Do You Ever Feel That You Have Two Personalities, Existing Side by Side?

I’m re-reading, for the fourth time, Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

One of my chief preoccupations (along with happiness, of course) is a subject that I call “symbols beyond words,” so I can’t get enough of this book. Its vision is so huge.

Each time I read it, I’m struck by different passages. This time, I was particularly interested in Jung’s discussion of his “No. 1” personality and his “No. 2” personality.

Somewhere deep in the background I always knew that I was two persons. One was the son of my parents, who went to school and was less intelligent, attentive, hard-working, decent, and clean than many other boys. The other was grown up — old, in fact — skeptical, mistrustful, remote from the world of men, but close to nature, the earth, the sun, the moon, the weather, all living creatures, and above all close to the night, to dreams, and to whatever “God” worked directly in him…Beside [No. 1’s] world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself.

Later in the book, Jung continues…

Through No. 1’s eyes I saw myself as a rather disagreeable and moderately gifted young man with vaulting ambitions, an undisciplined temperament and dubious manners, alternating between naive enthusiasm and fits of childish disappointment…No. 2 had no definable character at all; he was a vita peracta, born, living, dead, everything in one; a total vision of life….Here was meaning and historical continuity, in strong contrast to the incoherent fortuitousness of No. 1’s life, which had no real points of contact with its environment.

I have to resist the urge to put here everything that Jung writes about No. 1 and No. 2 — these brief quotations don’t do justice to his ideas — but that would go on for pages. Well, all right, just one more. Jung makes this observation about the two personalities:

The play and counterplay between personalities No. 1 and No. 2, which has run through my whole life, has nothing to do with a “split” or dissociation in the ordinary medical sense. On the contrary, it is played out in every individual. In my life No. 2 has been of prime importance, and I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within.

I know exactly what Jung is describing. Do you share this feeling?

* I had an interesting conversation with Australian journalist Sarah Wilson, and she sent me a link to a great column she wrote about trying to “Be Sarah.”

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Joe Griffith

    Hmmmm…this would explain a lot about me!

    My #1 side is serious and disciplined
    My #2 side likes to playful and challenging

    This would explain a lot of the arguments I have with myself.

    #1 You can’t do that, you have to be professional
    #2 Aweeee, come on, lets where the T-shirt that has words on it!

    Nice post, thanks for sharing Gretchin.

    Living Life By Design

  • I definitely get this idea of two personalities living side-by-side. Earlier in my life, I struggled with how to be both at once, the more introspective, thoughtful, responsible person vs. the more playful, sometimes (a lot of times) lazy, spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. As I’ve matured and done a lot of healing and recovery, I realize that there is space for both. The difference now is that I have the CHOICE of when I get to be what. I am not being led around by the nose by my personalities; I choose. Having these different sides to us makes more interesting, being able to choose how and when to be what we are is

  • Mellen

    Your thoughts on Jung reminded me of this talk at TED by Jill Bolte and her experience of having a stroke. She talks about the two personalities of the two sides of the brain.

  • I can relate to this..some sort of ‘dual personality’ could be because we have both positive and negative within ourselves..that’s ‘yin-yang’ in Chinese concept – everything has its counterpart. 🙂

  • SA

    This seems to be related to the concept of the shadow self and how each of us has several different parts of ourselves that dwell within, all with different needs, wants, strengths, weaknesses and distinct voices. For example, I’ve noticed that even though I tend to generally project an aura of strength and reliability, there is a part of myself that is a vulnerable child who wants nothing more than to receive attention from others. Both of these are parts of me, although I allow one to be more dominant in my life on a day to day basis.
    Spiritually speaking, I believe that each one of us has an inner wisdom and a “higher self” that we can tune into the receive guidance. It seems that this is, in part, what Jung is speaking of in the quotes above. I’ve found that yoga, meditation and journaling help me tune into this valuable part of myself.

  • Lyli

    How incredibly interesting!! I can’t wait to read this. For me, I’ve always felt something I thing as similar-since I was 12 or perhaps younger. And what I find as also interesting is that with me, No. 1 has been the very child-like essence of me–who understands and seeks out joy for the sake of joy, who is true to myself, who doesn’t care about others’ thoughts, who is naive but happily so, who sees the world in terms of black and white, but who is also selfish and not prone to think of others. No. 2 for me is mature, the planner, the focused and driven one, who sees the world as shades of gray, who has learned self-control and is establishing my place.

  • Peninith1

    I read Memories Dreams and Reflections when I was in my early 30s. It was like meeting myself for the first time, and having my own inner life acknowledged, like getting permission to begin to be fully who I always suspected I might be. Jung is one of the great teachers in my life–a person whom I never met, but who has had incalculable influence. He acknowledges those ‘big dreams’ that seemed to open the ‘doors of perception’ so wide when you were not even as old as 12, but somehow glimpsed ancient knowledge, he acknowledges the sudden shifts in you, when a whole mountain range of self shoves itself up into the light, seemingly unbidden. I go back to his well of enlightenment often. And I am reminded, when a sudden change trips me up and makes me recrystallize my idea of life and my place in it: Called or not called, God is there.

  • LivewithFlair

    Sometimes I think about it in terms of the real self and the false self or even the “flesh” and the “spirit” that battle. Scripture definitely presents a psycho-theology of personality, especially in the book of Romans. I’m fascinated by this! My real self is the self that loves God, knows who she is created to be, feels secure, purposeful, and loves. My false sense obsesses over material things, feels jealous, competitive, scared, and insecure. Part of my living with flair project has been to activate the “real self” by changing my perspective each day.

  • Doesn’t Jung also talk about our shadow selves? I feel sometimes like there is a certain tension between the positive and negative thinker within me. And I tend to clutch to the former and run away from the latter. Lately, I feel like I am more able to do embrace and learn from both.

    I wrote today about moving from shadows to light while dealing with a breakup.…mon-a-patronus/

  • Glindaneva

    I always felt that I have more than one side of my self, and recently i found this on the internet… I think it might help:

    Hope you guys enjoy it…

  • Lizzardbeth

    This reminds me of brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor’s discussion of the two hemispheres of the brain:

  • Yes… and for me, it’s at least two personalities. When I was a child I seriously thought I might be a little nuts. As I grew I realized that each part of me that seemed so different– like more than one personality– was actually different essential characteristics trying to express themselves.

    Even the parts that seem negative in me– some people call the “shadow” side–I am realizing are also just parts of me doing the best they can to experience the essence of who I am and sometimes sadly not doing a very effective job of it.

    What I’ve learned is that when I get very clear about what my personally held values are–the essential qualities that make me me– and live in harmony with those values my life flows and happiness just can’t help but happen.

    And when I don’t…

    Great post, thanks Gretchen!

  • There’s no doubt that there’s always a duality in our personalities. Some days I feel strong confident and masculine, other times I feel like a little child lost looking for his way home.

    Though I never feel they are dissociated from each other I do feel that they yin and yang serve their different purposes in life.

  • Thadleym

    Along with the Happiness Project I’ve also been reading and carrying around Danielle LaPorte and Carrie McCarthy’s book ‘Style Statement’. I think this topic really combines the two books nicely. I’m using both books to more deeply define or refine how to best ‘ be me’.

    Style Statement asks you to choose two words that describe yourself. The first word is your foundational word and the second word is your creative edge. Sometimes the words logically go together and sometimes they don’t, which can be even more interesting. Jung’s thought that ideas from side #2 are of vital importance is very similar to that Style Statement second word — the 20% word that defines our ‘something extra’.

    I’m currently working on honoring my second person or second Style Statement word. I enjoy working on and being my foundational personality but I value that ‘something extra’ that makes the foundation that much richer 🙂

    • DawnS

      Love that book! What are your 2 words? My first word is “Composed”…pretty boring I know, but it is what it is. My second word doesn’t really go with the first…it’s “Sunshine”. I even checked with Carrie McCarthy to see if “Composed Sunshine” made sense and she said yes.

      • gretchenrubin

        Mine was “Constructive Insouciant.”

        • Thadleym

          That seems lovely! Warm and pragmatic with that kiss of lighthearted carefree-ness 🙂

      • Thadleym

        I love Composed Sunshine! I am Sacred Catalyst 🙂

  • Yes. I might believe there are more if I really set about to think deeply on the subject. I find it a great asset as an actress. I’m able to think about a situation from various angles. It, also, means I am occasionally caught up in a civil war which affects my outward demeanor.

  • I have always felt I have two sides. There is the serious moody side and then the fun-loving one that is always trying to get out but the ‘moody’ one keeps her under lock and key. Unfortunately each day when I get up I don’t know who is going to be in charge for the day.

  • DiscoveredJoys

    Another great post, and very timely for me. Thanks, Gretchen.

    I’ve done a lot of reading in the last few years researching happiness, purpose, and meaning. I’m becoming more and more convinced that we each have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. Normally the unconscious mind is hidden from the conscious mind – but we live 95% of our lives unconsciously, and only 5% consciously. Sometimes our conscious mind becomes more aware of our unconscious mind. People identify this awareness as Personality 2, the shadow self, the soul, my spirit, my inner muse, the monkey mind etc. I suspect that Spinoza identified it as our ‘conatus’ or wellbeing.

    It feels real – because it is real – but the feeling is explained ‘colourfully’ by our conscious mind which struggles to identify it. I also suspect that different people have a higher or lower sensitivity to the presence of the hidden mind.

    Personally I have sometimes consciously observed myself doing things ‘on automatic’ with no conscious control. How many people have responded ‘automatically’ (and usually correctly) to a business or social situation – and then wondered how they knew what do do?

    And finally, I’ve come to think that real happiness, contentment, meaning and purpose are the signs that you are living with both your conscious and unconscious minds in harmony…

    • Ed

      Do you believe your conscious / unconscious exist solely inside the grey matter in your skull? Or is it more of an impersonal collective unconscious like Jung’s?

      • DiscoveredJoys

        I think that all there is, is matter. I think the unconscious mind is ‘only’ a big collection of survival machines which drive us to maintain our well being. However… I also believe that the unconscious (while hidden) generates the feelings of spirituality or sacredness that many of us feel.

        Is there a ‘collective unconscious’? Not in the material sense in my view. However I think we learn an enormous amount of behaviour through imitation of others (especially when we are young) so in many ways we are ‘on the same page’ as our kith and kin, and the wider society. Even as adults we spend a great deal of our time and effort unconsciously mimicing others (it’s been studied) so I expect there is a whole raft of common feeling built up – which may give the illusion of a collective unconscious.

        There’s an interesting video here:

        which basically notes that mammals are particularly family orientated. It’s long but worth a view.

  • Ed

    Your “self” isn’t a thing (ice cube), it’s a process (river). When you really get down to it’s it’s a bunch of processes each working themselves out through time all tied together through a sense of ownership. None of the processes are really you (unless you believe them to be) any one of them can drop away or grow in strength Dependant on how much attention you give them.

    In short trying to be “you” is pretty crazy, there is no fixed “you” anywhere so you can’t ever be “it”

  • Just walked over and pulled it off the shelf. This post came at such a perfect moment for me. I’m grappling with my “sides” or perhaps the space inbetween that defines the two sides, right now. As I release my life’s work into the world and start to feel the joy creeping in of doing what you truly love, the other side is screaming with all sorts of keep it safe cheerleading chants. Thank you for leading me exactly where I need to go, loved that book and looking forward to seeing how I feel 2nd time round.

    • gretchenrubin

      It is so good. There is so much there.

  • Ed

    Does anyone else find it ironic that lots of people are saying this post “came at just the right time for them” when one of Carl Jung’s most groundbreaking theories was that meaningful coincidences exist and imply a strong connection between our inner and outer worlds?

    It’s just too much 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      That hadn’t even occurred to me — you’re right!

  • I gotta get this book, “Somewhere deep in the background I always knew that I was two persons. One was the son of my parents, who went to school and was less intelligent, attentive, hard-working, decent, and clean than many other boys. The other was grown up — old, in fact — skeptical, mistrustful, remote from the world of men, but close to nature, the earth, the sun, the moon, the weather, all living creatures, and above all close to the night, to dreams, and to whatever “God” worked directly in him” this is exactly how I feel

  • you may want to read the book Multiplicity – about the many people inside of of

  • These articles have to admit I learned a lot of things, but also to bring me a lot of fun! I think the coming days I’ll be back to absorb knowledge! Thank you
    The play and counterplay between personalities No. 1 and No. 2, which has run through my whole life, has nothing to do with a “split” or dissociation in the ordinary medical sense. On the contrary, it is played out in every individual. In my life No. 2 has been of prime importance, and I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within.

  • djchriscruz

    My #1 is a jokester all around funny guy that is well liked by everyone.
    My 2# is “the quiet guy”

    My natural tendencies in public situations is to be the quiet guy. Fly under the radar and not be noticed. But I always fight with myself to be the funny guy because I’m liked by everyone and people that know me to be funny are more genuinely happy to see me.

    I hate how at my current job I’ve settled into being “the quiet guy” in the office. Other jobs I’ve had I’ve been more outgoing and well liked at the office. I just feel more expendable that I’ve settled into being known as quiet.

  • Kathryn

    I relate strongly to this statement that you quote from Jung…
    “I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within.” I am the type of person that suffers when I am not being me, when I am not making room for that which is coming from within. It’s not always pretty. Those things that come from within, don’t always fit the mold and cannot always be rationalized in real time, but they are almost always spot on, and when I have not listened and “made room” I have paid the price.

    • gretchenrubin

      In a true Jungian synchronicity, I was JUST copying out this quotation THIS
      MORNING!! I was struck so hard by that line.

  • I have this constantly – the nice me – open, kind, and patient. Then the demanding, want it my way and now, if not faster. The everyone is their own unique self me and then the judgmental why can’t the world meet my expectations me. They duke it out all the time. I have learned to sometimes let them do it and see who wins, but the older I get the more I play ref and throw the nasty me out of the ring.

  • Dr56

    There’s a very simple secret to happiness that everyone should follow: be disciplined enough to go to an Ivy League college where you can marry rich and then follow your dreams without any significant economic repercussions.

  • Blurb

    You know, I might feel a bit like this at times. In fact, I have three sides I split up inside my head. Side 1 is playful, stupid, and selfish. She likes indulging herself, sleeping in too late as well as staying up all night. Then we have Side 2, the more controlling side who tends to worry about everything, much unlike Side 1. She gets frustrated when the other sides don’t listen to her, and she’s the part of me who gets angry at every little thing I do. Side 3 is a little like Side 1, who’s childish, but she’s impulsive at a rebellious level. Everything I’m told not to do, she questions and jabs until I finally might do it. Weird, huh?

  • Helen Burke

    I feel like this all the time, like there are two people living inside me with completely different desires and motivations. It’s really stunting my ability to grow as a person because these two conflict so much and because of that I don’t really know what I want from life.

  • Nightwalker

    You should read ‘Steppenwolf’ by Hesse, immediately.