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Freud’s Reality Principle (German: Realitätsprinzip) – Is that all there is?

Hanging man artwork, in Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In Sigmund Freud‘s personality theory, the reality principle is a learned psychological function that seeks to gratify instinctual desires (id) through adaptation to the external world.

The reality principle exists in a state of tension with the innate pleasure principle. The instinctual id always wants instant gratification. The rest of the psyche (ego, superego) limits and directs the id so that its incessant demands are appropriately expressed, both personally and socially.¹

That is Freud’s theory of normality. Sadly, however, we often we hear in the news instances – and lawsuits – where the id reigns supreme by eclipsing or habitually overshadowing the rest of the psyche. And if an imbalanced person happens to have power over others, say in the workplace, sometimes they can get away with abusive behavior and, perhaps, other crimes for quite some time before victims come forward.

I have great respect for Freud as a true pioneer in trying to systematize the psyche. However, my main critique of Freud’s view has to do with his understanding of external “reality.” For Freud, external reality is limited to the material and the social. Freud was openly hostile to religion and religious ideas. This hostility put him at odds with his star pupil, Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology also became a leading force, especially among writers, artists and depth psychologists interested in more than just sex, aggression, secular life (Freud’s eros) and death (thanatos).

¹ I took a memorable first-year humanities course at York University directed by a Freudian analyst, Dr. Don Carveth. Although soaking up the professor’s wise words as far back as the early 80s, I remember the general theory very well. Reading Kendra Cherry’s excellent summary also helped to flesh out this short entry » https://www.verywell.com/what-is-the-reality-principle-2795801, as did Charles Rycroft’s clear and concise » https://www.amazon.com/Critical-Dictionary-Psychoanalysis-Penguin-Reference/dp/0140513108


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Regression – Childish vs. Contemplative

coloring time

Jenn Vargas – coloring time via Flickr

In Freudian psychoanalytic theory regression is a defense mechanism in which the ego partially or fully revisits an earlier phase of libidinal¹ development.

This process is generally viewed as a backward step, one brought on by unresolved anxiety that challenges ‘normal’ functioning. It is also maladaptive because the person re-experiences anxiety clustered around an infantile stage of psychological development. In very real sense, one becomes fixated at an earlier developmental stage and aspects of the world are interpreted though the lens of an anxious child.

Not surprisingly, regression can contribute to negative personality characteristics. In the extreme, we get the paranoid, the grandiose, the manipulator, the pathological liar, or some combination thereof.

That’s the down side of regression.

However, consciously chosen regression – for example, creative play, reading childhood books or listening to old records – need not be maladaptive. Returning to earlier pastimes and pleasures in a controlled way can be therapeutic. It helps to integrate the total personality and possibly leads to increased awareness, experience and wisdom.

As a personal example, one of my favorite controlled regressions is listening to music from different periods of my childhood and young teen years. When I listen to my old favorites now, it’s almost like I psychologically ‘travel’ and connect with aspects of my former self. This can lead to an increased appreciation of where I was at within a given era. But this isn’t something I do on a regular schedule. For me, the right time to revisit and reflect simply arises, and discerning that time is more an art than a science. And when the time isn’t right, old tunes just sound like old tunes… stale, small and uninspiring.²

Hanging man artwork, in Husova street, central Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In a nutshell, the main difference between healthy and unhealthy regression depends on whether one

  • consciously participates in opportunities to remember, feel and reflect

or

  • unconsciously plays out old neuroses, over and over like a broken record

I touched on this in a piece influenced by the late, great sociologist Max Weber, “Childish or Childlike?

But not all childish people are necessarily fixated to something from early childhood. This is just a theory. Some believers in reincarnation, for instance, believe that we can be fixated to trauma occurring in past lives. On the other hand, geneticists would probably say that some people are simply born sensitive or anxious, and their anxiety and the resulting distortion of ‘reality’ has little or nothing to do with early childhood or past lives. Meanwhile, philosophers ask “what is reality?”

My point is that we should consider various perspectives but never get caught up in a single one, because that’s a kind of fixation too.

¹ Libido commonly refers to sexual energy or the supposed “sex drive” but for Sigmund Freud and his followers, the meaning is far more nuanced. See

See also

² Or as The Bard put it, “stale, flat and unprofitable.”


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Reductio ad absurdum – An old school way of saying “take the flipside” or “take it to the limit”

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Reductio ad absurdum [Latin: “reduce to the absurd”] is a method of argumentation said to

  • prove a statement to be true by demonstrating the contradiction, absurdity and therefore impossibility that would result if it were untrue

or

  • prove a statement to be false by taking its assertions and implications to their logical endpoint

Example for the first type of reductio ad absurdum

English: Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and ...

Queen Christina of Sweden (left) and René Descartes (right). Detail from René Descartes i samtal med Sveriges drottning, Kristina. Pierre Louis Dumesnil. Museo nacional de Versailles. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Consider the French philosopher René Descartes famous line, I think, therefore I am.

And its falsification: I think, therefore I am not.

Here one can ask: If a person thinks that she or he does not exist, who is doing the thinking?

By falsifying the original statement, the ensuing absurdity apparently proves the original statement to be true.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung uses a form of reductio ad absurdum to try to refute the Buddhist notion of no-self; that is, the Buddhist idea that individuality is an illusion. Jung asks: Who experiences the bliss of Nirvana if no self is present to experience it?

This might seem clever and amusing but Buddhists could reply that the center of consciousness merely shifts from illusory individualism to actual totality.¹

Example for the second type of reductio ad absurdum

Crime Time

Crime Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider the argument, sometimes heard today, that it’s okay to do crime because everyone is a sinner and the whole world is corrupt.

If one takes that to its logical conclusion we get:

It’s not okay to do crime because if the whole world didn’t resist sin, corruption and crime we’d have violent, lawless chaos.

¹ This stance is not accepted by those who believe that individual souls have a relationship with the godhead.

Related » Anatman, Theism


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Reaction Formation – A neurotic response to fear

Freud Quiere Bailar + OU

Freud Quiere Bailar + OU. Póster del concert a Sidecar. 31, Gener, 2008 by Wookie Sidecar via Flickr

In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which a repressed, socially unacceptable impulse is expressed in an exaggerated, opposite way. The original impulse, perceived as bad or anxiety producing, remains unresolved in its unconscious, infantile form. This feeds the flames of a neuroses.

An example of a reaction formation would be the LGBT hater who represses his or her own LGBT fantasies. Another would be the disordered criminal who denigrates the so-called “mentally ill.”

Reaction formation isn’t always a lifelong sentence. With increased personal maturity it may lead to the successful sublimation of the original, fearful impulse. Sublimation, according to Freudian theory, means redirecting something negative into a socially acceptable channel.¹

A socially acceptable response to a fearful impulse would be, for instance, the mother who sublimates sexual desire for her son into buying him fine clothing.

English: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Wikipedia)

However, some maintain that this is not the best solution. Different thinkers each have unique solutions. But generally, they say that the optimal solution is to resolve socially unacceptable impulses through analysis, prayer or other spiritual techniques for purification. In other words, become conscious of the impulse to transcend it.

Other theorists say it’s impossible to eradicate sexual desires, appropriate or not. At best one can just “put them in the right place,” within the psyche. But this essentially medical, psychiatric view is at odds with accounts from saints like Faustina Kowalska who wrote about the divine gift of celibacy

Reaction formation has also been discussed in the context of hostage taking and other oppressive situations like the holocaust. Here the victim actually comes to like or even love their oppressor.³ This seems to be a desperate attempt to make good of a lousy situation where one or more creeps exercise physical, economic or cultic power over a victim who, deep down, really doesn’t like it.4

¹ Wikipedia says this is an unconscious process but it need not be. Many people are aware, for instance, that they redirect their anger and frustration into something positive, like housecleaning or other undesirable tasks. One “attacks” the problem.

² See also http://www.religious-vocation.com

³  The concept of reaction formation has been used to explain responses to external threats as well as internal anxieties. In the phenomenon described as Stockholm Syndrome, a hostage or kidnap victim ‘falls in love’ with the feared and hated person who has complete power over them. Similarly paradoxical reports exist of powerless and vulnerable inmates of Nazi camps creating ‘favourites’ among the guards and even collecting objects discarded by them. >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaction_formation

In a less extreme sense, one could ask how many wives, husbands and priests would continue in their “loving” relationship or vocation if it didn’t bring economic security. That might sound cynical but I think, in some cases, it’s a realistic question.

Related  » Reversal

References

  • Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 136-137.


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The idea of the Self

Sophie – Who Am I?

The human self, being the basis of personal identity, has been variously understood.

Some theorists say the self is the agency that says “I.” According to this view, the self is the conceptual, reflective part of ourselves that apparently remains unchanged from the first instance when, to as long as a person can think about, the idea of “I.”

In most developmental psychological systems, this is the ego, not to be confused with egotism or egoism. Theorists subscribing to this view may or may also believe in a transcendental, unchanging core to selfhood.

Alternately, some suggest that individuals possess multiple selves. Here the self is viewed as “the personality or organization of traits.”¹ In the wider arena of psychological and New Age theory, the idea of multiple selves may or may not involve the belief in an eternal, unchanging aspect (or aspects) of the self.

The Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing spoke of a true and false self in his book The Divided Self. As reported by some of his so-called “schizoid” patients, the true self is “deeper” than the false self.²

Jasinthan Yoganathan Who am I ? “One of the best questions i have asked myself!”

From the standpoint of Western Philosophy, the question of self belongs to ontology (the study of being) and phenomenology (the study of experience). However, ontology and phenomenology are arguably influenced by cosmology (theories about the character of the universe) and ethics (questions about right and wrong). Sadly, some thinkers fail to integrate these different branches, offering at best partial theories about the self (which in the wrong hands can probably do more harm than good).

Sigmund Freud‘s theory about the self is limited to two main factors—nature (instinctual drives of sex, aggression, love and death) and society (parents, significant others and social institutions). Freud viewed God and notions of an afterlife as illusions created to satisfy unconscious psychological desires and wishes. And this limiting worldview had a significant impact on his outlook.

Freud’s brightest student, Carl Jung, advanced psychoanalytic theory by suggesting the possibility of archetypal aspects of the self. Archetypes in Jungian theory are often misunderstood. While they do have a transcendental component, according to Jung they are also grounded in the body. So archetypes represent aspects of the self believed to exist beyond and yet inherent to the body. Through their representation in activities like dreaming, art and architecture, they manifest in the mundane world as archetypal images.³ For Jung, even the self is an archetype—an archetype of wholeness.

Víctor Nuño Indifference or hope | Indiferencia o esperanza “Is it so easy to distinguish one from the other? Where’s the limit between them?”

In many interpretations of Biblical Christianity the true, essential self is not of this world but created to enjoy an otherworldly, everlasting heaven:

If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Matthew 16:24-25).

For Hindus, those in agreement with the philosopher/sage Sankara tend understand the true self (atman) as identical with an invisible, underlying aspect of creation (brahman). Once liberated, the self loses all sense of individuality.

But Hinduism isn’t quite that simple. Ramanuja‘s school of Visistadvaita presents another Hindu perspective where the true self is said to ultimately retain some sense of individuality, even as it finally comes to rest for all eternity in the godhead.

Most schools of Buddhism claim that there is no self. For Buddhists, the whole concept of individuality is just an illusion that we apparently must overcome en route to enlightenment. This includes the notion of the conceptual “I” and, perhaps, more radically, the idea of an eternal or everlasting self. For Buddhists, both are illusory.

A branch of New Age believers say we have numerous slightly different selves coexisting in parallel or multiple universes, all unified by an “oversoul” existing above, beyond and yet within those multiple realities. A good example of this point of view can be found in the Seth Books by Jane Roberts.

William III painted in the 1690s by Godfried Schalcken via Wikipedia

In a witty and regal vein, King William III (William of Orange) was among those who have pondered the nature of the self.

As I walk’d by my self
And talk’d to my self,
My self said unto me,
Look to thy self,
Take care of thy self,
For nobody cares for Thee.
I answered my self,
And said to my self,
In the self-same Repartee,
Look to thy self
Or not look to thy self,
The self-same thing will be.

¹ J. P. Chaplin, Dictionary of Psychology, Bantam 1985, p. 414.

² See R. D. Laing, The Divided Self.

³ Some may not see dreams as part of the mundane world. But when we remember them, they become part of our daytime reality.

Related » Alchemy, Anatman, Atman, William Blake, Collective Unconscious, Conscience, Defense Mechanism, Karma Transfer, Maya, Numinous, Persona, Pollution, Postmodernism, Third Eye


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The Shadow

Keira Knightley at the presser for A Dangerous Method, a movie that explores the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud at TiFF in Toronto. September 10, 2011

In the psychology of C. G. Jung, the shadow is the unconscious, evil side of human nature.

The shadow apparently is one of the first aspects of the unconscious psyche encountered in Jungian analysis.

Jung says its positive side is expressed through creativity and humor. According to this view, the representation of the shadow’s darkness in non-violent, socially acceptable channels (e.g. art, music, literature, photography or controlled “acting out”) facilitates mastering it. Otherwise, the shadow could conceivably control the ego.

Marina del Castell Shadow puppetry

If merely repressed, Jung says the shadow might find an opening through the cracks of the psyche and momentarily express itself in disturbing ways. This view depends on a model of the psyche where psychic energy is always seeking expression. If overly contained, psychic energy might boil over and “flip its lid” like a covered pot on a stove with no steam vents.

This might account for the cruel actions toward children by Sister Francesca at the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa.

Another version of the shadow appears as a comic strip, pop culture figure, “Only the shadow knows…” And more recently, the science fiction TV program, Lexx, features His Divine Shadow as the archdeacon of darkness.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jung and other figures like Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell argued that the shadow carries or evokes some degree of numinosity. So if we go to a movie and become fascinated say, with the Joker (Batman) or Darth Vader (Star Wars), we’re almost having a kind of “religious” experience in that we’re going beyond our everyday consciousness into something different and captivating.

Debates continue in religion, the humanities and social sciences as to whether this kind of practice is a healthy venting (or possibly redirection) of unavoidable negative impulses or something that simply fans the flames of evil.

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Related » Archetype, Darth Vader, Demons, Dracula, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Self, Steppenwolf, Trickster, Vampires, Witch, Yoni

 


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Shamanism

Tuwinische Schamanin, Ai-Churek (Moon Heart, gestorben 22.11.2010) während einer Zeremonie am Feuer bei Kyzyl, Tuva, Russland – Dr. Andreas Hugentobler via Wikipedia

Shamanism is the practice and anthropological study of the shaman.

Some say the word shamanism is an academic construct and an umbrella term applying to a wide range of phenomena. And different people do, in fact, use the term for distinct ideas and purposes.

For example, in her forward to Shamanism, Jean Houston hopes that

[the book’s] scope and depth…will cause us to rethink our tendency to label and pathologize that which may be one of the most valuable and courageous forms of our human condition.¹

Michael Harner, at the time of the last update to this entry in 2009, emphasized the healing and creative aspects of shamanism, but didn’t always. In the 1970’s Harner defined the shaman as

A man or woman who is in direct contact with the spirit world through a trance state and has one or more spirits at his command to carry out his bidding for good or evil.²

These days, Harner seems more ambitious. At his website he now seems to be in the same league as a leading Hindu yogi and Japanese scholar:

What Yogananda did for Hinduism and D.T. Suzuki did for Zen, Michael Harner has done for shamanism, namely bring the tradition and its richness to Western awareness.³

The late Terrence McKenna said that shamanic cosmologies surpass current scientific models which, like any hegemonic idea, dogmatically influence our culture and outlook.

An excerpt from Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna - originally uploaded by oceandesetoiles

An excerpt from Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna – originally uploaded by oceandesetoiles

However, the word shamanism, extends beyond the realm of academia, self-promotion and New Age book publishing.

Jim Morrison from the The Doors was interested in shamanism, at times envisioning himself as a kind of flower power shaman. The Doors wrote successful songs like “Shaman’s Blues,” “Break on Through” and “Celebration of the Lizard” that evoked shamanic ideas.

Artists like Norval Morrisseau use the words “shaman artist” to describe themselves and promote their work. And graphic artist Heidi Reyes puts an interesting twist on the idea of shamanism with her work “Me at The Shamanism Centre.” Her artwork seems to imply that shamanism can exist in virtual reality without being grounded in any specific earthly location.

Heidi Reyes Me at The Shamanism Centre

Like some magicians and pagans, a few enthusiasts of Shamanism seem unduly impressed by alleged miracles. One student of Shamanism once told me with amazement about a Shaman who (apparently) can create butterflies out of nothing. Big deal, I thought. The whole idea of spirituality is to try to do God’s will, not to amaze and befuddle with paranormal tricks.

But I guess this critique could be leveled against adherents in most paths who fanatically seek the magical or miraculous as a kind of compensation for unresolved psychological complexes. It’s easier to see oneself – or exalt others – as “special,” “unique” and “gifted” in place of dealing with unresolved psychological pain.

"Hamatsa emerging from the woods--Koskimo...

“Hamatsa emerging from the woods–Koskimo” “Hamatsa shaman, three-quarter length portrait, seated on ground in front of tree, facing front, possessed by supernatural power after having spent several days in the woods as part of an initiation ritual.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Shirley Nicholson ed., Shamanism, Wheaton, Il.: A Quest Book, 1988, p. xiii.

² Michael Harner, Hallicinogens and Shamanism, 1973, cited in Michael C. Howard, Contemporary Cultural Anthropology, 2nd ed., Toronto: Little, Brown and Co. , 1986, p. 448.

³ http://www.shamanism.org/fssinfo/harnerbio.html

Related » Animism, Controlled Dreaming, Mircea Eliade, Evil, Fasting, Soul Loss, Spiritual Attack, Witch