Psychology can give us insight into the subconscious and the various energies and motivations that cause conflicts, as well as the means to solve them.
By Roberto Assagioli, 1952, from the Assagioli Archive in Florence, Doc. #23209 and 23210. Original Title: Contributo della psicologia ai retti rapporti umani. A Talk Given by Roberto Assagioli at Poppi, Oct. 9, 1952. Translated and edited with notes by Jan Kuniholm[i]
- Abstract by Jan Kuniholm: Even with moral principles, ideals, good intentions and “love” gross mistakes are made by people without psychological sense and knowledge. Such mistakes occur in the fields of religion, morals, family, national community, education and in schools. Hierarchical relations between so-called superiors and subordinates are constant occasions for friction. The causes of these errors are ignorance of unconscious motives and misunderstanding of others. This arises from the illusion that people are “unitary beings” when they are a conglomerations of subpersonalities, from the diversity among people. People belong to four basic types, according to Jung, the these types are so different that they live in different worlds. A third cause is the ignorance of the laws governing psychic energies. Modern psychoanalytic methods address the first cause; differential psychology addresses the second; psychodynamics is being developed to address the third. Its methods include transmutation and sublimation of energies; and disidentification and higher self-mastery. All these methods are brought together in psychosynthesis, which can be individual and inter-individual. Of the latter there are psychosynthesis of the couple, of the family, and of other wider relationships. The highest goal is psychosynthesis of Humanity. A discussion follows this essay, that addresses integration of self and of nations, and psychological types with respect to individuals and to nations.
One of the most fatal prejudices that arises from a lack of psychological sense and knowledge is that to act well toward others, it is enough to have moral principles, high ideals, good intention and “love” (that is, that emotional and personal feeling that is often given that name).
Instead, we must realize clearly that even with all those good things, gross mistakes have been and are being continually made; and an incalculable amount of unnecessary human suffering has been and is being produced. This happens in all fields of human life: in religion, in morals,[i] in national life, in schools.
- Religion: In religion, the pessimistic conception of human nature, the idea of “saving souls” from the bogeyman of eternal damnation, and the obsession with sin, have tormented countless human beings and produced all kinds of nervous and mental disorders.
- Morals: In morality, the practice of condemning and repressing vital and natural tendencies, without giving them any outlet or means of expression, and without transmuting them, has produced a succession of mentally maimed or mutilated [people], [as well as] hypocrites or [people who are] rebellious and violent.
- National Community: In national communities, exaggerated and exclusive patriotic ideals, fanatical dedication to the nation or state — however noble, sincere and genuine — have been the cause of disastrous wars, and have been and are easily exploited by the ambitious and violent.
- Family: In the family, the quarrels between spouses, which lead to so many separations and not a few crimes, are largely due to the fundamental misunderstanding between the two sexes (which are of such different psychological structure) and the lack of the most basic self-control.
- Education: No less serious are the educational mistakes committed by parents toward their children. How harmful is the possessive, oppressive, anxious and domineering affection of so many mothers; how bad are the violent outbursts, threats and beatings of so many fathers; or the weaknesses and blind indulgences of both parents.
- School Education: In school education very often it really seems that the planners of programs and those who carry them out have the perverse intention of making students hate the “subjects” and “authors” that are imposed on them, with the threat of bad grades and failures; and unfortunately they generally succeed. And then the examinations — in the anti-psychological, and I would even say anti-human way in which they are conducted — benefit the brash and the chatty, or those with mechanical memory, to the detriment of those who are sensitive or emotional, and those with original ingenuity and inventive and artistic faculties.
Hierarchical relations between so-called superiors and subordinates — individual as well as collective — are constant occasions for friction, ill-feeling, and either concealed or open strife. These arise to a far greater extent than is generally believed, and have psychological as well as economic causes, and result in practical damage on both sides.
What are the causes of all these errors and the resulting evils? They can be distinguished into three groups:
- Ignorance of one’s unconscious motives; that is, of the puzzling but now surely proven fact that almost always our choices and actions are produced by emotional impulses that are quite different from those we believe, and often even opposite to those of which we are conscious.
- Misunderstanding of others. This is due to two major causes:
- The first is an illusion that a human being is as psychologically “unitary” and coherent as his body is. Instead, as modern psychology and the insight of some brilliant writers such as our Pirandello,[ii] or more profoundly H. Keyserling,[iii] have shown, the so-called normal man is actually a conglomeration of elements and tendencies, indeed of various conflicting sub-personalities.
- The second is the profound diversity that exists among human beings. They belong to radically different types, feeling, thinking and reacting in completely different ways.
Four basic types have been distinguished by Jung: the practical, the emotional, the mental and the intuitive. They actually live in different worlds. In four people, each of whom is a characteristic of these types, and who are observing a landscape from a height, entirely different reactions will happen. The practical type may take an interest in agriculture, the emotional type may turn his attention to the play of lines and derive musical inspiration from it, the mental type may be concerned with natural laws and phenomena, and the intuitive type may turn his soul to God in a mystical outburst. If the responses of each of the four to the mood suggested by that landscape were put in writing, one would find it hard to believe that they are aroused by the same thing. [iv]
For a practical man, the delicate female psyche will always remain an enigma; conversely for a woman of the emotional or intuitive type, it will be impossible to understand a practical individual. Equally often artists are ridiculed by people with a strong practical sense; Carducci[v] wrote some polemical verses against the view of the poet as a “wastrel who goes around poking his nose into corners.”
- The third cause of the aforementioned evils is the general ignorance of the laws governing psychic energies and the methods of directing and utilizing them in self-education, in [formal] education and all kinds of human relations.
The man who can so skillfully harness the power of steam, gasoline and electricity is [often] still incapable of making conscious and wise use of the more all-important psychic and spiritual energies of which he himself is composed. Now, modern psychology at its best is able to offer effective means of eliminating these three causes of errors in human relations and their painful consequences.
The discovery of the vastness and importance of the psychic activities that take place outside our awareness (in our subconscious or unconscious), and the exploration of this through psychoanalytic[vi] methods, enables us to discover and unmask the secret motives for our acts due to complexes and “ghosts” concealed in the unconscious, and thus to no longer be dominated by them in our behavior with others. In this way we will be able to avoid some of the most frequent and most consequential mistakes; namely, those we make in choosing our profession or social activity, and in choosing a spouse.
The development of that branch of psychology — which has been variously called “individual psychology, differential psychology, personality psychology, typology, etc.” — gives us valuable lessons and means to understand psychosexual differences and various psychological types. I will only mention that, in addition to the four basic types mentioned above, the two major categories of extroverts and introverts and the two active and passive modes have been well differentiated; and the combinations among all the various types and modes have been finely described.
To eliminate the third cause, a new “psycho-energetics” or “psychodynamics” is being developed, and effective methods of psychological and spiritual action are being tested, taught and used. I will indicate only the main ones:
1) Transformation and sublimation of psychic energies.
In the so-called methods of education, or rather pseudo-education in vogue until recently, practically only two procedures were known and used (with some exceptions by intuitive educators): the violent repression of spontaneous tendencies or their more or less regulated venting. Instead, it has been recognized that psychic energies can transform, indeed they are continually transforming, one into the other, and that instinctive ones can be transmuted into higher energies and can feed the highest creative activities.
The two types of energies that are exuberant in humanity, which it is most necessary and urgent to transform and utilize, are the sexual and the combative ones. In this way it will be possible to contribute effectively to the resolution of the most bitter conflicts that arise in individual and collective relationships. (I have devoted two studies to these two types of transformation, one of which will be published soon in Scuola e Città [vii]).
2) Disidentification and higher mastery.[This method is based] on a central principle of psychic life, namely, that we are dominated and enslaved by whatever our “I” or self[viii] identifies with; and conversely we can master whatever we disidentify from.
When we identify with a weakness, we paralyze ourselves. On the other hand, if we say, “a wave of weakness is trying to invade me,” there are two forces: our vigilant “I” or self, and weakness; but the vigilant self is not so easily overwhelmed. However, when the inner enemy is stronger, the vigilant self can be overcome, but not always completely.
Related to this method is that of discovering our true “I” or Self. Our conscious “I” or self is identified with the various contents of consciousness. But let us reflect on the fact that the contents of consciousness are kaleidoscopic. We go from one state of mind to the opposite, although the aware Self is always the same. There is thus something that always remains real and deep, without which personal identity cannot be explained through the various changes in the content of consciousness or various states of mind. Most people do not have consciousness of the deep “I” or Self, but all those who have attained consciousness of it have a deep assurance of it. The empirical “I” or self and the self-conscious “I” or Self are not two different things. The empirical self is but a reflection of the deep Self. The recognition of this leads to the recognition of our own nature in others: in this sense we have the scientific basis of fraternity, of communion.
Finally, recently it has been possible to bring together and combine all these methods into an organic plan of individual and collective reconstruction and regeneration, of a true and profound psychosynthesis.
Psychosynthesis can be: individual and inter-individual.
Isolated individuals do not exist. On the other hand, right human relationships are not established unless a certain degree of individual psychosynthesis has been achieved.
Inter-individual psychosynthesis is subdivided into:
- Psychosynthesis of the couple.
- Psychosynthesis of the family.
- Psychosynthesis of various human relationships and groups, communities of all kinds, nations, continents, humanity.
The highest goal, Humanity, must not let people forget that nations are the organs of this human integration. The goal is this psychosynthesis of Humanity into a deep human bio-psycho-physical organism.
Discussions and Questions
Cappelli: The empirical self lives a life that is reflective in relation to the deep Self. How is it possible that the deep Self, which is identical in nature in all beings, can support subjective elements that justify national differences?
Assagioli: An organic constitution is organized with cells of the same type, with organs and systems; everything is aimed at a harmony by means of different elements. So also among individual groups there is collaboration between distinct elements.
Cappelli: This analogy does not satisfy, because the various organs are defined in the psychological order; if this limit is there, by what is it established?
Assagioli: A nation consists of a collection of emotional energies that cannot be annulled: a national collective unconscious is powerful. This is a fact: is it necessary to overcome it without destroying it? Or can these emotional charges be channeled by utilizing them? The latter is the right solution: using this unconscious [power] in a higher synthesis, which can be humanity.
Cappelli: Is there interference between the fundamental psychological types?
Assagioli: These are not extreme types but prevailing [tendencies].
Cappelli: Are the ghosts that arise in the unconscious and that can surface in each person, and against which people must fight, innate or acquired?
Assagioli: Both innate and acquired. There are many images that seem to have innate character. As far as the species is concerned they may be considered innate, if not for the individual.
Cappelli: What is the importance of psychology compared with pedagogy, especially as it relates to possible curriculum reform?
Assagioli: Psychology validates the central concept of modern pedagogy, whereby to educate is to “educere,” to help form oneself.
Morabito: What is the practical and social scope of the distinction between introverts and extroverts?
Assagioli: there are no pure types; this is only a rough first definition. There are introverts in one sense who are extroverts in another. For example: active and dynamic men, like Caesar and Napoleon, were active extroverts; suggestible and emotional men are [often] passive extroverts. The social significance of this distinction is very great. The greatest misunderstandings occur precisely between introverts and extroverts. In Italy, for example, where extroverts predominate, introverts have a sad lot. In the north, on the other hand, introverts predominate. The problem is remarkable in its pedagogical implications: to what extent should [the tendencies of] types be corrected? Are differential classes useful?
Borghi: Even assuming that we are dominated and enslaved by everything we identify with, it is good to say that, from a pedagogical point of view, we do not need to dominate the human reality of others, but to understand it. The problem is to rediscover the possibility of identification with others. (Spinoza said, “Our happiness depends on affection and our possibility of approaching it without passion; even the process of learning begins through identification.”) So even the process of learning is determined by identification, not disidentification.
Assagioli: The method of disidentification is suitable for introverts; for extroverts, that of successive identifications is far more valuable. It is necessary to disidentify from what oppresses us, what keeps us enslaved. Those who identify too much with a virtue can become fanatics. The spiritual ideal would really be disidentification even from what is considered morally good.
Borghi: The psychological concept of nationalism is not absolute; there is another psychological reality, that of super-nationalism. The whole accumulation of affectivity and emotionality, directed in a nationalistic sense, can be balanced by a parallel concentration of affectivity directed toward internationalism. By fostering this relationship, we work toward a necessary balance.
Assagioli: In pedagogical practice actually it is internationalism that is to be favored.
[i] Assagioli usually uses the term “morals” or “morality” to refer to the field of ethical behavior. —Ed.
[ii] Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), Italian dramatist, poet and short story writer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who explored human multiplicity in his works. —Ed.
[iii] Hermann Keyserling (1880-1946), Baltic German philosopher whose works Assagioli quoted frequently. —Ed.
[iv] At a later date Assagioli developed his own ideas of types, which are expressed in i tipi umani, translated as Psychosynthesis Typology, published by the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London, 1983.
[v] Giosuè Alessandro Giuseppe Carducci (1835 – 1907) Nobel prize-winning Italian poet, writer, literary critic and teacher.
[vi] Assagioli here refers to the work of psychological analysis, not the work associated with Freud and his followers. —Ed.
[vii] Scuola e Città (Scool and City) is a journal founded in 1950 by Ernesto Codignola and a group of scholars including G. Calogero, R. Cousinet, C. Washburne, L. Borghi, F. de Bartolomeis. The magazine was born as a monthly of educational problems and school policy; since 2001 it has been a quarterly.—Ed.
[viii] The Italian word “Io” (I) is translated variously as “I” or self when it refers to the personal or empirical personality, and as “I” or Self when it refers to the deep or higher Self, which are related as Assagioli explains in the text. At times these are translated simply as self or Self. —Tr.
[i] Editor’s interpolations are indicated in [brackets]. —Ed.