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1. The Shadow
The difference between the conscious and unconscious can be demonstrated on a basic level through Sigmund Freud’s Iceberg theory. The tip of the iceberg represents the conscious mind. This consists of our basic thoughts and perceptions. Because these are within the frame of awareness, we often solely attribute these aspects as a representation of who we are. However, beneath the surface lies the majority of unconscious awareness, much like the portion of an iceberg beneath the water. The unconscious contains all sorts of significant and disturbing material, which we need to keep out of awareness, because it is too threatening to acknowledge fully. Nevertheless, it still has a significant influence.
The Preconscious is the part of the iceberg that is submerged below the water but still visible. The best way to describe this is as memories and knowledge we have ascertained and stored, but which is not necessary at the time, so pushed just outside our awareness. For example, you could readily recall your home address if asked, but it was not present in your conscious mind beforehand. The preconscious is also known as the subconscious and may contain mild emotional experiences. However anything too traumatic that invokes a lot of negative emotion, is likely repressed deeply into the unconscious, which encompasses the largest portion of the iceberg which is not visible. Here resides a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories, most of which are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.
Our parents form earliest impressions of the world and shape our personalities in powerful ways. Though we like to view our parents efforts and upbringing in the most favourable light, they are humans with flaws and we take on their unresolved conflicts. A large proportion of our repressed unconscious is formed through early conditioning, often from early childhood conflicts and traumas. Often, these negative, unresolved traits will be passed down to offspring, some of whom may be conceived as a means to compensate for the individuals’ own shortcomings.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung expanded upon Sigmund Freud’s personal unconscious, accounting for the existence of a collective unconscious which contains universal archetypal symbols inherited through ancestral memories. Jung describes it as: “the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual”. These would account for common symbols reported in dreams, which may have a uniform relevance.
World events, though often perceived as random and deterministic in nature, tend to be a result of psychic epidemics. When humanity is unable to reach a harmonious collective agreement on the fundamentals of law and morality, there are schisms in the population, who divide into camps according to the resonance in their beliefs. Until the collective archetypes are surfaced into public consciousness and understood correctly, inequality and war are inevitable outcomes. Humanity is undergoing a process/cycle whereby it needs to perceive reality truthfully through gaining an undistorted understanding of human history and the origins of its species, which requires an awareness of the nature of the psyche and how this relates to a deeper metaphysical nature – an underlying governing force of energy that binds humans irrespective of their perceived differences that result from acquired belief systems.
Globalisation relies on homogenising the population into a hive mind which functions under shared limiting beliefs that have been dictated through media channels that manipulate perception to keep it restricted. Until individual self-awareness is reclaimed, these unconscious beliefs will continue to manifest unfavourable conditions, keeping humanity locked in a kind of frequency prison of its own making, restricted in its ability to evolve to higher states of consciousness in harmony with Natural Law, which doesn’t require the individual forfeit their free will in exchange for a manufactured ‘collective unity’ under the governance of an external control system that dictates the conditions.
Trauma can often ignite and accelerate someone’s growth should they transmute it into personal power, and so many strong and successful souls are forged out of hardship. Some children, as a result of childhood mistreatment or neglect, are actually propelled to look deeper at reality, in an attempt to rationalise their suffering, expanding their perception beyond the more limited confines of the status quo. Others, sadly, are so deeply affected by it that it is simply too painful to relive, and continues to exert a harmful influence on that individual’s life through the expression of dysfunctional personality expressions, attachments and addictions.
Memory recall through journalling can be an alternative effective strategy to unveil some of the forgotten past and establish links between key events and our current temperament and personality. Photos and old belongings can also be a useful aid. By bringing events back to consciousness we are able to re-experience some of the associated emotions, which offers an opportunity for trauma release through acceptance and self-compassion. Otherwise the emotions remain trapped in the body creating unconscious stress, tension and neuroses. It also serves us well to embrace positive nostalgic memories. Each time we invite a positive memory in to our being, we are reinforcing the positive experiences that have contributed to who we are and this induces a great sense of well-being within us now. The past doesn’t have to be an obstacle to be forgotten, but remembered as a contributing factor for growth. The more repressed or forgotten memories we can recall, whether positive or negative, the less influence our unconscious will have on us now, and the more we will understand ourselves.
Through this process, it is important not to self-aggrandise, nor project blame onto others. Though our parents may not have made the perfect choices, they too are acting out of their own wounds. Practicing acceptance, through compassionate witnessing of our past, can mitigate getting embroiled into self-destructive mental/emotional states. Though suppressing these states is no good either, we can analyse our thoughts and feelings as an outside observer, recognising that we are not our traumas and do not need to identify with them. As we become adept at holding this space of inner neutrality, we can develop the necessary self-compassion and self-confidence that was lacking, but the healing process must be respected and not bypassed. There are no shortcuts or overnight transformation, and every individual must discover their own personal process.
Some hidden aspects of the psyche are difficult to recall through conventional methods and require deeper digging. Though these may be accessible through methods such as hypnotherapy, this requires a trusted therapist and poses a risk should the procedure lead to the recall of memories that may be misinterpreted by the therapist and/or patient. Delving into the dream world presents a similar pitfall, though through dream recall diaries, one becomes better able to recite the details and to identify repeating symbols or patterns that offer a clue about repressed shadow aspects that we may be unaware of or in denial about in waking life. Some of these dreams may play out as scenarios not too dissimilar to those in waking life, though likely with more obscurities. We can couple these with conscious memory recall to create a bigger picture understanding, noting down familiar people and scenarios and analysing the context and our feelings as they play out in response to them. We may find we remember details of things that we had forgotten, perhaps an old face, or a specific place. This demonstrates the power of the unconscious in storing information that couldn’t be contained within the subconscious mind.
One of the most destructive expressions of an unhealed psyche are addictions that serve to bandage and distract from pain. These tendencies are easily rationalised due to their normalisation in society, yet they give rise to destructive behaviours and lead to imbalance, which may not be noticeable in the short term. Some understated examples of addiction are as seemingly harmless as the dependency on coffee to energise, or consistent alcohol consumption as a numbing agent to distract from the hardships of reality. Other examples include immediate gratification such as excessive sex/masturbation or addictive foods such as sugar. When prolonged, this creates a dependency that can be very difficult to relinquish and they shape society in an unhealthy way.
The challenge is not just being honest with ourselves and recognising our dependencies, but being able to identify the unresolved aspects that are giving rise to them, otherwise we are prone to cycles of relapse, or may substitute one addiction for another. Many individuals try to cut an addiction through a disciplined cold turkey approach and are successful for a while, but the inner restlessness ensues and something will fill the void until the issue is addressed at its root.
Destructive habits and substance abuse are just two prevalent coping mechanisms, but addictions can take the form of attachments/dependencies to others. It may be that others bring this to our awareness. It’s easy to view our own behaviours in a more satisfactory light, judging others more harshly, but this is just an extra defence mechanism employed by the ego to protect itself from facing pain. Having open conversation with those close to us, or with a therapist or neutral observer, may help us to release some of the repressed emotion, serving as a cathartic release which can ignite past memories back to consciousness.
Deep introspection is necessary to retrieve unconscious aspects that are governing unhealthy behaviours in the shadows. This is a continuous process that entails revisiting our past to establish its influence in shaping who we are today. The more painful or traumatising an event, the deeper it will penetrate the unconscious. This is a defence mechanism employed by the ego, when it detects a threat to survival. When this occurs, we tend to detach from the issue, believing it has been resolved and isn’t having an impact on us. However, nothing goes away until it is bought to consciousness for integration.
Some of this negative conditioning is so deeply engrained that it is difficult to break and most fail to even acknowledge the impact of conditioning on their behaviours, entrenched deep into the negative ego to the point of complete identification with it and in denial of its negative expressions. To break the cycle entails digging out conscious memories first, no matter how painful, and understanding why circumstances played out as they did, removing guilt and blame from the equation, through identifying the authentic self as separate from the compensatory components of the ego. Then we can go deeper and pull out the nitty gritty from the unconscious – the deeper rooted self-destructive tendencies that prevent us from moving forward in life with greater ease. This is not a pain free process, but the reward waiting on the other side is worth it. Growth can only come first from struggle and it starts with confrontation with the shadow.
Conventional western approaches to trauma and mental illness often overlook the underlying causation. Modern psychology resorts too quickly to objectified classifications/diagnoses that don’t account enough for the complexity and subjective nature of the issues. The current primary diagnostic tool and approach to therapy, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is limited in this respect, and often leads to wrong diagnoses and unnecessary pharmaceutical interventions prescribed without a holistic understanding of the interrelationship between mental, emotional and physical states that must be bought into congruence to attain homeostasis. By failing to address the underlying causation of various emotional and behavioural states, we resort to diagnosing and putting people in boxes and then focus on treating symptoms.
The clinical approach to healing can lead to ineffectual and inappropriate treatments that only serve to suppress the behavioural manifestations or physical/mental/emotional symptoms, through artificially manipulating hormone levels, by dumbing down or activating pleasure, which can accentuate imbalances following cessation of medication, which leads to a greater dependency to reach the desired effect and can create withdrawal symptoms and addiction. These synthetic prescriptions can induce nasty side effects, creating a sick population dependent on the same pharmaceutical companies for relief, creating a negative dependency cycle.
People experience various mental/emotional states as a response to their environment and circumstances, not because they are ill. Most humans will experience unhealthy states to some degree in their lives, as we all carry some level of trauma. The shadow is something that we all possess and need to confront through the process of introspection. When we suppress these feelings through conventional symptom-based relief such as medication, we are disregarding and shutting off from the vital messages these feelings contain about our current situation and what needs to be addressed.
Medications are being over prescribed to people who could benefit from non-clinical psychological attention first. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans are now using antidepressants. A study published in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that nearly two-thirds of a sample of more than 5,000 patients who had been given a diagnosis of depression within the previous 12 months did not meet the criteria for major depressive episode, as described by the psychiatric’s bible, the DSM.
There have been numerous cases brought before court against prescription drugs, particularly in the case of the newer selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), which have been strongly linked to suicidal tendencies. Reactions to prescription medication are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a worldwide epidemic. Lawsuits have been successfully won against anti-depressant manufacturers, particularly Prozac, yet it still took 13 years before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally confessed that there may be noticeable behavioural changes after taking the medication. They have still yet to admit the same for homicidal thoughts and behaviours, despite mounting evidence.
Psychological approaches that extend beyond clinical treatment methods still seldom look beyond cognitions and behaviours and may still fail to identify the underlying causation. Only through delving into the recesses of a patient’s unconscious mind can a therapist tackle the issue at its root, as the outward manifestations are a reflection of what’s contained outside of the patient’s conscious awareness. In some cases the therapist themselves can become unknowingly embroiled in their own unconscious trauma, which may be triggered from the patient’s accounts. They then risk projecting these unresolved conflicts onto their patients, initiating a sort of patient-on-patient negative feedback loop.
A psychotherapist must be honest about their own shortcomings and, if necessary, be properly evaluated themselves to mitigate potential biases. Academic qualification is not sufficient alone to constitute effective treatment and an overly intellectualised approach may not correlate with emotional maturity. It is important that any practitioner is well equipped with empathy and has undergone their own process of introspection and healing first, so they are able to relate on a more compassionate and personal level.
It serves us well to take an honest look at our behaviours and to ask ourselves whether we feel they are reflecting any insecurities that we are seeking to compensate for. There are multiple environmental stimuli that may trigger temporary emotional reactions. These are not normally a cause for concern, unless they become more repetitive and frequent. In such cases, we must look deeper. When we find the courage to confront and retrieve these repressed aspects, we can assimilate them into our conscious awareness, allowing them to be resolved. Often we are unaware that a problem exists, because we are desensitised to our own behaviour through repetition and familiarity.