Getting to Know Thyself

thunder_and_lightning-3313The 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.

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9 Responses to Getting to Know Thyself

  1. LimerentLouie says:

    Really excellent and interesting questions, insights, and treatment of the subject lthibault. I hope you don’t mind my adding a few more thoughts since I’m kinda on a Dabrowski kick right now.
    😉

    “The confusion sets in when we are either unwilling or unable to make a decision, *yet we resist falling back to old patterns*. We want nothing more than to move ahead in our journey, but we are unsure what direction to take.”

    I’ve added asterisks to the part that I think is key from your Fertile-Confusion post and that is very Dabrowskian. My own Dabrowskian “crisis experience” was in the form of two limerent episodes, one in my thirties, the other recently in my early 50s. And what is so striking about the testimony of many on the downside of limerence is their insistence that they do not want to “fall back on old patterns”.

    “–Jung’s theory posited that the Shadow was a sort of subconscious holding tank for “unmade choices”, and all of the (A) >things we dislike/despise about ourselves which we have rejected for being unacceptable to usyour ego defencesgap between our ideal self and our real selfincluding 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."

    I've not seen these comparisons before so thank you for this concise summary. You make the excellent observation that "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." All born out quite well by centuries of experience and relayed in history and literature. The points that I've hilighted with the letters are to get you to ask yourself and others: Why? Is it natural that we should find things about ourselves…especially when we are children… that are unnacceptable and that we should dislike/despise ourselves thusly; that we should have to build ego defenses for, that we should necessarily need to build a real and idealized self for, or that it should take a "deep and honest look" in order to see the bad and the ugly as well as the good? There are of course standard and logical reasons for these attitudes about ourselves to develop merely by being a child who starts off in the world with "incapabilities". Yet the question that keeps bothering me is why NOT all cultures, particularly many of the world's (dwindling, unfortunately) aboriginal/indigenous cultures, appear to have these "splits" between the ideal self and the "real" self, …..why they seem to lack this self-abasement or indeed even the concept of "unacceptable elements" in their natural unfolding.

    "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."

    Agreed. I only offer the encouragement to keep an occasional glance backward….i.e., is this or that 'problematic' part, or is such and such 'troubling' part, of my personality a product of some childhood insult or was it more "nature"…..something I was born with? Is it an insult that with better understanding of the impact of the situation might have been avoided or alleviated? The reason I bring up this issue is not always so much for ourselves and our own personal work that we do for our own unfolding, but rather so that we might, if desire to do so, possibly inform new or young parents as to knowledge that we have gained on the subject. This may….not will, but may… in the future allow for the emotional/psychological development of other's children that is informed by this knowledge.

    "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."

    Very true….from incoming molars to new muscle being formed through exercise. The breaking and reforming new bonds is a painful process. It took me a while to come to terms with this as an analogy for human emotional bonds as well…..the breaking and re-forming is a painful, stress-inducing process.

    "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."

    And when they serve instead to propel us backward or downward, why is this? Dabrowski notes that this choice …… or path…. is not good. I don't have the answer to this question, but I do think pondering it, comparing not only other psychological-developmental models, but how other human cultural trajectories have dealt with this……and indeed whether or not they have in fact felt the *need* to do this….this to me is quite fascinating and worthwhile. By doing such a comparison, we are getting to the root of the question "Is it just *human* to be…..(add your adjective in question here)……or is it cultural/environmental?"

    Great blog and post!

  2. LimerentLouie says:

    (bunch of this got deleted from my original post so I’m trying again)

    “–Jung’s theory posited that the Shadow was a sort of subconscious holding tank for “unmade choices”, and all of the (A) >things we dislike/despise about ourselves which we have rejected for being unacceptable to usyour ego defencesgap between our ideal self and our real selfincluding 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."

    I've not seen these comparisons before so thank you for this concise summary. You make the excellent observation that "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." All born out quite well by centuries of experience in history and literature. The points that I've highlited with the letters are to get you to ask yourself and others: Why? Is it natural that we should find things about ourselves…especially when we are children… that are unnacceptable and that we should dislike/despise ourselves thusly, that we should have to build ego defenses for, that we should necessarily need to build a real and idealized self for, or that it should take a "deep and honest look" in order to see the bad and the ugly as well as the good? There are of course standard and logical reasons for these attitudes about ourselves to develop merely by being a child who starts off in the world with "incapabilities". Yet the question that keeps bothering me is why not all cultures, particularly many of the world's (dwindling, unfortunately) aboriginal/indigenous cultures, appear to have these "splits" between the ideal self and the "real" self, …..why they seem to lack this self-abasement or indeed even the concept of "unacceptable elements" in their natural unfolding.

    • LimerentLouie says:

      (Last try….there should be A, B, C, D referring to Jung, Freud, Rogers, and Dabrowski….if they do not come through this time, feel free to delete the post! Arrrgghh! …Apologies!)

      “Jung’s theory posited that the Shadow was a sort of subconscious holding tank for “unmade choices”, and all of the (A) >things we dislike/despise about ourselves which we have rejected for being unacceptable to usyour ego defencesgap between our ideal self and our real selfincluding 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."

      I've not seen these comparisons before so thank you for this concise summary. You make the excellent observation that "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." All born out quite well by centuries of experience in history and literature. The points that I've highlited with the letters are to get you to ask yourself and others: Why? Is it natural that we should find things about ourselves…especially when we are children… that are unnacceptable and that we should dislike/despise ourselves thusly, that we should have to build ego defenses for, that we should necessarily need to build a real and idealized self for, or that it should take a "deep and honest look" in order to see the bad and the ugly as well as the good? There are of course standard and logical reasons for these attitudes about ourselves to develop merely by being a child who starts off in the world with "incapabilities". Yet the question that keeps bothering me is why not all cultures, particularly many of the world's (dwindling, unfortunately) aboriginal/indigenous cultures, appear to have these "splits" between the ideal self and the "real" self, …..why they seem to lack this self-abasement or indeed even the concept of "unacceptable elements" in their natural unfolding.

      • lthibault11 says:

        You ask some good questions.

        It is an unfortunate truth that most of us are damaged in some way as a result of early childhood events experienced during our most formative years. Some are damaged more than others. Parents cannot always satisfy all of the needs and desires of their children for a variety of reasons. As a result of being hurt, neglected, abused etc, protective barriers are put up and bad feelings about the self settle in.

        Some might begin to believe they are not worthy of love, that they are somehow flawed and are deserving of the treatment they get. I don’t think that the repressed feelings that we may hide within the dark cellar of our psyches mean we are bad, but rather, that these repressed parts indicate how we feel about ourselves based on negative past experiences. In a perfect world, all parents would be experts at giving their children unconditional love and a safe environment for healthy nurturing and growth. Sadly, the love parents show their kids is often conditional rather than unconditional. Not always intended in a negative way, but usually resulting in long-term harm, one way or another.

        I can’t really speak for other cultures other than to guess that some are more open and accepting of individual differences. Perhaps some are less conforming to societal pressures resulting in people being more comfortable in their own skins, thus having less need of a “false self”. Authenticity is supremely liberating.

        I can’t however imagine that children in other cultures are never damaged.

        Here are a few quotes I enjoy by Carl Jung :
        “Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
        “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
        “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
        “The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.”

        L

  3. LimerentLouie says:

    “Authenticity is supremely liberating.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself and it caps a beautifully written response. Not to say I’ve gotten to that authentic self, ……it remains a work in progress.

    “Not always intended in a negative way, but usually resulting in long-term harm, one way or another.”

    And this is necessary in my view to avoid the deep pit of “blame”. “Causality” can be acknowledged without spiralling downward into blame, but it has to be thoughtfully considered.

    “I can’t however imagine that children in other cultures are never damaged.”

    Yes, surely you are correct here. I lean towards a fascination for the aboriginal cultures that are steeped in a sense of “place” versus those that have more “mobile” cosmic views and religious inclinations. What I question is how much certain cultures that tend to be more mobile actively “prune” the unfolding self in ways that might promote the damage that we are addressing here. And what I keeping coming back to (possibly falsely) is the …..viewpoint…..(I can’t really call it anything else), that whereas both the more “civilized” (eastern and western), and some of the indigenous, cultures appear to produce greater estrangement between the authentic and idealized self, it is perhaps easier to locate a more unified self….culturally promoted…. within an aboriginal culture.

    Fantastic Jung quotes….I had not seen these. Thanks for the very interesting response. Again, great blog.

  4. Zen Greenway says:

    I didn’t know about Jung’s Shadow and when I read your post I gasped in sudden recognition. I have two companion pieces I wrote a long time ago about The Toad Woman. I’ve only ever really understood them on a poetic level, but must now go back and read them with the Shadow in mind. I’ll post them at some point and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You may have given me a serious “aha” moment!

    • lthibault11 says:

      Zen, there is no doubt in my mind that your journey towards self-enlightenment and true authenticity helped you to uncover the Toad Women. She is no doubt part of your Shadow aspect; a part of you that you have not, up to now, wanted to acknowledge. We all have these parts buried deep within our psyches. Only those brave enough and willing to do the hard work eventually make peace with their Toad Woman. I suspect that it is you who has finally marked her, and not the other way around. This is a very empowering step towards Jung’s individuation.

      I am absolutely blown away by your exquisite writing. You are one brilliant girl. I wrote another piece a while back on the Shadow, tucked away somewhere in my archives. Not sure if you read that or not. I think it was called The Shadow – The Light and the Dark. Take care Zen!

      • Zen Greenway says:

        Thanks for helping me recognize my Shadow. And for the compliment! I’m going to go look for that archived post now. Must … have … more information!

  5. Pingback: Shadow Of The Toad Woman | My Life In Space Time

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