In the Body-Centered Gestalt and Subtle Energy Healing tradition we speak of the layers of personality. One important layer to consider is called Role Layer. Role Layer is a construct that we maintain in order to fit in. Generally speaking we adopt this personality as a child in order feel accepted by, and know our place in, our family of origin. When we’re in role, we don’t feel that we have a choice. It appears to us as a statement of “I Am.” “I Am Brave.” “I Am Smart.” “I Am Caring.” Our role can emerge from natural gifts in our own being and soul. These are propensities that get usurped in order to feel like we are accepted or belong in our family of origin or community.
It’s also possible for our roles to develop based upon assaults to our emotional expression as children. Imagine that when we had moments of feeling and/or acting uncaring in our family that experience was made wrong or shamed. In response we unconsciously fabricated the role of being warm and caring because it wasn’t safe to feel cold and uncaring. Though we may be a naturally loving soul, this trait shifts from being a gift to a defense.
Our role layer isn’t just a mental construct—it’s also a way that we can organize our physical self. Our chest may puff up to show we are confident. Our face may be pulled in concern to show compassion. This is how we are structured based on role we are playing. In personal growth work it pays to consider our roles and take pause and notice how we organize our body, voice, in accordance with our role. It is incredibly freeing to notice our roles and consciously try to release them.
You may be thinking, “wait a second, I love taking care of my family!” “I AM a loving person.” There are times when we feel really connected to our role. The key in understanding whether or not we’re in role layer or a centered and grounded experience is noticing the energy as it lives in our body; Role Layer is disembodied. Our energy is up and out of our body; it can be frenetic, appear as body tension, the feeling of energy held and stuck. If you feel embodied and connected you are not in role.
The process of coming to understand our roles can be really confusing, a rollercoaster ride. We often get connection from others by being warm and caring—but it’s a connection to and from a disembodied state. So, often we don’t feel our connection to others very well. We may know the caring of others intellectually rather than have the ability to feel it in our body. The more we can sense if our energy is grounded in our body or hovering outside of ourselves the easier it will be to know and bring consciousness to our role.
Role Layer is a place of little life force. It’s exhausting to feel like we need to behave in a specific way in order to be loved and accepted. As we begin to let go of our role the energy in our system begins to move. Bringing consciousness and connection to our role and its opposite is the way toward freedom and healing in our lives and psyche.