Thursday, September 20, 2007


In our class last session, we read and discussed The Odyssey. It quickly became apparent that Odysseus struggle to return home may be a quintessential masculine psychological and developmental story, but it didn’t resonate with the women in the class. And Penelope’s passive role as the long-suffering and take-a-perennial-backseat wife didn’t resonate either.

I want us to entertain in this course, Empowerment of Feminine Values, this question: Is it the case that ego consciousness for both women and men has been overlaid with patriarchal, hierarchical structures to such an extent that feminine values are neither recognized nor lived in modern cultures?

Another way to ask the question is with an image. Image our emerging consciousness as a very large balloon. Now imagine that balloon being inflated inside some kind of structure--large, small, rectangular, circular, but a definite bounded structure. That balloon will take on the shape, volume, and size of its limited environment. Now imagine yourself confined inside that balloon. What will its interior feel like? Is it possible to imagine anything outside the balloon? What happens when you hear things emanating from beyond the balloon skin?

Now step outside the balloon and take a look. Imagine there are many structures with many inflated balloons in your sight. Imagine there are even connections between the balloons so that travel through them and outside them is possible. Imagine getting stuck in one balloon temporarily, that you are unable to find the door to escape.

When ego consciousness is confined to one ‘balloon,’ as it were, we say that it is an ego identified with its consciousness. With the ability to step outside and examine several or many ‘balloons,’ we are talking about an ego that is disidentified, an, ego that is free to travel, more or less, between and through various states of consciousness. The ‘one-balloon’ state can lead to an ego consciousness that finds life boring and sterile: There is nothing new under the sun. I am the way I am, and the world is the way it is; I can’t do anything about it.

On the other hand, an ego that has the ability to entertain various states of consciousness is much freer. Such an ego may be capable of changing itself and the world it finds itself in.

However, like Chinese boxes, there may be balloons around balloons around balloons. Let’s remember that in our analogy, balloons not only limit, they protect. Sometimes that protection is a very necessary thing. We might label that protection psychological defense mechanisms, for example. There are, however, healthy defense mechanisms and not-so-healthy ones.

This little text, Descent to the Goddess, is a challenge to a common psychological state. Let’s call it the good-mother complex. The angry, devouring, haggish, and powerful mother figure is a frightening reality for many of us, and we will go to great lengths to avoid her, even so far as to deny her very existence. Women and men are acculturated to demur to the negative mother but not to respect her. The energies bound up in this very real but largely unconscious archetypal figure can emerge in insidious and often damaging ways. Perhaps they emerge in men as flight over fight and in women as self-destructive tendencies. Men simply will not engage with angry women. And women have few healthy outlets for justifiable outrage, and hence tend to internalize it.

If our primary symbol for this dual-natured mother archetype is Mother Earth, we can readily understand the outrage she is expressing at the ways she has been treated. Fortunately, our species is starting to listen up.

As we read and discuss this text and our topic over the next several weeks, let's pay attention to our dreams, to synchronistic experiences, to the 'balloons' of our lives. Perhaps in doing so we can enter into the realm of the Great Mother and give her more authentic expression in our lives.

Here are some other texts that are relevant to our topic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The following extensive quotation is an excellent discussion of complexes, both from a theological and psychological perspective. In another section of this paper, Doran expresses significant disagreement with Jung over issues Jung raised in Answer to Job. The entire article, while difficult, is worth the effort. I selected this excerpt to add to our understanding of a basic Jungian concept—the autonomy and power of complexes.

From: J. Marvin Spiegelman (ed.), Catholicism and Jungian Psychology, Phoenix, AZ: Falcon Press, 1988.

“Jung and Catholic Theology,” by Robert M. Doran, pp. 55-59.

B. Complexes

The relation between the intentional spirit and the sensitive psyche, however, is a reciprocal one. If our intentional operations have a constitutive influence on the quality of our psychic life, it is also the case that the quality of our psychic life has a great deal to do with the ease and alacrity with which intentional operations are performed. There is, if you want, an affective self-transcendence that accompanies the spiritual self-transcendence of our operations of knowing, deciding, and loving, and that is strengthened by the authentic performance of these operations. But this affective self-transcendence is also a prerequisite if the sustained fidelity to the performance of these operations is to mark one’s entire way of life. And as we know all too well, the movement of sensitive consciousness can interfere with the performance of intentional operations. There can be felt resistance to insight, manifest in the repressive exercise of the censorship; there can be a flight from understanding, a desire not to judge, a resistance to decision, a habitual lovelessness. There can be other desires and fears that affect to a greater or lesser extent the integrity of our operations at the different levels of intentional consciousness. There may be required a healing of the psychic blockages to authentic operations before the sustained performance of intentional operations in their normative pattern of inquiry and understanding, reflection and judgment, deliberation and decision can characterize our lives. Intentionality analysis may very well provide the key to what constitute authentic psychotherapy; but it remains that such therapy may have to occur before one’s intentionality can be, not analyzed, but implemented in one’s own world and concomitant self-constitution.

Such therapy would be a matter of freeing the psychic energy bound up in what Jung called negative complexes, so that this energy is free to cooperate rather than interfere with the operations through which direction is to be found in the movement of life. Jung described a complex as “the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated emotionally and is, moreover, incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness. This image has a powerful inner coherence, it has its own wholeness and, in addition, a relatively high degree of autonomy, so that it is subject to the control of the conscious mind to only a limited extent, and therefore behaves like an animated foreign body in the sphere of consciousness.”21 But in the same paper Jung distinguished a negative from a purposeful aspect of complexes. Complexes usually function as compositions of inferior sensibility, but their negative traits can be transformed if the ego assumes toward them the proper attitude. The key to the proper attitude is to regard the complex not only as a symptom but also as a symbol. The symptom points backward to causation, the symbol forward to the reorientation and balancing of conscious attitudes. Complexes are the structural units of the psyche as a whole. Each unit is constellated around a nuclear element, a focus of energy and content, value and meaning. These constitutive units of the psyche enjoy a relative independence from one another and from the conscious ego. Even the ego is a complex of energies and representations bearing on the familiar, everyday tasks, functions, and capacities of the individual. The healthy psyche is one in which the ego remains in contact with other complexes, preserving them from the dissociation from conscious awareness that grants them a second authority that thwarts the aims and objectives of the ego. And the key to this contact is to adopt a symbolic approach to the complex. As we have just emphasized, what Freud would explain causally in terms of dissociation or displacement Jung will retrieve by symbolic association. The retrieval is not a denial of the causal approach, but a sublation of it into a viewpoint that balances Freudian archeology with a teleological approach. And, we have argued, the finality of the psyche can be disengaged with greater precision if one views it as a tendency to participate in the ever higher organizations constituted by authentic intentional operations.

The structure of consciousness disengaged by Lonergan provides a helpful framework for the incorporation of the complex theory into a contemporary Catholic theology. The levels of intentional consciousness constitute what Lonergan calls a creative vector in consciousness. It moves, as it were, from below upwards. “there is development from below upwards, from experience to growing understanding, from growing understanding to balanced judgment, from balanced judgment to fruitful courses of action, and from fruitful courses of action to the new situations that call forth further understanding, profounder judgment, richer courses of action.”22 To the extent that one’s consciousness proceeds smoothly and uninterruptedly from experience to insight, from insight to judgment, from judgment to decision from decision to new experiences, insights, judgments, decisions, one is effecting a series of cumulative and progressive changes in the world and in oneself. Moreover, each successive level entails a further degree of self-transcendence. To move out of the stupor of the animal to the intelligence of the human being, one must transcend the merely sensitive desire for participation in the rhythms of the body, as well as the intricate subtleties of the flight from understanding. To move from insight to truth, from what might be so to what really is the case, one must move beyond the state of noncommittal supposition and hypothesis constituted by the second level of consciousness, to the verification of one’s suppositions and hypotheses constituting the third level. And to do the truth, either by bringing one’s actions into harmony with what one knows or by the creative praxis of constituting the new world that should be but is not, calls for yet a further degree of self-transcendence. But the psyche has to participate in the self-transcending capacities of the spirit if one is to be able to perform these operations. And for that participation there may be required a depth-psychological discovery and healing of the affective obstructions to creativity. This depth-psychological maieutic will be an understanding and overcoming of negative complexes. But the negativity of the complexes received specific meaning when the psyche is understood as the sensorium of the transcendence through which human beings constitute their world and, concomitantly, themselves.

What we have said is tantamount to a theological sublation of the complex theory into the theology of moral impotence and the need for grace. Autonomous psychic complexes that would prevent one from participating in the creative adventure of the human spirit are to be regarded always as victimized compositions of energy formed as a result of the violence done to one’s psychic whether by significant others, oppressive social structures, or the misuse of one’s own freedom and responsibility. Psychic spontaneity as such is never morally responsible for its own disorder. Disordered complexes are the victims of history. Victimization by others and self-victimization usually conspire with one another in the genesis of psychic disorder. The constitution and causation of psychic disorder will vary from person to person, so that no general, exhaustive, or exclusive mode of causation may be determined. But what counts is that the causation is always a matter of victimization.

The process of understanding and healing negative complexes will often take a person back to his or her earliest memories or beyond. But healing is conditioned by the adoption of a particular attitude on the part of the subject affected. We tend spontaneously to believe that we can adopt one of two postures to our own affective disorder. We can either repress it further, or entirely renounce moral responsibility in its regard. Repression constricts the emotional energy gathered in the complex, and eventually this energy will be explosive. Moral renunciation, though, is just a capitulation to the power of the energies constellated in the complex, and simply strengthens these energies, making it ever more difficult for one to move to a new position beyond the disorder. From a theological point of view, victimized complexes are the fruit of the sin of the world, a dimension of what the Scholastics referred to a peccalum originale originatum. To the extent that one has freely conspired in their formation, they are also the fruit of personal sin. And the redemption of the energies bound up in these complexes must be effected, not by repression, nor by moral renunciation, but by a healing love that meets one at the same depth as the disorder. The victimized dimensions of ourselves will not be healed by judgment and condemnation, but only by mercy and forgiveness. Redemptive love must reach to the wound and even deeper, and must touch it in a manner contrary to the action that was responsible for the victimization.

There is, then, an alternative to repression and moral renunciation. But that, too, has its difficulties. The alternative is to participate in the compassion of a redemptive love in regard to our disordered affections. This means, first, recognizing that the complex is a victim of oneself or of history or of some combination of these, and ceasing to hate oneself for what one cannot help but feel. It means, next, adopting an attitude of compassion in regard to our affective disorder. It means, finally, allowing there to emerge from this recognition and compassion a willingness to cooperate with whatever redemptive forces are at hand to heal the disorder and transform the contorted and fragmented energies, even to consolidate these energies into psychic participation in the self-transcendent quest for direction in the movement of life.

The difficulty with this alternative is that it is impossible to implement, unless there be some power from beyond ourselves to release us into the requisite posture. For to be compassionate toward the negative emotional forces that derail us from the direction to be found in the movement of life is to be intelligent, reasonable, and morally responsible in their regard, and this is precisely what we are rendered incapable of by reason of the force of these complexes. Again, adopting the alternative is a function of an affective self-transcendence that is not at our disposal precisely because of the power of the complexes. Although the solution is clear, one is unable to avail oneself of it because the requisite willingness is lacking. And there is nothing one can do to provide oneself with that willingness. We can acknowledge the reasonableness of a certain manner of proceeding, and still be unable to act in accord with it. We are doomed to adopt toward the victimized complex one of the attitudes that will further victimize it. We cannot emerge from the vicious circle of disordered affective development. Let me add that moral impotence due to affective disorder is especially acute with regard to complexes rooted in one’s earliest experiences, in experiences coincident with or preceding one’s earliest memory. For these are often impossible to objectify in a way that illuminates us as to what we are negotiating.

If we are to reach a freedom to treat our emotional darkness with compassionate objectivity, that freedom must be given to us. We will not find it in a creative vector that moves from below upwards in consciousness. It must come from beyond the creative vector. In the final analysis it can come only from the reception of an unconditional love that puts to rest our efforts to constitute ourselves with inadequate resources. The love that can sustain the movement of the healing vector from above downwards in consciousness, moreover, is itself beyond all human capacity. All human beings are incapable of sustaining their own healing from victimization by the sin of the world, let alone the healing of another. Human love will simply further victimize unless it is itself free of the distortions and derailments of affectivity that are inevitable under the reign of sin. No human love will heal, unless it is itself participation in divine love. No human being can be the source of another’s redemption from evil.

A human love, moreover, that would truly participate in divine love, and so that could mediate healing, must be able to be a victim of the darkness of the one to whom it mediates the gift of redemptive love. Then the healing will be mediated precisely in and through the suffering of the one who loves. And one knows oneself to be sufficiently healed to be an instrument of divine love, only when one can endure precisely the same kind of suffering as that which caused one’s own victimization, but without being destroyed by it again.

There is much more that could be written about the dynamics of healing. But this is not the place for such comments. My purpose is to emphasize aspects of Jungian psychology that can be employed in Catholic theology, and at this point I have tried only to show that the complex theory can provide help to the development in interiorly differentiated consciousness of a theology of moral impotence, sin, and the need for and gift of grace.