Sunday, October 3, 2010

Too little ego, too much persona: the Messiah complex and the Borderline state

I spent a considerable part of this Sunday morning reading the latest issue of the New Yorker Magazine (a particularly excellent issue, I might add), and as my lens on life is clearly psychological, I could not help but note that in every article, the psychology of the actors was the prevalent (if not always mentioned) topic at hand. Be it in regards to the Dalai Lama's form of leadership and consultation of oracles in order to make decisions, or Mark Zuckerberg's desire to be a part of the in-crowd and struggle with understanding power that led him to create Facebook, one can note the personal psychology that moves each of us in different directions and -- often without our conscious choice -- rules our lives.

This fact was most apparent in the story about Rachel Yould entitled The Scholar, by Jeffrey Toobin. Rachel was a beautiful, charismatic and brilliant young woman. She was extremely high achieving in seemingly everything she did throughout her young career, but she then seemingly reached a point where she was unable to accomplish her goals and began investing only in acting-as-if, with greater and greater plans set for herself and her future and less and less actually achieved.

While at Oxford, Yould struggled to complete even chapters of her dissertation, failed to impress her professors, and began to conceive of schemes by which she could borrow more and more money from the US government in student loans while continuing to press forward on her ambitions. Living off of enormous debt, she resurrected a journal called the Oxford International Review and found her way into interview a number of esteemed international players, including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Hamid Karzai, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Wesley Clark. But, as Toobin reports, the O.I.R never amounted to much beyond a confused, bloated publication, overflowing at every end from un-edited material and ideas of grandeur. As Yould's now ex-husband comments: "She had very big plans for O.I.R., and I don't really understand what those plans were. She just blew it way out of proportion. I saw it as a scholarly journal, but then she wanted [to] take it further into an organization where students from around the world had a change to get together and share thoughts. I didn't get it."

The story continues into various layers of complication. Ultimately, she is jailed for having defrauded the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, while also weaving a story of having suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her father. (I do not want to diminish the possibility that her accusations against her father are true, though as Toobin paints it, it seems unlikely.)

What I am compelled by is the tragic personality type that can be extraordinarily brilliant, pretty and charming, and clearly capable of accomplishing a great deal, and yet also a fraud twisted-up in her own stories and accusations, and without any close companions or true relationships. (How many of the people whom we look-up to or whose accomplishments we admire are examples of this type?) Toobin nails her psychological landscape perfectly: "With ferocious intensity, Rachel strove first for accomplishments, then merely connections, and, finally, just status, and she made no lasting friends along the way."

In my thesis on early ego development, I argued that this personality type in adulthood is the result of an ego that is not fully formed in childhood and not fully differentiated from the unconscious. Thus, the ego has incredible access to that part of the Self in which everything is possible and almost magical, and the person is charming, artistic, intelligent and talented, invariably referred to as charismatic. But when it comes to true human relationships and to building a solid life for the long-term, the individual does not have enough of a core identity or self-confidence to accomplish those tasks.

As analyst Marie-Louise von Franz (1980) wrote, rather than the ego complex shutting itself away from Self to move into the first half of life from childhood as is developmentally appropriate, for individuals in this borderline state,
the process is disturbed and consequently the ego does not polarize away from the rest of the unconscious personality, but gets vaguely mixed up with it, and then you have a strange personality, either childish or very wise, more or less conscious than other people, and hopelessly unconscious too. (pp. 79-80)
Individuals stuck at this point of ego development therefore may seem to have it all together and receive acclaim for their accomplishments, but after years pass it will come to light that their accomplishments were based on endless debt and their life is littered with failed relationships. It is as if one takes a loan from life and it is not until years pass under the guise of a well-established persona that one's life catches up with them.

As the story of Rachel's failed publication suggests to me, there is a secretly harbored and well-entrenched belief of grandeur and the sense that in the future, all disbelievers will be proved wrong. Again, von Franz (1981) characterizes this state perfectly (in discussing the ego of a particular kind of man):
[There] is often, to a smaller or greater extent, a savior or Messiah complex, with the secret thought that one day one will be able to save the world; that the last word in philosophy, or religion, or politics, or art, or something else will be found. This can progress to be a typical pathological megalomania, or there may be minor traces of it in the idea that one’s time “has not yet come.” The one situation dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatsoever. There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, or entering space and time completely, and of being the one human being that one is. (p. 2) 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Philemon Foundation

I have been distracted from blogging, it seems. My distraction comes by way of a new position that I started a few months ago which has begun occupying my time and mind in contemplations of a similar nature to what I once placed with regularity on my blog.

I have joined the team at The Philemon Foundation, a foundation that exists to bring to publication the unpublished works of C.G. Jung and is responsible for the translation and publication of the Red Book, among other esteemed works.

Since joining the organization in July, a number of wonderful things have unfolded, including the opportunity to attend the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) conference last month in Montreal -- an experience that might have once figured prominently on my blog but is now old news as life continues at a clip.

Hopefully, I will return to my dedication to writing regularly here. Or, perhaps, my blog will go the way of so many and cease to exist after fulfilling the purpose of its author to write a little while the writing seemed to need a place to go...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Re-Dreaming with PTSD

Last week, the New York Times published this article entitled "Following a Script to Escape a Nightmare" by Sarah Kershaw, discussing a method of breaking the cycle of terrifying nightmares that afflict individuals with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) by re-imagining a scary dream in a new way.

While claiming to almost be an anti-Jungian approach, the journalist and doctors involved in the study (including one analyst whose perspective must surely have been a narrowly quoted stance), neglect to explore some enormous questions around the healing function of the psyche inherent in the approach. The approach is not only not Jungian, it is extremely Jungian, engaging the unconscious and the symptomatic aspect of the psyche versus solely the conscuous mind and the resulting behavior (i.e. treating the insomnia).

The article begins like this:
Her car is racing at a terrifying speed through the streets of a large city, and something gruesome, something with giant eyeballs, is chasing her, closing in fast.

It was a dream, of course, and after Emily Gurule, a 50-year-old high school teacher, related it to Dr. Barry Krakow, he did not ask her to unpack its symbolism. He simply told her to think of a new one.
And so Emily does. She changes the eyeballs into bubbles, turns the black car into a white Cadillac, and transforms the landscape so that nothing is chasing her. She feels much better and the treatment is working.

The article suggests, however, that by not unpacking the symbolism of the dream, work with the unconscious is being circumvented; if this is the case, from where is Emily choosing her calming symbols? She is able to find images that she inherently knows -- without logical conclusions -- will achieve a calming effect, she is not using her conscious mind solely for this endeavor.

Moreover, why bubbles? Why does another patient choose to add birds to her image? How do any of Dr. Krakow's patients know what is going to be calming for them, healing for them? Why do they choose the specific images they do?

The healing function of psyche, as it is understood in Jungian psychology, can most easily be described as imagination -- the very tool which Dr. Krakow is encouraging his patients to utilize. By facing the dreams head-on, whether they are analyzed or not, his patients are acknowledging the material; this very act can have a calming effect on a hurt area of psyche just as simple expressions of love and acknowledgment can calm an agitated or screaming baby. It is Zen, perhaps, but so often true: that which aches must be acknowledged, not fought or avoided.

The traumatized psyche experiences dreaming and loops of traumatic dreams in ways that a healthy psyche does not. The idea that these dreams must simply be analyzed in the same way as standard dreams is a narrow and elementary application of Jungian psychology. There is certainly material to be witnessed within them that offer clues towards healing, as well as growth and transformation visible over time (through the way in which the images transform), but another layer of work is needed with these nighttime feedback-loops of trauma.

However, this is an area that Jungian psychology must still wrestle with and which few prominent practitioners are tackling. How does the healing function break down when traumatized, for instance in an individual with a diagnosis of PTSD? Furthermore, is trauma a launching pad for deep inner work, perhaps the dramatic kick-start of individuation? Are the nightmares opportunities for the transformation of consciousness or an impediment to that work? And what's happening in that deeply wounded area of psyche? These are areas of research that are just now beginning to be explored. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is Jungian Psychology?: Exploring the Rhizome Under the Blossoms

I seem to be on a perpetual quest to develop an "elevator pitch" explanation of Jungian psychology yet I seem to fail abysmally at this task each attempt I make. (It's strange, perhaps, that one can be so dedicated to a form of scholarship and yet get so tongue tied when trying to explain the passion). To help ameliorate my aphasia, I've decided to start researching the ways in which other scholars and practitioners explain Jungian psychology and Jung's concepts, including, importantly, their relevance to the world.

This post is the first installment of this quest, with quotations from analyst June Singer's book Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology (1972).

Singer expounded on an analogy from biology that Jung himself used, in order to explain how analytic psychology differs from others. The image they use is that of the rhizome.

In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away--an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (Jung, MDR, p. 4)
In regards to this image, June Singer wrote:
Students in universities today engage too much in the contemplation and dissection of the blossom. Psychology courses insist that all that counts in man's behavior, which can be measured, predicted, conditioned and manipulated. I agree that behavior merits considerable concern. But I am with many thinking people today who are not altogether satisfied with studying what is, or to be more accurate, "what appears to be." . . . Both [the blossom and the rhizome] are necessary to the existence if the plant and its growth. But in today's hurried world, where the blossom is all to easily seen, enjoyed, and knocked off its stem when it begins to wither and decay, the rhizome is all too often overlooked. We forget that it carries the source of tomorrow's blossom. I admit that Jungian psychology may lay too much emphasis on the rhizome, and not enough on the blossom. . . .But just because institutional psychology has dealt with the observable phenomenon, and dealt with it relatively adequately within the limitations of its methods, it has not been necessary for Jung or Jungians to dwell overlong upon grounds that have been competently tended by others. Therefore . . . Jung's way. . . [stressed] the importance of the unconscious rather than of consciousness, the mysterious rather than the known, the mystical rather than the scientific, the creative rather than the productive, the religious rather than the profane, the meaning of love rather than the technique of sex. (p. xv-xvi)
For additional reading on Dr. Singer's exploration of Jung's work and its importance in today's world, I've quoted several more relevant paragraphs from her introduction below.
Thoughtful people are recognizing that Jung provides a bridge in our time between the scientific-intellectual aspects of life and the religious-nonrational aspects. Jung has faced the apparent dichotomy between abstraction and generalization on one side and the experience of immediate knowing on the other. Our culture, steeped in the principles of Aristotelian logic, finds it difficult to accept paradoxical thinking as valid. Too often it seems necessary to make a choice between the rationalistic-academic way of life or the anti-intellectual camp. Jung's greatness is in that he saw both of these as aspects of the same reality, as polar opposites on a single axis. (p. xi)
Jung's teachings have much to offer to the troubled world in this third of the twentieth century, and there are not nearly enough Jungian analysts to meet the need, the interest, the demand. . . Often when Jungian analysts have spoken out to the general public about the experience of the analytic way--the "way of individuation"--small groups of people have sprung up spontaneously to meet and discuss the words and work and the life of Jung, to try to understand all this in term of their own personal experience. . . . Jung [has] the capacity to touch something essential in the human soul which needs to be touched or needs to be healed, in order to be made whole. (p. xii)
Some of the best works on the psychology of Jung have been written by Jungian analysts, who have formulated the theoretical approach in terms of their own experiences--as therapists and as human beings--living in active relationship with the unconscious. It is understandably hard to get at Jung in any methodical way, And, where "methods" have been devised, they tend to schematize the abstractions at which Jung arrived, without maintaining the vitality of the flesh-and-blood experiences from which his theories were generalized. (p. xiii)
Drawing of human rhizome by Marc Ngui