The personalities and behaviours that we own today no doubt reflect an amalgamation of past experiences collected and stored long ago within our subconscious minds. Freud believed that all of our behaviours were derived from unconscious motivations and that we in fact have little, if any, control over them. Carl Jung had a somewhat similar personality theory with his Shadow Aspect and various archetypes. Boiling it unceremoniously down to its most basic essence, Jung’s theory posited that the Shadow was a sort of subconscious holding tank for “unmade choices”, and all of the things we dislike/despise about ourselves which we have rejected for being unacceptable to us. We are generally unaware of these traits until life stressors bring them to the forefront.
Having said that, according to Jung, we rarely see our own Shadow. The Shadow mostly likes to project so what we hide behind our Shadow, we generally project onto others. If we are highly self-aware, somewhat psychologically astute, and honest with ourselves, we may occasionally catch this projection. When that happens we may be surprised, frightened, or even disgusted by what we see. It takes a very open mind and much courage to accept that some of the traits we despise the most in others, are often reflections of parts of ourselves. Becoming aware of these less-than-stellar aspects of ourselves and accepting and incorporating them into our definition of who we are helps us to gain some control over them. We can only learn to control those things that we are consciously aware of. Bringing our Shadow Aspect out of the dark and into the light is what will make us whole and authentic, and what Jung termed the process of individuation.
What Jung calls individuation, K. Dabrowski calls Positive Disintegration. In a broad sense, these theories on personality development are all linked. Freud would have you dropping your ego defences in order to seek truth and clarity, resulting in authenticity and growth. Jung wants you to meet your Shadow and make friends, or at the very least, come to a compromise. Carl Rogers submits that narrowing the gap between our ideal self and our real self will lead to greater self-esteem, self-acceptance, and authenticity. In other words, seeking personal truth about our limitations and accepting who we truly are, warts and all, results in growth and a healthier state of mind.
My personal favourite, Dabrowski, would have you take a good, long, deep and honest look at yourself – including the good, the bad and the ugly – feel the pain of true self-knowledge, gain insight, strength and acceptance from it, and be on your way toward higher personality development. It’s difficult to ignore the commonalities between these theories. It seems in order to grow, we must find and make peace with our true selves.
A reader recently asked if I thought early childhood experiences might have played a role in my experiences with positive disintegration and self-development. My journey towards self-knowledge and self-actualization through positive disintegration is not, to my conscious knowledge, a result of anything dark and sinister that might have happened in my childhood. My childhood was relatively free of trauma. I say relatively because I don’t believe you can get through childhood without experiencing at least some hardships growing up. Our personalities are formed as a result of early experiences, traumatic or not, as well as by the environments that we grew up in.
No doubt certain aspects of my personality – high sensitivity, introversion, curiosity, a need to find answers – all played a role in my eventual search for “the truth” and a deeper understanding of myself and life in general. Add to that a preoccupation with existentialism and two difficult experiences within the last six years and it seems I was destined to travel the road to the higher ground. The most painful of the two experiences left me reeling on the brink of a dark abyss to which I had to either succumb or battle against. Carl Rogers would be pleased to know I chose the latter.
Dabrowski was, and continues to be, an immense comfort to me. When things get tough, when the truth is painful, when my fears threaten to overtake me, I am reminded that there is no growth without pain. That every crisis holds opportunity for growth if we choose it. And that, according to Dabrowski at least, it is healthy to experience anxiety, inner conflict, fear, and even despair, when these feelings serve as fuel to propel us forward in our journey toward personal development.