Soul Work: Picking Up the Pieces of My Whole Self, with Love
Here is a deceptively simple phrase: “my whole self”! We often feel like we know all of ourselves, yet there’s more to each of us than we suspect.
Human beings have a strong bias toward assuming that “my whole self” is that part of myself of which I’m conscious. Yet the reality is that the whole of myself is a much vaster thing. For each of us there is a very great part of ourselves of which we’re unaware—unconscious. This unconscious includes, but is not limited to:
- traumatic material from which our conscious mind has become dissociated;
- memories which we have forgotten;
- memories which have been repressed because their contents are unacceptable or threatening to the ego;
- memories or feelings which are not socially acceptable , and would be socially condemned;
- feeling toned complexes which tend to lie dormant in the unconscious until some stimulus triggers them, and we react—perhaps strongly—to them;
- the contents of the collective unconscious, which consists of the archetypes and related materials, which we and the whole of the human race share; and,
- a range of other things!
What this means for our personal journey to wholeness is well summarized by prominent Jungian analyst Murray Stein:
“We leave parts of our self out of consciousness in order to adapt to social conditions and to find a place in our surrounding social context. Then at a later stage of life we have to go back and retrieve what has been left out or what has not been accessible so far. We have to bring ourselves along toward psychological wholeness, making the self as conscious as possible. [italics mine] Ultimately the symbol of maximum achieved potential is the mandala, the circle.”
Murray Stein, Four Pillars of Jungian Psychoanalysis
Being Kind to Our Adaptive Self
You might find that you’re realizing just how much of the whole of who you are has been left out of the picture by your conscious ego. Please be aware that you’re in good company. We all do it!
Please also approach your conscious ego with kindness. It’s true that you may have left a lot of things behind on the journey to where you find yourself in your life. Yet, it may be important to remember in a compassionate way just how much your ego has had to deal with, to bring you to this point! As Stein reminds us, C.G.Jung referred to our journey through the first half of life as “the hero journey”. Particularly when we’re thinking about our youngest selves, it’s important to remember that many of us have had to heroically overcome a range of threats and challenges in young life to survive and stay sane.
One author who recognized this without flinching was the Swiss case studies Alice Miller. She frequently powerfully reminds us that childhood experience is often no paradise or bed of roses. As she tells us,
“The more we idealize the past and refuse to acknowledge our childhood sufferings, the more we pass them on unconsciously to the next generation.“
That’s a sobering thought. Jung says very much the same thing about our “unlived life”.
Being Kind to Our Shadow and Undiscovered Self
In addition, there are elements of my whole self that manifest in different ways. We may also need to be kind or compassionate to them in very different ways.
For instance, Jung defined the shadow as “that which we do not wish to be”. This specifically pertains to the parts of ourselves that the ego wishes weren’t part of us. We may experience guilt, shame or revulsion when these parts start to rise up in our conscious minds, or when we experience them in dreams, or in other ways. Yet it can be very important for our personal journey to acknowledge these parts with compassion. Sometimes this acknowledgement can bring remarkable gifts. As Rilke writes,
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.
If we can find a way to acknowledge and welcome the unacceptable parts of ourselves, we may find that aspects of ourselves that we never even imagined were there start to appear.
My Whole Self: Ongoing Work of a Lifetime
What are the parts of you, waiting in the wings, looking for their cue to come onstage? What parts of your early life need to be met with a great deal of compassion for yourself? What parts of yourself come towards you, bearing great psychic energy, and needing to be met with openness and curiosity? As Jung told us when he discussed “the Undiscovered Self”, there are always more aspects of us that are waiting to to come into consciousness.
Often we have a vital need to bring certain aspects of our psyche into our awareness. This is true in many life situations. The individual who continually sabotages him- or herself, or is locked into cycles of self condemnation, or that grapples with chronic imposter syndrome—such folks need a greater experience of who they are. The individual in the midst of a major life transition, perhaps at midlife, or later life is probably also struggling to find a deeper or fuller understanding of who they are. In many and varied situations, my real need, what I’m really searching for, is greater experience of “my whole self”.
The experience of Jungian /a-midlife-transition, with a supportive and empathetic analyst can often be a highly effective way to gain a greater experience of the whole Self. It can also be an experience that genuinely heightens the compassion and respect we have for our true selves, and our own real lives
Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,
© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)