against a big scary world, or the fawning prostitute who sells his integrity for a price? Your circus is simultaneously unique and universal.

These are the Aspects of Self that unconsciously direct the choices, structures and patterns of your life. They are ancient and stubborn. They have emerged from the deep strata of ancestors and culture, into the visible layer of upbringing and personality, shaped by social conditioning. They demand to be grappled with daily. When the scared child, second-best-sister or cruel tyrant run the show that is your life, the world is smaller and a lot more painful.

You can’t exactly get rid of them. They are part of you.

They are part of you. But you are not part of them. They do not own you.

They belong to your enormous inner resourcefulness and wholeness as a human being.

They are voices within your psychological system, and have a purposeful intention. They (mostly) are trying to be useful. They tend to do this quite badly.

Sybil now sees that the driving perfectionism was a childhood strategy to help her get the affirmation she needed to feel valued. She has learned to recognize what sets it off, and also that it can be useful. It keeps her focused, dedicated and excellent at her work. She is on a path to change her relationship with this aspect and give it a more constructive job to do.

Our work is to bring these old stories out of shadow into consciousness, shift our relationship to them and evolve our experience of being human.


I am a transpersonal coach trained in NLP and Authentic Self-Empowerment processes. I help people work with their circuses. This helps me with mine.

(This article was originally published on LinkedIn)

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