Balancing Internal & External Life
How do multiple/plural systems pay attention to their inner world without it taking over their life?
Folk may have gone for years or decades thinking they're singular, unaware of, in denial of, or not paying attention to their inner world. Some systems have hosts who have been somewhat "deliberately" excluded from system happenings — whether deliberate by the background system, or by headmates who are working in collaboration to keep their host "in the dark" so that their external singular mask and commitments are undisturbed by being plural. They may be ashamed of being plural, or uncertain of how to operate in a singular-normative society as plurals.
If we're aiming towards functional multiplicity, though, things can be eased greatly by coordinating internal and external life and commitments. No different than attempting work-life balance, it can be a juggling act, and there's moments & times it works smoothly, and others where accommodations need to be made in one area to handle issues in another area of life.
So, how do you do this if you've never handled inner world or inner life commitments on the regular? Like any other area(s) of life, inner world issues get shuffled into the mix of priorities and areas of life where you interface with others and need to collaborate and share tasks and priorities.
Usually we do these things "invisibly" or they're part of our routine external day-to-day. Whether it's colleagues at work, clients, students & teachers at school, family members and chores, or our support team appointments and obligations, we all have times we interface with other external people and hash out when to have meetings, who is doing what & when, delegate, compromise, etc. Or we ought to if we aren't.
There is an on-ramp figuring out how to merge/yield with the other traffic in life, but once you've got inner world shuffled in with other routine practices, it doesn't have to be any more complicated than when you collaborate and communicate with other people with whom you share space and resources.
While we talk about meetings elsewhere on the site, we don't really go deeply into what the meetings look like in the greater context of our life, and what we actually routinely handle in our meetings. Your first meetings are likely going to be longer, more complicated — just like if you start a new job or get a new roommate or have a new doctor and go through an intake process. There's stuff to hash out, and folk to get acquainted with — an onboarding process. You may be entering an established culture and getting up to speed, or you may be starting a new culture from scratch, like a start-up company. These meetings will take more time, and should, but rest assured that once y'all are more familiar with what's going on and the groundwork is laid that meetings can take less time. In fact, any organization with long meetings probably forgot that long meetings are not always productive and ought to pare down their meeting times and so don't necessarily make long meetings part of your new culture for the meetings' sake. Get the job done — communication, and collaboration. Tweak agreements, exchange information and resources, make decisions, and dismiss the meeting.
We like to touch base internally at least once a day, to set priorities, check appointments, determine who will handle what, who wants or needs attention, etc. We run our life like a business. It’s like having a morning meeting for 15 minutes to make sure that everyone’s on-task and make sure there will not be any fires to put out (like missed appointments).
We have a longer meeting once a week, and a really long meeting on the first of each month.
So for our weekly meeting, we jot down our priorities for the week, check our calendar in detail for the rest of the week (writing down our appointments in our planner), and we'll flag other priorities like what day we will go shopping, what’s the weather forecast, when to check our post office box, etc. This is all a part of our meeting. This way no one’s stuff falls through the cracks. This is the time that anyone who has other needs for the week would bring them up, to see when good time(s) are for them. Like whether we might go camping or hiking, or when our inner kids will have space to play on the calendar.
Our monthly meeting we put the "big rocks" in our bucket — we do a couple monthly assessments to make sure we're doing OK and what we need to focus on for our system's health and for our shared life. For example it might be better sleep, working on nutrition, or attempting to contact friends or family more often. We also figure out our goals for the month, usually that involves what projects we need to focus on for the month whether it's submitting conference session proposals, working on a book, creating an online course, prepping for travel, or promoting an upcoming coaching group. We look at this list at our weekly meetings and keep in in front of us for our daily meetings too. Each of these projects on our list includes reminders of the next step or 2 we need to tackle in the project.
So all of our "inner world" meetings are a hybrid of inner & outer focus. Because our resources are also blended. Some priorities can be handled inner world, some need to be external world. It helps to consider both.
We don’t see a strict barrier or difference in priority between inner & outer stuff, we are literally living in both worlds. our body is like a doorway between worlds or places. It’s like saying “Do you lose sight of the work you do at the office or in school when you plan out and execute your housework?” No, you already hold aside time for your office or school work when you plan out your housework or weekend projects. Most people's upbringing has already given us a reflex of "the work week" versus "the weekend" and allocating our energy and time accordingly.
We can build in a habit of taking inner vs. outer world needs into account the same way that people account for their kids' needing to be taken to sporting engagements, or you might automatically schedule in a weekly gaming session with your RPG pals, or hanging out with your friend every week. The point is to put it into the mental schedule with the same level of commitment.
Is scheduling "inner" time selfish or "neglecting" external world stuff?
Absolutely not. No more than someone who does any other self-care like prayer, meditation, exercise, napping, journaling ("daily pages"), or other sanity breaks. This is a top-tier sanity-making activity when you're basically running an inner community as well as managing external community commitments.
This is our life. We live in different worlds. And we learn how to balance them and how to manage our time and energy between different worlds — absolutely no different from someone who has a home-life and a work-life.
Most singular people balance "different worlds" also, so technically it’s about as complicated as anything else (have you seen how much "time management" self-help advice there is out there? Time management is probably a billion dollar industry between planners, journals, apps, SAAS for home & office, etc.). Many people balance a variety of spaces. Parents with joint custody. People with more than one job. People with kids and a spouse who have to balance work, kids, spouse/date time, etc. This is before we even consider the commitments internal to work or home in itself. These are all “Domains of life” that we have to consider, balance, prioritize etc. and sometimes have meetings about — with various internal &/or external people. The inner world is another area of life where y’all could use some time, energy, effort, and mindfulness. In short, from an external point of view it's like self-care, but from an internal point of view we both have self-care regarding each of us individually, and selves-care of the inner group as a whole.
What if I don't have an "inner world"? What if I don't know what's going on inside unless I'm 100% engaged with my inner world?
Well, first off we don't mean "inner world" per-se. Whether you as a host have little access to your system or the internal landscape in which others might operate, or your system doesn't have an internal landscape that y'all are aware of, you still have this internal life, the intricacies of relationships and interactions, obligations and needs, that makes up your time management as a plural or multiple system. Internal to your system, your inner relationships all matter and make up your internal subjective reality as opposed to the external stuff that outsiders see and interact with.
This internal stuff continues and changes even when you, the host or main fronts, are externally focused. Just like other people external to us don't go away when we're at home or not paying attention to them, our headmates don't vanish and their needs don't go away if we aren't looking. (Strangely, some therapists are under the impression that this happens — and maybe that's because some clients self-report this. If you have zero going on inside if you're not paying attention we'll accept that as your reality. We have found it more useful not to look at it that way for many reasons, such as how people with DID react to antipsychotics that suppress internal communication. Just because they're not "hearing the voices" doesn't stop their headmates from becoming resentful, acting out, exerting passive influence, or fronting with knowledge of what's been going on. So something must be going on back there in spite of lack of access, awareness, or communication.)
The inner world, whether it exists as a discrete place or not, continues to run and operate and stuff goes on even when the person(s) front aren’t paying much attention to it. At least it does for us. So there’s children getting comfort and parenting, teens thinking about what cooking project to make next, some groups of more adult types who are working on things like what classes we want to work on next and maybe roughing out some outlines or plans, etc. back there.
We only hear about what's going on for our external friends & family when we really talk about it with them. Sometimes we only know what’s going on inside because we actually actively touch base with folks, though like my kids in the next room we may occasionally hear something or some outburst while they're playing a game or banging around in the kitchen and it catches our awareness.
So we don’t always know what’s going on inside — not because it stops existing, but because we're busy elsewhere or not present with them. It’s good to check in with internal folk and find out what’s been going on. But sometimes during the day whomever is front gets some type of information — we don’t always even realize why like some thought of cooking something floats up, but it’s because the teens have been thinking about it back there. Just like we sometimes get emotional flashbacks or other intrusions from background folk. Sometimes it’s fun or funny though. Justin usually cracks jokes in the background for example.
The Upshot - Communication!
Whether you set aside formal times to catch up with others, make plans, and make decisions, or you do it on-the-fly as needed, communication and clear expectations as to when y'all need to communicate and make group decisions is key to building, maintaining, and managing trust, lowering anxiety, and leading a more balanced & functional life.
You don't need to make every decision as a committee, like we have guidelines for what foods & fuels work for our body and a lot of leeway for our current fronter to pick what they're going to eat within those guidelines. But other decisions are always done as a group, at least of the body's elders & main decision-makers, but anyone else is welcome to chime in and help make those decisions. For example, what projects get priority each month, where we live, big purchases, medical decisions, who we hang out with and how often (works for us right now, during the COVID pandemic, and normally wouldn't be such a big deal otherwise), etc. are done as a group with much more care than smaller decisions like brand of toothpaste or variety of kale to purchase.
It's possible to come up with guidelines and tweak them over time and come up with methods that work for y'all whether they include regular or scheduled meetings or guidelines for when a meeting ought to take place. Life is a series of trial & error and being open to mistakes and making corrections. It's a process.
What if we are spending too much time in the inner world?
Only y'all can know whether you're spending "too much time" working on your inner world. If you're working on recovery from C-PTSD/PTSD, or other issues, your healing work is a major priority in your life, maybe even your full-time job. So figure out what it is about what you're doing with your time that bugs you.
Are you "spending too much time" working on trauma? Too much time building internal relationships? Or too much time avoiding something painful in the outside world? These are very different things. If you end up spending "too much time" (by y'all's definition(s)) doing inner world stuff, figure out why, and work on making a correction. If you've let external appointments slip by, are avoiding making a phone call or something else uncomfortable, or would rather spend your days with your body's eyes closed doing stuff in the inner world than deal with external stuff that's important to note. Address it however y'all would like or need to.
However, I think sometimes this concern stems from denial or resistance to really facing that y'all are a plural or multiple system, working on inner relationships, or fear of stumbling on trauma. Spending time with yourselves is a productive activity that can help move y'all more and more towards internal community and more smooth functioning, and to anyone sitting nearby in the external world you might look like you're writing in a journal, chatting on your phone, or have decided to meditate or close your eyes for a few minutes. They can stay outside for a few minutes while y'all touch base inside and make sure that everyone's OK, that concerns are voiced, that y'all can vote or make decisions or debate whatever y'all need to.
Inner world obligations can be as vital as external world ones. Make sure that you are not putting anyone inside or outside in danger and do what you need to do. If you have real concerns, outline what things cannot be interrupted by inner world stuff (driving, caring for the kids, etc.) — even if it seems obvious it may help quell any insecurities, uncertainties or fears of neglecting external obligations y'all may have.