As human beings we all have a lot of different roles that we take on each day. Some of us are a mother, some a son, others a professional in a specific field, and the list could go on and on.
One person holds a lot of different roles within them, and each of these will come out in the situation it is needed in. Let’s take the example of Sarah. When Sarah is at home with her family, she is a mother and a wife. When Sarah is at work, she is both a teacher to her students and a colleague in relation to the other teachers that work with her. This means that when Sarah is at home with her children she will cook dinner for them, play with them, and act in a motherly way towards them. When Sarah is at work, these qualities of her personality will not come out but instead she will be an educator and will support her students in learning new things.
Gestalt Theory labels this experience as ‘Personality Functions’. This means that people hold many different aspects of their personality within themselves, which help them decide what action to take in relation to the situation they are in at that precise moment. If, for example, Sarah was to act from the personality function of mother with her students in class, she would not be able to do her job in the most effective way possible. Switching from one personality function to the next is usually not something that the person is consciously aware of but instead something that happens naturally. It is also important to note that personality functions are not different personalities that a person puts on when needed; they are simply different parts of the person’s Whole Self.
The recent pandemic brought a lot of people’s work life into their personal lives at home. This experience has shown us the importance of being aware of what personality function we need to act from in that exact moment. Let’s take the example of Sarah again. The school Sarah works for switched to online classes during the pandemic, so she had to work from home and provide her students with online lessons. Sarah’s children had to stay at home too because their school switched to online learning. Due to this situation, Sarah found it more difficult to act from the personality function of teacher, because the environment she had to work from was her home in which she usually acts from the personality functions of mother and wife. Being caught between two or more personality functions at the same time can be quite tiring and put a lot of strain on the person to juggle many different things at once.
What helped a lot of people that had to work from home during the pandemic was to create a space in the house which was used only during working hours. This space represented the personality function of professional for a lot of people. Some also found that it was helpful to enter the room 15 minutes before having to clock in to work, to give themselves the time to take on the necessary personality function. Being aware of what your role is in that exact moment will help you to take on the personality function needed for you to navigate the situation effectively.
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Lisa Laspina is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently working with Willingness. She is reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.
7 simple tips to tackle working from home – Every Mind Matters. (2021). Retrieved 8 December 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/coronavirus/simple-tips-to-tackle-working-from-home/
Mann, D. (2010). Gestalt therapy – 100 key points and techniques. Taylor & Francis Ltd.