For more than fifty years we have known, or could have known, that there is an unconscious as a counterbalance to consciousness. Medical psychology has furnished all the necessary empirical and experimental proofs of this. There is an unconscious psychic reality which demonstrably influences consciousness and its contents. All this is known, but no practical conclusions have been drawn from it. We still go on thinking and acting as before, as if we are simplex and not duplex…It is frivolous, superficial and unreasonable of us, as well as psychically unhygienic, to overlook the reaction and standpoint of the unconscious. —Jung, The Undiscovered Self
Resistance to Awareness
A third quality of our mind that we want to recognize is that our conscious and unconscious abilities often exist in a relationship of resistance to each other rather than in a state of harmony and cooperation. The culprit in this antagonistic relationship is the error of the conscious element’s identification only with the conscious (the ego). When the ego avoids recognizing feelings and awarenesses that nevertheless exist within the being, the avoided material is forced to remain unconscious. This is the failure of the “simplex” identification process, which both Jung and Freud, in the passages excerpted at the head of the chapter, are addressing.
In this chapter we will focus our attention on the curious defense mechanism of repression. What we find is that while repression is often functional as a tool for coping with difficult feelings and awarenesses, invariably it is also a two-edged sword. Repression is functional in extreme cases of shock and trauma, when difficult experiences threaten to overwhelm our ability for comprehension. It is functional in younger years as well, when psychological sophistication and more mature management skills lie beyond our grasp. But in almost all other cases, the use of repression as a coping skill proves itself to be powerfully dysfunctional. This is because repression succeeds in an individual only by severely compromising that individual’s ability to perceive reality.
It is the negative consequences of repression that cause us to pay it such careful attention. Repression divides our beings into conscious and unconscious compartments of awareness. It surrenders conscious management of our knowledge and awareness to an unconscious mechanism. And repression causes us to participate in unconscious behaviors of avoidance. This last characteristic is perhaps the most damaging, as it has an ultimately bewildering effect on our sense of personal validity. For all of these reasons, a working knowledge of the defense is desired.
I have one final thought before we embark upon our discussion. Separation between conscious and unconscious awareness is really an illusion. In all cases of repression, recall that we already know what it is—what feelings or awarenesses it is—that we are avoiding. The avoided feelings and awarenesses are already inside us. We are already feeling them and are already aware of them—unconsciously. Indeed, all dreams that reflect avoided feelings and awarenesses show us that unconsciously we are intimately acquainted with the material. In this light, the goal of self-unification becomes a simple process—conceptually at least—of training our mind and body to learn to listen to themselves, and to identify, accept, and resolve nonintegrated feelings and awarenesses. The knowledge and practice of this simple triad of mental health skills is the path by which we learn progressively to unify ourselves, to repair the duality of awareness that exist between our conscious and unconscious minds.
The Theraputic Path
Knowing the stages of the therapeutic process helps us locate our position on the “therapeutic path.” The integration process, we may infer, will not always be an easy transition to effect. Put another way, there is a reason why repressed material is repressed. The integration of avoided feelings and awarenesses into conscious understanding will invariably be accompanied by some measure of pain. Accordingly, when we are in the midst of the integration process, knowledge of the process itself is very valuable. When our emotional moorings are cast adrift by some difficulty experience, our confidence in the therapeutic process occasionally is our only support. Dividing the process also is useful because it serves to remind us that all stages are necessary for successful assimilations of repressed material. For example, it is not enough merely to be able to identify problem areas in our lives. For integration to be successful, both the cathartic experience of acceptance and the empowering experience of resolution must be fulfilled.
©1995 Charles McPhee. Excerpted from Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams: A Guide to Awakening Consciousness During Dream Sleep published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
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