In Alumni in Action, Voices

Hold On . . . The Veils are thinning between the realms of Psyche

By Andrea Slominski, Ph.D.

I’m hearing from my clients, friends, and colleagues that the baseline energy running under our culture is amping up, despite pandemic social distancing and the mental and physical exhaustion that has resulted from it. I can feel it too. In fact, I would offer that the energies supporting and coursing through our collective unconscious are verging on the hysterical. And, that they will continue to grow more volatile for at least the next ninety days. You very well might ask, “What do you mean? Why does it matter?, and What does it have to do with me?” By having some insight into what is happening in the inner realm of the minds and souls of ourselves, our friends, and family, we may be able to stay on more of an even keel in the weeks and months to come.

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung discovered what can be understood as divisions or fields within the realms of our psyches. Here is one way of thinking about them. Each of us has an ego. The ego is our conscious understanding of our waking self, our “I am” in the world, that tracks our goals, hopes, aspirations, and experiences. Our ego is our “me” in the world.

Next, we each have a personal unconscious. This is where all of the millions of bits of stimuli we are exposed to daily but don’t actively think about are stored. The personal unconscious is where experiences lived and forgotten, imagined, dreamed, and wished, are also stored. As if that wasn’t enough, the personal unconscious also contains all of our purposefully or not-purposefully repressed feelings or memories of negative and traumatic events in our lives.

Also, we have what Jung called the shadow. The shadow is formed from the aspects of our personalities that are negative, dark, or that we don’t like; it’s often a blind spot for the ego. It’s what we don’t like in ourselves and often reject in others. We push it down out of our ego-mind. Sometimes the shadow is experienced as personality traits that we see and dislike in others. It can represent those parts of ourselves that we don’t like, so we then project them as faults onto those around us.

Finally, for our discussion today, we have the collective unconscious. This is like the ground or field of being for life on the planet. It includes the blueprints, the inherited genetic information and structures that exist within species that have to do with forms and behaviors. This can include our body’s response to stress, such as flight, flight, or freeze, or even our instinct to push a child out of the way of an oncoming car. These instinctual behaviors, as reactions to stimuli, real or imagined, are patterned within us. The collective unconscious is the repository for this vast ancestral knowledge. It’s full of symbols and imagery that are shared by all humanity. It’s from this ground that the archetypes emerge. They, too, are structures or forms that we fill with familiar images like the great mother, the wise old man, the child, the healer, etc. that are often discussed in depth psychology.

Now, let’s look at what all this has to do with our daily lives. Generally speaking, the ego, the personal unconscious, the shadow, and the collective unconscious have their own realms, with borders or thresholds between them. These borders help us keep from being overwhelmed by our shadow, collective instinctual content, or the personal trauma in our daily lives while allowing us to learn and grow. Regulated interaction with these levels throughout our lives can enable us to integrate, balance, and work through our trauma, disappointment, and challenges, to become our most authentic selves.

Unfortunately, none of us are living our former lives. We have been living in a worldwide pandemic for eight months, and now, the second wave has rolled onshore. Our former life patterns have been obliterated by social distancing, masks, virtual work, and unemployment. Over 200k Americans have died, and infection rates are rising again. We have lost many of those who we loved and cherished. While living in daily mortal danger, we are experiencing social unrest, seeing violence on television, if not in our streets and neighborhoods. Hate, anxiety, anger-filled protests, social media postings, fake news, conspiracy theories, and the us-vs-them mentality have served to gin up our emotional and psychic energies to a fever pitch.

Our nation is divided over issues ranging from social justice reform, systemic racism, police reform, climate change, women’s rights, income inequality, healthcare, mental healthcare, education, immigration, and more while facing one of the most contentious elections in our lifetime. This roiling cauldron of energy comes from the depths of the realms we discussed. Looking at an overview of all of the forms of our national communication channels, we can see that the thresholds between these realms of the psyche are becoming porous and thinning out.

Memories, formerly repressed, can be triggered when we are under stress if we feel mentally or physically threatened (here the personal unconscious and ego are affected). Physical threats activate the amygdala fight, flight, or freeze response. Fear and paranoia tap into our instinctual collective unconscious patterns of survival (here the collective unconscious affects us presenting thorough behavior and actions). Survival, threats, fear, anger, and paranoia are boiling up into our national conscious and national unconscious mind from the collective unconscious too.

The heightened national increase in these emotions and feelings and our reactive instincts have become accepted norms of social interaction.  Each protest has a counter-protest. Each meme has a responsive meme. We can see the fractured national ego, and the erupting national unconscious suggesting that the psychic boundaries between them are now nearly translucent.

The thresholds between personal ego/national ego, personal unconscious/national unconscious, personal shadow/national shadow, and the collective unconscious are fading. The fading of these boundaries allows powerful energies to erupt unbuffered. This can cause confusion, anger, anxiety, and exhaustion, to name just a few, for those who are trying to live a somewhat new-normal life.

Those politicians and their loyal base who offer denials of objective truth, the denial of science, and support alternative facts, bizarre conspiracy theories, and openly trade falsehood for votes, power, and influence are, in fact, assaulting the psyches of Americans and America.

The veils between the realms are wearing thin. Volatile content in the psyche is moving from the personal to the collective and back again with no threshold guardians that keep the mysteries of transformation from causing overwhelm and breakdown.

Don’t let yourself get sucked into the unregulated destructive powers of rage, fear, and hatred.

When navigating your life in the coming days, keep in mind, where are your feelings coming from? Where does your anger, exhaustion, anxiety, fear spring from ? Can you find your hope, your light, your determination, and love? Is someone projecting their fear and anger onto you, through their narrative made up of lies, alternative facts, and a need for power?

Hold firm to what you know is you, deep in your heart. Hold onto your values and understand that all successful cooperative work includes teamwork. Let’s build a better future for everyone together. I believe in us.

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