Continuation of Part I…
The critical element of the level III personality structure is the awareness of an ideal in themselves toward which they must strive. They have a sense of “what is.” From this awakening there stems the beginning of an inner-directedness, a sense of personal autonomy, and an inner hierarchy of values. The vision of this ideal self has a transforming effect. There is no longer any contentment with oneself, with one’s friends, with one’s values, or with one’s life. There is the knowledge that life holds something more and this fuels the processes of inner development.
Many of those who do make the transition to a higher form of existence do not consciously choose this path. Rather, they are “thrown into their destinies” by circumstances which seem beyond their control. The disintegrative process happens to them spontaneously, either through external events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of employment, or a brush with death – all of which require a re-evaluation of self – or through an internal, unconscious developmental process which does not appear to have an external cause. Suddenly or gradually, everything that the person is, everything that gives his or her life meaning, seems meaningless. There is a dim awareness that something is missing but it is difficult to discover what that something is.
Whether the choice is conscious or unconscious, individuals at this level are most in need of, and most ready for, therapy. They are dissatisfied with what is and are ready to take the next step in their development. They are very different from the clients who only want to be patched up so that they can adjust more efficiently to their worlds, or the ones who want to complain how terrible the world is, but who seem to have little motivation to change themselves. This is a true turning point in their lives, and the struggle they are engaged in is extremely painful. They must let go of their need for approval, let go of their insecurities and learn to believe in themselves, trust their own judgments, risk being different, and even face hurting everyone who depends on them to remain the people they were. Some can make this full transition into autonomy, and some cannot. To begin this journey into self takes great courage.
Some clients have referred to this period of their lives as “the pit.” Others call it “the desert.” There is a pressing desire to become something other than what one is, but all one can see is blackness, nothingness. There may be a fear of becoming psychotic. Although Dabrowski (1972) stated, “Psychoneurotic experiences, together with conscious inner transformation… create basic immunological dynamisms against both psychotic dissolution and negative regression” persons at Level III feel as if they are dissolving. Depression, despair, despondency accompany this lonely journey. At times it seems as if no one can help. The individuals leave everything they formerly counted on behind to seek an uncertain future. Enormous feelings well up and become confronted : feelings of guilt and shame at what one isn’t, astonishment with oneself, anger at the injustice of the world and the suffering and the lack of values in others, feelings of inferiority toward one’s own ideals. All of these emotional reactions serve to further development; they are the inner tools of growth. Inner conflict rages between the less developed, approval-seeking structure, and the more developed, autonomous structure.
In traditional therapy situations, the person would often be counseled to eradicate these “neurotic” symptoms. Disintegration has not been valued as an important developmental step. In a Dabrowskian developmental approach, the individual is applauded for the same symptoms and given encouragement to continue on the journey. The therapist serves to support the presence of inner conflict, rather than attempting to cure the symptoms or solve the problems. It is important, however, that the therapist be able to distinguish between two possible types of disintegration : positive and negative. Where there is no incipient hierarchy of values, no aspiration toward what is viewed as “higher,” no deep emotionality and intensity, there may, indeed, be a downward slide into psychosis. Where there is intensity, concern about self-improvement, conscientiousness and even the rudiments of reflection and the ability to observe oneself, there is strong probability of the disintegrative process being positive for the struggling client. Naturally, those therapists who have had the courage to enter their own pits and have emerged on the other side are in a better position to aid a client in this process. They have been there, and they have an intuitive sense of what is needed : when to sit quietly, when to step in, and when to be on call as the crisis hits its peak.
There is light on the other side. Transforming individuals develop a sense of self unlike anything they have previously experienced. They are no longer at the mercy of their environing worlds. They begin to create their own lives. Their self-esteem goes from negative to positive. Their relationships with others become emotionally richer, more meaningful, more satisfying, more equal. They are not using relationships as a means of proving themselves to themselves but have a rich sense of self that is available to share with others. Because they are meeting their own esteem needs, they have more energy left to see the other person as a unique individual. Their ability to love increases since they are not manipulating others’ emotions to serve themselves; they truly care about others.
The empathy at Level II – an overattachment to others, a living through others, a need to be needed as an identification of self – gives way to an empathy in a different form. The higher level empathy involves a degree of detachment and a larger perspective. Level III individuals have faced their own suffering, understand its meaning to a greater degree, and are able to give comfort to others in their pain, rather than just wanting the pain to go way for their own comfort. Although people operating at Level III may appear to themselves and to others to be moving away from caring about others, they are actually going through a process which will bring them into deeper, richer contact with their loved ones than they have ever envisioned.
Another by-product of the transformative process is the development of creativity. Probably the creativity has been there all along, lurking beneath the surface, awaiting the ability of a more autonomous self to express its natural originality. Now its energy is ripe for expression. Individuals at Level III tend to be highly creative and may use their creativity to further their own growth.
Next post : Beyond Level III