By John English
I have been thinking a lot lately about relationships and how they reveal who we are. Having dipped a toe into the writings of Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst considered to be one of the most influential thinkers and writers on human psychology, I feel that I have a clearer view into how, in my many different kinds of relationships, I strive to express the completeness of my individual self.
Jung referred to the life-long process of becoming who I am as individuation. If this process is to be successful, I must examine not only the conscious thoughts and feelings I experience in the course of my day-to-day existence, but also the hidden or rejected parts of myself that, without even being aware of it, I bring into my engagement with others.
These hidden or rejected parts, my Shadow self as Jung called it, include images that might appear regularly in dreams or in my creative endeavors; aspects of myself that cause feelings of shame or guilt, such as anger or sexual desire; characteristics of the opposite sex which, because of social programming, I do not want to exhibit because I may be censured (e.g. emotional sensitivity in a man or aggression in a woman). The process of individuation is the process of bringing everything into the light, of embracing the entirety of my humanity, even aspects of myself I would rather not acknowledge or reveal to another person.
Jung believed that it was in relationships that our potential as fully realized individuals could best be solidified and expressed. He wrote, “The self is relatedness...The self only exists inasmuch as you appear. Not that you are, but that you do the Self. The Self appears in your deeds, and deeds always mean relationship.” What a wonderful idea, that I “do the Self”! Who I really am is revealed in how I relate to others - how I treat others, how I talk to others, how I listen to others, how I react to others, how I love others.
Another quote, though the source eludes me: “To be known is to be I loved.” If I am to be loved, let it be all of me that is loved. I do not want only the sweetest or most socially acceptable parts of me to be loved, but the messy bits, the tearful and angry and hurt and vulnerable parts. It is in revealing the conflictual reality of my human nature that I truly become known and loved. When I am in a physically and emotionally safe relationship, I am willing to risk the revealing of my true self.
And it is perhaps the human desire to be truly known that lies at the heart of so many of society’s ills. If I feel unaccepted because I cry when I am hurt, because I like my hair purple or green instead of brown or black, because I prefer playing with a doll instead of a toy gun, because I express my opinions instead of keeping quiet – what hope do I have of accepting myself, and accepting others? What damage might I inflict on myself, and upon others?
Finally, another quote by Jung: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is a reaction, both are transformed.” (Modern Man In Search Of A Soul, 1933.)