A Journey into the Self
Right now, we each are here and now, in our particular Selfs. The Self is unique and the product of our experience, and our adaptations to our various microsystems (i.e., our immediate face-to-face settings). For instance, a couple has its own set of rules governing successful adaptation to its microsystem, just as does a lacrosse team or a college course. Our Selfs are the sum total of all those adaptations, positive or negative.
Development always proceeds from the simple to the complex. Experience in our various settings provides the nourishment for us to develop into our unique Selfs. Each Self develops at its own rate and in proportion to the exposure experienced in its various settings. This of course depends upon the exposure provided by more experienced members of society (Lev Vygotsky would be happy). Thus, a wealthier individual with parents who have a propensity to travel will experience more systems than an individual growing up in poverty and with little exposure to diversity. The greater the exposure, the more contexts to which the individual must adapt. Such is Self-development; exposure is the input that allows the Self to flourish.
Exposure is key, and allows one to adapt to multiple contexts. The more contexts to which one is exposed, the more likely one is to feel comfortable across settings. Comfort is no more than a synonym for equilibrium. However, exposure is not enough. In the progression that is life, individuals experience a great deal. Much of this experience is positive, yet an equal if not greater amount is quite negative. When negative experiences occur, they drastically impact the path to the True Self. Negative experiences are painful and therefore are avoided to preserve the Self. Indeed, it is an unspoken rule that we should avoid pain and pursue pleasure (Seymour Epstein). Pleasure means a lack of pain.
Seymour Epstein articulated this best when he described the functions of the Self, one being the avoidance of pain in pursuit of pleasure. However, to attain the highest Self, one must not only welcome pain when it is encountered, but actively pursue it so that it may be conquered.
The conquest of pain is as old as is humanity. Thus, I claim nothing new by advocating this pursuit. Yet, in psychology, we often believe that psychic pain should be ignored, and that there are alternative more cognitive methods to improve the self. These are false and Self-defeating pursuits. The only way to improve the Self is to eliminate all roadblocks to success, not merely changing the way we articulate our feelings to ourselves from negative to positive Self statements. Thus, from the perspective of adaptation, one must not only accept anxiety but seek out and conquer those experiences that provoke anxiety. Psychoadaptation is a very active way to the True Self.
Anxiety is perhaps the most basic of human emotions. It’s a nexus for psyche and physiology. Anxiety is the famous Fight or Flight response. We all know it because we have all experienced it. Most often, we experience anxiety in social situations, because human beings, though social, hate being the center of attention, at least most of us do. Thus, when faced with public speaking or asking out a potential partner for a date, we tend to experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that make us want to curl up in bed and go to sleep. This anxiety, however, is less evil than it appears. Indeed, anxiety is a sign that something is wrong and that our Selfs need to change in order for us to progress to a higher Self. C.G. Jung labeled this latent proclivity the Transcendent Function. According to Jung, the psyche’s function is to promote psychic wholeness, a unification of the unconscious and consciousness. In this case, it means a unification of our spoken truths and our unspoken fears. Thus, anxiety isn’t an evil that must be avoided but rather a function whose aim is to right the Self and to bring about psychic balance.
The journey to the True Self is complicated and filled with danger. In order to emerge a new Self, one must go into the unconscious and slay one’s personal daemons. These daemons are the manifestation of those mystic dark characters portrayed so fantastically in the literature and cinema. They however don’t exist in reality but only psychically. Yet to the individual, daemons are fearful physiologic-psychic creatures. We psychologically give them a substance they do not deserve to have in reality. I ask, would you endow trash with substance? Our psychic garbage seeks to have substance. Instead of throwing it out on Thursday night for the garbage collector to dump into the back of his truck Friday morning, we endow this psychic garbage with special powers that control us. The True Self can only be achieved by allowing the trash collector to dump our psychic garbage into the waste bin in the back of the truck. Compress that garbage I say and don’t allow it to control us. Jung labeled this garbage a complex and noted that complexes have us instead of us having complexes. I also have garbage, and I can dump it Thursday evenings. I’d rather dump it than let it control me.
Despite the rather simple ability to dump our trash, the battle for the True Self is the hardest battle we will ever fight. We try to ignore our inner daemons and hope that time will allow us to move on to greener pastures (for cows?). Yet, that never works. Wishing our daemons away is as efficacious as hoping some unproven treatment will save one from cancer, or that taxes due will be reversed into refunds. Instead of hoping, I believe the only option is to directly confront our daemons and to tell them to F off. It’s crude but our psyche isn’t polite. Do not, my trusty reader, believe that there is any other way of dealing with the psyche. We try to pretend we are better, but our unconscious psychological processes take us back to the crudity of life. We are nothing but mortal beings, just like the slug or spider.
The journey to the True Self is one of pain and release. We experience pain by challenging ourselves and our false beliefs about the Self and the world surrounding us. Doing so, we learn what is right about our Selfs and what is wrong. We learn where we have made mistakes and what we have done right, but mostly our mistakes. To emerge on the other side, out of our cocoons into our butterfly beings, we must first observe and hug and kiss our ugliness. We are the ugliness and the beauty. Most of us don’t want to accept our ugliness, no matter how light it is. Failure to do so will impede progress toward the true Self. Once though we attain the True Self, we experience reality in a way never experienced before. We experience, and not infrequently, that feeling known as the Oceanic feeling; total unity with our surroundings. This feeling, unfortunately to most, is only experienced when we allow the Self to be free, embracing all of its ugliness. I know it’s not pretty, but the Self needs to accept its ugliness as well as all the beauty it embodies. Light and dark together make the whole, just as night and daytime make the full day. Yet, the benefit of this union is a peace one can never know without it. I live for those moments of unity and wholeness, those oceanic moments when the separation between Self and not Self disappears. That is the reward for the pain and struggle of revealing the True Self. I for one think it’s worth it.