Our personality is not a unified whole, but consist of a multitude of different subpersonalities or parts, which can be integrated and synthesised.
By Roberto Assagioli, Monday, 12th August, 10.a.m. (no date), The Assagioli Archive Florence. (Editors note: This is a transcript of a recorded lecture, and a few words were inaudibly marked by this sign [?]). Image: Anna Lund Sørensen
The central vertical line on the chart [see egg-diagram] indicates that the “I”, the self-conscious personal “I”, is a reflection of the Self [Soul]. The Self, in a certain sense, is the permanent, eternal state or part of ourselves, and the “I” is its reflection in the area or field of the personality. The important fact is that the Self is shown as half within and half without the total area of our being. This is to indicate the double, paradoxical condition of our being; that the Self is at the same time individual and universal, or, rather, that it has both an individual consciousness and a universal consciousness. This fact is a psychological paradox but a wonderful spiritual experience for those who have had it. Of that, there is no question. At one and the same moment in time, we are acutely conscious of our individual spiritual identity and of our identification and our participation with the Universal Reality.
All the lines on the chart are dotted lines, and this is to show that there is distinction, but no separation, on any level. The fact that the outer line is also a dotted line indicates that we are in constant rapport with the psychological reality outside of ourselves, that which Jung calls “the collective unconscious”, and which we could perhaps better term “the universal psychological existence” outside ourselves. Moreover, there are continuous interchanges, both active and passive. We are continuously receiving impressions from outside, and we ourselves often have an effect upon our environment. These impressions are of two kinds: the so-called normal ones which come to us through the five senses, and those impressions which could be called para-psychological and telepathic, but which I and many others consider just as normal as the others. They are taking place all the time, but we are not aware of them.
I should first like to eliminate a frequent misconception due to the tricky character of words. Words are a necessary means of communication but often are a source of misunderstanding. Modern and Depth-psychology speak all the time of “the Unconscious”. And this has made us personify or make an entity of it. We speak of the unconscious as though it were a whole as if it were something coherent, an entity. But this “Mr. Unconscious” simply does not exist. We often hear about the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. That is all a myth. The word “unconscious” is not a noun but an adjective. “Unconscious”, as an adjective, rightfully indicates that, at a certain moment, a certain psychological element or function is not within the field of our awareness.
That is the true and the only meaning of “unconscious”. Something is happening all the time (at one point or another on the chart), but we are unconscious of it. But at any given moment, something may enter the field of our consciousness from one of these points. Then, what was unconscious to us a second before, then becomes conscious. And this new point of awareness often expels something of which we were previously conscious. It can even expel something which was in the “unconscious” field. This is a fundamental point to realise if we are to avoid the many mistakes which have been made in psychoanalysis. In other words, there are some elements of which we are conscious and others of which we are unconscious at a given moment. The elements in themselves have no quality of consciousness or unconsciousness. The consciousness resides in the “I”, in the Self. After this warning and psychological explanation, we can proceed with the very general description of the human being.
Here we come to the specific characteristics of psychosynthesis. Later, I will indicate in which ways psychosynthesis differs, in theory, and in practice, from other conceptions and other methods. And, at the end, I will sum up these differences.
First, what is this synthetic or integral conception of a human being? You know that psychoanalysis (Freudian psychoanalysis) recognises the human being only as far as [?] on the chart, with the emphasis on the lower unconscious. It either ignores or denies the existence of the superconscious and of the Self. This distinction must all be kept very clearly in mind. There are many superconscious elements and activities which are definite psychological processes or elements, but they are not the Self. The Self is a pure centre of spiritual consciousness, devoid of any content, whereas the superconscious is but a higher level of our psychological being.
Psychosynthesis, on the other hand, includes all three sections or levels, but puts its emphasis on the superconscious, just because it has been neglected in the past. So its aim is to develop “height“-psychology, in contra-distinction to depth-psychology. Here, also, one must avoid confusion between Depth-psychology in the Freudian sense, and Depth-psychology in the Jungian sense. The former is the Psychology of the lower unconscious; the latter is a more or less hazy terminology which also includes the super-conscious. Moreover, the “collective unconscious” of Jung includes the various levels of the unconscious. But, in my opinion, it is good to make a clear terminological distinction. The terminology of “height” has been used throughout the Ages – the”elevation” of the level of consciousness, the “higher” aspects of the human being, the “ascent”, the “peak” (Maslow, in his excellent essay, speaks of “the Peak experience”); in the Orient there is “the Mountain of Initiation” and the “heights” of spiritualisation. So it is not a new terminology if we now use it, and we are but being consistent, for this psychological and scientific investigation of the superconscious, in adopting this spacial terminology which is both symbolic and indicative of its true meaning. This use of the word “Height” psychology is not even original on my part. The [?] School (not the Freudian School) Carusso and others have spoken of “‘Height-psychology”. Terminology always has only a relative value, but it is necessary in order to understand each other.
Now I have come to the special subject of this talk. In a way, this will be the most “unpleasant” meeting of this conference. But it is unavoidable. We must face reality, and I think that those who have a certain outlook are the true realists. The unpleasant aspect of this subject lies in the realisation of the multiplicity within the human being. Man has been called the Microcosm. But this is either wishful thinking if applied to the present or an ultimate goal if applied to Man’s wonderful potentialities. It is certainly not the present reality. The present reality might well be called a micro–chaos. I think we all more or less know this subconsciously, but we do not realise the extent to which it is true. An Eastern teacher has summed it up in this way: “The average human being is the sum total of separative tendencies, of uncontrolled forces and disunited energies. Several enlightened psychologists have more or less indicated the same thing. One such is William James, both when he speaks of the variety of religious experiences, in his chapter on The Divided Self, and when he speaks, in his Principles of Psychology, of the various “I”s, of which I will speak later. Hermann Keyserling also drew the attention of his readers very forcibly to this point.
If we face ourselves, we at first discover only a chaotic relation of instinctive tendencies, passions, feelings, desires, ideas, aspirations and many other psychological elements, divergent in their nature, characteristics, value and purpose. And the first result is that of an unpleasant bewilderment. We seem to get lost in that chaos and to become confused as to who or what we really are. On the other hand, we get the first glimpse of the inner wealth of our being and of the inherent possibilities of the human being. But this chaos has to become a cosmos. A patient of mine spontaneously made some symbolic drawings. They were very crude, but they clearly showed her early condition as it developed towards “normalcy”.
According to Jung, it is in the study of the unconscious that we find that every relatively independent psychic content is personified whenever the opportunity arises. This tendency towards personification is a clue to many baffling psychological states. Here, as usual, pathology is a great help in understanding psychological reality, because it is a magnifying glass, a kind of amplifier in which certain phenomena are brought into prominence. You all have heard about “dual” personalities or “multiple” personalities. But this fact has often been considered a kind of freak, a strange pathological phenomenon or a characteristic of schizophrenia, but not in its deep psychological value and significance.
I will not give examples now, but I would very much advise each of you to read or re-read Morton Prince’s book, The Disssociation of the Personality. It is more fascinating than a novel. No novelist would dare to imagine such a complicated case, and it has all the interest of a detective novel. Its scientific value resides in the varied limitations of Morton Prince’s own personality. For very often, limitations are of value. Luckily, he had no imagination and he faithfully described all that happened in his treatment of the patient, whom he called Miss Beauchamp – a treatment which ended, by the way, in a real psychosynthesis or unification. There were sometimes four of these personalities, and they were all fighting each other. They knew indirectly of each other, and one of them had direct knowledge of the others. Two made alliances against a third and wrote notes to each other and made pacts. One claimed that she was conscious all the time, in the background, unable to get control of the body but well knowing what was going on. She also claimed that she was conscious during the sleep of the body and of the other personalities, and that she knew the dreams, and interpreted the dreams of the other personalities to the doctor. She was a freak; she had a kind of childish personality, and ultimately was not synthesised with the others, but agreed with Dr. Prince to retire from the scene. There, in my opinion, is a distinct psychological subpersonality. The others are clearly fragments of one psyche: Sally, as the childish personality was called, was not. And the psychosynthesis could happen only when she agreed not to interfere. I advise you strongly to read the book. Dr. Prince has not drawn all the most interesting consequences and theoretical conclusions, but now, with the advancement of psychology, one can find in it a real goldmine and a wealth of material.
This pathological case gives us the clue to the comparatively minor disssociations existing in ourselves. All main tendencies, all main vital drives, tend to become personified, as Jung says, and to aggregate to themselves, in addition to the main instinctual or psychological drives, emotions, mental pictures and thought elements, all of which contribute to the realisation and self-assertion of that which we can really call a “subpersonality”. In ourselves we can find an aggregation of subpersonalities, each endowed with tendencies towards self-preservation and self-assertion, and which are, of course, necessarily in constant conflict with each other. Later, I will take up the question of conflict. I will now only refer to its existence, as one aspect among many of the condition humaine.
These subpersonalities can be seen, observed and described from various angles. The first angle is that which I have just mentioned, of a vital drive which aggregates around itself all the psychological elements of which it can get hold. The other subpersonalities are more complicated and one-pointed, and these are those which William James has described as the various “I” s. It could be said that each human function (in general and not in the specific sense of the psychological functions of Jung) is a subpersonality. To name only a few – one of the first to be formed is that of the persona of the son or daughter; then there is the ‘husband” personality and the “wife” personality. Then there is the “father” personality and the “mother” personality; there are various social “I”s, as William James calls them. Often a man is domineering as an officer or as a boss, yet submissive as a husband or as a father. Vice Versa, there are men who are submissive in the office, and domineering in the family. Each of these subpersonalities has very definite traits which are heterogeneous and often very opposite in character. Practically the only link between them is that of memory, but it is a purely theoretical memory. This fact of memory, indeed, is the only dividing line between pathological cases of multiple-personality and a so-called normal man, for, in the pathological cases,there is a lack of memory. For example, a so-called normal man, when he is at home, remembers, historically, what he has done at the office, and vice versa. But, as I have said, it is merely a historical, cold memory; practically and emotionally, he is another person. The connection is very loose.
Now, there is yet another angle, and a very interesting one, from which to consider these various “selves”. And this brings us back to what I said yesterday about the potency of images. An image ( and after all a persona is just an image of ourselves) has what might metaphorically be called “suggestive powers”. It really builds itself up into a subpersonality. Let us consider the principle images or models.
The first one is that of the image of what we believe ourselves to be. This is of enormous importance. What we believe ourselves to be is often very very different from what we are. First of all, we believe ourselves to be a coherent personality, which is not the case. As I have said, the arch-illusion is always the consequence of the misunderstanding of ourselves and of others, and is really a comedy, or tragi-comedy of errors. The two simplest and main mistakes are to believe ourselves to be much less, much lower than we are, which creates an inferiority complex. An inferiority complex is not an entity in itself; it is the product, the effect, the consequence, of believing ourselves to be inferior. Then there is the superiority complex, when we believe ourselves to be much more than we are. Here comes a very important distinction, which has to be kept always present in mind in psychology – the distinction between that which is actual and what is potential. And that is one of the most fruitful causes of mistakes. The one who has an inferior belief in himself, an inferior image of himself, neglects, denies or ignores the wonderful possibilities of his being, latent and ready to manifest. He is in line with the Freudian edict (which is a slander on human nature), which sees the image of oneself as a conglomeration of instincts, plus the poor “I” who tries to deal with them more or less successfully. Instead, those who have an inflation of the ego, and see themselves as much greater and higher than they really are, make the mistake of believing that what is potential in them is actual. The inflated ego is a misinterpretation of a spiritual reality. The dim intuition of the spiritual and divine potentialities, misinterpreted, gives to the little “I” the illusion of being the Higher Self. So you can see how this key helps to interpret many psychological observations.
As I have said, the first kind of image is what we believe ourselves to be – a very different thing from what we are. The second kind of image is what we would like to be. And here, also, many mistakes are made. Very often, under the principle of reaction or, rather, through the function of over-compensation, we would like to be the opposite to what we are. Weak people dream of becoming Napoleonic and, in an extreme case, they actually believe that they are Napoleon. This pathological “caricature” of the wish and of the illusion of being Napoleonic can be found in people who have a strong and repressed sense of inferiority. Many have an utterly mistaken idea of what they are and are quite unrealistic. And here, also, what is actual and what is potential enters in and has to be understood and adjusted.
Then comes another kind of image, or a series of images: what others believe that we are. You know the great power of suggestion. And this power of suggestion, especially in childhood, creates untold mistakes and difficulties and is also a fruitful source of nervous and psychological trouble. Let us take the mother. The mother believes that the son or the daughter is like this or that. That is, she believes the son or daughter are as she would like them to be. With all her desire and emotion and her image-making faculty, she forcefully projects her image onto the poor, helpless child. She also voices what she would like him or her to be. She creates and establishes a model. Other influences are also at work on the child, but she is the main source of what Freud calls “the super-ego”. The “super-ego” has nothing to do with (this is a point to be very clear about) the Self. The super-ego, as Freud rightly describes it is an artificial construction, created by suggestion – the suggestion, shall we say, of social morality, but morality in the sense of custom – and this artificial monster has nothing to do with the Self. Here, also, we have one of those imperfections of language – that the ego too much resembles the Higher Self, which leads to confusion. But, as you can see, they are two radically different beings.
To revert to the mother – it is bad enough that the mother should project an image of this kind. But then comes the father, who projects a different image onto the same child, and often a conflicting image. Let us take the son: the image created by the mother is that of an obedient son, very careful not to catch cold, to avoid all danger; on the other hand, the father-image is to make of him a man, a he-man, an aggressive, successful individual. So the poor child is torn between the influence of these two conflicting images and what he himself is trying to be. And every other influential person in our lives projects an image of what they believe or want us to be. And that continues into adult life. The husband projects the image of the ideal wife onto his poor human wife, and the wife projects the image of the ideal husband onto the poor man. And this image is often absolutely unrealistic. It is bad enough if the man wants his wife to conform to a coherent idea. But often, he wants her to have all the contradictory qualities; he wants her to be beautiful and to be a good housewife, brilliant in society, cultured, and all that. And, conversely, the woman wants the man to be handy and mechanically-minded about the house, to sing well and to be romantic, successful in business, and all the rest of it. So, not only do they project an unreal image, but they make an impossible, unrealistic image of the perfect being endowed with all possible qualities and virtuoso.
Then comes the subpersonality that each other person evokes in us. Each of us is different with each [other] person. Anybody who observes himself finds how different he is in every conversation with another person or in different groups. And if we have frequent relationships with a person, or a group, then that also develops into a person, an independent subpersonality.
Then comes what we want to appear to be, the role which we like to play with the wife, with the child, with the parents; the mask we put on for purposes of vanity, for the purpose of success, and so on. When we live in this way, life really is a masquerade; it is a carnival, in which everybody wears not only one mask but different masks. But masks have a very bad quality; they stick to the face. And if you wear them long enough they modify the face. They are not merely passive things, which you can put on and leave off at will. They stick and they model us. It is not convenient at all.
Finally, we come to what we can become, which is a very different thing from what we wish to become. Even then, what we can become is dual. In principle, we can become the whole being, and actualise all our higher possibilities. We could become conscious of the superconscious, conscious of the realisation of the Self, of the “I” unified with the Self, and so achieve complete psychosynthesis. But those are very exceptional cases – practically non-existent, and involving a very gradual process which is not achieved in one life. On the other hand, one can attain moments of perfection, of perfect harmony, but they are only moments. And then comes the hard work of working at, modifying and transforming all the diverse and conflicting elements within ourselves.