Author Topic: Complementation in psychology  (Read 2309 times)

Matswin

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Complementation in psychology
« on: August 01, 2012, 08:57:10 AM »
Psychotherapy focuses on the integration of unconscious complexes. Carl Jung has applied this great finding on individuation, as the consecutive integration of archetypal complexes. Arguably, it does not suffice as method of relation to the unconscious. Individuation in Jungian terms is lopsided, as it takes exception to the trinitarian ideal of individuation, which includes the reclusive life. There is too much focus on integration. To rectify this, I suggest a notion of complementation. It would mean to put focus on the transformation of the self, rather than the transformation of consciousness. Integration implies that the autonomous unconscious content "sacrifices" itself for the boon of the conscious world. It's a notorious motif in the history of religion, where it pertains to the sacrifice and death of the deity. However, in religious history mankind also makes a payback, an atonement sacrifice. This gives life back to the gods, which is equally essential. In the modern era, it pertains to devotional practices, i.e. to devote conscious time and energy to God. The disciple sacrifices his/her conscious energy to the unconscious, in meditation and contemplation, for instance.

The individuant becomes more or less a reclusive, in some sense of the word. Such a sacrifice of conscious energy is necessary to the growth and transformation of the self. I denote it complementation as I view it as a slow process whereby the self collects and constellates its complementary nature from the ingredients of the chaotic unconscious, aided by a mild conscious focus. It corresponds to the transformations in the alchemical vessel. In the life of modern Westerners, a recurrent theme is to abandon worldly life and set out on a spiritual journey, typically involving reclusion and contemplation. The proselyte is often gone for years, after which he/she sometimes decides to return. A central theme in Buddhism is the ideal of the spiritual seeker who, after having achieved enlightenment, returns to the world. The Jungian process of individuation cannot really account for such a radical shift of ideals, since the Jungian self is one. Spiritual and worldly life are supposed to be integrated, and not separated in time. Against this, I have proposed a model in which the self comprises two complementary aspects. See my article The Complementarian Self.

I discuss complementation further in my article on Thanatos.

Mats Winther

Matswin

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Re: Complementation in psychology
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2012, 03:43:35 AM »
On this view, the self is essentially heterogenous, consisting of two or more commensurate aspects of self that are however irreconcilable opposites, symbolized by Horus and Seth, the light and dark ternarius, or the winged and wingless dragon in alchemy. Whereas integration pertains to the transformations of the ego, complementation refers to the transformations of the self. In the former process, energy flows from the unconscious into the ego system, whereas in the latter the flow is reversed. Of course, transformations in the self can induce transformations in the ego.

It is kind of logical. Why shouldn't the self be able to undergo transformation, relatively independent of consciousness?

Mats Winther

Matt Koeske

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Re: Complementation in psychology
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2012, 09:54:18 AM »
It is kind of logical. Why shouldn't the self be able to undergo transformation, relatively independent of consciousness?


I think one potential complication is that the Self (as something autonomous from consciousness yet also larger than or even "containing" it) is not directly transformable . . . even through "alchemical" or other mystical procedures.  This is hyperbole, but it's almost like saying, "How does one individual change the universe?"


I do feel the Self is extremely reactive to consciousness/ego, though.  The Self can transform somewhat in reaction to changes in the ego/conscious attitude that facilitate the complex dynamism of the Self rather than seek to restrain or repress it.  But the Self, in my opinion, cannot be willfully or strategically transformed.  Nor can it ever be other than what it is . . . which I think is a natural, dynamic, complex system.  The Self can no more be other than Self than a human being can be other than a human being (speaking a bit more scientifically than philosophically, that is).


I think of the ego/Self relationship as something like humanity's relationship to a natural ecosystem in which it lives.  Humans can affect the ecosystem in ways that harm the ecosystem, even in ways that indirectly harm human existence in that ecosystem.  But if they screw it up enough and make it uninhabitable (for humans), even if humans die out, the ecosystem will almost definitely restructure itself and continue on without humans, finding a new equilibrium.


With the ego/Self relationship, this is not an option.  If the ego mucks up the system enough, both ego and Self "die out" (or can no longer function adequately).  But just as humans can make efforts to preserve the health and functionality of the ecosystems in which they live (mostly by modifying their own behaviors), I think we can consciously facilitate and help maintain the natural dynamism of the Self system.  Of course, as we have found out ecologically, "doing what's best" for an ecosystem is not always easy to figure out or implement.  The balance of various organisms and environments is extremely complex and hard to predict or model accurately.


It's easy enough to recognize that massive polluting or genetically engineered planting or killing off a particular species is going to throw an ecosystem out of balance . . . but other attempts (like integration/reintegration of a new species into the system) can go terribly wrong.  Likewise, the ego cannot "play God" with or design the Self system.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matswin

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Re: Complementation in psychology
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2012, 06:31:37 AM »
I am not saying that the self is willfully restructured according the designs of the ego. I am saying that it is a semi-autonomous process, to which the ego contributes by providing energy, by modulating the heat with an amount of conscious understanding when it gets to hot, or increasing the heat by symbolic awareness, or simply a contemplative focus. So complementation would mean the very opposite of ego control.

I am averse to the idea that the self, or any archetype for that matter, abides in the unconscious as a ready-made Platonic form. I think the archetype is more organic than that, i.e., that it needs time to grow and formulate itself from simpler elements, in order to blossom out at a point in time. As a matter of fact, Jung says that the anima is not constellated in all ethnic populations. It is generally not present in the Chinese, for instance. Why it has never been able to take root would depend on historic factors.

Carl Jung and M-L von Franz view the population of a country as representing the full range from Stone Age people, via the medieval personality, to the modern individual. M-L von Franz says that she met with a Stone Age man who lived in the Alps, and walked about stark naked during the summer. He lived in unison with the brooks, the trees, and the clouds. The reason why personality is thus rooted in different ages would depend on the structure of the unconscious. In a minor portion of the Western population the anima never constellates. Together with other genetic characteristics, the personality might turn out as a Stone Age man who chooses to live with Mother Nature.

By example, I have tried to communicate with modern alchemists. I am baffled with their fixation on crystal formation and chemical processes in the retort. They also love old cryptic books with many magical signs in them. They seem wholly unable to grasp what I try to communicate to them, whereas I am unable to grasp the extent to which they enrich the chemical process with meaning. I see it as symbolically quite potent, but the alchemists think that it is the Quinta Essentia. This mind-set is perplexing. I have finally come to realize that such people are medieval dwellers that happen to be born in the wrong age.

Arguably, the self as the hermaphrodite, or the rebis, can with time constellate in a population. The process is slow, however, similar to the emergence of the anima. The alchemists argued that they were capable of speeding up the processes of nature in their own laboratory. It would imply that the artifex can assist the constellation of the self in his own unconscious.  So this is what I mean by complementation, a way of assisting nature's work of archetypal constellation - to speed up the process, so it doesn't have to take a thousand years, via many generations.

The process occurs relatively independent of consciousness. It is coupled with a different attitude of consciousness. The greedy and gluttonous frame of mind, so typical of the ego, forms the basis of the psychological paradigm, whose central tenet is the integration of the unconscious. The ego thinks that everything in the unconscious belongs to "me". This devouring capacity is denoted as the "synthetic function" in psychoanalysis. As soon as an unconscious content surfaces, the ego immediately appropriates it and claims that the content has been conceived by the ego.

The ego is a dictator that enslaves psychic content. In fairytales there is the well-known motif of being "taken into the mountain". In Scandinavian fairytales it is called "bergtagen" (lit. 'mountain-taken'). Characters in fairytales are captured by the mountain, swallowed by it wholly or party.  Occasionally they are stuck with their head, etc. Sometimes they are stuck in a thorny thicket that surrounds the mountain, transfixed on the thorns. Fairytales depict psychic life from the perspective of the unconscious in order to  compensate the one-eyed conscious outlook. This evil mountain (glass mountain, golden mountain) portrays the insatiable over-extended ego from the viewpoint of the unconscious.

This covetous, egotistic, attitude is severely criticized in spiritual teachings, not the least in traditional Christianity, while it is inimical to the spontaneity and naturalness of psychic life. The ego should give glory to God and refrain from glorifying itself by taking the credit for all the blessings that are bestowed upon it. Vainglory and self-worship is condemned. But if the psychoanalytic paradigm is taken to its extremes, in terms of the integrative effort, as in Edward Edinger's psychology, the ego has become an evil mountain, inimical to spiritual and instinctual unconscious life. In Christian theology, pride and arrogance is destructive to the workings of the Holy Spirit in the soul.

Complementation, which is denoted 'circular distillation' in medieval alchemy, builds on a different attitude of consciousness. The ego rids itself of its typical illnesses, namely covetousness and pride. A meek and unassuming attitude means that the conscious light burns with less intensity, yet with a clear flame. The ego is no longer fixated on self-satisfaction. It now exalts God instead of itself, and no longer views itself as self-sufficient.

Although the ego is now less energetic, it maintains focus on the unconscious process, which serves to sustain the circular distillation by the addition of a mild heat. The alchemists always said that over-heating the vessel ruins the process. It is imperative to maintain a mild and continuous heat. Some say that the light of the moon is enough. They assert, again and again, that the artifex must maintain a truly pious attitude, otherwise the operation has no chance of success.

What the alchemists had in mind was not first and foremost a process of unconscious integration with consciousness, the way in which Carl Jung understands the alchemical Opus. Rather, it denotes a process of complementation during which the unconscious self emerges out of the 'massa confusa' of the unconscious and takes shape as a complementarian composite of opposites. The process can only go on in mild light, as the strong light of ego consciousness would only transfix the components on its spines. Nor can it go on in total darkness, where the constituents would freeze or regress.

Evidently, the ego must become small and simple, and remain virtuous and modest. This is exactly the standpoint of St John of the Cross, et al., whose teaching Jung rejected out of hand, saying that apophatic mysticism and the 'via negativa' "has nothing to do with individuation". Although Jung, according to my argument, misinterpreted alchemy to a degree, he maintained an attitude of reverence towards the unconscious. It was, in a sense, holy to him. He went as far as saying that, to him, the unconscious is God. This attitude is reflected in his dream, when he bows down before the holy Uriah (see the autobiography). Of course, this attitude made him reluctant to "kill" every psychic content by integration with consciousness.

Nevertheless, this slight misinterpretation has taken a turn for the worse in some of his followers. The unchristian attitude of "killing the unconscious" would also account for much of the pathology in the psychoanalytic school.

Mats Winther