Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Three Selves

This blog entry is about an idea I call the Three Selves. In the constant conflict of the psyche, Carl Jung said that we must make the conflict conscious, otherwise it will be forced to impress itself upon us through our external world. It seems also that he believed that this conflict will not disappear when one illuminates the conflict within but will be seen as the conflict within. A conflict that I see clearly is between three ideas of what we view as our self.
The first self, is the self as we want it to be. This is the self that plagues us, it is the self that we have pieced together through our projections on other people. It is the idealized self, the self constructed both through our parental internalized messages, through the societal messages that are sometimes universal archetypes, and sometimes culturally specific, and through our personal social cues regarding our specific circumstances of growing up. This is our source of striving, of self criticism, and is the sense that our very experience is in some way deficient, inadequate, and uncompleted.
The second self, is the self we fear we are. This an aspect of what Jung called the Shadow, though what I refer to here is not just the unconscious negativity, but the things we have learned to abhor, the things we fear. In essence, the opposite of the idealized self.
The third self, is the self as it is. In this natural self, there is a lack of substance which could be mistaken for simple lack, as the self as it is, is in constant motion and lacks at times the coherence that we associate with the idealized self. As Jung pointed out, every person is looking for a sense of value intrinsic to their nature, and not derived from the outside. Without it, they will continue to project their sense of lack onto the other. In the natural self, is the only experience possible, the only numinous experience, the only experience of value. And yet the conflict between the three selves must be brought to light. The creation of the three selves as a conflict can only be the individual's search for value within their intrinsic existence, and the mistaken belief that this value will come from an external source.
No person is exempt from the trappings of the idealized self. This is the self which our parents and society, for the various reasons that exist, was attempted to be created within us. An interesting point, though not the subject of this post, is each individual's interpretation of that idealized self. Each is of course different, and so creates the conflict between individuals.
Much of the idealized self is unconscious for most people, as they will not be confronted with the loss of it. For instance, an aspect of the idealized self is a functional self, which in society maintains consistency and blends prettily with the others. For those of us who were confronted with the lack of this, such as myself who had a mother with mental illness, we became slightly if at all more conscious of this as an aspect of conflict.
For myself, I was very affected as a child by the media, and the idealized self images that were a part of the message of this media. For instance, I found the image of the seductress to be a part of my idealized self, in a very strong way. This was a result most likely of the combination of messages I received as a child growing up. My value I believed (and still tend to believe) was inextricably linked to my ability to seduce and hold the attention of the people around me. Without this, I became invisible, even to myself.
Interestingly, much of my experience of growing up was feeling invisible to a family that was perhaps too preoccupied with their own issues to look and see someone outside of themselves. This, and seeing the same tendency in others to magnify that which was missing in their childhood and possibly adult experience, leads me to believe that the pattern is somewhat like this: The individual seeks to understand success in personhood through their own sense of lack or failure. The achieving of success of personhood would then be illusioned to come from the attainment of characteristics which matched the idealized self. But this is an impossible goal, for an idealized self requires an experience of self from the outside. Which is not an experience of self at all. This could be said to be the origin of the conflict of the three selves. For then, the idealized self is constantly met with the self as it is.
And what of the self we fear we are? The self we fear to see? The truth of the three selves, is that they are all who we are. The self we fear we are, is the self that we see that opposes the idealized self. Within this view then there is no reason to fear the idealized self or its opposite, as they are like two children tumbling on the playground. They will fight each other until the end of time. And behind them lies the actual self, which includes both our fears and accomplishments. Interestingly, from this point of view, accomplishments are equally unimportant, but what is important, is the intrinsic value we place on ourselves as we are, and the way that our conflict displays itself to our consciousness.

1 comment:

John said...

can you read the material on your site? you may have something worth reading, but the black background and your text do not have enough contrast to be easily read.