A practicing psychoanalyst in Brazil, Dr. Jorge W. F. Amaro, offers this essay on spirituality and love. I hope that you find it interesting. Thank you, Dr. Amaro, for sharing this essay.
In the classical text and in some dictionaries, the term "spirituality" is associated with the divine, with a link with the supernatural, with God. In my way of thinking "spirituality" is a function, a natural function that protects life. Animals have the instinct to protect life. We, human beings, have instinct but also spirituality. This spirituality promotes protection of life in all senses. That is to say: biological life and all the death mechanisms like oppression, the plateauing of growth, social death and so on.
There are two sources of destruction: One from natural occurrences like earthquakes, volcanoes and so on; and the other from the dregs of humankind. Spirituality protects humankind against themselves. This function, "spirituality," is used in a narrow way or in a broad way. In a narrow sense, spirituality protects life of our beloved persons like sons, daughters, husband, wife, father, mother and so on. In a broad sense, this function is when we worry and work in order to protect the universal needs of our planet. This broad way is nowadays expressed by ecology, human rights and religious ecumenism.
The contrary concept of spirituality is the function that promotes destruction of life in a broad sense. This destruction may occur in biological, psychological, and social contexts.
Love is a function of human maturity. Children need too much but don't love yet; this exclusivity of love to mature humans is because the love potentiality doesn't have time enough to grow within children. If this potentiality could be stimulated, love will grow like a flower in very rich soil. If this potentiality doesn't receive stimulation by the child's surrounding environment, this love potentiality will deteriorate. We have to know that immature personalities need too much but don't love. Love is an exclusive function of the mature part of personality and has nothing to do with the concept of sex.
We know that sex is an instinct that all animals have in common. Love is a potentiality that grows in some persons but doesn't grow in others. As language is an innate potentiality, love is also innate; both will grow if we receive from the environment the necessary stimulation.
We have inside of our personalities different parts; that is to say: the child, the adult and the scientist. The child has all the old software about our past and way of seeing and feeling relationships. The adult tries to make new software of the way of seeing and feeling relationships but is ever influenced by emotions like desires and memories. The scientific part of personality is the newest part that tries to be as neutral as possible so as to understand life without being influenced by memories and desires while trying to investigate the situation like a real scientific investigator. All of these parts are mixed and the result will depend upon the prominence of one of these parts.
The mature man could develop this neutral part of personality (the scientific part of personality) with curiosity toward real knowledge. This part should be placed in opposition to the other parts of personality (the adult and the child). The child and the adult alone will make us become prisoners, slaves to our software.
History, anthropology, psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology, and so on give us information that indicates that the immature parts of personality remains forever in the files of the brain like old software in the hardware. The brain keeps files and programs which were structured in preterit times with immature and irrational sources. The maturing human will build new files and directories which permits the person with the possibility of observing and feeling emotions and experiences in other ways of perception very different from the older files. This consequence will change the behavior.
It is very important to remember that with genes we receive not only potentialities that contribute to the organic part of our body but also potentialities that contribute to the spiritual part of humankind. This potentiality man inherited through the development of Homo sapiens. It is like language.
We know that there is a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious. The collective unconscious has universal characteristics. The term Self will be used, meaning the whole of the personality, but Ego is only a part of the personality (Id, Ego and Superego).
Since the beginning of the human history we can see that some emotions and feelings are as old as Homo sapiens. Such emotions are: selfishness and generosity; envy and gratitude; renunciation and submission; fidelity and infidelity; vengeance and forgiveness, arrogance and humility; absolute feelings and relative feelings. The need to destroy and need to build, to construct and to repair; impulsiveness and restraint; continually searching for that which would bring over-all well being to the individual and immediate pleasure are part of the many contradictory feelings that fuel human behavior.
On the baser level, animals present the nurturing instincts as female animals protect and care about their young. Researchers have observed that when virgin female mice are put in a cage with a new born mouse these virgin female mice did not behave with the nurture instinct and would sometimes kill and eat the new born mice. However, when the researchers injected oxytocin in the female virgin mice, their behavior changed so much that they began to act as if with a nurturing instinct. These researchers concluded that the nurture instinct has an instinctive and biochemical substratum. This is the immanent component. With this component, the development of certain functions like renunciation, toleration, faithfulness to obligation etc. begins.
In the human being, this nurturing can be used not only for the new born creature but also with the irrational and immature parts that exist inside of our personality (our child personality). In this condition, nurturing behavior could be executed not only for the perpetuation of the species but also to develop the transcendental parts of the human being, the spiritual and maturing love. This is the simplest type of love because it is a personal love. In this kind of love, mothers renounce several times their own necessities while caring for their newborns. These mothers do all this while at the same time forgiving the baby's irrationality and to behaving and adhering faithfully to the target to help this creature in its development. Likewise, in a relationship between two adults, it is necessary sometimes to use nurturing behavior to deal with the immaturity of the other person. In relationships between brothers, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, etc., it is necessary to deal with the mutual child that lives inside of the other person's organism. This nurturing quality is necessary to reach real intimacy and continue the development of those relationships.
In terms of intimacy, it's very common to hear, "They went to make love," in order to express that they went to have sex. But, in my point of view, sex has nothing to do with love and has nothing to do with the real intimacy. Instead, love is the result of some functions like: tolerance, to renounce one's desires for the betterment of another individual, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, capability to be cognizant of the child that exists inside of our brain, to limit the notion and neutralization of knowing all things of what the other person is thinking or feeling, etc. Sex, however, is a biological instinct that induces one to approach another for sex and receive pleasure: the roots of the animal's source of obeying the necessity of species perpetuity.
Intimacy is the possibility of the human being to get in contact with and understand the structural way of the thinking and the behavior of the child that lives in our brain and to deal with such a relationship. There are many couples who never get in contact with the reciprocal children within the other person's mind during the relationship. In other words, they did not have intimacy. This is at the root of the majority of conflicts between couples.
With the child portion of our minds, curiosity and the necessity to observe are functions in the human being since the beginning of life. The child uses these functions attached to the goal of pleasure and desires and as time goes by the child uses the memories of differing experiences to behave; however, this experience was constructed with one part of the brain that is possessed by desire. Because of this childlike structure¡Xthe lack of a neutral observation with desires and memories¡Xperceptions and observations are contaminated.
Memories and desires derived from old experience lead by the senses are evocative of feelings of pleasure or pain which lead the mind to observe relationships from this point of view. However, the mind's disciplinary function promotes the freedom of observations grounded in reality.
Even when we use such discipline, the child remains living inside of our brain but under the supervision of the adult part of personality. So, in a relationship between two people in order to have real intimacy it is necessary that the adult personality part of the two persons deal all of the time with the intrusion of the old part represented by the child and its structure of thinking. Through dialogue and nurturance, the two persons help each other develop the mature parts of personality and better know how to deal with the immature part.
In Narcissus Myth, the message is that unconditional, unlimited, all powerful and encompassing love destroys our personality, our identity, our individuation and our life. This is a pathological behavior that the human being has to avoid in order to protect real love: healthy love which nurtures not only the other person but also himself. In loving a person, we have to simultaneously protect that love by ourselves. Narcissus, nevertheless, is a symbol that represents such narcissistic people who behave only with reference to themselves. All other people are to revolve around the narcissist as the moon revolves around the earth. The narcissistic person has pleasure only with his or her own way of thinking; all his or her ideas and needs are to be admired and attended to all of the time. Such a person doesn't feel pleasure in humanistic interactions and exchanges of experience but takes pleasure only to be in the center of everything; other people are like a moon revolving around his or her ideas and behavior.
Still, religious dogmas usually preach unconditional love. In my point of view this is a pathological way of living.
In Oedipus Myth, several codes give us global humanistic function. The sphinx that proposes enigmas or complex riddles is one aspect of the human being which needs to be deciphered, to be decoded in order to understand the latent information that underlies the manifest information, the exterior way of behavior and thinking. If we don't decipher the codes we will not develop. On one hand, the immanent part of human being imprisons these codes through our instincts. On the other hand, the transcendent part impels these codes, through the development of knowledge, to be freer of the deterministic order of the instinct (but not totally free). In the Sphinx tale, the people that passed beside it were devoured because they didn't decipher the code. These people represent the most universal part of human being which will be destroyed if they do not decipher the enigma and codes of his potentialities in our primitive minds.
The Ego - I will use this word as the representation of the individual part of human being. The Self - we use this word as the representation of the universal part of human being which has been written of by a lot of authors with different names. The Ego with his immanent part leads the man to find out the realization of his own necessity. The Self with the transcendent part leads the man to find out satisfaction of his most universal necessities. The middle route is to try to integrate the two necessities in order not to cause hypertrophy of either one of them. It is to balance these two necessities. When we find ourselves in a cross roads where there is an incompatibility of the integration of these functions, we have to evaluate our values hierarchy.
As the major (primary) wellness of an individual is a virtual entity, and never actual and real, we need an operational definition of wellness which is relative but bigger than a minor (secondary) wellness, which is also relative. Both could be changed by the evolution of knowledge. The notion of a primary wellness and secondary wellness will be used as an operational concept: a parameter to research the way we use our thinking and values.
The consciousness and admission that these primary wellness and secondary wellnesses are relative give them the possibility of changing and improvement.
My proposal is to use this model in order to assure and reassure if we are in the road to development or if we are stagnate in our journey of evolution:
In several and different moments in the cross roads of life where the primary wellness and the secondary wellnesses are presented to us, we have to have an intransigent adherence to the primary wellness; but, when we discover the error in our choice of the apparent primary wellness, we need to have the courage to retroact - acknowledging the pain of the wasted time in our life - in order to restart the search for the new primary wellness in order to not lose and not stop the flow of the evolutionary current.
Classical psychoanalysis states that, in general, there is a repression of some of our impulses not to be permitted by our superego like sexual and aggressive impulses. This process is directed through ego. We have to assume that not only are these impulses being repressed but these impulses are some of our universal needs that we have received through thousands of years of human experience. So, these universal, repressed and underdeveloped needs should be expressed through the individual environment in order to further evolve.
The pre-conscious destruction of these universal needs could start very strong guilt feelings. In turn, these very strong guilt feelings could start very self-destructive behaviors because forgiveness - as a functional twin of punishment - is not as strong as its twin; the person feels that he or she needs the punishment.
Apollo, the god of truth, is an expression of an archetype, a symbol which represents the primary wellness and truth of humankind which should be deciphered in order to protect life and the spiritual and humanistic development, so he will not be prisoner of his immanent part.
As a tragedy, the Oedipus drama informs us of the inherent part of the human being which is unconsciously searching for immediate pleasure can destroy, in this route, universal values. Of course, this drama is only a symbol of the inherent, perilous part of our personality. It is not a question only of sexual pleasure but also any kind of need or desire which could have the power to destroy any incompatible universal values.
Even so, the apparent happiness shared mutually by Oedipus and Jocasta during their first years in marriage was what we call in psychoanalysis a manic defense in which the universal values are unconscious and the destructivity is also unconscious.
In developing the notion of good and wellness under the psychoanalysis treatment, the person is under risk. Why? Because in being aware and conscious of the universal values that were corrupted and destroyed due the functions of envy, vengeance, egoism, and deviating from the route of universal values, habituating and forming addictions to immediate pleasure and so on, the person comes in contact with a perilous function: guilt.
We know in psychoanalysis that there are two kinds of guilt: the guilt that pushes us to repair and the guilt that pushes us to vengeance. Together, we possess the two kinds of guilt. The problem is to determine which guilt will prevail. If the vengeful guilt prevails, the person will punish himself or herself. The plague that decimated the Tebas population was symbolic of the decimation of the most universal of values. The guilt provoked by the consciousness of this destruction could have been unbearable. Likewise, this was what happened with the suicidal Jocasta and the self administered blindness of Oedipus.
The human being has to develop the capability to forgive himself or herself; and, slowly and progressively the possibility that during the awareness of the riddle and the destructivity of the primary wellness - to neutralize the necessity of punishment and, at the same time, repairing and changing the routes of his or her life. Sometimes one patient, in a lofty and arrogant way, just as Oedipus had expressed himself, wants to know all the truth. If this person is not prepared with the powerful forces of humility, forgiveness, the renunciation of the sterile perfectionism, he could create a lot of mechanisms of self punishment. In reality, that is, in the most profound bottom of our Self, there is the necessity to develop the potentialities of universal values. These universal values are, for example, the necessity that people have to develop: human rights, ecology, and religious ecumenism.
There are situations in which the consciousness is alienated or unaware of these values. The universal values of the Self are alienated; and, so the Ego becomes inflated. Some people have the Ego so inflated that the universal values are hidden in the profundities of the unconsciousness (as we usually see in the paranoid personality). In this situation, there will be a stagnation of the development of the humanistic growth.
I will give only one clinical study which shows the practicality of the written theories. It is about a liberal professional who just graduated in medicine but with no attachment to any religion. This professional presented himself to the psychoanalysist with complaints of obsessive thoughts that occurred when he was in contact with dark spots or dark stains on the floor. He was obliged by these obsessive thoughts to not step on the floor where the dark spots were present. The obsessive thoughts were that if he stepped on the dark spots, such stepping could result in the death of his mother. He would jump this space with the spots in order to protect his mother's life. Rationally he does not trust in the logical meaning of this idea but emotionally he feels that has to obey in order to placate the anguish. Another complaint is that he had three crises of sexual impotence even though all the medical examinations were normal. He had aversion to purple flowers, which reminded him of purple flowers that were put in the graves. Though he was raised in a catholic family, he did not follow any religion.
Research about beliefs and religious ideas have already asserted that since the beginning of humankind the human being has presented two kinds of world conceptions: the sacred and the profane. In the profane, the human being makes links with nature in a simple and natural way. In the sacred, nature, space, things, in themselves, change the quality of meaning; they are felt with a supernatural power or quality. Before the sacred, a complex structure appears within myths, rites, symbols, divine figures and so on. This sacred function, in general, appears to be connected with historic and social moments of humankind.
The sacred expresses the transcendental function inside of the human being's brain through literature. In the Holy Bible, we find allusions to the sacred space: "Draw not nigh hither," said the Lord to Moses, "put off they shoes from off they feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." The sacred and omnipotent thinking were functions also observed and described by research of civilization history, by the research of beliefs and religious ideas, by psychoanalysis, by Anthropology and so on.
Returning to this clinical case, we can find a primitive way of elaborating the sacred and omnipotent thinking. The natural space with dark spots is experienced as having sacred qualities upon which can not be stepped; the penalty would be his mother's death. It is an inner order system; not making contact acts as a protection to life. The same system of life's protection applies to the purple flowers as it is with being impotent (not to crescendo in making complete contact with his partner protects the woman). The sacrificial rite of walking in a systematic way so as to avoid contact, linking with the dark spots, he becomes the Hero by saving his mother.
The bandit is the dark spot and the good guy is the patient. In Psychoanalysis, this is a paranoid-schizoid position, with massive projective identification use. On one hand, he plays the role of the Hero trying to save his mother from death and, on the other hand, the dark spot, the enemy, should be avoided. During the role of Hero, the patient, in a primitive and unconscious way, was trying to develop life forces and the more basic, universal values that were being repressed. At the same time, his instinct, chiefly of the death impulses, were also being repressed from consciousness and projected onto the innocent black spot. Since the beginning, his intention, his objective, was noble: preserving his mother's life. The problem was that the behaviors that the patient engaged in did not allow him to function properly because to project outward the death impulses upon the black spot impeded the patient's realization that the death impulses were the result of his incapability to bear his own frustration, selfishness, envy, violence and so forth. On the other hand, to sever the tie of the death impulses expressed through the act of behaving impotently during sexual relationship was an irrational and unconscious way to punish himself, which didn't permit for him to enjoy his sexual relationships and, thus, lowered self-esteem and, at the same time protect the object from his death impulses. This retraction of expressing his impulses appropriately affected not only sexual relationships but also through other relationships as he frequently exhibited himself in a sulky manner.
During the Psychoanalysis, the patient figured out that the root problems were not sexual, not organic, but that he lacked development of the uniquely efficient antidote to death impulses: love. He had not yet developed such functions like: the tolerance of his frustrations; generosity, which sacrifices his needs or wants in favor of universal values; gratitude; humility; the capability to forgive and so forth.
The repression was twofold: against his death impulses, but also against his universal values. To combat only the repression of the death impulses without at the same time developing the life forces could put the patient on the road to sociopathic behavior. The repression function loses its necessity when love appears. When love functions at a high level, it is used as a moderator and neutralizer of the death impulses inherent to the human being.
In this present clinical case we can observe:
1) The death impulses and the life impulses are separated (paranoid-schizoid position): being that the patient identified with the life impulses and the black spot with the death impulses.
2) The patient believes that he is omnipotent enough to transform the innocent black spots in content to the death impulses.
3) To cut the link, to not establish the link was the way the patient escaped being in contact with his destructive and immature part of personality.
4) Transforming a profane place to the sacred, through his omnipotence, was a primitive way to express his need of transcendent, supernatural and sacred wishes.
5) The rites that he used in order to jump out of or over the black spots, to not come in contact with them, were his way of appeasing guilt (persecutory guilt).
6) It was not a real reparation and a real integration. It was not in a depressive position (Melany Klein).
The primitive mind uses pleasure as an antidote to frustration and the fear of death. Since the beginning, the child is pacified using pleasure by physical touches, a pacifier, sweets and so on. The mother gives love as an antidote to the child's fear. But, in the beginning, the child only understands physical touches and other things that give pleasure. This primitive mind remains for all lifetime. The mature mind uses love as an antidote to offset frustration. As we usually behave through a conditional reflex, the mature mind should be developed in order to neutralize the primitive one. The pleasure of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, sexual relationships and so on could be used in a pathological way when the primitive mind is using these things in order to neutralize frustration, feelings of abandonment, depression and so on.
We, psychotherapists, have the duty as if we were a soul obstetrician, to help the patient to give birth to his basic, universal values, which, in general, are repressed. To fight exclusively against repression of the destructive forces consciously or unconsciously expressed by social, mind or psychosomatic symptoms will not work and sometimes draws the patients into sociopathic behaviors.
The history of civilization has shown us that humankind, after drawing the consciousness to intense moments of destructivity, as it was in the First and Second World War, tried to find a way to neutralize such high potential toward destructivity. They tried to find and protect the common needs and protect the link between Nations and for their efforts they established, in the First World War, The League of Nations and in the Second World War, the United Nations.
The intention of the formation of these organizations was to promote peace among countries and regulate the diversified forms of communication among them. In theory, it was to promote the protection of common needs and to protect the universal values. In reality, individual values and the selfishness of some power hungry nations drove these organizations to fail in their goals.
We, psychotherapists, can't change the behavior of social dynamisms but, during psychotherapy, we can help the patient reorganize his personality in the order that the common needs and the universal values are put in the first levels of the values hierarchy. In this condition, we promote peace, common needs, universal values and try to possibly live - but, when impossible, at least - a peaceful coexistence.
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