Bringing the Unwanted Self to Light

 

 

The Basics

 

Try to imagine your psyche as a big circle. Within this circle lie all of your thoughts, feelings, impulses, and desires. Some of these are positive aspects of you and some of them are negative. Some are acceptable to you and others are not. Some are threatening while others are not.
 

Now try to imagine a very small circle within the larger one. This represents the part of your psyche of which you are conscious. The circle needs to be small, because there is very little of our psyche of which we are aware. The average person is only aware of about 15% of the contents of his or her psyche.

 
Next imagine a small opening on the side of the smaller circle. This represents the pathway by which the contents of your unconscious can travel into the light of consciousness. If the pathway is small, very little unconscious material will be able to
find its way into your conscious awareness.


In most individuals the pathway is not only small, but is blocked by an impeding defense system. In our example, this would be seen as a line drawn over the opening of the smaller circle.


A defense system consists of a variety of psychological deterrents or barriers that are designed to keep painful, unacceptable, or threatening information out of consciousness. Some of the more common defenses are denial, projection, withdrawal, rationalization, acting out, undoing, and reversal.


Sometimes our defenses are needed if we feel particularly vulnerable and unable to deal with life. They can keep us from getting overloaded or becoming fragmented if we donít have the strength to deal with reality. Their main purpose is to protect us when we canít protect ourselves and to reduce anxiety in the face of things weíd rather not know about ourselves or others.


While defenses are necessary at times, the appropriate use of our defense system is rather limited. Itís limited because while our defenses can temporarily protect us, in the long run they work against us. They serve as dams that block out valuable, needed information about our inner and outer worlds. They keep us from facing reality, from dealing effectively with life.


Unfortunately, the anxiety-producing information that our defense system shields us from doesnít go away with time. It merely resides in the unconscious and waits to be heard. The longer we fail to acknowledge it, the more it pushes against our line of defense. With each day that passes, it becomes increasingly insistent and more strident in its demands.


Ultimately, it can contain itself no longer. Unable to break into consciousness, itís forced to find expression in another manner. Invariably, it ends up discharging itself in a destructive manner, fueling negative behaviors in the outer world and producing mental disorders in our inner world.


Now we find ourselves in a powerless position. Our disowned parts are discharging themselves uncontrollably, out of the range of our consciousness. We canít exercise our will over our own inner world or over our behaviors in the outer world. Weíre puppets, run by highly charged, desperate parts of the self.


The only thing that can remedy this situation is honest attention to the self. This involves allowing our disowned parts into consciousness, listening to them carefully, acknowledging their pain, examining the roots of their pain, and deciding on the best choices for self.


The conscious part of us is always the power position. Itís the position that allows us to bring information out of the dark and into the light of day. Itís the position that allows self-examination and rational thought. Itís the position that allows us to effectively exercise our will.  Itís the position of conscious creation rather than one of unconscious reaction. Itís also the position that affords us the greatest control over a given situation, because we are now in the driverís seat.


When working with the self to bring material into consciousness, the goal should always be an integration of feeling and thought. The emotional material must always be processed first. It needs to be heard in order for the process to go any further. After weíve identified, acknowledged, and embraced our feelings, we must bring in our thinking side. We must take the emotion in play and ask ourselves:

 

ē Is this emotion present due to transference? Do I feel as I do because Iíve attributed qualities to a person in my present that actually belong to an emotionally significant person in my past?

ē Is this emotion present due to my prevailing belief system? Is this belief system acting as a filter that distorts incoming information? Are my beliefs limited, disallowing a full range of information about the situation at hand? Are my beliefs selective? Do I ignore all possibilities except those that support my negative convictions?

ē Is this emotion present because of erroneous thoughts Iím holding? Do I engage in catastrophic thinking? Do I engage in immature thinking?

ē Is this emotion present due to my expectations? Do I hold realistic expectations? Do I hold infantile expectations?

 

In todayís world thereís a tendency to ignore the first step (identifying, experiencing, and embracing the negative feeling), which in turn makes it difficult to proceed to the second one (rationally examining the basis of this feeling). Weíve been taught to be reasonable, loving, and mature individuals. Weíve been taught to be positive, selfless, and spiritual in our outlook. Weíve been taught to be good people. So rather than integrate our negative side, we disown it, lock it in the closet, and try to pretend itís not there.


Sometimes we intellectually acknowledge our negative side in a detached, emotionally sterile manner, but we donít allow ourselves to experience it, to own it, and we certainly donít embrace it with understanding and compassion. We see it instead, as an unwanted aspect of ourselves, as something thatís there but certainly not welcome.


This method of dealing (disowning the unwanted self) usually results in unwanted psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety. These symptoms would naturally abate if we chose to work effectively with our negative side. But we donít. Instead, we do everything possible to hold our negative feelings still, deny them a hearing, resulting in ever worsening symptoms.


If we wish to be rid of our symptoms, we have to make sure that we donít get rid of our negative feelings. Instead we must welcome them and give them a hearing. This doesnít mean weíre giving them a pass to unleash themselves on the world. Quite the opposite. Weíre defusing them by listening to them and attempting to understand them with love and compassion. Weíre also gathering important information from them so that we can proceed to make better choices for ourselves.


Most of us believe that itís our negative feelings in themselves that are the reason we have painful psychological symptoms. In reality, we have painful symptoms because weíve forced our negative feelings out of consciousness, refusing to attend to them, refusing them their rightful place in our psyche. What weíve failed to see is that our negative feelings were never the cause of our symptoms. The cause was our choice to repress them, to push them down, to deny them, to turn them into a thoroughly disowned unwanted self.