An Introduction to Psychosynthesis: Stages of Growth, part 1

Last time we looked at the egg map and the various levels of consciousness in the mind. It’s a messy place, the human psyche, and it’s not easy to be true to your better self. Thankfully, there are plenty of methods that can help you to overcome the problems inherent in human nature and gain self-mastery. Psychosynthesis is one of them, and it identifies four stages of growth on the path to self-realisation and mastery:

  1. Thorough knowledge of your personality.
  2. Control of the various elements of your personality.
  3. Realisation of your true Self – the discovery of a unifying centre.
  4. Psychosynthesis – the formation or reconstruction of your personality around the new centre.

To explore these stages of growth, the following text is extracted from Psychosynthesis by Roberto Assagioli:

1. Thorough Knowledge of Your Personality

“We have recognised that in order really to know ourselves it is not enough to make an inventory of the elements that form our conscious being. An extensive exploration of the vast regions of our unconscious must also be undertaken. We have first to penetrate courageously into the pit of our lower unconscious in order to discover the dark forces that ensnare and menace us – the ‘phantasms,’ the ancestral or childish images that obsess or silently dominate us, the fears that paralyze us, the conflicts that waste our energies. It is possible to do this by the use of the methods of psychoanalysis.

“This search can be undertaken by oneself but it is accomplished more easily with the help of another. In any case the methods must be employed in a genuinely scientific manner, with the greatest objectivity and impartiality; without preconceived theories and without allowing ourselves to be deterred or led astray by the covert or violent resistance of our fears, our desires, our emotional attachments.

“Psychoanalysis generally stops here; but this limitation is not justified. The regions of the middle and higher unconscious should likewise be explored. In that way we shall discover in ourselves hitherto unknown abilities, our true vocations, our higher potentialities which seek to express themselves, but which we often repel and repress through lack of understanding, prejudice or fear. We shall also discover the immense reserve of undifferentiated psychic energy latent in every one of us; that is, the plastic part of our unconscious which lies at our disposal, empowering us with an unlimited capacity to learn and to create.”

2. Control of the Various Elements of Your Personality

“After having discovered all these elements, we have to take possession of them and acquire control over them. The most effective method by which we can achieve this is that of dis-identification. This is based on a fundamental psychological principle which may be formulated as follows:

We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we dis-identify ourselves.

“In this principle lies the secret of our enslavement or of our liberty. Every time we ‘identify’ ourselves with a weakness, a fault, a fear or any personal emotion or drive, we limit and paralyze ourselves. Every time we admit ‘I am discouraged’ or ‘I am irritated,’ we become more and more dominated by depression or anger. We have accepted those limitations; we have ourselves put on our chains.

“If, instead, in the same situation we say, ‘A wave of discouragement is trying to submerge me’ or ‘An impulse of anger is attempting to overpower me,’ the situation is very different. Then there are two forces confronting each other; on one side our vigilant self and on the other the discouragement or the anger. And the vigilant self does not submit to that invasion; it can objectively and critically survey those impulses of discouragement or anger; it can look for their origin, foresee their deleterious effects, and realise their unfoundedness. This is often sufficient to withstand an attack of such forces and win the battle.

“But even when these forces within ourselves are temporarily stronger, when the conscious personality is at first overwhelmed by their violence, the vigilant self is never really conquered. It can retire to an inner fortress and there prepare for and await the favourable moment in which to counter-attack. It may lose some of the battles, but if it does not give up its arms and surrender, the ultimate issue is not compromised, and it will achieve victory in the end.”

[My note: this dualistic language is a bit unfortunate, but at a certain stage of the process it feels accurate and is a useful way to think about it. However, as we saw in the Consciousness Egg post, the higher Self isn’t separate from any other part of the psyche – worth remembering as we continue…]

“Then, besides repelling one by one the attacks that come from the unconscious, we can apply a more fundamental and decisive method: we can tackle the deep-seated causes of these attacks and cut away the roots of the difficulty. This procedure may be divided into two phases:

  • The disintegration of the harmful images or complexes.
  • The control and utilisation of the energies thus set free.

“Psychoanalysis has demonstrated that the power of these images and complexes lies chiefly in the fact that we are unconscious of them, that we do not recognise them as such. When they are unmasked, understood, and resolved into their elements, they often cease to obsess us; in any case we are then much better able to defend ourselves against them. In order to dissolve them we should use the methods of:

  • objectification
  • critical analysis and
  • discrimination.

“That is to say, we must employ cold, impersonal observation as if they were mere natural phenomena, occurring outside ourselves. We should create a ‘psychological distance’ between ourselves and them, keeping these images or complexes at arm’s length, so to speak, and then quietly consider their origin, their nature and – their stupidity! This does not mean the suppression or repression of the energies inherent in those manifestations but their control and redirection into constructive channels.

“It is well known that too much criticism and analysis are apt to paralyze and even kill our emotions and feelings. This critical faculty, which we often employ indiscriminately and harmfully against our higher feelings and creative potentialities, should instead be used to free ourselves from undesirable impulses and tendencies. But such analysis and criticism are not always sufficient. There are certain strong trends, certain vital elements which, however much we may disparage and condemn them, obstinately persist. This is true especially concerning sexual and aggressive drives. These, when detached from the complexes or diverted from their previous channels, create in us a state of agitation and unrest and may find new but equally undesirable outlets.

“These forces, therefore, must not be left to run wild, but should be disposed of in harmless ways or, better still, used for constructive purposes: creative activities of various kinds; the rebuilding of our personality, contributing to our psychosynthesis. But in order to be able to do this we must start from the centre; we must have established and made efficient the unifying and controlling Principle of our life.”

We’ll continue with a look at how you discover that unifying centre next time, but before I sign off, I just wanted to make an important point:

This isn’t the only way to deal with troubling unconscious content. There’s another method which is quite different and extremely powerful, that involves actually making friends with the parts of yourself that are causing problems. It’s called Feeding Your Demons. Here’s a quote from another of my posts:

“Recently I realised that I’d spent my whole life fighting against the darkness. But my demons won’t die, no matter how many times I bash them over the head. It’s exhausting. So I was open to trying anything that might help when I came across the practice of Feeding Your Demons. … On the face of it, feeding demons doesn’t seem like a good idea. Surely they’ll just fill their faces then go on a cake-fuelled rampage. But this practice is about compassion and making friends with your shadow. Apparently demons just want a hug.”

You can read that post in full here: Embracing Darkness: how to feed your demons

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