Psychiatry and the Obstacles to Human Growth



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What then does the soul want? It wants perfection. But if perfection too is a fiction, then the need of soul is limited by the fiction that it is “making progress” by pursuing any goal of perfection, for the whole idea of progress implies that there is improvement to be made. Even the soul then has a dualistic perspective.



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Treatment of neurosis stemming from this fictional feeling of inferiority is to learn not to take the weak aspect literally, not to harden it into belief or dogma, and to recognize that while the weakness may have negative effects on one’s life, it might also give one advantages in some respect. The patient must learn to see life as a play, so to speak; laughter is almost always appropriate in playing one’s own part in the drama. Those who choose to drive themselves into a fanatical attachment to perfection, into hardening beliefs about being right or being better, are choosing “madness” over sanity, because they live in their neurosis that the inferiority they are escaping is literally real. To be sane, we must recognize our beliefs as fictions and as only rough guidelines for how to live, and to see through our ‘hypotheses’ about what is good or right as fantasies. It is these hypotheses which we use to define Reality. To the extent that society does this, it is insane—just as individuals are.

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A second consequence of this view is not to become fanatical about one’s perceived spiritual path in life. If one’s spiritual drive is based on a fictional belief, which the soul has focused upon to correct in life experiences, a person’s need is to recognize the metaphorical nature of the weakness underlying the soul’s motivation. Allow it to be for awhile. One gets the idea that the soul, like man, seeks to understand itself in the face of ambiguity. It must seek our ordinariness, life as an exercise in seeing its fantasies as unwellness—just as we must. It seeks, inevitably, companionship with its mortal host rather than a relationship between god and subject. And so we work to come together as equals—mortal and immortal—to live “life” as an experience in loving one another.



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Carl Jung and the Drive to Wholeness

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Carl Jung was also a colleague of Sigmund Freud and an early member of the cluster of Austrian psychotherapists who gathered around Freud in his earlier years of work. After a period of loyal collaboration, Jung moved away from Freud's emphasis upon ego and the sexual fixations of the infant to develop a view of individual growth which differed from Freud's in significant ways.



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Jung was interested in the constant appearance of spiritual images and symbols in human dreams and felt that these demonstrated the importance of spiritual issues in human growth and development, especially during the second half of a man's life. He noted that, from culture to culture, dreams were strangely paralleled by myths, folk and fairy tales in the appearance of similar symbols and stories. It became apparent to him that something was connecting people of all cultures and historical periods, and that something was 'speaking' to Man through dreams and myths. To explain these observations, Jung hypothesized the concept of the collective unconscious.

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The collective unconscious is that portion of the psyche which links everyone together psychically and is normally outside of the normal awareness of individuals. Because of his own personal experience with the unconscious, Jung believed that through the collective unconscious, any person can access knowledge beyond his or her own personal experience. In a sense, the concept of the Collective Unconscious portrays the species of Man as a single organism, bound together at a level of collective consciousness that is ordinarily 'invisible' to the individual, but which opens in sleep and during waking hours in 'daydreaming.' At these times, images and symbols can come through to individual awareness informing the individual of imbalances between needs at the unconscious level and needs recognized in conscious awareness.



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Jung thought that mankind is essentially guided through life by guidance from the collective unconscious by instinctive, patterning energies called "archetypes." In ancient history, the stories of the archetypes took the form of the Greek myths and the Indian pantheon of gods and goddesses and the stories of their adventures. In these myths, the great stories of human life were told--of heroism and tragedy, love and hate, and life and death. These myths appeared again in the lives of individual men and women, as we live our own lives, as the archetypes "live us." We, in effect, are the ways in which these energies come into manifestation and live; only we do not realize that the patterns that guide our instinctive reactions, needs, and behaviors are collective and species-wide--not individual--in their character. They encompass not only biological needs, but mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual needs as well. Moreover, these encounters with the collective unconscious carry a "numinous" quality to them that personifies the mystery of life and possesses the character of guidance from divine sources.

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Man's conscious awareness takes in only a minute fraction of the causative factors in his existence, according to Jung, and the central organizing principle in every man's life is the central, organizing, collective archetype called "the Self," which seems to be deep within the collective unconscious. Self, to Jung as to many Eastern philosophies and religions, was the Divine organizing energy creating the Universe. Jung felt that Mankind's religious experiences are, in effect, encounters with the collective unconscious.



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One of Jung's greatest contributions and observations was the realization that there is a natural psychic process guiding each person's life towards maturity and growth. He saw this central driving force as often largely unconscious and impersonal; it takes us on our ride through life whether we want to or not, moving us along towards maturity and realization of our divine essence. Jung called this process 'individuation.' The essence of individuation, the natural process of growth towards maturity during the human life cycle, is the emergence of the Self within the human personality. This emergence brings not only maturity, but the ability to relax into who one truly is, to turn one's back on the values and expectations of society and follow one's inner values in life.

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The Self was, he maintained, manifested through many of the great avatars through history, such as Jesus Christ, Krishna, Ramakrishna, Rumi, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama and the great mystic saints of Christian history. Individuation, Jung believed, leads, ultimately, to self-realization.



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Jung realized however that only a tiny fraction of Mankind ever reaches self-realization because individuals become stuck in their maturation by rigid belief systems, closed symbols, unrealistic personal rules or laws, the self-rejecting effects of society's values, and neurotic and psychotic blocks of all kinds. In other words, conforming with society demands and its values holds us in childhood, in suffering, and in unconsciousness.

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Neurotic behavior is caused by the presence of unfulfilled needs, or wishes, which have been repressed. Individual's repress needs because they become convinced that the fulfillment of those wishes is impossible, and the pain experienced from not being able to fulfill those needs causes individuals to 'forget' the need, e.g. to drive it out of consciousness and into the subconscious. This process begins at a very young age, driven by the unresponsiveness of parents to the demands of their children for need satisfaction. Freud and Jung called these repressed feelings 'complexes.' '



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Jung taught that treatment of these neuroses involved going back to the sources of the problems and bringing into the patient's consciousness the precipitating causes. Two methods dominated in his therapy. First, dream interpretation was probably the most important method for uncovering the frustrated wishes/needs being expressed at the Unconscious level of a patient's psyche. And second, active imagination, guided by word association tests, provided the second Jungian method of preference for doing this. Dreams, whether sleeping or waking, come to the dreamer in symbolic form and have to be interpreted in terms of their symbolic content. Dream interpretation is therefore a skill that has to be learned.

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As the content of the unconscious becomes understood, the patient discovers that the repressed frustrated need is a natural and human need that has been denied, and that the initial cause of the failure of need satisfaction when he was a child was not his fault. He must then take responsibility to change his attitudes and behavior to begin getting that need met.



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This realization helps the patient to recognize that the experience of traumatic need frustration is a part of the human experience and that parents and other significant others also suffer beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that unintentionally damage their own sense of self. The patient can then forgive himself for being less than perfect, and forgive parents and other influencing mentors for making human mistakes with them. This process of working with one's neurotic complexes to free the trapped energy in them is called "Owning Your Shadow."

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The first half of life, Jung hypothesized, is a time of exploration and exertion of our intent to explore and gain experience. As one approaches the mid-point of one's life however, people encounter 'mid-life crises' that cause them to reassess the directions of their lives. In fact, such crises are common, and are recognized as being the time when the repressed memories and beliefs pushed long ago into the personal unconscious gain the power to push back into consciousness so that they can be resolved.



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In this time of crisis, many people realize, if they did achieve their life goals, that their achievements have lost the meaning originally attached to them. And if their life goals were not achieved, individuals feel they must search out a new way of living to end the endless struggle for goals which life is denying them.

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Also at this time, the individual is becoming increasingly aware of his or her mortality, and the significance of approaching death begins to make every remaining moment of life assume new importance. Many ask at this time in their lives: "Who am I? What do I want at this point of my life? Where am I going? What is it that makes Life worth living? What is the source of real happiness? What is the best way to live the remaining years of my life so that I realize my true potential and become who I was born to be?



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This time, then, is the opportunity for the individual to begin what is known in ancient mythology as The Great Work; the work of going back and retracing one's life, of owning one's own shadow, of cooperatively working with the forces of the Collective Unconscious to allow the Self to emerge within the personality. This is the Quest for the True Self.

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Viktor E. Frankl and the "Will to Meaning"



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Viktor Frankl belongs to that branch of psychiatry known as "existential psychiatry:" a branch of psychotherapy which sought to understand man's reaction to the apparent meaninglessness of life and what might be done in therapy to help the individual find meaning in his suffering. During the Second World War, Frankl was interned in a German concentration camp; himself a Jew, he worked with other interned Jews facing starvation, torture and extinction every day. Faced by such terrible circumstances, few prisoners could understand the value of living in the midst of so much suffering. Frankl saw man as often powerless to save himself. Still, Frankl saw that many were able to find meaning in their experiences and meaning in their lives--even in the midst of horror and terror.

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Frankl's treatment technique rested on three pillars: the freedom of will, the will to meaning, and the meaning of life. "The freedom of will," he argued, "is not freedom from painful experiences, but rather freedom to take a stand on whatever conditions might confront one." He argued against the idea that man's life was determined by fate, for that would imply that man does not have freedom of will. Man can choose how to meet his fate. But to do that, he often must "reach beyond himself" to reach levels of courage, power, and duty that transforms. In the words of psychotherapist Robert A Johnson,"To find meaning in our lives and from our suffering, we must serve something greater than ourselves--whether that something be God, or country, or some idealized 'cause.' This of course is the lesson of the myth of the Fisher King. It is meeting and surmounting conflict and opposition that transforms--not simply the intent or desire to be transformed.



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According to Frankl, the will to meaning is man's need to pursue goals that result in the realization of meaning in life. The need for meaning drives Man to pursue goals whose achievement produces happiness, pleasure and meaning. He finds happiness not by seeking happiness or meaning in themselves, but by pursuing some reason or purpose with which he allies himself. In fact, Frankl argues that no one can pursue happiness itself and achieve it, nor can man seek self-actualization or self-realization, for seeking those states of consciousness and transcendence is impossible. Like happiness, he argues, self-actualization and self-realization are the unintended effects of success in pursuing challenging life goals--goals that take one through a purification by fire, suffering, challenge, and ordeal. One may succeed in pursuing such goals, and realize happiness, power, pleasure, and self-actualization, or one may fail and not reach such goals in life. But it is the striving through opposition to achieve difficult goals that helps man to "reach beyond himself," and through that striving, achieve power and self-actualization.

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Those who are concerned about seeking self-actualization itself, he felt, are concerned about the issue at all because they have failed in their search for meaning in life. The pursuit of pleasure, power, self-actualization or peak experiences by human beings are therefore all inevitably self-defeating, Frankl believed.



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"A human being strives for success, but, if need be, does not depend on his fate, which does or does not allow for success. A human being, by the very attitude he chooses, is capable of finding and fulfilling meaning in even a hopeless situation. This fact is understandable only if attitudinal values are higher than creative or experimental values. The meaning of suffering--unavoidable and inescapable suffering alone, of course--is the deepest possible meaning."

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Suffering can have a meaning and give meaning to life if it changes one for the better.



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Frankl believed that the number of persons suffering today from a sense of meaninglessness and emptiness in their lives is huge and spreading. "No drives nor instincts," says Frankl, "tells such persons what they must do, and no conventions, traditions, or values tell them what they should do. Instead, they typically wish to do what other people are doing, or they do what other people are doing. They fall prey to conformism or totalitarianism. 

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Boredom and apathy are the results of this existential vacuum of which Frankl writes. This is not a neurosis, he argues, or if it was, it is a sociogenic neurosis caused by the existential vacuum plaguing society. Such sickness is overcome only by extending ones self into causes or work that forces one beyond ones self. The fact that so many Americans are plagued by existential despair and depression is itself evidence that our work does not challenge us or inspire us, does not engage us, does not offer us a cause for which we are prepared to suffer; it is only our road to comfort and security. So we cope with our boredom with our lives and our apathy about anything by repressing the existential facts of our lives--by driving ourselves into trance, the pursuit of wealth and unconsciousness.



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Frankl writes:



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"One of the forms the will to power takes is what I call the will to money. The will to money accounts for much of that professional over-activity which, along with sexual over-activity, functions as an escape from the awareness of an existential vacuum.

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Once the will to money takes over, the pursuit of meaning is replaced by the pursuit of means. Money, instead of remaining a means, becomes an end. It ceases to serve a purpose.

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What then is the meaning of money, or for that matter the meaning of possessing money? Most of those people who possess it are really possessed by it, obsessed by the urge to multiply it, and thus they nullify its meaning. For the possession of money should mean that one is in a fortunate position. One can afford to pay no attention to money, the means, but rather to pursue the ends themselves--those ends that money should serve.

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Logotherapy was the technique Frankl invented to help lead people to the knowledge that they were in fact pursuing meaning in their lives and had a meaning. This realization raises the sufferer to a higher level where they can see that they are not victims but conquerors of themselves. The technique rests upon man's capacities for self-transcendence and self-detachment. The patient is encouraged to do, or to wish to happen, the very things he fears; this is called the paradoxical intention: intending the very thing one fears and replacing a pathogenic fear with a paradoxical wish which stops the patient's neurotic or pathogenic "program" from continuing.

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Nathaniel Branden and the Disowned Self

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Branden, like Adler, was one of the those early psychologists focussing on people's 'impoverished sense of self' as a personal disaster. Unlike Jung or Freud, Branden's idea of 'self' contain primarily the conscious and the subconscious portions of the psyche.

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Branden discovered during his own therapeutic work with patients that at the root of every suffering patient's problems is that that he or she did not know who they were. They had lost their 'sense of self' for some reason. They hated some aspect of their body, mind, or emotional makeup.

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Due to traumatic childhood events, patients had pushed away, or repressed, thoughts, feelings, and actions into their subconscious--disowned them, denied them, disallowed them, judged them as evil or wrong or unacceptable. These repressed issues were thereafter avoided at all costs, even as they matured into adulthood and beyond, in order to protect their self-esteem. However, even after the precipitating events, they still refused to face reality, and the reality they sought to avoid was inside themselves more than it is outside themselves.

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As people strove to accomplish their goals as adults, they came up against their own repressed barriers. They formed protective beliefs by which they could manage their lives. And then they couldn't get past those beliefs or boundaries erected to protect their feelings. Their beliefs and comfort boundaries caused them to get 'stuck' in their growth, their career, their marriages, or their lives; they've built protections against life that have become self-destructive. Because people can't stop unconsciously defending their self-image, they stop flowing with life.

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Branden talks about how children repress their feelings of helplessness and anger at their parents when they are unable to get their needs met. First, he details how parents teach their children to be disconnected from their own emotional experiences so that they become unable to feel.

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To begin with, many parents teach children to repress their feelings. A little boy falls and hurts himself and is told sternly by his father, "Men don't cry." A little girl expresses anger at her brother, or perhaps shows dislike toward an older relative, and is told by her mother, "It's terrible to feel that way. You don’t' really feel it." A child bursts into the house, full of joy and excitement, and is told by an irritated parent, "What's wrong with you? Why do you make so much noise?" Emotionally remote and inhibited parents tend to produce emotionally remote and inhibited children--not only by the parent's overt communications but also by the example they set; their own behavior announces to the child what is 'proper,' 'appropriate',' social acceptable.' 'Parents who accept the teachings of religion are very likely to infect their children with the disastrous notion that there are such things as 'evil thoughts' or 'evil emotions'--and thus fill the child with moral terror of his inner life… .

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What the effort at such control amounts to practically is that a child learns to disown his feelings, which means: he ceases to experience them. 

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And there are many other ways this loss of self occurs during a child's growing up years. Branden continues:

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For the majority of children, the early years of life contain many frightening and painful experiences. Perhaps a child has parents who never respond to his need to be touched, held, and caressed; or who constantly scream at him or at each other; or who deliberately invoke fear and guilt in him as a means of exercising control; or who swing between over-solicitude and callous remoteness; or who subject him to lies and mockery; or who are neglectful and indifferent; or who continually criticize and rebuke him; or who overwhelm him with bewildering and contradictory injunctions; or who present him with expectations and demands that take no cognizance of his knowledge, needs or interests; or who subject him to physical violence; or who consistently discourage his efforts at spontaneity and self-assertiveness.

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A child does not have a conceptual knowledge of his own needs nor does he have sufficient knowledge to comprehend the behavior of his parents. But at times, his fear and pain may be experienced as overwhelming and incapacitating. And so, in order to protect himself, in order to remain able to function--in order to survive, it may seem to him--he often feels, wordlessly and helplessly, that he must escape from his inner state, that contact with his emotions has become intolerable. And so he denies his feelings. The fear and the pain are not permitted to be experienced, expressed, and thus discharged; they are frozen into his body, barricaded behind walls of muscular and physiological tension, and a pattern of reaction is inaugurated that will tend to recur again and again when he is threatened by a feeling he does not wish to experience.

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Brandon points to these experiences while growing up as a proximate cause of the 'loss of one's self'--of one's inability to feel and experience a sense of self--because so much has been rejected and pushed into the subconscious. The 'gain' in such repression is that the individual does not consciously feel or experience the suffering and pain from denied love, spontaneity, intimacy, acceptance; he experiences it subconsciously. Consciously, he avoids the subject and avoids getting hurt again. However, the 'cost' of such repression is the loss of his ability to experience pleasure as well. In repressing his pain, he has armored himself against both the pain and the pleasure of life. And so life becomes a gray road without feeling or vitality or excitement of any kind. He feels as though he is slowly dying in a gray meaningless landscape.

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