Man’s ordinary state of consciousness leaves him falling far short of what he could be: a fully conscious and fully alive human being. This ordinary state falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum between the pathological and the fully conscious, and has no clear demarcations. Growth, as we see it, is movement or evolution from that middle range toward more consciousness and more life, and is the actualization of man’s inherent potential.
The fully conscious and alive individual is totally present in the moment and perceives each situation as it is, free from all prejudice and all bias. His perceptions and his actions are not hampered by emotional or mental preconceptions and are not conditioned by past experience. Therefore, his perception is accurate and his action is to the point; accordingly, he has the capacity to respond efficiently, in tune with the needs of each situation he encounters. This, of course, implies a certain kind of freedom, which such an individual experiences within his body as a lack of barriers to the movement of energy. His emotions flow unhindered and are appropriate responses to the situations he encounters. This quantitative change from man’s normal mode results in a qualitative change in the content of such a person’s inner experience, which cannot be accessed by an ordinary person, even in his imagination.
Although this state is not conceived of by the majority of humanity, it is still a potential for each human being. There is proof enough of its reality in the few individuals of the various spiritual traditions who have realized it. That it is difficult to attain does not negate its possibility. All disciplines truly oriented toward freeing man attempt to realize it. The desire for growth and expansion is, among other things, a direct consequence of the experience of the absence of this condition of freedom, indicating that something necessary—and therefore attainable—is missing.
With this ideal condition as a background, the process of growth and unfoldment becomes easier to understand and appreciate: any deviation from this condition indicates the presence of prejudices based on the past, whether obvious or hidden, and growth is a matter of uncovering these prejudices and moving beyond them.
THE ORDINARY STATE
In contrast to the fully conscious individual, the average human being suffers from conscious or unconscious prejudices, whether they are racial, social, or personals. These prejudices not only color a person’s perceptions and actions, but also his relationship to others, since relationships involve both perception and action. He does not see a situation or a person as is, but rather through his own filter of prejudices and biases; and this leads to inappropriate responses and actions. The result is suffering and frustration, and ultimately a dampening of life.
A hypothetical example is that of a man asking a woman for a date in which the woman says no. The man feels rejected and assumes she rejected him because there is something wrong with him. He thinks this because he projects his own self hatred onto the woman. The woman really said no because she is afraid that if the man gets to know her better, he will uncover her inadequacies. She likes him, but rejects him out of fear. She is afraid because she projects her self-judgments on him. They both suffer as a consequence of inaccurate perception distorted by projection, due to certain personal prejudices.
This hypothetical example illustrates the ordinary functioning of perception and action between people. It is not an extreme case, although its negative content might lead one to think so. A psychologically normal man would forget this incident quickly; while if psychopathology were present, the man, if he even managed to talk to the woman, would be incapacitated for some time. A really healthy man would accept the rejection without any prejudice of his own and with no consequent suffering. In fact, he might not even have asked her in the first place because his acute awareness might have told him her answer directly. This illustrates—in a very rough manner—the continuum of possible reactions based on conditions of consciousness.
When we use the word “prejudice,” we don’t mean just its common restricted usage: having fixed ideas about a particular group, race, religion, or set of beliefs. Prejudice, as we are using it, means anything that distorts the objective perception of reality. In other words, we consider prejudice anything that determines the attitude of a person that is not totally in accord with what actually is. Prejudice, of course, comes in many varieties, operates on all levels, and is not always as simple or obvious as in the example above. Mental attitudes, emotional predisposition’s, beliefs, and ideals are just a few obvious kinds of prejudice. Some are so imbedded in the personality that the individual takes them to be part and parcel of reality. They determine the individual’s range of ideas, feelings, and actions; and they influence him on many levels including character structure, body structure, and lifestyle. They determine his relationship to himself, to other people, and to situations in general.
How do these prejudices come about, and why are many of them so hidden? The answer comes from the psychological theory of conditioning. The most relevant proven fact is that the human being is impressionable and can be conditioned to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli. The human infant, if not physiologically damaged, usually responds appropriately to inner and outer stimuli. When hungry, he cries for food; and when satisfied, he is happy and goes to sleep. However, the environment is not always understanding or responsive to the child’s nature or needs. The child is discouraged from certain actions or encouraged toward other actions that might not be his own choices. He is expected to be and behave in particular ways; otherwise, he receives some form of punishment. He is encouraged (implicitly or explicitly) not to express or even feel certain emotions. Because the human child is so dependent on his parents, he learns to get or keep their love and protection by accommodating them. He is dependent on them for his very survival, and so is motivated by his survival instinct to do whatever is necessary to retain their love and avoid their displeasure. If he does not accommodate them, he is afraid of losing them or their love, and that would threaten his very survival.
So the instinct for survival, which translates into fear of annihilation and death, is the energy behind adaptation and hence, conditioning. The child finds himself in the situation of having to be what his environment (parents) dictates in order for him to survive. So we can say that it is due to the instinct for self-preservation that acquiescence to the coercive forces in the environment occurs. The child, then, adopts his parents’ values and attitudes or rebels against them. In either case, he is conditioned to be and to act in certain ways, which, through the passage of time, become so ingrained that he takes them to be his identity. Slowly he forgets his true identity and becomes what he is being conditioned to be and to believe. He develops patterns of thought, feeling, and action that become habitual and not always appropriate to the moment. His relationship to his parents not only determines his relationship to himself but also to other people, for it is the prototype of relationship with others and makes its impact on his mind when he is most vulnerable and impressionable. In later years, he relates to people in ways determined by how he related to his parents as a child. The person, then, lives under the tyranny of his past, instead of being free to be present in the moment. This does not mean that the entirety of the individual is conditioned; rather, that the more conditioned a person is, the less accurate are his perceptions, the less appropriate are his actions, and the more pathological is his condition.
We see that growth is, at least in part, a process of Reconditioning, of freeing parts of the individual that have become arrested by the bonds of repetitive and compulsive ways of responding to life. It is the regaining of the capacity to respond in a fresh manner, instead of reacting in outdated modes.
MODEL OF PERSONALITY
We have seen that the human child learns to avoid experiencing or expressing certain things if he knows that he is going to be punished for them, and learns to experience and express certain other things that will bring him love and approval. So, certain impulses, feelings, ideas, and actions are suppressed and in time become repressed , i.e., not available to consciousness. They form part of what Freud called the unconscious. The ego, in Freud’s terminology, is that portion of the psyche which has the capacity for suppressing and repressing these impulses.
At the beginning, the external world, particularly the parents, is the primary coercive agency that influences the ego and conditions it to be one way or another. Of course, there are other influences, like constitution, heredity, and temperament. Constitutional and parental influences overlap if we consider that the prenatal experience is also a time of interaction with the parents. This means that some of the experiences of the embryo in the womb can, and in fact, do act as coercive agencies by imprinting the consciousness in such a way that permanent structures are developed. For the ego to listen and obey the demands of the external agencies (to avoid their displeasure and to gain their love and approval), the ego develops ways to check and control certain of the impulses of the organism. These methods are what are called the ego’s defense echanisms. They are defenses against the impulses of the id (the largely unconscious seat of the instincts in the psyche), and whatever thoughts, fantasies, and sensations that cluster around them or point to them. But they are, as we see, ultimately defenses against the coercive agencies, instituted to defend against their punishments and to please them.
In time, the external coercive agencies become internalized. This is done through the processes of introjection and identification, in which the coercive agencies become part of the internal structure of the child. In other words, the child psychically takes in parental demands, and they become his or her own. We must remember here that these processes are defensive mechanisms, and they are employed, in this instance, to avoid the loss or expected loss of the parent or his love. So, becoming like the parent acts as a way of having him, and hence as a defense against losing him; and at the same time, these defenses are also used to get the parents love and approval. The resulting inner coercive agency is what Freud called the superego.
Introjection and identification also constitute the primary psychic processes that build the psychic structure in general, indicating that they have functions which are not purely defensive. The superego, which these processes are central in creating, is in reality the most structured and most highly developed part of the psychic structure or ego. It becomes the inner regulating agency, containing one’s adopted and developed moral codes and standards of being and action.
In the developed psychic structure, where both ego and superego have developed and differentiated, the defense mechanisms become primarily defenses against the superego.” (The defense mechanisms are also defenses against painful ego states, like those of separation anxiety and inadequacy; these are deeper than the defenses against the recriminations of the superego, and hence these latter ones are those first encountered in the process of working on oneself.) The defense mechanisms we encounter initially function in relation to the superego because as the ego and superego develop in childhood, the identity becomes associated with the ego, and the superego becomes the inner representative of the external coercive agencies. Hence, a person learns to avoid the disapproval of the superego, and tries to do everything to ingratiate it. The individual, in other words, learns to approve of in himself what his parents approved of, and to disapprove of what they disapproved of. What is disapproved of becomes mostly pushed out of consciousness, relegated to the unconscious; and so these defense mechanisms are ultimately forms of repression, as Freud articulated .’ For this repression to be done effectively, the whole operation becomes unconscious; i.e., both the ego defense mechanism and the corresponding coercive parts of the superego become unconscious.
Especially for the well developed and integrated ego, the moment that there is the likelihood that part of the unconscious is going to surface to consciousness, the ego starts experiencing anxiety. This anxiety is a response to the anticipation of danger. In the past, libidinal impulses and accompanying actions, and certain feelings and thoughts and their expression, became perceived as dangerous to the person because of the reactions encountered in the environment to them (especially from the parents) such as disgust, rejection, punishment, abandonment, belittlement, humiliation, judgment, criticism, invalidation, being threatened, doubted, ridiculed, made to feel guilty or shameful, etc. Since the person learned to anticipate such reactions from the environment in childhood and therefore suppressed himself, he now anticipates the same reactions from his own superego. And the superego does react in this way, because it is the internalization of all of these originally external reactions.
In other words, the ego relates to the superego just like the child related to the coercive agencies in his environment—afraid of its attacks. So the moment that there is the possibility of unconscious material that drew attacks in the past surfacing to consciousness, the ego responds with anxiety, the danger signal anticipating a superego aback. The ego, to check the emergence of such disapproved of material, employs its defense mechanisms, which results in keeping such material out of consciousness.
It is important to understand that the necessity for repression first occurs in childhood, when the ego is fragile and not developed enough to deal with the external world or the instinctual and internal demands:
Even in organisms which later develop an efficient ego-organization, their ego is feeble and little differentiated from their id to begin with during their first years of childhood. Imagine now what will happen if this powerless ego experiences an instinctual demand from the id which it would already like to resist (because it knows that to satisfy it is dangerous and would conjure up a traumatic situation, a collision with the external world) but which it cannot control, because it does not yet possess enough strength to do so. In such a case the ego treats the instinctual danger as if it was an external one; it makes an attempt at flight, draws back from this portion of the id, and leaves it to its fate, after withholding from it all the contributions which it usually makes to instinctual impulses. The ego, as we put it, institutes a repression of these instinctual impulses. For the moment this has the effect of fending off the danger; but one cannot confuse the inside with the outside with impunity. One cannot run away from oneself. In repression the ego is following the pleasure principle, which it is usually in the habit of correcting; and it is bound to suffer damage in revenge. This lies in the ego’s having permanently narrowed its sphere of influence. The repressed instinctual impulse is now isolated, left to itself, inaccessible, but also un-influenceable. It goes its own way. Even later, as a rule, when the ego has grown stronger, it still cannot lift the repression; its synthesis is impaired, a part of the id remains forbidden ground to the egos. (Within our work, a more accurate term than organism here is “soul.”)
However, this simple repression, which is caned the primary defense, does not always work perfectly; and so some unconscious material pushes toward consciousness, activating a state of anxiety. Implied within this anxiety is the unconscious material, whether libidinal or any other repressed part of the soul. If the anxiety remains conscious, this material will emerge to consciousness, bringing about attacks from the superego.
So a secondary defensive process is developed to bind this anxiety and to render it unconscious, cementing the work of repression. This is sometimes accomplished through the development of symptoms and phobias, but most often it is done through the building of the character structure of the individual. Character patterns and traits take the place of specific symptoms, and when they dissolve, anxiety emerges followed by the unconscious historical material, as Wilhelm Reich demonstrated.
This anxiety is always present because these impulses and feelings are always in the unconscious, and so the defenses are always operating to ward off this anxiety and the ensuing attacks of the superego. The defenses therefore become chronic.
Every time these impulses get stronger or the person is in situations reminding him of them, the anxiety increases, which means that the defenses also have to get stronger. This is usually experienced as tension. (From this we see that in the process of retrieving the unconscious, we can expect that the defenses get stronger when a person gets closer to these impulses and feelings. While he isn’t conscious of this, this mobilizing of defenses might manifest as the person wanting to quit the task.)
When the anxiety becomes too much for the defenses to bind, what is called free floating anxiety results, which is sometimes experienced as nervousness. Even under normal circumstances, there is usually a low level of free floating anxiety present.
When the defenses start actuary breaking down, a person will experience increased anxiety, followed by the repressed impulses and feelings. So under normal circumstances, the presence of unusual anxiety indicates that some defenses are dissolving and that some piece of the unconscious is pushing toward consciousness. Anxiety, therefore, can be seen as a prelude to self-knowledge.
We see, then, that the anxiety that starts the process of repression is fear of the superego. The superego, however, not only conditions our inner life through fear, but it also gives approval to the things that the external coercive agencies gave approval to in childhood. Although such approval may appear harmless, since the approval is for certain directions of libido or manifestations of the soul, it also contributes to the creation of prejudices which in turn help to create compulsive patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. These, in turn, become incorporated into the character structure.
As it is a suppressive agent, the superego uses the energy of aggression in its control of the ego. Most of this aggressive energy is nothing but the aggression that the child experienced toward the coercive agencies in childhood. Now this aggression is used by the superego to punish the ego; i.e., it is retroflected.
We mentioned earlier that the energy supporting the process of conditioning is that of the instinct of self-preservation. Now we see that it is this same energy which starts and sustains the superego. In other words, the superego is ready formed in the service of self-preservation. This does not contradict Freud’s theory that it is formed as a response to castration anxiety, because castration anxiety is preceded, as he himself asserted, by the fear of helplessness which we saw as arising out of the fear of death. “It may be said that to a given period of development is assigned the anxiety occasioning situation which is, so to speak, appropriate to it. Psychic helplessness is the danger which is consonant with the period of immaturity of the ego, as object loss is the danger appertaining to the state of dependence of early childhood, the danger of castration to the phallic phase, and dread of the superego to the latency period.”
Therefore, it is the aggression of the instinct of self preservation that the superego directs toward the ego. (This aggression is actually a distorted expression of the vitality of the life force, which has the essential aspect of Strength as its primary element.) As we saw earlier, this introjection of the coercive agencies is the only way that the child’s ego finds to preserve itself and to avoid the wrath and suppression of the external coercive agencies. The ego does not need this inner coercive agency in the years of maturity, but continues to act as if it does. No longer dependent on the parents, the ego, now being the structured part of the soul, really needs only knowledge in adulthood; but it keeps behaving as though the superego’s rules and suppression are still necessary for survival.
As Idries Shah says it:
Certain coercive agencies have become indispensable to the victims. People with closed minds or small ranges of thought and action depend for their pleasures upon the rewards offered by obedience to the coercive agency. If this obedience is couched in the form of disobedience, they feel that they are not coerced.
Such people cannot make progress towards their mental liberation at one bound. Their world has to be made larger, and to be seen to be larger, before they can take any step beyond their narrow life.
So the superego, which was erected to preserve and protect life, becomes a coercive agency that leads to death not only in the mental, emotional, and spiritual sense; but sometimes also in the physical sense, as in the case of psychosomatic illness and self-destructive behavior. In fact, psychosomatic illness is frequently nothing but physical destruction resulting from the aggression of the superego toward the self. So we see that because of ignorance, which is itself the result of this process, the self-preservation instinct turns against itself; and the superego, using the aggression of this instinct, becomes the agent of death, the force opposing life. This distortion of the energy of self-preservation transforms the life-force and its essential strength into destructive and angry aggression. The superego becomes the coercive agency par excellence.
The way we are using the concept of the superego here is somewhat different from Freud’s definition. Ours includes Freud’s, but also includes all other inner coercive agencies. Freud saw the superego as the part of the mind that contains moralizing and punitive attitudes, whose development is mainly a reaction to castration anxiety. Our definition of the superego includes all influences in the mind that enforce compulsive patterns in the ego and that are based on any evaluation, whether of good or bad, high or low. As long as the ego does not perceive and respond to reality objectively, it is either a distorted structure or is under the influence of the superego, assuming that there are no actual coercive agencies in the environment or physical damage to the organism. The superego is that part of the person that maintains repression and fights any changes to the status quo. It is one of the main reasons why the ego defenses are needed (defending against painful ego states and maintaining ego structures being the others, as noted earlier); and hence it is responsible for the presence of prejudices, overt and covert. It is the tyrant king who maintains the status quo of conditioning.
Psychoanalysis tries to uncover the unconscious primarily through resistance analysis. This method has proven not to be terribly successful. This, however, does not warrant rejecting the whole Freudian system; it only means that the techniques used in it are not highly effective. Other therapeutic approaches have been more effective in getting through the ego resistance’s. Body oriented therapies owe whatever success they have to identifying the ego-resistance’s in the musculature and posture of the physical body. In Reichian therapy, one is helped to tolerate one’s unpleasant feelings of anxiety, guilt, anger, fear, etc., and the sensations that accompany them. When this is accomplished, the defense mechanisms become ineffective and the unconscious is retrieved. Bioenergetics facilitates the loosening of chronic muscular tensions with expressive movements, stressful postures, breathing, and analysis, and hence defuses the defense mechanisms.
However, even the body approaches will not work effectively if one does not learn to deal with the superego. Dissolving the body armor, which is the somatic expression of the defenses, will bring up unconscious material, but in so doing the ego becomes vulnerable to attacks of the superego. If one does not know how to deal with these attacks, the worked through defenses will reassert themselves or new ones will be found in order to avoid the onslaught of the superego. Of course, the superego has its physical counterpart in the armor, but this is not usually emphasized in any of the body approaches.
Our understanding of the superego also helps us to understand why some people get into trouble by engaging in powerful spiritual exercises designed to free one’s energy. It is true that the energy can be released in this way, but this then leaves one vulnerable to the superego. Ecstatic or spiritual states usually do not last because, among other things, anxiety or superego attacks return after a while and the defenses reassert themselves, sometimes stronger than before. This happens unless one has learned to tolerate anxiety and defend against the superego. A sound spiritual teaching must therefore include the preparation of dealing with the superego.
Many therapeutic and growth disciplines can be seen as different ways of getting through the ego resistance’s to unconscious material, although some approaches reject this terminology. The classical approaches see ego resistance’s as defenses against the id impulses; while in our work, especially in the initial stages, we see them as defenses against the superego. The superego, as we have seen, is the first coercive agency that we encounter in working on ourselves, which we find to be invested in keeping the unconscious unconscious and which accomplishes this by disapproving of the unconscious material. So, our approach is to help the ego consciously defend itself against the attacks of the superego, and hence to eliminate this important part of the need for unconscious ego defense mechanisms. If this is done, some awareness of feelings and sensations will bring up the part of the unconscious disapproved of by the superego, now that the ego is not guarding against it. This in turn will bring up other attitudes of the superego, which the person can then learn to work with. Deeper layers of the unconscious will surface, like those related to painful ego states or to the elements of the ego structure. This process can continue until all repressed material becomes conscious, which means that all hidden prejudices are recognized and dealt with; and in this way the superego loses all of its coercive power. In this stage of working on oneself, the ego turns against the superego, instead of against the id or the other repressed parts of the soul.
We mentioned before that the superego uses the energy of aggression against the ego. At this stage, this aggression is turned outward against the superego. Besides dealing with the superego effectively, the ego now has access to energy which it can use to deal with the external world. Previously, this energy was used to defend against the life force; now it can be used in its service. Not only is the energy of aggression retrieved for the service of life, but its distortion is eliminated in the process: The individual not only learns to use this energy for defending herself, but also reowns her essential strength.
As we have seen, the superego is nothing but the internalized coercive agencies that were once external forces. So dealing with one’s own superego goes hand in hand with dealing with all coercive agencies in the environment, especially the superegos of others. In the process, the individual learns how to deal with his environment efficiently, and his aggression becomes used for life, instinctual and essential, as is appropriate. Dealing with one’s own mind, then, and dealing with the external world are part of the same process.
Every time the individual succeeds in defending against the superego, a certain amount of aggressive energy is liberated and can manifest as anger. This is why anger is frequently experienced simultaneously with the process of defending oneself. In other words, the anger that was directed by the superego toward the ego is now in the possession of the ego, to use for whatever purpose it chooses. We have observed that when a person is engaged in the process of disengaging from the superego, she is strengthened and endowed with more energy. In fact, one is strengthened not only by reowning one’s anger, but also, and more fundamentally, by integrating the essential aspect of Strength, which is the energetic basis of the emotion of anger.
This approach addresses any new prejudices that are incorporated into the superego through the process of working on oneself Whenever a person works within a certain system, the values and prejudices of that system are automatically incorporated into his superego, and in time become coercive agencies. Or, to put it more graphically, the individual develops the particular system’s superego. Any value of a system that becomes rigidified and not a direct response to reality is obviously a coercive agency. Values are not static; they may be appropriate for certain situations and at certain times, but if carried beyond a particular situation or time of usefulness, they must be discarded, or else they will become impediments to growth. If the superego is a focus of one’s work, then everything incorporated into it will be seen and dealt with. This guards against the ossification and rigidification of new values and attitudes, which the superego is very clever at incorporating as a way of hiding and strengthening its old ones by making them invisible.
Through working in this way with the superego, all standards, attitudes, and values will be recognized until one can deal with naked reality without the need for them. When this occurs, it marks the end of the superego, and the beginning of the arising of essential conscience, our inherent knowing of what is or is not appropriate.
This notion might provoke fear for two different reasons: First, it might encourage some of one’s libidinal impulses or repressed feelings, which in turn activates anxiety. Secondly, one who lives under the domination of the superego cannot imagine living without its rules and values because he does not know reality, or does not trust in its existence or even in its desirability. Such a person feels the need for, and vehemently upholds morality and its standards regardless of the requirements of reality. This attitude is not restricted to certain people, for as we know, everyone has their share of this attitude.
This fear remains as long as the superego survives. In fact, it will sometimes increase the more a person becomes free from the superego. This is because freedom from the superego is experienced as more aliveness, which is exactly what brought about the situation of danger in childhood. So every time a person expands and gains more aliveness, the association to aliveness in childhood will emerge as an attack from the superego; which will activate anxiety. This is most apparent in the case of individuals whose parents couldn’t tolerate their aliveness because it threatened the parents’ repression of their own aliveness. In such cases, the child protects her parents by suppressing her own aliveness, and at the same time protects herself from their attacks.
This fear is fear of life, and can be seen in those scared people who express a suppressive and hostile attitude when they are around a person who is alive. Such people are usually not in touch with the fear, but feel repulsion and hostility toward the alive person. These reactions are rationalized with judgments and criticisms, which are nothing but the attacks of their superegos. As Shah puts it:
If you become diverted from us by our behavior,
you would never have been able to keep pace with us, anyway.
If this sounds unpleasant, it does not signify that it is
meant to be unpleasant. If you think that we are
unpleasant, you are holding up a mirror to yourself, and
saying, “Look at them!”
We must, however, understand the psychodynamics of such attitudes. It is easy to see that the child internalized the coercive agencies to guarantee her survival. We have seen that risking these agencies’ total rejection provokes fear for her very survival; i.e., it is really the fear of annihilation and death that is the core of anxiety. Total rebellion against the superego might reactivate this fear of total rejection by the coercive agencies and the ensuing fear of total helplessness, which to the undeveloped ego of the child is tantamount to the extinction of the organism. This implies that to totally dissolve the superego, the individual has to be willing to face the fear of death. This does not mean that the individual has to actually face physical death in order to be free from the superego, although in some cases this actually happens. Rather, it means that the individual may experience fear of dying if she regresses to an infantile state where rejection and abandonment meant death; and she has to be willing to face this fear and learn that she can survive without the love and approval of her parents, i.e., that she can survive without the superego.
The fact that the death of the superego (which leads to the birth of life) might mean to the individual her own death, is often encountered in spiritual systems as part of the notion of death and rebirth. In other words, this cessation of the superego is necessary before we can allow that of the ego, which results in spiritual awakening. An amusing story by Shah called “A Death is Indicated” illustrates this point, if we see the king as the superego:
There was once a dervish who had sixty disciples. He had taught them as well as he could, and the time came to undergo a new experience. He called the disciples together and said:
“We must now go on a long journey. Something, I am not sure what, will happen on the way. Those of you who have absorbed enough to enter this stage will be able to accompany me.
“But first you must all memorize this phrase, ‘I must die instead of the dervish: Be prepared to shout this out at any time, whenever I raise both of my arms.”
Some of the disciples started muttering among themselves, now highly suspicious of the dervish’s motives. No less than fifty-nine of the sixty deserted him, saying, “He knows that he will be in danger at some time and is preparing to sacrifice us instead of himself.”
They said to him, “You may even be planning some crime—perhaps even a murder; we can never follow you on terms like that!”
The dervish and his sole remaining companion started the journey.
Now a most terrible and unjust tyrant had seized the next city shortly before they entered it. He wanted to consolidate his rule with a dramatic act of force and called his soldiers together. He said to them: “Capture some wayfarer of meek aspect and bring him for judgment in the public square. I prepare to sentence him as a miscreant.” The soldiers said, “We hear and obey!” and went into the streets and pounced upon the first traveling stranger they met. He happened to be the disciple of the dervish.
The dervish followed the soldiers to the place where the king sat, while all the citizenry, hearing the drum of death and already trembling with fear, collected around. The disciple was thrown in front of the throne and the king said, “I have resolved to make an example of a vagabond, to show the people that we will not tolerate nonconformists or attempted escape. You are to die at once.”
At this the dervish called out in a loud voice: “Accept my life, O Mighty Monarch, instead of the life of this useless youth. I am more blameworthy than he, for it was I who induced him to embark upon a life of wandering!”
At this point he raised both arms above his head and the disciple cried out, “Munificent King! Please allow me to die. I must die instead of the dervish!”
The king was quite amazed. He said to his counselors, “What kind of people are these, vying with one another to taste death? If this is heroism, will it not inflame the people against me? Advise me as to what to do.”
The counselors conferred for a few moments. Then they said, “Peacock of the Age! If this is heroism, there is little we can do about it, except to act more viciously until people lose heart. But we have nothing to lose if we ask this dervish why he is anxious to die.”
When he was asked, the dervish replied, “Imperial Majesty! It has been foretold that a man will die this day in this places and that he shall rise again and thereafter be immortal. Naturally, both I and my disciple want to be that man.”
The king thought, “Why should I make another immortal when I myself am not?” After a moment’s reflection, he gave orders that he should be executed immediately, instead of the wanderers. Then the worst of the king’s evil accomplices, eager for immortality killed themselves. None of them rose again, and the dervish and his disciple went their way during the confusion.
It is interesting to note here how the tyrant king uses the same methods of suppression toward his subjects as does the superego toward the vagabond instinctual impulses. Also, we see here how dealing with the internal superego goes hand in hand with dealing with the external coercive agencies; the king can stand for both.
THE SUPEREGO IN RELATIONSHIPS
A good arena within which to recognize, understand, and deal with the superego is in our relationships with others. This is primarily because one frequently projects one’s superego onto certain individuals, and relates to them as one does to one’s own superego. Of course, this defense mechanism of projection helps to keep the superego unconscious, just as any defense mechanism does. A person can even project his superego onto a whole group, all people in general, the universe, God, or even inanimate objects and natural phenomena. The slightest association to a parental coercive figure suffices for this projection.
Our discussion applies to all types of relationships, but intimate couple relationships are stressed. When two people are relating, it is not only their conscious egos that are involved but also their superegos. The superego is present in the majority of cases in varying degrees and intensities. When a person is rejecting or accepting according to certain values, it is the superego that is at work. When a person is envious, jealous, afraid, etc., it is frequently the result of the prejudices of his superego.
In our earlier example in which the man felt bad about himself after being turned down for a date, this self-hatred is nothing but the hatred and the rejection of his superego toward his ego that is projected onto the woman instead of being seen as his own. When the woman says no to him, it is her superego rejecting him. The mechanism works like this: the woman’s superego rejects her ego and belittles it; her ego projects her superego onto the man; the woman defends against the man’s assumed rejection by rejecting him; and in this way is defending against the attacks of her own superego. If the woman knew how to defend herself against her own superego, she would not have to reject the man and she would feel free to be herself. We see that this relationship is mainly between the two superegos, and the individuals hardly have a chance to relate.
This does not mean that the couple wouldn’t get along when their superegos are relating. In fact in many cases, it is the superegos that get along, fitting together in a tight net of collusion. This can be understood through the phenomena of transference, because the superego is mostly one’s internalized parents. Transference means relating to another as though they were a significant person from one’s childhood, usually a parent. Often, the superego approves of the ego when the ego is attracted to someone reminiscent of the parent of the opposite sex. In other instances, the superego disapproves of the prospective partner unless the other person bears no resemblance to this parent because the other internalized parent disapproves. This possibly reflects a fear of castration.
Therefore we can say that the less free a person is from his superego, the more his relationships are determined by it—not only in the choice of partners but also in what transpires in the relationship. If the superegos complement each other, we have a stable relationship. But it is stable only as long as there is no growth or change. It is asserted here that in the majority of cases, stable relationships are ones in which the two superegos can live together without too much friction. In other words, they are superego relationships and not real ones. In fact, often the individuals involved dislike each other but they still stay together because of the dominance of their superegos. This is the situation when relationships are based on dependency and insecurity. In other cases, the couple cannot stay together although they love each other, because the superegos don’t get along. This explains those cases in which a couple experiences difficulty when their two sets of parents don’t get along; because their superegos, as a result, cannot get along. So a couple can spend their whole lives together but never really come into close contact because it is the superegos that are in relationship.
Even the emotion of love can be transference, and in this case the relationship is called positive transference. In such a relationship, part of the dynamic is that the superego approves of the ego when it loves someone who fulfills the requirements of the superego. However, when the object of love changes his or her behavior, the love will turn into resentment and hatred because the superego no longer approves. So superego love, which is an important part of transference, is conditional and maintains the status quo. This is the kind of love that the majority of people are familiar with. It is a love that imprisons instead of setting free; it is a coercive agency. The love that sets us free, love that is unconditional, can only be experienced by someone who is free from the coercive influence of the superego.
However, love based on transference is still love in the sense that the emotions and sensations experienced are similar to those of real love. This is because the love relationship is a transference of the relationship to the parents. Although it feels similar to real love, it is conditional, and this conditionality makes it laden with expectations. However, when one learns to stand up against the tyranny of the superego, one can shed a major segment of one’s conditions and expectations, which allows more space for love that is unconditional. One good way to differentiate between the two kinds of love is to look at their consequences: one binds us and the other frees us. We can see that one’s capacity for unconditional love is proportional to one’s freedom from the superego.
Looking at this from a different perspective, for a person to love, she has to be able to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is difficult to tolerate if she cannot defend against the superego, because she will be vulnerable to its attacks. In fact, when she begins experiencing real love, she will encounter tremendous anxiety. This is because as a young child, she was alive and loving and was rejected, abandoned, or punished; usually because her parents or the external world in general couldn’t tolerate her state. So she associates experiencing love with a situation of danger. And as we know, this sense of danger comes in later years to be associated with the attacks of the superego. But when she learns to defend against the superego whenever needed, she becomes more able to be soft and vulnerable. Then the capacity for love has a chance to grow, meaning that she can relate to another person directly without the superego, amongst other things, being in the way.
When this becomes possible, loving, liking, or being friendly toward another comes under the dictate of reality instead of that of the superego. It arises spontaneously when appropriate to the situation. This means, in Freud’s language, that the ego has more conscious control in the displacement of quantities of libido. The ego now invests libido or withdraws it according to the needs of each situation, instead of compulsively reacting under the influence of the superego. The person then is living in the present, and her perception of what is happening is objective instead of being subjectively prejudiced. Life becomes more of a creativity instead of a reactivity. There is then no difference between spontaneous action and intelligent action, because they are both grounded in reality.
This eliminates the possibility of a person loving someone who is cruel to him or being cruel to someone who loves him, because these are inappropriate responses to the situation. If a couple likes each other, they stay together and treat each other well. If they don’t, they just separate with respect for each other’s integrity. A relationship becomes a true response between two human beings, instead of being primarily two superegos robotically reacting to each other—the past being re-enacted instead of the present being lived.
APPLICATION OF THEORY
We have proposed that for a human being, growth and enlightenment is evolution toward greater consciousness and greater aliveness. The meaning and the actual lived experience of this deepens, expands, and evolves the more a person grows. We have seen that growth is movement toward greater freedom in the perception and response to reality as it unfolds from one situation to the next. The person lives more and more in the moment, responding to each situation freshly and uniquely. This implies greater freedom from the repetitive and compulsive patterns of perception and action, and we have seen that this means greater freedom from the unconscious.
The unconscious controls the present by virtue of not being available to consciousness. It is not available to consciousness because of the ego defenses, which are necessary for the ego to defend itself, at least in part, against the superego. The resulting situation is the transference of the past onto the present, and the consequent loss of reality. From this perspective, we see that self-realization is equivalent to the end of all transference. And because transference is maintained partly by the superego, freedom and self-realization mean in part the dethronement of the superego. This is a very simplified way of looking at human development, but it captures the essence of the process; and furthermore, it implies a practical and tangible way of going about it: the individual needs to become aware of his superego and to learn to consciously defend himself against it. This is crucial in the initial stages of the Work, but continues to be important throughout its various stages. It is simple but not easy, for the process progressively becomes subtler, and the superego gets fiercer the closer one gets to home.
Now what does it mean to consciously defend against the superego? This is the practical side of this part of our approach, and there are no rules. What is needed is natural intelligence and common sense. When these are not available, a helper is necessary someone who has these simple qualities.
An example of how to go about the process of defending is helpful here, and we will use our earlier one of a man being turned down by a woman when he asks her for a date. He suffers because he thinks he is being rejected because of a judgment the woman makes about him. First, we need to see that he believes this assumed judgment, because otherwise the situation wouldn’t affect him so adversely. This means that he has the same judgment about himself that he thinks she has about him. So his own superego is judging him. Suppose he thinks he is being rejected because he is dumb. When the woman rejects him, he is reminded of his own rejection of himself, and starts belittling himself for being so dumb. And that is why he is suffering. The woman did not hurt him; it is his superego that is hurting him. What he needs to do is defend himself against this self-recrimination.
But how? He needs to look at the origin of his superego, his internalized parents. He needs to find out which one of them called him or considered him or made him feel dumb. Let’s assume that it was his mother. He couldn’t defend against his mother’s attitude when he was a child. The way he responded to her is now a rigid pattern, and is now transferred onto the woman. He needs to learn how to defend against this attitude, and he can do this by not going along with his mother’s judgment and putting this lack of acquiescence into action. Awareness alone is not enough here; it is not enough until the deepest stages of realization are reached. When he was a child, he could have defended himself effectively if he had had the attitude that his mother was deluded. He didn’t defend himself then, and went along with and believed her because he needed her and because she was too powerful a coercive agency to resist. So now, when he becomes aware of his self-recrimination, he only needs to visualize his mother in his mind’s eye, and tell her forcefully that she is full of shit. (One needs to be very graphic with the superego!) In this way, he is defending himself against his superego, and he needs to do this until his superego affects him no more.
This process will bring up his anger toward his mother for belittling him, which will in turn make him less afraid of women and more confident around them. Reowning his anger will give him more strength, which he can now realize on the essential level. It will also remove the ego defenses against his aggressive, erotic, and tender feelings toward his mother. This is part of the unconscious being retrieved. Of course, this is a process, and not a one time affair. The actual operation of the process of defending against the superego depends upon the situation, but this example lays out its general principles.
Now we turn our attention to intimate couple relationships. We have discussed how a relationship can stabilize if the two superegos mesh, and in this case, growth is experienced as a disturbance of the status quo and will be resisted by both superegos. If one person changes, this person will become free from a portion of his or her superego. The partner’s superego is going to resist this change since otherwise it, too, has to change; because the meshing pattern has been disturbed and a new point of homeostasis will have to be found. This means that for one person to change, he or she must deal with two superegos instead of just one. Therefore, a relationship based on maintaining the status quo can hamper growth, for it is much harder to deal with two superegos than with one.
Going back to our earlier example, let’s assume that the woman agrees to go out with the man, they continue to see each other, and after a while they get married. Let’s also assume that the woman is judgmental. The man judges himself as dumb, and she in time agrees with him. So, both superegos collude and they live a life that is stabilized, at least in part, around this agreement. Neither of them questions it, because if they did then they both would have to deal with their superegos. The man would see that he is not dumb, and he would have to deal with his anger toward his wife who now represents his mother. She would have to deal with her judgmental attitude, which would ultimately lead her to her judgmental parent whom she internalized and all the emotional conflicts around this parent. So the relationship survives, thanks to this mutual comfort operation, which maintains the relative ignorance.
In our work, however, we are dealing with human development, and hence, the changing of the status quo. If this couple were involved in such work, many possibilities would become open to them. They might come to it with different levels of awareness of the superego, and this is where their work would begin. The man, for example, might not be aware of his self-recrimination. He might instead be aware of some kind of defensiveness arising in him whenever the pattern is activated; for example, he might see that at such times, he tries to show his wife how smart he is, both verbally and in fantasy. He might argue with her about her assumption, and he might find himself always trying to maintain a sense of himself as smart and superior in reaction formation. (Reaction formation is a defense in which one does the opposite of what one is actually thinking or feeling.) If he were aware of these reactions, he would be aware of his response to his superego, but not of the superego itself. Or he might just feel depressed or angry whenever the pattern is activated, without any indication of what the issue is. He also might only be aware of the projection of his superego. Or, of course, he might be directly aware of the recriminations of his own superego.
No matter which level of awareness of the superego the husband has, the wife, for her part, can either go along with their mutual superego judgment, or she can suspend hers. Let’s assume that she cares for her husband and wants to help him grow, and therefore chooses not to go along with the superego judgment. There are two things she can do: first, she can be considerate by trying not to push his buttons and activate his superego; and second, she can help him defend against his superego. To behave in both of these ways, she has to be interested enough in him to try to understand him. Attempting to understand him is more realistic than trying to love him: it does not make sense to try to love, but it is quite feasible to try to understand. Understanding him is, in fact, a practical way of loving and caring for him because in so doing, she will understand that he has an unconscious, and that he is struggling with his superego just as she is with hers. If both relate to each other in this way, there is the possibility of compassion and love arising between them. By understanding him, she will know what activates his unconscious and so what to avoid. If she does whatever pushes his buttons, she is attacking him just like his superego. It is an attack because he might not choose at that time to deal with his unconscious, and he is forced to buy her attack. If she keeps on attacking him (meaning doing what brings up his unconsciousness), then she is not his friend.
This is an important point that is usually overlooked in intimate couple relationships: it is an act of hostility if a person brings up the unconscious of the partner, without the partner choosing to deal with it. In fact, this is a common way that partners express hostility to each other indirectly. After some time of living together, couples become experts at pushing each other’s buttons, and in this way wars are waged and fought covertly. A couple who cares for each other will make an effort not to do so, and will try to understand each other’s superego so that the occurrences of such attacks can be minimized. is love in action, and it is harder to achieve but more valuable than the emotional love in which one feels love for one’s partner, but is pushing his or her buttons all over the place. This, of course, does not mean that one must walk on egg shells so as not to push one’s partner’s buttons. In fact, in many cases, pushing buttons can’t be helped; it happens just as a response to the way one is. In this case, it is the partner’s responsibility to deal with his or her superego. Understanding oneself helps greatly here, for through it, one can find out how one expresses hostility indirectly. Also, by seeing the tendency to attack one’s partner, one can find out about one’s own superego.
This brings us to the question of defending within a relationship. Using our example, let’s say that the wife says to her husband, “You are dumb.” Instead of believing her and feeling miserable, or trying to convince her how smart he is, the husband can defend himself by responding with, “Keep your opinion to yourself, my dear.” He has to defend against the superego inside and outside of himself in the same way.
Now we go back to how the wife can help her husband defend himself against his superego. First, she needs to understand what is happening. If the husband is not aware of the issue, she can make it clear to him that her feelings about him and her actions toward him have nothing to do with whether he is smart or dumb— but she must not play therapist. If he starts trying to show her how smart he is, she must not take the issue seriously; because if she does, she is buying into his superego, which will only reinforce the transference. If she’s light-hearted and open with him, he will see in action that she likes him irrespective of his intelligence. She might use humor, which is useful in dissipating the tension and seriousness that one usually feels about one’s buttons. This will also help him see that she is not his mother, releasing him from the projection.
She must not try to convince him that he is not dumb, because if she does, she is doing exactly what he has been doing with his superego, and that obviously has not worked. Arguing with the superego means taking its attacks seriously, and so is buying into them. The superego’s attitude is not rational. It is an emotionally compulsive behavior, and only action—not rationalization—will work against it. Also, argumentation puts one in a vulnerable defensive place, making real defense impossible.
If he gets angry at her, she can just say, “Look at me, am I your mother?” If he sees the situation clearly, he will see that she is not, and this will redirect his transferred anger where it belongs. If he gets depressed, then he is directing his anger toward himself, and the best thing she can do is to get him angry. In all these cases, the wife is helping her husband understand his behavior and redirect the emotions to their source, without having to take on the role of therapist. This, if done consistently, will end the transference, and they will both become gradually free from their superegos.
For the wife to help her husband in this way, she must first have Misidentified from her own superego. Her awareness of its attacks and her ability to defend against them enable her to refrain from attacking him. Her husband, in turn, will have helped her become aware of her superego by not allowing her to attack him through defending himself against her attacks, as described above.
If she is identified with her superego, whether she is aware of it or not, she cannot help her husband, and he has to deal with both superegos. He then has two options: he can either acquiesce to both superegos and maintain the status quo, or he can opt for change. If he wants to change, he can either leave the relationship or try to bring about change within it. In the latter case, he can either do it single-handedly, which is very difficult, or he can seek external help. This brings us to the subject of growth in relationships with the help of a counselor.
COUNSELING THE COUPLE
Our concern here is how a counselor can contribute to the development of two people in an intimate relationship. Their development might entail the growth or the dissolution of the relationship, depending upon the particular situation, because their development might or might not be compatible with being in relationship. The couple must have a primary interest in growth also; otherwise, seeing a counselor with this orientation is not appropriate for them. The task of the counselor is again very simple though not easy, as it entails helping them, in part, to defend against the superego. This may again sound simplistic, but its implications are very profound, and we can glimpse some of this profundity when we remember that the superego is the coercive agency within the mind of the individual. And if a person learns to deal with the superego, then he won’t be unconsciously under the influence of any coercive agency. This presupposes trust in reality, i.e., the trust that when a person is left to his natural intelligence, he will be naturally oriented toward life.
The counselor must be relatively free from her own superego, i.e., she can be aware of it and knows how to defend against it. She is dealing here with three superegos, and if she cannot deal with her own, at least when she is in the role of counselor, then she cannot be of help
to the couple. In a sense, she is the representative of the forces of life, and that is why the couple are coming to her. She is an authority in dealing with the superego, not in the sense of being authoritarian, but of being authoritative. This is just the same as accepting Einstein’s authority in the field of theoretical physics: we don’t consider Einstein authoritarian—he just knows his field well.
The counselor’s first task is to acquaint the couple with their unconscious’ and their superegos. She initially helps them identify the interactions of their respective superegos, both in times of collusion and friction. This is obviously necessary before they can learn how to defend against them. She shows them how to deal with each part of the superego that is uncovered. She gives them information, suggestions and advice, and it is up to them to do the actual work in their daily life as situations arise. This approach demands a lot of responsibility from the couple, but the counselor can show them how to go about it in the session itself. In working with the couple in our example, for instance, she might ask the woman to say to the husband, “You are dumb.” She observes the reaction of the husband and how he handles the situation. She guides him in becoming aware of his response. Then she suggests to him to respond to his wife by saying, “I don’t care what you think of my intelligence, my dear,” and sees how this affects the husband’s emotional state, and the situation as a whole. Here, the husband with the counselor’s help learns to defend against the attacks of his wife.
The counselor can go further. She can find out through questioning how the husband learned his habitual response. Then he can be taught how to defend against his own superego by saying, “I don’t care what you think of me,” to his mother in his mind. Also, the attitude of the wife can be explored and she can be helped to defend against her superego. The counselor can show her that when she tells him, overtly or covertly, that he is dumb, it is a hostile attack; and then the anger toward her husband behind the attack can be explored.
In this way, she can learn to direct the hostility where it belong-toward her inner coercive agencies. The counselor can encourage them to be considerate of each other by refraining from attacking each other. They thus learn a tangible way of caring for each other.
Although this approach is highly beneficial and necessary, the most effective way the counselor can work with them is through defending herself against their superegos whenever they attack her. This is the most direct way to teach them defending because she does it by demonstration. For instance, let’s suppose the husband says to the counselor, “I have heard that your colleague, Counselor B. is very good and has been in the profession longer than you. Is that true?” Obviously the husband is attacking the counselor by comparing her and putting her down. There is a wide range of responses open to the counselor. She might be reasonable and answer yes or no. She might be defensive and try to show that she is as good as or maybe better than Counselor B. She might argue about how their approaches are different. She might feel insulted and angry; or she might play therapist and say, “what are you feeling now?” or, «Are you angry at me?” or, “It seems to me that you are angry at me.” All of these responses are really not directly dealing with the situation, and most of them beg what is actually happening.
However, if the counselor is aware that the question is an attack, then she can simply respond with, “I don’t care who is better. I feel good about what I do.” She is not getting sucked into the comparison, and at the same time is validating herself. She is also responding to the situation directly by taking care of herself, and without explanations. She is showing the husband that he attacked her by comparing her to someone else. She is also showing the husband, in action, that his attacks are fruitless as expressions of hostility. She is being a clear example of a person whose integrity rises above comparison. There are many levels to her response, which is usually the case when an action originates from a life-affirming attitude.
By consistently defending herself each time she is attacked, she is exposing the superegos of her two clients, and at the same time showing them how to defend against them. In this way, each of them learns how to defend against his own superego and that of his partner. Teaching by example is in most cases the most effective means. This is because the counselor is dealing with the unconscious, and reasonable discussion and interaction are not as effective in dealing with it as actual action appropriate to the situation. After taking action, the counselor can explore with the husband the motivation and psychodynamics’ of his attack.
There is also another way the counselor can make a person become aware of his or her superego. She can do this by playing out his or her superego. For instance, if it is not clear to the husband that his superego attacks him for being dumb, then at the appropriate moment, the counselor might say to him, “I think you are dumb. No wonder your wife can’t stand you.” The husband’s response will make it very clear how he deals with his superego. The counselor can exaggerate this role until the husband sees this unconscious inner attack and his response to it. This is much more effective than just explaining it to the husband, because he now has the chance to see it happening by himself. The counselor might keep on attacking this man in very obvious and exaggerated ways until the husband gets angry at her. In this case she is not only forcing the husband to see the situation, but also to get in touch with his repressed feelings. After provoking him, the counselor can explore the situation in terms of the husband’s own superego, and in this way, transfer the affect back to its cause. This is especially effective when the husband’s habitual response is depression, which is usually the result of the superego relentlessly beating up the ego.
The counselor can also take sides against the superego. Sometimes she might take the side of the wife, another time that of the husband, a third time she might appear to be against both of them, or on both sides at once. In time they will see that she is not really siding with anyone, but rather that she is siding with the forces of life and growth. This is a very subtle and powerful method in which the clients learn how to be on their own sides against the superego, although they might not necessarily be able to verbalize it. They learn to do this with themselves and with each other.
The counselor can produce in them the discrimination between the superego and life by giving them respect and energy when they are siding with life, and by not giving them attention when they are siding with their own or their partner’s superego This is similar to behavior modification, and, for it not to become another coercive agency, the counselor must be aware of her superego and be capable of dealing with it. This method can be used to the extreme, as when the counselor actually attacks a person’s superego. Let’s suppose that the husband says to his wife, “I really do my best. I try to do things right. I can’t help it. I don’t know what to do. It’s awful—maybe I am hopelessly dumb or something.” Here he is siding with his superego, and playing “poor me.” The counselor can say, “Good, good. I think you deserve what you get. People like you should suffer. Maybe you should go down some sewer and drown. However, the rest of us are happy and doing very well. Oh, I am so happy.” She keeps on doing this until the attack is so unbearable that the man starts defending himself. Here, the counselor attacks the superego by attacking the victim attitude. She is also exaggerating the man’s superego, and hence, making it graphic how he attacks himself. In so doing, she is giving him the opportunity to defend himself in an actual situation that is clear cut and cannot easily be avoided.
The counselor can also attack both of the couple’s superegos when they are both aligned with them. For instance, if they are involved in an argument right in the session, she might observe the dynamic and when she is sure that they are both coming from their respective superegos, she might say, perhaps when they are complaining to her about their fighting, “You are so bitchy” to the wife, “and you are so damn controlling” to the husband, “so what kind of relationship do you expect!” to both of them. She is using strong language to shock them into seeing what they are doing.
On the other hand, she can show her respect and pleasure whenever one or both of them side with life, or make a positive change of attitude. She can do this quite effectively by increasing her presence and output of energy, and by showing interest in the person or the couple. If she is relatively free from her superego, then these responses will occur naturally in her; since she is oriented toward life, she becomes more present when there is life in the couple. This is a natural human response.
To work in this way, it is clear why the counselor must be relatively free from her own superego. If she is interested in being liked, if she is afraid of anger, or if she values politeness and good manners for their own sake, then she cannot do this kind of counseling. If she is on the side of life and against the tyranny of the superego, she uses whatever means are necessary to promote life and growth. She does what the situation requires, instead of listening to her superego or the superegos of the people working with her. In this way she is not only counseling, but she is also living her life fully, right in the moment, free from all forms of coercive agencies. The effectiveness of the counselor is proportional to her freedom from the influences of the superego and to her realization of life within her own body.
The same methods and techniques can be and are used in private teaching sessions and in group meetings by teachers of the Work. A teacher of the Work is not a couples counselor or a therapist, but these techniques of teaching students how to defend against the attacks of the superego in themselves and in others, are part of the overall process of doing the Work.
A child is naturally and spontaneously self-expressive. His expression is his being; i.e., he expresses what he is just by being himself. He does not try to or think about expressing himself. And as long as the love of his parents is secure, his expression stays pure, spontaneous, and self-affirming. Every gesture, every sound, and every movement expresses his beingness.
This state of affairs does not last for long, as the environment starts exerting its pressure on the child to conform to it. We have seen how the parents, as the representatives of the environment, and as the sources of needed protection and love, become coercive agencies which shape the personality and future of the growing child. The child’s expression becomes more and more directed toward them to gain their love and to avoid their displeasure. He learns that it is permissible to express certain things, and not permissible to express certain others. The parents become internalized as the superego, which determines the kind and range of expression for the growing human individual.
In the culture we live in, the expression of both aggressive and erotic tendencies is discouraged or inhibited. This is due to the influence of the Victorian era, an influence that is now going through modifications and transformations. As a reaction to the taboos of the Victorian superego, the modern growth movement has emphasized the role of the expression of feelings, mainly the aggressive and the erotic. This is the focus of encounter groups, sensitivity training, body-movement classes, and many schools of human development. This emphasis has had the effect of loosening the stifling taboos and prohibitions of the Victorian superego. Being able to express one’s feelings leads to being more in touch with oneself, more in contact with others, and more ability to deal with and enjoy one’s life. Also, the expression itself is liberating and pleasurable; it rids a person of accumulated charge, which gives the experience of relief and cleansing.
However, self-expression can be seen as the end all and be all of growth and development. When this happens, self-expression becomes a barrier to further expansion and growth. Self-expression is not necessarily synonymous with growth. Whether it is or not depends on what we mean by self. If by self we mean the true identity of the individual, then self-expression is growth-enhancing. But if by self we mean the personality, which was created under the influence of the superego (and the environment before that), then self-expression is not always positive. And since the majority of people do not really know their true identity, regardless of their furious protestations, it follows that most self-expression is fundamentally the expression of the ego, and is therefore determined by the superego. In fact, most of the time people are really expressing their egos and superegos through their gait, their posture, their words, their emotions, their work, etc. Even the inhibition of certain emotions is an expression of the superego. Most people live and die expressing their egos and superegos, and rarely does the real person get expressed.
From this we see that self-expression is not an absolute value. In terms of human development, it is valuable in only two cases: when the self expressed is the true identity, which is Essence; and when expression of the ego or superego is helpful to loosen and destroy the superego’s coercive influence on the individual. Most cases of expression of emotion in growth or therapeutic settings are of the second type. If a person has difficulty in expressing certain emotions, learning to express them breaks through the inhibitions of the superego and the person has a better chance to grow and develop.
Let’s take the example of a paranoid person who we will call “A.” The mechanism of paranoia works like this: A likes another man, who we will call “B.” A’s superego says, “How could you- he’s not the kind of person you should like.” To defend against the superego, A says to himself, “I hate B.” Now the superego says, “Bad, bad, hating is not good.” To defend himself again, A thinks, “B hates me.” The end result is a feeling of fear and a sense of persecution by B. These are the surface feelings. However, the true feeling of A is that he likes B. but because of the inhibitions of his superego, he experiences paranoia. For this person to get in touch with and express his true self, which his loving feelings toward B are an expression of, he has to go through several layers of emotion. To go beyond the fear and paranoia, he has to experience his anger and hatred. His superego inhibits him from experiencing and expressing his aggressive emotions. So, expressing his fear might help him get in touch with his anger. Then, he needs to learn that he can contact and work through his anger by expressing it. However, he does not need to keep expressing it every time he feels it. This is because the value lies not in expressing anger, but in pushing beyond it to deeper levels of experience.
Let’s suppose that he learns to express his anger. It is likely that, with his paranoid personality, he will then feel angry whenever he thinks he’s being persecuted, whether he is or not; and this might translate into anger and rebellion against all authority figures. He can express this anger forever without going deeper. Many people get stuck in this place, regardless of what the expressed emotion is. In the case of A, his anger cannot be exhausted by expression because it is really not a true emotion, but rather a defense against his tender emotions. Also, it is a transferred emotion; for very likely, if we explored the psychodynamics of A, we would find that it has its roots in hostility toward his father.
So we see that the expression of anger in this case loses its value after a while. It ceases to be growth-promoting at a certain point, and in fact, the superego can use it to defend against the deeper feelings. If A still feels threatened by his loving feelings toward B. then continuing to express his anger becomes a resistance. In other words, catharsis can become a barrier against further growth. What A needs now is to stay with his anger, neither express nor repress it, and to observe in what situations it arises. He might find out that he feels angry toward all men he likes, or toward a certain kind of man. By seeing this, he has the chance to get in touch with the feelings beneath it. On the other hand, if he expresses his anger the moment he feels it, he dissipates the charge. But if he stays with it, the emotional charge increases until the deeper feelings break through or the anger is redirected toward its true source, his father.
The person can get hooked on the pleasure of expression, but if he does, he is avoiding himself Expressing the anger is experienced as pleasurable and relieving, because it discharges the mounting tension and it also relieves the anxiety caused by the deeper feelings threatening to break through. But for the person to go further, he will have to tolerate the tension of the mounting charge as he stays with his anger. This means growing up, for only a child cannot tolerate increasing charge and cannot wait for its release. A child cannot but express his feelings as they arise. Grownups, however, can tolerate delayed gratification and tolerate the accompanying unpleasantness. So expressing emotions every time they arise is a sign of immaturity.
In our example, A at this point needs to learn to feel and express his deeper feelings. As we have seen, this can be done by tolerating the aggressive feelings and having insight into the situation, but not necessarily by expression. But is this the end? Suppose he learns to express loving feelings. This will help him be more in touch with himself, be more honest, and have more direct contact with B. But if he expresses his positive feelings every time they arise, it is possible that he isn’t deeply experiencing them and might not be able to tolerate experiencing them. So expression, at this point, can become a defense against experience. But if he some times refrains from expression and just stays with his loving feelings, then he can learn to tolerate more and more charge, which will deepen his experience of this emotional state. Also, by not expressing these emotions, he might re-experience his early feelings toward his father, thus having the chance to end transference onto all men. The possibility also then exists that the charge contained in the emotions will be expressed in actions that are useful and helpful for both A and B. instead of just being discharged in emotional or physical expression of affection.
If the person stays with his loving feelings longer, he also has the very important possibility of experiencing himself on deeper levels. Emotions are energy, and if these ordinary emotions are experienced and stayed with, they might transmute into finer and subtler forms of energy. The person then has the opportunity to experience his true identity, which is independent of all emotional states. Lois is the one who experiences the love, the anger, and the fear. In other words, he has the chance now to experience the experiences. This is a higher form of experience, which the intentional and intelligent use of non-expression of emotions can lead to.
This brings us to a very important point. The individual seeking self-realization is generally really seeking certain states of consciousness. Now seeking any particular state of consciousness, whether it is painful or ecstatic, is obviously an activity that is oriented in a certain direction; and this implies the presence of a prejudice or a coercive agency dictating this direction, whether through the promise of reward or through the threat of punishment. So, seeking any state of consciousness is really an indication of the presence and influence of the superego. As we already know, this implies the loss of objectivity or loss of contact with reality, and leads to the rigidity inherent in such seeking. Although this rigid seeking might lead to blissful and ecstatic states, it necessitates repression of all states other than those sought, and is motivated by the pleasure principle; and so is just as coercive as our childhood experience which curtailed our freedom and growth.
However, if we let go of seeking or holding onto any particular state of consciousness and concentrate our efforts on combating all inner coercive agencies, we might come upon the consciousness that contains all states of consciousness. Then we can have access to any state that we need in any situation. Or as Shah puts it: “The goal of man is Truth. Truth is more than happiness. The man who has Truth can have whatever mood he wishes or none.”
We might discover Essence, the truth and real nature of what it is to be human. Or, put in other words, we might discover how the free man who has no moods at all experiences reality; which is how reality is apprehended when there is no superego, and no inhibitions on being truly oneself. It is possible then to know Essence as one’s real nature.
We see here how any prejudice, even prejudice for sublime states of consciousness, is still limited and limiting, and falls short of reality. The following story, presented by Shah, is a good example of how prejudice, the result of fixed assumptions, precludes the perception of reality:
Time and again Nasrudin passed from Persia to Greece on donkey back. Each time he had two panniers of straw, and trudged back without them. Every time the guard searched him for contraband, they never found any.
“What are you carrying, Nasrudin?”
“I am a smuggler.”
Years later, more and more prosperous in appearance, Nasrudin moved to Egypt. One of the customs men met him there.
“Tell me, Mulla, now that you are out of the jurisdiction of Greece and Persia, living here in such luxury, what was it that you were smuggling when we could not catch you?”
Now we turn to some of the ways that self-expression is used by the ego and its coercive agency, the superego. An artist, for example, who is spontaneous in his creativity will express whatever comes out of himself. If he is neurotic, his creation will be an expression of his neurosis. While creating it, he will feel spontaneous and emotional, but this does not mean that he is expressing his true identity, his essential presence. He might spend his whole life expressing his neurosis spontaneously, and in this way is spreading disease instead of health. Modern art is replete with this kind of expression. It is mostly subjective, and expresses the ego and the demands of the superego. When art expresses the essential self, then it is objective and universal, and can assist other people in contacting their true selves. This kind of art acts as a mirror and a reminder of reality. But many modern artists place a value on subjective self-expression just because it is spontaneous and feels good. It becomes a value in itself and hence negates growth.
Another example is a man who feels and expresses loving feelings toward a woman who already is in a relationship. He feels justified in having an affair with this woman simply because he feels loving and warm toward her. He claims he is expressing his feelings and that he does not want to be withholding or controlled. In many cases, such a man is indirectly expressing hostility toward the other man through his actions. This kind of situation is common in on-going growth groups and long workshops. It is the classical Oedipal situation, but only half of it is recognized: the man recognizes that he wants the desired woman (representing his mother), but doesn’t recognize his hatred of the other man (representing his father). So when this situation occurs in supposedly love-oriented groups, the other man gets hurt indirectly, in the name of love. This serves the superego, because the would be lover keeps on expressing his hostility toward men (his father) indirectly and so keeps it out of consciousness. But if he refrains from expressing his love toward the woman, he might get in touch with his desire for his mother, as well as his hostility toward men; and then he has the chance to work through his relationship with both his mother and his father.
Hostility is also expressed in many indirect ways through the sharing of emotions: if a person keeps on saying how depressed he is, the listener is bound to become depressed also or to feel responsible. Complaining can only bring down the energy of the listener. Also, many times guilt is evoked in the listener by the person sharing in the name of truth and encounter. For example: “I don’t want to lay a trip on you, but I feel hurt by what you said. It is true that this is my reaction, but I just wanted to share it with you, so you know what’s happening with me.” This sounds clean and straight and encounter like. However, it is an indirect way of saying, “You hurt me. You should feel guilty for that.” This is the case because, in most cases, the one being talked to cannot but feel guilty. However, in some groups, this person is expected to receive this sharing as a sign of honesty, while suffering under the guilt produced by this devious attack.
Another phenomena that happens in private work as well as in some groups is a person wanting to hug the teacher or members of the group. In some cases this is a true expression. But in many cases, it is an avoidance of the feelings that the person is experiencing. Often when a person cannot tolerate certain emotional states, like anxiety or awkwardness, he opts for the physical expression of affects. In this case, there is an avoidance of self in the name of love, and the hugging is really an expression of cowardice and not of real affection.
People also express themselves as a way of getting certain human needs met, like those of approval, recognition, attention, love, caring, warmth, etc. Filling these needs is a legitimate use of self-expression and most people do it, especially in intimate relationships. But if such expression becomes habitual and compulsive, then it is an avoidance, and it can backfire. For example, if a person does not love herself (which is the normal state of humankind), she can get all the love and attention available from outside and still never feel fulfilled. If growth is what concerns us, then these human needs must be explored to their utmost depth, and this sometimes requires their non-expression.
Let’s say that the person in our example cannot be with herself and always wants to be with others. Her values, therefore, are those of friendship, contact, and sharing. But these values are really barriers against self-love for her, because she cannot tolerate being with herself. She looks outside of herself for the friendship and contact that she does not have with herself. If, however, when she feels the impulse to see a friend, she were to stay present with herself for a while, she might experience what she wants to avoid in herself. And by staying with her need for contact, she might learn to satisfy it by herself, through becoming her own friend. In fact, this is the way to realize the essential aspect related to contact. Then her contact and friendship with others becomes an expression of abundance, of her essential nature; and not of deficiency.
These days there is a popular trend toward wanting deep and loving relationships, and in most cases this arises out of a need for the love and contact that one does not experience within oneself. Love and contact with someone else is satisfying and feels good, but it is transitory. However, self-love is permanent; it lasts as long as the person exists. The need for love is really the need for self-love, and there is no contentment or final rest until it is attained. And self-love cannot be attained until the desire for love and contact is tolerated and lived with, without avoidance or distraction. Then this human need, this deep vulnerability, this burning desire, will be transmuted into its opposite. The burning coal of longing, if tolerated and accepted, can change into the shining jewels of joy and love, which are everlasting and unconditional and are two manifestations of our essential nature.
When contact with our essential nature is part of our on-going experience, then self-expression happens in living. We no longer need to express ourselves; we cannot but express ourselves just by living. We are, and our life is the expression of this Beingness. Our expressions of emotion become manifestations of the affects of our essential nature. They are appropriate responses to real situations. They are free and intelligent responses, no longer conditioned by past experience, or influenced by the superego.
We see, then, that self-expression is not an absolute value, but has value at particular points in the process of growth and the expansion of consciousness. People following any discipline or movement that values the expression of all states are bound to get stuck at one stage or another. Expression of emotions works mostly as an opener, but not necessarily as a processor. Working through the coercive influences of the superego requires more than expressing oneself, as we’re seeing, and many times it requires non-expression.
Since our interest is self-realization, self-expression is not an end in itself. Self-expression, just like any experience of the soul, is nothing but an external manifestation, and not Essence itself—what is ultimately real in man. All external manifestations of Essence are to Essence like the scent of musk is to the musk itself. As Rumi puts it:
For this substance is like a musk-pod, and this material world and its delights are like the scent of the musk. This scent of the musk is but transient, for it is mere accident. He who has sought of this scent the musk itself and has not been content with only the scent, that man is good. But he who has been satisfied to possess the scent, that man is evil; for he has grasped after a thing that does not remain in his hand. For the scent is only the attribute of the musk. So long as the musk is apparent in this world, its scent comes to the nostrils. When, however, it enters the veil and returns to the other world, all those who lived by its scent die. For the scent is attached to the musk, and departs whither the musk reveals itself.
Happy then is he who reaches the musk through the scent and becomes one with the musk. Thereafter for him remains no passing away; he has become eternal in the very essence of the musk and takes on the predicament of the musk. Thereafter, he communicates its scent to the world, and the world is revived by him.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FOOTNOTES
1. Trungpa, Chogyam, Cutting Through Spiritual Material ism, Berkeley, Shambhala publications, p. 208.
2. Eliade, Mirca, Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, New York, Bollingen Foundation, Inc., p. 4.
3. Shah, Idries, Caravan of Dreams, Baltimore, Penguin Books. Inc., p. 201.
4. Reich, Wilhelm, Character Analysis, New York, Simon and Schuster.
5. Rolf, Ida P., Rolfing, Santa Monica, Dennis Landman publishers.
6. Hoffman, Bob, Getting Divorced from Mother and Dad, New York, E.P. Dutton R. Co., Inc., p. 17.
7. Freud, Sigmund, Collected Papers, Vol. 4, New York, Basic Books, Inc., p. 4.
8. Ibid, p. 98
9. Freud, Anna, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, New York, International University Press, p.
10. Freud, Sigmund, The Ego and the Id, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 18.
11. Freud. Anna, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, p.54.
12. Freud, Sigmund, The Problem of Anxiety, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p.34.
13. Freud, Sigmund, The Question of Lay Analysis, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p.29.
14. Reich, Wilhelm, Character Analysis, p. 157.
15. Ibid, p. 157
16. Freud, Sigmund, The Problem of Anxiety, p. 82.
17. Shah, Idries, Caravan of Dreams, p. 198.
18. Lowen, Alexander, The Betraval of the Body, London, Collier McMillan Limited, p.204.
19. Shah, Idries, Caravan of Dreams, p. 197.
20. Ibid, p. 158.
21. Shah, Idries, Thinkers of the East, Baltimore, Penguin Books, Inc., p. 15.
22. Freud, Sigmund, Therapy and Technique, New York, Collier Books, p. 105.
23. Ibid, p. 167.
24. Freud, Sigmund, Collected Papers, Vol.5, New York, Basic Books, Inc., p. 131.
25. This perspective about defending against the superego comes from the work of Henry Korman. Personal communication.
26. Shah, Idries, Thinkers of the East, p. 66.
27. Shah, Idries, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., p. 6.
28. Arberry, A.J., Discourses of Rumi, New York, Samuel Weiser, Inc., p. 70.