Jennifer M. Sandoval, Ph.D.
Psychological Forgiveness: Relating Beyond Projections
|Posted on August 20, 2016 at 2:50 AM||comments ()|
PSYCHOLOGICAL FORGIVENESS: Relating Beyond Projections
(This talk was presented at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles in 2012)
I would like to begin this presentation on forgiveness by sharing a bit about what brought me to the topic so the reader may have an understanding of my own biases and perspective.
When I was in college, I was deeply influenced by a remarkable book called, “A Course in Miracles.” I didn’t really understand much of it at the time, but I remember one day coming across a passage that stopped me in my tracks. It read: “One of the holiest spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.” This image held out something so unspeakably beautiful to me, so important and immediate, that it has stayed with me since that day. With this image, my heart opens, my eyes fill with tears, my throat closes up. It is something I know is true, and I don’t know why I know. In this sense I feel claimed by the idea of forgiveness.
For many years, I attempted to practice my idea of forgiveness in my personal life, refusing to hold a grudge or think negatively about anyone. Whenever I was tempted to feel angry or offended, I would immediately invalidate and deny my feeling and instead cultivate positive feelings of generosity and kindness. It wasn’t until my marriage unraveled, I began to read Jung, and I entered analysis that I started to understand what my ‘forgiving’ approach to life was truly costing me.
Jung famously remarked, “I would rather be whole than good.” In my own longing for goodness and perfection, I saw that I was denying my humanity, my wholeness, my self.
This presentation will be exploring and imagining forgiveness from a depth psychological perspective. A depth perspective would acknowledge the powerful personal and collective unconscious forces that shape our every perception. With regard to forgiveness, these unconscious forces are revealed in the painful projections we encounter as the reality of the offense to be forgiven. Such projections often symbolize the intolerable parts of ourselves, made tolerable only through their unconscious expulsion onto and into external objects (usually other people).
Many current models of forgiveness fail to consider the role of the forgiver’s unconscious in shaping or influencing the offense to be forgiven. This is understandable because such consideration may seem to threaten the reality of the offense, and I will explore this later. But when forgiveness is viewed psychologically, disavowed and projected unconscious contents are now illuminated and available. The patient’s desire to forgive provides both a powerful lens focused on split off parts of the self and the motivation to work toward integration. If the clear role of the unconscious in shaping the offense to be forgiven is overlooked, a significant opportunity for healing is missed.
In addition to projections, depth psychology also considers archetypal elements that shape our experience. Forgiving becomes relevant the moment we are confronted with injustice, betrayal, abandonment and the like, and at such times the power of our reaction feels larger than life – we are suddenly animated with overwhelming fury or unbearable shame. If we look closely, we may notice such feelings in the most trivial of actions – the driver who cuts us off, a careless mistake on our sandwich order, a forgotten birthday - and our blood boils. The archetypal furies of the unconscious are unleashed, and before we know it, we are lost. In Greek mythology we find the furies depicted as mythological personifications of vengeance.
The Furies or Erinyes were three daughters of Mother Earth, and were fierce and unrelenting deities that punished crimes against kindred blood, especially matricide. Their names were “jealousy”, “vengeance”, and “ceaseless pursuit”. When called upon to act, they persecuted their victims until their prey died in a "furor" of madness or torment. In the myth of Orestes they appear as agents of revenge for the murder of his mother.
I think it is important to examine – especially with regard to a topic such as forgiveness – the idea that forgiveness is always a desired outcome. There may be an assumption that of course, forgiveness ought to be achieved. However, the aim of this particular work is not to advocate forgiveness, but rather to better understand its meaning. If faced with a situation in which a person harbors deep resentment, my interest is not in how to get that person to release their resentment. It is rather, why is the resentment harbored and cherished? What purpose is such feeling and experience serving? As such, this research is an inquiry into the nature of the human psyche. The question of whether to forgive or not is a different matter than the question of how we forgive, or why, or what forgiveness means to psyche.
Often too, forgiveness itself is not really the question, but rather cloaks a question of ethics. Because if I can forgive, and I choose not to, I would argue that true forgiveness is not really in the equation to begin with. As Hillman notes,
Forgiveness…is only a term unless one has been fully humiliated or fully wronged…and meaningful only when one can neither forget not forgive… Anyone can forget a petty matter of insult, a personal affront. But if one has been led step by step into an involvement where the substance was trust itself, bared one’s soul, and then been deeply betrayed in the sense of handed over to one’s enemies, outer or inner…then forgiveness takes on great meaning.
So forgiveness is meaningful from a psychological perspective when we cannot choose to do it, because then we know forces beyond our conscious control are at work. However, part of our work may be to help our patients and ourselves come to terms with the darkness within us that stubbornly or sadistically refuses to forgive, despite our best conscious efforts.
BARRIERS TO FORGIVING
C. S. Lewis once remarked, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
We have seen that archetypal persecution or possession, such as by the Furies, may make forgiveness difficult. Let’s look at other barriers to forgiving, other reasons forgiveness seems like a bad idea.
Recently I attended a global conference on forgiveness at the University of Oxford, and there was a side conference going on at the same time on revenge. Often at dinner I would sit with the revenge attendees, and guess who was having more fun? What is it about vengeance that is so compelling? When an unjust offense occurs, it feels as though the scales of justice have been knocked out of balance. Revenge contains the seductive fantasy of balancing those scales, of relieving the tension - almost as if there is a kind of integrity in revenge, a normalizing effect, a fairness, and a righteousness.
Freud (1930) reminds us that punishment must be exacted - even if it does not fall upon the guilty. The ego wants justice. And talionic justice at that. An eye for an eye at minimum. Forgiveness is often held hostage by the ego’s commitment to justice.
In response to an online article criticizing the joyful celebration in America of the death of Osama Bin Laden and calling instead for forgiveness, a reader posted the following comment:
“Sorry, but OBL master-minded the killing of 3,000 INNOCENT people. INNOCENT. He and his bunch of radicals have changed the way we live, travel, do business etc. Why not celebrate his death? I put my flag out and said, thank God we finally got that MF. I didn't dance in the street but I sure as hell was smiling and had a spring in my step after finding out he was dead.
“Sure, you can forgive all you want, but deep down inside how can you ever forgive someone for killing innocent people?...Doesn't make sense that you'd forgive an animal for what it did.”
I think this person is making an important point, in that forgiving can seem to threaten our integrity by asking us to overlook the reality of the offense, thereby invalidating the suffering due to the offense. Forgiveness seems irresponsible; it does not prevent the offense from happening again and seems to have no concern with protecting the victim from future injustice. In fact, forgiveness threatens to condone the offense.
The demand of forgiveness seems equivalent to asking that what happened did not really happen at all. Deep down one thinks, how can you forgive the truth?
In his powerful book The Pathology of Man: The Study of Human Evil, Steven Bartlett states, "Forgiveness of human evil is like hope in the face of evil. Forgiveness serves to erase and to deny that which we must remember if we are to learn from our past. Like hope, forgiveness is a second-order pathology, which contributes to the perpetuation of human evil rather than to its abatement." He goes on to state:
The pathology of man - from its earliest cries of infantile narcissism to its dying satisfied sigh in the accomplishment of mass killing - is imbued with tragedy. It is the tragedy of a species that has become a pathogen to itself and to other forms of life that share this planet, but a species able to become aware of its own dysfunctions, yet which, because its members are so amply rewarded by those very dysfunctions, ignores and denies them, and so sustains the tragic unfolding of its pathologically destructive existence.
I think the argument that forgiveness tends to “ignore and deny” profound pathology and therefore is pathological itself is probably the most compelling and important critique of forgiveness. However, an approach to forgiveness from a depth psychological perspective involves a long, hard, and excruciatingly honest encounter with one’s own nigredo, the darkness and evil in oneself. The last thing such forgiveness would ask is to ignore and deny one’s pathology, one’s shadow. We will talk more about this later.
On a lighter note, here is a short article on the topic provided by the Onion.
Heartfelt Apology Robs Man of Cherished Grudge
CASPER, WY—A powerful, enduring grudge was ruined for local resident Roger Chilton Saturday following a profoundly earnest plea for forgiveness from longtime friend Peter Scotto. "I was looking forward to harboring this bitter resentment for at least another decade, goddamnit, and now he's taken that away from me," a deflated Chilton lamented, recalling how Scotto had selfishly revealed his innermost vulnerabilities during the deeply emotional apology. "The worst part is, he was completely and unequivocally remorseful, the bastard." Chilton told reporters he was so upset over having to give up the grudge that he vowed never to forgive Scotto for such a brave and honest act.
Forgiveness means having to give up getting to be right about being right. It may threaten one’s sense of personal dignity. Sometimes forgiving seems to diminish us, as if in giving something away we are left with less. We are giving away our upper hand, our right to retribution, our right to the pain caused by injustice.
Forgiving is often difficult without an apology from the offender. An apology can function as an unconscious agreement by the offender to validate and carry the projections of the forgiver. For example, a patient in her early forties reported a significant phone conversation with her mother in which she brought up ways her mother had not protected her as a child. Her mother responded with heartfelt feeling, saying how sorry she was that she failed at being a mother in this way. And then she went on to explain that she was so young at the time and didn’t have any resources and couldn’t be home with her to protect her properly. My patient said to me, “If only she had stopped at the apology, everything would have been forgiven. But she kept talking!!!” Her mother had failed to accept the patient’s projections, and the patient’s ego was left frustrated, resentful, and unforgiving.
Finally, we might observe that forgiveness can mask somewhat sinister intentions. In ‘offering’ my forgiveness to you, what I am covertly saying is something along the lines of, “in my supreme estimation, you have failed me, and in my moral superiority, I will let it slide.” So now the offender is doubly guilty; once for the initial sin against the forgiver and twice for the undeserved gift of the forgiver’s beneficence. Such forgiveness can conceal the ego’s covert wish to see the offender as sinful .
In light of these important objections to forgiveness, I wish to highlight the singular achievement it is to forgive. Ultimately, true forgiveness often proves an impossible task – a miracle. We can see this reality in centuries old violence and enmity between cultures and religions. The miracle here is not the parting of the sea or the turning of water into wine. It is the miraculous transformation of enemy to brother, the astonishing journey from war to peace. This is the miracle of forgiveness, and it is an honest miracle to the ego, which has no access to such transformation on its own.
James Hillman writes, “We must be quite clear that forgiveness is no easy matter. If the ego has been wronged, the ego cannot forgive just because it “should,” notwithstanding the wider context of love and destiny. The ego is kept vital by its amour-propre, its pride and honor. Even where one wants to forgive, one finds one simply can’t, because forgiveness doesn’t come from the ego” (2005, pg. 209).
Yet the ego’s attempts to forgive and gain forgiveness are endless. Such forgiveness Hillman characterizes “as [the] ego’s cry for relief from carrying the whole world on its shoulders” (1975, p. 186). From this perspective, forgiveness is seen as a shutting down, a forgetting of the very symptoms, pathos, and complexes that connect us to soul. He says:
Forgiveness of the confusions in which I am submerged, the wounds that give me eyes to see with, the errant and renegade in my behavior, blots out the Gods’ main route of access. (1975, p. 186)
From an archetypal perspective, appealing to the ego for forgiveness of the ego’s own failings is an endless and fruitless cycle, for the ego devoid of soul is utterly incapable of meeting the archetypal demands of the soul and must always fail when it ignores the myths and denies the Gods. “Of course we fail,” Hillman says, “and since there is no power to call upon other than this ego, we beg forgiveness” (1975, p. 187).
In mainstream psychology, the act of forgiveness is sometimes presented as an operational process, an 8-step approach, as if in the realm of the cognitive and rational, as if a decision. While the ego’s cooperation is needed, a person who has ever been racked with grief, overcome with love, or paralyzed with fear understands the power of forces that are not conscious. Such a person recognizes that the rational mind has little dominion over the passions of the heart. If we are serious about forgiveness, we must approach the realm (or appeal to the gods) of the unconscious psyche.
THE DEFINITION OF FORGIVENESS
Webster (2005) provides the following definition of forgive:
1. To cease to resent: or to pardon, overlook, dismiss from the mind, efface from the memory…forgive and forget …excuse…bear no malice, exonerate, let bygones be bygones, laugh it off, let it go, kiss and make up, bury the hatchet, turn the other cheek...let up on*, write off*…see also forget
2. To absolve: or acquit, pardon, release; to pronounce free from guilt or blame
Mainstream psychological definitions of forgiveness tend to change the standard definition of forgiveness to address many of the moral, judicial, and practical objections I just discussed. Such definitions often explicitly note the unacceptability of the offense, include the caveat that forgiveness does not condone the offense, and assert that the offender still deserves punishment . In doing so, they protect a privileged ego position.
While the dictionary definition of forgiveness needs no alteration from a depth psychological perspective, something needs to be added; often in the process of individuation, as awareness expands, one may experience the shock and realization that maybe one had it all wrong, or failed to judge accurately. Thus, the dawning recognition that there may be nothing to forgive at all will also be accepted as forgiveness, because it fulfills the requirements (even more fully) of ceasing all resentment, etc.
FORGIVENESS AND PROJECTION
Psychoanalytic and analytical perspectives assume a primary role of projection of unconscious contents in determining outer perception. As Jacobi notes, “everything unconscious is first experienced in projection, as qualities of objects” (The Way of Individuation, p. 39). Freud talked about the use of normal projection as establishing the image of the external world. Grotstein notes that in fact “the external world is actually built up as projections of our perceptions and beliefs about our internal world” (1985, p. 141). Giegerich (2010) speaks of the soul as circular, self-referential, uroboric, a flowing body that is “its own source. It does not originate in a spring, which in turn would be dependent on some other, on rain. But its source is at the same time its mouth…Its beginning is its end and vice versa’ (p. 30).
With regard to forgiveness, projection is employed as a defense by the psyche to gain relief and satisfaction by unconsciously expelling contents in order to rid itself of unacceptable aspects . As Porcerelli et al notes, “[W]hen aggressive feelings are projected onto another, the individual using the defense [of projection] blocks the awareness of the ownership of the feelings but is able to experience the aggression as coming from the other and covertly gratify aggressive wishes.” (Porcerelli & Hibbard, p. 467)
Giegerich (2005) observes however the underlying illusion of projection. He says,
Where something is projected, we are already dwelling with this other. No one is closer to an inimical shadow and more personally affected by it than he who experiences it in projection upon somebody and is nagged by it constantly, even deep into his sleepless nights...(p. 84)
Despite the inner presence of this constant torment – which is often a motivation toward forgiveness - the typical situation in which the forgiver experiences the offending aspect to be an actual part of the offender and not a part of him or herself is the hallmark of projection.
So, what is it, exactly, that we project onto others? According to Kernberg, “…the remnants of unacceptable self-images are repressed and projected onto external objects…” (1975, p. 231). With regard to forgiveness, it is our darkness, the alchemical nigredo, that we see outside, in others.
Jung (1938 ) observes:
We are convinced that certain people have all the bad qualities we do not know in ourselves or that they live all those vices which could, of course, never be our own….If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw these projections…then you get an individual conscious of a pretty thick shadow…he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong and they must be fought against…. Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow then he has done something real for the world…. How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and that darkness which he himself carries unconsciously into all his dealings?” (p. 102)
Likewise, Hillman reminds us that “…Jung has said that the meaning of our sins is that we carry them, which means not that we unload them onto others to carry for us. To carry one’s sins, one has first to recognize them, and recognize their brutality” (2005, p. 209).
In their words we find the recognition that no one “can recover his own beauty and innocence without first facing the ugliness and evil in himself” (Kopp, 1991, p. 245). And this ugliness and evil needs not only our awareness, but our embrace, even our love. According to Hillman (1991),
The cure of the shadow is a problem of love. How far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves, the disgusting and perverse? How much charity and compassion have we for our own weakness and sickness? How far can we build an inner society on the principle of love, allowing a place for everyone? (p. 243)
Ultimately, what we find as the cornerstone of all forgiveness is self-forgiveness. A patient in her mid-twenties was describing an unbearable part of herself, a part that could not seem to leave an abusive relationship, and therefore a part of herself she was unable to forgive. She described it in this way:
How could I [forgive it]? There is a part of myself that I hate, the part that loves him, the part of me that ever loved him, that is capable of loving someone so hurtful. And it is as if I have a knife I stab myself with, that part of myself I hate, and forgiveness is dropping the knife.
As Symington observed, “sanity…consists in the acceptance of all parts of the personality, and madness consists in hatred and non-acceptance of large parts of the personality,” echoing Hillman’s observation that the cure of the shadow would indeed seem to be a “problem of love”.
Marie Louise von Franz, a Jungian analyst and scholar and close colleague of Jung, wrote an important book on projection, and what she called its opposite, reflection. I would like to share a short clip of her talking about projections as they may relate to our topic of forgiveness.
To imagine the inner presence of unwanted shadow parts seen up until now as foreign can inspire a psychic phenomenon that Jung calls the transcendent function, a process by which the opposites within one’s psyche are united, transformed, and surpassed. The transcendent function occurs when one fully endures the tension of the opposites within and serves as a kind of dialogue between conscious and unconscious aspects. Their mutual exposure opens up the possibility of what Jung calls the emergence of a reconciling symbol, which holds the key to true forgiveness.
Jung saw individuation as being impossible without the transcendent function (Miller, 2002). Similarly, according to Hillman, self-realization requires the “embracing of one’s untransformed psychopathology”, a beholding of the inhuman side of one’s humanity. Such a lingering and candid gaze at the darkness within exposes it to the conscious ego, invoking the transcendent function. The transcendent function “makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible” (Jung, 1957, p. 73), thereby exposing liminal space between disparate psychological states. This emergent and expansive containing space allows the awareness of a new, numinous and living state – identification with the Self (Miller, 2002). If in judging an offense to be forgiven, one’s stance is, “But I could never do what he did” then one has very rich material to work with! The more extreme the opposite that is integrated, the more expansive the containing field emerges to hold it, and the richer and more numinous will be one’s experience of the Self.
A striking image of the transcendent function is beautifully reflected in the famous series of conversations documented in Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s book, “A Human Being Died That Night,” between Madikizela, a psychologist who grew up in a black South African township, and Eugene de Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil,” the commanding officer of state-sanctioned death squads under apartheid. Mirroring the alchemical process of “the blending and fusion of the noble with the base components, of the differentiated with the inferior functions, of the conscious with the unconscious,” Madikizela and de Kock spent 46 hours together in conversation over a period of six months. Their challenging, soulful, and patient dialogue left Madikizela’s (2003) heart filled with empathy and restored to one “without hate”, and inspired in de Kock an extraordinary awakening of conscience and humanity. Both were profoundly transformed.
Such work is extremely challenging to the ego. We know from a psychological perspective that the ego is unwilling to tolerate unacceptable impulses and thoughts. As Jung (1953) states, “We must recognize that nothing is more difficult to bear with than oneself” (p. 225). To the ego, the unification of opposites is seen as a monstrosity (Marlan, 2005). It is forced to recognize its own relativity to something wholly other and more powerful, which to the ego often feels like dying. This gives us an idea of the enormity of the resistance by the ego of forgiveness, and why the willingness to initially release one’s ego position is a precursor to experiencing authentic forgiveness.
ARCHETYPAL AND PSYCHOANALYTIC PERSPECTIVES
I would like now to share the story of the Medea. In Euripides' tragic play, we see a woman who commits unspeakable crimes while under the sickening influence of unbearable shame, a woman utterly possessed by archetypal forces. Medea has fallen completely in love with Jason (her heart “pierced through and through with love for him” ) to the extent that she helps him find the Golden Fleece and escape to Athens, forsaking her family and country and killing her own brother in the process.
Upon their arrival to Greece, Jason and Medea marry and live happily, and Medea bears two sons. However, we find as the play opens that Jason has had a sudden change of heart and decided to abandon Medea and marry the king’s daughter. The king then announces that Medea must be banished immediately to prevent her from attempting revenge (as she is also a powerful witch). We watch as Medea is forced to bear shocking loss, rejection, betrayal, public humiliation, and utter abandonment. In the beginning of the play we find Medea inconsolable and suicidal. Her first words are, “Oh my grief! the misery of it all! Why can I not die?”
Medea goes on to persuade the king to give her one more day to prepare to leave, and in that time she is able to fulfill her revenge. She prepares a lethal poison and laces a beautiful garment and headdress with it, which she convinces Jason to give to his new wife. The princess tries it on and burns to death in agony, the king along with her as he tries to tear the garment from her melting skin. Medea then decides to kill her own sons, depriving Jason of his only children. She then escapes with their bodies to another country, but not before she has one last confrontation with Jason and is able to see his anguish.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, the Medea illustrates how shame dynamics are seen to impede forgiveness. Melvin Lansky stresses that “unbearable shame must be rendered bearable before forgiveness can take place.” According to Lansky, Jason is unforgivable for Medea because of her anticipated fantasies of unbearable shame.
Isolated and soon to be banished forever, Medea’s shame “cannot achieve resolution…by mourning and carrying on with life in the context of secure bonds with intimates.”
In an attempt to make her shame bearable, Medea employs the common tactic of projective identification, a form of projection in which the projector has the fantasy they can rid themselves of unbearable feeling by pushing it –thereby relocating it - into another. Accordking to Lansky, “Medea's vengeful murders function to inject her helplessness, powerlessness, unbearable anguish and despair into Jason.”
The chariot drawn by dragons symbolizes Medea's total narcissistic withdrawal into the mental states of omnipotence and triumph that replace her previous humiliation and desolation. The Medea…moves in the direction [away from cooperation and restoration of ties to the social order]..to complete disattachment, triumph over Jason, and filicidal and regicidal vengeance. Medea, in fantasy, has obviated any need to go through a process of facing and bearing her shame sufficiently to mourn and continue life with her children…She has done so because, in fantasy, [this] would be tantamount to forgiveness and complicity with the world of her betrayers. Such complicity would in her mind give rise to unbearable shame.
From an archetypal perspective, the tragedy of Medea exemplifies the power of the grip of the unconscious on a person, just as the furies do. Hillman describes it this way:
Within and behind these ideas, making them so instinctually certain, so libidinally charged with excitement and endurance, so universally familiar, so few in number and repetitive in history, are the archetypes which form the structures of our consciousness with such force and such possession that we might, as we have in the past, call them Gods. (Hillman, 1976, Revisioning, p. 129)
In the forceful possession of these gods, which in Medea’s case might be Lyssa, the goddess of rage and madness, jealous Hera, or the Terrible Mother Cybelle, we have no recourse to forgiveness until the archetypal possession is made conscious. Still, in a lucid moment, Medea recognizes she is possessed when she says, "At last I understand the awful deed I am to do; but passion, that cause of direst woes to mortal man, hath triumphed o'er my sober thoughts (Euripedes 221)." With this we see there is no guarantee that consciousness alone would triumph over archetypal forces.
We have seen how archetypal patterns in mythology and fairytales can be found of revenge (which are innumerable). Examples of archetypal forgiveness are far fewer but can be seen in the ancient Judaic ritual of “scapegoating” as a community’s reparation with God. The scapegoat is the object upon which the darkness of a society or a family is heaped and then cast out into the wilderness as a purifying ritual. Sylvia Perera notes that a person unconsciously living out a scapegoat complex may experience such rejection as a punishment for their very being (1986), and live in constant shame and isolation.
Another powerful archetypal example of forgiveness is the parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son found in Luke, in which we see the predicament of the guilty son who has taken and wasted his father’s treasure coming back to beg in shame for forgiveness. But, according to Luke, “while [the son] was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
The son feels as if he has squandered his father’s treasure, when in fact he is his father’s treasure (ACIM, 1976). The archetypal figure of the good father sees only his love for his son, and recognizes there is nothing to forgive. Such beauty and depth of loving is in the heart of many parents, where forgiveness concerning a child’s misdeeds becomes altogether irrelevant.
The beauty of looking at oneself through the lens of the archetype is the lack of judgment inherent in this view. It is not personal and is the opposite of hubris; after all, to think that my personal ego could stem the massive tide of archetypal complexes is rather egotistical. To make welcome the movement of the complex through me requires my humility. Because in my suffering I am being moved by collective, archetypal, autonomous forces, and rather than resist, judge, or hate my feelings, I might recognize instead the mystery of the psyche and marvel at my participation in it. As Hillman (2005) reminds us,
The wider context..is given by the archetypes of myth. When the event is placed in this perspective, the patterns may become meaningful again. The very act of attempting to view it from this wider context is therapeutic. Unfortunately, the event may not disclose its meaning for a long, long time, during which it lies sealed in absurdity or festers in resentment. But the struggle for putting it within the wider context, the struggle with interpretation and integration, is the way of moving further. It seems to me that only this can lead…towards one of the noblest of religious feelings: forgiveness. (p. 209)
While the primary work of psychoanalysis is to identify and integrate such unconscious projections (Jung, 1927), Giegerich (2005) is critical of the typical concept of projection due to its inherent protection of the ego. Projection describes the subject ejecting an internal unconscious content out into the external world from a fixed place (one might imagine a person throwing a stone from the shore, or a spear into the forest) with the therapeutic expectation of ‘withdrawing’ the projection back inside of oneself. According to Giegerich, “What turns projection into a psychological problem is that the movement stops with the throw” (2005, p. 89). Such an aggressive-passive stopping at the throw is an abortive move by the ego in that one’s focus is trained on the object rather than on how the object is seen, on the entity itself rather than one’s relationship with it. The undefended instinctive lunge after the projection is suppressed, and the possible sloughing off of the ego by exposure to new territory is prevented. The ego remains unmoved and intact. "The intent is always to achieve change, but to keep the subject as something fixed out of the process and to immunize him" from transformation (Giegerich, 2005, p. 95). In not "leaping after" the projected content, we get to avoid being transformed by it. Rather than entering into the experience of the relationship, enduring the torment and exhilaration and transformation of desire or thymos, we stand still, fixed upon the object of desire. (thymos is involved wherever forgiveness is called for – one CARES about what happened, otherwise the notion of forgiveness becomes irrelevant).
What if we were to “leap after” the projection, and go into the world and get it? In leaping after the throw, projection then “…opens up [one’s] soul the whole world as its inner space; it procures for the soul an extendedness over the world so that it begins to carry its title anima mundi with full right” (Giegerich, 2005, p. 84). It is as if we cannot really reclaim our soul until we have been transformed by the world we experience in the very act of catching up with the projection.
It is true, at times one must stand firm and say “no” to a complex (Goodchild, class notes). Yet our work is to cultivate a relationship with the unconscious, to engage with it, even to love it, and not turn it away. Saying yes is love as fully engaging in life, love as leaping after projections into the chaos of our shadow aspects. It is surrendering to the enormity and vulnerability of falling in love. Or allowing oneself to be undone by suffering and rage from a devastating betrayal. Or devotedly carrying out a tormenting penance, such as the character from the film clip. It is the leap as the journey to the beloved, into the suffering aspects of love, and again signals a relinquishing of the ego’s defended posture, a surrender into that which is greater than the ego and a willingness to allow the complex its function. Love of soul has us jump in after the stone we threw and begin to thrash about and swim, or set off into the jungle into which we threw our spear, so to speak. We allow ourselves to become changed and transformed by the whole world, and only through that experience can we earn the projection back, are we allowed to re-claim the gift we threw away.
THE FORGIVEN STATE
OK, now that we’ve taken back our projections (!) , let us now turn to what may be called the forgiven state, which assumes to emerge upon integration of unconscious projected material. In the forgiven state, relating occurs beyond projections altogether. Jung notes its difficulty, (1927) observing, “everyone creates for [themselves] a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection… All human relationships swarm with these projections” (par. 507). Likewise, according to Freud, all love is unrequited love (Levine, 2000), precisely because our projections interfere with our ability to perceive the other as they are, and therefore stop short our love from ever truly touching our beloved.
Still, according to Jung, the primary work of psychoanalysis is to identify and integrate unconscious projections (Jung, 1927). So we are left with the question of what remains of the world when our projections and all their energy and libido are withdrawn back into the self. What would be there? Would anything? Would we even care? It reminds me of the question, if a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it, would it make a sound?
So here we are confronted by a major limitation with psychology’s idea of projection, an idea telling us that the only soul in the world is what we put there. Hillman criticizes psychology’s confinement of psychic reality to subjective, inner space. In this mode, “the world remain[s] external, material, and dead, merely a backdrop in and around which subjectivity appear[s]” (p. 94), “a world wholly dependent upon the subject to breathe it into life” (1992, p. 120). Psychology assumes the condition of a dead soulless world in the absence of projection. Tarnas writes:
The human mind has abstracted from the whole all conscious intelligence and purpose and meaning, and claimed these exclusively for itself, and then projected onto the world as a machine…From this perspective, it is the modern mind’s own impersonal soullessness that has been projected from within onto the world…
So the notion of a dead world is another projection of our own inner deadness (or the lifelessness of the ego) when in fact we cannot know the actual nature of the world until the distorted perception of projection is gone.
von Franz writes of the opposite of projection as reflection. Such reflection invites the image of a mirror, clear and shining back with no distortion, a revelation of what is ACTUALLY THERE. Hillman speaks of the mirroring capacity of the alchemical stage of silver – or albedo, the state of purification between the tribulation of the nigredo and the final reddening, the achievement of the opus.
The alchemical work “begins on the original white conditions, blackening them by scorching, hurting, cursing, rotting the innocence of soul and corrupting and depressing it into the nigredo, which we recognize by its stench, its blind impulse and the despair of a mind thrashing about in matter…As long as the psyche is struggling in the nigredo, it will be emotionally attached, stuck in materializations, fascinated by facts….The nigredo eye looks for what’s wrong…” and therefore unable to forgive.
The white of the silver, “Our white, the second white or albedo, emerges from that black, a white earth from scorched earth as the silver from a forest fire. There is a recovery of innocence, though not in its pristine form… (p. 155). Here, the white of the silver is redemption, an innocence reborn, forged, created through the trials and courage and suffering of living – as opposed to the primary white, the original unconscious innocence.
The state of perception given by the second white is exquisite, “de-brided of literalisms,” every image beheld symbolically, teeming with the living soul, the anima mundi, that is actually there.
According to Jung, “The phase called whitening in alchemy refers to the emergence of psychological consciousness, the ability to hear psychologically, and to perceive fantasy creating reality (CW6:78 ). (p, 158 )
Imagine the alchemical burn Medea would have had to endure had she stayed and faced her shame, and worked through her despair sufficiently to mourn and continue life with her children. The intensity of the heat may have threatened to pulverize her, leaving her nothing but ashes…
It is in this second white, the forgiven state, that we find atonement and reconcile our lives to ourselves, to one another, to the world, and to God. This is the state achieved by the character in the film clip and mirrors the miraculous arrival into salvation depicted in a patient’s dream described by Whitmont:
I was given an ugly filthy rag. At first I would not even touch it. But finally after long hesitation I accepted it. As soon as I touched it, it turned into a beautiful snow-white shining cloth (1991, p. 96).
Whitmont notes that the nature of such a transformation is
…like the unfathomable mystery of grace and redemption, forever beyond our human grasp yet entering miraculously into our limited human lives. Symbolically, it is represented in the imagery of individuation, such as finding the elixir of life, drinking the draft of immortality. The holy marriage, the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Divine Child or the Redeemer all depict it. (1991 p. 96)
With regard to relationships, what might it be like to perceive the other as they are, to see beyond the dark veil of projections? Is it possible that the withdrawal of projections might remove distortions, thereby “revealing the mystery of the Other” as Goodchild suggests (p. 10)? According to von Franz, “If we could see through all our projections down to the last traces, our personality would be extended to cosmic dimensions” (von Franz, 1980, p. 14). She goes on to say:
It happens again and again in psychological practice that when a person has been caught in blinding projections…and they are then withdrawn, in many cases this in no way annuls or sets aside the relationship. On the contrary, a genuine, “deeper” relation emerges, no longer rooted in egoistic moods, struggles, or illusions but rather in the feeling of being connected to one another via an absolute, objective principle (p. 174)
Relationships based on the objective psyche, or the Self, rather than on projections, “give rise to a feeling of immediate, timeless ‘being together.’…In this world created by the Self we meet all those many to whom we belong, whose hearts we touch.” It is here that, as Jung (Letters, I, p. 298 ) says, “there is no distance, but immediate presence.” Such relating involves what von Franz describes as the social function of the Self, in which people are attracted to one another not due to egoistic concerns but through a profound spiritual interest or concern, a phenomenon she calls reciprocal individuation. We begin to find ourselves drawn together as soulmates in helping relationships that transcend time and place. Von Franz describes this way of relating as “a fated togetherness in eternity, the real mysterium coniunctionis” where one has an experience of the Self, “the inner wholeness that cannot be understood intellectually, but only through love” (1993, p. 235). Jung writes, “This love is not transference and it is no ordinary friendship….It is more primitive, more primeval, and more spiritual than anything we can describe” (1941. p. 298 ).
Robert Sardello speaks of the power and beauty of relationships based on soul – or the objective psyche – as those which consciously honor the anima mundi (the world soul) and give her precedence. While we might imagine intimacy as the direct meeting of one soul to another, Sardello notes that our projections make this impossible and our attempts only invoke pathology. Rather, true intimacy is found with another “through the coming together in the place of the world soul as mediator” (Sardello, 1995, p. 164). Here the conversation between two people shifts from ‘what do I feel and what do you feel, and what do we feel about each other?’ to, ‘how does what we are making together feel …does it belong to the world, or is it being imposed on the world; [and] are we…working out of imagination…?’ (Sardello, 1995, p. 175).
Could it be that to forgive is simply to behold without projections? To behold a thing as it is, as it shows itself? Such a beholding is akin to what Hillman describes as the aesthetic response of the heart, in which beauty is recognized as integral to soul. Here we are to recognize that beauty appears in the actual images themselves – sans projections - such that the very beholding of them, the “sniffing, gasping, breathing in of the world” enables the “transfiguration of matter” which “occurs through wonder” (1992, p. 47). It is the rapturous beholding of beauty in manifest images, the undefended taking in of an object, which activates its imagination “so that it shows its heart and reveals its soul.”
The notion of the dissolution of projections invites a vision of stillness, a calm clarity of perception. In lieu of a reactive movement outward, we might imagine a complementary invitation into interiority, into the depths within. One is now open to receiving, to beholding and communing with the world from an open and undefended posture. We might imagine a vision unclouded by projections as Paul does in Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, King James Version).
Such a vision shares many characteristics of the mundus imaginalis as related by Corbin. The imaginal world of Sufi mysticism is described as
a place of union, of holy reciprocity, where divine, spiritual, and human love become one in the being of the lover. For love, after all, is the mode of knowledge whereby one being knows another… Here, above all, is the place of resurrection, of presence, of the first encounter with the truth, where [one] awakens to [oneself]…meets [oneself] as if for the first time. (1998, p. xx)
In these imaginal worlds beyond projection, as Corbin describes, “There is only revelation. There can be only revelation” (p. xxxii).
With regard to revelation, Hillman (1989) notes the difference between a psychology that has consciousness as its aim as opposed to therapy as the love of soul. In the first, the instruction is to “Know Thyself,” which although a worthy goal, focuses on the intellect, protecting the ego and concealing its pathology from outer scrutiny. In the second, however, the instruction becomes “’Reveal Thyself’, which, as Hillman observes, “is the same as the commandment to love, since nowhere are we more revealed than in our loving.” Here, we cease telling the world what it is and what it needs, how it should change, who would save it and from what, as we pause and begin to listen. We let the images before us tell their mythic imaginal tale, and we allow the world her voice. Here we are entreated by Goodchild to “…let the world, both real and subtle, and the Beloved that lies at its heart, reveal to [us] ‘thine original face’” (2001, p. 212).
In this imaginal world beyond projection, this holiest of places, is it possible that we might see one another as if for the first time? Is it possible that in this world, there is nothing to forgive?
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the impact of the ideas of Drs. Kenneth Wapnick and Jeffrey C. Miller in my work. I have been deeply inspired by the extraordinary faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, in particular Drs. Robert Romanyshyn, Veronica Goodchild, Avedis Panajian, Allan Bishop, and Michael Sipiora. Many significant ideas were developed in collaboration with my close colleague and friend, John C. Knapp. And finally, my profound gratitude goes to the remarkable patients I work with, who so deeply and honestly grapple with these heartfelt questions every day, and without whom this paper could not have been written.
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Chicken or Egg?
|Posted on February 29, 2016 at 12:15 AM||comments ()|
An interesting question to me is the chicken or egg question. I get distracted by this question. What comes first, cognition or affect, thought or emotion? Do I choose to feel what I feel at some level, or does it just happen to me? How autonomous am I in determining the quality of my own life? Do I have emotions, or do they have me?
Historically, as we know, Plato thought that emotions were just one component of the mind, along with desire and intellect. Aristotle on the other hand, made emotions a central part of our identity, and thought character was determined by our ability to learn to feel a certain way in the face of particular events. And Hume further elevates emotion – “reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions.”
In Judeo-Christian thought there is one God who created the universe, such that everything created by God is outside of and separate from Him. God creates something, and then lets it exist externally to Himself. God created the tree, God is not in the tree. The way we understand our universe and ourselves is through the perception of external objects.
Along these lines, William James famously proposed that emotions occur as a result of physiological reactions to external events. According to this theory, the perception of an external stimulus leads to a physiological reaction, which is the emotion. James thus maintained, for example, that "we feel sad because we cry…and not that we cry…because we are sad " (James 1884, 190).
Spinoza, on the other hand, says there is just one reality, one substance, and we are it. We are made of the same stuff as God and not separate from Him. The concept of our existence is not one that is arrived at through external sense perception but through an act of inner understanding.
The question of external and internal seems important here. Are we discrete personal beings, constantly reacting to external sensory stimuli and trying to cope with that? Or is it the other way around? Does what is inner determine how we perceive the outer?
In 1912, Freud talked about the use of normal projection as establishing the image of the external world. Grottstein notes that in fact “the external world is actually built up as projections of our perceptions and beliefs about our internal world” (Grottstein, p. 141). In this way, projection makes perception. All of this is unconscious, of course. The typical human experience is of living in and being at the effect the world, not creating it. But according to the psychoanalytic model, we create our world, forget that we did, and then react to our creation as if it created us. Cognitive theories such as SPAARS take their cue from this model – we have an unconscious set of core beliefs or schema that determine our perceptions and emotional experience and how we see the world.
According to Symington, as we all know ☺ the point isn’t about what we feel at all – but rather how we feel about what we feel. Do I hate the feelings I am having, the thoughts I am thinking, or the way I am behaving? Such hatred is the primary cause of mental illness – it is the source of all splitting and projective identification. But as James Hillman says, “we need no deliverance from evil if we are not imagined to be evil in the first place.” (1975, p. 29).
When I was in college I was deeply affected by a book called The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende. It is an epic story spanning four generations, tracing the post-colonial social and political upheavals of the Latin American country in which the family lives – most likely Chile, as many believe the book is a roman à clef about the family of Salvador Allende. Anyway, in the book, a main character, a young and beautiful woman named Alba, is taken as a political prisoner by a brutal regime. She is repeatedly raped, tortured, mutilated, and kept in a cage. Her fingers are cut off. She soon loses her will to live and one night is visited in a dream by her grandmother, Clara. Alba begs Clara for death, and Clara tells her that death is inevitable, not to worry about that. The extraordinary thing would be to live. The next morning when Alba awoke she began excitedly speaking with the other captives, encouraging them to have hope and to choose life. This made a huge impression on me. Alba sees the dream figure as more real than the guards who torment her. Alba’s body is brutally broken and tortured, but look at that, her spirit is undiminished. Look at that, she is free.
Someone in Alba’s state of mind probably wouldn’t panic if she saw a bear coming towards her! ☺ She is so free she is likely ungoverned by even the most primitive of impulses or schema. The external world has lost its grip and influence over her. Despite a tortuous trip down into the depths of hell, into the darkest and most terrifying chasms of experience, Alba emerged intact, untouched, inviolate.
I bring up this example because the emotional and cognitive transformation she experienced is not easily accounted for in the theories I’ve brought up so far. Physiological impulses stemming from sensory perception, splitting and projecting which fashions the world to which I react, conscious and unconscious cognition…it seems that I am forgetting something…
Carl Jung had an idea. From his work “Psychology & Religion” (1938, London: Yale University Press):
It is, to my mind, a fatal mistake to consider the human psyche as a merely personal affair and to explain it exclusively from a personal point of view. Such a mode of explanation is only applicable to the individual in his ordinary everyday occupations and relationships. If, however, some slight trouble occurs, perhaps in the form of an unforeseen and somewhat extraordinary event, instantly instinctive forces are called up, forces which appear to be wholly unexpected, new, and even strange. They can no longer be explained by personal motives, being comparable rather to certain primitive occurrences like panics at solar eclipses and such things…The change of character that is brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are always living upon a volcano and there is, as far as we know, no human means of protection against a possible outburst which will destroy everybody within its reach. (pg. 17).
Savage beasts and volcanoes, yeah!! What Jung is talking about, of course, is what happens when one is seized by an archetypal complex. So here we have another answer to the cause-and-effect question. Instead of emoting as reaction to an external world, or sourced by an internal schema, we are instead vehicles of expression caught up and inside of autonomous complexes. Our emotions are not ours, they are not personal, but collective, archetypal. These internal figures – Shadow, Ego, Animus, Great Mother, Self, etc. - “These are the archetypes, the persons to whom we ultimately owe our personality. In speaking of them, Jung says “we are obliged to reverse our rationalistic causal sequence, and instead of deriving these figures from our psychic conditions, must derive our psychic conditions from these figures.” (Jung, CW 13, par. 299, 62). In other words, the idea that each of us has a personal independent psyche is backwards. I don’t have a soul inside of me, soul has me inside of it. According to Hillman, we live and move in psyche. The external forms we see originate in our imagination. They come and go, but soul is ever-present. When I ask the question of why I feel what I feel, I come closest to my reality when I see through the form to the idea behind it, the content within and expressed through the form, the vastness and beauty of soul. In Alba’s dream, Clara made an appeal to the content within Alba. While there is nothing so blinding as perception of form, Alba was able to see through it. By listening to the archetypal dream figure, she grasped that her reality, her true feeling, was not given by her fragile and broken body. In that moment of salvation, she identified with Soul instead.
The beauty of looking at affect through the lens of archetype is the lack of judgment inherent in this view. It is not personal, but in allowing it to be present in me, it becomes a part of me. I am being moved by a collective autonomous force, and rather than resist, judge, or hate my feelings, I can look instead in awe at the mystery of the psyche and even feel joy for my participation in it. To think that my tiny ego could refuse or stem the massive tide of archetypal complexes is…well, egotistical. To make welcome the movement of the archetypal complex through me requires my humility.
So then getting back to the question of whether I have emotions or they have me. I think the answer is yes and yes.
I will give a personal example. I have been living on my own for the first time in my life, and at times I feel overcome with sadness. Out of the blue my stomach begins to hurt and my chest feels tight. I think, “Wow, I am sad.“(William James!). Sometimes I look at the pain from a cognitive viewpoint and ask myself what the thoughts are behind the sadness. Is this about the profound changes in my life and the loss of relatedness? Do I have a “faulty” core belief how I am perceiving my situation? I could look at those thoughts and work through them. I could even try to fix the external situation that seems to be causing my sadness – maybe call a friend. Often I am tempted to resist the pain and wiggle out of it by distracting myself with other things or ideas. And sometimes I hate the sadness and attempt to rid myself of it either by trying to talk myself out of it – “I am so fortunate, I have no reason to be sad” or going into a numb state. But I could also look at my feeling from a depth perspective. I could acknowledge that this pain coursing through me may not be personal. I could watch my sadness, personify it, interact with it, permit its existence in me, allow it to come through me and move me. Is it wanting something from me, or for me? This is the route I took recently, and as I was walking aimlessly along State Street in Santa Barbara, allowing this sadness to possess me, I looked up and recognized one of only two people I had met in the two weeks since I had moved there! A retired man who reminded me of my father, he allowed me to interview him for a course assignment. He had been walking out of a coffee shop to lock his bike, and if he had not come out at that exact moment, I would have walked on by never seeing him. I was astounded by the synchronicity. He kissed me on the top of the head and I followed him in to share a pot of tea. We talked for two hours – he told me of his troubles with some of his friendships – and we helped each other.
-July 1, 2009, Santa Barbara, CA
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