“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.” ― C.G. Jung
What is our relationship to ourselves? And with others? How do we come to reconcile our different self-states to integrate and become whole? Often in therapy, we come to recognise and remember our younger self who has been forgotten or overlooked but who needs to integrated into our ‘here and now’ adult self. The younger self, is the person we were when we were born, our first self. That self might have been playful or serious, cautious or spontaneous, intuitive or rationale. She may have had a sense of wonder and joy and creativity as well as experience frustrations and confusion. Our younger self started her experience into the world through her body and senses, before becoming a thinking child and adult. During these formative years is also when the self can first become injured. During therapy it often comes to light that basic needs for love and security have not been met leaving a person with a wound that needs to be revisited, in order to be healed and integrated into the adult self. This process can go by different names such as working with ‘the inner child’, the ‘primal wound’, or ‘defended self’.
This may be a painful process, other parts of the self may send signals to activate creative and defensive ways to avoid connecting with the pain. In neuroscience they talk about the amygdala sending fear signals, making us feel as though the younger-self past we are connecting with is still a present danger. In CBT, the signal might be the triggering of negative automatic thoughts. In relational psychoanalysis they might talk about dissociation and the critical voice, anxious mind or even the punitive super-ego. As integrative therapists, you may also recognise this process and use different language to describe connecting with a part of you that is vulnerable or feels more shadowy, or harder to reach. In some cases, it may seem as though the younger self is very much present and is ‘pulling all the strings’ - indistinguishable from any other self-states.
In CBT, negative automatic thoughts can be worked with by using thought diaries, behavioural experiments to challenge them and replace them with more helpful ones. This is often a practical way for clients to access a ‘new perceptual reality’ where the self grows in ways not previously anticipated. A relational approach might consider what a client is seeking, as part of the developmentally needed relationship. So for example, by coming back to the present moment, you encourage a client to get in touch with their younger, hurt/injured, self, and connect with what might have been missing and invite the client to offer to that part of themselves what they needed; to that younger part from an adult position and engage in a nurturing dialogue. In this way, healing can come from acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and ‘re-parenting’ yourself. This may also be explored between the therapist and client: what does the client need from the therapeutic encounter that she has not received before.
By engaging in an internal dialogue with a younger part of yourself as an adult and offering to yourself what you lacked, is when integration of the self can occur. For many this is when a sense of wholeness or feeling of completeness is reached. The more you visit that painful part of yourself the more you may find the intensity of feeling, such as fear, or confusion is diffused; or the absence of feeling is replaced with more enjoyable ones. As an adult you may then find you are more resilient, and you have more resources to use and reach out to other people to meet your needs in a more coherent or conscious and aware way.
This process can also raise to the surface the issue of the self and our relational needs and whether they are being met in our relationships with others. As the integration of the self to become whole also includes sharing different self-states with others, the light and the shadow. Such as the ‘vulnerable’ self, the ‘angry’ self, the ‘not-knowing’ self, the ‘needy’ self etc. We may find ourselves reconnecting with our body and intuition while with others, in new ways that we do not recognise. These new experiences may seem like simple tweaks, subtle shifts, in our verbal and non-verbal communication, in the here and now. These simple and subtle changes however, often do not reveal the hard work that has gone into this process of integration. But ultimately fundamental changes to your ‘being in the world’ and how you ‘relate to others’’ is occuring. Sometimes it is feedback from others that let you know things have changed, as you start to ‘take people by surprise’. You are no longer the same person they knew before, and they experience you differently now. You know yourself in ways you didn’t before. You have changed, and so have your relationships!
You may have different views and experiences on the same topic.
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Associate director Chryssa is a London-based integrative psychotherapist and CBT therapist. To find out more visit: https://www.therapyinlondon.net/