Authentic Self Counselling
The Transpersonal Perspective and Parts Work - In Depth
|Answering the question, who am I, is a vast and perhaps impossible task to successfully complete in a lifetime. Yet it is also a question that has been driving man’s quest for knowledge since the dawn of time. While clearly it is necessary to accept the infinite variety of possibilities with which this question may be answered, I have found, through observation of many clients in both group work and private practice, that what shapes a person’s enjoyment of life is that some form of answer is reached in the individual’s mind.
That answer then becomes the foundation that the individual rests his actions and beliefs on. It would logically follow then, that an individual’s overall satisfaction with their lives is determined by how in alignment their behavior is with their answer.
The difficulty that seems to arise in many people is that without a concrete consistent experience of themselves as an ‘I’, their knowledge of themselves is a variable, determined by circumstances, roles, conditioning, habit, environment and which part of their personality is in charge.
|Dualities are often present in each of their experiences. For instance, a mother may define herself as good, nurturing and kind in one instance and bad, out of control or mean in another, both determined by her external behavior and reinforced by her thought process. If ones identification of self is judged according to ones behavior and that behavior is driven by unconscious internal forces as well as external circumstances, then the ability to accept oneself is in flux, solely dependant on whether one approves of the behavior one exhibits or not.
If we are to feel like an integrated whole being, all fragments of the psyche must be understood and made peace with, which is quite different than identifying oneself as those parts. This is based on the idea that while one can experience various parts of the psyche, one can also experience something far greater than individual personality. While parts of the psyche are reactive, there is also an aspect of experience that can be accessed at the same time that is not. This, Core Self is consistently non judgmental, loving rather than fear based and interested in seeking connection and learning in the world rather than employing strategies to survive or defend against it.
This Core Self is considered in Transpersonal Psychology to be interdependent and connected to all consciousness. This brings us to the challenging task of identifying consciousness. Walsh and Vaughan (1993) suggested that “ for most of psychology and science, consciousness is an epi-phenomenon, not readily amenable to scientific research, while for much of Western philosophy consciousness is a classical conundrum that does not yield to conceptual analysis. Somehow consciousness seems to slip through scientific research and conceptual analysis like water through a net. This is not considered unnatural by most Eastern and some Western philosophies in that while most Western psychologies see consciousness as a product of the individual’s mind, they see it as an extension of the Absolute, of God. In this view, consciousness is not personal it is transpersonal, beyond space, time, qualities, concepts, categories and limits (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993).
The nature of consciousness cannot be explained or proven, yet it can be experienced. This experiential direction will be invited by the various creative techniques and exercises we will utilize to explore parts of the psyche, always with the focus on identification with a consciousness that is greater than these parts.
Understanding the Parts in Detail
Quite simply the value of understanding these parts is that they contain valuable resources that we have cut ourselves off from and can benefit from utilizing. If we were to simply override the parts then their gifts would be lost. As an example one of the Critic’s main gifts is discernment and the clarity that results from both a macro and a micro perspective. The Child brings us in touch with a sense of unlimited possibility and sensitivity. The Adolescent is a champion of spontaneity and passion, while compassion and a sense of fairness with clear boundaries are gifts the Victim holds if claimed. These qualities and perspectives are ones which would ultimately make for a happier life and without knowledge and acceptance of the personality parts, their gifts can never be claimed.
Working with the dual nature of the parts while initially may seem challenging soon becomes a direct line into the feeling world of the psyche. If we disown these parts or energy patterns we would be replicating a pattern that originally was created in childhood and sustained unconsciously by ourselves over time. “ The disowned self is an energy pattern that has been punished every time it has emerged. These punishments might have been subtle- a raised eyebrow, the withdrawal of attention, a “that’s rather unattractive, don’t you think?”-or they may have been powerful punishments.. Whatever the nature of these repressive environmental forces, the result is the same: A set of energy patterns is deemed totally unacceptable and is therefore repressed but not totally destroyed. These energy patterns live in our unconscious”. If we identify ourselves as one of our parts, we are literally agreeing to be controlled by it. It may dominate ones perception and decision making and be the energy that is keeping us stuck in our current struggle.
Understanding The Core Self
Most people use the word ‘I’ to describe themselves regardless of which part is currently thinking or driving the individual’s choices. In fact, the ‘ I’ which decides to go see a movie when a work deadline is clearly a priority could be one part, perhaps the adolescent, who then seamlessly passes the role of ‘I’ to the child in letting it choose the movie to be seen. One part dissolves or dissociates into another without conscious awareness and we identify each part as an I. It is as if the parts drift into the unconscious until they are retrieved as needed to cope with the circumstances of the moment, unfortunately not always to the benefit of the individual’s larger goals and values. In those moments the awareness of the other parts is usually kept unconscious. While being this multitude of ‘I’s is not problematic if they are all in agreement with each other, the difficulty begins when they conflict in terms of what is best for the individual.
This is where the transpersonal perspective differs from traditional psychology. In traditional psychology, the ego has been referred to as the executive function of the psyche, or the choice maker. And while this may be true, in an unaware ego there are times where the various parts or a combination of these parts have taken over the executive function of the ego. The parts are perceiving the world, processing the information and directing the individual’s life. When this happens the ego has identified with the various parts. “Unless we awaken to the consciousness process the vast majority of us are run by the energy patterns with which we have identified or by those we have disowned.” (Stone & Stone, 1989,). This set of parts serves as a functioning ego until we choose to embark on a journey of awareness or consciousness that is at the core of Transpersonal Psychology.
A primary motivation in Transpersonal Psychology is to become aware, aligning and identifying self as the interconnected ‘I’ that is common in all of us. An ‘I’ that is more solid and consistent than the individual personality parts. With this aware ego or ‘I’ as the driver in one’s life many of the internal conflicts and challenges an individual experiences would be minimized. The possibility of movement into transpersonal realms, of transcending the ego, was a basic tenet of Jung’s departure from the classical Freudian viewpoint. Jung observed a tendency at midlife or later for the ego to undergo a reversal of the dualistic nature of the ego which saw “I- Thou” as a natural separation between self and others. He believed that this reversal is a natural part of the movement of life, “the first half of which is devoted to ego development and the second half of which is devoted to a return of the ego to its underlying source in the collective unconscious or objective psyche” ( Washburn, 1995,). Jung’s idea that the natural consequences of this decent into the collective unconscious was a state where the individual was annihilated to then return, born anew and transformed. Perhaps the decent into this realm, which requires a letting go of personal identification, is a task that can be undertaken in adult life with its goal to release aspects of the personality parts which no longer serve the individual.
How does one access this ‘I’? While there are many ways to enter into a state of experiencing this ‘I’ , it may be understood cognitively yet rarely experienced without entering the realm of the unconscious. Instead of seeing the unconscious as a teeming cauldron of untamed fury needing suppression so that society can survive, it can be viewed as a repository of all our prior experiences, and containing information far in excess of what our awareness normally brings us on a conscious level. “It is a collective of all our component parts, which I liken to the orchestra, that which actually makes the music of life. (Beahrs,1982,).
While the unconscious contains all these various parts of ourselves it is also home to an experience of a collective ‘I’ that is the conductor. This transpersonal state outside the boundaries of our parts can only be accessed with a surrender of identification of the ‘I’ as a part and experience of something other than an ego driven state. “ Transpersonal theory proposes that there are developmental stages beyond the adult ego, which involve experiences of connectedness with phenomena considered outside the boundaries of the ego. In healthy individuals, these developmental stages can engender the highest human qualities, including altruism, creativity and intuitive wisdom. (Kasprow & Scotton,1999,) When these states are accessed during and anchored as the guide for negotiation with various parts of the psyche as well as the “I” that sets goals and makes decisions, then the individual can experience a sense of harmony and balance since the transpersonal ‘I’ is a more stable, consistent and compassionate conductor of life.
The Four Parts
The Child archetype is a part that while holding innumerable gifts for the individual, also can be extremely problematic when unexpressed. “This archetype establishes our perception of life, safety, nurturing, loyalty, and family. Its many aspect include the Wounded Child, the Abandoned or Orphaned Child, the Dependant Child, the Innocent Child, the Nature Child, and the Divine Child. These energies may emerge in response to different situations in which we find ourselves, yet the core issue of all the Child archetypes is dependency and responsibility; when to take responsibility, when to have a healthy dependency, when to stand up to the group, and when to embrace communal life.” (Myss, C., 2001).
Harry Stack Sullivan (1953) postulated that people learn to treat themselves as they have been treated by significant others, which would usually be the parents. A child’s concept of themselves and sense of identity would mirror that of their parents or primary caregiver and whatever neglect or abuse they experience in their childhood would be internalized so that the individual would treat themselves in the same way. In other words, even though fully grown, the abused child would continue the abuse from his childhood, inside of himself. The same holds true for the adult who was raised in an environment of nurturance and love - they then adopt those same self-accepting attitudes toward themselves. Charles Whitfield states that, “80 to 95 percent of people did not receive the love, guidance and other nurturing necessary to form consistently healthy relationships, and to feel good about themselves and about what they do.” (Whitfield, C.,1989, ). He also indicates that when the child is not nurtured and allowed freedom of expression, a false or co-dependent self emerges.
This false self is in place, much as a guard would be, to prevent the individual from feeling the pain and helplessness experienced in childhood. While the child goes underground in order to facilitate this defense mechanism, much of the beauty and spontaneity of the child is unavailable to be accessed as well. The child part does not remain quiet however. It will affect the individual’s life, perhaps with a lack of passion or conversely, an inappropriate acting out, where the pent up emotions of the child can explode unbidden into the person’s life. Reclaiming this child part is vital to both stability and spontaneity, basically to the balance in an individual’s living. It is also an opportunity to reparent the child, facilitating a relationship of unconditional acceptance that was perhaps not the atmosphere in the original family of origin. Individuals are frequently embarrassed by the child within them as many buried feelings are activated when this re-parenting process is undertaken. As an individual invites this child part into expression feelings such as grief, sadness , anger and many core issues can arise. The benefits of working with this part is that once given the support it needs to grow up and acceptance to express unconditionally, it offers a sense of new beginnings for the individual. The child archetype holds unlimited possibility among many of its gifts, a sense of childlike wonder that anything is possible. Rather than having ones psyche consumed with fears of abandonment or inner abuse, the child archetype would be encouraged to inspire and create without much of the rigidity of the adult mind, while still surrendered to the core ‘I’ as the driver in the psyche. While the field of psychotherapy certainly now recognizes the concept of the child within, it must be understood that the process of healing this archetype and all parts occurs over a period of time. The goal is to open the doors of communication with this part and ensure that an understanding of the resourceful core self would be experienced solidly enough to continue this relationship.
The Victim Archetype affects and permeates the quality of an individual’s life in a very profound way. If one’s victim energy is pervasive, yet unconscious, it would be difficult to feel self directed and powerful, in charge of one’s life. An individual might feel helpless or at the mercy of certain people and challenges and defensively seeking to locate evidence of unfairness. This is a focus that leads to hypervigilence, collapse and/or bitterness. While initially the Victim Archetype may appear the first time an individual does not get what they want or need, or are unfairly treated in some way, the interesting progression of this archetype is that the individual may find a perverse advantage in being a victim. “The core issue of the victim is whether it’s worth giving up your own sense of empowerment to avoid taking responsibility for your independence.” (Myss,2001.). While this archetype is often experienced as weak, when worked with it can become a reminder of strength and one’s ability to create healthy boundaries, a developmental task that may not have been learned in childhood.
Erik Erikson saw the concept of personal growth as completion of unresolved psychosocial developmental stages and stressed, “ In childhood we see the actual trauma: in maturity we see the behavioral consequences of such disturbances” (Erickson, 1979, ). One of the behavioral consequences of an arrested development in the setting and maintaining of healthy boundaries is a victim archetype that impedes with the individual’s self esteem and sense of being powerful in the world, or at the very least in one’s personal sphere. Some of the behavioral characteristics of unconscious victim energy are self- contraction, rage at self, either overt or passive, a sense of repetition and stuck ness in either external causality or internal states of feeling. Once claimed and expressed, the potential to live a hero’s journey is invoked with an experience of expansion, many personal rights, a belief in personal ability and choice and responsible accountability. Assertiveness is possible without aggressiveness either overt or passive. The primary objective of working with the Victim Archetype would be to develop self esteem and commit to one’s own personal power.
While adolescence is often viewed as the chaotic precursor to young adulthood, looked at developmentally, the stage of adolescence mirrors very accurately what this archetype represents. An adolescent is locked in a struggle to determine who they are. They are trying to develop a sense of identity separate from their parents and decide how they will express themselves in their lives. “Who am I?” becomes the critical question at this stage, as adolescents seek to establish their own identity and find value to guide their lives. (Erickson,1963). An adolescent unable to accomplish this developmental task can become confused and despondent, either retreating inside, acting in, or acting out. It is a time of experimenting, with relationship, sexuality, drinking and many other activities that the teenager sees as part of an adult world.
The adolescent is extremely self absorbed. David Elkind, (1967, 1974) believes that the early teenage years are marked by adolescent egocentrism, which takes two forms-the imaginary audience and the personal fable. The imaginary audience can be made of admirers or judges and although only existing in the adolescents mind is very real to the adolescent. “In the young persons mind, he/she is always on stage” ( Buis & Thompson 1989:). The adolescent is sure that all eyes are on them and they are being evaluated in a manner that they themselves are evaluating themselves.
Teenagers also have an exaggerated sense of their own uniqueness and indestructibility that Elkind calls the personal fable. They will tend to believe that whatever the experience, they are feeling it more deeply than anyone ever has before. They also think they are somehow exempt from the serious consequences of their actions, thereby taking high risks in their search for pleasure. These developmental insights give us a clue to understanding the nature of this archetype. With integration, this part can encourage passion and a belief in oneself, and ultimately a balance between what one wants and what is a responsible and accountable choice in terms of one’s behavior. Left in the shadow of our unconscious, inner conflict along with chaotic circumstances may tend to drive our choices.
This archetype has a power that can be almost debilitating if left unexplored, a relentlessness in finding negativity not only outside of ourselves but with ourselves. While discernment can be a highly effective and prized quality to include in one’s life choices, finding fault and criticizing, excludes the possibility of experiencing much value with ones self and others. A destructive voice of criticism, delivered consistently in our minds, can render self esteem impossible and even negate accomplishments that the individual does succeed with. Nothing is ever good enough and certainly this inner critic would evaluate the individual themselves in much the same way, always lacking.
Where does this voice come from? Some of the content of the voice of the critic may come from things we heard in childhood, actual messages that we have internalized based on people’s reactions to us or the events around us. We internalize what we interpret as people’s evaluation of us. A critical parent may be internalized and without examination or focused consciousness on the critic archetype, we continue to listen to an evaluation of ourselves that we have internalized as our own.
Regardless of the source, or the content of the evaluation, the critical voice inside of ourselves will judge and condemn, and if left unchecked, result in an implementation of various defenses in order to survive its constant onslaught. The task in exploring this archetype is first identifying whose voices we have internalized and then clearing them. To accomplish this, the core self or aware ego would have to actively counterbalance the negative messages and replace them with positive ones. Then, while we may still have moments when we determine that something we are trying did not quite succeed, we are able to integrate the feedback from the critic in order to improve. We are able to view the positive intention of this archetype, which is to continually strive to be better.
Having a conscious dynamic with a discerning critic archetype that points out ways to improve and expand can be helpful when it is balanced with the knowing that perfection is never attainable and we are enough simply enough because of our effort. The critic archetype has many resources and abilities which can help accomplish goals. For there to be harmony in the individual’s psyche one of the goals would be to accept and validate oneself. The constant bashing of a critic archetype in the shadows could not accomplish this. When the goal is wholeness rather than perfection, expansion rather than judgment, then the individual is free to accept themselves completely, perfect in their imperfection. Mistakes can be viewed as opportunities for greater learning.
TASHA SIMMS M.A.
Registered Professional Counsellor
1688 Robson St. Ph. 4
Vancouver, V6G 1C7