November 01, 2005

We are all wounded

Integral psychotherapy, Brant Cortright
Consciousness and Its Transformation, Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001), SAICE
In some ways I think of Sri Aurobindo as the greatest psychologist the world has ever known, for he penetrated the mystery of human consciousness more deeply than any other person I am aware of. In so doing he has laid out some exciting discoveries for psychology that only now are we in a position to appreciate. When we bring psychology and depth psychotherapy into these teachings, we have integral psychology and integral psychotherapy.
One of the most important discoveries that depth psychology has made about the vital self is the universality of emotional wounding. To take a human incarnation on this earth is to be emotionally hurt and scarred growing up. We are all wounded. And the human psyche protects itself by developing defences against this emotional pain. In our family of origin there are failures to attune to the emotional state of the infant and young child, there are accidents, there are traumas, there is inevitable emotional pain growing up. The child internalizes the parental prohibitions and develops a coping strategy that pleases the family system, but in so doing adopts a false self that is estranged from the authentic self that lies buried within. Large portions of the self become unconscious, large areas of feeling and impulse become unconscious, and we dissociate from the body when we repress feelings, so areas of our physical being also fade out of consciousness.
As psychology learned more about the ubiquity of wounding, now we have psychotic, borderline, and normal neurotic. Neurosis is the norm. A few per cent of the population is psychotic or borderline, and 90-95% of the population is neurotic. Though neurosis is often seen in a negative way, it is actually a very positive thing, a significant developmental achievement. With neurosis we get to a much better way of functioning in the world. In neurosis we have a fairly stable sense of self that has good and bad aspects to it. We also have the capacity to operate from the reality principle, which is to be able to delay gratification in the present for the sake of greater reward in the future, to discipline ourselves, to set our sights on a goal and work to achieve it. Neurosis allows us to operate at quite a high level of functioning.
However, as you are all aware, neurosis also has some major drawbacks. Neurosis is a contracted state of defensive functioning. In neurosis we lose awareness of many of our feelings and impulses, large portions of the self become unconscious, there are deficits in the structure of the self, we lose awareness of significant parts of our physical existence, we become tied to repetitive patterns in our relationships, and the self’s natural growth process is blocked.
Spiritual practice can become a new form of repression when we take spiritual ideals and try to enforce them on our self. There are many people who are drawn to spirituality with the hope they can just transcend their psychological issues and use spiritual practice as a way to avoid their psychological work. But what happens of course is that we all take our psychological baggage with us. It’s hard to get around our psychology. We go beyond by going through.
Neurosis is avoidance, an escape from reality, a defence against what is. All of us have this split within us, one part that seeks reality, truth, while the other part is an escapist, trying to avoid reality with our defences and unconscious blocking. Until we resolve this split within ourselves psychologically, we will carry it into everything we do. Since spiritual work will not dismantle our psychological defences, unless we have some way of working psychologically with this it can easily undermine our practice.

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