Monday, 15 February 2010
The subconscious, unconscious or shadow...whatever
Please forgive me, I find this fascinating and need to extrovert it!
I love the work of Carl Jung. O.K. there are places where he becomes a little abstract and consequently different descriptions of his work seem not entirely to be in agreement with each other (particularly around archetypes and complexes) but there's some great and simple learning to be had in his basic description of the Self.
Unlike Freud, who was completely sex obsessed and linked every single human complex or motivation to sex, Jung saw a bigger picture. The part that I find particularly fascinating, is his teachings about the unconscious.
Those that continue to keep their conscious and unconscious separate for the duration of their lives describe feeling flat and listless and feel a sense of dissatisfaction. This is because they, in effect, remain significantly less than the full person that they really are. To 'receive' Jung's teachings does take a mindset in the first place that I suspect many won't want/have - which is fine - we are all on our own journeys after all.
The unconscious in a nutshell...here goes.
When we are a child we start to develop a persona. Our persona is what we present to the outside world. In order to be accepted by our parents, our friends and eventually society, our behaviour and our attitudes have to be palatable to those around us. Every society (and also every parent) has unwritten rules about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and therefore what will be received with approval and that which will receive disapproval. What happens, therefore is that we (our ego - the 'inner manager' of the SELF - does all this sorting for us) tend to push acceptable behaviours into our persona ('those for show') and the unacceptable ones become hidden or repressed and therefore end up in the personal unconscious. i.e. they are still in there, just squashed in where we are not aware of them.
The fact our unconscious (filled to the brim with unacceptable-to-us stuff) still exists, means it is still very much a part of us. The unconscious exists like a shadow in our lives. Furthermore, because we usually shoved the stuff into our unconscious because of feelings of shame, fear of rejection, disapproval, guilt and/or feelings of unworthiness, there is a strong force keeping its contents there. So we are usually in absolute denial of this part of us - so much so that our ego goes to great lengths to prevent us from seeing it. We really don't want to be aware the 'badness' in ourselves and all the shame that put it there.
This is why projection happens. Projection is where we accuse others of traits we have pushed into our own unconscious and therefore traits we refuse see in ourselves. That's why we are generally a species blaming others for any inadequacies. This is all done unconsciously of course and therefore prevails as 'just how it goes.'
Paranoia, for example, comes about by projecting the unconscious. In feeling paranoid a person can disown their own persecutory and hostile feelings (towards others) and project it onto others and then feel like they are being persecuted.
Hitler 'cashed in' on mass projection - getting a country to project its shadow onto the Jewish population. That's an example of how dangerous the unconscious can be. You don't have to look far to find other examples.
This is not to say that every observation we make about a person's behaviour is projection but if there is a strong repulsion, irritation (or even attraction) chances are there's some projection going on. (We do also make conscious decisions to accept and reject key messages from our upbringing - but they are different simply because we are aware if them of course!) The kind of things I have heard people say that I have suspected of being projection are:
•S/he's a terrible flirt
•S/he takes everything so seriously
•S/he hogs the conversation
•S/he is very competitive
•S/he can never think independently
•S/he is not a team player
•S/he is really negative about others
•S/he never sees things through to the end
•S/he is a control freak
•S/he is self-obsessed
•S/he is so over-the-top
•S/he needs to stay within her comfort zone and s/he doesn't like change
•S/he is tight with money
•I am not at all like her/him
But we don't just project. Our ego has many ways of keeping the unconscious in its place and keeping us unaware of its existence while at the same time making its presence known to those around us. Our ego really does not want us to be aware of the 'unacceptable' within us but that 'unacceptable' regularly turns up throughout our lives without us being conscious of it. Could I paraphrase this any more?!?! Sorry.
Some of the other interesting 'caused by the unconscious' behaviours are:
Fantasy - things our subconscious is hungry for but we have no intention of carrying out. These can prevent us getting on with 'real life' and can therefore become self limiting.
Acting out - impulsive behaviour that comes from a raw emotion inside us that we cannot handle - that can be destructive.
Passive aggression - avoiding direct conflict but somehow still managing to put a spanner in the works (being late, moaning)
Hypochondria - using illness as a get out clause because we cannot face up to the aggression or demands we would like to show to others.
Intellectualisation - over analysing and objectifying everything rather than facing up to the emotion.
Displacement - we redirect our unacceptable feelings at someone or an object that is less frightening than whatever aroused the original feeling.
....there are more, some more 'mature' than others...(these are from the Rough Guide to Happiness by Nick Bayliss)
I also find it interesting how every individual will have pushed their own unique set of behaviours and attitudes into their personal unconscious - based on the approval and disapproval they received. What we perceive as acceptable will have come from our upbringing and will indeed look quite different for everyone. One parent's idea of unacceptable will be acceptable to another. But Jung was one of the few psychologist that acknowledged development beyond childhood - so there's hope for us all! Jung also acknowledges that good stuff gets squashed into the unconscious as well as bad stuff - so that could be released too!
And clues to what's in our subconscious? Our nearest and dearest will know things about us that we are unaware of. Ask them. Jung also said the unconscious usually turns up in dreams as the same gender as us but with other noticeably different characteristics. Look out for her/him!
I could go on and on but I suspect few of you have even read this far!!!!!