The Groundwork for Becoming Self-Reliant
As we grow up and develop our ego – an identity – that will help us learn the skills and attitudes that will facilitate our taking a place in society, the necessities of this journey cause us to become disconnected, disassociated, and to some extent alienated from parts of ourselves. In other words, as we form our identities, we also create our shadows. These dissonances can be large or small, depending upon the environment in which we grew up. They often produce emotions that scare us but, in reality, are calling us to heal these splits. As I shared in my last blog, the beginning of becoming rooted in our own internal reality starts with learning how to be open to our emotions, instead of looking for how to change, repress, and deny them. Our emotions lead the way for us to remain connected with ourselves, in spite of what is going on in our inner and outer worlds. What this means is that our emotional awareness becomes the guide to helping us to reconnect with the “split-off” aspects of ourselves, the wounded parts of ourselves and to nurture our ability to revitalize and transform ourselves.
Yet, for reconnection and revitalization to maintain its course, it is important to continue to empower our ego, in order to give it the strength and breadth for the development of our whole personality. The next step in empowering our ego is to understand the four basic archetypal foundation stones that support our personality. We need to heal and develop these support systems before we can go on in our individuation process and forge an authentic life, in connection with our greater Self. These four archetypal foundation stones are the conduits of powerful, instinctual energies (by instinctual energies, I mean energies that are inherent in our nature.) They are:
- The Mother Instinct
- The Father Instinct
- The Power Instinct and
- The Eros Instinct.
These four cornerstones in our personality are frequently either diminished or wounded as we grow up. Empowering our ego means we must heal, recover, and renew these parts of ourselves, and doing this is a vital aspect of our analytic work.
The Mother Instinct is the principal archetypal foundation in our personality, and it reflects the positive side of the Great Mother archetype. This image reflects our need for self-care and the capacity within ourselves to provide that care. In the positive sense, the word “mother” represents someone who is able to bring forth life and is committed to nourishing and supporting it. From the psychological standpoint, we have an inherent need to be able to nourish ourselves, nurture ourselves, support and heal ourselves and to honor, respect and effectively take care of ourselves. If our Mother Instinct is damaged or undeveloped, we wonʼt know how to nurture and sustain ourselves, and end up turning all kinds of destructive negativity towards our selves that will diminish and block our capacity to live vital lives. Our book, Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity gives us a roadmap to healing that part of ourselves and, in essence, to learning how to mother ourselves and our potentials. Though it may be hidden deep inside, we all have the capacity to like, nourish, and take loving care of ourselves.
The Father Instinct is another powerful source of energy and direction within us. In its positive sense as the Great Father archetype, it reflects our need to become self-reliant, autonomous, independent, and to initiate our lives with a spirit of creativity. It nourishes courage and, with the Great Mother archetype, helps us face the ordeals and suffering in being human. When this part of us is wounded, we find ourselves caught in self-criticism, lethargy, and a state of feeling victimized. It is through the Father Instinct that commitment and accomplishments help us to build a strong, stable ego. This Instinct helps us envision goals, initiate a journey towards them, and then work to achieve them.
It fortifies our resistance against natureʼs pull to want “to be taken care of” and to stay safely away from growth and change. If our Father Instinct has been wounded or is unrealized, its negative form can push us toward inflated, non-achievable goals and paralyze us with its own form of self-criticism, undermining every shred of our self-respect.
Both our Mother Instinct and our Father Instinct have been wounded in our culture for over a hundred years. Such cultural wounds become internalized as personal wounds that we all have to confront and heal. My book, The Father Quest: Rediscovering an Elemental Force, can be an important guide in understanding and healing this important aspect of ourselves.
The Power Instinct is part of our selves that we often think of as negative. But we all have the power instinct as an essential part of our personalities. This is the instinct and archetypal pattern that gives us the ability to experience ourselves as having value because we are able to face life successfully and achieve certain goals. This instinct helps us gain a certain measure of control over our lives and their direction. Without the support of the Power Instinct, we find it difficult to form a conscious identity and independence from our dependency needs. It is important for us to learn how to have goals from our mothers and fathers. As soon as our ego has a goal, we need for the Power Instinct to become activated and released, to flow into the ego to help it achieve that goal. The more comfortable our ego becomes with this process, the more we gain a sense of confidence and self-respect.
Only experiences of accomplishment can free us from a compulsive need to prove ourselves, ceaselessly. A deep feeling of inferiority can force us into a destructive identification with our power instinct that will leave us enmeshed in desires for power and control. It is essential for us not to repress our power instinct, but to healthily nurture it, to “mother” it. It is also just as important to “father” it, to direct its use in a positive way to help us become self-confident and self-reliant. When we learn that we have the ability to do real and meaningful things, we are better able to relax and enjoy life. Then we no longer have “to prove ourselves” and live in the constant tension of self-criticism and performance anxiety.
The Eros Instinct moves us to want to relate to the world, other people, and ourselves. In the Jungian sense, Eros generally means an interest in personal relatedness and the capacity to work for conciliation and reconciliation. The Eros Instinct evokes self-integration, subjectivity, and the concerns of individuals. In our world of driven activity, it protects us by standing for earthly qualities like stillness, reflection, being, and openness. It is the motivational force behind our emotional attachments that range from sexuality to friendships. It also supports our love of life and our involvements with our hobbies, professions, art, and other fulfilling activities. When our Eros Instinct is wounded, we may become alienated from ourselves and others. Our relationships may be built on power and we will be compelled to try to maneuver others into being what we think we want or need. Our intimate lives may be characterized as impersonal or based on emotional fusion and our feeling for life in general will become dried up and depressed. We may feel like we are just “turning the crank” until our time runs out, or we may be saying to ourselves, “If this is it, itʼs not worth living.”
“Know thyself” is a term that is as old as western civilization. It often seems selfish in our culture to prioritize our connections to our inner selves and reality, but actually, the reverse is true. Unless we understand what is happening within ourselves and can take responsibility for it and heal the wound to our Eros Instinct – we cannot appreciate other people as themselves. Healthy relationships can only come when we know ourselves, our inner reality and stand grounded in ourselves and accept others as the people they are.
As I explained in Part One and Part Two, we call individuation ʻa journey into wholenessʼ because it means the continuous, conscious development of “knowing oneself”…and the growing awareness of our need to know the greater Self. So, individuation really begins when we can recognize our wounds in these four fundamental parts of ourselves and seek out the help we need to heal them.
Our urge toward wholeness and unity within ourselves calls for us to turn inwards and forge authentic, compassionate, and responsible ways to reconnect to these four archetypal conduits of our life energy. Healing and wholeness begin here and give us the foundation for developing a vital connection with our greater Self, and the divine energy and destiny that is held within us.
(Read Part One: The Ground of Individuation)
(Read Part Two: Emotions: The Royal Messenger of the Unconscious)
(Read Part Four: The Need for Developing a New Value System)
(Read Part Five: Learning the Art and Craft of Loving Ourselves)
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris