Saturday, November 17, 2012
Transpersonal psychology refers to a “whole person” approach at understanding psychology (why people do what they do and why they think the way they think). This “whole person” approach includes the intellect, emotions, body, and spirit. With regards to the two triangular models s – Experiences in the Spheres of Consciousness & the 3 Fundamental Dimensions of the Whole person experience – I believe we can add some new dimensions into the working definition of “transpersonal psychology”. I believe we can overlay and interchange the relationships between the cosmocentric, egocentric, and psychocentric experiences in the spheres of consciousness with the transpersonal, personal, and interpersonal dimensions of the “whole-person” experience. The overlay and interchange between these two models results in different combinations and different relationships that can emerge between consciousness and experience. These relationships are relevant. What is the point of experience if we are unconscious of its existence?
Therefore, in addition to the short working definition of transpersonal psychology that I set forth in my first paragraph, I feel that consciousness plays an important role in the transpersonal experience. Understanding the focus of our consciousness (egocentric, psychocentric, and cosmocentric) and how it relates to our experience with ourself, others, and the universal whole, is imperative in understanding someone on a psychological level. In summation, I feel that transpersonal psychology is the study of the whole person, their experiences, the level of consciousness they are experiencing during a series of events or during reflection of events, and how all of these things interplay with one another to result in that person’s current perception of life as they know it/perceive it.
Additionally, I found some commentary in the readings of particular interest. First, in reading about the Emergence of Transpersonal Psychology I really appreciated Maslow’s idea of self-actualization as a way of defining transpersonal experiences and/or studies. You could add to the definition of transpersonal psychology by positing that it is also the study of the self-actualizing dimension of human nature. I also appreciated Walt Whitman’s assertion that “body and spirit be felt with equal delight”. Additionally, the commentary about how “transcendentalists traced their world view to the European idealist school philosophy that holds that ideas and intuitions have a reality of their own”. I have never considered that notion before! Vaughan’s statement that there are three dimensions to transpersonal therapy (those dimensions being context, content, and process) really resonated with me because it organizes the therapy into a sort of “three-pronged approach” that is easier to wrap your mind around on a cognitive level. In the future, it will be interesting to look at the context, content, and process involved in the three levels of the transpersonal spectrum (egoic, existential, and transpersonal). I am really into “overlaying” concepts atop of one another and seeing what combinations emerge and their implications.
The definitions of transpersonal psychology discussed in the article by Caplan, Hartelius, and Rardin also made some points of particular interest. I love what Boorstein had to say about therapy, “I do not think about people becoming ‘cured’ or about ‘working things through’. I think about us all becoming more familiar with the habits of our minds and more skillful about habits we cultivate.” Mark Epstein intrigued me as I read, “Transpersonal psychology is the study of the impersonal nature of the self.” I took particular notice of Gilot’s admonition on “awareness” which “pushes perception into unconscious structures, revealing the deep mental functioning and processes connected to the perception of reality and to individual choices.” Grof’s statement about religion versus spirituality and its place in transpersonal psychology really resonated with me as I read, “…it is essential to emphasize that transpersonal psychologists strictly differentiate spirituality based on personal experience from the activities involving organized religion. While it is possible to study transpersonal experiences with scientific rigor and incorporate the findings into a comprehensive world view, it is impossible to reconcile the dogmas of organized religions with science, traditional as well as ‘new paradigm science’.” As I consider all of these points made by these various transpersonal psychologists I am slightly overwhelmed. It is a lot of food for thought (to state an overused cliché). When it is all said and done I feel like, if I were to simplify the definition, it would be as follows: the overlap of psychology and spirituality and the implications that go along with overlapping those two together. The implications have similarities and differences for everyone. There are some collective conscious – type experiences that are simply perceived and expressed uniquely by the person experiencing them and these experiences we use to better understand the whole person.
I have had some interesting experiences with relationships, as I am sure most of us have. I decided to focus on this topic for a paper I was writing for one of my graduate classes in Transpersonal Psychology. It was for my Theories of Personality class and I combined some experience and research on relationships with personality and nonviolent communication techniques.
Nonviolent Communication in Relationships
Relationships give participants an opportunity to see themselves more fully and clearly than the members would individually. This clarity and insight enable relationship growth and self-actualization. This growth potential can be maximized or stymied based on the interplay between the individuals. Maximizing the growth potential requires an openness and desire for growth by all participants. It also requires self-awareness, commitment, and empathy. Self-awareness is important for understanding where you are coming from emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It provides a context for your position and being within the relationship. Commitment carries the relationship through challenges. Empathy produces an understanding of someone else’s reality.
Reality differs for everyone. Reality refers to one’s experience of the world at a given time and in a given situation. Personality, spirituality, past experiences, overall life philosophy, and mentality make this a subjective experience, creating a perception of life. Therefore, reality is a subjective perception about life. Empathy is then understood to be the comprehension of someone’s perception. How do you understand someone’s personality, spirituality, past experiences, overall life philosophy, and mentality? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, understand means to perceive. It is a verb and denotes action or process. This process is the interplay between individuals known as communication.
Humans communicate in several ways: energetically, nonverbally, and verbally. All elements are important and whole studies in themselves. I am concerned with verbal communication since it seems to be the most widely used and supposedly understood. Communication, for all its importance and widespread use, does not guarantee a successful relationship. I define successful as the full actualization of the inherent potential – in this case it is the full actualization of the inherent potential of a relationship. Full actualization requires consciously communicating and implies working at these quality communications. Certainly not all relationships require this at the same level or to the same degree. I am interested in looking at those relationships requiring conscious and quality communications at the highest level: intimate relationships – long term endeavors between people offering the highest growth potential for the involved parties and containing high levels of synergy (cooperation) and love.
How do we consciously communicate? I propose three vital components to conscious communication: empathy, technique and completion. The technique or procedure I offer is non-violent communication. Completion refers to bringing closure to exchanges – leaving no loose ends - unexpressed thoughts and feelings.
I theorize that through non-violent communication brought to completion we can consciously communicate with each other successfully, especially in intimate relationships, and thereby facilitate our own and our partner’s actualization into our highest potentials. This paper will systematically explore the aforementioned key topics to attain fuller understanding. Relationships, communication, and empathy are all processes tied to the value or quality of our life experience.
Individuality plays a key role in understanding relationships because relationships are comprised of individuals. Alfred Adler developed individual psychology as a way of really delving into the uniqueness of individuals (Frager & Fadiman, 1998. p. 97). Adler understood behavior in the context of physical and social environments. He also made large contributions to family and group therapy. This suggests that by understanding relationships you can better understand individuals and vice versa. Alder believed life was about adaptation, cooperation, and altruism (p. 97). Adler postulated that “the hardest thing for people to do is to know themselves and change themselves” (p. 98). Empowerment of self and others is a key component to Adler’s work and foreshadowed the work of Carl Rogers who speaks heavily on the topic of relationships.
Relationships are a way to better know oneself since they mirror aspects of our self that we may not otherwise notice. Additionally, they shed light on how others might experience us. Rogers states, “Our personalities become visible to us through relating to others” (p. 413). People invest incredible amounts of time in relationships because they desire fulfillment of the biologically inherent need for affiliation. Rogers specifically looks at intimate relationships, those loving relationships of a potentially long-term nature, as being a vehicle through which development can occur. He associates four key elements to relationships: commitment, expression, avoiding specific roles, and personal sharing (p. 413). These four elements of a relationship directly influence the synergy or degree of interpersonal cooperation (p. 456). Synergy is necessary for the individuals in a relationship to truly get the full benefit of the relationship and self-actualization. The full benefit includes the notion that the combined effort of both parties – the partnership – yields greater results than the sum of either person’s individual efforts.
Abraham Maslow is well known for his hierarchy of needs. There are five levels to his hierarchy pyramid. On the bottom, the most basic level, are the physiological needs. The second level is safety needs. Psychological needs start at level three with belonging and love. Level four is self-esteem and level five, the highest level, is self-actualization. Self-actualization refers to the process of utilizing of talents and capacities. Notice self-actualization is a growth process and not an ultimate destination. Maslow believed very few people achieved self-actualization – meaning most people never even begin this process. Basic needs must be met before someone can approach self-actualization. Additionally, someone must want to engage in this process. Like any process, it takes effort.
Meta-motivation refers to “behavior inspired by growth needs and values” (p. 446). It takes the form of something outside of oneself and is common amongst self-actualizers. Self-actualizers share some traits. These traits include (a) comfortable relationship with reality and an efficient understanding of reality, (b) acceptance of self, others, and nature, (c) spontaneity; simplicity; naturalness, (d) problem-centering as opposed to ego-centering, (e) the quality of detachment; the need for privacy, (f) autonomy; independence of culture and environment, (g) continued freshness of appreciation, (h) mystic and peak experiences, (i) a feeling of kinship with others, (j) deeper and more profound interpersonal relations, (k) the democratic character structure, (l) discrimination between means and ends, (m) sense of humor, (n) self-actualizing creativeness, (o) resistance to enculturation; the transcendence of any particular culture (p. 448-449). Self- actualizers are not free of faults. They are strongly committed. Maslow developed eight general ways people can self-actualize: (a) concentration, (b) choosing growth over safety, (c) self-awareness - understanding one’s inner nature and making one’s own decisions), (d) honesty - taking responsibility for one’s actions and looking within for the answers to problems, (e) judgment - trusting one’s instincts, (f) self-development - the never-ending process of realizing one’s potential, (g) peak experiences - experiences leaving us more whole, integrated, and aware of self and the world, (h) lack of ego defenses - becoming aware of the ways in which we distort our images of ourselves and the external world and dropping these things when appropriate (p. 450-451). Effective relationships entailing conscious communication help us achieve growth in one or more of these self-actualizing processes. A vital component to conscious communication is empathy.
Rogers believed mutual empathy and empowerment lived at the core of successful (growth-enhancing) relationships. He stated that empathy contains four components: motivation, perception, affection, and cognition. Motivation refers to the desire to know another’s reality. Perception refers to the ability to understand verbal and nonverbal cues. Affection refers to the ability to resonate with another’s feelings. The cognitive component makes sense of the joining resonance (p. 263). Empathy allows for relationship enhancement in addition to the development of self. Relationship enhancement for intimate relationships may entail a deeper level of intimacy for both parties. This might take the form of deeper sharing, more cooperation, or deeper love. Again, intimacy is a complete study in itself.
Empathy requires that both people respect one another’s experience (p. 263). It entails understanding someone else’s reality while keeping the integrity of one’s own reality at the same time. Empathy does not mean agreement with someone else’s reality. It simply refers to understanding his/her reality, sometimes a daunting enough task in itself. Non-violent communication utilizes empathy. It views empathy as a vital component of the communication process. Maximizing empathy in communication yields the potential for growth, fulfillment, and intimacy. By utilizing the process of nonviolent communication one is simultaneously exercising empathy.
People communicate energetically, verbally, and nonverbally. Freud believed energy flow influenced things such as the unconscious, psychological development, personality, and neurosis (p. 37). Everything is energy so it makes sense that everything would be influenced by and through energy. People’s energy is communicated intuitively. Energetic communication occurs constantly however some people are more sensitive and aware of it than others. Most people do not take the time to understand the energy which is the core of their very beings. This concept of intuitively understanding someone better from their energy seems weird and elusive many. It is similar to a person who is color blind claiming colors do not exist simply because they cannot see them. Another example would be saying a particular language were weird and possibly non-existent because you do not understand it. The human body communicates with itself through energy, down to the various components making up the cell (Dzeja, et al. 2002). If the cells within the human body communicate energetically then why can’t the human body (made up of many cells) communicate with other human bodies energetically? Picking up on these communications occurs on an intuitive and somatic level. We may not always be aware of these communications unless we pay attention and tap into our intuition. Intuition refers to the realization of many subtle cues, some of them somatic but all occurring on an energetic level still undergoing much exploration and mysterious to most people.
There is a whole branch of yoga devoted to energy called Kundalini-yoga. According to Kundalini-yoga there is a subtle energy called Kundalini at the base of the spine. All energies of mind and body are Kundalini and can be consciously controlled if practiced (Frager & Fadiman, 1998, p. 492). This would allow for better understanding of one’s personal energy as well as others around them. It would facilitate a more conscious energetic communication between people.
Nonverbal communication occurs in several ways. Body language is the most obvious form of nonverbal communication. The expressive arts utilize many types of nonverbal communication through dance therapy, art therapy, music, etc. Nonverbal communication is becoming more popular as people realize more and more that sometimes words are ineffective in expressing what someone truly feels and/or thinks. Carl Roger’s daughter Natalie Rogers has achieved many breakthroughs with her clients through the use of expressive arts (Rogers, 2000). Art therapy is being used in more mental health facilities. Some incorporate art therapy as a sort of feng shui for decorating their facility. They utilize their staff in “creative cultural engagements” so create a more cohesive staff where members feel expressed, respected and special. It also makes it more cheerful for the patients (Webster & Collier, 2005). New research shows participation in arts has clear benefits for mental health (Secker, et al, 2007).
Verbal communication involves the use of language. Many people assume verbal communication’s effectiveness. There are several issues when using verbal communication which usually go unnoticed. First, if people speak different languages sometimes things get lost in translation. This can easily lead to a distortion of the original meaning. Secondly, within the same language many people ascribe different meanings to the same word. People place connotations on words due to social influences and personal experiences. The same word can then mean two different things to two different people. Third, when people are trying to convey a feeling or an experience their explanation is limited by the scope of their vocabulary. How many times do people settle for words that fail to truly capture the essence of what they are trying to express? Probably more than we ever realize. Despite these issues, we rely heavily on verbal communication. It is in our best interest to consciously communicate and make sure we are clearly conveying and understanding the verbal exchanges we engage in.
In terms of fostering actualizing relationships we need a language technique which values questions and seeks to gain empathic understanding of one’s partner via a dialogue that captures the other person’s reality or perception accurately. Nonviolent communication (NVC) achieves this goal.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
It is one technique gaining in popularity but still widely unknown. The idea of nonviolent communication has been around for quite a while. Ghandi is well known for his nonviolent communications in India. The westernized process of NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg as a way for westerners to relinquish the power of past experiences and embrace the moment to moment interactions with others. NVC has two main goals: (a) to create human connections that empower compassionate giving and receiving and (b) to create governmental and corporate structures that support compassionate giving and receiving (Rosenberg, 2003). Compassion is more important than fear. The dialogue between two people connects thoughts and feelings to underlying needs and values. Then both people can work on understanding what is necessary for those needs to be met. It formulates the needs into requests rather than demands. It respects both people’s personal space. The dialogue follows a formula entailing observation, feeling, needs, and request. There is not a set formula and it adapts to personal and cultural situations and styles (Rosenberg, 2003). Andrew Beath mentions nonviolent communication in his article Navigating the Future: A Guide for Conscious Activism as one of seven components of conscious activism. He refers to nonviolence as “kindness in the midst of passion” (Beath, 2006, 11). NVC emphasizes personal responsibility for actions and choices made when we respond to others. It also offers and emphasizes a cooperative and collaborative way to contribute to relationships. It empowers people to remain human even under trying circumstances and productively handles challenges through the use of effectively communicating feelings and needs. It does these through honing several skills in those employing this technique. These skills include: (a) differentiating observation from evaluation, (b) differentiating feeling from thinking so as to avoid judgments, (c) connecting with universal needs/values, and (d) requesting what we DO want rather than what we do not want (Rosenberg, 2003).
The other vital component to effective communication is completion. Completion refers to fully closing a situation or dialogue. This entails full disclosure on the part of the person sharing. It also entails active listening. The role of the listener is to help empty the large reservoirs of emotion, anger, stress, frustration and other negative feelings until the individual can see more clearly. Not until then, can a party consider the needs of the other. Perhaps we can think of it as listening first aid.
Completion consists of anything previously withheld (actions, words, sounds, movements, feelings, etc.). All these potential areas of withholding are energetic fields that stop flowing if not brought to completion (Berar, 2009). Bringing these things to completion is like massaging someone else’s tensed up muscles. Muscles store memories from life experiences. Until they are fully massaged the memories are stored there, affecting the ability of the muscle to perform optimally. Completion must be done in a domain of truth. If it is not done in this domain it will not work. If any piece of an experience is left incomplete in that domain of truth then you don’t receive the full benefits of that self-actualizing experience. It’s about following the energy of your truth rather than the energy of your expectations. If you look at any real spiritual pursuit by any of the masters what occurs is a letting go of attachments/expectations. If someone wants to be happy they need to be complete to obtain all truth and self-development and in following those truths to completion they will gain spiritual attainment, self-actualization, and the experience of happiness (Berar, 2009). What makes us not want to follow truth to completion? Vulnerability. Instead of steering us away from something it should take us towards it – serving as a roadmap pointing us in the right direction. Surrendering our vulnerability towards the completion of truth serves as an overall life enhancement (Berar, 2009).
Intimate relationships contain a large growth and transformation potential for the partnership and the individual members. Effective relationships require successful communication. Successful communication entails empathy, technique, and completion. The technique of nonviolent communication incorporates empathy, facilitating a clear expression of someone’s reality and what they need. It also employs active listening and urges the listener to repeat back to the speaker what they are hearing to better ensure accurate comprehension. Completion refers to making sure both parties have expressed everything within themselves regarding a certain topic or situation. Bringing conversations and situations to completion ensures both parties receive the full actualizing and transforming potential. This way of conscious communication allows us to maximize the benefit and potential of relationships for achieving personal growth.
Beath, A. (2006). A Guide for Conscious Activism. Shift, 12(10), 11.
Berar, N. Completion. Personal Interview conducted on March 24, 2009.
Frager, R., & Fadiman, J. (1998). Personality and personal growth. 4th Edition. New York: Longman.
Rogers, N. (2000). The creative connection: expressive arts as healing. Ross-on-Wye, UK: PCCS.
Rosenberg, M. (2003). The Center for Nonviolent Communication. Retrieved on March 22, 2009, from http://www.cnvc.org
Secker, J., Spandler, H., Hacking, S., Kent, L., Shenton, J. (2007). Art for Mental Health’s Sake. Mental Health Today, 34.
Webster, S., Clare, A., Collier, E. (2005). Creative Solutions: Innovative Use of Arts in Mental Health Settings. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 43(5), 42.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The following paper is one that I wrote for one of my Graduate Classes. It discusses personal experiences, applications, and academic understandings of the Dark Night of the Soul. I would like to share this with others in the hopes of eliciting conversation and building an affiliation with others that may have undergone something like this but felt or wondered if they were all alone.
Dancing with the Dark
The tools obtained through my studies this year inspired emotional, intellectual, psychic, somatic, and spiritual transformations in my life. These changes occurred when I deepened my relationship with my Self through various transpersonal practices and introspection. Personal experiences of transpersonal psychology over the past year reflect what Michael Daniels refers to as, “the spiritual transformation of the personality” and living an “integrated and embodied spiritual life” (Daniels, 2005, p. 214).
Jungian concepts provided a map of the psyche that I naturally gravitated toward. They helped me understand the psychic components, their roles, and interpersonal relationships with each other. It added clarity to my blurry understanding of psychic anatomy. Creative expression (CE) exercises provided an outlet of expression for the voices within my psyche, for example my Soul, Ego, Mana, and Shadow.
I learned how the psyche’s sub-personalities vie for attention and carry out the different roles we play (i.e. mother, child, wife, business woman, etc.). I realized there is a connection between the roles we play and our personality traits. The roles we play, much like the aspects of our personality, do not only get expressed when needed but rather, they always influence our behaviors, even through subtle expression. Personality traits (sub-personalities) have needs and concerns. This realization transformed my understanding of Self. I realized how neglectful I was towards most of my personality – ignoring large portions of my own personality and it’s concerns. This exercise enabled me to better meet the needs of my whole personality rather than catering to a particular portion.
My personal life over the last two years has been inundated with recurring issues needing to be dealt with while I questioned who I was and why I was doing what I was doing. Moving to a state where I knew no one put me in a position to really be with myself. I was confronted with obstacles and issues I thought I had worked through. Everything I thought I believed was challenged and everything I thought I was committed to was questioned. This occurred from internal dialogue inspired by external events that overwhelmed me entirely. I did not know what was happening. I knew I was questioning whether or not I was living according to promises I had made myself. I knew I had violated many of those promises. I started holding myself accountable. I reassessed what I wanted in life. I assessed my goals. I wrestled with myself and plunged into a sea of darkness. This was Shadow work and I was experiencing a dark night of the soul. The classes and reading this year helped me give this experience a name and work through it more effectively. The timing was perfect. The discussions and exercises throughout the year, along with an awesome cohort, created a sacred space to befriend Shadow aspects of Self. I realized their underlying motives were not bad but sometimes their expression was unhealthy. I needed to find healthy ways to express these aspects of Self. Simply refraining from unhealthy activity was not working. These areas became repressed. I needed to replace previous methods with new ones more fitting to the person I am today.
Between the fall and winter quarter I received my master Reiki certificate, opening up a new world of energy work previously unexplored. I did inner child work where some past wounds were healed. I took those inner children and aligned them with my present Self. My truth had been steeped in fear and it constructed a wall of pretense and false image for safety. My Shadow cried out when there was too much to repress and I was finally in a space where I would listen. I experienced a lot of pain but I gained so much understanding about myself and things I needed that I had been oblivious towards. I also realized that I had not totally dealt with past fears. They resurfaced often and the challenge of living in a state by myself brought up all the challenges I had when I was emancipated at sixteen years old. I thought I had overcome many of those worries. When placed in a similar situation ten years later, they resurfaced and I felt like that scared girl all over again. I reverted back to behaviors I promised myself would never happen again. I realized fear still held power over me. This was good to know. Fear is the root cause of all the harmful decisions I make (harmful meaning they do not positively contribute to my life).
I tried ignoring these issues as much as possible. I wanted them to go away. I resisted the work. I did not want the pity party to end. It would mean owning my power, being accountable, doing some personal work and making changes. The issues would not leave and the coping mechanisms failed. Resistance was futile. I started reading Moore’s Care of the Soul book which helped me acknowledge my Self without interpreting my issues as problems or pathologies. I would heal myself without judgment or making myself wrong! This was such a novel concept! He wrote that book with so much love that I could not ignore the contrast with how harshly I spoke to myself. My coping mechanisms were harsh. My self-talk was harsh. My whole relationship with myself was harsh and sometimes downright mean.
Making daily progress, I employed the tools discovered through my classes and started making the necessary changes as I worked through various issues and spent more time in meditation. I created a Healthy Living Plan in Psychology of the Body. This made me accountable for honoring my commitments and resulted in healthy habits I continue to practice daily. Coyote gave us somatic meditation exercises where you lie still and really feel all of your body. I hated this exercise at first. I put it off and meditated while jumping on my mini-rebounder (small trampoline). Meditating while in motion is my comfort zone. I left my comfort zone and started practicing Coyote’s suggested techniques. I gained respect for my body’s wisdom, started learning the body’s language, and achieved a state of present-with-Self. The still moments opened my ears to hear the cries of my stymied Soul that had started coming out in other Shadow behaviors. I drew close to God. I took my power back and actually started listening to what this voice said. My time in meditation with Self and Goddess deepened and a new relationship with the long lost Soul began. Additionally, I began being much more attentive to my body. This really deepened my feelings of self-love and self-acceptance. I realized that being a strong woman – being a warrior – did not mean ignoring your body and ignoring your pain. I changed my definition of what it means to be a warrior and started treating myself the way I wanted others to treat me. How could others be gentle, respectful, and loving towards me when I was not being this way with myself?
Learning about defense mechanisms transformed my interpersonal relationships. I became reacquainted with projection in particular. I finally realized how it manifests and learned to differentiate between my projections and someone else’s issues. This revealed a bunch of work that I needed to do with my Self in order to engage in healthy relationships with others. I held grudges from childhood that I took out on whoever pushed the right button. I thought I had forgiven my family and let go of my ill feelings. I had been forgiving others and letting go of anger but never healed the resulting wounds and insecurities within myself. Every time these buttons were pressed it poured salt into the wound and agitated the whole situation. The pain was expressed by getting angry and yelling at that person for unhealed wounds from the past. Again, information like this is priceless. I am ready and willing to continue with my personal work. This year has been life changing and I am grateful for this experience.
Carl Jung based his psychoanalytical theory of psychology on the concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is, “…a universal level of the mind that is a psychological storehouse of shared memory-patterns (Daniels, 2005, p. 180). The personal unconscious resides in our mind and contains personal experiences. It is connected to the collective unconscious by means of the Soul. Archetypes exist in the collective and personal unconscious. Archetypes or, “universal patterns of human experience” suggest a universal connection between all things (p. 181). Jung differentiates between the conscious and unconscious by stating, “Logical analysis is the prerogative of consciousness; we select with
reason and knowledge. The unconscious, however, seems to be guided chiefly by instinctive trends, represented by corresponding thought form - that is, by the archetypes” (Jung, 1964, p.8). Understanding the unconscious fosters a better understanding of the archetypes. Dream interpretation is one way to tap into the unconscious. Dreams contain symbols. Jung was interested in interpreting these symbols. “Intuition is almost indispensable in the interpretation of symbols, and it can often ensure that they are immediately understood by the dreamer” (Jung, 1965 p.4). Jung believed intuitive interpretation of symbols was important for truly grasping symbolic meanings in dreams. He believed intuition was one of the aforementioned instinctive trends of the unconscious. Intuition gives you a deeper and fuller understanding of the symbol’s purpose in your dream.
The sign is always less than the concept it represents, while the symbol always stands for something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. Symbols, moreover, are natural and spontaneous products. There are many symbols that are not individual but collective in their nature and origin. (Jung, 1964, p.6)
Jung proposed two main stages of human life: outer reality, where the Ego and persona engage in patterns of adaptive behavior, and inner reality, “where we acknowledge the archetypal realities of our journey toward individuation” (as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 181). Jung explains the meaning of individuation as follows:
Individuation is the psychological process that makes a human being an "individual” - a unique, indivisible unit or "whole man." In the past, it has been generally assumed that consciousness - or the sum total of representations, ideas, emotions, perceptions, and other mental contents which the ego acknowledges - is equal to the psychological "whole" of an individual. But nowadays the rapidly increasing knowledge of phenomena that can be explained only on the hypothesis of unconscious mental processes has made us doubt whether the ego and its contents are really identical with the "whole." If unconscious processes exist at all, they must surely belong to the totality of the individual, even though they form no part of the conscious ego. If they were a part of the ego, they would be conscious, because anything directly connected with the ego is conscious; consciousness is by definition the relationship between the ego and the various mental contents. (Jung, 1939, p.1)
There are four major archetypes: (a) Shadow, (b) Soul-image (Anima/Animus), (c) Mana personalities, and (d) the Self. From a therapeutic perspective,
Archetypes are also seen as useful tools for diagnosing problems and understanding one’s struggle for mental health because they chronicle pain, suffering, struggle, and endurance. They are seen as symbols that help people overcome adversity, reveal prescriptions for change, and encourage ordinary individuals to access the hero within. (Enns, 1994, p. 127)
If something requires change it grabs our attention quicker when it causes a painful experience. Humans have hedonistic tendencies - they seek pleasure and avoid pain. If an activity does not inflict pain and we like it, we repeat the behavior. If something starts hurting our body we immediately tune into that area. “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that things that we have neglected will return with added force” (Jung, 1989, p.189). Feeling well is taken for granted by most people, therefore, pain becomes the language used to facilitate change. “Guilt is one form of this pain” (Farrer-Halls, 2004, p. 211). It is a request for change. Learning the language of the psyche and the relationship between its parts facilitate wholeness. “In the products of the unconscious we discover symbols, that is, circular and quaternary figures which express wholeness, and whenever we wish to express wholeness, we employ such figures” (Jung, 1989, p.176).
According to Jungian psychology the Self is an archetypal image representing primal ground and the total integration of the psyche – consciousness and the unconscious (Daniels, 2005, p. 214). Ken Wilber (1995) explains the Self as having three different streams: (1) frontal Self or Ego, (2) deeper psychic being or Soul, and (3) transcendent witness, Self, or spirit (p. 120). Ego interest lies in the gross physical world. The Soul is concerned with subtle reality or pure thought. The spirit is concerned with the causal realm. The Shadow, and other elements of the unconscious, lies within the second stream – the Soul. Psychological development shifts consciousness’ “center of gravity” from Ego to Soul to Self. Changes on any level affect all three (Wilber as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 203). The Self is an eternal process of realization. It seeks balance and union with other members of the psyche.
The Soul is a personification of the unconscious mind and includes more than Shadow. It links the collective unconscious with the personal unconscious. The Soul contains a distinct personality of its own, portraying a hidden part of the Self. It is experienced by the conscious mind (Ego and persona) as “semi-autonomous” (Daniels, 2005, p. 181). The conscious mind engages in a relationship with the Soul when it agrees to “relinquish absolute ego-control over consciousness” (2005, p. 181). This relinquishment of control allows the Soul to express itself consciously, bringing hidden parts of the Self to the surface. The Soul bridges the gap between the collective unconscious and our personal unconscious.
The Ego resides in consciousness. It illuminates our persona. The persona refers to our general personality and how we handle life’s situations. “Our basis is ego-consciousness, our world the field of light centered upon the focal point of the ego” (Jung, 1989, p.177). Usually controlling our consciousness, the Ego resists when asked to relinquish control. The Ego develops for survival purposes. Survival instincts instruct the Ego to display traits and behaviors that cause others to love and accept us. These behaviors are determined by past interpersonal experiences.
Ombretta Bonvecchi works with the Institute of Sophia-Analysis in Cosenzo, Italy, researching the affects of fetal experiences on the development of the Self, namely the Ego. Bonvecchi believes pre-natal experiences “influence the capacity to give and receive love” (p. 83). This suggests prenatal Ego development is a response to stimuli triggering the survival instinct. This research is fairly new but raises interesting questions about fetal awareness and psychic development, especially involving consciousness. Bonvecchi echoes Jung, noting the importance of reintegrating these aspects of the Self, “If the Ego becomes an ally of the Self, the individual can partake of its profound wisdom…and creativity. The fear, the wounds suffered and the destructive decisions made against Self and against others…can be integrated and transformed” (p. 80).
Bonvecchi believes prenatal experiences repeat until the splintered aspects of the psyche achieve integration into Self. The Ego transforms as we attain freedom from value judgments that assign negative values to parts of our Self or change these negative values into positive ones. Regardless of how this is done (i.e. throwing away negative value judgments, transforming negative judgments into positive judgments, adopting new positive judgments, or seeing the negative judgments in a new and more positive light) the common theme is acceptance. Freedom from value judgments creates the ability for self-acceptance, thus allowing these aspects of Self to be reintegrated and accepted into the Ego. The more this happens, the more Shadow elements emerge for us to reintegrate. Thus, we see how this becomes a process of personality becoming. The becoming implies more expression of what already exists within the psyche rather than developing new traits or characteristics.
The term coincidentia oppositorum refers to the essence of Jung’s depth psychology – the reunification or reintegration of “all opposing aspects of the Self which get splintered and divided during the individual’s life” (Woods & Harmon, 1994, p.169). The Ego dominates the psyche. Egocentricity begins in early childhood (possibly prenatally if you ascribe to Bonvecchi’s claims) when we manipulate our true selves into something fitting for Ego-image. The Ego-image seeks environmental acceptance and adequacy. It is a defense mechanism. Many personality disorders originate here, developing when a severe distortion of the Self arrests or retards healthy psychic development. Usually the psyche continues developing despite our defense mechanisms. Severely denying oneself evolves into personality disorders, according to psychologists such as Kunkel, Fordham, Kohut and Kernberg (as cited in Woods & Harmon, 1994, p.169). Jung believed human pain and complexes or “symptoms represent the psyche’s effort to regain balance and struggle toward wholeness, rather than signs of internal pathology.” (as cited in Enns, 1994, p.128).
The Shadow houses all the fragmented pieces of the Self. Harmon & Woods state, “The Shadow must be reintegrated with the individual’s personality, if the process leading to psychic wholeness and mental health is to be initiated. Reintegrating the Shadow into consciousness produces equilibrium and wholeness” (1994, p.170). How do we know what needs to be integrated if we do not know what we are looking for? Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian analyst, depicts the Shadow by describing its usual manifestation as, “those qualities and impulses he denies in himself but can plainly see in other people” (Franz, 1964, p. 168). Jung recognizes his own Shadow explaining,
It occurred to me that I was actually two different persons. One of them was the schoolboy who could not grasp algebra and was far from sure of himself; the other was important, a high authority, a man not to be trifled with, as powerful and influential as a manufacturer. The “other” was an old man who lived in the eighteenth century. Now, I knew that No. 1 was the light and No. 2 followed him like a shadow. There was no doubt in my mind that No. 2 had something to do with the creation of dreams, and I could easily credit him with the necessary superior intelligence. I was conscious of it vaguely, although I knew it emotionally beyond doubt. (Jung, 1989, p.183).
The Shadow holds more than the undesirable or negative qualities of the personality. It houses values needed by consciousness. Many traditions use light to symbolize consciousness. “Light brings our world into awareness, enabling action with an intention and rational intelligence” (Daniels, 2005, p. 72). The light, or consciousness, shines on the socially acceptable aspects of our psyche, illuminating a limited portion of our Self. Darkness symbolizes the unacknowledged, hidden, unconscious reality existing outside our conscious knowledge and control. These values exist in a form difficult to integrate into consciousness. They remain hidden and repressed in our unconscious minds or get projected onto others, who we then come to view as being dark, evil, and unpleasant.
Understanding the Shadow as merely being the unacknowledged part of our Self assigns it moral neutrality and ambiguity. For example, one person may have a problem acknowledging anger. They view anger as being socially unacceptable and place subjective moral judgments on anger. Someone else may place an equally negative moral judgment on sensitivity because they have difficulty acknowledging it. In and of themselves, anger and sensitivity are neutral values. They go in the Shadow when deemed amoral. The Shadow holds negative connotations for most people due to moral judgments made about personality traits. Even the term itself, shadow, implies darkness, evil, and foreboding. Despite these negative connotations, the Shadow is an indispensable element of all human beings, perhaps all sentient beings. There is an African saying that goes, “No one could be real and not throw a shadow. When I die he goes up into the sky to join the sun, but I go down into the earth where he now lies” (as cited by Van der Post, 1976, p.unknown).
Jung’s primary goal of therapy was enabling individual ownership of the Shadow, thereby alleviating psychological and interpersonal difficulties. “At times of stress, intoxication or crisis, there is an uncoordinated return of the repressed, the unexpected emergence of the Shadow into awareness will typically lead to intense feelings of guilt and unworthiness, or to personally and socially destructive forms of acting out behavior” (Jung as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 73). Repression harms us because it depletes psychic energy and can leave positive values of love, creativity, and joy unacknowledged in unconsciousness. Projection gives the illusion of Shadow characteristics existing externally, usually in other people. This results in a moral devaluation of that person or group, and harmful outcomes can and do occur. Jacobi comments on the energetics of bringing Shadow elements or complexes into consciousness, stating, “Bringing Shadow elements into consciousness resolves complexes. The energy spent on expressing that complex through defense mechanisms is then redistributed elsewhere in the psyche” (1973, p.12). Jung finds no difference between a fragmentary personality and a complex; “complexes are often splinter psyches” (as cited in Jacobi, 1973, p.12). “Reintegration of the Self into consciousness gives birth to your adult Ego and actives the creative power to change your life into a work of art” (Bonvecchi, 1994, p. 84).
The Star Trek episode called The Enemy Within portrays the Shadow and lays the foundation for the whole article Jung and star trek: the coincidentia oppositorum and images of the shadow by Harmon and Woods. In this episode a transporter malfunction results in a physical duplicate of Captain Kirk appearing on the ship. This duplicate is his alter Ego or Shadow. The duplicate is characterized by violence and anger. Mr. Spock states that this duplicate acts “like a wild man” (Woods & Harmon, 1994, p. 172). Kirk becomes increasingly emotional, forgetful, and less decisive whereas his alter Ego possesses strength of will, self-assurance, and borderline paranoia. Both people claim to be Kirk. The opposition between the two aspects of Kirk’s nature is clearly presented when they meet. Kirk confronts his alter Ego, or Shadow, stating, “You can’t hurt me. You can’t kill me. You need me…I need you.” His alter Ego responds, “I don’t need you.” Hostility is a common Shadow characteristic. How would you feel if you were deemed socially unacceptable, shoved in a closet, and silenced? Spock recognizes this fragmentation stating, “We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind. Or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man. His negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence; and his positive side, which Earth people express as compassion, love, tenderness.” Dr. McCoy tells Spock, “It’s the Captain’s guts you’re analyzing, are you aware of that Spock?” Spock replies, “Yes! And what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see here indication that it is his negative side, which makes him strong. That his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power to command begins to elude you.” Captain Kirk becomes increasingly indecisive whereas his alter Ego also starts to question, “How can I survive without him?” Kirk realizes the need for reintegration stating, “I have to take him back, inside myself. I can’t survive without him. I don’t want to take him back. He’s like an Animal, a thoughtless, brutal Animal. And, yet it’s me! Me!” Dr. McCoy gives further insight into this psychological phenomenon telling Kirk, “You’re no different than anyone else. We all have our darker side. We need it. It’s half of what we are. It’s not really ugly, it’s human. A lot of what he is makes you who you are…your strength of command is mostly in him. You have the goodness, the love, the intelligence, the logic. It appears your half has most of that – and perhaps, that’s where man’s essential courage comes from….” This illuminates the aforementioned statement by Franz that your “Shadow usually contains values that are needed by consciousness, but that exist in a form that makes it difficult to integrate them into one’s own life” (as cited in Harmon & Woods, 1994, p. 170-171). *all the dialogue in parentheses was taken from the Harmon & Woods article and is being cited here so the reading remains fluid*
Reintegration of Kirk’s alter Ego or Shadow occurs with the same technology that caused the initial fragmentation. This bares significance. Often, in physical and psychological cases, “that which causes the illness can usually provide the cure” (Harmon & Woods, 1994, p. 174). The polio vaccine came from the polio virus. Traumatic experiences wounding you in childhood potentially teach invaluable lessons and provide additional strength of character.
Reintegrating the Shadow into consciousness practically requires relationships to serve as mirrors because the Ego does such a good job of keeping Shadow traits hidden. Observe the back of your head without a mirror. Virtually impossible! If the Shadow is the back of the head then our defense mechanisms are the mirrors. They are held in front of us by the other person in the relationship when a situation arises eliciting a projection. Relationships need the Shadow as much as the personal conscious does! Shadow work must be done to cultivate an intimate relationship. The more an intimate relationship is cultivated, the deeper you can delve into the Shadow’s abyss. Intimate relationships magnify the power of the mirror.
We have the choice – do we stay and look at it, owning our own reflection even when it appears we are having a bad hair day? Or, do we disown the figure we see and walk away in disgust, blaming the mirror for what it shows us? Until some level of self-awareness is attained, a knee jerk response in favor of the latter option usually occurs. However, self-awareness makes no promises of reintegration. Sometimes things are too painful to immediately own and reintegrate into consciousness. Reintegration of Shadow requires patience, love, acceptance, and especially the removal of judgment. It requires unraveling social, cultural, familial, and/or religious dogma. It reflects a desire for transpersonal growth and a willingness to do the necessary work within one’s Self.
Therapists cultivate intimate relationships with clients by creating a sacred container for their client to do the work. Some psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that before the client can do his or her work the therapist must have personal experience of what it is like to rest in the client’s chair. I believe therapists should do their own work before helping others resolve issues. I am grateful for the depth that my personal work has attained over the last year. My relationship with my Shadow has taught me some valuable truths: (a) things will get messy when you do your work, (b) perfection is nonexistent, (c) there might not be any place to get to, according to the Buddhists, but energy never stops moving (according to the physicists) so we should have a say (creative power) in where we are going, (d) we gain more say/creative power as we gain knowledge, and (e) knowledge is power because it gives us a flashlight also known as Self-awareness. Self-awareness beckons the whole Self, including that mysterious darkness known as the Shadow. This internal process blossoms via our interpersonal relationships, especially those of an intimate nature, that enable us to see parts of ourselves that might otherwise go unnoticed. This link between the internal and external is one more example of the interconnected transpersonal journey known as life.
My perception of the world has shifted greatly compared to where I was when I started this program. If perception is reality, then my whole reality changed. I have a fuller understanding of what transpersonal means. It is an integrative and holistic psychology that reaches beyond gross physical realms of Self and even beyond interpersonal relationships and seeks to better understand its connection with the Universe.
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